La Señal Informativa de América Latina <![CDATA[Increased Access to Food and Land Empowers Black Communities]]> Food sovereignty is not just about consumption, production and distribution. It is the key to empowerment of marginalized communities.

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 08:20:00 -0400 Farming in U.S. Black communities has experienced an unexpected revival in the past decade, just at the moment Black farmers in the United States were written off as extinct after enduring decades of racism from U.S. institutions and backlash from within Black communities that associated agriculture with forced labor.

How Whites Can Fight for Multiracial Collective Liberation

For decades indeed, Black farmers faced barriers to farming imposed by racist institutions and practices. Members of the Ku Klux Klan used to burn down Black farmers' lands and homes, while the USDA would simply deny Black farmers any financial assistance.

A 1982 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights even predicted the complete extinction of Black farming by the end of the century. There were about 30,000 of Black farmers that year, representing 2 percent of all U.S. farmers. This was a drastic drop from 1920, when Black farmers accounted for about 14 percent of the total number of U.S. farmers and owned about 15 million acres of land.

In 1997, the systematic discrimination was finally acknowledged when 400 Black farmers won the class-action lawsuit Pigford v. Glickman. The USDA was ordered to give thousands of Black farmers payments up to US$50,000 for discrimination claims between 1981 and 1996. In 2010, President Barack Obama's administration ordered a US$1.25 billion settlement in addition to the sentence, known as Pigford II, to fund any additional unfiled claims.

Thanks to a change of federal policies and better collaboration between the USDA and Black farming associations, the 2012 census showed a surge in the number of Black farmers with 44,000 of them —a rise of about 15 percent compared with one decade earlier. Yet Black farm operators still tend to be older, with smaller farms and lower sales.

Black farming associations believe that there is actually a greater number of active Black farmers, but because of the history of institutionalized racism, they are still reluctant to be part of the census.

The USDA is more supportive of the country's Black farmers, but other challenges remain before Black communities can achieve their empowerment via food sovereignty.

Resisting the Trump Administration: Tasks for the Left

According to anthropologist and filmmaker Gail P. Myers, who has been conducting field research and interviews with Black farmers since 1997, racism “is still well alive.”

It is harder for Black farmers to sell their products, said Myers, who also worked as an activist at Farms to Grow, Inc., a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization dedicated to working with Black farmers and under-served sustainable farmers around the country.

Farms to Grow developed the Freedom Farmers Market so Black farmers would have a safe space to sell their products and connect with the Black community.

The organization runs programs meant to promote farming within Black communities as a key to empowerment, a challenge for a population that has associated the practice of farming with forced labor because of the legacy of centuries of slavery.

Workshops on cooking and science techniques try to engage youth with farming and gardening activities.

“When the students have a taste of what they grow or what other farmers grow, it changes their taste orientation and eventually their expectation of what food should taste like,” Myers told teleSUR. “They become intrigued by the notion that humans are similar beings to plants — we need and are made up of carbon, lipids, and phosphorous. Then we can easily help the youth to make the connection to a healthy ecosystem, food, and human societies.”

Sometimes, the activities will even spark vocations, like being a chef, a gardener, a farmer, an environmentalist or other food-related careers.

Latin America's Future Tied to Sustainable, Subsistence Farming

This work is important because “land makes sovereignty real,” explained Myers. “Land gives people not only hope but healthy living conditions, clean food, air, water and a chance to live out life as a true being having an encouraging human experience.”

Food is more than consumption, production and distribution, said Myers, whose 100-year-old Aunt Rose often shared stories about growing up on an Alabama farm presided over by Gail’s great-great-grandfather, Hezekiah Patterson. These stories play a central role in Myers' film. 

“Our relationship to food is a historical cord connecting us to the environment, in a spiritual way. For our organization, the politics of identity intersect with food ways,” she said. 

Hence the main challenge at Farms to Grow is to create new narratives about Black farmers and public space, in a bid to reintegrate the Black food experience back into the larger community forum, via initiatives like the Freedom Farmers Market.

“When we gather at the market and bring all of our Black selves there, without the shame of being in a white-coded space, we circle back to the remembrances the within the current context we as Black folks are able to express community with our food selves and food and farming narratives, our whole selves,” she said.

“Freedom and liberation are all tied to land. For human societies that do not have a land to express their sense of identity connected to the ways of food, including preserving, conserving, harvesting and living within a oneness with the local agro-ecosystem, they tend to be lost and without a foundation,” she concluded.

<![CDATA[Even 'War Criminal' George W. Bush Can't Stomach Trump]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 22:50:00 -0400 Even George W. Bush, arguably one of the worst presidents in the history of the United States, had some harsh words for Donald Trump over attacking the media and his anti-immigration policies and most notably the now-suspended travel ban on refugees and seven Muslim-majority nations.

Remembering the Price of Bush, Blair's 2003 Iraq War

Asked whether he supported Trump's travel ban on people from seven majority Muslim countries, Bush, the man who unleashed two major wars on Muslim majority Afghanistan and Iraq, said, "I am for an immigration policy that is welcoming and that upholds the law."

"One of our great strengths is for people to be able to worship the way they want to or not worship at all," the former president, who signed off on some of the most brutal interrogation and torture techniques against Muslims held in Guantanamo and CIA's black sites.

He made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with NBC's "Today" show, in which he also commented on the allegations that Trump’s staff had been in contact with Russian officials before he came to office, to which Bush responded by calling for an investigation.

WATCH: The True Cost of the U.S. Wars in the Middle East

Bush also slammed Trump over his hostility towards the media. Trump has branded some news outlets as "the enemy of the people." But Bush said he considers “the media to be indispensable to democracy, that we need an independent media to hold people like me to account."

