Two months into his term, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared an end to his country's "war on drugs," announcing that the army would no longer prioritize capturing cartel bosses. The new populist president made his declaration Jan. 30, at the end of his second month in office. He told gathered reporters at a press conference that the "guerra contra el narcotráfico," launched in 2006 by then-president Felipe Calderón, has come to and end. "Officially now, there is no war; we are going to prusue peace," he said.
An appeals court in Turkey on Feb. 19 upheld the convictions of 14 employees of Cumhuriyet, a Turkish news outlet that has been critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The defendants—including journalists, a cartoonist, executives and accountants—were sentenced in April to prison terms between four and eight years on charges of "acting on behalf of a terrorist group without being members." The Third Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice reviewed and upheld each of these sentences. In Turkey, sentences less than five years cannot be overturned once they are upheld by an appellate court, meaning that eight of the defendants must now serve out their terms. The remaining defendants with longer sentences plan to appeal to Turkey's Supreme Court.
A 16-state coalition filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump's administration on Feb. 18, requesting the court to issue a judicial determination that Trump's national emergency declaration over the southern border wall is unconstitutional. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the lawsuit, stating: "Unlawful southern border entries are at their lowest point in 20 years, immigrants are less likely than native-born citizens to commit crimes, and illegal drugs are more likely to come through official ports of entry. There is no credible evidence to suggest that a border wall would decrease crime rates."
President Donald Trump on Feb. 15 announced a state of emergency to obtain $8 billion for a border wall between the US and Mexico. A significant amount of the funds are expected to come from the Department of Defense budget, but Trump was not clear regarding funding or spending plans. The declaration was announced in a statement to the press that included information about trade negotiations with China and various other unrelated concerns. Trump gave this speech moments after he signed a spending bill passed by Congress, which prevents another government shutdown. The bill included about $1.4 billion in funding to assist with border security, which is far lower than the $5.7 billion demanded by Trump for his wall during the government shutdown.
Bahrain’s highest court on Jan. 28 upheld a life sentence for Shi'ite cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, for spying on behalf of neighboring Qatar. According to Amnesty International, the case is based on conversations that Salman had in 2011 with the then-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. Salman was initially acquitted, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2018 by the court of appeals. This term has now been affirmed by the Cassation Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a "bitter blow to freedom of expression." The organization's Middle East director Samah Hadid said it "exposes the country's justice system as a complete farce. The decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman's conviction and life prison sentence following an unfair trial highlights the authorities' determination to silence critical voices."
World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)
A Turkish court has sentenced academic Müge Ayan to two years and one month in prison on charges of aiding a terrorist organization for signing a petition calling for a peaceful end to Turkey's three-decades-old conflict with Kurdish rebels, independent news site Diken reported Jan. 21. A former anthropology professor at İstanbul's Bilgi Univresity, Ayan is among the 1,128 signatories of a petition that criticized heavy-handed tactics employed by the Turkish army in predominantly Kurdish cities in the country, including long curfews and the use of heavy weaponry, after a two-and-a-half year ceasefire between the state and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) broke down in July 2015.
In Episode 25 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg protests that he has now been deprived of phone and Internet access by Verizon for more than two months, and discusses the greater social implications of this dilemma. Donald Trump, who is a fascist by any reasonable definition, has now shut down the federal government and is threatening to declare a national emergency in order to build his border wall. Lack of other net access at this critical moment has forced Weinberg to use a cell phone in order to have any voice as a writer and activist—while cellular technology is itself inherently abetting the descent into fascism. Not only does it create a totalizing propaganda environment, but it is degrading our attention spans, literacy and critical thinking skills. It also creates a totalizing surveillance environment that can ultimately be exploited by government as well as private interests. But we accept it in the name of "convenience" and the illusion of consumer "choice," and few even recognize technological "progress" (note: propaganda word) as something that needs to be resisted. This emerging dystopia combines the worst aspects of George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World: we are complicit in the extinguishing of our own freedom because we have been conditioned. Weinberg calls for practical action to slow (at least) the totalizing aspect of this dystopia: keeping alive space for the print world and the meat world, and demanding that Verizon and other service providers maintain landline infrastructure. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.