In Episode Five of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg makes the case that despite the official ideology of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and the revival of rhetoric and imagery from the Mao era, media commentators are off base in their comparison of Xi Jinping and Mao Zedong. The new personalistic dictatorship of Xi is appropriating the outward forms of Maoism, but whereas the Great Helmsman used totalitarian methods to advance socialism (at least in terms of his own intentions) Xi is doing so to further entrench China's savage capitalist system. As a part of the same constitutional changes that have installed Xi as the new "paramount leader," the Chinese Communist Party is imposing further market liberalization and "supply-side" economic reform. The New Cold War between the US and China is simply a rivalry between capitalist powers. But in the global divide-and-conquer game, the leaders of oppressed nationalties within China such as the Tibetans and Uighurs look to the US and the West as allies, while left-populist governments in Latin America such as Venezuela and Bolivia similalry look to China. How can we respond to these developments in a way that builds solidarity between peasants, workers and indigenous peoples across the geopolitical divide? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
To absolutely nobody's surprise, China's National People's Congress overwhelmingly approved numerous amendments to the country's Constitution on March 10, eliminating presidential term limits and strengthening the role of the Communist Party of China—and especially that of President Xi Jinping. The largely symbolic parliament voted 2,958 out of 2,963 in favor of the amendment to Article 79 of the constitution, allowing Xi to remain in power indefinitely. The constitution was also amended to officially recognize the new political philosophy of "Xi Jinping Thought." (Jurist) All these changes were of course already promulgated by the CPC Central Commmittee, and approval by the NPC is a mere formality. Xi is now enshrined as the new "paramount leader"—really, China's first since Deng Xiaoping.
Burma's Rakhine state is being militarized at an alarming pace, as authorities build security force bases on lands where Rohingya villages were burned to the ground just months ago, Amnesty International said in a new report March 12. Through witness testimony and analysis of satellite images, Remaking Rakhine State documents how the bulldozing of Rohingya villages and new construction have intensified since January in areas where hundreds of thousands fled the military's campaign of ethnic cleansing last year. "What we are seeing in Rakhine State is a land grab by the military on a dramatic scale. New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya," said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty's crisis response director. "This makes the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect."
The trial of Tibetan educational rights activist Tashi Wangchuk ended without a verdict at Yushu Intermediate People's Court in Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province, the activist's lawyer Liang Xiaojun said Jan. 4. “The trail conducted in Chinese went for four hours...without reaching a verdict. The judgment will be made at an unspecified date,” Xiaojun tweeted. The lawyer also added that the Chinese prosecutor produced the nine-minute New York Times video report, "A Tibetan's Journey for Justice" as the main evidence of Tashi "inciting separatism." Tashi was charged under Article 103 of China's criminal code, which states that "whoever organizes, plots, or acts to split the country or undermine national unification, the ringleader, or the one whose crime is grave, is to be sentenced to life imprisonment or not less than ten years of fixed-term imprisonment."
An estimated 5,000 Tzotzil Maya peasants have been forced to flee their homes in the municipality of Chalchihuitán, in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, facing threats by armed men in a land dispute with the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó. The displaced, living in improvised camps since their homes were attacked in October, only started to receieve aid this week, as Chenalhó residents blocked all three roads to the community. Army vehicles started delivering aid Dec. 12 after one blockade was relaxed, but on condition that only humanitarian aid be allowed through. The army and state and federal police have established a Mixed Operations Base in the area. The local Catholic diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas said that an "atmosphere of terror" prevails in the area, and warned of a repeat of the 1997 Acteal massacre, when 45 were killed by paramilitary gunmen in a hamlet of Chenalhó.
Members of the Gavião, Gamella, Krenyê and Tremembé indigenous peoples on Nov. 22 blocked the main road through São Luís, capital of Brazil's Maranhão state, to press demands for long-delayed demarcation of their ancestral lands. The action, which halted traffic on the artery for several hours, came as some 100 indigenous activists had been camping for three weeks outside the São Luís headquarters of the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), which also houses the office of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). Last week, FUNAI announced creation of a working group to demarcate many of the lands in question, but protesters are keeping up the pressure, and also demanding social services for their villages, such as healthcare and education. Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) community leaders are participating in the indigenous encampment in solidarity.
The process of restitution of usurped lands and implementing the agrarian deal with the disarmed FARC rebels is shaping up as a sticking point in Colombia's peace process. The Agriculture Ministry has proposed a reform of Decreed Law 902, issued earlier this year to facilitate redistribution of lands. Currently, DL 902 reserves Colombia's unused lands (tierras baldías) for distribution to landless campesinos under a National Land Fund established for this purpose. Under the proposed reform, large landowners will be able to apply to the National Land Agency to receive these lands under a certain financial forumla. Landowners would have to pay the equivalent of 700 times the monthly minimum wage to acquire one Family Agricultural Unit (UAF). The UAF was established by Law 160 of 1994 as a unit of land sufficient to sustain a family, taking into consideration soil fertility and other variables. But opponents point out that Law 160 explicitly states that tierras baldías are reserved for distribution to campesinos. (Verdad Abierta, Oct. 2; El Espectador, Sept. 21)
Indigenous rights advocates in Peru are protesting a law being prepared by the administration of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) that would allow the government to abrogate the land titles of indigenous and peasant communities for development projects that are deemed "high-priority." This power, long sought by the oil and resource industries, was announced as a goal by the PPK administration shortly after taking office last year. The measure was first promulgated in January as Legislative Decree 1333, during a 90-day "honeymoon" period when Peru's Congress granted PPK special powers to enact laws by fiat, with only after-the-fact review by legislators. One of 112 decrees issued during this period, DL 1333 instituted a process entitled Access to Predios for Prioritized Investment Projects (APIP), allowing the government to "sanear" (literally, cleanse) titles to rural lands. Critics assailed this as a euphemism for arbitrary expropriation, and in May lawmakers voted to overturn the decree. But on July 28, PPK submitted Law 1718 to Congress, essentially recapitulating the text of DL 1333—only this time, legislators will have to vote to approve it. The responsible agency for overseeing the saneamiento process—ProInversión, a division of the Ministry of Economy and Finance—says it has identified 33 projects around the country that could fall under the rubric of APIP. A watchdog on indigenous land rights, the Secure Territories for the Communities of Peru Collective, has joined with Peru's alliance of Amazonian peoples, AIDESEP, in dubbing Law 1718 the "Law of Dispossession," and calling on Congress to reject it. (AIDESEP, Sept. 12; Servindi, Sept. 3; El Comercio, Aug. 17; La Mula, Aug. 16; El Comercio, May 26; Bonds & Loans, May 22; Instituto del Bien Común)