It is important to mention that Bush authorized the establishment of one of the most advanced and illegal spying programs by the National Security Agency which saw Washington infiltrating the data of any U.S. citizen without a warrant.

The Bush administration used the Patriot Act, which was passed by the U.S. Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to secretly expand the powers of the NSA and collect data on cell phones and computers from people in the U.S. and in other allied nations without their knowledge.

But Bush thinks "it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power." His actions were exposed by former NSA employee Edward Snowden and covered by many news organizations.

However, Bush supporters as well as many Democrats call Snowden a traitor and criticize media organizations that publicized his revelations.

Trump 'Winning Winning Winning' at Worst President Ever: Poll

After his comments, some called Bush a “voice of reason” in the age of Trump, ignoring the fact that he went to war in Iraq in 2003 on the proven falsehood that the Iraqi government possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced because of the Bush-led invasion and Iraq continues to suffer the consequences of that war, which is blamed for the eventual rise of the Islamic State group.

Bush also went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 seeking revenge for the World Trade Center attacks. The country continues to suffer the aftermath of that war that also saw thousand killed and displaced over the past 16 years.

“Repeat after me: George W. Bush is not a "voice of reason." He is a war criminal. He is a war criminal. He is a war criminal,” Sana Saeed, a producer and host at Al-Jazeera’s AJ+, said in a tweet Monday.

<![CDATA[US Cop Who Killed Philando Castile Pleads 'Not Guilty']]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 21:44:00 -0400 A Minnesota police officer pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter Monday in the fatal shooting of Black motorist Philando Castile which sparked outrage and protests after footage of the moments that followed the shooting were shared on social media in July 2016.

Officer Charged in Castile Murder, Prosecution Goes Easy on Him

St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who according to media reports is Latino, entered a not guilty plea during a hearing at the Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the shooting death of Castile, said Beau Berentson, spokesman for the state court administration office.

Castile, 32, was killed on July 6, 2016, in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights during a traffic stop. The shooting, along with that of Alton Sterling by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the day before, renewed public outcry in the United States over police brutality and racism.

Starting about 40 seconds after the shooting, Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed images of a bloody Castile on Facebook Live from the vehicle's passenger seat. The recording went viral on social media.

Yanez said he had reason to pull over the car because Castile looked like a suspect in a convenience store robbery that took place in the area four days earlier, court documents said.

Yanez asked Castile for his license and insurance. Castile provided Yanez with his insurance card and told the officer that he was carrying a firearm.

Yanez told Castile not to reach for his gun. Castile said he was not reaching for the gun but Yanez pulled his weapon and shot him seven times. The exchange took just over a minute. Castile's permit to carry a gun was later found in his wallet.

Yanez later told investigators he feared for his life and believed Castile was reaching for his weapon, the complaint said.

US Police Killed Nearly 1,000 People in 2015

Besides manslaughter, Yanez was also charged in November with two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm that endangered the safety of Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter in the car. He pleaded not guilty to these charges as well, Gray said.

If convicted of manslaughter, Yanez could serve about five years in prison. His trial is scheduled to begin on May 30.

The U.S. has been rocked with multiple high profile cases of police killings of Black people in which most of the killers were white officers. Most cases against these officers have failed to bring convictions and the officers have gotten away with unlawful killings with punishments ranging from losing their jobs or being put on desk duty.

<![CDATA[Pro-Trump 'Massive' Rallies Are Massive Failures]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 20:31:00 -0400 U.S. President Donald Trump called on his supporters to hold rallies that would be “the biggest of them all” after weeks of anti-Trump protests, and what his majority-white supporters delivered Monday was a massive disappointment as just a few hundred people showed up to events across the country.

Trump's US: Blazing Fire of Bigotry Inflicts Racism and Death

Trump was not scheduled to appear at any of the rallies, which are being held in cities small and large, from coast to coast. The venues range from a park in the small town of Gravette, Arkansas, to the plaza outside the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta.

Pro-Trump news network Breitbart said Monday’s rallies would be "MASSIVE," however, photos from journalists on the ground in those venues, as well as pictures from news organizations, showed small crowds in most locations.

In Atlanta, about 200 people — mostly white — gathered to support their president. In Denver, about 150 people met on the steps of the state capitol to voice their support for the president, sing patriotic songs and listen to speakers.

In Brea, California, in traditionally conservative Orange County, about 60 people stood outside a shopping mall chanting, “Build the wall,” and “God bless America, God bless Donald Trump,” carrying signs that read, “Trump loves you,” and “Trump all the way.”

In Mandeville, Louisiana, outside New Orleans, almost 100 people, many dressed in the red, white and blue colors of the U.S. flag, gathered at a pavilion to voice their support.

Some of the rally organizers came out of the Tea Party, a far-right movement within the Republican Party since 2009.

A group called Main Street Patriots said it helped organize so-called Spirit of America rallies in at least 33 of the 50 states, both Monday and Saturday.

White Supremacist Set Tone for Trump's Inaugural Speech

"Unlike those protesting against President Trump's vision, we are a diverse coalition that are the heart and soul of America that wants our nation to fulfill our potential, as the greatest nation on God's green earth!" organizers wrote on the group's website.

Last weekend, Trump rekindled his campaign energy for the first time since his election in a characteristically freewheeling rally in Melbourne, Florida.

But Trump's crowds have rarely regrouped since November's election, while large protests by people who oppose Trump's policies, particularly his crackdown on immigration, have become a frequent occurrence in the country's cities.

Among the biggest was the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21, where attendance far exceeded the crowds who attended Trump's inauguration the previous day.

