29 May 2019

Yoti Fellowship Programme 2019 for Community Change Activists

Application Deadline: 15th June, 2019.

Eligible Countries: International

About the Award: Through a global competitive process, each year Yoti invites applications for three 12-month Fellowships aimed at scholars, practitioners, journalists, technologists, social changemakers, policy makers and other public intellectuals interested in tackling an identity, or digital identity, challenge or issue within their country or community. Fellows conduct research, or develop solutions or policy recommendations, while interacting with other Fellows, Yoti staff and other members of the wider global digital identity community

Fields of Research: We are primarily interested in issues, challenges and opportunities for digital identity in a local context. More specifically, we invite applications which focus on any of the following thematic areas.
  • Unlocking the challenges of providing and managing identity solutions among refugee, migrant, marginalised or economically exploited communities or individuals.
  • Studying the difficulties experienced by indigenous communities in establishing and proving identity, as well as claiming any state benefits they may be eligible for.
  • Unpicking what ‘digital identity’ and identity more broadly means to communities in developing countries (including those living in or close to the last mile) and the NGOs and local organisations providing services to them.
  • Any other issues which warrant investigation which are not yet part of the wider digital identity debate.
Type: Fellowship

Eligibility: Applicants may be based anywhere, although preference will be given to those from the developing world. A short concept note will be required along with a current CV and the names of at least one referee. This is so we can be confident that the Fellow is qualified and able to deliver on their proposal.

Selection: A selection panel made up of digital identity, technology, social scientists, activists and other experts will decide on the successful applicants. Details of the panel are available in the application pack.

Number of Awards: 3

Value of Award: Yoti Fellowship Program Fellows will be supported with a generous payment of £30,000 (approximately US$38,000) paid in equal installments over the course of the year, and receive logistical and technical support from Yoti. A small budget for project travel and other expenses up to a maximum of £5,000 will also be available. All work produced will be made publicly and freely available on completion of the Fellowship.

Duration of Award: 12 months

How to Apply: 
  • It is important to go through all application requirements on the Programme Webpage (see link below) before applying

Alibaba eFounders Fellowship (Class 7) 2019 for African Entrepreneurs

Application Deadline: 9th June 2019

Eligible Countries: African countries

To Be Taken At (Country): Alibaba Xixi Campus – Hangzhou, China

About the Award: The eFounders Fellowship is a two-week course for entrepreneurs in developing countries who are operating open, platform-based businesses in the ecommerce, logistics, big data, and tourism spaces. The program will provide first-hand exposure to and learning about ecommerce innovations from China and around the world that enabled growth and a more inclusive development model for all.
The eFounders Fellowship program provides first-hand exposure to ecommerce and digital innovations, access to business leaders across Alibaba and China, as well as an opportunity to connect with like-minded, leading entrepreneurs in your region. The fellowship is a community of passionate and successful “Champions for the New Economy” looking to inspire and create a more inclusive development model for all.
The eFounders Fellowship program is jointly organized by Alibaba Business School and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), who are implementing the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Type: Entrepreneurship

  • You MUST be a founder or co-founder of an officially registered digital venture that has been in operation for at least 2 years.
  • Your venture MUST be headquartered, located in or operates in one of the following countries: Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, or Tunisia.
  • You MUST provide at least 1 referral in your application (referrals from a partner/organizer/eFounders Fellow are preferred).
  • You MUST provide your official business license when requested during the application process.
  • Entrepreneurs below 35 years old, female entrepreneurs, and target country locals are strongly encouraged to apply.
Selection Criteria: Class 7 welcomes entrepreneurs who are:
  • Authentic, open-minded and altruistic leaders of the ‘new economy’.
  • Building enterprises for long-term success, not for short-term profit.
  • Mission-driven and have a strong sense of purpose, integrity, vision and drive.
  • Willing to learn and share their experiences and ideas.
Number of Awards: There will be 40 places available

Duration of Program: August 18th – 28th, 2019.

What will participants learn?

• The key factors in Alibaba’s long-term success.
• The defining moments and failures that have shaped Alibaba’s journey (including the early stages of development).
• An understanding of Alibaba’s ecosystem.

Program costs:
• Hotel accommodation (shared room).
• Small daily living allowance of 30 RMB/day.
• Field trip and site visit transportation costs.
Not covered (costs you must personally cover):
• Air tickets and transportation/pick-up services to and from Hangzhou, China.
• Single hotel room requests (if you would like to stay in a single room you will be required to cover the full cost yourself).
• Additional food or personal expenses.

How to Apply: Apply Here

Visit the Program Webpage for Details

Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA) 2019 (Fully-funded)

Application Deadline: 30th June, 2019.

Eligible Countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Niger, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda

To be taken at (country): ARIFA affiliated countries including, but not limited to BrazilChinaCubaIndiaItaly and the Netherlands.

About the Award: The Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA) is the capacity development component of Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA)’s Holistic Empowerment for Livelihoods Program (HELP). ARIFA aims to produce a new generation of fit-for-purpose workforce to re-engineer African agri-food sector to provide the change factor for rapid agricultural transformation in the next 10 years, using the Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D) approach.  Under the program, suitably qualified Africans will be trained in   ARIFA- affiliated universities and centers of Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D) in ARIFA affiliated countries including, but not limited to BrazilChinaCubaIndiaItaly and the Netherlands.

Field of Study:

 Master of Science ( 2 years)

  1. Land and Water Resource Management: Irrigated Agriculture
  2. Precision Integrated Pest Management for Fruit and Vector Vegetables
  3. Mediterranean Organic Agriculture

B. Advanced Short Courses

  1. Sustainable Development of Coastal Communities
  2. Innovation & Youth Entrepreneurship in the Mediterranean Agri-food Sector
Type: Masters, Short courses.

