The Andes

Who is behind Venezuela aid caravan?

The US scored a propaganda coup against besieged Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro last week, sending planeloads of "humanitarian aid" to Colombia, where it was dispatched in a "caravan" toward the border. The aid was welcomed by the US-backed pretender to the presidency, Juan Guaidó, but rejected by Maduro, who thundered that Venezuelans are "not beggars." Maduro was put in the no-win situation of either having to turn away aid at a time of deprivation or accept assistance sent by a government that does not recognize him but recognizes his opposition. He opted for the prior, mobilizing troops to the border and blocking the three lanes of the international bridge between the two countries with a fuel tanker and shipping containers. The caravan is currently stalled at Cúcuta, the nearest city on the Colombia side. While the affair has occasioned much media bloviation either against Maduro for blocking the caravan or against Trump for politicizing aid, there has been an alarming paucity of information about who actually organized the caravan… (Photo: El Tiempo)

The Andes

Colombia sliding deeper into internal war

Under pressure to address the ongoing wave of targeted assassinations in Colombia, President Iván Duque for the first time spoke before the National Commission to Guarantee Security, formed by the previous government to address continuing violence in the country—which has only worsened since he took office last year. Duque said 4,000 people are now under the government's protection program for threatened citizens. But his office implied that the narco trade is entirely behind the growing violence. Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez told the meeting: "This great problem is derived from the 200,000 hectares of illicit crops that we have in Colombia." However, it is clear that the narco economy is but part of a greater nexus of forces that fuel the relentless terror—all related to protecting rural land empires and intimidating the peasantry. (Photo via Contagio Radio)

The Andes

Bolivia next for Latin ‘regime change’ offensive?

US senators Ted Cruz, Bob Menéndez and Dick Durbin introduced a resolution calling on Bolivia's President Evo Morales not to stand for re-election this October. Cruz said Bolivia is going in a "very dangerous direction, aligning itself with illegal and illegitimate regimes, including that of [Nicolás] Maduro in Venezuela. It is important that all parties respect the constitution of Bolivia, which includes term limits." Bolivia saw a wave of strikes and protests after a December ruling by the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal allowing Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election. The resolution comes just as Bolivia has announced a new partnership with Chinese company Xinjiang TBEA Group to exploit the country's valuable and largely untapped lithium deposits. China has for years been seeking deals to exploit Bolivia's strategic lithium reserves, in what some see as a global design to establish a "stranglehold" on the planet's rare earth minerals. (Photo via NACLA)

Planet Watch

Podcast: from Crimea to Venezuela

In Episode 26 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes contradictions and complexities in two world crises depicted in polarized terms by left, right and center alike. The indigenous Tatar people of Crimea, their autonomy and rights abrogated by the illegal Russian occupation, have been drawn into an alliance with Ukraine's ultra-nationalist Right Sector based on their mutual opposition to Putin's annexation of the peninsula. Ukrainian anarchists are meanwhile facing repression for their opposition to Right Sector. Putin, who is cracking down on Russian anarchists who oppose his own ultra-nationalist imperial agenda, has just sent a detachment of Cossack mercenaries to Venezuela to serve as a Praetorian Guard for the embattled Nicolás Maduro. In addition to being opposed by the right-wing pretender Juan Guaidó, Maduro faces a challenge from an independent left that rejects his undemocratic rule as well as US imperial designs on Venezuela. Indigenous peoples such as the Pemón of the Orinoco Basin are also mounting resistance to extractive designs on their territory—regardless of who holds power in Caracas. Can anarchists and the independent left in Ukraine, Russia and Venezuela unite with indigenous peoples such as the Tatars and Pemón to defend freedom and autonomy, and repudiate reactionaries and imperialists on all sides? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: EcoPolitica Venezuela)

Syria

Russia dispatches Cossacks to Venezuela?

Numerous media sources are reporting that Vladimir Putin has dispatched a team of private mercenaries to Venezuela to back the besieged government of Nicolás Maduro. Reuters cites claims that some 400 contractors from the Wagner group have arrived in Caracas. Wagner PMC (Private Military Company) is a Russian firm already contracted by Moscow's Defense Ministry to provide personnel for the wars in Ukraine and in Syria. Moscow Times cites Yevgeny Shabayev, ataman (commander) of the Khovrino Cossack paramilitary group, as saying that Cossacks had been recruited for the force to serve as a kind of Praetorian Guard for Maduro. "Our people are there directly for his protection," he said. Russian media cited Shabayev saying a "military conspiracy had been discovered in Maduro's inner circle, and therefore it was necessary to replace his personal security with loyal people." (Image: Voices from Russia)