<![CDATA[On National Strawberry Day, Farmworkers Continue Union Struggle]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 19:36:00 -0400 As the United States marks the National Day of Strawberries, a boycott against the country’s major distributor Driscoll continues by farmworkers in the U.S. and Mexico who are demanding wage increases and an end to abuses against workers by the company’s supplier farms in both countries.

'Big Win': US Labor Board Backs Workers Against Businesses

Organizing by farmworkers in the U.S. state of Washington began in 2013 through picket lines, walkouts as well as filing lawsuits against Driscoll’s grower in the state, Sakuma Brothers Farms.

In Mexico, farmworkers have also been organizing and in 2015 some 30,000 workers went on strike for more than two weeks demanding wage increases and more workers' rights from Driscoll’s grower in Mexico, BerryMex.

In 2015, in a show of solidarity between the workers, the organizations representing both sides kicked off a boycott campaign against Driscoll in both the United States and Mexico until the company agrees to recognize their unions and come to the table to negotiate a master contract.

Years after their actions, Washington farmworkers won recognition of their union, the Families United for Justice, which will now represent them in negotiations with Sakuma Brothers Farms. However, the boycott campaign is expected to continue in the state until workers in Mexico win recognition as well.

According to In These Times, workers regularly spend 12 hours a day picking strawberries for about US$6 a day. Workers also complained of abuses of child labor and sexual harassment.

Leah Fried, director of international strategies for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, told the magazine that his union is supporting the struggle for those berry pickers in Mexico.

“One of the most important tasks of unions in the United States is to forge alliances with unions globally to address poor working conditions whether they’re in your industry or not,” Fried said.

African Union Blasts US Hypocrisy, History of Slavery

Jose Oliva, a Guatemalan immigrant, agreed and called for further solidarity in order to change the food system into one that puts “people and planet before profits.”

“Folks reading this should ... stop buying berries and ... tell the world that they’re not buying berries because of the boycott,” Oliva, who is the co-director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance, a network of worker organizations across the food supply chain organizing for workers’ rights, said according to In These Times.

“Otherwise, Driscoll’s basically shrugs this off and says it’s a market thing or whatever, right?” he added.

Most of the berry pickers at Driscoll’s farms in San Quintin Valley in Mexico are Indigenous workers who suffer discrimination and racism as they make up more than half of the agricultural workforce in the country.

<![CDATA[Over 40 Countries to Attend Anti-Trump Safe Abortion Forum]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 19:04:00 -0400 At least 40 countries have confirmed Monday they will attend a conference in Belgium next Thursday meant to support and finance the creation of an international safe abortion fund to compensate for the U.S. budget cuts to such programs implemented by President Donald Trump under the global gag rule.

Women's Rights Will Face Many Challenges in 2017, Activists Say

The announcement came from Dutch Coordination Minister Liliane Ploumen, who added it was “great that so many countries expressed their commitment with women and girls, as they will probably not be able to access sexual education, contraception, maternity health care, or safe abortion.”

The conference titled, “She Decides,” will take place in Brussels and will be attended by countries including Luxemburg, Switzerland, Finland, Canada, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Vietnam, Nepal and Japan.

In January, the Netherlands started a global fund to help women access abortion services, saying Trump's "global gag rule" meant a funding gap of US$600 million over the next four years, and was the first to pledge US$10 million to the initiative.

"The government is increasing its support for family planning and safe abortion by 85 million Norwegian crowns (US$10 million) compared with 2016," Prime Minister Erna Solberg said. "At a time when this agenda has come under pressure, a joint effort is particularly important."

In January, Trump reinstated a policy requiring overseas organizations that receive U.S. family planning funds to certify they do not perform abortions or provide abortion advice as a method of family planning.

Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity in Washington, D.C. told Reuters in January that the policy "has been associated with an increase in unsafe abortions and we expect that Trump's global gag rule will cost women their lives."

The rule, known as the Mexico City policy, is one that incoming presidents have used to signal their positions on abortion rights. It was created under right-wing President Ronald Reagan in 1984.

<![CDATA[Chilean Court Sentences 11 Pinochet Era Intelligence Agents]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 18:39:00 -0400 A Chilean court condemned 11 agents of the intelligence services of former dictator General Augusto Pinochet Monday, over the 1974 forced disappearances of Maria Alvarado Borgel and Martin Elgueta Pinto.

Chile's Pinochet Long Gone, but Torture Persists: Rights Expert

According to testimony, both victims were tortured before they were killed in the facilities of the intelligence service called Londres 38.


Special judge Leopoldo Llanos also ordered the Chilean state to pay about US$77,500 to each of the five brothers of the victims, all activists with the Revolutionary Left Movement, or MIR.

Miguel Krassnoff Martchenko, Basclay Zapata Reyes and Risiere del Prado Altez España were sentenced to 15 years and one day in prison; Cesar Manriquez Bravo, Nelson Paz Bustamante, Jose Yevenes Vergara and Osvaldo Pulgar Gallardo to 10 years and one day; Pedro Espinoza Bravo and Orlando Manzo Duran to seven years in prison.

Sergio Castillo Gonzalez and Raul Iturriaga Neumann were condemned to five and four years, respectively, as accomplices in the forced disappearances.

<![CDATA[Facebook Shuts Down Palestinian Fatah's Page Over Arafat Photo]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 17:29:00 -0400 The official Facebook page of the Palestinian ruling party Fatah has been shut down by the social media website Monday after the page posted an old photo showing late Palestinian President and founder of the party Yasser Arafat holding a rifle alongside another leader, the party said in a statement.