Eligibility: All applicants for the current call  must meet the following criteria:   

  • Be a citizen of one of the following countries: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Niger, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda
  • There is no limit of age for the short courses, however, male candidates applying for MSc Program must be aged 30 years or less and females 35 years or less at the commencement of the Program.
  • Not possess citizenship or permanent residency in any country outside Africa;
  • Have attained a minimum education level of a bachelor’s  degree from a recognized university, with at least a second class or its equivalent in a relevant field;
  • Applicants that demonstrate records of engagement and contribution to solving agricultural problems will have an extra advantage;
  • Commit to participating in an alumni network of FARA IAR4D practitioners under FARA Post-fellowship plan.
Number of Awards: Not specified

Value of Award:
  • Air travel from home country to CIHEAM-Bari
  • Tuition fees waiver or subsidized
  • A monthly stipend
  • Placement for Postgraduate study, MSc and short training levels in prestigious universities and centres of research in Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Italy, Netherlands etc.,
  • An innovation grant at a FARA-supported Innovation Platform in home country upon completion
  • Being part of the ARIFA alumni to drive Africa’s AR4D in the coming years
Duration of Award: 
  • Masters: 2 years
  • Short course: 6 months
How to Apply: ARIFA 2019 Application form
  • It is important to go through all application requirements on the Programme Webpage (see link below) before applying
Visit Award Webpage for Details

Mozilla Open Internet Engineering Fellowships 2019/2020 for Tech Engineers in Developing Countries

Application Deadline: 30th May 2019 at 12pm PDT for the LOI, and 10th June 2019 at 12pm PDT for the full application.

Eligible Countries: Developing countries

About the Award: In countries with low internet penetration, one of the chief causes is often a lack of experienced network engineers. Without network engineering expertise, residents cannot build critical infrastructure.
We’re seeking Fellows for open internet engineering: developers who can help bring the unconnected — roughly four billion users in the Global South and remote locations — online.
These Fellowships are made possible by a collaboration between Mozilla, the Internet Society, and the Network Startup Resource Center. We’re investing $500,000 in the project — and seeking additional funding partners to expand the impact in the years to come.

Type: Fellowship

  • The fellowship is open to applications from early- to mid-career internet engineering professionals around the world.
  • Applicants must come from and be resident in a country with low internet penetration, and must have demonstrated expertise in internet network design and development.
  • Applicants will identify a challenge/opportunity for open internet development in their country or region, and demonstrate how they can influence/address it.
  • Applicants will nominate their preferred host organization, and Mozilla will leverage our years of experience in running fellowship programs to find the best host org-fellow fit.
  • Finally, the design of the selection process will ensure a diverse and balanced cohort.
Number of Awardees: Not specified

Value of Fellowship: This Fellowship track will support individuals with deep engineering experience who want to lead the buildout of a transformative infrastructure project in their community. These fellows might build Internet Exchange Points that increase network efficiency; connect unconnected schools or community centers; or spearhead the construction of national data centers. Fellows will work in concert with local government, community anchor institutions, and other technologists, and will leverage open standards and software. Fellows will receive a stipend during their 12-month fellowship, as well as mentorship from host organizations like the Internet Society and the Network Startup Resource Center. Fellows will also receive mentorship from Mozilla staff.

Duration of Fellowship: 12 months.

How to Apply: Apply here

Visit Fellowship Webpage for details

NELGA Short Course 2019 – Political Economy of Land Governance in Africa (Funded to Accra, Ghana)

Application Deadline: 7th June 2019

Eligible Countries: African countries

To be taken at (country): Accra, Ghana

About the Award: The course is funded by United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), through the Network of Excellence in Land Governance in Africa (NELGA).

Type: Short Course

Eligibility: Applicants should hold an undergraduate degree and have 3-4 years of work experience. Applicants without a university degree may be considered, if they have 10-15 years’ work experience.

Number of Awards: 40

Value of Award: Funding is available for 40 participants to cover course registration fees, travel and accommodation.

Duration of Programme: 12-16 August 2019.

How to Apply: To apply, please complete the form below. 


