Monday, September 26, 2016

Violent Protests in South Africa Universities Continue
Pretoria, Sep 26 (Prensa Latina) Violent student protests in South African universities continue today, amid calls to restore order and end the destruction of facilities.

On Monday morning a residence on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) was burnt by groups of students, according to a report of the ANN7 channel.

At the Witwatersrand University (Wits) in Johannesburg, which has been the focus of demonstrations, classes remain suspended until further notice.

The same in the Metropolitan Nelson Mandela in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape province, where their spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said that they are not sure when normal academic activities would be resumed.

The demonstrations, which revived the campaign #FeesMustFall, erupted after the Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande,announcement on 2017 university fees.

Students showed their dissatisfaction with the government's decision to increase university tuition fees to the maximum of 8.0 percent for the coming year, although young people from poor families will remain exempt.

The main demand of the students is free and quality education for all.

During an interview with the SABC channel Monday, the rector of the Wits, Professor Adam Habib stated that free education is not a matter that is in the hands of the institution.

Habib said that the government is the one that can take that kind of decision, but it is a process that does not happen overnight.

This year, besides the occurrences at universities, about 30 schools in Vuwani were burnt, in Limpopo province, in the north of the country.
Wells Fargo Workers Claim Retaliation for Playing by the Rules
New York Times
SEPT. 26, 2016

Dennis Russell said he was fired from Wells Fargo because he resisted the pressure to create unauthorized customer accounts to meet sales goals. Credit Stuart Palley for The New York Times
At least 5,300 Wells Fargo employees have been fired for ethics violations like setting up illicit accounts without customers’ knowledge to meet sales targets. Now there’s another group of aggrieved Wells Fargo workers: people who say they were fired or demoted for staying honest and falling short of sales goals they say were unrealistic.

That second group of workers, who claim that they played by the rules and were punished for it, are starting to coalesce around two lawsuits that were just filed and that seek class-action status. The first was filed in Los Angeles last week by former Wells Fargo workers who say that while their colleagues created unauthorized accounts to meet cross-selling quotas, they were penalized or terminated for refusing to do the same. The bank’s chief executive, John Stumpf, has often stated his goal that each Wells customer should have at least eight accounts with the company. That aggressive target has made the bank’s stock a darling on Wall Street, the lawsuit notes.

On Monday, a federal lawsuit with analogous claims was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, seeking to create a class of current and former Wells employees across the country who had similar experiences.

“These are the people who have been left holding the bag,” said Jonathan Delshad, the lawyer representing the workers in both suits. “It was a revolving door. If you weren’t willing to engage in these types of illegal practices, they just booted you out the door and replaced you.”

In a statement on Monday, Wells Fargo said: “We disagree with the allegations in the complaint and will vigorously defend against the misrepresentations it contains about Wells Fargo and all of the Wells Fargo team members whose careers have been built on doing the right thing by our customers every day.”

One former employee planning to join the lawsuit is Dennis Russell, 62, who said he was fired in 2010 after a five-year career as a telephone banker at Wells Fargo’s call center in Orange County, Calif. Mr. Russell handled incoming customer service calls and was expected to refer 23 percent of his callers to a sales representative for additional product sales, he said.

But the customers Mr. Russell spoke with were usually in dire financial shape, he said in a telephone interview on Monday. Looking at their accounts, he could see mortgages in foreclosure, credit cards in collections and cars being repossessed for overdue loan payments.

“The people calling didn’t have assets to speak of,” Mr. Russell said. “What products could you possibly offer them in a legitimate way?”

The two fresh lawsuits echo many of the allegations in a 2015 lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles city attorney’s office. Wells Fargo settled the case this month, agreeing to pay $185 million in fines, including a $100 million penalty levied by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal watchdog agency that conducted its own investigation.

But some Wells Fargo employees tried, years earlier, to sound the alarm — with personally disastrous results.