Israel Arresting Palestinian Children for Their Facebook Posts

“Facebook administration shut down the Fatah movement page because of this photo. We will always continue to be proud of the heritage of our nation and struggle,” the resistance movement and political party said in a tweet Monday along with a photo of Arafat handing a rifle to the current deputy chairman of the movement Mahmoud Aloul.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that Munir Jaghoub, a Fatah official and the “administrator” of the Facebook page, said in a statement that Facebook closed the Fatah’s official page after the photo was posted. The page remained down as of Monday afternoon.

Jaghoub said the rifle belonged to Israeli soldiers and was captured by Fatah militants in southern Lebanon during the 1982 war. This is the second time that Facebook has shut down the Fatah facebook page, which has almost 70,000 followers.

The news comes just a few months after Facebook and the right-wing Israeli government set up joint teams in order to fight what they call “incitement” posts on the social media website, a move seen as targeting Palestinians and Arab-Israelis.

Facebook and Israel Team Up To Silence Palestinian Voices

Israel has repeatedly blamed social media and “incitement” for the October 2015 unrest that saw protests against the Israeli occupation, which Israeli troops suppressed, and stabbing attacks by Palestinians against soldiers at occupation checkpoints in the West Bank.

However, the United Nations, the Palestinian leadership and other rights groups have repeatedly argued that the unrest was, in fact, the result of Palestinian frustration, especially among youth, with the continuing occupation, the illegal settlement building as well as high unemployment.

In January, more than 100 Facebook pages connected to Hamas, the other major Palestinian movement and political party, were shut down on the basis of supporting terrorism and “inciting” violence.

Such tactics by Facebook do not seem to apply to Israeli incitement pages or groups who have in the past promoted the mass killing of Palestinians — like during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza — and supported soldiers who carried out extrajudicial killings against Palestinians.

<![CDATA[French Socialist and Left Party Candidates Fail to Reach Deal]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 17:10:00 -0400 French Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon and Left Party candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon have failed to agree on a possible alliance in the upcoming presidential election, the two men indicated Sunday.

French Green Candidate Quits Presidential Race, Backs Socialist

Their inability to reach a deal appeared to rule out any chance for the left to reach the runoff of the two-round April-May vote and goes against the wishes of 75,000 people who signed an online petition in favor of the alliance.

An Odoxa poll Sunday showed Hamon and Melenchon coming in fourth and fifth in the first round, with about 13 percent and 12 percent respectively. Another poll by Figaro/LCI showed both candidates with almost similar scores.

Hamon, the standard-bearer of the ruling Socialists, and Melenchon met Friday evening, but could not reach an agreement, Hamon told TF1 television Sunday.

"Jean-Luc Melenchon confirmed ... that he will be a candidate," he said.

Melenchon said in a statement that with 50 days to go before the first round, it was impossible for them to sort out some of the issues on which they disagreed, such as the European Union.

France's Far-Right Proposes Trump-Style Muslim Travel Ban

Melenchon was a Socialist leader for 32 years, until he founded the Left Party in 2008, criticizing the neoliberal turn of the Socialist Party.

However, Hamon represents the left wing of the Socialist Party — with a program more aligned with Melenchon's ideas than most Socialist leaders — and surprisingly won the Socialist primaries, therefore opening the door for a potential alliance.

Part of the socialist leadership has announced it would break ranks with the party and endorse independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, a private banker who implemented neoliberal policies, including a very contested labor reform, as the current Socialist government's economy minister.

Macron is seen beating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the second round of the election in May, the two opinion polls showed.

<![CDATA[Mexican Actor Gael Garcia Bernal Slams Trump's Border Wall]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 15:14:00 -0400 Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal used his time on the Oscar’s stage Sunday to criticize President Donald Trump and his border wall plan as one of many celebrities to raise political themes during the Academy Awards ceremony.

Gael Garcia Bernal, Lila Downs Back Teachers Not Mexican Govt

Presenting the Oscar for best animated film, Garcia Bernal slammed Trump’s promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Flesh and blood actors are migrant workers. We travel all over the world, we build families, we construct stories, we build life that cannot be divided,” he said.

“As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of wall that wants to separate us.”

Garcia Bernal, known for his performance in films including "The Motorcycle Diaries" and "Amores Perros" as well as the web television series "Mozart in the Jungle," has spoken out about Trump in the past.

After Trump’s Nov. 8 election, Garcia Bernal tweeted in Spanish, "Build your fucking wall. History will take care of the failed plan to make Mexico pay. And to open the holes that there will always be.”

Weeks earlier, he told “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that although Trump’s run for president was initially seen as a “joke” by Mexicans, his popularity eventually sparked “nervousness, fear and anger” — sentiments that have only increased since the reality TV star-turn-president took over the White House.

Latin American Music Artists React to Trump's Election

In another interview when Trump first launched his presidential campaign in 2015, Garcia Bernal told the Guardian that Trump's characterization of Mexicans as “rapists and drug dealers” was “close-minded and fucking ignorant.”

“We started to give Donald Trump so much space, and we started to validate his opinion, as if it’s like, ‘You know, it’s a valid opinion.’ No, it’s not valid,” he continued. "It’s hate discourse, and what follows next is genocide or civil war. I mean, that’s how it begins.”

Garcia Bernal has starred in films depicting the plight of migrants on the perilous journey attempting to cross the U.S. border, including “Desierto” and “Who Is Dayani Cristal?” He also produced the 2009 film “Sin Nombre” about two desperate teens struggling to cross Mexico to reach the United States.

