Migrant caravan detained in old factory, across from Texas
Wednesday, February 6
PIEDRAS NEGRAS, Mexico (AP) — An unused factory where roughly 1,800 Central American immigrants are being held in northern Mexico across from Texas is surrounded by heavily armed Mexican police and soldiers.
The San Antonio Express-News reports that the factory’s rooms have been turned into sleeping areas divided by age and gender, with blue foam mattresses for many people.
The caravan of mostly Honduran migrants is being held in Piedras Negras, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas. It’s the first caravan in recent months to have arrived at the Texas border.
U.S. officials have bolstered security on the international bridges. Law enforcement vehicles have lined the riverbank.
Members of the caravan may have to wait weeks or months to request asylum. According to Mexican officials, customs officials in Eagle Pass process 12 to 15 applications a day.
Opinion: Many Asylum-Seekers Have the American Left to Thank
By James Huffman
With a reported 3 million Venezuelans having left their country to escape the tyranny of dictator Nicolas Maduro, the Trump administration has recognized Juan Guaido as the interim president of the once prosperous South American country.
Not surprisingly, most Democrats have remained mum on Trump’s recognition of Guaido. Their hate for the president and their allegiance to “the resistance” prevents them from publicly supporting Trump, even though most other democratic governments have followed Trump’s lead.
Although Democrats are generally sympathetic, as they should be, with those seeking asylum in the United States, most have also remained silent on the reason a significant number asylum-seekers at our southern border are from Nicaragua. Like the Venezuelans, they are fleeing tyranny — at the hands of Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that many Democrats are loath to support publicly Trump’s Venezuela policy or to recognize Ortega’s contribution to what they have described as a humanitarian crisis at our border with Mexico. Particularly now that those on the far left of the party are proud to call themselves socialists. After all, Maduro and Ortega are both proud socialists as well.
Indeed it is the self-described democratic-socialists in the Democratic Party, including at least one likely candidate for president of the United States, who have been willing to oppose Trump’s recognition of Guaido. In a January 24 news release Senator Bernie Sanders proclaimed that “we must learn the lessons of the past and not be in the business of regime change or supporting coups — as we have in Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again.”
The New York Post reported that newly elected Representative Ro Khanna of California stated that “the U.S. should not anoint the leader of the opposition in Venezuela during an internal, polarized conflict.” He urged the administration to “end sanctions” against the Venezuelan regime. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, the new darling of the far left, re-tweeted Khanna’s statement.
The Post also reported that Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota labeled Guaido’s installation as interim president a coup: “A U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. … Trump’s efforts to install a far-right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region.”
Fox News reported that Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii urged the United States to “stay out of Venezuela.” “We don’t want other countries to choose our leaders,” said Gabbard, “so we have to stop trying to choose theirs.”
These newly elected members of Congress are only following the earlier lead of Bernie Sanders and other stalwarts of the Democratic establishment who were supporters of Daniel Ortega the first time he rose to power in Nicaragua. Aspiring presidential candidate Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that those seeking entry at the U.S. border with Mexico were “fleeing oppression.”
He failed to mention the oppression is at the hands of a man he once admired. According to the New York Times, de Blasio was an early admirer of Ortega’s Sandinista party, an employee of the Quixote Center that likened American involvement in Nicaragua to a “policy of terrorism,” and a volunteer for the Sandinista-supporting Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York.
Sanders toured Nicaragua in the 1980s and came home to declare: “Vermont could set an example to the rest of the nation similar to the type of example Nicaragua is setting for the rest of Latin America.”
Sanders was also an admirer of Fidel Castro’s example in Cuba. The Hill reported that senators John Kerry (former secretary of state and the Democrats’ nominee for president in 2004) and Tom Harkin traveled to Nicaragua and “returned touting a peace plan with the Sandinistas that undermined President Reagan’s foreign policy.”
In his meeting with Ortega, according to Senator Mitch McConnell, Kerry “accused the Reagan administration of engaging in terrorism.” In the 1980s Tim Kaine (the Democrats’ nominee for vice president in 2016) traveled to Nicaragua and Honduras, where he reportedly embraced the Sandinista-supporting liberation theology.
These old and new leaders of the Democratic Party have real ownership in the regimes that are driving refugees from Venezuela and from Nicaragua to our southern border. The lot of them might benefit from visiting the Mexican border and asking those seeking asylum how they feel about socialist Comandante Ortega.