Yesenia Guitron, a former banker, sued Wells Fargo in 2010 — three years earlier than the bank has admitted it knew about the sham accounts. Ms. Guitron became alarmed when, two months into her job at Wells Fargo, she noticed that a fellow banker at the company’s St. Helena, Calif., branch was opening and closing customers’ accounts without their permission.

Intense sales pressure and unrealistic quotas drove employees to falsify documents and game the system to meet their sales goals, she wrote in her legal filing.

Ms. Guitron said she did everything the company had taught employees to do to report such misconduct internally. She told her manager about her concerns. She called Wells Fargo’s ethics hotline. When those steps yielded no results, she went up the chain, contacting a human resources representative and the bank’s regional manager.

Wells Fargo’s response? After months of what Ms. Guitron described as retaliatory harassment, she was called into a meeting and told she was being fired for insubordination.

In 2012, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California sided with Wells Fargo and ruled that even if its sales targets were unreasonable, the bank had the right to use them as an employment yardstick. Ms. Guitron appealed the decision and lost again — leaving her with a bill for more than $18,000 in court costs.

“She put her neck on the line” and they punished her, said Yosef Peretz, the lawyer who represented Ms. Guitron. “She’s a single mom with two kids, barely making it, and her reputation was poisoned. No one would hire her.”

Ms. Guitron left the banking industry and now works in property management, he said.

Christopher Johnson, 38, a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed on Monday, said he hesitated to get involved in the legal case because it brought back memories of “a very dark time in my life.” He was fired in 2008 after working for Wells Fargo for five months.

In trainings, the company repeatedly emphasized the importance of its ethics code and urged employees to call its confidential hotline if they observed anything inappropriate, Mr. Johnson said. But just two weeks after he started working as a business banker in a Wells Fargo branch in Malibu, Calif., his manager began pressuring him to open accounts for his friends and family — with or without their knowledge. When he refused, he was criticized for not being a team player.

Mr. Johnson soon learned that his colleagues routinely opened unauthorized accounts for customers who they thought wouldn’t notice, like elderly clients or those who didn’t speak English well. Disturbed by this practice, he did as he was instructed during training and called the company’s ethics hotline.

Three days later, he was fired for “not meeting expectations,” he said. Broke, Mr. Johnson was evicted from his house and spent the next seven months living out of his truck. He put all of his possessions in a storage unit, then lost them to auction when he was unable to pay the storage bill.

Mr. Johnson, who now works as a writer, said he had stepped forward at his mother’s urging: “She was like, ‘Your story needs to be told. You got fired because you tried to do the right thing.’”

Mr. Russell also lost his home after he lost his Wells Fargo job. Unable to find a new position in the industry, he now works part time for a church in Costa Mesa, Calif., helping with its outreach programs for the homeless.

Last week, he watched — in disbelief, he says — as Mr. Stumpf was grilled by the Senate Banking Committee and insisted that Wells Fargo never wanted its employees to do anything unethical to meet their sales goals.

“It’s a crock,” Mr. Russell said. “They established the culture that made this happen — it comes down from the top.”

During the hearing, Mr. Russell said, “I was sitting there in a rage. The people who had a conscience, the employees who refused to go along, they deserve vindication.”

Workers’ efforts to band together to litigate cases against employers are often derailed by mandatory arbitration clauses that require them to address disputes privately and individually. Wells Fargo has such a clause in some of its employment agreements, but it was added only recently, in December 2015, according to Mark Folk, a spokesman for the bank.

Mr. Delshad, the lawyer pursuing the workers’ cases, said he thought the covered class could grow to “tens of thousands of people” nationwide.

“We’ve had former workers, and some current ones, calling our office all weekend,” he said. “We have a whole bunch of new plaintiffs to be added to the suit. It’s just unbelievable, the amount and scope of this fraud.”

Although Wells Fargo settled the civil cases with Los Angeles and its federal regulators, more fallout could be coming. Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, strongly hinted that the agency had referred the case on to other federal bureaus for criminal investigation, and multiple federal prosecutors have sent subpoenas to Wells Fargo seeking information on the misconduct.