Visit Programme Webpage for Details

The Social Burden of Depression in Japan

Cesar Chelala

Depression is widespread, largely undiagnosed, and rarely treated in Japan. Until the late 1990s, depression was largely ignored outside the psychiatric profession. Depression has been described as “kokoro no kaze” (a cold of the soul) and only recently it is being accepted in Japan as a medical condition that shouldn’t provoke shame in those suffering from it. In Japan, it is estimated that one in five people will experience some form of depression during their lifetime.
Depression is a state of low mood which can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings, and sense of well-being. Its symptoms include sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, and altered appetite and sleep. Many depressed people have feelings of dejection and hopelessness that may drive them to suicide.
Depression can manifest at any age. It can begin during childhood or the teenage years. As happens also among adults, girls are more likely to experience depression than boys. Among women, one in seven experiences post-partum depression; about half of them start experiencing symptoms during pregnancy.
Clinical depression among the elderly is also common, affecting 6 million Americans ages 65 and older. Among the elderly, depression is frequently confused with the effects of other illnesses. Studies in nursing homes of elderly patients with physical illnesses show that depression substantially increases the risk of dying from those illnesses.
In most cases, depression can be treated. The U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recent approval of the drug esketamine will be a significant advance in the treatment of depression. Esketamine is particularly effective for those who have been resistant to conventional treatment, or who are at imminent risk of suicide.
Like ketamine, a related drug, esketamine, in addition to its anesthetic effects, is a rapid-acting antidepressant, whose medical use was started in 1997. On February 12, 2019, an independent panel of experts recommended that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve the use of esketamine, as long as it is administered in a clinical setting to ensure patient safety. Esketamine may bring relief to millions of patients all over the world, particularly in Japan, where depression is widespread and largely neglected.
One of the reasons for this neglect is the feeling of shame associated with mental health issues. Many of those who suffer from depression prefer to think that there is something wrong with them, rather than that they suffer from a medical condition which can be treated. In most cases, people resort to a cultural impulse known as “gaman” or the will to endure.
Depression has been called a “democratic disease” because it affects people of all social and economic strata. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, more than 300 million people were affected by depression worldwide in 2015, equivalent to 4.4 percent of the world’s population. Nearly 50 percent of all people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Depression is also a major contributor to suicide. According to WHO, almost 90 percent of people who attempt suicide suffer from depression. There are approximately 800,000 suicides globally every year. In Japan, although the total number of suicides has diminished in recent years, the high number of suicides among children and teenagers is a cause for concern.
Aside from the effects on health and on people’s well-being, depression exacts a heavy economic toll on individuals, families and on society as a whole. In Japan, the London School of Economics has estimated that the economic cost of depression is over $14 billion annually, compared to $210 billion in the U.S. That includes decreased productivity, medical expenses, and indirect medical costs. In Japan, some of those costs are more difficult to estimate because of the cultural issues surrounding depression and mental health in general.
It remains necessary to raise awareness of depression in the general population of Japan, through massive health communication campaigns, alerting on the seriousness of the untreated cases and about the possibility now of addressing the problem effectively. As depression is on the rise globally, the approval of a drug to treat cases resistant to treatment is a reason for hope.

Monsanto, Scientific Deception and Cancer

Binoy Kampmark

Money may not be able to buy the purest love, but it can buy the best, life-ending cancer.  For Monsanto, giant of rule and misrule in matters of genetically modified crops, known for bullying practices towards farmers, things have not been so rosy of late.  Ever the self-promoter of saving the world an agricultural headache (biotech crops being the earth’s touted nutritional salvation), the company has run into a set of legal snags that have raided its funds and risk sinking it, along with Bayer AG, the company that bought it last year for $63 billion.
A spate of legal cases have begun entering the folklore of resistance to the company.  Central to it is the use of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weedkiller marketed since 1974 as Roundup, and a core chemical in the agrochemical industry. In 2015, it was deemed by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) “probably carcinogenic to humans” in addition to being genotoxic and clearly carcinogenic to animals.
