World update: February 12 2018



The Uzbek government on Monday suddenly unblocked several media and NGO websites, including Voice of America and Amnesty International, as well as the website for the opposition People’s Movement of Uzbekistan. Many of these sites had been blocked in Uzbekstan for over 12 years. This happened so quickly that it’s hard to know what to make of it, but for now anyway it seems like another step, small maybe, toward opening Uzbekistan up to the world.


A Taliban agent who had been fighting with a pro-government militia for months turned on his unit in Helmand province on Saturday night and killed 16 of them before escaping. It’s not clear if this guy was always with the Taliban or if he turned at some point, or if he just snapped, did the deed, and then ran off to join the Talban on the spot.


The Pakistani Taliban acknowledged on Monday that their deputy commander, Khalid Mehsud or Sajna, was killed in a US drone strike late last week.


Rodrigo Duterte has an, um, interesting suggestion for his soldiers if they encounter any women fighting in the rebel New People’s Army:

During his speech, he described an imaginary conversation between a general and a solider, “‘Are there any women holding guns?’ ‘Sir, she’s a fighter. An Amazon.’ ‘Shoot the [slang term for vagina].'”


The official transcript of Duterte’s comments released by his office replaces the word “vagina” and the slang for it with a set of dashes. According to the transcript, the male audience laughed.


“Tell the soldiers. ‘There’s a new order coming from the mayor. We won’t kill you. We will just shoot your vagina so that … If there are no vaginas it would be useless,” he said, according to local media reports.

What a guy.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government has barred its citizens from going to Kuwait for work, after the body of a murdered Philippine domestic worker was recently found in a freezer in Kuwait, where it had been for about a year. There’s been growing tension between the Gulf states and Manila over the mistreatment of Philippine workers in the Gulf, especially in Kuwait.


Though I’m not sure it deserved the level of hype it got, Kim Yo-jong’s big visit to South Korea seems to have been successful. She was generally well-received and didn’t botch the opportunity to display a little soft power finesse in contrast to whatever has been coming out of Washington lately. Does it matter? Probably not.


The Trump administration might be able to engage in some soft power diplomacy of its own if it would, you know, appoint a fucking ambassador to South Korea. I get that this president thinks diplomacy is for wimps, hence his plan to strip the State Department for spare parts, but some places actually do need ambassadors. South Korea is one of those places. But the administration is having trouble finding a diplomat who’s OK killing potentially millions of South Koreans in a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. Which, yeah, I guess that would be a tough needle to thread.



DRC forces on Monday captured the largest Allied Democratic Forces base in northeastern DRC, in Mwalika. The loss should be a blow to the ADF, who have been on a reign of terror in the region.


Farmers in northern Mozambique are worried that they may lose their land under a government initiative called the Program of Triangular Cooperation for Agricultural Development of the Tropical Savannahs of Mozambique, or ProSavana:

The project aims to convert the whole area into commercial agriculture, increasing the productivity and producing cash crops such as soybean, cotton and maize for export.


The railway crossing the corridor and the Nacala port, on the Indian Ocean, seem perfectly suited to reach the global market, especially China, the world’s largest importer of soybean.


Although the government says ProSavana will benefit smallholders, many farmers in the area fear they will lose their land to make way for foreign companies.


According to Mozambican law, the land is owned by the state. Farmers and communities can refer to customary occupancy and use it. But they would need a paper stating their “right of use and benefit of land”, known as Duat (a Portoguese acronym for Direito do Uso e Aproveitamento da Terra). Not everyone has a Duat, nor is everyone in these rural areas fully aware of its actual value.


The African National Congress is reportedly about to formally request President Jacob Zuma’s resignation, after talks between Zuma and party leaders failed to produce an agreement for him to step down voluntarily. The formal “recall” request is going to put Zuma on the spot, but if he still refuses to go then there will be a confidence vote in parliament (already scheduled for February 22) that, between dissenting ANC legislators and the opposition, Zuma should lose. Then he’ll be forced from office.



It was a weird day for Mikheil Saakashvili. Ukrainian forces basically abducted him at gunpoint out of a restaurant in Kiev at lunchtime, and by the end of the day he’d been deported…to Poland. The Georgian government wants Saakashvili back to face punishment for abuse of power charges (on which he’s been convicted in absentia) dating back to his 2008-2013 stint as Georgian president, but apparently the Ukrainians wanted Saakashvili out of the country but not necessarily in a Georgian prison. It’s not clear how long Saakashvili will be welcomed in Poland or where he’ll wind up next.


Even though Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán hates the European Union, he’s apparently very happy to take EU money and distribute it to his friends and family:

Orbán has attacked the EU relentlessly since he took office in 2010, comparing it to the Soviet Union and launching a “Stop Brussels” campaign. At the same time, some of his family and supporters have become rich, partly due to winning EU-funded contracts to build Hungary’s roads, railways, waterworks and other public infrastructure.