The Andes

Colombia: UN concern over political assassinations

Gilberto Valencia, a young Afro-Colombian cultural worker, became 2019's first casualty of political violence in Colombia, when a gunman opened fire on a New Years party he was attending in his village in Cauca region. As the death toll from around the country mounted over the following weeks, the UN Mission to Colombia  warned President Iván Duque that he must address "the issue of the assassinations of social leaders and human rights defenders." Colombia's official rights watchdog, the Defensoría del Pueblo, acknowledges that there was an assassination on average every two days in the country last year—a total of 172, and a rise of more than 35% over 2017.  (Photo via Caracol Radio)

The Andes

Forgotten voices in Venezuela crisis

Trump, the great enthusiast for dictators, suddenly develops a touching concern with democracy in Venezuela, grasping at the opportunity for long-sought regime change. Predictably overlooked in the world media's Manichean view of the crisis are voices of Venezuela's dissident left that takes a neither/nor position opposed to both the regime and the right-wing leadership of the opposition. Also unheard are voices of indigenous dissent and resistance. In an episode that received little coverage, December saw protests in the remote Orinoco Basin after a leader of the Pemón indigenous people was killed in a confrontation with elite Military Counterintelligence troops. The military operation was ostensibly aimed at clearing the region of illegal mining—while the Pemón themselves had been protesting the mining. The indigenous leaders view the militarization of the region as intended to make way for corporate exploitation under the Orinoco Mineral Arc plan. (Photo: EcoPolitica Venezuela)

The Andes

Colombian state guilty in ‘false positives’ case

In an unprecedented ruling, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) found the Colombian state responsible for several extrajudicial executions carried out under the practice of "false positives"—random civilians claimed as guerillas killed in action. The six cases examined took place in the departments of Arauca, Santander and Casanare between 1992 and 1997. Although individual soldiers had been sentenced by the Colombian courts in some of these cases, the Costa Rica-based IACHR ordered the Colombian government to carry out further investigations and prosecutions, provide reparations to the families of the victims, and commit to a "public act of acknowledgement" of responsibility. (Photo: Contagio Radio)

The Andes

ELN peace process halted after Bogotá blast

Colombia's President Iván Duque declared the peace process with the National Liberation Army (ELN) indefinitely suspended following a bomb blast at a National Police academy in Bogotá that left more than 20 dead and some 70 wounded. Calling the ELN a "criminal machine of kidnapping and assassination," Duque said that arrest orders against the group's top leaders, suspended for the talks, would now be carried out. He also called on Cuba, where members of the ELN command are now based, to have them arrested. The ELN took responsibility for the attack in a communique, calling it an act of "legitimate defense" that was "legal under the laws of war." The statement asserted: "The National Police School of Cadets is a military installation; there officials receive instruction and training later put to use in combat, conducting military operations, actively participating in the counter-insurgency war and bringing methods of war for use against social protest." (Photo: Colombia Reports)

The Andes

Protests over re-election broil Bolivia

Bolivia has seen strikes and protests since the ruling by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal allowing President Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election. The ruling was met with marches, road blockades and work stoppages that caused varying degrees of disruption in eight of Bolivia's nine departments. A student mobilization in the hydrocarbon-rich eastern department of Santa Cruz, heart of anti-Morales sentiment, ended in violence, with the regional offices of the electoral tribunal burned to the ground. Hunger strikes were launched in six cities, with at least 20 still ongoing. (Photo via NACLA)

The Andes

Colombia: ongoing state collaboration with paras?

The dark days of state collaboration with Colombia’s murderous paramilitary groups were recalled with the arrest in New York of Javier Valle Anaya, former sub-director of Bogotá’s Administrative Security Department (DAS), a now-disbanded intelligence agency that was found to be feeding information to the paras. Valle Anaya was detained on an immigration violation, but may face extradition to Colombia, where he is wanted in connection with the 2004 assassination of a human rights activist in Barranquilla. Ironically, the arrest comes just as a new scandal has emerged concerning an illegal network of chuzadas—Colombian slang for eavesdroppers. Retired National Police general Humberto Guatibonza was arrested in Bogotá, charged with running a chuzada ring that spied on labor activists—particularly members of the airline workers union, ACDAC. (Photo via Contagio Radio)

The Andes

Colombia: Duque escalates war on ELN guerillas

Colombia's new right-wing President Iván Duque has not returned to the dialogue table with the ELN guerillas, insisting they first liberate all hostages. The guerillas have released several captives over the past weeks, but nine are still believed to be held—mostly noncombatants. Interpol has issued a "red notice" for members of the ELN Central Command, incluiding top commander Nicolás Rodríguez AKA "Gabino." Rumaldo Antonio Barrientos Taborda AKA "Gurre," a top ELN regional commander, was reported killed in an operation by the army's elite Héroes de Tarazá unit in the Bajo Cauca region of Antioquia department last week. After the attack, the ELN's chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán issued a communique charging Duque with pursuing an agenda imposed by Washington to return to the hardline policies from before Colombia's peace process. Beltrán stated: "Trump gave the order, the force must be eradicated, there must be fumigation, and there must be use of repressive and war measures, and this is Plan Colombia." (Photo: Colombia Reports)