The United States government further complicated the future of peace in Colombia on May 13, adding Cuba to its list of countries that do not cooperate fully with counter-terrorist efforts. The State Department cited Havana's failure to extradite leaders of the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia's last active guerilla group. Colombia requested extradition of the ELN leaders after the group claimed responsibility for an attack on a Bogotá police academy in January 2019 that killed 22. Havana responded that the ELN leaders had been brought to Cuba for peace talks with the Colombian government, and that it was obliged to honor terms of dialogue, which included protection from arrest. Colombia's government broke off the talks after the Bogotá blast; civil society groups in Colombia have since been urging both sides to return to the table.
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.
Cuba on March 14 released a dissident artist who had been arrested two weeks earlier for taking part in anti-censorship protests last year and placed in "preventive" detention. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested March 1 in Havana while on his way to another such event—a "kiss-in" organized by members of the LGBT community to protest the censorship of a gay kiss scene in the 2018 film Love, Simon that was broadcast by the Cuban Institute of Radio & Television. Hundreds of artists and intellectuals signed a petition demanding that the Cuban government release Otero Alcántara. "This attack is not only against Otero Alcántara, but against all of the artistic and intellectual community, and against Cuban civil society in its totality," reads the petition, started by New York-based artist Coco Fusco and signed by nearly 900 cultural figures, including Cuban artist Tania Bruguera.
Last week we were treated to the perverse spectacle of the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China's "re-education camps." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (whose hypocrisy on this matter we have noted before) on July 18 called China's treatment of the Uighurs the "stain of the century," and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. (Reuters) At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. (SCMP)
Activists in Havana held Cuba's first independent gay pride march May 11, after authorities cancelled the officially sanctioned event. The march assembled in Old Havana'a Parque Central, where the official event had been scheduled to start. Accompanied by a large escort of riot police and State Security agents, including some with dogs, the activists headed down the Paseo del Prado, waving rainbow flag. Upon arrival at the Malecón, Havana's seaside promenade, plainclothes agents moved in on the march, arresting at least six.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Feb. 1 condemned US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for force-feeding detained migrants. According to a report from the Associated Press, detained men at the agency's El Paso Processing Center have been participating in a hunger strike since early January. ICE officials said that 11 men are striking, but AP reports the number may be closer to 30. In order for ICE to consider detainees to be a hunger strikers, they must miss nine consecutive meals. In mid-January a federal judge authorized ICE to force-feed six of the protesters. An ICE official told AP that it is "exceedingly rare" for a judge to authorize force-feeding. The detained men have been protesting "rampant verbal abuse and threats of deportation from guards" and long detentions while awaiting a hearing. Most of the hunger strikers are from India or Cuba.
Numerous media sources are reporting that Vladimir Putin has dispatched a team of private mercenaries to Venezuela to help back up the besieged government of President Nicolás Maduro. Reuters cites claims that some 400 military contractors from the Wagner group have arrived in Caracas. Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) is a Russian firm already contracted by Moscow's Defense Ministry to provide personnel for the wars in Ukraine and in Syria. Moscow Times quotes Yevgeny Shabayev, ataman (commander) of the Khovrino Cossack paramilitary group, as saying that the mercenaries were flown to Havana on two chartered aircraft, where they were transfered to commerical flights to Caracas. Shabayev said Cossacks had been recruited for the force to serve as a kind of Praetorian Guard for Maduro. "Our people are there directly for his protection," he said. The Russian news site Lenta.ru cited Shabayev saying a "military conspiracy had been discovered in Maduro's inner circle, and therefore it was necessary to replace his personal security with loyal people."
In an egregious and all too revealing faux pas, Amy Goodman appears to have put a mouthpiece of the German far right on Democracy Now as a "former UN expert" to discuss Venezuela. This is one Alfred de Zayas, who is given Goodman's typical sycophantic treatment—all softballs, no adversarial questions. We are treated to the accurate enough if not at all challenging or surprising line about how the US is attempting a coup with the complicity of the corporate media. Far more interesting than what he says is de Zayas himself. His Twitter page identifies him as a "Former @UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a #Democratic & Equitable #International Order," and this is confirmed by his bio page on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights website. Further digging reveals that he is on the board of the Desiderius-Erasmus-Stiftung, a Berlin-based foundation established last year as the intellectual and policy arm of Alternative für Deutschland, the far-right party that has tapped anti-immigrant sentiment to win an alarming 94 seats in Germany's Bundestag.