Presidential election results in the Philippines came in May 10, with bombastic anti-crime hardliner Rodrigo Duterte emerging the victor. Ruling-party candidate Mar Roxas quickly conceded defeat. Duterte is the mayor of Davao City in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao—which has been hit by a wave of death-squad terror in recent years. The paramilitaries are ostensibly a response to crime and narco networks on the island, but ecology activists and peasant leaders have also been targeted. Duterte has been named as a mastermind of the paramilitaries, and certainly makes no bones about his intolerant position on drug use. "All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you," he Duterte told a huge cheering crowd in his final campaign rally in Manila. "I have no patience, I have no middle ground, either you kill me or I will kill you idiots."
Lima was treated to the spectacle of topless women being tear-gassed by police at a protest outside the Congress building against a new law to toughen strictures on abortion. Riot police broke up the semi-nude sit-in organized by feminist groups to oppose the pending legislation, which would impose penalties of 50 days community service on women who seek an abortion. Many of the women wrote "KEIKO NO VA" (Stop Keiko) on their torsos—a reference to right-wing presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, who has recently taken a hard line on abortion, now opposing it even in cases of rape. Protesters also recalled her intransigent support for her father, imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori, who carried out a campaign of forced sterilization of peasant women during his period in power in the 1990s. (Now This, StarMedia, May 20; El Comercio, May 19; La República, May 3)
Colombia's former president and now hardline right-wing opposition leader Álvaro Uribe this week called for "civil resistance" against the peace dialogue with the FARC guerillas. "We need to prepare ourselves for civil resistance," Uribe said May 9 in a TV interview. "Civil resistance is a constitutional form of opposition to this agreement of impunity with the FARC that creates new violence." Accusing the government of making a "full impunity deal" with the "world's largest cocaine cartel" (meaning the FARC), he called for citizens "to vote no or abstain" in the planned plebescite approving a peace pact with the guerillas.
Fierce fighting between Kurdish-led YPG forces and Arab factions aligned with the Free Syrian Army is deepening a split within the Syrian resistance to both ISIS and Assad. The YPG suffered a very bad propaganda blow in clashes over the contested Azaz enclave this weekend, when its fighters paraded some 50 bodies of slain enemy forces on an open-top trailer-truck through the village of Ayn-Dakna. The bodies were taken to Afrin, seat of the local Kurdish autonomous canton, where this grisly triumphalist display waas repeated. The coverage on Turkey's official Anadolu Agency was gloating; for once they had facts to back up their disingenuous habit of refering to "YPG terrorists."
More than 3,000 members of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have been displaced over the past week as Litoral de San Juan municipality of Colombia's Chocó department has been convulsed by a three-way conflict between government troops, ELN guerillas and remnant right-wing paramilitary forces. The majority of the displaced have taken refuge in the municipal center as fighting engulfs outlying hamlets, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Some of the displaced have started to voluntarily return, although the threat of violence remains. (El Espectador, April 22)
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)
The Assad regime has announced the taking of Palmyra and its adjacent archaeological site from ISIS, though Russian air-strikes appear to have been the decisive factor. Russian state media (RT, Sputnik) shamelessly crow of the city's "liberation." The Western media have hardly been less ebullient. Daily Mail displays footage released by the regime, showing no sign of damage to the ancient ruins, but bloodstains on the wall of the amphitheater, which was used for public executions. (In fact, temples were destroyed at the site.) But Muzna al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK spoke on British TV in much darker terms about the city's transfer. She called Assad and ISIS "two faces of the same coin," and said she spoke to activists in the city who told her "nothing has changed." She pointed out that even before ISIS took the city last May, artifacts were looted by Assad's Shabiha militia. She recalls that Palmyra was the site of a regime prison where many have been tortured to death and hundreds massacred over the years. She says that 50% of city's neighborhoods have been destroyed by the regime's cluster bombs in recent days. She calls the city's change of hands part of a "propaganda game" by both Assad and ISIS. The city "was handed to ISIS," and the threat to its ancient artifacts exploited to get international attention; now its recovery "is being used for the same thing." She protests that people in the West seem "more concerned about the artifacts than the people on the ground." (Via Facebook)
Colombia's government and FARC rebels missed the March 23 deadline for the signing of a peace agreement. The date was set when President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader "Timochenko" met in Havana in September. But significant steps toward peace have been taken over the past six months. In what Timochenko called an "historic, unprecedented" meeting until recently "unthinkable," he shook hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry during President Obama's trip to Cuba this week. "We received from him in person the support for the peace process in Colombia," said Timochenko. (Colombia Reports, March 23; Colombia Reports, March 22) The FARC quickly followed up with a statement calling on the State Department to remove the guerilla army from its list of "foreign terrorist organizations." (AFP, March 23)