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Media Praise of Israel’s COVID Vaccination Drive a Form of “Medical Apartheid”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 5:57am in

As vaccinations for the deadly COVID-19 virus begin to be delivered in large numbers, Israel has been receiving a great deal of praise in global media for its handling of the fight against the pandemic — one that has cost the lives of over 1.8 million people worldwide in the last 12 months.

Israel has gone into vaccine “overdrive,” announced the Financial Times, noting that the country of 9 million people has become the “world leader” and an example to follow. Detailing its achievements, it told readers that, “At one vaccination site, people waited no longer than 10 minutes each to be assigned to receive a jab, with one of 10 booths being kept empty to handle overflows,” also noting that the high tech system texts citizens an exact time of arrival, to further help with crowd control. The Wall Street Journal celebrated that Israel had vaccinated more than 10% of its population in just two weeks. Other outlets like the BBC noted that the government was prioritizing the elderly, with over 40% of over 60s having already received the first dose of a two injection procedure. “Israel could become [the] 1st nation to vaccinate all its citizens,” ran an Economic Times’ headline.

Israel Media COVID

Corotate media outlets resoundingly heaped praise on Israel while almost completely ignoring its glaring human rights abuses

Completely missing from all these accounts, however, was any discussion, or even mention, of the millions of Palestinians under Israeli control, none of whom have received the vaccine, leading to a form of medical Apartheid. The move means that settlers illegally occupying Palestinian land are being given preferential treatment over those they have kicked out. The action has been denounced by human rights groups, who see it as Israel’s responsibility to provide medical treatment to those under their de facto jurisdiction.

Other outlets, such as Axios and the Independent also praised the Israeli government, but at least mentioned that there were no jabs for Palestinians. “Israel is vaccinating so fast it’s running out of vaccine,” reported the Washington Post excitedly before noting that the Netanyahu government has dismissed foreign criticism of its decision.

Israel is facing another national election in March, and Prime Minister Netanyahu hopes to vaccinate the entire population and lift lockdown measures before citizens go to the polls. Indeed, there is speculation that his government overpaid drug company Pfizer in order to secure so many early shipments of the medicine. The government began immunizing citizens on December 19.

In contrast to Israel, Palestinians have had to endure a deadly pandemic without proper equipment or hospitals. Last month, Gaza announced it had run out of COVID-19 testing kits, the blockaded strip also asking the World Health Organization for badly needed medical supplies.

Israeli authorities have also been guilty of more proactive measures that have spread the deadly coronavirus among the Palestinian population. In July, IDF forces demolished a recently constructed hospital and COVID-19 test facility in Hebron, in the West Bank, a move that was roundly condemned. “Because demolishing a COVID-19 testing center is totally the best way for Israel to be spending funds right now,” wrote female-led antiwar group CODEPINK, “Seriously, this obsession with destroying Palestine, even at the expense of Israeli coronavirus funding, is sick.” Small donors had raised around $250,000 to build the new center, which was being built in the memory of an elderly Palestinian man who had died of COVID-19 himself. There has also reportedly been a wave of Israeli settlers spitting on Palestinians in efforts to deliberately infect them with the virus.

Israel has reported more than 440,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while Palestine has registered over 142,000 itself. However, due to the paucity of testing kits and facilities, it is possible this is a serious underestimate.

4.2 million Americans — around 1% of the population — have received the first shot of a coronavirus vaccination, according to the Center for Disease Control. However, the rollout has been fraught with mistakes, with many vaccines being wasted. Even worse, last week, a Wisconsin pharmacist was arrested and accused of deliberately spoiling more than 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine. But while the Trump administration has been held under the spotlight, Israel has been treated more positively in corporate media.

Feature photo | A man wearing a face mask waits to receive a coronavirus vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Jerusalem, Jan. 4, 2021. Oded Balilty | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Media Praise of Israel’s COVID Vaccination Drive a Form of “Medical Apartheid” appeared first on MintPress News.

“No Victory for Press Freedom” – Assange Wins Case but Judge Sets Worrying Precedent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 5:03am in

Wikileaks cofounder Julian Assange will not be extradited to the United States, a London court decided this morning. District Judge Vanessa Baraitser ruled that Assange would stay in the United Kingdom over fears for his psychological health. “I find that the mental condition of Mr Assange is such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America,” she said, noting that she did not believe the U.S. prison system had the capability to stop him killing himself. The Australian publisher had been facing up to 175 years in a supermax prison if taken to the U.S. The prosecution, representing the U.S. government, immediately announced that it would appeal the decision.

Many of Assange’s allies hailed the decision as a decisive victory for freedom of speech. Greek-Australian economist and former Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis expressed his delight. “A ray of hope seems to have pierced a long, dark shadow over human decency and press freedom,” he tweeted.

Yet many others appeared deeply concerned with the verdict.” This wasn’t a victory for press freedom,” said Glenn Greenwald, a journalist known for publishing leaked documents. “Quite the contrary: the judge made clear she believed there are grounds to prosecute Assange in connection with the 2010 publication.” Other reporters that have covered the case closely agreed. “Brilliant news, but be in no doubt. This ruling is utterly chilling for investigative journalism,” wrote Matt Kennard. “Baraitser sided with U.S. prosecutors on pretty much all of their arguments. It was the barbaric nature of the U.S. penal system that saved Assange.” Meanwhile, John McEvoy suggested that it was only “the integrity of a human’s mental health, and not the right to a free press, was protected today.”

Judge Baraitser made her decision only after dismissing each and every argument made by Assange’s defense team, led by Edward Fitzgerald QC. Sending him to the United States would not breach any laws against extradition for political offenses, she ruled, claiming that she had no doubts that “the usual constitutional and procedural protections” would be in place for him if he were to go there. “This court trusts that a US court will properly consider Mr Assange’s right to free speech” she added. The full decision can be read here. Thus, it was purely on the grounds of Mr. Assange’s potential to commit suicide that she ruled in his favor. Australian journalist John Pilger described the decision as a “face-saving cover” for their “disgraceful” treatment of the 49-year-old.

Others warned that the ruling sent a message to others in the political or media sphere not to challenge the United States. “The full fury and power of empire has been brought down on Julian Assange to demonstrate to the world what happens when you dare to expose the crimes of that empire and its allies. It is terrorism by example so we all think twice,” wrote Rania Khalek of The Grayzone.

Britain Assange

Assange supporters celebrate after a ruling that he cannot be extradited to the US, outside the Old Bailey in London, Jan. 4, 2021. Frank Augstein | AP

Journalists covering the trial have faced constant hostility and intimidation from authorities at every turn. This morning, Reporters Without Borders’ Director of International Campaigns Rebecca Vincent said she had been harassed or questioned by at least 10 different police officers while trying to attend the hearing.

Conditions in American prisons are notorious. Despite having only four percent of the world’s population, the United States accounts for nearly a quarter of the prisoners on the planet. With a sprawling network of over 7,000 detention centers, the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, locking its citizens up at over ten times the rate of European countries like Denmark or Sweden, and over seventeen times that of Japan. Solitary confinement is also commonplace, despite the practice being widely condemned as akin to torture. Authorities were unable to prevent whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who leaked many of the most explosive files to Assange in the first place, from attempting to take her own life while she was incarcerated and in solitary confinement. Baraitser referenced Manning’s case in her decision. “That means the further brutality committed against WikiLeaks’ source played a key part in the U.S. losing their case,” reacted investigative journalist Kevin Gosztola.

