Daily Report

Ukraine, austerity and gas

Coverage of Ukraine's newly inked deal with the International Monetary Fund is like the proverbial blind men and the elephant. Russia Today's headline is "Ukraine parliament passes austerity bill required by IMF," whereas the EU-aligned EurActiv put it: "IMF extends generous assistance to Ukraine." Forbes smarmily goes one better with "Ukraine Welcomes IMF Austerity Regime." RT tells us: "It is ordinary Ukrainians who will suffer the most under the new austerity measures as the floating national currency is likely to push up inflation, while spike in domestic gas prices will impact every household." But Reuters fleshes out the context for this a bit: "Moscow will not make it easy and Ukraine is already feeling some consequences from its break with Russia. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said...the price the country would pay for Russian gas, which accounts for over half of Ukrainian gas imports, would soar by almost 80 percent from April 1 as the seizure of Crimea had rendered a cheaper gas deal obsolete." So it seems that Russia as well as the IMF is imposing privation on Ukrainians, and is especially responsible for the spike in gas prices.

UN invalidates Crimea referendum

The UN General Assembly approved a resolution on March 27 declaring the Crimean referendum to secede from Ukraine invalid. The resolution calls upon all UN states, international organizations and specialty agencies not to recognize any change in status of the Crimean region despite the referendum. The UN gained broad support for the resolution as 100 states voted in favor, outnumbering the 11 votes against and 58 abstentions. The US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power stated in regards to the vote that "the draft resolution was about only one issue: affirming a commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine." The Russian Federation representative asked the UN to respect the voluntary choice made by Crimea and not refuse their right to self determination.

Michoacán: cannibalization of 'community police'?

Hipolito Mora, a top leader of the "community police" self-defense network in Michoacán, was detained by state police March 10 as a suspect in the slaying of two members of the movement. The detention comes amid an armed stand-off between rival factions of the self-defense network in the town of Buenavista Tomatlán. Hundreds of police and soldiers have been sent to the town as factions have seized turf and drawn lines across the municipality. Mora was helicoptered from Los Palmares ranch, in an outlying area of Buenavista, where he and his armed followers were holed up against rivals. The rival outfit, based in Buenavista's hamlet of La Ruana, is said to be led by Luís Antonio Torres González, who goes by the nom de guerre "Simón El Americano," because he grew up in the US. Torres González told local media that the two dead men were part of his defense group. Their bodies were found inside a pick-up truck that had been set on fire.

Philippines: Moro autonomy deal signed

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) officially ended four decades of armed struggle in the Philippines on March 27, when it formally signed a pact with the government on regional autonomy that had been agreed on in 2012. Under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the MILF drops its claims for a separate state in the southern region of Mindanao and agrees to parliamentary self-rule in the new Bangsamoro autonomous region, to be established by 2016. A local police force will assume law enforcement functions from the Philippine police and military. The region will not be under an officially secular government. Sharia law will apply only to Muslims and only for civil cases, not for criminal offences. The MILF, with some 10,000 armed followers, will "gradually" decommission its forces and put the weapons "beyond use." The Bangsamoro, or Moro Nation, will replace another autonomous government that was brokered in the 1990s with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). (AFP, March 27; Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 26)

Venezuela: Wayúu protest militarization

Leaders of the Wayúu indigenous people in Venezuela's La Guajira region, along the Colombian border, are protesting ongoing army exercises taking place in their traditional territory. Yamileth Palmar of the indigenous organization Wainjirawa told an audience at the University of Zulia last week that the augmented military presence has resulted in several deaths of indigenous residents, none of which have been adequately investigated. Palmar said 29 Wayúu people have been killed since La Guajira was declared a special military district. The militarization was launched in part to combat the illegal smuggling of subsidized Venezuelan foodstuffs across the border into Colombia for resale, a practice known locally as bachaqueo. But Palmar charged that the smuggling has not been affected by the troop presence in the zone. (Ultimas Noticias, Carcas, March 21)

Peru to loosen oversight on energy projects

Peru's Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga said March 25 that the government is working on a package of reforms to speed up permitting for investments, including exempting some oil exploration projects from environmental impact studies. Mayorga, a former World Bank petroleum economist who became President Ollanta Humala's third energy minister in a cabinet reshuffle last month, said: "An environmental impact study makes sense when there's a serious impact and we're working in a delicate region. But there's no need to do an environmental impact study for everything. That's the problem. At this time there is the need to review this through a new regulation." He added: "Very few countries demand environmental impact studies for seismic activities." (Reuters, El Comercio, March 26)

Peru: artisanal miners block highways again

Peru's Minster of Energy and Mines Eleodoro Mayorga announced March 26 that he had formalized an accord with protesting artisanal miners, who have for the past week been blocking the Pan-American Highway at Nazca to protest the end of the "formalization" process for titling their claims. Mayorga said the deal would extend the process through the middle of April. But the leaders of the protesting miners—from the regions of Arequipa, Cajamarca, Ayacucho, La Libertad and Apurímac—denied that any such deal had been struck. Nazca authorities say the roadblocks have caused massive losses in the region's tourism industry. More than 20,000 informal miners are also protesting in the regions of Piura, Ica, Arequipa, Puno, and Lima (EFE, March 26; Peru This Week, March 25)

Venezuela arrests generals accused in coup plot

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced on March 26 that three air force generals were arrested and brought before a military tribunal for plotting a coup. In his remarks on Venezuela's state run broadcast, Maduro stated that the three generals, who he did not name, were "trying to turn the air force against the legitimately constituted government." Additionally, he stated that the generals had direct ties with opposition groups in Venezuela. Since taking office in April 2013, Maduro has routinely accused his political opponents of plotting coups, but he seldom provides evidence or gives the public details. Earlier this month a group of independent experts from the UN asked Venezuela to explain allegations of arbitrary detention and excessive force against journalists and demonstrators during the country's recent protests. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay one week earlier condemned  the recent political violence in Venezuela and urged all parties to move towards resolving the situation.

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