More than 80% of public investment in Hungary comes from the EU’s cohesion funds, which are intended to help poorer regions and countries catch up.


“Mr Orbán has been bashing the EU for years; at the same time his inner circle is getting rich through EU funds,” said András Pethő, a journalist who co-founded Direkt36, which investigates Hungary’s new crony capitalism.

One lucky beneficiary of Orbán’s largesse has been his son in-law, István Tiborcz. Orbán gave him an EU-funded contract to install street lamps in Hungary’s cities, which Tiborcz did while charging a 56 percent markup. Nice work if you can get it.


The negotiations between Germany’s conservatives and the Social Democratic Party over forming a new governing coalition, and the back-biting that the two parties have engaged in since the conclusion of those talks, haven’t exactly helped either side’s polling numbers:

As both the parties that have dominated post-war Germany descended into internal squabbling, a new INSA poll showed their popularity had slumped, their combined support at just 46 percent. The SPD was at a record low of 16.5 percent, barely ahead of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

The shitty poll numbers highlight the danger for both sides in doing another grand coalition but also make a pretty compelling case that it’s too late for either side to back out now. A last-minute failure to form a governing coalition would likely lead to snap elections, and at this point it looks like both the SPD and the conservatives would be creamed if that happened. They really have no choice but to go through with it and hope to revive their popularity over the next couple of years.



A new study from the InSight Crime think tank finds that Donald Trump’s obsession with MS-13 has boosted the Salvadoran gang’s prestige in Central America and its status as “the most feared gang in the region.” Frankly this is almost poetic, seeing as how it was the United States that created MS-13 in the first place:

AMY GOODMAN: And talk more about that, as you fully develop it in your piece, in your work, even why it’s called MS-13, but to explain that history, Daniel.


DANIEL DENVIR: Yeah. So, Mara Salvatrucha was formed in L.A. in the 1980s. Older viewers are probably fully aware, and many younger ones, as well, that in the 1980s President Reagan was backing a right-wing government in El Salvador that was waging a brutal dirty war against leftist revolutionaries in that country, that sent huge numbers of refugees fleeing to the U.S. He also had similar dirty wars in Guatemala, as well as a Contra war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. But in the case of Salvadoran refugees fleeing to the U.S., Reagan made a point of denying that they were refugees, because how could his friendly government in El Salvador be sending refugees fleeing from their country if they weren’t committing massive human rights abuses? Which they were. And so, coming into segregated neighborhoods in the U.S., where, like many poor people of color in this country, they were denied access to good jobs and good schools, people gravitated—young people gravitated towards gangs, gangs that were a thoroughly American phenomenon at the time, not one that they were bringing with them from El Salvador.


And then, in the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s harsh anti-immigrant policy, which he was using as part of his general strategy of triangulation, attempting to placate rising right-wing, anti-immigrant sentiment, to ward off the right and consolidate white support in advance of—to advance his own political ambitions, launched a mass crackdown on so-called criminal aliens. And those same policies were followed by George W. Bush and also by Barack Obama. And the result was that enormous numbers of people have been deported to Central America, including El Salvador, some of them alleged gang members, many of them not. But those people being deported back into El Salvador brought Mara Salvatrucha and other gangs to that country and turned what was a homegrown L.A. phenomenon into a transnational criminal empire.


On occasion on this website–too infrequently, really–I post about issues around the world, natural disasters and wars and refugee crises, etc., where your charitable donations could really help people in desperate need. Frequently when I list charities to which you might want to consider donating, I include Oxfam. Well, I know it’s too late now but I take it all back:

Oxfam could lose £29m in European funding because of its handling of sexual misconduct by senior staff in Haiti and Chad, officials in Brussels have said.


The warning on Monday evening came as the UK’s Charity Commission launched a statutory inquiry into Oxfam amid concerns it might not have “fully and frankly disclosed” all details about the Haiti allegations. The charity’s deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, has resigned, saying was “desperately sorry”.


A former senior official at the charity also said she had repeatedly warned senior management of a culture of sexual abuse in some offices around the world, and asked for more resources to tackle the issue. Helen Evans, the head of global safeguarding at Oxfam from 2012 to 2015, told Channel 4 News that in a single day she received allegations about a woman being coerced to have sex in a humanitarian response by an aid worker, a woman being coerced in exchange for aid and another case where a staff member had been struck off for sexual abuse and hadn’t disclosed that.


She also claimed that volunteers as young as 14 in Oxfam shops in the UK had alleged abuse. In at least one case an adult volunteer had allegedly assaulted a child volunteer. In 2012-14 there were 12 allegations, she said.

It’s swell that the deputy director resigned and that Oxfam might lose some European money, but, uh, people are going to go to jail over this stuff, right?

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