<![CDATA[Colombia Paramilitaries Won't Stop Killing Human Rights Leaders]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 14:43:00 -0400 Yet another Colombian human rights defender has been murdered after a violent group attacked him in the Cauca region, amid the ongoing outcry by activists over the crisis of fatal violence against social leaders and calls for the government to ensure security and protection from paramilitary groups in the country.

Colombian Rights Activists Killed in Record Numbers in 2016

Eider Cuetia Conda, coordinator of organization Campesino Security, died from shots fired to his head in the municipality of Corinto, Cauca. According to local media, hooded men shot several times at Cuetia while he was at a gathering with several of his friends Sunday around 7:30 p.m. local time.

The Human Rights Network of the Colombian Southwest reported the murder of the coordinator in the village of Los Andes, in the north of the department.

"The comrade got several gunshots in the head causing his death," said Deivi Hurtado, coordinator of the Human Rights Network.

Hurtado said that it is worrisome that this type of abuse continues to happen in the country, as just last week Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that the National Guarantees Security Commission would not allow criminals to continue attacking human rights defenders.

Colombian Senate Shields Historic Peace Agreement with FARC

"As we can see, these policies don't have enough echo to stop these types of situations, because one of the biggest problems is that the state does not want to recognize the restructuring of paramilitary groups in the country," said Hurtado.

Since the beginning of the year, four human rights activists have been killed in Cauca and 27 in the rest of the country, according to human rights grounds.

More human rights defenders lost their lives in Colombia in 2016 than any other year that President Santos was in power, according to a new report, which partly attributes the violence to a rise in paramilitary presence following the peace process.

A total of 80 human rights defenders — community leaders, organizers and lawyers defending Indigenous people, campesinos, Afro-Colombians, labor activists, victims' groups, youth and LGBTI members— lost their lives in 2016, reported the program We Are Defenders.

<![CDATA[Colombia's ELN Rebels Demand Govt Agree to Bilateral Cease-Fire]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 13:01:00 -0400 Accepting responsibility for a recent attack on a riot police squad, Colombia's second largest guerrilla army, the ELN, urged the government Monday to speed up the peace process in order to reach a bilateral cease-fire, saying the bomb attack was meant to call attention to the urgency of an end-of-conflict agreement.

ELN Says Colombian Government Has No Will for Peace

"We reiterate to the national government the urgency of an immediate bilateral cease-fire, as diverse sectors of Colombian society have asked for," the National Liberation Army, or ELN, said in a statement.

The ELN claimed responsibility for an attack against a riot police squad on Feb. 19 in the La Macarena neighborhood in Bogota. At least 26 officers were injured in the attack, and three days after the explosion police Officer Albeiro Garibello Alvarado died in hospital.

In a statement, the ELN said the attack was carried out "by an ELN rebel urban command." The attack occurred just hours before the last bullfighting event of this season in Bogota, close to the Santamaria Plaza.

The ELN also criticized President Juan Manuel Santos' administration, tweeting that "it isn't coherent on the part of the government to sit at the table talking about peace while putting off the bilateral cease-fire and keeping the population under war."

Social Organizations Key for Colombia's Second Peace Dialogues

The group raised particular concern about violence against human rights defenders, which saw at least 80 activists killed in 2016 alone, according to a recent report by Somos Defensores. The rebels added that a bilateral cease-fire "will create a favorable environment and will alleviate life and humanitarian conditions especially in the conflict zones."

The government's lead negotiator in the peace talks with the guerrilla, Juan Camilo Restrepo, said that if the ELN believes that it will effectively press the government for a bilateral cease-fire with "terrorist acts" like this, then they "are very wrong."

Meanwhile, former far-right President Alvaro Uribe — the staunchest opponent of peace processes with guerrilla armies — took to Twitter in the wake of the attack to criticize the government's peace talks with the ELN and suggest that the negotiations should be called off.

Santos' government and the ELN began on Feb. 7 a process of public dialogues aimed at ending the internal armed conflict that has lasted more than 50 years. The talks are being held in Quito, Ecuador, which is one of the guarantor countries, along with Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela.

<![CDATA[1,200 Social Organizations in Ecuador Support Lenin Moreno ]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 11:40:00 -0400 After the general elections held Feb. 19 in Ecuador, the Coordinator of Social Movements, Communities and Nationalities, made of 1,200 groups nationwide, will support leftist candidate Lenin Moreno in his bid for president in the second round of elections, Ecuador's state media outlet El Telegrafo reported.

'In Second Round, We Will Defeat Them Again': President Correa

According to a report on the outcomes of a meeting last week, by supporting Lenin Moreno-Jorge Glas ticket for the ruling party Alianza Pais, each organization within the national umbrella coordinator will work within their local territories to present a unified front with proposals and projects for the next government.

They also aim to highlight the social and economic achievements under President Rafael Correa over the past 10 years and campaign for a continuation of the government's social policies.

Rodrigo Collaguazo, president of the coordinator and alternate lawmaker with the governing Alianza Pais party, told El Telegrafo that every region will have a socialization program to present their proposals. According to Collaguazo, this process is self-financed by each of the organizations and political groups that adhere to the process.

Collaguazo added the project will also declare a national emergency within the organizations to form a permanent assembly "to be alert and willing to defend democracy and peace in Ecuador," as the right-wing opposition has threatened to destabilize the country if its presidential candidate, former banker Guillermo Lasso and his vice president Andres Paez, don't win the election.

Groups in the national organization also want to travel and support Moreno and Glas "in all the events and meetings that they maintain anywhere in the country."

Victims of Ecuador Banking Crisis Slam Right-Wing Candidate

"Two different political, social and ideological projects are confronting one another," Collaguazo said of the political scenario. "The one of good living for all, led by the people and expressed in the candidacy of Moreno-Glas. The other, the one with lies, violence, and looting, expressed in Lasso-Paez."