The legal train commenced last August, when a state court in San Francisco found for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a 46-year-old former school groundskeeper, ordering $289 million in damages.  (The amount was subsequently reduced to $78 million.)  The jury had been satisfied that the use of the Roundup weedkiller, with its glyphosate constitution, had, in fact, been the cause of Johnson’s cancer.  They also found that the company had paid insufficient heed to warning the plaintiff of the impending dangers, also acting, in the process, with “malice or oppression”.
The picture that emerged in trial was of a beast keen to keep critics at bay and intimate opponents.  Attorney Brent Wisner was keen to press the issue. “Monsanto has specifically gone out of its way to bully… and to fight independent researchers.” Wisner’s evidence – a selection of internal Monsanto emails – showed the steadfast rejection on its part of warnings critical and researched. “They fought science.”
Not so, came the rebutting if not so convincing argument from Monsanto lawyer George Lombardi. “The scientific evidence is overwhelming that glyphosate-based products do not cause cancer and did not cause Mr Johnson’s cancer.”
The message was very much in keeping with Monsanto’s program for colouring and fudging empirical data on the use of herbicides.  The 2015 IARC findings, despite being on some level qualified, infuriated the company. Christopher Wild, the director of the agency, was unequivocal in his interview with Le Monde: the company had gone rabid.  “We have been attacked in the past, we have faced smear campaigns, but this time we are the target of an orchestrated campaign of an unseen scale and duration.”  Monsanto dismissed the agency’s conclusions as “junk science”, the product of “cherry-picking” driven by a biased agenda.
The company duly harried the agency, using the law firm Hollingsworth to demand, “Drafts, comments, data tables… everything that has gone through the IARC system.”  In the event that the agency decline to do so, the firm requested and instructed the agency “to immediately take all reasonable steps in your power to preserve all such files intact pending formal discovery requests issued via a US court.”
What commenced was a concerted effort to cook the science and massage the results.  Monsanto chief scientist William Heydens proposed one method of doing so: ghost-writing papers under the thinly veiled cover of scientific legitimacy.  As Heydens noted in an email, “we would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak.”  This was a practice not unknown to the company; a paper had been so authored in 2000, one conspicuously short on detail regarding the affiliation of Monsanto employees.
In the safety stakes, Monsanto was also careful to ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency was on board – at least when it came to terminating or frustrating investigations.  Jess Rowland, formerly a manager in the EPA’s pesticide division, is said to have boasted in an April 2015 conversation with a Monsanto regulatory affairs manager that, “If I can kill this I should get a medal.”  In October that year, the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC), chaired by Rowland (miracle of miracles) produced an internal report claiming that glyphosate, contrary to the IARC findings, were “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
The Johnson case was significant for the court’s allowance of extensive scientific argument.  This flatfooted Mansanto (now Bayer’s) legal team.  It was an approach that would be repeated in subsequent trials.  In March this year, a unanimous jury verdict in the federal court in San Francisco ordered the company to fork out damages to the value of $80 million for failing to warn Edwin Hardeman, the plaintiff, of any cancer risks associated with the use of Roundup.
A trifecta was achieved this month when a jury of the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Alameda was willing to find that Roundup weedkiller caused the non-Hodgkin lymphoma of the plaintiffs Alberta and Alva Pillioid. It took 17 days of trial testimony leading to the decision to award the couple $1 billion each.
The order of punitive damages centred on the finding that Monsanto “engaged in conduct with malice, oppression, or fraud committed by one or more officers, directors or managing agents of Monsanto”.
The next case of interest against Monsanto is being pressed by Sharlean Gordon with an entire cohort of fellow litigants, set to take place in St. Louis County Circuit court on August 19.  The formula is tried and true, alleging that they were harmed as “a direct and proximate result of [Monsanto’s] negligent, wilful, and wrongful conduct in connection with the design, development, manufacture, testing, packaging, promoting, marketing, distribution, and/or sale of Roundup and/or other Monsanto glyphosate-containing products.”
Legal watchers, thousands of other litigants, and those in St. Louis County, will be curious to see whether the company finally gets some respite after its Californian hammerings.  It employs a considerable labour force in the area and has been very much in the charity game.  But the sympathy of local jurors should not detract from the St. Louis City Court’s reputation as one of the more favourable forums to seek mammoth verdicts against corporations.  Sympathies for Monsanto-Bayer might well have truly curdled by then.

