Iran

Orwellian ironies of US Persian Gulf war moves

Amid alarmingly sketchy accounts of Iranian attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, Trump has dispacthed the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was also hit by drones, according to the kingdom’s energy ministry. Meanwhile, Iran-backed war crimes and “sectarian cleansing” in Syria and Iraq are safely invisible to the outside world. Well, oil matters; people do not. We already knew that. But adding to the Orwellian nature of it all—the US and Iran are on the same side in Syria and Iraq. De facto in the former (where the US has tilted to Assad, rhetoric notwithstanding), de jure in the latter (where Washington and Tehran alike openly back the Baghdad regime). Let’s hope that Trump’s mutuality of interest with the ayatollahs (however sinister) will compel both sides to retreat from the brink before they blunder into total disaster. As always, US war moves put the civil opposition in Iran in a more difficult position, making it easier for the regime to paint them as pawns of Washington. Any anti-war position must be clear on solidarity with the people of Iran, including in their democracy struggle—emphatically not with the regime. (Photo via Stars & Stripes)

Syria
SDF

Syrian Democratic Forces fire on Arab protesters

The final defeat of ISIS in Syria’s northeast has left many Arab-majority areas of the region under occupation by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a situation obviously fraught with risk. Over the past weeks, protests have mounted in Arab villages across Deir ez-Zor province against the SDF, with residents demanding better services, employment and a greater role in decision-making. Finally, SDF fighters opened fire on protesters in the village of Shheil, killing one person. The protest came after an overnight raid in the village, in which SDF fighters besieged a neighborhood and killed six people. (Image via Rudaw)

The Caribbean

Venezuela crisis at issue in Haiti unrest

Thousands of Haitians filled the streets of Port-au-Prince and several provincial cities to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise on the anniversary of the 1986 ouster of long-ruling dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Demonstrators also called for the arrest of officials responsible for the plundering of monies from the Venezuela-provided PetroCaribe fund over the past 10 years. At least two were reported dead in the protests, with vehicles burned, a police station attacked, some 40 arrested, and many wounded. Haiti faces a fast-deepening crisis, with hunger, unemployment and inflation all growing. Protesters are additionally angered by the government's vote with Washington in the OAS not to recognize the presidency of Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro. (Photo: Haiti Liberté)

The Amazon

Peru: emergency threatened over pipeline paralysis

Lizardo Cauper, president of Peru's alliance of Amazonian peoples, AIDESEP, issued an urgent call for authorities to open dialogue with indigenous communities in the northern region of Loreto rather than militarizing the area in response to mounting social conflicts and attacks on the North Peruvian Pipeline. Noting that the aging pipeline is in chronic disrepair, with repeated spills contaminating the rainforest, Cauper said: "We have made a call that, in place of militarization, they put in place a new pipeline. But it is not enough to have a new pipeline, but to respond to the demands of the people who are living around these oil activities." Regional authorities have called upon Lima to declare a state of emergency in response to paralysis of the pipeline, which delivers crude from rainforest oilfields over the Andes. (Photo: Andina)

Mexico

Oil and unrest in Zimbabwe, Mexico

World oil prices remain depressed despite an uptick this month, driven by the Venezuela crisis and fear of US-China trade war. Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled prices, in an effort to crack down on "rampant" illegal trading. Simultaneously, long lines at gas stations are reported across Mexico—again due to a crackdown on illegal petrol trafficking. Despite all the talk in recent years about how low oil prices are now permanent (mirrored, of course, in the similar talk 10 years ago about how high prices were permanent), the crises in Zimbabwe and Mexico may be harbingers of a coming global shock. (Photo via Amnesty International)

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)

Africa

UN rights chief condemns Sudan repression

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the government of Sudan to protect its people's rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the face of mounting violence. Anti-government protests have swept across Sudan for weeks. Over 800 have been arrested, including "journalists, opposition leaders, protestors and representatives of civil society." The government has confirmed 24 deaths but other reports place the number at double that. There have also been reports of security forces following protesters into hospitals and firing tear-gas and live ammunition inside. (Photo via Sudan Tribune)

North Africa

Force majeure at Libya’s top oil-field —again

Libya's National Oil Company (NOC) declared force majeure at the country's largest oilfield, a week after announcing a contractual waiver on exports from the 315,000-bpd Sharara field following its seizure by armed militants. The Sharara facility was seized by a force of desert tribesmen under the banner or the Fezzan Anger Movement, which is demanding better living conditions for the remote and impoversihed southern region of the country. Sharara is located in the Fezzan region, which produces most of Libya's oil but lacks basic services such as electricity and hospitals. The Fezzan militants were actually joined by members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, demanding back wages be paid by the UN-backed Government of National Accord. Oil production in Libya has been repeatedly paralyzed by unrest, and the NOC is still struggling to restore output to pre-2011 levels. (Photo: Libya Observer)

Europe

The Yellow Vests and the carbon wars

The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suspend a controversial fuel tax after weeks of increasingly violent protests. This may be concretely a win for the working class, but the fact that Macron imposed the tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions has provided fodder for anti-environmental content to the movement. Exploiting this moment, Donald Trump blamed the uprising on the Paris climate accord, tweeting: "The Paris Agreement isn't working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting 'We Want Trump!' Love France." (Photo via CrimethInc)

Iraq

Iraq: Baghdad and KRG in Kirkuk pipeline pact

The export of oil from northern Iraq's contested enclave of Kirkuk is to resume under a deal struck between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Iraq's Ministry of Oil announced. With Baghdad's Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline disabled during fighting with ISIS, the so-called KRG pipeline is currently the only method of delivering Kirkuk oil to foreign markets other than through Iran. That route has now also been cut off by the resumption of US sanctions against the Islamic Republic. But Baghdad and the KRG have long been at odds over terms, and the situation was worsened with the central government's seizure last year of Kirkuk and its oil-fields, which had been in Kurdish hands since the KRG routed ISIS from the enclave in 2014. US National Security Advisor John Bolton welcomed the agreement between Baghdad and the KRG as a "promising first step to return to 2017 levels." The KRG pipeline is jointly owned by the Erbil-based KRG, BP and Russia's Rosneft. (Photo via Iraqi News Agency)

Planet Watch

Canada’s high court deals blow to treaty rights

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal government does not have a responsibility to consult with First Nations before introducing legislation, even in cases when it would impact their lands and livelihood. The 7-2 ruling ends a challenge by the Mikisew Cree First Nation of Alberta to a 2013 reform of Canada's environmental laws by the administration of then-prime minister Stephen Harper. The reform altered the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, reducing the number of projects that require environmental assessment studies and narrowing the scope of those assessments. The Mikisew Cree contended that the reform violated constitutionally-protected treaty rights of Canada's indigenous First Nations. (Photo of Mikisew Cree Chief Archie Waquan via CBC)

Planet Watch

Climate change report draws UN call for action

UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment David Boyd issued an urgent call for accelerated action to combat climate change. The statement comes after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the impacts of global warming of 2°C—the increase permitted under the Paris Accord. Boyd said that climate change is "one of the greatest threats to human rights" and will have devastating effects on the "rights to life, health, food, housing, and water, as well as the right to a healthy environment." In order to meet human rights obligations, Boyd called on counties to exceed their Paris Agreement obligations. If the temperature increase is allowed to increase to 2.0°C, it would result in "human rights violations upon millions of people." (Photo via Jurist)