With 99.93 percent of the counted votes, the National Electoral Council, or CNE, announced front-runner Moreno led the presidential race with 39.36 percent of the vote of more than 13 million voters. Right-winger Lasso came in second place, trailing behind Moreno by more than 10 percent with 28.09 percent.

The CNE plans to announce the official results on the president, vice president, National Assembly, Andean Parliamentary and referendum on Tuesday.

"We are meeting deadlines, ensuring transparency in the process, with the sole objective of respecting the will of the people," said CNE President Juan Pablo Pozo.

Although Moreno fell short of the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a second round, Moreno received the highest percentage of the vote in the first round than any other president in Ecuador in past 40 years, with the exception of President Rafael Correa.

<![CDATA['Leave Me Alone': Trinidad’s Feminist Anthem at Carnival 2017]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 10:50:00 -0400 Soca music, rum, and gyrating hips fill the streets of Trinidad during the annual Carnival festival — the biggest party of the year on the island. This year, the feminist anthem “Leave Me Alone” is the new rallying cry of women festival-goers in a stand against the misogyny and gendered violence of Carnivals past.

'Out with Temer' Chants Light up Brazil Carnival Festivities

The jaunty track by 76-year-old music legend Calypso Rose features her flippantly singing about a woman trying to dance in the streets, rejecting advances of men, exhorting them to “leave me, let me free up.”

“It’s like a rallying cry for women who just want to be able to have the option of enjoying their Carnival — Carnival being that space of freedom,” Attillah Springer, a Trinidadian writer and activist, told The Washington Post. “And then you have to deal with people who are trying to control how much freedom you feel.”

The song has become an anthem after last year’s high-profile killing of the Japanese musician Asami Nagakiya, who played annually with a Trinidad steel pan orchestra. Her body, still clad in the yellow bikini she had been wearing, was found in the park the morning after Carnival ended. She had been strangled — and the perpetrator has yet to be found.

The mayor of Port of Spain, Raymond Tim Kee, blamed Nagakiya’s death on the “vulgarity and lewdness” of women’s behavior at the event, blaming the victim by claiming that it was the musician’s skimpy outfit that had led to her death.

These remarks sent a firestorm of anger throughout the country, with feminists alarmed and outraged. Since then, a swelling protest movement has taken hold.

Anya Ayoung-Chee, a Trinidadian fashion designer who became internationally known when she won the ninth season of “Project Runway” in 2011, was troubled by the mayor’s remarks. She decided to partner with local activists to design and sell shirts for this year’s Carnival that sported the phrases “Leave Me Alone” and “Leave She Alone,” based on Rose’s song.

How Samba Became a Form of Resistance in Brazil

“The way I dress ought not to be a form of protection. The way I dance should not be a form of protection,” Ayoung-Chee told The Washington Post. “People want to make the argument that there’s a code of conduct to protect you, but it does not.”

Feminist organizing on the island grew after the death of Nagakiya, bringing to fruit new initiatives. Soon after the mayor’s comments, women stormed his office, circulating petitions and calling for his resignation.

“It was just enraging,” Ayoung-Chee recalled. “People were just seeing red.”

Springer, the writer and activist, and fellow activist Angelique V. Nixon, launched a group called Say Something, through which they work to pressure politicians to conduct gender-sensitivity training and collect data on gendered violence. Another campaign, #LifeInLeggings, was launched online, where Caribbean women talked about their experiences with street harassment and sexual abuse.

Their efforts have spurred authorities to consider making changes to the Domestic Violence Act, and last April, the government’s Gender Affairs Division established a national registry for domestic violence.

“It’s the largest movement of women in Trinidad and Tobago seeking autonomy and self-determination around their sexuality and their bodies, in opposition to a particular kind of respectability politics ... purely for the joy and pleasure they experience,” Gabrielle Hosein, head of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad told The Washington Post. “One can see those goals as highly political in our world today.”

“Coming out in the streets in the tens of thousands, owning your space, owning your freedom,” added Ayoung-Chee. “What is that besides activism?”

<![CDATA[Desperate Milagro Sala Stabs Herself in Argentine Jail]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 10:21:00 -0400 Argentine activist and lawmaker Milagro Sala had a nervous breakdown in jail and stabbed herself after receiving a set of three new accusations, according to Tupac Amaru, the Indigenous organization she leads.

Milagro Sala Trial: ‘I Apologize for Being Black and an Indian'

The new cases against Sala for "inducement to commit aggravated threats" were opened on Sept. 28, Oct. 6 and Jan. 4, while the activist had already been imprisoned for months.

Last Thursday, Sala attempted to self-harm herself with a pair of scissors at the Alto Comedero prison where she has been detained for more than a year. Sala's legal advisers said that as a result she suffered bruising, but her health is in good condition.

Her lawyers said that the three new allegations against Sala seek to justify the decision of the Jujuy justice system to keep her in custody — as members of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights are soon expected to visit the country — and are part of a plan to hit back against international calls for her immediate release.

While rumours circulated that the injury was a result of a quarrel inside the jail, the head of the penitentiary facilities in the province of Jujuy, Inspector General Victor Morales, denied that Sala was attacked by another inmate, or that she had attempted to take her own life.

Political authorities of Jujuy have accused Sala of embezzlement and alleged she used "authoritarian and violent methods" while running community initiatives and leading social protests. "She stole everything," said Jujuy Governor Gerardo Morales, an ally of President Mauricio Macri.