Why ISIS launched a terror attack on Sri Lanka

Wasantha Rupasinghe

One month has passed since the April 21 terrorist bombings on three Christian churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka killed over 250 innocent men, women and children, and injured many more.
The government and defence establishment received prior warning from foreign intelligence sources but took no action to prevent the attacks. No plausible official explanation has been given as to why no preventative measures were taken.
In the aftermath, however, all factions of the political establishment have backed the imposition of a state of emergency and draconian police state measures and are whipping up anti-Muslim communalism and violence. The real target of this new “war on terror” is the rising struggles of the working class against the government’s austerity measures.
The evidence made public to date indicates that the atrocity was carried out by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in conjunction with a local Islamist extremist group, National Thowheeth Jamma’ath (NTJ), but there remain many unanswered questions.
On April 23, ISIS claimed responsibility for attacks via its AMAQ news agency, releasing a photograph of the group of eight suicide bombers including Zahran Hashim, the leader of the NTJ. The caption read: “The executors of the attack that targeted citizens of coalition states and Christians in Sri Lanka two days ago were with the group.”
Six days later, ISIS leader Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi appearing on a video, praising the suicide bombers who “struck homes of Crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz.” Baghouz, a village in eastern Syria, was the last ISIS stronghold in Syria. After its fall to US-backed forces, the Trump administration boasted in March that ISIS had been eliminated.
Neither statement mentioned the NTJ by name. However, an Indian intelligence agency sent a pecific warning to its Sri Lankan counterparts on April 4 based on information obtained from the interrogation of an ISIS suspect. It stated that the attack involved suicide bombings, was being organized by NTJ operative Zahran and was targeted at churches.
TJ was formed by Zahran in 2016 after breaking away from the Sri Lanka Thowheeth Jamma’ath (SLTJ) which had been founded in 2012. The SLTJ leaders, who declare themselves moderates, allege that Zahran advocated violence and a more fundamentalist Islamist line.
Commentators in the Sri Lankan and international media have declared that the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka were in retaliation for the loss of ISIS territory in Iraq and Syria. But none of them has explained why Sri Lanka was targeted rather than the US or any of its immediate allies in conflict in the Middle East.
Under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, however, Sri Lanka has been closely integrated with US imperialism, diplomatically and militarily. The strategic significance of the island is underscored by the 2015 regime-change operation orchestrated by Washington that ousted Mahinda Rajapakse as president and installed Sirisena. Rajapakse was regarded as too close to China.
Over the past four years, the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) has greatly strengthened its military ties with Sri Lanka, training its soldiers and holding joint military exercises. INDOPACOM is also assisting in the establishment of a Sri Lankan navy marine corps along the line of the US Marines.
Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington in early February, INDOPACOM chief Admiral Philip Davidson declared that Sri Lanka “remains a significant strategic opportunity in the Indian Ocean and our military-to-military relationship continues to strengthen.”
President Sirisena, who is also defence minister, renewed the Access and Cross Service Agreement (ACSA) with the US in August 2017 for an indefinite period with the approval of the cabinet. First signed in 2007 for 10 years, ACSA allows the US military to use Sri Lankan sea and air ports for supplies and storage.
The USS John C. Stennis, the US aircraft carrier with the 7th Fleet, visited Sri Lanka’s Trincomalee port in January to receive supplies as part of the establishment of a US Naval Logistics Hub at the strategic deep-water port.
US Navy website noted on December 9, that the hub “allows for the use of an airstrip and storage facilities to receive large-scale shipments to move out in various directions in smaller shipments, allowing ships to continue operating at sea by receiving the right material at the right place and time.”
Between January 21 and 29, an aircraft from the USS John C. Stennis was involved in logistics operations from Sri Lanka’s Katunayake International Airport, to the giant aircraft carrier stationed in Trincomalee.
The US immediately seized on the April 21 terrorist attacks to further strengthen its military and strategic ties with Sri Lanka. Dozens of FBI investigators and military experts from INDOPACOM landed in the country to “help investigations” within 48 hours of the bombings.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana visited Washington earlier in May to participate in a high-level “partnership dialogue” with the US. He met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Under-Secretary David Hale and also US National Security Advisor John Bolton.
During Marapana’s visit, US officials reportedly raised changing the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the two countries. This agreement was signed in 1995 under President Chandrika Kumaratunga and has been in operation ever since. When it was revealed last week that an update was under consideration, the two governments dismissed the report saying it was “normal practice.”
A US embassy spokesman stated: “These updates will streamline processes that are already in place and will facilitate collaboration with the Sri Lankan military on counter terrorism practices, maritime security and other issues of common concern.”
The changes, however, could facilitate the sending of US troops to the island under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Just after the bombings, US Secretary of State Pompeo telephoned Prime Minister Wickremesinghe pledging assistance and blaming “Islamic radical terror” for the attack. “This is America’s fight, too,” he declared. In reality, the US is directly responsible for spawning Islamist groups like Al Qaeda during its anti-Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s and has exploited Islamist groups such as ISIS, an Al Qaeda breakaway, in the civil war in Syria.
The US imperialism’s ties with Sri Lanka are particularly aimed against China, as part of its far broader economic war against Beijing and military build-up throughout the region in preparation for war. The US war drive is raising tensions throughout the region and dragging Sri Lanka into a confrontation that could erupt into a catastrophic war between nuclear-armed powers.
The Sri Lankan working class should oppose the strengthening of the US military presence on the island and join with its class brothers and sisters around the world in building a unified anti-war movement of the international working class in the fight for socialism. This is the perspective fought for by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) and all its sections including the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) in Sri Lanka.