On Thursday, the House Financial Services Committee will hold its own hearing on the scandal. Mr. Stumpf, who has been invited to speak, plans to appear, Wells Fargo said.

Susan Beachy contributed research.
'Disgruntled' Lawyer Shoots 9 People in Suburban Neighborhood Before Being Killed by Police
16:45, 26 SEP 2016
Mirror Online

Witnesses and emergency officials described a chaotic scene as the gunman fired dozens of shots at random, sending people ducking for cover

Nine people were injured - one critically - after a disgruntled lawyer indiscriminately opened fire in a suburban neighbourhood before he was killed by police.

Police in Houston, Texas, confirmed the mass shooter was dead after firing at passing cars and officers who responded to the call for help at a shopping centre.

Six victims were being treated in hospital, with one in a critical condition and another in serious condition, and three others were released, said interim Houston police Chief Martha Montalvo.

She said the suspect was a lawyer who lived in the neighbourhood and police are investigating whether "issues" at his law firm were behind the shooting.

Witnesses and emergency officials described a chaotic scene as the gunman fired dozens of shots at random, sending people scrambling for cover in the morning darkness.

The gunman was shot dead near his parked car, which contained additional weapons, on a residential street near the shopping centre as heavily-armed police officers descended on the area.

His name was not released.

Montalvo told reporters: "The individual was firing actively at the officers, at which time the officers engaged the individual."

She said there was no indication a second shooter was involved, and the FBI is assisting local police agencies.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who is on a trade mission to Cuba, told TV station ABC 13 by telephone that the suspect appears to be a disgruntled lawyer who was fired or had a bad relationship with the law firm.

Firefighters who were called to treat the victims were first on scene and saw multiple victims but had to take cover because the gunman was shooting at cars.

A woman who was shot at as she drove to work along the normally quiet street shortly before 6:30am local time described the terrifying moment bullets pierced her car's windscreen.

She was cut by shards of glass as the window was shot out.

She told ABC 13: "I was driving down the street very slow and then started getting shot and I kept driving. My husband looked at my car and thinks there are six or seven gunshots.

"I pulled around the corner and called 911 and could still hear shots. The bullets were coming from the front and the glass shattered and I was cut."

Lawyer Skip Cornelius told the TV station his son was shot in the arm as he drove by but is expected to be OK.

He said: "I feel pretty lucky that he’s not hurt bad at all."

ABC 13 cameraman Jaime Zamora was on scene during the active shooter phase and took cover behind a pillar when he saw police and paramedics moving back.

He said: “The shots were coming almost non-stop - four, five, six at a time.

“It sounded like a pretty high-powered weapon.”

Witness Antoine Wilson said he "drove directly into the ambush" and could hear bullets going past his car.

He said: "There was a whole bunch of shooting. I didn't realise I was right there by the shooter, I didn't see who it was.

"I heard the gunshots by my face. I'm still shaken up. I seen two people and one police officer on the ground. It was crazy. It could've been me easily."

Before officers shut down traffic to protect drivers, witness Lee Williams used a torch to warn oncoming drivers and keep them away from the gunman.

He exited his home after hearing gunshots and could see "muzzle flashes" in the darkness.

Williams estimated he heard around 50 gunshots, including some that went past him, adding: "I wasn’t counting but they were coming in threes and fours."

His neighbour came outside with her rifle to protect herself from the gunman.

A short time later a woman drove past them in a car that had bullet holes in the windscreen, he said.

ABC13Reported shooting in Houston, Texas
Reported shooting in Houston, TexasPolice gather at the scene in south-west Houston
Emergency officials set up a triage centre to assess and treat the injured victims before they were taken to hospital.

A police bomb squad was called to an apartment building nearby to examine a Porsche Boxster that belonged to the suspect.

The man's body was on the ground next to the car.

The building's residents were told to shelter in place while a search of the car and the lawyer's apartment was conducted with robots.

As the situation unfolded an alert issued by the City of Houston called it an "active shooter situation" and warned people to avoid the area.