Chief among those files was the “Collateral Murder” murder video, images from an American attack helicopter attack on central Baghdad from July 2007. The video shows American personnel massacring at least a dozen Iraqi civilians, including two Reuters journalists, in cold blood. Going viral on social media, the images showed the occupation in a completely different light to that of the carefully curated, sanitized one Americans had seen on corporate media. Since then, those who brought it to public attention have been persecuted.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador today announced that his country would offer political asylum to the Australian, citing its long history of protecting whistleblowers and those suffering political persecution. However, Assange will certainly not be going there immediately. Despite ruling against the United States in the hearing, Baraitser sent him back to Belmarsh Prison. On Wednesday the court will decide if he is granted bail. “I had hoped that today would be the day that Julian would come home. Today is not that day. But that day will come soon,” Assange’s partner, Stella Morris, told reporters outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court this morning. “We cannot celebrate today…We will celebrate the day he comes home.”

Feature photo | John Rees from the ‘Free Julian Assange’ campaign speaking outside the Old Bailey after a ruling that Assange cannot be extradited to the United States, in London, Jan. 4, 2021. Kirsty Wigglesworth | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post “No Victory for Press Freedom” – Assange Wins Case but Judge Sets Worrying Precedent appeared first on MintPress News.

“An Israeli Blitzkrieg” Signs Point to Imminent Israeli Military Action in Yemen

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 4:43am in

ADEN, YEMEN —  Saudi Arabia has rung in the new year in a familiar way, with an airstrike targeting a large gathering of civilians at a wedding ceremony in Yemen. On new year’s night, at least five civilians were killed when Saudi-backed militants launched artillery rounds at a wedding ceremony in the populated al-Hawk area in the strategic port city of Hodeida.

Developments taking place across the Middle East are driving the reality home in Yemen that 2021 is unlikely to bring about an end to Saudi Arabia’s nearly six-year-long war on their country. Signs of escalation are beginning to surface gradually in the Yemeni interior and along the Red Sea in the wake of the wave of normalization between the Gulf states and Tel Aviv.

After nearly six years of war, Yemen remains home to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Millions are hungry and destitute and at least 80% of the population requires humanitarian assistance or protection. Some 13.5 million people face severe food shortages and that number could rise to 16.2 million in 2021, according to International Relief Bodies. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) raised the alarm about millions of Yemenis risking falling into worsening levels of hunger by mid-2021. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) also described the crisis in Yemen as “the world’s worst.”

The Saudi blockade on what was already one of the poorest countries on earth has entailed tight control over all aspects of life in Yemen since 2015, however, there are no indications that the Saudi blockade of Sana’a International Airport and Hodeida port will be lifted, the most important air and land ports in the country, and the cause of more Yemeni deaths than Saudi airstrikes, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.


An Israeli blitzkrieg

On the ground, signs of escalation are expected to intensify during 2021 as an open military confrontation between Yemen and Israel seems closer than ever in the wake of recent Israel statements, including the statement of the spokesman for the Israeli military, Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman, who revealed to a Saudi website on Saturday the intention of his forces to launch a blitzkrieg in Yemen, confirming that Israel has been monitoring the situation in Yemen and Iraq. The Yemeni people fear that they will pay the price for tensions between Iran and the United States, according to many Yemenis who spoke to MintPress.

Zilberman said in an interview with Saudi news website Elaph that the regime in Tel Aviv expects that an Iranian attack could come from Yemen and Iraq. He referred to Yemen as “Iran`s second circle after Lebanon and Syria.” The recent remarks came after a similar statement made in October by Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister claimed that Iran sought to strike Israel from Yemen using surgical missile strikes.

According to information obtained by MIntPress and confirmed by Yemeni government officials in Sana’a, arrangements, and coordination have been underway between Israel and the Gulf states to escalate the situation in Yemen and justify it as a reaction to an expected Iranian retaliation for the assassination of Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, who is revered as a heroic warrior across Yemen. Soleimani was assassinated on January 2020 in a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport.

This information has been confirmed by Jalal Al-Ruwaishan, Deputy Prime Minister for Security and Defense Affairs in the Sana’a government when he told local media that Israel began moving military equipment into the region after the recent normalization with Gulf states, including countries participating in the coalition,” referring to the UAE and Bahrain. He added, “what they failed to accomplish within six years, they will not be able to accomplish in a month, even in Biden era.”

Major General Abdullah Al-Hakim, the head of Military Intelligence in Sana’a, said in a statement that the Yemeni Army based in Sana’a is “monitoring the actions and provocations [of Israel] and its planned hostile actions.” Our eyes are not oblivious to the actions of the Zionist enemy in the region,” he said, “and they must understand the seriousness of our warning that any temerity or reckless actions will have dire consequences on Tel Aviv.”


The threat of all-out war

A high-ranking official in the Sana’a-based Yemeni Foreign Ministry told MintPress that any Israel attacks or war against Yemen would spark an all-out war in the Middle East and that Israel would be the first to suffer, adding that Israel interests and those of its allies in the Red Sea region would become a legitimate target within the framework of the right of self-defense guaranteed by all international conventions and agreements.

Any Israeli military action in Yemen would undoubtedly lead to an escalation in the region. In the wake of the announcement of Israeli intentions, statements issued by Yemen’s leaders warned of retaliatory attacks on Israel, in the Red Sea, and anywhere else in the region. Given the tone of officials in Sana’a when speaking to MintPress and the fact that the Houthis have not shied away from following through with retaliatory missile and drone attacks on targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in addition to the volume of field preparations being made for an open and painful confrontation with Israel, the prospect of Houthi missiles raining down on Israel is very real.

Even to those living in areas under the total control of the Saudi-led Coalition, 2021is not likely to ferry in an end to their suffering, as wealthy Gulf monarchies live up to their storied reputations, wreaking havoc and instability, according to residents of those areas who spoke to MintPress in the wake of the violent explosions that struck recently Aden International airport and Al-Maasheeq Presidential Palace.

Yemen Aden airport

A damaged portion of the airport in the southern city of Aden after an explosion on Dec. 30, 2020, Majid Saleh | AP

Last Wednesday, a large explosion struck the airport in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, run by forces affiliated with the UAE-backed militant group, the Southern Transitional Council (STC), shortly after a plane carrying “the Yemeni government,” which had been newly formed in Ryadh, landed there. At least 25 people, including officials, were killed and 110 were wounded in the blast. Moments after the attack on the Aden International Airport, blasts struck Aden’s Al-Ma’asheeq district, where just moments earlier the newly-formed government was transferred.

Although Saudi Arabia’s allies accused the Houthis of the attacks, and the Houthis categorically rejected the accusation. The attacks came after factions affiliated with the Southern Movement loyal to the UAE pledged to thwart the self-proclaimed cabinet after they returned to Aden from Ryadh where they were mostly working under enforced detention.


Under Biden, the bombs will keep coming

Most in Yemen are condemned to a gloomy future, not only due to the developments on the ground but also because of the flurry of approvals given by the United States to both the Saudi-led Coalitions and Israel. Approvals for arms sales have been given to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. countries with an appalling record of human rights abuses who are still launching a war against the poorest country in the Middle East.

These approvals, which will likely go ignored by Congress despite a growing revolt to the sales from the U.S. public, include $290 million worth of bombs, a final gift by President Donald Trump’s administration. On Tuesday, the State Department’s defense security cooperation agency approved the sale of GBU-39 small-diameter bombs to Saudi Arabia. The approvals also include the proposed $65.6 million sale of advanced drones and F-35 fighter jets to the UAE, a reward for that country’s normalization of ties with Israel.