Venezuelan refugees face desperate conditions in Colombia

Julian James

The US government is engaged in an ongoing effort to suffocate Venezuela’s economy and isolate its government, and the effects on millions of average citizens from that country have been devastating. Washington is waging what amounts to siege warfare comprised of ever-expanding extraterritorial sanctions on Venezuela’s petroleum, gold, other mining and financial sectors.
A failed coup attempt by Juan Guaidó of the US-backed and -funded right-wing Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party has only caused the Trump administration to double down on its strategy to bring down Nicolás Maduro’s government. A recent raid on the Venezuelan embassy in Washington and resulting arrest of anti-intervention activists invited by the Maduro government to occupy the building was yet another provocation indicating the administration’s contempt for of international law.
This predatory imperialist strategy, and the sanctions in particular, have been devastating for Venezuela’s population, worsening already astronomical inflation and forcing the government to reduce imports and ration what basic supplies there are at its disposal. Studies carried out before the most recent round of sanctions reported poverty levels unheard of in the formerly relatively wealthy South American nation.
One study conducted in 2018 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research attributed an estimated 40,000 deaths between 2017-2018 to American sanctions, with Venezuelans losing an average 24 pounds of body weight that year. A poll reported by the south-Florida Spanish-language newspaper El Nuevo Herald in September 2018 found that 30 percent of Venezuelans were regularly eating one meal a day, while another 28.5 percent reported eating “nothing or close to nothing” at least once a weak. Overall, 78.6 percent of respondents reported persistent difficulties obtaining food.
There is no doubt that these horrifying conditions have drastically worsened over the past year, considering ongoing efforts to strangle the country’s economy.
Meanwhile, a tiny layer of wealthy Venezuelans, whose members are made up of both “old money” and a newly minted layer of the ultra-wealthy deriving its wealth from connections to the current government (the so-called Boliburguesia), continue to fill upscale cafes in the wealthy districts of Caracas. Many other wealthy members of the Venezuelan upper class have decided to leave the country altogether and emigrate to Spain and the US, where they have invested in real estate or started small businesses.
These are the unequal conditions that have forced an estimated 2.5 million Venezuelan citizens to flee since 2014, with 2 million destitute Venezuelans having left for neighboring countries in the last two years alone, many of them former professionals and members of the middle class. Unable to secure the basic means of survival for themselves and their families, Venezuelans have emigrated on foot or by bus, traveling hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles with few possessions, and often with children in tow, to seek a better future.
The greatest influx of refugees has been to Colombia, where an estimated 1.1 million Venezuelans survive on the margins of society, many of them reduced to sheltering in the streets and begging for food. Some manage to pool together their limited resources and rent rooms, sleeping in extremely crowded conditions.
Colombia, like many other countries south of the United States border, is itself is a place of massive inequality, where the three richest men’s combined assets are equivalent to 10 percent of the country’s entire GDP. Poverty is especially acute in rural areas, where jobs and basic infrastructure are badly lacking. The current president, Iván Duque of the Centro Democrático (Democratic Center) party, a political protégé of ultra-right-wing former president Alvaro Uribe, was elected in August 2019 and swiftly proposed a “National Development Plan”—a broad package of austerity measures that includes major cuts in funding to the nation’s pension and health care systems.
The country also has its own refugee crisis resulting from decades of civil war, with an estimated 3.5 million internally displaced persons and at least 750,000 who have fled to neighboring countries. As the Duque government represents Washington’s closest ally in the region, the US and Western media pay scant attention to these Colombian refugees.
With the public health care system chronically underfunded, average Colombians have to wait months for urgent tests and appointments, and for Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, the situation is even worse. They cannot see doctors for routine visits or procedures and are only attended to once a health problem has become an emergency situation. Schooling is also out of reach for many of their children, the majority of whom lack the necessary documentation for enrollment. Often, school is not an option simply because young children are expected to help collect money for the family.
This WSWS reporter interviewed a 24-year-old Venezuelan refugee named Oriana who sells bottled water and soda on the side of the road in Medellin with her husband and six-month-old baby. Asked about her reasons for leaving, she responded:
“We came to Colombia on foot in September because we had no other choice. I was studying civil engineering, and Juan was working at a taxi business. We were able to make a living more or less, but everything started becoming unstable. Suddenly I couldn’t continue my studies because all the teachers started quitting over pay. Then we found out I was going to have a baby, and at the time you couldn’t find any diapers or medications in the stores, and there were long lines in the hospital. Once you finally made it to the front, you had to pay for everything just to be able to see a nurse—even gloves! Really, we had to get out of there because we felt like our baby could die if we stayed.”
For Oriana and many other Venezuelans, survival depends on the generosity of the locals and their ability to sell small items to passing drivers. Oriana had this to add:
“We feel much better being here; people in Colombia have helped us out a lot to be able to raise the baby—giving us diapers and milk, though when we first arrived, we were sleeping on the streets. And I’m talking about just regular people, not the government, people who drive by here, they’ve really helped us out, and we’re very grateful.”
Eking out a living on the streets means spending long hours exposed to the elements and fumes of traffic from dusk until dawn, in an effort to scrape together enough pesos for food and shelter for the night.
Diego, 16, arrived with family and friends recently, and spoke about what a typical day is like:
“The situation became dire back in Venezuela, so here we are now, waking up at 5 a.m. to earn our daily bread. We spend all day standing around at a stoplight handing out pieces of candy and hoping people will give us some change. We don’t have the necessary documents to work or get medical care. At least we are able to pay for a place to sleep and food among us with what we earn here, though we try to scrape something together to send to our family back in Venezuela, too. And you know who suffers the most in this situation? It’s the kids.”
Among the refugees, there is broad hostility to both the existing government of Nicolás Maduro, which, its “Bolivarian socialist” pretensions notwithstanding, defends capitalist property and presides over deepening social inequality, and to Guaidó, who is seen as a representative of the traditional oligarchy and US imperialism.
Asked about the political situation and threats of direct military invasion by the United States, Oriana’s husband Juan had this to say:
“We need to get the current government out of power. I was alive during the Caracazo [mass anti-austerity riots in the nation’s capital, Caracas] in 1989 when people were massacred in the streets by the government. Of course, Guaidó is also a right-wing politician, he could do the same thing as the current government, so we need a new government, not Maduro and not Guaidó.
“As for an invasion—Venezuela doesn’t need an invasion, people would certainly be worse off. Just look, everywhere the Americans have gone, it’s been a catastrophe.”
Enrique, a former resident of Caracas in his twenties, had a similar political outlook:
“Guaidó is just another corrupt politician, he’s not actually doing anything except going around giving interviews, posing for photo ops. He’s totally corrupt, but we do have to get Maduro out, too.”