Argentines Denied Access to Sala Hearing, Arrested Instead

Sala was arrested on Jan. 16, 2016 after staging a month-long sit-in against the local government’s neoliberal policies under Morales. She faced charges of inciting crime and turmoil, which were later dropped. Before she could be released, a new warrant was handed down for charges of illicit association, fraud and extortion.

As leader of Tupac Amaru, an organization with some 70,000 members, Sala runs social housing and other community-led projects and has been a key player in organizing the resistance against austerity policies.

The United Nations and the Organization of American States requested last year that the Macri government immediately release Sala. The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also said it was an "arbitrary detention."

Sala is also a representative in Parlasur, the parliament of the South America subcontinental bloc Mercosur, a position she has not been able to fulfill as a result of being jailed.

<![CDATA[Argentine Unions Anounce Largest Protest Since Macri Took Office]]> Mon, 27 Feb 2017 09:08:00 -0400 Argentine unions and social organizations, including workers, teachers and women, have called for a mass three-day protest against the government of President Mauricio Macri in what's set to be the largest demonstration against the administration since it took office 15 months ago.

Argentina's Informal Workers March for Benefits, Against Cuts

Macri returned Saturday to Argentina from a trip to Spain, where he held meetings with King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and also delivered a speech in Congress. Members of the leftist party Podemos criticized Macri's visit, and one lawmaker greeted him with a shirt demanding the release of Milagro Sala, the Indigenous activist and lawmaker who was dubbed the first "political prisoner" of Macri's administration when she was arrested after a protest in January 2016.

Teachers from all over the country will skip work and strike on March 6 and 7 — the first days of the school year — to protest wage disputes that have not been resolved with the administation. They will also be joined by General Confederation of Labor, or CGT, one of the largest trade unions in the country. Then on March 8, International Women's Day, organizations will join the march to demand respect for women's rights and a stronger fight against femicide in the country.

The country's main unions have decided to end a truce they had with the government since December 2016, following the rise of inflation to more than 40 percent.

Hector Daer, a lawmaker and leader of the CGT, said other strike threats were never realized despite the fact that key demands and agreements were not reached with the Macri government.

Spain's Podemos Snubs Argentina's Macri over Rights Abuses

"There was never a honeymoon (with the government) because we were never married. We are not part of this project nor do we agree, but we are respectful of democracy and what most of the citizens voted for," said Daer. "It is not us who kill hope. The commitment that had been assumed is not being fulfilled."

One of the government's first actions was to meet with unions and other collectives to ask them for patience and promise them that growth benefits would soon be available to all.

The CGT also announced a national strike during the second week of March. Former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner asked her supporters to attend the marches.

Argentina also faces an election year, with legislative elections that will take place mid-October.

<![CDATA[Mahershala Ali Becomes First Muslim Actor to Take Home an Oscar]]> Sun, 26 Feb 2017 23:11:00 -0400 Mahershala Ali won the best supporting actor Oscar Sunday for his role as a drug-dealing mentor to an impoverished Black gay boy in the intimate independent drama "Moonlight," becoming the first-ever Muslim to take home the award.

'13th' Film Traces US Path from Slavery to Mass Incarceration

Ali plays Juan, a drug dealer who takes a young Black boy living in Miami under his wing.

It was the first Oscar win and nomination for Ali who was considered the frontrunner in the category after winning a slew of earlier awards for his performance. Accepting the award on stage, Ali thanked his teachers.

"One thing that they consistently told me ... is that it wasn't about you," Ali said. "It's not about you. It's about these characters. You are in service to these stories and these characters."

In "Moonlight," Ali's Juan teaches young Chiron to swim and encourages him to not be weighed down by his environment but rather to carve his own destiny.

Ali also appeared in another Oscar-nominated movie this year, "Hidden Figures," in which he plays a U.S. colonel who woos Taraji P. Henson's Black female mathematician in the 1960s.

Ali was one of a record seven actors of color nominated for Oscars this year in such films as "Hidden Figures" about African-American female math geniuses, the interracial marriage film "Loving," and "13th," a film tackling Black incarceration rates in modern U.S. society as well as the African-American family drama "Fences."

The surge in Black nominations and wins comes after #OscarsSoWhite and the large public outcry in 2016 over the lack of Black nominees for the high-profile awards show over the past several years, shaming the Academy into nominating a more diverse group at least for 2017.

Netflix 'Luke Cage' Star Says Show 'Nod' to Black Lives Matter

Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar in the history of the Academy Awards sparking celebrations from many in the Muslim community in the United States.

“#MahershalaAli wins an Oscar. Feeling so proud. #BlackAndMuslim,” Muslim-American activist and co-founder of Women’s March Linda Sarsour said in a tweet reacting to the news.

Ali was born and raised as a Catholic but later in life converted to Islam which strained his relationship with his mother for years before they mended fences.

The Oakland, California, actor is probably best known for playing former White House Chief of Staff Remy Danton in Netflix's political drama "House of Cards," and conniving Cottonmouth in Netflix's Marvel superhero series "Luke Cage."

Meanwhile, another Black actor made history Sunday as Viola Davis won the best supporting actress Oscar for her performance as a long-suffering housewife in the African-American family drama "Fences," making her the first-ever Black actor to win an Oscar, Emmy and Tony.

<![CDATA[Egypt-Born French Holocaust Scholar Nearly Deported from US]]> Sun, 26 Feb 2017 22:35:00 -0400 Henry Rousso, a French historian and a prominent scholar on the Holocaust, said he was detained for more than 10 hours by federal border agents at a Houston airport and was almost deported for being an "illegal" immigrant before his lawyers and an official at the school he was visiting intervened on his behalf.

