political geography

Bay of Fundy flashpoint for US-Canada war?

In what the New York Times somewhat hyperbolically calls a "clash," US Border Patrol vessels have over the past two weeks stopped at least 10 Canadian fishing boats near Machias Seal Island between Maine and New Brunswick. Canada has responded by beefing up its Coast Guard patrols in what is being termed a "disputed gray zone" between the two countries' territories. "There is no illegal immigration going on there," a bewildered Canadian fisherman told the Times. "It seems silly." Most observers see it as related to the current bitter trade dispute between Washington and Ottawa. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says the US Border Patrol has stopped over 20 Canadian vessels so far this year in "contested waters" in the Bay of Fundy, and "has no intention of stopping." The so-called Grey Zone consists of some 700 square kilometers of lucrative lobster waters where the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine, although few actually live in it. Machias Seal Island is a migratory bird sanctuary maintained by the government of Canada, but is otherwise uninhabited.

UAE-Saudi plan to divide Yemen seen

A crisis over the Yemeni island of Socotra was resolved this week, as the United Arab Emirates agreed to withdraw and turn control over to Saudi forces, which will in turn restore full Yemeni rule there. The island, just off the very tip of the Horn of Africa, has been ruled by Yemeni governments for centuries between periodic episodes of control by various European powers, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique flora and fauna, hailed as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean." Emirati forces seized it at the beginning of the month, and raised their flag over the airport and other strategic points—sparking angry protests from the island's inhabitants. Hashim Saad al-Saqatri, Socotra's governor, condemned the UAE move as an "occupation," saying it represented "a flagrant violation of Yemeni sovereignty." Even after the de-escalation, suspicions remain. Yemen's ambassador to UNESCO, Ahmad al-Sayyad, charged that "there is synergy between the roles of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There is a hidden inclination to divide Yemen." (Middle East Eye, May 18; Al Jazeera, May 17)

Afrin and Ghouta: fearful symmetry

Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)

'Lost kingdom' of Patagonia stands up for Mapuche

On March 24, the exiled Royal House of the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia elected Prince Frederic Luz as its new monarch—claiming dominion over a large area of Chile in the name of the region's Mapuche indigenous inhabitants. Although now dispersed in Britain and France, the Royal House traces its origin to 1860, when Orélie de Tounens, an idealistic lawyer from Tourtoirac, crossed Chile’s Rio Biobío into Mapuche lands never colonized by either the Spanish empire or the Chilean state. The Biobío was recognized as the northern border of Mapuche territory under a 1641 treaty with the Spanish. De Tounens learned the local language, adopted Mapuche ways, and was recognized by their elders as King Antoine—ruling a territory that stretched to the southern tip of the continent. In 1862, he was captured by Chilean forces, convicted of sedition, and only spared execution due to his perceived insanity. He made several failed attempts to return to Patagonia and win international recognition for his now-exiled government, but died in poverty in 1878. By then, Chile and Argentina were launching military campaigns to "pacify" the Mapuche. Historians estimate the Mapuche population of southern Chile fell by 90% as a result of this "pacification."

Colombia: rural violence persists despite 'peace'

Colombia's peace process continues to advance, with institutional mechanisms for a post-war order falling into place. On March 1, the country's Constitutional Court upheld the Amnesty Law agreed upon as part of the transitional justice process for ex-combatants. The ruling also restricted it somewhat, giving Congress greater power to determine when a defendant applies for the program. (Contagio Radio, March 1) The National Land Agency (ANT) reports that the Land Fund established for a new agrarian reform as a condition of the peace accords now holds 200.000 hectares. ANT hopes to have 3 million hectares for redistribution to landless peasants by 2028. (El Tiempo, March 1)

Will US betray Rojava Kurds —or NATO ally Turkey?

The Kurdish question in northern Syria has really put US imperialism in a bind—its most effective anti-ISIS allies on the ground are the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), regarded as "terrorists" by longtime NATO ally Turkey. We've been wondering if the US would dump the SDF in deference to Turkey after they had succeeded in taking Raqqa from ISIS, or continue to groom them as a proxy force to carve out an influence sphere in Syria's north—thereby risking its alliance with Turkey. Washington has been tilting first one way, then the other. Just weeks ago, the White House announced it would be demanding back the weapons it has supplied to the SDF to fight ISIS. Now comes the news that the Pentagon intends to train SDF fighters as a special force to control the northern border zone.

Bolivia's African king speaks for coca growers

Among the coca-growing peasants of Bolivia's Yungas region (the country's prime legal cultivation zone) is a substantial Afro-Bolivian population—descendants of slaves who were brought in by the Spanish colonialists to work in the silver mines and haciendas centuries ago. Some have inter-married with the indigenous Aymara people of the Yungas, forming a distinctive Afro-Aymara culture. The Guardian on Dec. 6 notes the 10th anniversary of the coronation of the "King of the Afro-Bolivians," Julio I—said to be South America's last reigning monarch, although he lives as a cocalero and grocery-shop keeper in the little village of Mururata. His dominion—recognized by the Bolivian government—extends to a few dozen rural villages as well as some city dwellers that together make up the 25,000-strong Afro-Bolivian community.

Trump, Jerusalem, escalation and eschatology

Palestinian activists burned pictures of Donald Trump in Bethlehem in response to his Dec. 6 announcement that his administration will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. He stated with typical bluster: "While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering." But this time the braggadocio was wedded to a nearly hallucinatory chutzpah: "I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians." (Palestine News Network, The Guardian) Of course precisely the opposite is true.

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