Incoming president Joe Biden has expressed some opposition to Saudi Arabia’s malign actions in Yemen, but most Yemenis see little chance that 2021 will bring positive changes by Biden given the current geopolitical reality in the Middle East. That reality includes the sanctity of the U.S. relationship with Israel, Saudi funds, and fever of normalization between Arab countries and Israel sweeping across the Middle East and perhaps most importantly, the ongoing obsession from concurrent U.S. administrations and from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi with trying to contain so-called “Iranian influence” in the Middle East and linking the war in Yemen with that effort.

Regardless of who was behind actually the recent explosions in Aden, there are obvious signs of escalation, meaning that war in Yemen will likely continue to escalate in 2021 and that more Yemenis will lose their lives, more people will become internally displaced, the spread of epidemics will continue unabated, more cities, hospitals, and schools will be destroyed, and millions of helpless families will be left with no means of sustenance.

Though there are international calls to end the war on Yemen as well as indirect talks between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia, few are holding out hope that they can bring an end to the bitter Yemeni war in 2021. Indeed, Saudi warplanes still regularly launch airstrikes across the northern regions of Yemen. On Thursday, at least 15 airstrikes hit populated areas in Sana’a, including the Sana`a International Airport, the Rima Hamid of Sanhan District, and Wadi Rajam in the Bani Hushaish District, east Sana’a. In retaliation for the ongoing war and blockade, the Houthi-allied Yemen Army, which possesses in its arsenal advanced military watercraft, threatened Saudi oil tankers on the Red Sea in the context of a military campaign that it launched two months ago in a bid to pressure the Kingdom to end its devastating war.

Feature photo | A worker stands on the wreckage of a tire store hit by Saudi air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen, December 02, 2020. Photo | Reuters

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post “An Israeli Blitzkrieg” Signs Point to Imminent Israeli Military Action in Yemen appeared first on MintPress News.

I Observed Venezuela’s Elections Firsthand: Here’s What the US Media Got Wrong

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2021 - 2:51am in

In early December, I traveled to Venezuela to serve as an election observer during the country’s national assembly election. I was part of a group of eight people from Canada and the United States organized by CodePink. There were about two hundred international observers in total, including the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts. I have served as an official election observer in Honduras and was an unofficial observer during Venezuela’s 2015 national assembly election.


Meeting opposition leaders

Before the election, our small group met with eight leaders from the Democratic Alliance, a major opposition coalition. Pedro Jose Rojas of Accion Democratica told us that U.S. sanctions were not doing what they claimed. Instead, he said, they are hurting average citizens. Bruno Gallo of Avanca Progressista proclaimed Venezuela needs negotiation, not confrontation. Juan Carlos Alvarado of the Christian Democratic Party said that Venezuelans have been “victims of politics,” and that dialogue and flexibility are needed.

Several leaders spoke about the importance of the national assembly and emphasized that the road to change is through voting, not violence. They expressed a desire for better relations with the U.S but said that Venezuelan sovereignty needs to be respected.  The common request was to end U.S. sanctions and interference in Venezuelan politics.

We visited a factory where voting machines were assembled, tested, and certified. The staff was openly proud of their work. Last March, nearly all pre-existing voting machines were destroyed in a massive fire at the main election warehouse, sparking calls to delay the December election. But in six months, forty thousand new computers were ordered, built, assembled, tested, and certified in time for the December election.


The process

On election day, Sunday, December 6, we began a tour of election sites. Typically, the voting takes place at a school, with five to ten classrooms designated as “mesas,” and each voter goes to his or her designated mesa.”

The voting process was quick and efficient, with bio-safety sanitation at each step. Voters first showed their identity cards and confirmed their identity with fingerprint recognition. Step two was to cast a ballot on a touchscreen computer and receive a paper receipt. Step three was to verify that the receipt matches the voting choice and deposit the receipt in a ballot box. Finally, voters would sign and put their fingerprints on the voting registry. The entire process took about three minutes.

As election day closed, we observed the process of tabulating the votes. At each mesa, (with observers from other parties present) paper receipts were recorded one by one, and at the end, the results were compared to the digital count and then transmitted to the headquarters for overall tabulation.

Election results were announced by the Council for National Election (CNE) which manages the entire process.  CNE leaders are not permitted to be members of any party and the CNE leadership was recently changed at the request of the opposition. In our discussion with leading opposition members, we did hear complaints about incumbent party advantages but it was acknowledged the election process is free, fair and honest.


A PBS Newshour special

After having experienced Venezuela’s election firsthand, on December 29 I watched a PBS Newshour segment about that election and the overall situation in Venezuela. PBS reporter Marcia Biggs told how “Maduro’s party essentially ran unopposed in this month’s election.” This, despite my personal meetings with the very opposition parties that were participating in those same elections.

In fact, there were 107 parties and over 14,000 individuals competing in the December 6 election for 277 national assembly seats. While eight parties were in alliance with the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), there were over 90 opposition parties. The strongest opposition coalition was the Democratic Alliance comprising seven opposition parties and winning 1.1 million votes (18% of the vote). The LEFT opposition to the PSUV, under the banner of the Communist Party of Venezuela, received just 168,000 votes.

Reporter Marcia Biggs claimed that “politics permeates everything in Venezuela and can determine whether you support Maduro and eat or go hungry.” This claim is based on a campaign statement by PSUV Vice President Diosdado Cabello encouraging people to vote. Cabello facetiously said that women are in the forefront, and can say to their family, “No vote, no food.” His statement has been distorted out of all meaning and context.

The PBS report showed video of a fistfight in the national assembly, implying that it was the Venezuelan government. But, as the GrayZone reported in “Juan Guaido surreal regime change reality show,” the fight was actually between competing factions of the Venezuelan opposition.

When PBS showed Guaido climbing over a fence, they failed to mention that he was pulling off a publicity stunt to distract from the embarrassing news that Luis Parra was elected Speaker of the national assembly following Guaido’s own claim to be “interim president” was based on him being Speaker.

Election turnout was indeed lower than usual at 31%, yet this is likely due to the election taking place amid the pandemic and the fact that millions of registered voters have had to leave the country due to economic hardship. Transportation in Venezuela is also difficult due to gasoline scarcity. This was also a national assembly election, equivalent to a U.S. mid-term election, which typically generates a lower turnout. Still, 95% of voting-eligible Venezuelans are registered voters compared to just 67% in the U.S. Thus a turnout of 50% of registered voters in the U.S. equates to only 33% of eligible voters.


Election meddling in Venezuela

The star of PBS’s seven-minute report is Roberto Patino, the Venezuelan director of a food distribution charity. The report neglects to mention that Patino is associated with a major U.S. foreign policy institution. He is a Millennium Leadership fellow and so-called expert at the neoliberal Atlantic Council where the regime change goals in Venezuela are clear. His food charity “Alimenta la Solidaridad” is allied with Rescue Venezuela, funded by the U.S. with the apparent goal of undermining the Venezuelan government and promoting “interim president Juan Guaido.”

Patino says the Venezuelan government is “very paranoid and they see conspiracies all over.” Paranoia is defined as a mental condition wherein there is fear of imaginary threats. But U.S. threats and aggression against Venezuela are not imaginary; they are very real.

In 2002 the U.S. supported the kidnapping and coup against the popular and elected President Hugo Chavez. The years have gone by, but U.S. hostility persists.

* In August 2018 there was a drone assassination attempt on the Venezuelan President.

* In January 2019, the U.S. declared that it would not recognize the elected President Maduro and instead recognized Juan Guaido as “interim president.”  His background is described in the article “The Making of Juan Guaido: How the U.S. regime-change laboratory created Venezuela’s coup leader”

* In February 2019, President Trump threatened military intervention against Venezuela.

* In March 2019, there was a massive power blackout caused by sabotage of the electrical grid, with probable U.S. involvement.

