International News

In his first hours of freedom after 36 years behind bars in US prison, Puerto Rican independence leader Oscar Lopez Rivera vowed on May 17 to continue to fight for freedom and independence while expressing solidarity with progressive movements across the Americas.

“During the years I was jailed I always thought I would return home,” Lopez said during a press conference, thanking all the progressive organisations and world leaders who supported him and worked for his release over the years.

In recent weeks, there have been some worrying developments in the Italian political scene. Extremist, anti-refugee and xenophobic ideas are increasingly gaining ground.

In a growing climate of uncertainty and social instability, all major political forces seem to be riding the wave of discontent to raise their electoral profiles, rather than trying to calm things down.

A maternity hospital in Venezuela's Miranda state was attacked on May 17 as the death count in ongoing violent anti-government protests rose to 53. 

The attack comes as violent opposition protests demanding early presidential elections enter their seventh week, with new deaths being reported as opposition supporters clash with authorities, attack public institutions and state security personnel, and blockade roads nationwide. 

As violent anti-government protests continue in Venezuela, supporters of the right-wing opposition have begun targeting Venezuelan government officials and their families in Australia. The actions are part of a string of recent attacks abroad on government representatives by Venezuelan opponents of President Nicolas Maduro.

For the better part of six years, Baba Jan, a founding member and activist of the left-wing Awami Workers Party (AWP) in the Pakistani-occupied disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, has been behind bars on a life sentence for ‘terrorism’ charges. His crime? Demanding rights for Hunza’s poor and displaced.

A year on from the parliamentary coup that ousted former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil has become a neoliberal disaster and approval ratings for the incumbent right-wing government have slumped to record low levels.

The democratically-elected president was ousted in May last year without any proof of wrongdoing. Michel Temer, who then served as vice president, was installed as interim president. On August 31, Rousseff was formally removed from office.

A day before whistleblower Chelsea Manning's release from military prison on May 17 after seven years behind bars, WikiLeaks announced it had set up a "Welcome Home Manning" fund and asked people to donate Bitcoin’s in support of the soldier imprisoned for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military documents.

Manning walked free from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after former US President Barack Obama granted her clemency in January, saying she had taken responsibility for her crime and her sentence was disproportionate to those received by other whistleblowers.

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets of Caracas on May 9 to rally in support of the country’s commune movement.

Socialist revolutionaries from across the country joined the march, calling on the government of President Nicolas Maduro to endorse a proposal to provide constitutional recognition of communes.

The Bolivian government has proposed a bill that would allow workers to take over the private companies they work at if they go bankrupt, and convert them into “social companies” to stimulate production and address unemployment, Pagina Siete reported on May 16.

The government justified the measure as part of the state's duty to protect labour rights and generate job opportunities while improving the productive apparatus of the country.

The mood in Turkey is low, and not just among those who oppose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Even some of his supporters are disoriented by developments in the country.

In the aftermath of the failed coup of July 15 last year, Erdogan orchestrated the dismissal of tens of thousands of government employees. The figures from the ongoing Turkish purges are startling.

We live in strange times. A white, nationalist, billionaire businessperson has been elected president. His 24-member cabinet is made up primarily of wealthy white men, many former Goldman Sachs executives, who US President Donald Trump’s most extreme nationalist ideologues call “New York liberals.” Trump has appointed the fewest number of women and minorities to his cabinet since Ronald Reagan.

In these almost two years of socialist government, it has been possible with the support of the left-wing parties, to reverse privatisations in public transport, restore four previously eliminated national holidays, reverse salary cuts for public sector workers, reduce the working week in the public sector to 35 hours, eliminate the surcharge on individual income tax and increase the supplementary solidarity payment for the elderly as well as family allowances and other social subsidies.

However, despite this progress, the current and future situations is not without cause for concern.

US President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey for one reason: he was not 100% loyal to Trump. The boldness of the move was to underscore Trump’s drive to establish an increasingly authoritarian presidency.

The predominantly Tamil north and east of the island of Sri Lanka were brought to a “complete standstill” on April 27, Tamilnet reported, as a result of a strike called by unions, civil groups and Tamil political parties.