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Huffman is dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Torture still scars Iranians 40 years after revolution
By NASSER KARIMI and JON GAMBRELL
Wednesday, February 6
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — The halls of the former prison in the heart of Iran’s capital now are hushed, befitting the sounds of the museum that it has become. Wax mannequins silently portray the horrific acts of torture that once were carried out within its walls.
But the surviving inmates still remember the screams.
Exhibits in the former Anti-Sabotage Joint Committee Prison that was run under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi include a frightened man trapped in a small metal cage as a cigarette-smoking interrogator shouts above him.
In a circular courtyard, a snarling interrogator is depicted forcing a prisoner’s head under water while another inmate above hangs from his wrists.
As Iran this month marks the 40th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution and the overthrow of the shah, the surviving inmates who suffered torture at the hands of the country’s police and dreaded SAVAK intelligence service still bear both visible and hidden scars. Even today, United Nations investigators and rights group say Iran tortures and arbitrarily detains prisoners.
“We are far from where we must be as far as the justice is concerned,” said Ahmad Sheikhi, a 63-year-old former revolutionary once tortured at the prison. “Justice has yet to be spread in the society, and we are definitely very far from the sacred goals of the martyrs and their imam,” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The SAVAK, a Farsi acronym for the Organization of Intelligence and Security of the Nation, was formed in 1957. The agency, created with the help of the CIA and Israel’s Mossad, initially targeted communists and leftists in the wake of the 1953 CIA-backed coup that overthrew elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh.
Over time, however, its scope was widened drastically. Torture became widespread, as shown in the museum’s exhibits. Interrogators all wear ties, a nod to their Western connections. Portraits of the shah, Queen Farah and his son, Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, who now lives in exile in the U.S., hang above one torture scene.
“Following the coup, the shah’s regime sank into a legitimacy crisis and it failed to get rid of the crisis until the end of its life,” said Hashem Aghajari, who teaches history at Tehran’s Tarbiat Modares University. “The coup mobilized all progressive political forces against the regime.”
Sheikhi walked with Associated Press journalists through the prison that once held him, built in the 1930s by German engineers. Black-and-white photographs of its 8,500 prisoners from over the years line the walls. They include current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Sheikhi, then 19, spent about three months in the prison and 11 months in another after being detained for distributing anti-shah statements from Khomeini, then in exile.
“Four times I was tortured in two consecutive days, every time about 10 minutes,” he recounted. “They used electric cables and wires for flogging my (feet) while I was blindfolded. The first hit was very effective; you felt your heart and brain were exploding.”
Even more frightening was the torture device interrogators and prisoners referred to as the Apollo, named after the U.S. lunar program. Those tortured sat in a chair and had a metal bucket strapped over their head, like a space helmet, that intensified their screams.
“They put my fingers and toes between the jaws of the vises firmly, whipped the soles of my feet with cables and put a metal bucket over head,” Sheikhi said. “My own cries would twirl around inside the bucket and made me delirious and gave me headaches. They would hit the bucket with those cables as well.”
Ezzat Shahi, another former prisoner who planted bombs targeting state buildings, recounted having pins hammered under his nails that would be heated by candles.
“Hanging from the wrists while your hands were handcuffed crossed behind was the most intolerable torture,” Shahi said.
The horror of the torture shocked 20-year-old museumgoer Ameneh Khavari.
“I did not know that the torture might have been this agonizing, such as with the metal cage torture device,” she said. “I had known that there was torture then from movies about the pre-revolution times, but would not have imagined that they looked like this.”
As the revolution took hold, protesters overran the prison. Then Iran’s Islamic government began using it as a prison as well, calling it Tohid. Human Rights Watch has accused Iran of using both Tohid and Evin prisons for detaining political prisoners. Tohid, then run by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, closed in 2000 under reformist President Mohammad Khatami after lawmakers sought to close prisons not under the control of the judiciary.
Today, Iran’s government faces widespread international criticism from the U.N. and others over its detention of activists and those with ties to the West.
“Iranian authorities use vaguely worded and overly broad national security-related charges to criminalize peaceful or legitimate activities in defense of human rights,” according to a report released in March 2018 by the office of the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
Iran has criticized the U.N.’s creation of the special rapporteur’s position and called its findings “psychological and propagandist pressures.”
A series of Westerners, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, were held at Evin Prison. Rezaian is suing Iran in U.S. federal court over his detention, alleging he faced such “physical mistreatment and severe psychological abuse in Evin Prison that he will never be the same.”
