crisis of capitalism
World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)
Things are approaching a crisis point in the long battle of wills between Venezuela and the White House. Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore himself in as the country's "interim president" before a crowd of tens (by some accounts, hundreds) of thousands of supporters in Caracas on Jan. 23. Perhaps in an abortive move to pre-empt this, the SEBIN political police detained him on his way to a rally three days earlier, but later released him without charge. At his auto-inauguration, he declared President Nicolás Maduro's re-election last May illegitimate, and himself the only legitimate executive authority in the country. Donald Trump immediately announced that he is recognizing Guaidó—quickly joined by Canada and several Latin American governments.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Jan. 17 called on the government of Sudan to protect its people's rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the face of mounting violence. Since mid-December, anti-government demonstrations have been taking place in multiple cities across Sudan. As of Jan. 6, a total of 816 people had been arrested, including "journalists, opposition leaders, protestors and representatives of civil society." The government has confirmed 24 deaths but other reports place the number at double that. There have also been reports of security forces following protesters into hospitals and firing tear-gas and live ammunition inside.
Protests have been mounting across Sudan in response to the nation’s acute economic crisis. Inflation reached 70% in November and many have been forced to spend significant portions of their income on bread, leading to local media designating the demonstrations as "bread protests." Protesters have repeatedly called for President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1993, to step down. President Bashir promised reforms on Dec. 25 after police blocked protesters who marched on his presidential palace. The protests have been organized by professional organizations and trade unions as well as Sudan's principal opposition group, the Umma Party. Sudan's government on Dec. 20 shut off internet access to prevent the protesters from organizing via social media. According to an Amnesty International report released Dec. 24, at least 37 protesters have been killed so far as Sudanese authorities attempt to quell the demonstrations by releasing tear-gas and firing live ammunition, sparking international criticism.
In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orban''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. He dismissed the opposition to the law as "hysterical shouting" by people "whose lies have no limits." In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment.
The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as the government of President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suspend a controversial fuel tax after weeks of increasingly violent protests. This may be concretely a win for the working class, but the fact that Macron imposed the tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions has provided fodder for anti-environmental content to the protest movement. Exploiting this moment, Donald Trump blamed the uprising on the Paris climate accord, tweeting: "The Paris Agreement isn't working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting 'We Want Trump!' Love France."
US President Donald Trump issued an executive order Aug. 6 reimposing certain sanctions against Iran. In a press statement, the White House criticized the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) of July 2015, signed by Iran, Germany, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and the EU. The US withdrew from the JCPOA in May, prompting a legal challenge from Iran before the International Court of Justice. The White House stated that JCPOA "threw a lifeline of cash to a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence, and chaos." The administration claims Iran used monies freed by the JCPOA to fund nuclear-capable missiles, terrorism, and to support the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Farmers in central Iran have over the past weeks been turning to protests to push authorities to find a solution to the severe drought that is plaguing the county and causing once-fertile fields to turn to dust. Every day, farmers in Varzaneh, Isfahan province, have been holding a protest vigil at the town entrance, parking their long-idle tractors next to the now-dry canal that once irrigated their fields. Earlier this month, protests in the town of Abadan, Khuzestan province, were violently put down by security forces, who used tear-gas and bullets, leaving 11 demonstrators dead. The drought currently affects over 95% of Iran, and is the worst in decades. But protesters charge the problems have been exacerbated by long mismanagement and corruption. Many people have become sick due to lack of clean drinking water and it is feared that if the crisis is not resolved, many will die.