Honduran government cracks down on strike by teachers, doctors and nurses

Andrea Lobo

Educators in Honduras have been on a general strike since Thursday, and university students, doctors and nurses have carried out demonstrations and partial strikes since May 20 against the government of Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) of the National Party (PNH).
All regions of the country have seen roadblocks, marches, and university occupations, including a march of tens of thousands of people Monday and Tuesday in the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa. Virtually all have been met with violent repression by the Honduran police and military.
Mass demonstration on Monday in Tegucigalpa (@TONYDIAZGALEAS)
This follows an initial week of strikes that began on April 26 against two proposed reforms aimed at privatizing health care, pensions and education. The reforms are dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and involve expedited budget cuts and mass layoffs.
On Monday night, a large contingent of demonstrators protested in front of the US embassy in Tegucigalpa in an acknowledgement that the social attacks imposed by the Honduran ruling class originate in Wall Street boardrooms and in Washington DC.
Amid a growing resurgence of the class struggle, including among tens of thousands of US teachers fighting in defense of public education, the Honduran trade unions and the opposition parties have done everything possible to keep workers from appealing to their class brothers and sisters across the region and particularly the United States for a common political struggle against social austerity, militarization and corporate attacks led by US imperialism.
On May 21, as the protest movement reached new proportions, the Trade Union of Public Education Employees (SIEMPE) and the Honduran Medical Association convoked a “National Assembly of Departmental Platforms for the Defense of Health and Education,” as a negotiating table to contain the protests and channel them behind talks with the ruling National Party.
The corporate media, along with the student and pseudo-left organizations, including those that orbit the ostensible opposition party, Libre, have promoted the president of the Medical Association, Dr. Suyapa Figueroa, as the spokeswoman of the protests, citing her vocal condemnations of the social crisis.
In an interview with CNN last Friday, for instance, Figueroa said “the health care system has not been able to perform surgeries. There have been instances of no water for developing x-rays. No water at operating rooms to wash one’s hands.” She soon added, however, that the protest movement was “apolitical” and that “this struggle has a lot of people that belong to the ruling party, which is only natural, and they are supporting us.”
The government, however, has made clear that it will respond to any challenge to the interests of the Honduran and international financial elites in a totally uncompromising and ruthless fashion.
The corresponding ministers announced yesterday sanctions and firings against teachers, along with criminal charges against medical personnel and the hiring of replacement scabs.
A new criminal code that went into effect May 15 criminalizes demonstrations in the broadest terms with up to four years in prison and 15 years for leaders or promoters. It also establishes a prison term of 3 to 10 years for carrying out abortions.
During the last week, teachers have repeatedly denounced to reporters and in social media the presence of the Tigres special forces participating in the repression against demonstrations. National Police officers and the lethal Tigres were recorded accompanying a plainclothes agent on Monday unsuccessfully trying to kidnap two teachers seeking refuge at a restaurant in the town of Santa Cruz de Yojoa.
On April 29, a plainclothes police officer shot a teacher protester in Tegucigalpa with live ammunition.
The Honduran special forces deployed against workers and youth were trained by the US Green Berets for “urban combat.” In 2015, the US Army described their training: “Many periods of instruction focused on instilling fundamental principles of close quarters battle and knowing how to execute them amidst the chaos that is combat.” The commander of the US 7th Special Forces Group in charge of the training, Col. Christopher Riga, declared during the graduation, “I promise you at some point in time, together, we’ll be on target killing terrorists and drug traffickers together.”
The last decade has been marked by deadly military and police crackdowns against mass antigovernment protests and activists in Honduras to resist the dramatic deterioration of living standards. This escalation of the police-state measures to enforce social attacks has proven to be the purpose of the military coup orchestrated by the Democratic Party administration of Barack Obama in June 2009 to topple president Manuel Zelaya.
Emails released in 2010 by WikiLeaks showed that the State Department under Hillary Clinton backed the coup and used the Organization of American States to undermine opposition by other governments. It is the preparation of new imperialist crimes, including the continued backing of the murderous regime in Tegucigalpa, that is fueling the ongoing persecution by Washington of WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, and the jailing of the former army specialist who leaked those diplomatic cables, Chelsea Manning.
The Honduran congress approved the education and health care bills after a month of negotiations between the regime and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which finally agreed to a two-year deal involving a credit line and policies to “improve the framework of macroeconomic policies, elevate the quality of public spending and strengthen the rule of law.”
The immediate step announced by the chief IMF negotiator, Esteban Vesperoni, was a $311 million loan to the Honduran government, partially to “rescue” the state-owned National Electric Company (ENEE). Ironically this money will facilitate the “implementation of the structural electric sector law,” which privatized the distribution of electricity in 2014. Vesperoni also ordered “revising the contract with the [private] Empresa Energía Honduras (EEH) to incorporate the necessary incentives.”
In 2016, in the words of EEH general manager German García, “the whole distribution network of the country was given in a trust to Ficohsa [Honduran Commercial Finance Bank] and we won the bid.”
The example of ENEE spells the fate for the still unannounced measures regarding health care and education. The latest loan adds to hundreds of millions more flushed by the IMF in this period through the bankrupt ENEE, the privatization of which has channeled vast wealth to the Honduran and international financial elite—handing out slices to Wall Street creditors through the IMF. Other beneficiaries include Ficohsa owner and Honduran billionaire Camilo Atala as well as Colombian magnate William Vélez, the majority owner of EEH through his Grupo ETHUSS. One of the other uses for these funds has also been expanding the Honduran military, which became a top debtor of ENEE.
In the final analysis, the working class has paid the cost through more than 2,000 layoffs and other concessions at ENEE as well as constant hikes of the electricity rates.
Thousands more have been fired under the Hernández administration in the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (SANAA), Honduran telecommunications Hondutel, the National Port Company, the state tax agency (DEI) and other public agencies as part of the escalated drive of privatizations and social cuts dictated by the IMF.
The government has denied that the education and health care bills will result in mass layoffs, but it has openly stated their goal: “saving” $300 million, the bulk of which will go to servicing the public debt to financial vultures and building up the repressive apparatus. The wreckage of the health care system, including the outward stealing of hundreds of millions of dollars by the PNH regime under Porfirio Lobo, has led to thousands of unnecessary deaths while feeding the business of private clinics.
While expanding the ranks of the super-rich in Honduras, the effects for most of the population have been calamitous, with the poverty rate increasing more than 10 percent since the 2009 coup to roughly 70 percent of the population. Economists at the National Autonomous University (UNAH) predicted that 110,000 more people will fall below the official poverty line this year.
Despite the brutal repression by the Honduran state, the struggles against these intolerable conditions, which in turn fuel thousands of yearly killings from gang warfare, will only grow larger and more militant.
Hundreds of thousands of educators, doctors, students, other workers and peasants from Honduras and the region continue to seek safer and better conditions for themselves and their families by migrating north in the face of the anti-immigrant policies by both Democratic and Republican administrations that have culminated in the militarization of the border, squalid detention camps, family separation and the gradual destruction of asylum rights by the Trump White House.
The number of apprehensions at the US-Mexico border, mostly of migrants from northern Central America, topped 100,000 per month in March and April, nearly doubling the record highs in 2014.