It was supported by the Northern Provincial Council, which suspended its sitting. In some towns Muslims joined Tamils in the strike.

Throughout the battle against the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL), the  US$3.78 billion pipeline that will carry about 500,000 barrels of oil a day, indigenous campaigners and supporters repeatedly warned it was not a question of if, but when a breach would occur.

Now, before the pipeline is even fully operational, those warnings have come to fruition.

An ISIS attack on May 2 near the Rajim Salibi border crossing between Iraq and Syria left 37 refugees dead and at least 20 injured. Victims were as young as three months. “The attack was repelled [by] the intervention by Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] fighters,” Firat News Agency reported.

Most of the refugees were fleeing the Iraqi city of Mosul, which for months has been the scene of heavy fighting as Western, Russian, Iranian, Iraqi government forces and allied militias try to retake the city from ISIS.

Many things have been said about Venezuela, its leaders and its people; namely, the ability of its process to survive the historical challenges of the growing economic crisis and attacks from the political opposition.

Now is the time to stand in solidarity with Venezuela and really get to know its people and process.

Opposition groups in Venezuela have been waging an economic war similar to that perpetrated against former Chilean president Salvador Allende. Hoarding, smuggling and currency speculation have caused shortages of food and basic necessities and hardship, particularly for poorer people.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced at an International Workers’ Day rally on May 1 that he would convene a National Constituent Assembly in an attempt to resolve the country’s current political crisis.

The constituent assembly, which will be made up of delegates elected on a territorial basis and from among the country’s different social sectors, seeks to prove an electoral route out of the current impasse premised on national dialogue.

Venezuela has been rocked in recent weeks by almost daily protests and counter-protests, as right-wing opponents of socialist President Nicolas Maduro seek to bring down his government.

While the media portrays these events as a popular rebellion against an authoritarian government, supporters of the pro-poor Bolivarian revolution initiated by former president Hugo Chavez say the country is witnessing an escalation in what is an ongoing counter-revolutionary campaign seeking to restore Venezuela’s traditional elites in power and reverse the gains made by the poor majority under Chavez and Maduro.

It is official: solidarity and activism are, according to the Ukrainian government, criminal acts. It seems paradoxical, but it is true.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Petro Poroshenko has demanded the Italian government extradite members of the so-called Anti-Fascist Caravan (AFC), a group of activists who recently visited the separatist region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine.

Moon Jae-in, of the liberal Democratic Party, won South Korea’s May 9 presidential election with 41% of the vote, easily defeating his arch-conservative opponent Hong Jun-pyo, who won about 24%.

The elections took place after the impeachment of conservative president Park Geun-hye for her involvement in a huge corruption scandal. Park, from Hong’s right-wing Saenuri Party (renamed Liberty Korea Party in a bid to rebrand), was forced out by the huge “Candlelight Revolution”. Millions of Koreans mobilised in an ongoing series of candlelight protests to demand her impeachment.

The elections also took place in a context of the threat of war in the Korean Peninsula with US President Donald Trump’s administration ratcheting up tensions with North Korea.

Emmanuel Macron won the second round of the French presidential elections on May 7, receiving 58.21% of the vote compared to the 30.01% share for far-right National Front (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen.

Despite the apparently decisive victory, the vote signals continued political uncertainty in France fuelled by widespread disillusionment with France’s democracy. It raises questions as to whether Macron’s supporters, organised in a new centrist movement called En Marche!, will be able to form a working government out of legislative elections scheduled for late June.

Media coverage encouraged and inflamed Britain’s referendum campaign on whether to leave the European Union last year to make it the “most divisive, hostile, negative and fear-provoking” in British history, according to a new report.

King’s College London’s Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power (CMCP) analysed more than 15,000 articles published online by 20 national news outlets. It found the media coverage “acrimonious and divisive” and dominated by “overwhelmingly negative” reports about the consequences of migration to Britain.

Today, it is Timor-Leste that is giving the tutorial in politics. After years of trickery and bullying by Canberra, the people of Timor-Leste have demanded and won the right to negotiate before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) a legal maritime boundary and a proper share of the oil and gas.

