Pressure from China, restrictive legislation and self-censorship among Taiwanese youth have emerged as threats to freedom of speech in Taiwan, according to Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation director Cheng Tsing-hua. He made his comments on Taiwan's Free Speech Day, April 7, which commemorates the day in 1989 that his brother Cheng Nan-jung, a young democracy advocate under the gradually loosening one-party dictatorship of the Kuomintang, self-immolated as a protest against government restrictions on freedom of expression. The surviving Cheng noted that the recent Taiwanese film Missing Johnny was last month banned in China after the male lead, Lawrence Ko, was reported to be a supporter of Taiwanese independence. He also pointed to Taiwan's Assembly and Parade Act, a holdover from the KMT dictatorship, as restricting the right to hold public demonstrations. And he noted government orders banning the public from displaying the national (Republic of China) flag at various occasions— such as the 2008 visit of Chen Yunlin, then chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.
The United Arab Emirates announced April 16 that it is ending its military training program in Somalia, as the governments of Abu Dhabi and Mogadishu trade charges back and forth. Ostensibly the move comes in response to the seizure of millions of dollars from a UAE plane by Somali security forces last week. But tensions between the two governments have been on the rise over Emirati plans to build a military base in Somaliland, the self-declared republic that is effectively independent from Mogadishu. The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 for the weak and fractious Mogadishu government. But Mogadishu sees establishment of a foreign base at Somaliland's port of Berbera as a move toward recognition of the breakaway republic, calling it a "clear violation of international law."
Abdul-Al Duraqi, a poet and activist from the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran, arrested during the most recent protests in the city of Ahwaz (Khuzestan province), has been hospitalized after torture sessions at the hands of his interrogators. Family members told the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization (AHRO) that Duraqi was transferred to Ahwaz's Sepidar hospital on April 7 due to deterioration in his physical condition after severe torture in the Ahwaz intelligence center. Duraqi is revered in his community for keeping alive an Ahwazi literary tradition in the Arabic language. Protests in Ahwaz were sparked in mid-March following the controversial exclusion of the Ahwazi Arab ethnicity in a children's program aired by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation. The program included a boy placing dolls dressed in the traditional garb of different ethnicities in their designated regions on a map of Iran—but there was no doll representing the 8 million Ahwazi Arabs. Nearly 400 have been arrested in protests over the past month. AHRO charges that the detained are being denied their due process rights. (UNPO, April 12; UNPO, March 29; AHRO, April 9)
Indigenous and environmental activist Saw O Moo was reported killed in Burma's Karen State on April 5. The Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) said Saw O Moo was killed in an ambush by Burmese army soldiers while returning home from a community meeting to help organize humanitarian aid for villagers displaced by renewed hostilities between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Saw O Moo was one of the most active local community leaders pushing for creation of the Salween Peace Park, a proposed 5,400-square-kilometer protected area to be overseen by indigenous peoples. “We will never forget his dedication in the ongoing struggle to build peace and protect ancestral lands,” KESAN said in a statement. Several attempts to retrieve the body have been unsuccessful, as soldiers are shooting at anyone who approaches the area. As a result, Saw O Moo’s family has not been able to perform their Indigenous funeral rites. The Salween Peace Park is intended to protect the montane rainforest region from mining interests. (Mongabay, Burma Link, April 9; The Irrawady, Jan. 13, 2017)
On March 24, the exiled Royal House of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia elected Prince Frederic Luz as its new monarch—claiming dominion over a large area of Chile in the name of the region's Mapuche indigenous inhabitants. Although now dispersed in Britain and France, the Royal House traces its origin to 1860, when Orélie de Tounens, an idealistic lawyer from Tourtoirac, crossed Chile’s Rio Biobío into Mapuche lands never colonized by either the Spanish empire or the Chilean state. The Biobío was recognized as the northern border of Mapuche territory under a 1641 treaty with the Spanish. De Tounens learned the local language, adopted Mapuche ways, and was recognized by their elders as King Antoine—ruling a territory that stretched to the southern tip of the continent. In 1862, he was captured by Chilean forces, convicted of sedition, and only spared execution due to his perceived insanity. He made several failed attempts to return to Patagonia and win international recognition for his now-exiled government, but died in poverty in 1878. By then, Chile and Argentina were launching military campaigns to "pacify" the Mapuche. Historians estimate the Mapuche population of southern Chile fell by 90% as a result of this "pacification."
Turkish forces and allied Syrian rebels announced March 18 that they have seized "full control" of Afrin, following a two-month offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in the northern Syrian town and surrounding enclave. One of the three "cantons" that make up the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava has now been lost. The statement announcing the seizure of the enclave was published on the Twitter page of "Operation Olive Branch," as the offensive was officially dubbed. Once "Olive Branch" forces actually penetrated Afrin town, the YPG apparently withdraw to prevent the civilian population from being caught in the fighting. In the prelude to the town's fall, residents described chaos as fleeing civilians were trapped by artillery and by Turkish air-strikes. The "Nothern Brigade" of the Free Syrian Army was named as the key ground force taking control of the enclave under Turkish direction and protection. (NYT, Syria Direct) Turkey's official Anadolu Agency also names Syrian Turkmen militia forces as involved in taking the enclave, and explicitly appeals to ethnic resentment, stating: "Arab tribes welcome liberation of Afrin."
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.
Colombian authorities are clearly hoping that a return to stability following the peace pact with the FARC rebels will mean more international investment, and especially for the resource sector. But hydro-electric, fracking and mineral projects across the country are already meeting with peasant resistance—prompting state security forces to respond with repression. In the Rio Cauca Canyon of Antioquia department, the feared National Police militarized anti-riot force ESMAD has initiated the forcible eviction of campesinos who have refused relocation to make way for the floodplain of the massive Hidroituango dam project. Ironically, commuity leaders opposed to relocation in the municipalities of Sabanalarga and Ituango have reportedly been threatened by personnel in the employ of Refocosta, the firm contracted by the Medellín Public Utility to oversee environmental mitigation in the project. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 12) Ituango municipality has especially been the scene of a recent resurgence of paramilitary violence that has left hundreds of residents displaced.