The Caribbean

Puerto Rico: climate change to regime change

Puerto Rico swore in its third governor in less than a week, Wanda Vázquez Garced, after the removal of Pedro Pierluisi by order of the commonwealth’s Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously that his appointment was unconstitutional. Pierluisi had been the chosen successor of Ricardo Rosselló, who stepped down following weeks of mass protests. The protest wave began after group chats between Rosselló and his staff were made public, disclosing ugly homophobic and misogynistic comments aimed at political rivals—and even victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017. New research links the unprecedented destruction of Maria to climate change—with grim implications for the future of the island and Caribbean region as a whole. (Photo of NYC rally for Puerto Rican independence by CounterVortex)

North America

Kentucky: unpaid miners block rail line

For over a week now, some 100 laid-off miners and their families have occupied a railroad track in Kentucky’s Harlan County, blocking a train loaded with coal that the workers dug out of the earth but never got paid for. The miners want their jobs back, if possible—but first of all, they want their wages for the work they already did. Blackjewel LLC abruptly shut down all its mines and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Partway through a shift, workers were told the bad news and sent home. The miners never got their last paycheck. And their second-to-last paycheck, already deposited, disappeared from their bank accounts. The miners also never received any paper notice of their layoff, which proved a bureaucratic obstacle when they filed for unemployment. Another major Kentucky coal producer, Cambrian Coal LLC, also plans to sell off its assets in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case that could impact hundreds of coal miners in Eastern Kentucky. (Photo: Megan Roark-Halcomb via Labor Notes)

East Asia

Worker protests in China’s automotive sector

Employees at Hubei Meiyang Automobile Industry Co staged a demonstration to protest “illegal dismissals, wage arrears and compensation payments.” Meiyang Auto, a “new energy” start-up based in the central city of Xiangyang, had been in production for less than two years before halting operations. Workers at Eastone Automotive in Shanghai’s Pudong district also staged a protest claiming they were owed around 40 million yuan in wages in arrears stretching back to the beginning of the year. Employees claimed they were being forced to leave without any compensation, and appealed to the local government for help. So far this year, China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map has recorded 25 collective protests by workers in the automotive sector, up from just five in the same period last year. The protests, mostly related to layoffs and wage arrears, have occurred in car plants, components factories, dealerships and service centers, and even car rental agencies. (Photo via China Labor Bulletin)

Iran

Iran: women’s rights activists get 16 years

Three women in Iran received prison sentences of at least 16 years, for offenses such as not wearing hijab and handing out flowers on a Tehran subway train on International Women’s Day. Civil rights activists Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz were condemned by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Each was given 10 years for “encouraging and promoting corruption by de-veiling,” five years for “collusion and assembly to act against national security,” and one year for “propaganda against the state.” Keshavarz was given an additional seven years and six months for “blasphemy.” The attorney for the women said lawyers were not allowed to attend the trials, which were scheduled without notice. The court said no attorney access would be granted until an appeal is scheduled. (Photo via HRANA)

East Asia

Protest shakes Hong Kong… and Wuhan: solidarity?

Days before protesters stormed and occupied the Hong Kong legislative chamber, some 10,000 marched in the central Chinese city of Wuhan to oppose construction of a waste incinerator. The Wuhan protesters chanted “Give us back our clean environment”—before being set upon by the riot police, leading to many arrests. Solidarity with pro-democratic forces on the mainland is what holds out hope for restraining Beijing’s dictatorial agenda for Hong Kong. Yet some Hong Kong protesters instead look to former colonial power Britain for protection—or promote a hardcore “localist” stance that seeks independence rather than a democratic China. (Photo  of Wuhan protest via RFA)

Central America

Central America climate crisis fuels migration

Commentators have noted the roots of the current massive migration from Central America in the political economy of the free trade order. The US-led repression and counter-insurgency in the isthmus in the 1980s allowed the imposition of “free trade” or “neoliberal” regimes in the generation since then—culminating in the passage of CAFTA. This, in turn, has exacerbated the expropriation from the peasantry of their traditional lands by agribusiness and agro-export oligarchies. But this dynamic is now being augmented by factors related to political ecology—the degradation of the land itself due to climate destabilization. (Photo: IOM)

Central America

Honduras: riots, repression amid neoliberal ‘reform’

In the wake of angry protests that swept through Tegucigalpa, Amnesty International is denouncing attacks against human rights defenders by Honduran security forces during the unrest. Amnesty charged that riot police used tear-gas outside the headquarters of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), where demonstrators tried to take shelter. Members of the group were also detained. The protests, which saw the city’s municipal palace set on fire, were called to oppose a package of bills that aim to restructure the ministries of education and health. Doctors and teachers have gone on strike in protest of the proposed reform, which they say will lead to mass firings in the public sector, and represents a step toward privatization of education and health services. (Photo: Amnesty International)

Iran

White House exploits Iran democracy struggle

As in the Venezuela crisis, Donald Trump, the great enthusiast for dictators, is making a cynical pretense of concern for democracy in Iran. Fortunately, his latest bit of exploitation of the Iranian protesters has blown up in his face. Noting the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, he issued a tweet featuring a meme with an image of a student protester from the 2017 anti-austerity uprising and the words: "40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure." Now, the courageous photographer who snapped the image at the University of Tehran in December 2017, Yalda Moayeri, comes forward to express her outrage at its co-optation by Trump. Alas, Masih Alinejad, the Iranian-American feminist who last week met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, seems not to get how she is endangering opposition activists in Iran, allowing the regime to paint them as pawns of imperialism. (Image via @realDonaldTrump)

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)

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)