Australia owes Timor Leste a huge debt — some would say, billions of dollars in reparations. Australia should hand over, unconditionally, all royalties collected since Evans toasted Suharto’s dictatorship while flying over the graves of its victims.

The huge Labour losses in the May 4 local council elections are just what the Labour Right was hoping for.

The left has to be crystal clear about what is happening here. There are many subsidiary factors, but the root of the Conservative Party's substantial gains – 500 seats won against about 400 losses for Labour – is the xenophobic nationalism of Brexit which the Tories have used ruthlessly.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez and other ministers from the region kicked off a special session of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), on May 2 in San Salvador to discuss recent violence in the South American country.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro officially called for a national Constituent Assembly to be convened during a May Day march in Caracas on May 1. The call is a bid to bring an end to the political crisis between the national government and the opposition-held parliament.

Speaking to the hundreds of thousands of government supporters who took to the streets for International Workers’ Day, Maduro said he would invoke article 347 of the constitution to trigger the assembly, which will be responsible for re-drafting the 1999 Constitution. 

The full vote in the lower house of Brazil’s Congress on the government’s plan to reform the pension system will be delayed until the end of May, amid ongoing protests against it.

If passed, the controversial bill would cut benefits, raise social security contributions by civil servants and set a minimum retirement age of 65 years in a country where people work on average until 54 years.

More than 2000 Honduran campesinos have taken over 10 farms in La Lima belonging to the Tela Railroad Company, a successor to the dissolved United Fruit Company, La Prensa reported on May 3.

The campesinos, demanding better working conditions and health care from the company, vowed to indefinitely occupy the space until they take action.

Three times in recent months, a Honduran woman named Alma went to US officials at the border between Reynosa, Mexico and Hidalgo, Texas, to ask for asylum for herself and her three children. She had fled Honduras because her other child had been killed by gang members, and she brought documentation to prove it.

But three times she was told by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that she would have to wait in Mexico. In February, the family was kidnapped.

Afghan anti-war activist and feminist Malalai Joya sent the solidarity message below to a protest organised by Sydney Stop the War Coalition against the visit of US Vice President Mike Pence to Australia on April 29.

Joya was elected to Afghanistan’s National Assembly of Afghanistan from 2005 until early 2007. She was dismissed from her seat for denouncing the presence of warlords and war criminals in the Afghan Parliament.

At the same time as President Enrique Pena Nieto deports undocumented migrants trying to enter or pass through Mexico, his own party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is under-paying migrants and refugees in its T-shirt factory.

The demands of the hunger strikers are for basic civil rights. There are 6500 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including 300 children. About 500 are being held under “administrative detention” — meaning they are held without trial by court orders that can be renewed indefinitely.

Despite the scale of the hunger strike and huge popular support enjoyed by the prisoners and their campaign for “freedom and dignity”, Israel shows no signs of acceding to any of the prisoners’ demands to end their ill-treatment.

Leaders of Palestinian political party Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, released a document outlining their guiding principles at a press conference in the Qatari capital Doha on May 1.

Much coverage focused on the document’s acceptance of Israel’s 1967 boundary as the basis for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The document also includes pronouncements on how Hamas views the roots of the conflict, the role of Palestinian resistance and its position towards Jewish people.

I’m not one of nature’s optimists at the best of times, and a rash of media headlines predicting a doomsday scenario for Labour on June 8 aren’t exactly good for the spirits. But how far are their gloomy predictions born out by the facts of the May 4 local election results| — in which the governing Tories won 38% (up eight points from last year's vote) and Labour just 27% (down 4 points)?

“We have just received urgent news from West Papua that 200 people have been arrested and 26 tortured by Indonesian police, two days before Indonesia hosts the World Press Freedom Day in Jakarta,” the Free West Papua Campaign said on May 1.

Italian Democratic Party (PD) members re-elected former prime minister Matteo Renzi as party secretary with 70% of the votes in primaries on April 30. Renzi’s re-election carries important significance for both Italy and Europe.

This is going to be an election based more on competing policies and visions of society than any other election for a long time. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, pointed out at the London May Day rally that this is completely different to the past two elections where the challenge was to spot the difference — elections that Labour lost.

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