The city's emergency alert said the shooting occurred at a shopping centre in south-west Houston.

The alert said: "At this time, the shooting scene is believed to be contained, but residents are asked to please avoid the area of Wesleyan St, between Westpark Drive and Bissonnet Street as it is still an active response and investigation scene."

Texas Governor Mike Abbott wrote on Twitter: "Please join me in keeping the victims of the shooting in Houston this morning in your thoughts and prayers."

The shopping centre is home to a number of businesses, including a supermarket, pharmacy and bank, although many were closed at the time.
Houston Gunman With Nazi Emblem Injures 9 Before Being Killed by Police
New York Times
SEPT. 26, 2016

A lawyer wearing a military uniform with a Nazi emblem and armed with two guns and nearly 2,600 rounds of ammunition opened fire on random passers-by in Houston early Monday, injuring nine before he was killed by the police, the authorities said.

Six of the victims were taken to hospitals, one in critical condition and another in serious condition, the police said. Three others were treated at the scene.

At a news conference on Monday afternoon, Capt. Dwayne W. Ready of the Houston Police Department described a tense episode that began about 6:30 a.m. local time.

The department’s interim chief, Martha Montalvo, said the first reports of gunfire began to trickle in when children were being driven to school, workers were setting off for their jobs and it was still dark on Law Street, where the shooting took place. The street is part of West University Place, an upscale area.

Police officers from several departments converged on the neighborhood, engaging the gunman while trying to protect people in the neighborhood and keep others away.

The suspect exchanged gunfire with officers from about 25 yards, Captain Ready said, and was forced to take cover behind a tree close to his parked car. One officer went to the aid of a person who had been shot in a vehicle while other officers provided cover.

“One of the more complex issues was tending to both the injured citizens who were still in the line of fire while engaging the suspect,” Captain Ready said.

The police would not identify the suspect at the afternoon news conference or speculate on his motive. But earlier in the day, Chief Montalvo said, “He is a lawyer, and there were issues concerning his law firm.”

The authorities believe the suspect acted alone, and at the news conference, Mark Webster, an assistant special agent in charge of F.B.I. special operations, said they were not aware of any connection to a terrorist organization. He said the investigation was still preliminary.

Captain Ready said that the gunman was wearing military-style apparel, and that there were “some old Nazi emblems about his personal effects” and where he lived, along with “vintage military stuff” dating to the Civil War. He would not speculate on whether it was Nazi apparel, but Chief Montalvo said later that “an old Nazi emblem” was on his uniform.

The gunman also carried an “edged weapon,” something like a knife, which was in a sheath, Captain Ready said.

The suspect had a .45-caliber Tommy gun and a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun. Both were purchased legally, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said.

The local TV station ABC 13 showed images of a Porsche Boxster parked on the street and being searched.

Jennifer Molleda, whose husband’s car was struck while he was driving, told ABC 13, “The shooter was literally pointing the gun at windshields.”

The mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, who was in Cuba on a trade trip, told ABC 13 by telephone that the investigation was looking into whether a relationship at the lawyer’s workplace had gone “awry.”

Witnesses told local television stations that they had heard several gunshots. “Steady shooting back and forth — it was a lot,” said Antoine Wilson, who told ABC 13 that he was driving in the area and heard multiple gunshots.

An unidentified woman told the TV station that she had been driving to work when she heard the gunfire. Her car was struck from the front and side, she said, but she kept driving, pulling around a corner until she came to a stop.

“I could still hear shots being fired on the streets,” she said, her arm bloody from broken glass.

At the news conference, Chief Montalvo said the public should be prepared for such situations.

“We have to make sure as emergency medical workers, not just the Houston Police Department but all of us, that we’re prepared for these types of incidents,” she said. “Because obviously they are occurring. And we have to ensure that public safety is our priority.”