*In May 2020, two former U.S. Special Forces soldiers and other mercenaries were arrested in a failed attempt to overthrow President Maduro.

* In June 2020, the U.S. Navy warship Nitze began provocative “freedom of navigation” patrols along the Venezuelan coast.

* In August 2020, the U.S. seized four ships carrying much-needed gasoline to Venezuela.

* In September 2020, in an attempt to undermine the Venezuelan election, the U.S. imposed sanctions on political leaders who planned to participate.

* The U.S. 2021 stimulus bill includes $33 million for “democracy programs for Venezuela.”

Based on the past twenty years, Venezuela’s government has good reason to be on guard against U.S. threats, meddling, and intervention. The PBS program ignores this history.

Another hero of the report is exiled politician Leopoldo Lopez. He was imprisoned in 2014 for instigating street violence known as guarimbas, which led to the deaths of 43 people.

Like Patino, Lopez is from the Venezuelan elite, studied in the U.S., and has major public relations support in the U.S. Like Guaido, Lopez is more popular in Washington than in his home country.


Will the US respect Venezuela’s sovereignty?

If the PBS Newshour reporters sought objectivity, members of the moderate opposition in Venezuela would have been interviewed. Viewers could have heard Democratic Alliance leaders explain why they participated in the election and why they are critical of U.S. economic sanctions and U.S. interference in their domestic affairs. That would have been educational for viewers.

On January 5, the newly elected national assembly will commence in Venezuela. The fig leaf pretense of Juan Guaido as “interim president” of Venezuela will be removed because he is no longer in the national assembly.  In fact, he was removed as speaker of the national assembly one year ago.

But viewers of the PBS special did not learn this. Instead, they received a biased report ignoring the moderate opposition and promoting a few U.S.-backed elites. PBS ignored and denigrated the efforts of millions of Venezuelans who carried out and participated in an election that compares favorably with the election process in the U.S. You would never know it from PBS, and you might not believe it unless you saw it with your own eyes, as I did.

Feature photo | A voter casts her ballot during elections to choose members of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, Dec. 6, 2020. Matias Delacroix | AP

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist based in the San Fransico Bay Area of California. He can be contacted at

The post I Observed Venezuela’s Elections Firsthand: Here’s What the US Media Got Wrong appeared first on MintPress News.

Fingers Point to US-Backed Gov’t in Colombia’s Ninetieth Massacre of the Year

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/12/2020 - 7:13am in

It is the festive season in Colombia, but not everyone is celebrating. Sunday brought news of the ninetieth massacre of the year. Five people were found dead in Bolívar Department in the north of the country, among them former leftist guerilla Rosa Amalia Mendoza and her infant child. Meanwhile, just hours earlier in the southwestern department of Cauca, the brutally tortured body of 55-year-old Manuel Alonso Villegas was found on a roadside close to his hometown of Miranda.

Both Mendoza and Villegas had been members of the leftist guerilla group the FARC until 2016 when they and many others agreed to permanently lay down their weapons in a historic peace deal that promised to end the country’s decades-long civil war. Mendoza, 25, had reportedly become involved in local activism, founding the South Bolívar Agricultural and Environmental Housing Association. Meanwhile, Villegas had turned his hand to handicrafts, making custom shirts and other items. He was also active in a number of local community agricultural development projects.

His body was found only 200 meters from the gate of his community’s collective farm, something which locals perceive as a calculated “message.” “The community is really scared,” one local said, in a recording shared with MintPress. This was not the first time the town had experienced such terror. Last year, two brothers had also been murdered. Their mother died of a heart attack at their funeral.

James Jordan, National Co-Coordinator of the Alliance for Global Justice and a friend of Villegas’, spoke to MintPress about the incident. “Manuel was a master woodworker and had a room full of items he was selling, all the way from little stands to put your cell phone on to really nice beds and rocking chairs and cabinets,” he said.

One encounters news of all these killings and atrocities and massacres by the armed forces, paramilitaries and other armed groups. But when you get to know a community and see how eagerly they are working for peace, how enthusiastically they have handed over their guns for plows and sewing machines and woodworking tools, when you visit with these people where they live, share meals together, dance, play soccer, together, the depravity and cruelty of the enemies of the peace becomes visceral. I can still see Manuel’s face and to think of how his life and dreams have been extinguished so brutally is just not acceptable. Not only must we demand his murderers be apprehended and punished, but if we would see justice, we have to make Manuel’s dreams and hopes and spirit of peace our own.”


A secret campaign of targeted assassinations

The 2016 peace deal saw the FARC disband, ending armed struggle and taking up electoral politics under the name of the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force. Then-president Juan Manuel Santos received the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the agreement.

However, the violence has only stopped in one direction as precious few of the government-aligned far-right paramilitaries have demobilized. Villegas and Mendoza are the 248th and 249th signatories of the 2016 deal to be murdered to date, suggesting a secret campaign of targeted assassinations. The Common Alternative Revolutionary Force condemned the violence, complaining that Colombia “does not give guarantees to those who [have] bet on peace.”

Colombia FARC

Relatives of Astrid Conde, a former FARC rebel, at her funeral in Bogota after she was gunned down near her home, March 8, 2020. Ivan Valenciaa | AP

The government has half-heartedly suggested drug trafficking as an explanation for many of the massacres, but few appear convinced. “If drug trafficking were a determining factor in homicides, it would be expected that this phenomenon would occur mostly in the coca-growing municipalities. However, the evidence indicates the opposite,” stated Giovanni Álvarez, Director of the Colombian Investigation and Accusation Unit.

While the homicide rate in Colombia has fallen this year, massacres have, by contrast, greatly increased, as has their bloodiness throughout 2020. Altogether, 375 people have now been murdered in mass killings this year, according to local human rights group Indepaz. “Every massacre is a message,” Manuel Rozental, a physician and longtime activist living in Cauca, not far from Villegas’ home, told MintPress earlier this year. “The massacres are methodic, systematic. It is a job being done as planned.”

Earlier this month, United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the government to take “stronger and much more effective action to protect the population” from “appalling and pervasive violence.” “It is the state’s duty to be present throughout the country, implementing a whole range of comprehensive public policies, not only to clamp down on those responsible for the violence, but also to provide basic services and safeguard the fundamental rights of the population,” she added.

Few, however, seem to be expecting a radically different 2021. Colombia has long been the most dangerous place in the world to be an activist. Since 1989, according to human rights group Justice For Colombia, over 3,000 trade unionists have been assassinated, more than in the rest of the world combined. “In almost 100% of these killings, the perpetrators act with impunity,” Jordan said. This afternoon, Norbey Antonio Rivera from Cauca, became the latest social leader to be assassinated.


“Violence fueled by US policies”

Current president Ivan Duque is a strong conservative and a protege of the country’s former leader Álvaro Uribe, a figure who has dominated Colombian politics for most of the twenty-first century. Both Duque and Uribe bitterly opposed the 2016 peace deal, beseeching the public not to back it. Since assuming office in 2018, Duque has attempted to roll back parts of the agreement.

Uribe has an extremely close relationship with both the far-right paramilitary groups and organized drug cartels. While president from 2002 to 2010, he oversaw a years-long wave of murders of peasant, union, and indigenous leaders that resulted in over 10,000 deaths. Dubbed the “False Positives Scandal,” government-controlled forces would kill anyone they wished, later framing their victims as members of the FARC, both clearing their own name and justifying even more security spending. This allowed Uribe to impose his rule on the country, intimidating opponents into silence. His own political campaigns came financed, in turn, with money directly from the notorious Medellin drug cartel.

