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)
Chilean company Sociedad Quimica y Minera (SQM), under pressure from the government amid falling prices and rising protests, committed Nov. 28 to define by year's end the destination for lithium from its lease area at the Salar de Maricunga. SQM, one of the world's top producers, already has a larger lithium mine in production at another area of salt-flats, the Salar de Atacama—but operations there were suspended for several days late last month, as local campesinos blocked roads to the site as part of the general popular uprising in Chile. Leaders of the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños, representing 18 indigenous communities, pledged to resist any expansion of lithium operations in the area, citing threats to local water sources. SQM has options to collaborate in development of the Maricunga lease with state mineral company Codelco, but announcement of a deal has been delayed amid depressed global lithium prices. This is partly attributed to a cut in government subsidies for purchasers of electric vehicles in China, a main destination for Chilean lithium. (Mundo Maritimo, Nov. 29; Reuters, Nov. 28; FT, Nov. 21; El Ciudadano, Chile, Oct. 27)
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."
Hong Kong protesters stormed and occupied the city's legislative chamber on July 1, which marked the 22nd anniversary of the handover from British to Chinese rule. The protesters, many wearing helmets, spray-painted the walls with slogans including "Oppose Chinese colonialism." But some, at least, betrayed a nostalgia for the earlier colonialism. Hong Kong Free Press writes: "A British colonial flag—often used in protesters—was also unfurled at the president's chair." And sure enough, the former colonial power has emerged as defender of the protest movement. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warns China of "serious consequences" over the Hong Kong repression, and will not rule out sanctions, BBC reports.
The UN General Assembly on May 22 passed a resolution demanding the United Kingdom return control of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius within six months. There were 116 votes for the motion, with more than 50 abstentions, and just six votes against—the UK, United States, Hungary, Israel, Australia and the Maldives. The non-binding resolution follows an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice in February, finding that the UK is "under an obligation" to end its administration of the islands "as rapidly as possible." The UK retained control over the islands after Mauritius gained its independence from Britain in 1968, following a supposed compensation deal between the two states. Mauritius now rejects the deal as having been imposed unilaterally.
In Episode 31 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg documents the ugly far-right politics of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and how the 2010 document dump risked the lives of dissidents under authoritarian regimes in places like Zimbabwe—and may have constituted outright collaboration with the repressive dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. An objective reading of the circumstances around the 2016 Wikileaks dump of Democratic Party e-mails reveals Assange as a Kremlin asset and Trump collaborator, an active agent in a Russian-lubricated effort to throw the US elections—part of Putin's grander design to impose a fascist world order. Weinberg also notes that the ACLU and Committee to Protect Journalists have issued statements warning that the charges against Assange may pose a threat to press freedom. But he argues that even if we must protest his prosecution, we should do so while refraining from glorifying Assange—and, indeed, while forthrightly repudiating him as a dangerous political enemy of all progressive values. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion Feb. 26 outlining the legal consequences of separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965. The UK and Mauritius, by virtue of the Lancaster House agreement, detached the Chagos Archipelago form Mauritius and established the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The British subsequently allowed the United States to establish a military base on the island Diego Garcia, with many inhabitants forcibly removed, and those who left voluntarily prevented from returning. The ICJ opinion, which is nonbinding, says the UK did not lawfully decolonize the islands through the Lancaster House agreement. The court urged the UK to end its continued administration over Chagos Archipelago: "[T]he United Kingdom has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible." The opinion states that "all Member States must cooperate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius."
Assad regime artillery struck areas of Syria's opposition-held Idlib province Jan. 12 after militants allegedly tried to infiltrate regime-held areas, according to state news agency SANA. The shelling was reportedly focused on the town of Tamanaa near Maaret al-Numan, which was seized from Turkish-backed rebels by jihadist forces earlier in the week. The was apparently part of a ceasefire agreement ending an internal conflict between rival opposition forces in Idlib. Much of the governorate's territory was reportedly turned over to the so-called "Salvation Government"—administrative arm of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the successor organization to disbanded al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. Constituent militias of the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front have reportedly retreated to the Turkish-held enclave of Afrin across the border in Aleppo governorate. (Rudaw, AFP) These ominous developments may spell an end to Idlib's reprieve from the threatened Assad offensiive on the province since establishment of a joint Turkish-Russian buffer zone there.