Amid the relentless and escalating wave of massacres and assassinations of social leaders in Colombia, President Iván Duque is adopting openly euphemistic terminology in an attempt to downplay the crisis. On Aug. 22, he acknowledged that massacres at various points around the country over the past days had left more than 30 dead—but refused to call them "massacres." Visiting Pasto, capital of Nariño department which has been the scene of several recent attacks, he said: "Many people have said, 'the massacres are returning, the massacres are returning'; first we have to use the precise name—collective homicides."
In Episode 56 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the evident reality that Trump is getting ready to steal the November election—whether by undermining the Postal Service, suspending the election entirely under pretext of the pandemic, or simply refusing to recognize the result and sparking a constitutional crisis that could potentially involve the military. The Transition Integrity Project, recently established to assess the looming dilemma, warns: "A show of numbers in the streets—and actions in the streets—may be decisive factors in determining what the public perceives as a just and legitimate outcome." As the RNC delegates openly call for making Trump president for life, Weinberg examines examples from around the world where people are currently filling the streets to resist an illegitimate power-grab by a would-be dictator—from Belarus to Bolivia, from Hong Kong to Mali, from Thailand to Lebanon.
On Aug. 21, seventh anniversary of the chemical weapon attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which left 1,400 civilians dead, the Syrian opposition issued a statement protesting that the responsible parties are still yet to be held accountable—while gas attacks have continued in Syria. The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary & Opposition Forces (SMDK) demanded that the perpetrators of the attack be tried by the International Criminal Court. "The collapsed international system is the one that allowed this massacre to happen and left those responsible unjudged," the statement said. The regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has carried out hundreds of chemical attacks since 2013.
Libya's eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, his long siege of Tripoli broken by the city's defenders in June, continues to hold the country's principal oil terminals, and has established effective control over the Petroleum Facilities Guard. The UN this week brokered a ceasefire between Haftar and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, seeking to re-open exports from the terminals. Haftar agreed to the ceasefire after the US threatened sanctions against him. Russia, in turn, is apparently backing Haftar, sending arms and mercenaries to help his forces secure the terminals. Russia's paramilitary Wagner Group is especially said to be present at Es-Sider terminal, outside the port city of Ras Lanuf. (Argus Media, Libyan Express, OilPrice.com, Middle East Eye)
US troops clashed this week with an Assad regime unit in northeast Syria, an incident that illustrates the uneasy patchwork of power in the region. One regime soldier was reportedly killed and two wounded. No US personnel were injured, according to a Pentagon Central Command spokesman. Central Command said a joint convoy of US personnel and Kurdish forces were fired upon near the city of Qamishli in Hasakah province Aug. 18: "Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces, conducting a routine anti-ISIS security patrol near Tal Al-Zahab, Syria, encountered a checkpoint occupied by pro-Syrian regime forces. After receiving safe passage from the pro-regime forces, the patrol came under small arms fire from individuals in the vicinity of the checkpoint. Coalition troops returned fire in self-defense."
Eight young people at a social gathering were killed in Colombia's southern Nariño department when unknown gunmen barged in and opened fire Aug. 15. The victims, between the ages of 17 and 25, were university students who had returned to the village of Samaniego due to the pandemic. They were enjoying a small party at a family farm on the edge of the village when the attack took place. One woman and one minor were among the dead. Nariño Gov. Jhon Rojas said the massacre was probably related to a struggle for control of narcotrafficking networks in the region. He did not name any group as responsible for the attack, but noted the presence in the area of ELN guerillas, "dissident" FARC factions that have remained in arms despite the peace accord, and the Clan del Golfo drug cartel.
Brazilian Military Police completed the eviction of a long-standing land occupation called Quilombo Campo Grande in Minas Gerais state on Aug. 14, after a struggle of almost three days. Police brought in armored vehicles and fired tear-gas to clear the community from the land, before moving in to destroy homes and crops. Also demolished was the Eduardo Galeano Popular School, where children, youth and adults studied together. The Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), whose followers established the squatter community 22 years ago, protested that the mass eviction leaves some 450 families homeless in the midst of a pandemic.
Q'eqchi Maya campesinos in Guatemala's central Alta Verapaz department were attacked by a group of unknown gunmen who violently evicted them from their homes before setting them to the torch on Aug. 16. At least 40 families lost their homes in the attack at the hamlet of Balbatzul, in Cobán municipality. President Alejandro Giammattei said National Civil Police troops have taken control of the hamlet, and the Fiscalía has opened an investigation. Some of the targetted homes were on occupied lands of a large farm, Finca Cubilguitz, which appears to have been at issue in the conflict. Local campesinos moved onto the lands last year, but leadership of the occupation has been contested between followers of the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC) and ex-guerilla commander César Montes.