President George W. Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

George W. Bush presents the Medal of Freedom to Alvaro Uribe, Jan. 13, 2009, during a White House ceremony

Paramilitary groups continue to hold considerable influence inside the country to this day. The COVID-induced lockdown has made it even easier for the death squads who still terrorize the country to operate freely, knowing precisely where their targets will be and meeting little organized resistance. Over 1.6 million Colombians have tested positive for coronavirus, with 42,620 deaths reported as of Wednesday — a similar per capita rate to the United States.

Who is to blame for this violence, and can it ever end? Jordan was clear that, while Colombians might be paying in blood, this was not a purely internal affair, and the source of the violence laid closer to home.

Painfully, I have to repeat what so many have said before, that political violence in Colombia is fueled by U.S. government policies. The United States continues to provide weapons and direction for the Colombian armed forces, police, and jails, and it has all too often directly encouraged and even funded the leaders of private death squads. The Trump administration also waged a full scale campaign to undermine Colombia’s peace accords. We must not waste our time hoping the Biden administration might reverse course, we must demand it,” he told MintPress.

Feature photo | Ex-combatants of the disbanded FARC and social activists march to demand the government guarantee their right to life and compliance with the 2016 peace agreement, in Bogota, Colombia, Nov. 1, 2020. Fernando Vergara | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Fingers Point to US-Backed Gov’t in Colombia’s Ninetieth Massacre of the Year appeared first on MintPress News.

2020 Ends as It Began: With the Looming Threat of a US War With Iran

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/12/2020 - 4:30am in

Amid increasing hostility towards Tehran, the United States is building up its military presence on Iran’s borders. In the past three weeks alone, the U.S. has flown in a squadron of fighter jets and extra B-52 bombers while deploying the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier (with its strike group) and a large submarine to the Persian Gulf. This comes on top of the 2,500 troops it sent to Saudi Arabia earlier in the year, the first build-up of forces in the country in 17 years. The nuclear powered Nimitz is home to nine squadrons of fighting aircraft and has also long been rumored to carry nuclear weapons.

The military insists that all the new measures are purely “in the name of deterrence.” However, the few journalists who have paid attention to the news appear skeptical. “That’s provocation!” wrote Rania Khalek. “You’re sending this shit thousands of miles away from your border to try to provoke Iran and then playing the victim.”

The move comes in the midst of worsening hostilities between the United States and Iran. Last week, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad (a massive citadel in the center of the city, almost as large as the Vatican) was hit by a rocket strike that the Trump administration blames on Iranian-sponsored groups. On Wednesday, Trump gave “some friendly health advice” to Iran, tweeting that “If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.”

The U.S. also recently upped its already extensive sanctions on the Islamic Republic, with Trump’s Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, claiming that “Thanks to the success of our sanctions, Iran is looking to come back to the negotiating table to get relief,” even as he imposed new ones.

The sanctions have indeed caused serious hardship on Iran, sending the prices of consumer goods soaring and the value of its currency, the rial, in the opposite direction. Like in Venezuela, oil production has slowed, as Tehran can find few buyers for its principal national export. The price of food has also become a serious issue for many. “The sanctions deliberately target ordinary Iranians, women, and children,” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Professor of English Literature at the University of Tehran told MintPress earlier this year. “They are designed to kill hospital patients and to create poverty. They have had partial success.”

Iran was one of the earliest hit countries by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the U.S. government used it as an opportunity to try to overthrow the government, hindering its attempts to import medical equipment and personal protective equipment, a move condemned by human rights groups. Hawkish media and senior politicians alike appeared to be relishing the prospect of an insurrection in Tehran. “With aging rulers and a weak health system, could the coronavirus lead to a regime change in Iran?” asked former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. Eventually, the World Health Organization stepped in directly, donating large quantities of supplies — one reason why the Trump administration decided to leave the organization.

2020 started with the U.S. assassination of Iranian statesman Qassem Soleimani as he was in Iraq attending a peace conference at the invitation of Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Also present were representatives from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies with antagonistic relationships with Tehran. The move sparked uproar in Iraq, especially after Abdul-Mahdi revealed he had sought and received Trump’s blessing to invite Soleimani. The result was an enormous march of up to 2.5 million Iraqis parading through Baghdad insisting that the U.S. leave the country for good. Instead, the U.S. announced it was building three new military bases, all of them on the Iranian border.

Throughout 2020, the Trump administration has worked hard to build a united front against Iran amongst its client regimes in the region, with experts suggesting to MintPress that the Abraham Accords (the Israel-UAE-Bahrain agreement) were far more about war with Tehran than peace, as they were sold to the public. 2020 also ended with another high profile assassination; that of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a crime Iran suggested Israel or the United States must have committed.

The incoming Biden administration has signaled its intent to return to the nuclear deal that Trump and his team abandoned, with the 2020 Democratic National Platform categorically stating that,

Democrats will call off the Trump Administration’s race to war with Iran and prioritize nuclear diplomacy, de-escalation, and regional dialogue. Democrats believe the United States should not impose regime change on other countries and reject that as the goal of U.S. policy toward Iran.”

However, with the U.S. showing its ability to rapidly change political direction and break its own treaties, it is not clear whether Iran will see any American agreement as credible in the long term. Nevertheless, with the threat of a hot conflict increasing, any de-escalatory actions cannot come soon enough.

Feature photo | Guided-missile submarine USS Georgia, front, with the guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal, transit the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, Dec. 21, 2020. Indra Beaufort | U.S. Navy via AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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Israel’s Genocide in Gaza Goes Uninterrupted, But Is Europe Finally Taking Notice?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/12/2020 - 2:16am in

A report published by the United Nations in 2018 stated that by the year 2020 the Gaza Strip would be uninhabitable. It said specifically that, “the United Nations has stated that Gaza may well be unlivable by 2020.” The report emphasized also that “Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967, drew attention to Israel’s persistent non-cooperation with the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. As with his two predecessors, Israel has not granted him entry to visit the country, nor the Occupied Palestinian territory.” Anyone who thinks that the Gaza Strip was liveable prior to 2020 is out of their mind.

The Gaza Strip has been a humanitarian disaster since it was artificially created in the aftermath of the 1948 Zionist campaign of ethnic cleansing. It was created primarily as a holding place for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians driven off of their lands by Zionist terrorists in southern Palestine. Impoverished and homeless, these refugees were forced to survive on handouts, and today they make up more than half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.2 million inhabitants. Considering the high standard of living Jewish citizens of Israel in that part of the country enjoy, living as they do on the very lands from which the Palestinians were exiled, the “Strip” was never “liveable.”

Now 2020 has come and gone, the United Nations report is shelved, and not a thing has changed. Over two million people remain imprisoned by Israel in the Gaza Strip. They suffer from a lack of the most basic needs like drinkable water, electricity, medicine, and nutrition. Israel also denies them basic human rights while Israeli Jews living minutes away enjoy a standard of living that is, by any measure, enviable with full access to the finest health care, nutrition, and clean water.


A European delegation comes to visit

A delegation of European representatives recently visited Gaza, yet Europeans have not used their influence, political or otherwise, to end Israeli violations of human rights and international law.

It would not have taken much for EU representatives to see the devastation, poverty, and severe shortages experienced by the people of Gaza. All one needs to do is drive through the Gaza Strip to see the evidence, and yet no change seems to be forthcoming from the Europeans.

Gaza Europe

A family prepares tea in a slum on the outskirts of Khan Younis Refugee Camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 25, 2020. Khalil Hamra | AP

In fact, according to the Israeli press, Germany just announced that in order to provide Israel with a European made vaccine for Covid-19, “Germany used its influence in the EU to bend the rule that a European-produced vaccination would be given to European countries first. Germany justified the decision in part through its “historical commitment to supporting Israel.” Knowing full well that millions of Palestinians are denied health care and that the spread of Covid-19 among Palestinians is alarming, no such commitment was made to assist the Palestinians in their fight against the deadly disease..