Since the revolution, several former prisons from the shah’s time have closed, becoming museums and shopping malls, although new ones were built. A former mayor of Tehran even planned to make Evin Prison a park at one point. Funding never came through, however, and the site remains a prison today.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press television producer Mohammad Nasiri contributed.
Iraqi president hits back at Trump over US army presence
By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
Tuesday, February 5
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s president hit back at Donald Trump Monday for saying U.S. troops should stay in Iraq to keep an eye on neighboring Iran, saying the U.S. leader did not ask for Iraq’s permission to do so.
“We find these comments strange,” said Barham Salih, speaking at a forum in Baghdad.
Trump’s comments added to concerns in Iraq about America’s long-term intentions, particularly after it withdraws its troops from Syria. Trump has angered Iraqi politicians and Iranian-backed factions by arguing he would keep U.S. troops in Iraq and use it as a base to strike Islamic State group targets inside Syria as needed.
In an interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” he said U.S. troops in Iraq were also needed to monitor Iran.
“He didn’t ask Iraq about this,” Salih said Monday. He said U.S. troops were in Iraq as part of an agreement between the two countries with a specific mission of assisting in the fight against the Islamic State group and combatting “terrorism.” He said the Iraqi constitution forbids the use of Iraq as a base to threaten the interests or security of neighboring countries.
“Don’t overburden Iraq with your own issues,” he added.
In the CBS interview, Trump said the U.S. has an “incredible base” in Iraq that he intends to keep, “because I want to be able to watch Iran.”
“We spent a fortune on building this incredible base,” Trump said. “We might as well keep it. And one of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem.”
He said the U.S. base in Iraq is “perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East.”
He appeared to be referring to the Al-Asad air base in western Iraq, where he paid a brief visit to U.S. forces in December. The base hosts American troops but belongs to the Iraqi army.
Trump’s comments appear to have further inflamed tensions in Iraq over the continued presence of U.S. troops after the defeat of the Islamic State group. Curbing foreign influence has become a hot-button issue in Iraq after parliament elections in May in which Shiite militias backed by Iran made significant gains. The militias fought alongside U.S.-backed Iraqi troops against IS in recent years, gaining outsized influence and power along the way.
Now, after defeating IS militants in their last urban bastions, Iraqi politicians and militia leaders are increasingly speaking out against the continued presence of U.S. forces on Iraqi soil.
Trump has said he has no plans to withdraw the 5,200 troops in Iraq, which he says could carry out U.S. airstrikes inside Syria after American troops withdraw from that country.
American forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the government to help battle IS after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign.
Earlier this month, the leader of one of Iraq’s most powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias told The Associated Press in an interview that he expects a vote in the coming months by Iraq’s parliament calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Qais al-Khazali, head of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, also suggested U.S. troops may eventually be driven out by force if they do not yield to the will of the Iraqi people.
Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also weighed in on Monday, saying Iraqi sovereignty must be respected and its interests should not be compromised.
“Iraq should not be used as a spring board to attack its neighbors. We are not proxies in conflicts outside the interests of our nation,” he wrote in a Twitter post.
Separately, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, said Monday that the safe and voluntary return of hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis is key to ensuring that the country can leave its violent past behind.
Maurer spoke at a press conference in Baghdad at the end of a four-day visit to the country, which included the northern cities of Mosul and Irbil. Maurer highlighted the extraordinary challenges that communities across the country continue to face, including the fact that 1.8 million people remain displaced within Iraq more than a year after major combat operations ended, with nearly one in three still living in camps.
“The returns process cannot be rushed,” he said. “People need adequate housing and basic services, including drinking water and health care, as well as livelihood opportunities, security and the clearance of unexploded ordnance.”
Iran says Trump remarks on Iraq reveal American ‘lies’
Tuesday, February 5
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday that President Donald Trump’s expressed wish to keep U.S. forces in Iraq in order to monitor neighboring Iran has exposed American “lies” about fighting terrorism.
In a recent interview with CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Trump said the U.S. has an “incredible base” in Iraq that he intends to keep, “because I want to be able to watch Iran.”
Addressing Trump with sarcasm in remarks carried by official media, Rouhani said: “You say you stay in Iraq to watch Iran, while before that you were saying you stay there for fighting terrorism. It is so nice that you honestly expressed yourself!”
“You are in Afghanistan for the same purpose,” Rouhani added. “You want to watch, whether Iran or Russia and China.”