She went on to detail how people should respond, saying civilians should think first to run, then to hide, and to fight only if no other options are available.
The U.S. Blockade of Cuba Remains in Full Force
Although positive steps have been taken to modify aspects of the blockade, existing restrictions impede progress in the normalization of relations, and on September 14, the President reauthorized the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act, the original basis of the blockade when it was established in 1962

Andrés Zaldívar Diéguez |
September 16, 2016 16:09:48
Photo: Juvenal Balán

On December 17, 2014, Presidents Raúl Castro Ruz and Barack Obama announced to the world the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, opening the doors to future talks to benefit both nations. It might have appeared, at this historic moment, that the economic war waged by the U.S. against Cuba was coming to an end, but this was not the case.

The hostile policy remains in full force, with blockade regulations enforced by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

February 11, 2015, a Mexican branch of Santander Bank refused to handle a small transaction of 68,290 euros for the Central Bank of Cuba, not to acquire any product, raw material, or do business, but to pay the country's membership dues to the Center for Latin American Monetary Research.

On March 12, the German financial institution Commerzbank was fined some 1.7 million dollars by OFAC, for maintaining economic relations with Cuba, among other alleged violations.

March 25, OFAC levied a fine of 7,658,300dollars on the U.S. company PayPal for processing transactions which allegedly involved products of Cuban origin or were of Cuban interest.

According to a Ministry of Culture report, between April, 2014, and March of 2015, the blockade caused Cuban cultural entities losses valued at 24 million dollars, principally in art education and the music industry. In the first case, the blockade has an impact on the quality of training and students' creativity by restricting availability of basic resources like musical instruments, visual arts supplies, ballet slippers and wardrobe. In the case of music, the impact is felt in relation to live performances by Cuban artists in the United States, obstacles to selling recordings, and income from royalties.

The Ministry of Education has reported that during the same period, the blockade has caused damages of almost two million dollars. Sanctions imposed on international entities that do business with Cuba have led many to avoid exporting articles needed to enhance the teaching-learning process, obliging the country to seek such items in China, and pay higher shipping costs given the distance of this market. Remuneration paid to Cuban educational professionals working in other countries has been affected, as well, by the prohibition on using the USD in international transactions.

June 1, the U.S. company SIGMA Aldrich, a leader in the chemical and biochemical industries, refused to supply the Cuban state enterprise QUIMIMPEX products key to its development, alleging that it could not supply products, services, or technical information because of blockade regulations.

The following day, another U.S. company Columbiana Boyler, specializing in the fabrication of pressurized containers, refused to sell QUIMIMPEX cylinders needed to hold chlorine used in treating potable water in the country's supply system, stating that the Commerce Department had not duly authorized the negotiation of the purchase.

On July 20, 2015, the governments of Cuba and the United States reestablished diplomatic relations, and their respective Interest Sections became embassies. Cuban authorities reiterated that in order to normalize relations, Washington needed to lift the blockade; return territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base; cease illegal radio and television broadcasts directed toward the island; and end efforts to subvert the country's internal order.

October 27, 2015, in the United Nations General Assembly, 191 countries voted in favor of Cuba's resolution calling for an end to the blockade, with only two against (the U.S. and Israel), and this time not even any abstentions. This constituted an overwhelming expression of condemnation of the U.S. government policy, on the part of the international community, for the 24th time since 1992 - apparently ignored again by authorities in charge of pertinent decisions, since the application of the blockade continues.

In November of 2015, four months after the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, OFAC imposed a fine of 1,116,893,585 dollars on the French bank Crédit Agricole, for processing 173 electronic transfers, linked to properties of interest to the Cuban government or Cuban citizens, to or through financial institutions located in the United States.

January 20, 2016, the U.S. design company WATG Holdings Inc. was fined 140,400 dollars for violating blockade regulations, because in October of 2009 and May of 2010, its subsidiary in the United Kingdom, Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo, had worked with a Qatari design and architecture firm on a hotel in Cuba, for which it received three payments for a total of 356,714 dollars.