The comfort that Europeans display as they cooperate with the State of Israel, even as they claim to be champions of human rights, amounts to complicity. According to the Geneva Convention, particularly the Rome Statute, European cooperation with Israel constitutes complicity in genocide. When one looks at the definition of genocide and compares it with the actions of Israel in Gaza, it is quite clear that the Zionist State is engaged in genocide.

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Article II

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    1. Killing members of the group;
    2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group;

Three of the five examples given here are constantly committed by Israel in Gaza. Furthermore, Article II of the Genocide Convention “contains a narrow definition of the crime of genocide, which includes two main elements,” one of which is the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” Israeli attacks on Gaza for over seven decades  clearly demonstrate that they are part of a larger strategy and that there is clear intent to bring about the destruction of a people.

According to a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the issue of complicity with genocide is quite clear. “Prior jurisprudence has defined the term complicity as aiding and abetting, instigating, and procuring […] Complicity to commit genocide in Article 2(3)(e) refers to all acts of assistance or encouragement that have substantially contributed to, or have had a substantial effect on, the completion of the crime of genocide.”

The report defined the following as elements of complicity in genocide:

  • “complicity by procuring means, such as weapons, instruments or any other means, used to commit genocide, with the accomplice knowing that such means would be used for such a purpose;
  • complicity by knowingly aiding or abetting a perpetrator of a genocide in the planning or enabling acts thereof;

According to that definition, both the EU states and the United States are complicit in the crime of genocide.

Human Rights Watch maintains that Israel has, “entrenched discriminatory systems that treat Palestinians unequally.”  It “involves systematic rights abuses, including collective punishment, routine use of excessive lethal force against protesters, and prolonged administrative detention without charge or trial for hundreds.”

It continues to state that Israel, “builds and supports illegal settlements […]expropriating Palestinian land and imposing burdens on Palestinians but not on settlers, restricting their access to basic services and making it nearly impossible for them to build.”

Regarding the Gaza Strip, HRW writes that “Israel’s more than decade-long closure of Gaza severely restricts the movement of people and goods, with devastating humanitarian impact.”


What constitutes aid?

The first order of business needs to be the immediate and unconditional lifting of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007. A no-fly zone monitored by UN or European naval forces must be imposed on all Israeli aircraft. In addition to these measures, humanitarian relief must be made available to the people of Gaza without delay.

Israel must be sanctioned and all military and economic cooperation with Israel must be stopped until such time that it complies with international law and ends all its violations of human rights. This should be followed by setting a date for free and fair one person, one vote elections in all of historic Palestine. Then processes must be put in place for the repatriation of Palestinian refugees, and funding must be set aside for payment of reparations and restitution.

A girl walks next to a donkey carte loaded with rocks on the outskirts of Khan Younis Refugee Camp, in the southern Gaza, Nov. 25, 2020. Khalil Hamra |AP

Israel must also be held accountable for its violations of international law since 1948 and Israeli politicians, as well as military commanders, must be investigated and charged with war crimes.

European countries are fully aware of the reality that exists in Gaza. A long and cruel siege, constant Israeli attacks resulting in the killing of countless civilians, destruction of homes and infrastructure, extreme poverty, and trauma are the daily bread of Palestinians in Gaza.

The reality in Gaza is no secret and Israeli violations of international law are well known. However, European governments are in the habit of seeing colonized and formerly colonized people as needing aid and doing little to provide the aid. The aid they provide is sometimes monetary and sometimes humanitarian in the form of food items, but rarely is it sufficient. In the case of the Gaza Strip, real political action is called for, but it is not clear if and when the EU will be willing to act.

Feature photo | Palestinians look on from their house in a slum on the outskirts of Khan Younis Refugee Camp, in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 25, 2020. Khalil Hamra | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

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Trump Enacts Sweeping New Sanctions on China, Iran, Venezuela. Biden Promises More To Come

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/12/2020 - 6:13am in

On its way out the door, the Trump administration is ramping up another round of aggressive, punishing sanctions against a host of countries. On Friday, the State Department announced new sanctions against Iran, the People’s Republic of China, and Venezuela. And today, it tightened the grip of the decades-long blockade on Cuba and increased sanctions on Nicaragua.

In the case of Iran, the measures were aimed at its oil industry and went so far as to sanction Vietnamese companies helping with the international supply of Iranian hydrocarbons. “Today, thanks to the success of our sanctions, Iran is looking to come back to the negotiating table to get relief,” Trump’s Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, asserted, adding (falsely) that the Iranian nuclear program remains focused on weaponry, not civilian usage.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also announced that 59 Chinese entities that were “undermining our national security and foreign policy interests” have been targeted. In the case of Venezuela, the action came as retaliation after it held an election the United States deemed to be fraudulent.

The Trump administration has ramped up the use of sanctions, issuing around 3,800 new ones, compared to 2,350 in President Obama’s second term. Sanctions are an act of war, and, when applied unilaterally, are often seen as illegal. The UN has formally denounced many of the U.S. sanctions, noting that they “disproportionately affect the poor and most vulnerable classes,” and not the leaders of foreign governments as is sometimes argued.

The effect on Iran has been to essentially tank its economy and cause untold hardship on its people. Oil production has sputtered. The Iranian rial has lost the majority of its worth. Food and consumer goods have become scarce and far more expensive, and international travel is now much harder. Throughout 2020, the U.S. has hindered the import of humanitarian aid and personal protective equipment, adding to the COVID-19 epidemic inside the country. The National Iranian American Council (no lovers of the current administration in Tehran) described U.S. actions as “heartless and sadistic.” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Professor of English Literature at the University of Tehran agreed, telling MintPress in October that, “The sanctions deliberately target ordinary Iranians, women, and children…They are designed to kill hospital patients and to create poverty. They have had partial success.”

The effect on Venezuela has been if anything, more acute. An estimated 100,000 people have been killed by American sanctions (a fact barely reported in the West), as vital medical equipment and lifesaving drugs have been blocked from entering the country. Alfred de Zayas, an (American) UN Special Rapporteur visited Venezuela, comparing life there to living under a Medieval siege, and declaring the United States as guilty of “crimes against humanity.”

There appears little hope for a major change in tactics with the incoming administration. A Biden-linked Washington think-tank recently released a report calling for more “innovative” use of what it called “coercive economic statecraft,” (i.e. sanctions). The Center for a New American Security was founded by Michelle Flournoy, Biden’s original pick for Defense Secretary, and is full of Obama-era officials like Victoria Nuland. “The use of economic power, backed up by all of the available legal tools, plays to America’s strengths as the dominant global economic power and promises a continued stream of benefits,” they argue, concluding that, “Although there are inevitably going to be costs, and possibly increasing ones, associated with the use of coercive economic tools, the benefits are also going to increase over time.”

News agency Reuters also recently released a report based on conversations with people close to the 78-year-old former vice-president, noting that sanctions will “remain a central instrument of U.S. power” under his administration, suggesting that he will likely ramp up sanctions against Russia. Far from dropping the practice, Biden’s major challenge, according to those cited, will be “to sort out which sanctions to keep, which to undo and which to expand.” It appears it will continue to be full steam ahead for America’s sanctions regime in 2021.

Feature photo | A cervical cancer patient sits on her bed at the Luis Razetti hospital in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept 2, 2020. Ariana Cubillos | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Trump Enacts Sweeping New Sanctions on China, Iran, Venezuela. Biden Promises More To Come appeared first on MintPress News.

