In countries across the world, the impoverished are in the paradoxical position of being disproportionately impacted both by COVID-19 and by the police-state measures imposed in response to the pandemic—and consequent economic pain. In Lebanon, which had been in the midst of a national uprising before lockdown orders were imposed in March, protests have been re-ignited just as the lockdown is being eased—and with far greater rage. Violence escalated April 28 in the northern city of Tripoli as residents angered by the country's economic collapse set banks on fire and met volleys of tear-gas from security forces with barrages of pelted stones. The outburst came at the end of a massive funeral procession for a young man who died the previous day, apparently after being shot in a street clash with army troops. Mirroring a similar incident in Venezuela last week, mourners dubbed the deceased "Martyr of the Hunger Revolution." (WaPo, Foreign Policy)
Mounting police-state measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are now resulting in stand-offs between executive and judicial authorities. In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele, for the third time in 10 days on April 16 publicly dismissed Supreme Court rulings to respect fundamental rights while enforcing quarantine regulations. First, on March 26, the court ordered the government to release individuals who had been detained while grocery shopping. Then on April 8, the court explicitly provided that the government lacked proper statutory backing to detain citizens. After both rulings, Bukele took to Twitter, urging security forces to be strict with the lockdown and reiterating that violators will be placed in a containment facility. The third order states that the Bukele administration must respect the COVID-19-related rulings. Again, Bukele responded on Twitter, declaring that "five people will not decide the death of hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans." Security forces have already arbitrarily detained hundreds of people in the containment centers, where rights observers charge they face an increased risk of spreading COVID-19. (HRW, CISPES, Jurist)
On Cuba's farms, oxen are again tilling the soil as tractors are paralyzed by oil shortages. President Miguel Díaz-Canel has imposed fuel rationing, among other emergency energy-saving measures and price controls on food. As in the "special period" a generation ago, Cubans are having to line up for gasoline and public transport. The island has been running on just 30% of petroleum deliveries since last September, as the US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on more maritime firms and vessels shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba. In February, the Cuban government resorted to purchasing a ship carrying fuel after its owner refused to put into port on the island for fear of incurring US sanctions. "We have reached the point of having to buy a ship in the immediate vicinity of our shores…because the ship owner has refused to dock," Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodriguez told state television.
In a rare move, the US Department of Justice issued an indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on March 26. Maduro and 14 current and former Venezuelan officials have been charged with narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking and other crimes. The DoJ alleges that Maduro conspired with the FARC, Colombia's guerrilla army, prior to becoming the president, and continued to do after assuming power. The indictment charges that this nexus has congealed under the name "Cartel of the Suns," and that Maduro continues to collude with dissident factions of the FARC that remain in arms despite the Colombian peace accords. Attorney General William Barr said the aim of the conspiracy is "to flood the United States with cocaine."
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., began hearing oral arguments Jan. 29 in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration's travel bans. The plaintiffs, led by IRAP, argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their challenge is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban. The case challenges the proclamation Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, Executive Order 13780. The plaintiffs are asserting that the proclamation is unconstitutional, while the Trump administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation.
The new Bolivian regime's Government Minister Arturo Murillo has announced creation of a special "Anti-Terrorist Group" (GAT), drawn from elite units of the National Police force, to "completely disarticulate all the terrorist cells" operating in the country. Murillo made the announcement at a Dec. 2 meeting of the National Police Special Anti-Crime Struggle Force (FELCC) in Santa Cruz, where he charged that recent political violence in the country had been instrumented by foreign "terrorist" operatives financed by Venezuela as part of a plan to "destabilize" the countries of South America. He particularly mentioned Martín Serna Ponce, a supposed operative of Peru's defunct Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), and Facundo Morales Schoenfeld, a veteran of Colombia's FARC. (Aristegui Noticias, Mexico, Dec. 3; La Razón, La Paz, Dec. 2)
Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, one of the two remaining "dubia cardinals" who dissented from a perceived liberal tilt in the Catholic Church, praised the men who removed the controversial "Pachamama statues" from a church in Rome during last month's Amazon Synod and threw them into the Tiber River. The German cardinal hailed the perpetrators as "courageous...prophets of today" in an Oct. 29 interview with the conservative Catholic LifeSiteNews, adding: "These two young men who threw these tasteless idols into the Tiber have not committed theft, but have done a deed, a symbolic act as we know it from the Prophets of the Old Covenant, from Jesus—see the cleansing of the Temple—and from Saint Boniface who felled the Thor Oak near Geismar."
Well, this is all too telling. Venezuelan prosecutors finally announced charges against opposition leader Juan Guaidó for "high treason"—but not for colluding with foreign powers to overthrow the government. No, Guaidó is to face charges for his apparent intent to renounce Venezuela's claim to a disputed stretch of territory that has been controlled by neighboring Guyana since the end of colonial rule. Fiscal General Tarek William Saab told AFP that Guaidó is under investigation for negotiating to renounce "the historical claim our country has on the territory of Esequibo."