European election debacle for Conservatives and Labour

Robert Stevens

The ruling Conservatives have suffered their worst ever election result, while Labour suffered a debacle almost as bad.
Coming fifth nationwide with just 9 percent of the vote and taking just three seats, the Tories were eviscerated, suffering the largest ever loss since the party was founded in 1834. Their previous worst national performance was in the 2014 European election when they received just 24 percent, more than double that just recorded.
The result comes amid an ongoing leadership election contest, following the announcement that Prime Minister Theresa May will resign on June 7. It will be seized on by frontrunners to demand a harder anti-European Union (EU) line including threatening a “no deal” exit.
The UK vote in its entirety was refracted through a pro- and anti-Brexit prism.
Tory party supporters deserted en masse to Nigel Farage’s recently formed Brexit Party.
The far-right Brexit Party won the election outright, taking 32 percent of the vote and winning 29 of the 73 seats available. It came first in every region in England—North East, North West, East of England, Wales, West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire & Humber, the South West and South East—failing to win only in London.
It sucked up almost all the pro-Brexit vote, including from Farage’s previous vehicle—the UK Independence Party—which won the 2014 European elections. UKIP lost all 24 of its seats, taking just 3 percent of the vote.
The pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who campaigned as the only major party calling for revoking the Article 50 legislation governing the UK’s exit, came in second with just over 20 percent of the vote (up from 13.4 percent)—at Labour’s expense.
Seen as the most consistent Remain party, the Lib Dems were able to go from their worst ever European election result in 2014, where they took just one seat, to their best result (16 seats).
The pro-Remain Greens came fourth, with 12.1 percent (up 4.2 percent) and seven seats. Change UK, recently formed by eight Blairite Labour right-wingers and three Tories who defected from their parties in February, recorded a meagre 3.4 percent of the vote, not enough to win any seats.
Every attempt to tabulate the vote shows a deeply divided country on the issue of Brexit, as it was in 2016. A tally of those parties standing on a pro-Remain ticket—Liberal Democrats, Change UK, the Greens and Plaid Cymru—equated to approximately 38 percent of the vote. The two parties supporting Brexit, and specifically leaving the EU without a deal in place—the Brexit Party and UKIP—won 37 percent.
Labour saw a collapse in its vote to just 14.1 percent (down 11.3 percent), with both pro-Remain and Leave parties taking votes.
According to the Financial Times, “Labour’s change in vote share against the results of the 2016 EU referendum shows that the party performed worst in areas at either end of the Brexit spectrum.
“Labour’s vote share fell by an average of 15 percentage points in parts of Britain that had returned the highest Remain support in the referendum. But the party’s vote share fell by 11 points—the second greatest margin—in areas that had most strongly backed Leave in the referendum.”
In Wales, where Labour has won every national vote bar one for a century, it came third with just 15.3 percent of the vote, behind the Brexit Party and the pro-Remain Plaid Cymru. Wales voted narrowly to leave the EU.
In Scotland, Labour no longer has any MEPS, suffering its worst election result since 1910. Labour lost heavily, coming fifth with less than 10 percent of the vote, behind the Greens, Lib Dems and Brexit Party. The Remain-supporting parties won nearly 62 percent of the vote, with the pro-Remain ruling Scottish National Party winning on 38 percent.
In the North West of England, a Labour heartland that voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, Labour won 21 percent. The Brexit Party and UKIP took 34 percent of the vote. The pro-Remain parties—Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK—took around 32 percent of the vote.
In Manchester, Labour won 37 percent of the vote, while the Brexit Party (13.9 percent) and UKIP (2.4 percent) won a combined vote of just over 16 percent. Overall, the three openly pro-Remain parties won over 40 percent of the vote in the city which voted Remain in 2016.
In the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham, Labour won with 35 percent of the vote (77,551). This was around 25,000 votes more than the Brexit Party at 24 percent (52,953 votes). The pro-Remain parties took a larger share of the vote than pro-Brexit parties. In 2016, Birmingham voted Leave narrowly by a margin of just 3,400 votes.
Pro-Remain parties also won more votes than the Leave parties in Sheffield, South Yorkshire (which voted narrowly to leave in 2016) and in Leeds, West Yorkshire, which narrowly voted Remain. As in so many places, the split Remain vote in Leeds meant that the Brexit Party still won, with Labour coming second.
Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour voted at its last conference to respect the Brexit vote, while seeking an alternative to the deal put forward by May ensuring tariff-free access to the Single European Market. But, in a policy described as “constructive ambiguity,” failure to achieve this would lead first to a demand for a general election so that Labour could fight for its alternative Brexit or, failing this, other options, including a possible second confirmatory referendum on any deal, might come into play.
Following the election, the Blairites have upped the ante, declaring that Labour’s vote collapse proves that Corbyn’s declared aim to represent both the Remain and Leave vote has failed. Labour must now not only unconditionally endorse a second referendum, but also campaign to remain in the EU, they insist.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry declared even before the votes were counted, “We should have said quite simply that any deal that comes out of this government should be put to a confirmatory referendum, and that Remain should be on the ballot paper, and that Labour would campaign to remain.”
On Monday, Blairite peer Andrew Adonis wrote in the Guardian, “The time has come to make a second referendum our clear and settled policy, and for Labour to declare that it will lead the remain campaign.”
Corbyn’s closest ally, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, immediately acceded to the first demand, tweeting Monday, “We must unite our party & country by taking issue back to people in a public vote."
He told the BBC, “We want a general election, but realistically after last night there aren't many Tory MPs that are going to vote for a general election. It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.”
Corbyn stated that he was “listening very carefully” to both sides. The party’s preference was still general election but any Brexit deal “has to be put to a public vote.”
Corbyn’s failure to unite workers across the Brexit divide is not because this was a doomed venture. His real goal was not to secure class unity, but to maintain “national unity” in the interests of British imperialism. Despite his occasional rhetoric regarding the social crisis facing the working class, he offered no socialist alternative capable of unifying the working class against the entire ruling elite, however it is divided over Brexit.
Corbyn faced all ways at once. He could never take a stand against the nationalist sentiment whipped up by the Brexit wing of the bourgeoisie, because he shares much of their nationalist agenda—not only the view that the immigration associated with free movement of labour is a problem that must be curbed but the glorification of “parliamentary sovereignty” as the guarantor of social progress. He could never oppose the Remain wing’s apologetics for the EU and its pro-austerity, pro-business agenda. His line was dictated by the dominant view of the City of London, which never wanted Brexit and insisted that, if it could not be prevented, then the UK must maintain access to strategic European markets at all costs.
Based on exploiting the sympathy he enjoyed among workers, Corbyn tried to assume the pose of national saviour—and ended up a national joke instead. In the run-up to the EU elections, he spent six weeks ensconced in talks with May hopelessly trying to secure a Brexit agreement that would pass in parliament while clinging onto the stinking semi-corpse of the Tory Party.
It is thanks to Corbyn that the Tories are still in government and busy electing a new leader. It is he who bears responsibility for continued divisions over Brexit that can only be overcome based upon a perspective for uniting British workers with their European brothers and sisters in a continent-wide struggle for socialism.