Mass Starvation Looms as Yemen’s Currency Nears Historic Freefall

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/12/2020 - 6:33am in

TAIZ, YEMEN- – Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seem to be doing everything in their power to prevent an end to the suffering in Yemen. Even those living in areas under the total control of the wealthy Gulf monarchies are facing levels of devastation that harken back to the total destruction of European cities during World War II.

With no functioning government to provide residents with even basic assistance and facing a collapsed economy amid a famine that could soon beset all of Yemen according to the United Nations, the collapse of Yemen’s rial, particularly in Saudi-coalition-controlled areas, is proving to be the coup de grâce that will assure the country faces an apocalyptic level of destruction for years to come.

Her black eyes virtually absent and speaking in a muted voice that is difficult to pick up, Umm Abdu does her best to recount her story to MintPress. She was hiding a bony face and emaciated body in a voluminous black abaya robe and hijab. “I am starving myself to feed my children. It is very difficult to reach for this piece,” the Illiterate mother of six muttered as she held a piece of Roti bread. Umm Abdu lives in a poor neighborhood in Taiz, a city in western Yemen under the control of some of the richest countries in the world.

Yemen famine

Severely malnourished infant Zahra is bathed by her mother in a washtub. Hammadi Issa | AP

After nearly six years of war, Yemen remains home to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Millions are hungry and destitute and at least 80% of the population requires humanitarian assistance or protection. Some 13.5 million people face severe food shortages and that number could rise to 16.2 million in 2021, according to International Relief Bodies.

The economy has already collapsed for virtually every Yemeni living in the south, except for the few who managed to profit by working with Saudi Arabia or the UAE. Savings accounts have long been exhausted and by end of November, the rial depreciated to an all-time low of 850 YR to a single U.S. dollar, leaving most of the population unable to afford even the most basic essentials. Like Umm Abdu, people are reducing portion sizes and skipping meals as a kind of “coping strategy index,” one of many tools used to measure food insecurity. Fruit, fish, and meat have become a rare commodity that most can only dream of.

“Even though there is food in the markets, I can’t afford it. Not because we don’t have money, but because of the crazy prices. So we decide to reduce food to keep our children alive,” one shopper told MintPress. However, that strategy may not be enough as food prices are near double where they were in the wake of the recent currency collapse.

According to International organizations, Yemen, particularly areas under the control of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, will return to alarming levels of food insecurity by mid-2020, and a catastrophic food security crisis is looming. They reported that by December 2020, the population facing high levels of acute food insecurity (what they termed IPC Phase 3 and above) would increase from 2 million to 3.2 million people.

An Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report from October 2020 covering southern Yemen highlighted how acute malnutrition rates among children under five are now the highest ever recorded in some districts. The analysis reveals a near 10 percent increase in cases of acute malnutrition this year. The greatest increase is in cases of young children suffering from severe acute malnutrition which has increased by 15.5 percent, leaving at least 98,000 children under age five at high risk of dying without urgent treatment.

Situation Report Yemen 11 Nov 2020 pdf editedSource: IPC Acute malnutrition analysis (Oct 2020)

A stream of statements from leading aid organization officials reflects how dire the situation has become, including a warning from UN Secretary-General António Guterres that “Yemen is now in imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades. ”We’ve been warning since July that Yemen is on the brink of a catastrophic food security crisis. If the war doesn’t end now, we are nearing an irreversible situation and risk losing an entire generation of Yemen’s young children,” said Lisa Grande last month,” the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen. “The data we are releasing today confirms that acute malnutrition among children is hitting the highest levels we have seen since the war started,” she added.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) raised the alarm about millions of Yemenis risking falling into worsening levels of hunger by mid-2021. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) also described the crisis in Yemen as “the world’s worst.” The WFP said in a tweet that millions are trapped in a cycle of conflict and hunger. “Everyday life in Yemen gets harder for millions as the window to prevent famine narrows. We must act now.”

Although a mass famine event may be unlikely in the immediate future, officials in Taiz warned that many areas could soon start to see deaths from famine. Many children already have signs of severe acute malnutrition, the most dire stage of hunger where legs and feet begin to swell. “We all sleep hungry, there is not enough food even for our children,“ Umm Abdu told us.

For Umm Abdu and her husband, 37-year-old Saeed, the rial’s collapse has meant skipping meals. Saeed was educated as an English teacher and had a job as a tour guide at a local travel agency before the war. Since he lost his job after the war began, he’s been making money selling qat – a mild stimulant that many Yemenis chew in the afternoon. However, that money is not nearly enough to cover rent, let alone basic needs. Now, their situation is getting worse as the availability of Qat has decreased dramatically after the weather turned cold three months ago when winter began. After the recent collapse of the rial, the ability to bring home food has become nearly impossible.

Umm Abdu and Saeed are now considering extreme options. Over the past six years, they have seen Yemen’s steady dissolution from a nation hoping to transition to democracy post-Arab Spring, to a nation fragmented and a land of warring statelets, mass suffering, and despair.  Many of their neighbors have resorted to stealing, human trafficking, and selling their organs to make ends meet, or even marrying off their daughters because they are unable to feed them.


A tale of two cities

Officials in Aden, the de facto center of Saudi-Coalition power in Yemen, blame the collapse of currency on the fact that foreign reserves have dried up. According to them, remittances from Yemenis abroad, the largest source of foreign exchange, dropped by up to 70% as a result of the Covid-induced global downturn. But to Omer, a former fighter in “al-Muqawamah” in Aden who was wounded while fighting with Coalition Forces against the Houthis in 2016, these arguments are grossly inaccurate.

Omer believes that Saudi Arabia has a plan to destroy the national currency in order to intentionally accelerate famine.  “Why is there no collapse of the currency in Houthi areas even though they live in conditions worse than us?” The exchange rate divergence between Houthi-controlled Sana’a and coalition-controlled Aden is indeed stark, with the Yemeni rial worth 35% less in Aden than it is in Sana’a.

Omer was one of the thousands of Yemenis that took the streets in Taiz and other areas this week in a mass protest against the continuing deterioration of the economic situation, denouncing the Saudi-led coalition states and demanding they leave the country. The demonstrators accused coalition countries and ousted Yemeni president Abdul Mansour al-Hadi of practicing a policy of starvation to achieve their personal objectives. They chanted slogans against Saudi Arabia and UAE with phrases like “our revolution is a hungry revolution,” “take your aid, and leave us our oil,” “take your donations, and leave us our ports,” and “take your trust fund and leave us our wealth.”


A gloomy future

According to local economists who spoke to MintPress, the reasons behind the collapse of Yemen’s economy and its currency are many and varied but the expansionary monetary policy that has been taken by Saudi Arabia is one of the key drivers of the Yemeni rial’s devaluation.

Local authorities supported by Saudi Arabia have regularly printed new banknotes in order to meet expenses compounded by the purchase of foreign currencies flowing into markets by foreign organizations.

By the end of 2019, the total rial liquidity in circulation in the country was more than three trillion, according to a source in the Aden-based central bank. As of the beginning of 2020, the bank has printed around 300 billion rials in order to address the budget deficit. The government of ousted president Hadi has largely relied on the central bank’s overdraft financing instrument to cover his spending abroad, including rent, travel, and entertainment.

Recently, Saudi’s proxies in southern Yemen have been selling large quantities of newly-printed banknotes in order to purchase foreign currency from the market and replenish their own foreign currency holdings. This has increased downward pressure on the rial’s value and helped drive inflation.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on countries to provide financial assistance to resolve the severe economic crisis in Yemen, saying in a statement issued via his spokesperson Stephane Dujarric on the second anniversary of the Stockholm Agreement, “I call on all member states to help address the severe economic crisis in the country.”