Trump Erases Jews From Holocaust While Banning Muslim Refugees

“I have been detained 10 hours at Houston International Airport about to be deported. The officer who arrested me was ‘inexperienced’,” Henry Rousso wrote on Twitter Saturday.

Rousso has given dozens of speeches over the years at several prominent U.S. universities as well as the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and was a visiting professor at Texas A&M in 2007, according to his online profile.

“On the other side of the Atlantic, one now has to face complete arbitrariness and incompetence,” Rousso told the Huffington Post Sunday, adding that “the United States aren’t quite the United States anymore.”

He told the online outlet that he was interrogated by border officials after they were not satisfied by his tourist visa or the invitation from Texas A&M University. He was subjected to a formal questioning which included his taking an oath and giving fingerprints as well as a standard body search to which he objected.

There were “questions about my father, my mother, my family situation, with the same questions asked dozens of times: who employs me, where I live et cetera,” Rousso was quoted as saying in the Huffington Post article.

Steve Bannon: Abusive, White Nationalist, Alt-Right Media Baron

He was then told that his paperwork was not in order and that he would be put on a plane back to Paris 20 hours later. However, he was asked if he wanted to contact his embassy and he said yes.

He was able to get in touch with lawyers as well as the head of the university he was visiting who managed to convince the federal airport agents to let him enter the United States.

As they let him through, the police said that the official who stopped him was “inexperienced” and was unaware that activities connected to teaching and research could be carried out with an ordinary tourist visa.

“My situation was nothing compared to some of the people I saw who couldn’t be defended as I was,” Rousso said on Twitter, thanking the people who supported him. The Jewish-French scholar speculated that the officer was suspicious of him because he was born in Egypt.

The news comes just weeks after President Donald Trump’s travel ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries — which did not include Egypt — was suspended by a federal judge following major protests against what many called a “Muslim ban.”

<![CDATA[Colombian FARC Members Outside Zones to Be Arrested: Military]]> Sun, 26 Feb 2017 22:25:00 -0400 “Any FARC member found outside the concentration zones will be arrested and charged by the attorney general,” said Colombia's Military Commander Alberto Mejia Saturday.

Paramilitary Groups Fight To Take Over Lands Left by FARC

“If they don't have any criminal record, they will be handed to the monitoring mechanism on the orders of the Army's High Command.”

Some guerrillas will be allowed to leave the zones only with special authorization, he added, commenting the recent arrest of a few FARC members in one of the zones located in La Guajira for allegedly attempting to extort local businesses.

FARC leader Ivan Marquez demanded the release of Julio Enrique Lemos Moreno, or “Nader,” claiming his arrest was a violation of the peace accord by the Colombian government.

Also known as “Temporary Hamlet Zones for Normalization," each hamlet consists of encampments where FARC troops are stationed.

Colombia Kicks off Voluntary Illegal Crop Substitution Program

No civilians can enter the concentration areas, except for unarmed civilian authorities who can enter the areas to provide health care or to issue identification cards. The FARC can also provide education to its troops to further aid reintegration.

A monitoring and verification mechanism for the concentration areas was carried out by the members of the Colombian government, the FARC and a U.N. mission. The mechanism gives full access to concentration zones to investigate incidents or violations and publish recommendations and reports on the peace process.

About 6,900 FARC guerrillas have moved to 26 camps so far. The peace agreement settled that the FARC would have to put down their arms within 180 days after Dec. 1, when ratified by Congress, set for June 1, before the group can transform into a political party.

<![CDATA['Out with Temer' Chants Light Up Brazil Carnival Festivities]]> Sun, 26 Feb 2017 22:07:00 -0400 Thousands of Brazilians have seized the country's Carnival festivities as an opportunity to protest against unelected President Michel Temer and in defense of the deposed President Dilma Rousseff as part of massive parties and parades in several cities.

How Samba Became a Form of Resistance in Brazil

During the celebration on Friday in the city Salvador, the famous BaianaSystem band shouted with thousands of people "Fora Temer," meaning "Out with Temer," and "Coup-perpetrators shall not pass!"

The lead singer of the band, Russo Passapusso, brought the political debate to one of the world's most famous parties. He shouted along with thousands of Brazilians, "Sexist, fascist, they shall not pass!"

Musician Caetano Veloso, known for his work in the "Tropicalismo" musical movement and as a political activist, also showed his discontent with the current government, shouting "Fora Temer" to a cheering crowd during his unexpected performance in Salvador.

"Salvador, Bahia: It's Carnival, but none of them have not forgotten about the coup in Brazil."

Demonstrators also called for the country's constitutional president, Dilma Rousseff, to be reinstated in power with signs saying "Volta Dilma," meaning "Dilma Return." Rousseff, who won re-election for a second term in 2014 with more than 54 million votes, was removed from office last August in an impeachment process widely condemned nationally and internationally as a parliamentary coup, but she was not stripped of her political rights, allowing her to run for office again in the future.

Brazilian Cities Cancel Carnival over Security Concerns

Also in Salvador, hundreds gathered to show support for former President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, shouting "Ole, ole, ole, ole, Lula, Lula!" Polls indicate that Lula, Rousseff's predecessor, is Brazil's favored candidate for the 2018 presidential election.

Michel Temer, on the other hand, who was Rousseff's running mate for the 2014 presidential election and played a role in orchestrating the parliamentary coup that removed her from office, is barred from running for office for the next two presidential terms for violating electoral finance rules — a fact that did not stop him from being installed as president.

Temer has introduced a series of sweeping privatization proposals and cuts to education, health and other social sectors since he was sworn in last August. The unelected president, who has very low approval ratings in Brazil, is set to complete Rousseff’s presidential term until the next scheduled election in late 2018.