In February, the French company CGG Service S.A. was fined 614,250 USD by OFAC, for providing services, replacement parts and equipment of U.S. origin for gas and oil exploration, to ships operating in Cuban territorial waters, during 2010 and 2011. OFAC additionally reported that the Venezuelan branch of CGG Services made five transactions related to the processing of information from seismic studies carried out by a Cuban entity within the country's exclusive economic zone, noting that this was prejudicial to the sanctions' objectives, providing a substantial economic benefit to Cuba.

At the end of February, the Treasury Department fined the U.S. company Halliburton $304,706 for violating blockade regulations. According to an OFAC report, between February and April of 2011 the company and its subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands exported goods and services worth 1.18 million dollars, to support oil and gas exploration and drilling in the southern block of Costa Adentro, in the Angolan province of Cabinda. According to OFAC, the Cuban company Cupet had interests in the consortium undertaking the work in Angolan territory.

Financial measures against Cuba since the beginning of 2015 through February 2016 were a continuation of those implemented by Obama from the beginning of his administration, reaffirming the maintenance of the economic, commercial, and financial blockade, despite the new context of bilateral relations following the announcements of December 17, 2014, and the subsequent opening of embassies.

During this brief period, the U.S. government fined eight entities in different countries for a total of $2,836,681,581. As of the aforementioned date, the number of fines levied by the Obama administration for blockade violations was 49, according to CubaMinrex/Cubavsbloqueo, and at this time the accumulated total is $14,397,416,827.

On March 15, 2016, the U.S. Departments of the Treasury and Commerce announced new modifications in the implementation of the blockade in the areas of travel, financial services, and trade. Among these was a change allowing U.S. citizens to undertake 'people-to-people' travel on their own, ending the previous requirement that this category of travel be organized by a licensed tour operator, making such trips costly and complicated. Nonetheless, the specific prohibition on travel for the purpose of tourism remains in place, established by law. Cuba is the only nation in the world which U.S. citizens can not visit as tourists.

Other changes announced included permission for U.S. citizens traveling in other countries to purchase Cuban products, including rum and cigars, something that was previously prohibited. Cuban citizens working in the U.S. with an appropriate visa are now allowed to receive compensation, and U.S. companies can hire Cuban citizens "under certain conditions," although these have not been specified.

Among the most recent measures was authorization for Cuba to use the U.S. dollar in international transactions with third countries and in those permitted between Cuban and U.S. institutions. To date, this change has not been implemented. International banks continue to refuse to work with Cuba, given the U.S. sanctions that remain in place. Cuba has yet to make a single payment or deposit in U.S. dollars.

The Italian Banca Nacional del Lavoro, did not credit the account of Cubana Airlines for sales in the months of January and February, 2016 - 144,946 and 130,179 euros respectively. When questioned by the airline's representative, the bank responded that its client was the International Air Transport Association (IATA), indicating that they would not deal with the Cuban company directly. A similar situation occurred with sales deposits for September, October, and November of 2015, which led to a lack of liquidity that affected the company's operations. The IATA in Madrid reported that the bank was still refusing to process Cuban transactions because of blockade regulations.

Cuba's report on the UN resolution to be considered this coming October 26, was presented in a press conference September 9, by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla. It states that the accumulated damages caused by the U.S. blockade of Cuba have reached 753,688,000,000 dollars, calculated on the basis of the price of gold, taking into consideration its depreciation. At current prices, the amount would equal at least 125,873,000,000.

The conduct of the U.S. government confirms that although positive steps have been taken to modify the implementation of some aspects of the blockade, the restrictions remaining in effect impede the progress of normalization of economic relations between the two countries, and now, on September 14, the President has reauthorized the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act, one of the pillars upon which the economic, commercial and financial blockade was based when it was officially established in February of 1962.

i Researcher at the Center for State Security Historical Research

ii Researcher at the Center for Hemispheric and U.S. Studies at the University of Havana (CEHSEU)
Afro-Colombians, Indigenous Fear New Pitfalls In Peace Deal
Members of Indigenous communities of the Antioquia department in Colombia participate in a peaceful march in Medellin, Aug. 11, 2011. | Photo: AFP

25 September 2016

Vulnerable rural communities warn that the development model of Colombia's new era of peace could spark a new exploitative land and resource grab.
As Colombia's government and main rebel group prepare to sign a historic rapproachment Monday,  the question that remains following more than 5 decades of civil war is this: does peace necessarily bring progress.