Umm Abdu has a gloomy future. She has no faith in the UN or the Saudi proxies in the south, who she described as “drenched in treason.” Nonetheless, she places hope in God and in her fellow Yemenis that her country will be freed. “Where else on Earth can you find a nation that has gone through what has happened in Yemen, occupied by foreigners, destroyed, with famine and epidemics, and yet somehow, we still managed to survive.”

Feature photo | Yemeni women display paper currency after receiving cash support from UNICEF. Hani Mohammed | AP

Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.

The post Mass Starvation Looms as Yemen’s Currency Nears Historic Freefall appeared first on MintPress News.

Under Guise of Green Energy, Israel Entrenches Itself in Syria’s Golan Heights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/12/2020 - 5:21am in

Jerusalem — On December 9, Israeli police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of Syrians peacefully demonstrating against the development of a wind farm in the occupied Golan Heights.

Ten protesters were injured and eight arrested. According to Al-Marsad, the sole human rights organization in the occupied Golan, the Golan Association for the Development of Arab Villages’ medical clinic received 12 cases of protesters with rubber bullet wounds—some on the upper body and face. Dozens of demonstrators suffered from gas inhalation. According to the police, officers responded with “non-lethal weapons” and four officers were injured from stones being thrown.

The violent confrontation capped off a week of heavy police presence in the Golan Heights. Officers were there to escort employees from Israeli company Energix Renewable Energies as they took soil samples using drilling machines for their wind turbine project being built on Syrian land.

Police road closures prevented 1,000 Syrian farmers from accessing their land. Demonstrators say the excavation work damages agriculture.

Israeli police block farmers from accessing agricultural roads. Photo | Emil Masood


Syrian Druze say the wind farm will disrupt their way of life

The December 9 protest was part of a general strike in the Syrian Druze communities against Energix and the police. But the Syrian struggle against Energix stems as far back as 2018 when Energix was in the final stages of getting its wind turbine project approved.

Now, the wind farm is underway after being approved by Israel’s National Committee of Infrastructure (NIC) and all government ministries despite strong opposition to it from the local residents.

“[This project] will have bad effects for our land, our environment and for us as farmers and human beings,” Emil Masood, an activist and cherry farmer who is organizing against the wind farm, said.

Dubbed the ARAN Wind Project, the plan will install 23 wind turbines on nearly a quarter of Syrian agricultural land. The original proposal requested 52 wind turbines, but the project was scaled back as it went through the government stages.

Energix denies the project will harm the local economy, environment, and health, arguing, “it will lead to a significant improvement in the quality of life of the residents” and “occupy less than 2 percent of the margins of the agricultural space of the Druze community.” According to the approved project map, the wind farm will span a little more than 3,500 dunams (nearly 870 acres).


A map published by Al-Marsad shows proposed turbine locations in the midst of farmland nestled between Syrian villages

Energix boasts the project will create hundreds of jobs while meeting Israel’s renewable energy goals. Israel entered the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 and agreed to have 10 percent of its energy produced through renewable sources by 2020 and 17 percent by 2030.

But according to expert testimonies filed as part of a joint objection to the wind farm, the project will significantly harm Syrians’ health, housing, and livelihoods.

Dr. Hagit Ulanovsky, who provided an expert opinion for the community appeal, explained that because of the region’s mountainous topography, residents are going to feel the infrasound from the wind turbines more intensely in their bodies. And these noise disturbances will ultimately prevent Syrian farmers from cultivating their land.

“The noise is going to be impossible. Nobody will be able to stand 200 to 300 meters [about 650 to 980 feet] from each turbine, which is half of the area that’s covered,” Ulanovsky said. “And during the construction phase, thousands of trees will be taken out and basically be dead forever.”

“At least 500 to maybe 5,000 years of Druze people living in the same place and growing the same trees for several generations is going to stop,” Ulanovsky added.


A forgotten occupation

Israel occupied the Syrian Golan during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians were forcibly displaced and now roughly 22,000 Syrians remain in the four villages of Majdal Shams, Masada, Buqata, and Ein Qiniyye. In 1981, Israel annexed the Syrian Golan and tried to impose Israeli citizenship on the Jawlani, the Syrian residents of the occupied Golan Heights. Many Jawlani continue to this day to reject Israeli citizenship, with only 20% of the population having acquired it.

Druze farmer Noraldeen Masoud makes coffee on his farm in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Ariel Schalit | AP

Dr. Muna Dajani from the London School of Economics, who also provided expert testimony, explained that because of this refusal to take Israeli citizenship, the Jawlani’s travel documents state they don’t have a nationality. Instead, the Israeli government has labeled them as “undefined.”

“The Jawlani have started relating more and more to the land as their source of identity and their source of belonging to a community because of that exclusion from being Syrian, and that meant they started valuing the land beyond its physical economic value,” Dajani said.

“Constructing these wind turbines in the middle of the land not only undermines the economic viability of their agriculture but also has a detrimental psychological effect on their community well-being, their sense of purpose and sense of belonging,” Dajani continued. “People feel without land they have nowhere, they don’t have an identity left.”

Expert opinions also emphasized the wind farm will restrict the expansion of at least three surrounding Syrian villages, thereby exacerbating the housing crisis in these communities. The collective appeal was submitted by Al-Marsad to the NIC in June 2019 on behalf of Syrian agricultural cooperatives, civil society groups, and thousands of civilians. By August of that same year, the NIC rejected all objections and approved the project in September.

Golan Heights wind

Druze farmer Noraldeen Masoud works his orchard where towering wind turbines could soon jut up from the picturesque farmland. Ariel Schalit | AP

Energix plans to connect the wind farm to the electricity grid by the end of 2022. Nizar Ayoub, Al-Marsad’s director, told MintPress News that the organization is collaborating with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Planners for Planning Rights (Bimkom) to utilize every legal tool to stop the wind turbine project. Al-Marsad alleges the project violates international humanitarian law whereby an occupying power is prohibited from exploiting the natural resources of the occupied territory or using their land for economic benefit.

However, the organization is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against them from Energix. In 2019, the energy company sued Al-Marsad, claiming the human rights center defamed them and violated Israel’s Anti-Boycott Law. In addition to the lawsuit against Al-Marsad, Energix also filed five cases against activists.

“There’s no basis in their arguments,” Ayoub said. “They’re just using this strategy to silence the local communities and Al-Marsad.”


The resistance continues

Following this month’s confrontation between Israel police and activists, the local committee for planning and construction – Ma’ale Hermon – issued a restraining order to Energix to cease all work. The order was issued after the local village councils filed an appeal to the committee. Energix is aware of the order but said it will not impact their wind turbine project and has no legal grounds.

For activist and farmer Masood, any attempts by local authorities to stop the project are merely a sham.

farmers peacefully protest against Energix

Syrian civilians and farmers peacefully protest against Energix and Israeli police. Photo | Emil Masood

“The municipality doesn’t represent Syrian Arab citizens in the Golan because they’re appointed by the Israeli authorities,” Masood said. “In this conflict, they didn’t invest a lot of effort to stop it. So, all the effort was from social, public, and private initiatives and dependent on us farmers and citizens of the four villages—not the municipalities.” The village councils weren’t available for comment.

The Syrian activists’ next steps rely on how Energix proceeds, Masood said, “if they want to force this project on us, we will react.” Activists are currently working with an engineer to measure the amount of land damage caused and submit it to their lawyer in Tel Aviv for court procedures.

“But in the field, whenever the company will come back,” Masood said. “We will stand and confront it.”

Feature photo | Israeli police block Syrian Druze from accessing their land in the occupied Golan Heights. Photo | Emil Masood

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine, Israel and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

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