Occupy

Ecuador: general strike, indigenous march on Quito

After walking cross-country for 10 days,  an indigenous "March for Life and Dignity" arrived in Quito Aug. 13, just as a general strike was launched to press Ecuador's President Rafael Correa on a list of demands related to economic, social and environmental issues. The marchers established a camp in Quito's  Arbolito Park, where they pledge to remain until Correa agrees to their demands. As on such occasions in the past, the marchers were confronted by a pro-Correa rally, sparking a fracas. Correa supporters chanted "fuera golpistas, fuera" (out, coup-momgers, out), while the indigenous protesters countered with "fuera Correa, fuera." Under the work stoppage, public transport was halted in Quito and major thoroughfares were blocked in Guayaquil, Cuenca and other provincial capitals.

Brazil: indigenous activists occupy Justice Ministry

Some 100 Guarani activists on Aug. 13 launched an occupation of an auditorium at the Justice Ministry building in Brasilia, demanding a meeting with the minister, José Eduardo Cardozo, as well as cabinet chief Miguel Rosseto and the head of the indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, João Pedro Gonçalves. The protesters, joined by lawmaker Paulo Pimenta of the ruling center-left Workers Party (PT), are demanding urgent demarcation of their ancestral lands. (CIMI, Aug. 13) In one of several ongoing land conflicts involving the Guarani, on June 24 the indigenous community of Kurusu Mba in Mato Grosso do Sul state was attacked by gunmen after re-occupying traditional lands that had been usurped by local ranchers and soy growers. Huts were put to the torch, and an infant was burned to death. Brazil's high court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, ruled in April that the community should not be evicted from the re-occupied lands until its traditional territories have been demarcated. The demarcation process remains stalled, while attacks on the Guarani continue. (Survival International, June 26; Survival International, April 3)

Taiwan: protesters occupy Education Ministry

The Education Ministry in Taipei has been blockaded by student protesters for five days now, and the ministry has opened talks with protest leaders. The protests were launched to oppose textbook revisions that would emphasize the "One China" view of history. Protesters attempted to occupy the ministry building on July 23; after being ejected they returned a week later, tore down a fence and established an encampment in the courtyard. The protest camp has been maintained since July 30. The action was partially sparked by the suicide of student activist Lin Kuanhua, who was among those arrested in the July 23 action. The protests have drawn comparison to last year's Sunflower Movement, in which the Legislative Yuan was occupied for 24 days to oppose the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), decried as a "black box" deal with China that the ruling Kuomintang attempted to push through undemocratically. The new "black box" textbooks would reportedly emphasize that Taiwan is part of the "Republic of China," portrayed as the rightful government of all mainland China—even refering to the RoC's capital as Nanjing and its highest mountains as the Himalayas. Protesters are demanding that the textbook revisions be dropped and that Education Minister Wu Se-Hwa resign. (Channel NewsAsia, New Bloom, Aug. 3)

NYPD 'anti-terror' (sic) unit to get machine guns

New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton announced Jan. 29 a new 350-strong unit, the Strategic Response Group, dedicated to "disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities." An invoked example was the December hostage crisis in Sydney, which NYPD deputy commissioner for Intelligence John Miller said was an inevitability in NYC. But Bratton made clear the new unit will also be used against protesters: "It is designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris. They'll be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not... They’ll be equipped with all the extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and machine guns—unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances." (Gothamist, Jan. 29)

Cuba: #YoTambienExijo and 'regime change'

What do we make of this? Artist Tania Bruguera and some dozen others were arrested in Havana's Revolution Square Dec. 30. Bruguera planned to stage Yo También Exijo (I Also Demand), her participatory performance act that includes an open-mic section. She had succeeded in getting away with the open-mic trick in her performance of another act, El Susurro de Tatlin (Tatlin's Whsiper), at the 2009 Havana Biennial arts affair. But she was denied a permit to take the act to Revolution Square. Cuba's National Visual Arts Council issued a statement saying the performance was "unacceptable" given the "manipulation" of the "counter-revolutionary media." Bruguera's website tags the acts "Unannounced Performance," "Behavior Art Materials," and "Crowd Control Techniques." The planned event was poorly attended—possibly due to police pre-emptive measures. Havana Times ("open-minded writing from Cuba") stated: "Starting around noon Ministry of Interior troops, both in plainclothes and uniformed, were stationed at all points of access to the square..." Then the cops arrested the intended participants. Havana Times also reports that among the detained were Reinaldo Escobar, husband of dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila of opposition group Somos Más (We are More). Most have been released, including Bruguera, although she is apparently barred from leaving Cuba. (14yMedio, ArtForum, Dec. 31) #YoTambienExijo has become a popular hashtag on Facebook and Twitter.

Spain passes anti-protest, anti-immigrant law

Spain's conservative-led parliament, the Cortes, passed an anti-protest bill on Dec. 11 despite harsh criticism from opposition politicians and activist groups, who say it violates the right to demonstrate, limits freedom of expression, and gives undue power to police. The measure, dubbed the "Ley Mordaza" (Gag Law), limits demonstrations to officially permiited gatherings and imposes heavy fines on unauthorized protesters. It also bans taking photos of police during protest demonstrations. Spain has seen a rising tide of mostly peaceful street protests and strikes against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's austerity program, which includes harsh cuts to public health and education.

Hong Kong to Ferguson: corporate police state

Student leaders Lester Shum and Joshua Wong were among 116 people detained late Nov. 26 as police cleared protest sites in Hong Kong's Mong Kok commercial district. Skirmishes between police and protesters broke out when a group refused to leave the site. (China Digital Times) The pepper spray used by Hong Kong police against the protesters (which won the movement its umbrella icon) was likely made by the Sabre company—its headquarters just oustide Ferguson, Mo., now exploding into protest over the failure of a grand jury to indict the police officer who killed Black youth Mike Brown. Sabre (slogan: "Making grown men cry since 1975") is owned by Security Equipment Corp of Fenton. Mo., and claims to be the world's top police supplier of pepper spray. Sabre supplies police forces from Hong Kong to Uruguay, as well as the St. Louis city and county. (Quartz) In appealing to the police to refrain from brutality, Hong Kong protesters have adopted the slogan from the Ferguson protest movement, "Hands up, don't shoot!" (Vox, Sept. 28)

Hong Kong: paradoxes of dissent

Having receded from the global headlines, the pro-democracy protesters have not receded from the streets of Hong Kong. Nov. 6 saw new clashes with police in street occupations that have now persisted for more than a month and a half. The skirmish came in the commercial district of Mong Kok, after police attempted to arrest a man they said was shining his mobile phone light in their eyes. In the ensuing confrontation, at least one protester was left bleeding from the head. (AP, Nov. 6) That night in New York City, the Lower Manhattan office of the New America Foundation hosted a screening of Lessons in Dissent, a new film focusing on two teenagers who have emerged as leaders of the Hong Kong protests, Joshua Wong and Ma Jai. The film was released just before the Occupy Central movement finally went into action, but depicts the precursor struggle in 2012, when students organized against proposed constitutional reforms in the territory that would limit freedom, and a mandatory "national education" curriculum they saw as propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party. The protests were successful; the constitutional changes were shelved, the new curriculum made optional. The film's two protagonists are still at it—Wong having risen to global attention.

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