Kurdish wild card in Syria conflict

Recent reports (LAT, Jan. 19) have militia forces of the Kurdish National Council battling jihadist rebels of the Nusra Front for control of villages along Syria’s northeast border with Turkey. The jihadists seem to be alarmingly well-armed, using tanks and artillery to attack Kurdish positions and civilian neighborhoods in Ras Ayn village. There is a growing sense that the Islamization of the rebels is solidifying an alliance between the secular-minded Kurds and the Damascus regime—with much fear about the role of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the separatist group in Turkey which is on the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

India: Naxalite hand in opium trade?

Following a series of raids on the strongholds of Naxalite rebels and the slaying of top commanders, authorities say the guerillas' leaders have taken refuge in India's northeastern hinterlands, seeking to regroup and resupply—through control of opium production in their traditional strongholds. Home Ministry Joint Secretary MA Ganapathy said that Naxalites in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh are producing opium in their jungle territories. "Intelligence reports say that the Maoists have joined hands with drug cartels to cultivate opium, which is subsequently delivered to the mafia, who convert raw opium into heroin and smuggle the drug outside the country," he said. The proceeds are reportedly used to purchase weapons in the northeast that come across the border from Burma.

Mexico: peasant ecologist killed in Guerrero

Juventina Villa Mojica, an environmental activist in the village of Coyuca de Catalán, in Mexico's southern state of Guerrero, was murdered along with her 10-year-old son on Nov. 28, in a mountaintop attack by up to 30 gunmen. Villa had ridden in an all-terrain vehicle with her two children up a mountain to get a cellphone signal, as there are no telephones in the village.  Her seven-year-old daughter survived unharmed. State prosecutors report that the ambush took place despite the presence of 10 state police officers who had been assigned to protect her following death threats on Villa and deadly attacks on her family members. Manuel Olivares Hernández, director of the local Centro Morelos human rights group said Villa was targeted by narco gangs for her efforts to protect the forest. "It's a virgin area with rich forest areas, and the main interest of drug traffickers is cutting down the trees so that once it is deforested they can expand their drug fields," Olivares said.

Mexico: pressure mounts for drug legalization

A study released late last month by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, an elite think-tank based in Mexico City, asserted that proposals to legalize cannabis in Colorado, Washington and Oregon could cut Mexican drug cartels' earnings from traffic to the US by as much as 30%. The study, entitled "If Our Neighbors Legalize," drawing on previous research by the RAND Corporation, predicts that legalization in any US state would help drive down the price of high-quality domestic cannabis, undercutting the cheaper and less potent cartel imports. It calculated a loss of $1.425 billion to the cartels if Colorado legalized, $1.372 billion if Washington legalized, and $1.839 billion if Oregon voted yes. (AP, Nov. 1) In the Nov. 6 vote, initiatives calling for legalization of cannabis under regimes of state control were approved by voters in Colorado and Washington, but rejected in Oregon.

Montana voters: corporations are not people

In a landslide victory, Montana voters approved an initiative on Nov. 7 Election Day stating "that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings." The initiative directly challenges the US Supreme Court's now infamous Citizens United decision, which allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money for campaign groups know as "Super PACs" and "shadow money" organizations. Initiative 166 will likely win by 75% according to a projeciton by the Billings Gazette. The initiative states:

Colombia apologizes for Amazon genocide

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on Oct. 12—recognized in Latin America as Día de La Raza—issued an official apology to indigenous communities in the Amazon for deaths and destruction caused by the rubber boom beginning a century ago. From 1912 to 1929 the Peruvian firm Casa Arana, led by rubber baron Julio César Arana with British backing, exploited rubber near La Chorrera in what is now Colombia's Amazonas department. Up 100,000 people were killed and communities devastated in the operations, with indigenous rainforest dwellers forced into slave labor and slain or displaced if they resisted. The situation was brought to the world's attention following an investigation by British diplomat Roger Casement, who had previously documented similar atrocities in the Belgian Congo.

Colombia: no ceasefire during peace talks

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos rejected a proposal Sept. 6 by the FARC rebels for a bilateral ceasefire during talks set to begin in Norway next month, aimed at bringing an end to the country's long civil war. In an address at Tolemaida military base outside Bogotá, Santos pledged that the counter-insurgency campaign would continue across "every centimeter" of the country. "I have asked that military operations be intensified, that there will be no ceasefire of any kind," Santos said. "We won't cede anything at all until we reach the final agreement. That should be very clear."

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