Iraq’s president also rejected Trump’s remarks, saying the U.S. does not have permission to use the country as a listening station.
Trump has adopted a hard line on Iran, accusing it of sowing chaos across the region through its proxies in Iraq and other countries. Last year, he withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s landmark 2015 nuclear accord with world powers and restored economic sanctions.
Rouhani said the U.S. would never again dominate Iran in the way it did before the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when the country was ruled by a U.S.-backed monarchy. Iranians are currently marking the 40th anniversary of the uprising, which brought anti-American clerics to power.
“It is impossible for you to take Iran back to 40 years ago. We will never go back to the era of American domination,” he said.
Violence and killings haven’t stopped in Colombia despite landmark peace deal
February 6, 2019
Author: Alexander L Fattal, Assistant Professor, Pennsylvania State University, Departments of Film-Video and Media Studies and Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University
Disclosure statement: Alexander L Fattal has received funding from the National Science Foundation, Social Science Research Council, and Wenner-Gren Foundation.
Partners: Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
A deadly car bomb at a Bogotá police academy claimed by Colombia’s National Liberation Army, or ELN, is the latest sign that Colombia’s civil war is not over. President Ivan Duque called the January attack, which killed 21 military personnel and wounded 68, a “crazy terrorist act.”
The leftist ELN became Colombia’s largest guerrilla group after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, disbanded following a peace agreement with the government in September 2016.
As I write in my new book on the counter-insurgency efforts leading up to the peace deal, there were already clear signs that neutralizing the FARC would not end Colombia’s 52-year armed conflict.
A complex conflict
What Colombians call “el conflicto” – the conflict – was never a simple two-way fight of everyone versus the FARC. It was, and remains, a set of overlapping and interrelated conflicts involving the government, Marxist rebels, right-wing militias and drug cartels, staggered across the decades from 1964 to today.
The 2016 FARC deal was a historic achievement. After its signing, armed conflict-related fatalities in Colombia dropped from about 3,000 a year to just 78.
But an ever-changing array of criminal gangs still operate in Colombia, profiting off drug production, illegal mining and extortion. The landscape of their territorial control has simply changed, with the ELN, Autodefensa Gaitanista de Colombia and other armed groups spreading into areas once run by the FARC.
Other political violence has ticked up since the 2016 accord, too, including the targeted killing of indigenous and Afro-Colombian activists.
The FARC is not entirely defunct, either.
Colombian research groups Fundación Ideas para la Paz and Insight Crime report that ever more former fighters are dissatisfied with the FARC’s reincarnation as a political party. Up to 3,000 guerrillas – one-quarter of the roughly 12,000 demobilized after the peace accord – have re-armed alongside their former comrades.
Others have joined the ELN, which has doubled in size since the FARC’s disarmament.
January’s car bombing was a show of force.
Colombia’s tense border
The attack likely snuffs out any chance of a peace deal with the ELN, which Colombia’s government has pursued for years.
The ELN is primarily active along the Colombia-Venezuela border. If Colombia’s government cracks down on the group, violence could escalate quickly.
Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro is in a power struggle to save his embattled presidency, and the U.S. has threatened military intervention. That would probably involve using Colombian territory as an operations base.
Colombia’s border region is a tinderbox of geopolitical tension. A flare-up with the ELN may be the spark that sets it off.
Sheila Davis, logged in via Facebook: Under the Trump Administration I got the impression that Trump was not going to FREELY involve the US Military in other country’s problems. Does he CARE about Venezuela that much? Maybe the incoming Venezuelan president promised him a portion of the millions the US gives that country each year. Is he being DIRECTED to do so? Maybe a few HAND PICKED soldiers will take out the Colombian drug lords and confiscate ALL THAT MONEY – line some pockets. Whatever the reason I believe there is a personal gain for him if he does send troops in – after hearing all of his speeches on foreign and military aid.
Jeffrey Fell, logged in via Google: Sheila Davis… There are plethora of occasions where any of us can bash Trump. This is not one. Any selfish interest we may have in Venezuela is dwarfed by the hemorrhaging that builds daily in Colombia . Have you been to Colombia to witness for yourself? I have, and the humanitarianism they are practicing should be a lesson to the world . They are splitting at the seams however and in desperate need of assistance . Colombia is our biggest ally in all of Latin America , so who better to help? It would be foolish to ignore the potential of political motivation , but the humanitarian component takes center stage here. Your anti-Trump vitriol could be better served in another arena.