One of the greatest tragedies on the global stage now is that revolutions are going on in both Syria and Turkey—and they are being pitted against each other in the Great Game. First we look at Syria, where the partial "ceasefire" in place for over a month is finally breaking down. The critical event seems to have been the April 18 bombing of a marketplace in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Noaman by regime warplanes, killing dozens. The town is controlled by Nusra Front, which was not included in the "ceasefire," but the victims of the bombardment were overwhelmingly civilians. The town's residents had no love of Nusra, and civil resistance activists had repeatedly taken to the streets there over the past month to oppose the jihadist militia and the Bashar Assad regime alike. (NYT, April 19) In the aftermath of the market bombing, the Jaysh al-Nasr, on the of main FSA-aligned militias, announced the opening of a new "battle" against regime forces. (Reuters, April 18)
Maxima Acuña, a campesina grandmother from Peru's northern Cajamarca region, has been named the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for South and Central America for her struggle to defend her family's lands from Newmont Mining. "A subsistence farmer in Peru's northern highlands, Maxima Acuña stood up for her right to peacefully live off her own land, a property sought by Newmont and Buenaventura Mining to develop the Conga gold and copper mine," the prize's official webpage indicates. At the award ceremony in San Francisco April 18, Acuña denied being a social leader, saying: "I only want them to leave me in peace on my land and that they do not contaminate my water." Considered the "Green Nobel," the Goldman Prize honors grassroots activists for significant achievements in protecting the environment worldwide.
Residents of the town of San Martín in Colombia's northern Cesar department held protests this week over government moves to open the country to fracking. The National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH) in December approved exploration licenses in San Martín and several other municipalities of the Magdalena Medio region for ConocoPhillips and CNE Oil & Gas. Under a neoliberal reform of Colombia's hydrocarbons sector, the state is only a 2% partner in the projects. "We want to say to the national government that we will defend our water, our territory; we are going to defend life and we will not permit fracking to be realized in San Martín or any part of the country," declared San Martín community leader Carlos Andrés Santiago. (ContagioRadio, April 13)
Havana peace talks between Colombia's government and the FARC are said to be stalled as the government refuses to acknowledge the existence of far-right paramilitaries, while the rebel movement demands their dismantling. The Colombian and US governments both maintain that paramilitary groups ceased to exist in 2006 when the last unit of AUC formally demobilized. The paramilitary forces that resisted demobilization are dubbed "Bacrim," for "criminal bands." But Los Urabeños, one of the AUC's successor organizations, shut down much of the country's north with an "armed strike" for several days early this month. The strike was called to proest government opperations against the Urabeños—refered to officially by the name of their ruling family, the "Clan Úsuga." In Havana, the FARC's Pastor Alape asserted that "the attention of the country cannot center on the so-called Clan Úsuga" because "the problem of paramilitarism is much more profound." (El Tiempo, April 9; Colombia Reports, April 8; El Colombiano, March 29)
A magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador on April 16, leaving at least 270 dead and over 1,000 injured. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams dig through the rubble. The two towns most affected are Portoviejo and Pedernales, in Manabí province, where water and communications infrastructure were destroyed. Emergency response efforts have been hindered by damaged roads. Manabí had been hit just days earlier by flooding, leaving roads in the province impassable even before the quake. The province was also hit by flooding in February, with rivers bursting their banks and inundating roadways. Homes and fields were destroyed in some villages. The repeated floods are belived linked to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon. (AFP, April 18; CNN, El Pais, Spain, Noticias Cuatro, Noticias Cuatro, Spain, Ecuador Times, April 17; El Universo, Guayaquil, April 16; El Universo, Feb. 18)
People began protesting in Baghdad this weekend demanding a new government amid the third parliament session cancelled this week as officials discuss political reforms. The session of parliament was cancelled because the chambers "could not be secured" as tempers flared again. The political turmoil has been the result of a plan by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to bring "technocrats" into the cabinet in order to bring down corruption. On March 31, al-Abadi presented a list of people to attempt to accomplish this, but then drafted a second list after political pressure that was more in line with party's wishes. Many MP's then staged a sit-in protest of this move, as they believed it would allow corruption to continue.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced the transfer of nine Yemeni Guantánamo Bay detainees to Saudi Arabia on April 16 as it continues efforts to close the facility. The prisoners would have been sent back to their home country but were instead transfer to Saudi Arabia due to the instability in Yemen. Eight of the detainees had been cleared for release since 2009, after an extensive review, and 26 more are also cleared and expected to be released this summer. At the end of March, a US government official said the DoD told Congress that it plans to transfer as many as 12 prisoners from Guantánamo in the coming weeks. Eighty detainees remain at the facility.
We've had our criticisms of Benie Sanders. And up till now, he has been very cautious on the question of Palestine. He's been assailed by activists for signing off on both of the Senate resolutions supporting Israel in the midst of its assault on Gaza in 2014—although these were passed by "unanimous consent," which means that Bernie didn't literally sign off. He just stayed away from the Senate during the vote and failed to object. Still, it was bad. He is, however, making up for it now. Sanders said in his debate with Hillary Clinton this week: "I do believe that Israel...has every right to destroy terrorism. But in Gaza there were 10,000 wounded civilians and 1,500 killed. Was that a disproportionate attack? The answer is, I believe, it was. As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run, if we are ever going to bring peace...we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity."