Geopolitics

The Latest: Navalny's Arrest, Brazil Vaccination Campaign, Trump Baby Blimp

Searching for victims in the rubble in Mamuju after the Indonesian island of Sulawesi was hit by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 15, killing at least 81.
Searching for victims in the rubble in Mamuju after the Indonesian island of Sulawesi was hit by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 15, killing at least 81.

Welcome to Monday, where Navalny is arrested upon his return to Moscow, Brazil starts its mass vaccination campaign and there are signs of life from China's trapped miners. Meanwhile, Le Monde travels to the French port city of Calais to see how high-tech is being used to ease post-Brexit commerce with the UK.

SPOTLIGHT: ON THE HYPOCRISY OF "AMERICAN DEMOCRACY"

A motley crew barging into the U.S. Capitol can hardly be considered to be an attack on democracy in a country where capitalism has already systematically squeezed the rights of working people, writes Reinaldo Spitaletta in Colombian daily El Espectador.


The assault on the United States Capitol by a horde of President Trump supporters revealed some of the deep-seated, internal contradictions of imperialism and the divisions that exist inside its elites, corporations and power poles. It was a crisis that illustrates the Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef's characterization of the United States as "a country on the road to underdevelopment."


We should look beyond political events to consider, first and foremost, that in the rich tapestry of U.S. history, the one thing that wasn't actually abundant was democracy, despite painting a rosy picture of all the fantasies. What is democratic about a country dominated by a bipartisan system that excludes other political options? What is so democratic about racial exclusion, discrimination against migrants, and the repeated suppression of workers' rights in modern history, be they white, black or any other color?


The U.S. power system is oligarchical. It is designed for interest groups to determine and forge laws, regardless of who is currently in the White House. The present context is a boxing ring that pits in one corner at big-money interests intent on dominating the domestic market unchallenged, currently represented by Trump, against the global power elites that want to keep expanding outwards in the other corner. Either side can dress as a Democrat or Republican at any given time. It's not the issue.


The "Trumpist" side is well-trained in chauvinistic rabble-rousing, fueling xenophobia and spouting white supremacist, Nazi-style "trash-talk." Clearly, they are not only eyeing the domestic market but scheming to make gains abroad, as they maintain a similar, overbearing relationship with other countries. Colombia is a fine example of a pseudo-colony that continues to prostate itself before America's instructions.


The other side, the party of multinationals (which Noam Chomsky believes are the human institutions closest to the totalitarian vision) looks out to see how it can take over other markets, gobble up the world's natural resources and crush the workforce at home and abroad.


Both sides follow the same doctrine they have imposed over 40 years to enrich a privileged minority and impoverish millions, in the United States and abroad.


Inside the United States, there is a fight going on between the powerful elites. And the collision shows both sides manipulating each other's cannon-fodder. The sacrificed pawns are the masses that can be tamed, frightened, distracted with pleasures or alienated with screens and other contraptions. And, crucially, they can be induced to serve one side or the other.


Behind the curtain, we have the giant corporations that quietly run things while people only see the Democrats and Republicans running for office. Who is in charge if not IT, global chains, big drug firms, armies, corporations and banks? You have their bosses, the owners of firms like Twitter, Facebook and Amazon, and magnates like Bill Gates, the Rockefellers and their ilk, and you have their representatives — people like Trump and his successor, President-elect Joe Biden.


So U.S. democracy does not live up to its name, nor has it in the past, despite its constitutional amendments and loud slogans defending freedom. It has left that freedom in tatters every time it invaded a country, launched an airstrike or violated the sovereign rights of other nations. It cannot call itself a democracy because of its enduring racism, the blatant crushing of Native Americans, the oppression of women's rights, and the persecution of workers (like those protesters killed in the Haymarket Affair in 1886).


What kind of democracy will massacre its own workers, or persecute artists or personalities with dissenting political views as happened in the ghastly McCarthy years? What kind of democracy will kill leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, or have a president say, as the gun-slinging Theodore Roosevelt did, that "in strict confidence... I should welcome any war, for I think this country needs one." Howard Zinn relates this slight on democracy in hisPeople's History of the United States.


The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump's white supremacist and neo-nazi sympathizers showed the desperation of elite fighting for internal power. There has even been talk of another secession, showing the extent of the "empire's' degradation.


Today, the United States doesn't look like one of the "banana republics' it liked to set up elsewhere, but a country showing every symptom of backwardness.


— Reinaldo Spitaletta / El Espectador



7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW:

• Navalny's arrest: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has appeared in court this morning after his arrest at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport late Sunday. The leading critic of President Vladimir Putin was returning to his country after recovering in Germany for several months from his poisoning with a nerve agent that Navalny and international observers have blamed on Russian agents. The United States and several European governments have condemned his arrest and demanded his release.

• COVID-19 latest: Brazil begins vaccination campaign after the country's health regulators gave emergency approval to Oxford's AstraZeneca and China's Sinovac jabs. Meanwhile, an Australian Open player tests positive, amid growing controversy about the tennis Grand Slam event being held during the pandemic.

• Trump's pardons: As his hours in the Oval Office draws to a close, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to issue more than 100 pardons and sentence commutations.

• Uganda election unrest: Opposition party led by Bobi Wine announced it would challenge President Yoweri Museveni's election win, saying it has "evidence of ballot stuffing and other forms of election malpractice." Wine said he was confined to his house, surrounded by army and police, as clashes between opposition protesters and security forces led to at least two deaths.

• Samsung heir sentenced (again): Samsung vice chairman Lee Jae-yong returns to prison after he was sentenced to two years and six months for embezzlement and bribery, during a retrial ordered by South Korea's Supreme Court.

• Trapped miners in China: Miners trapped at a gold mine in Qixia, eastern China, for the past eight days manage to send a note to rescue teams, saying 12 of them are still alive. On Jan. 10, an explosion trapped 22 people working at a depth of more than 600 metres.

• Trump baby balloon lands in museum: The 6-meter-high Donald Trump baby blimp, which had been displayed in Parliament Square during the U.S. President's visit to the UK in 2018, has been bought by the Museum of London to go in its protest collection.


"Thank you, science," titles Brazilian daily Extra after Monica Calazans, a 54-year-old nurse in São Paulo, received Brazil's first vaccine dose following the emergency approval of AstraZeneca and Sinovac jabs.


POST-BREXIT, TECH AND TRUCKS MAKE THE PORT OF CALAIS "SMARTER"

The customs border between the UK and the EU is back, with new rules and regulations, an influx of hastily trained agents, and a technology overhaul in the port of Calais in northern France, reports Louisa Benchabane in French daily Le Monde.

Dozens of trucks are stuck in an immense car park after they arrived from Dover, UK. In a cold and wet wind, they are waiting near the ferry landing for authorization to get back on the road — clearance they can only obtain once the operator whose goods they are transporting provides customs with all the necessary documents.

To avoid having all these trucks at a standstill — and be overwhelmed with a colossal amount of paperwork and endless traffic jams — French customs have devised what is called a smart border. The system is based on software that generates a barcode for each shipment, after the expeditors have filled a declaration form. This code, which is linked to the truck's license plate, is an identity card for the vehicles allowing them to avoid customs formalities.

The software analyzes the plates inside the ferry. Once they arrive at the port, drivers can see on a screen whether they must follow the green marking that will lead them to the exit or the orange marking that takes them to the customs parking lot for a physical inspection. "For now, we rarely have to stop trucks," says Marc Declunder, head of the customs office at the port of Calais. "The smart border is working well."

Fluidity is an obsession for all of the port's managers. "The port's economic balance is based on continuous smooth movement, so it would be unthinkable to create endless traffic jams," explains Thibaut Rougelot, a member of Dunkirk's regional customs management. But for now the port is calm, as the British built up unprecedented stocks before Brexit. The discovery of the highly contagious "British" variant of the coronavirus has also slowed down trade.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com here.


89 days


A 36-year-old man was arrested over the weekend after living at Chicago O'Hare International Airport for almost three months, reportedly out of fear to go back to his Los Angeles home due to COVID-19.


This is my home. I'm not afraid.

— Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said upon being arrested at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, as he was returning to Russia after recovering in Berlin from reported Novichok poisoning by state agents.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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