Carlos Rosero, a leader of the network of Afro-Colombian organizations known as Process of Black Communities, told teleSUR by phone from Bogota that the end of the war “means the possibility of being able to live without any anxiety.” The peace accords, he said, could signal a change in the government’s attitude toward land rights, but there is no question that Colombia's communities of color must continue to struggle for access to land and other resources that continue to be coveted by multinational corporations, and agri-businesses.

“We have to rise up in the daily battle knowing that like always we have to maintain our resistance,” he said.

Clemencia Herrera, a representative of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon, shared a similar perspective on the beautiful new realities of peace, with cautious optimism amid the potential for rapid change in the countryside.

“For Indigenous peoples, the signing of peace means an opportunity to live more peacefully in our territories without being displaced, massacred, and violated as it's happened during the more than 50 years of conflict,” she said.

But as some 7,000 remaining FARC rebel fighters descend from their jungle camps to hand over their weapons and reintegrate into society for the first time in the groups 52-year history, new conflicts over land and resources could bubble up as conflict-ridden territories open up — possibly for business.

That’s exactly what Herrera, Rosero and their fellow leaders are worried about. They said that Indigenous and Afro-descendent groups expect that the default position of the peace treaty's land reform provisions is likely to follow a model of resource exploitation that traditionally has disadvantaged Black and Indigenous communities. That extractive model, they argued, would promote private economic interests on communal lands at the expense of environmental and humant rights.

“It could create more competition for the resources on our lands,” Herrera said.

“It is going to generate many more problems that have to do with the economic model promoted the territories,” Rosero added.

Laying the Groundwork for Peace

The FARC guerrilla army and the Colombian government unveiled the landmark final peace accords on Aug. 24 in Havana, Cuba, after nearly four years of long-awaited negotiations. Members of the FARC unanimously ratified the deal at the last armed national conference before they demobilize and take up new a brand new strategy as a legal political party. President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timochenko will officially sign the historic 297-page document on Sept. 26 in the coastal city of Cartagena before the question is put to a popular vote on Oct. 2 asking Colombians to say “Yes” or “No” to the peace deal.

The “Ethnic Chapter” of Colombia’s peace accords between the FARC guerrilla army and the government outlines an inclusive approach to fomenting a durable peace. The agreement calls for “maximum guarantees” for these communities’ human and collective rights in light of the grave suffering they endured during the civil war and their “historical conditions of injustice resulting from colonialism, slavery, exclusion, and having been dispossessed of their land and resources.”

The “safeguards” detailed in the deal call for respect for Indigenous communities’ internationally-recognized right to free, prior and informed consent for development projects on ancestral land and guaranteed participation in various peace-promoting processes, such as measures to enshrine victims’ rights and combat drug trafficking. The text of the deal promotes an intercultural, intergenerational approach that recognizes the importance of collective land ownership and stresses that in no way should the implementation of the peace accords infringe on the rights of  Indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples.

An Eye of Caution from the Margins

Despite the positive rhetoric championed in the deal and the unquestionable victory of ending more than half a century of armed conflict, history has taught Colombia’s Indigenous and Afro-descendent groups that their rights, land, and resources must be defended, and that’s what community leaders are prepared to do in peace — just as they did in war.

According to local organizations, the Colombian government is sitting on at least 1,000 pending requests for legal recognition of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian title to their collective lands. For Omaira Bolaños, Latin American program director of the Rights and Resources Initiative, the “historical debt” of unrecognized traditional and ancestral territories weighs heavy on the country’s current page-turning moment. And whether or not authorities show the political will to act on pending titles could mark the difference between progress and setbacks for Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities, as well as the environment.

“Indigenous peoples are already mobilizing themselves to present their own proposals,” said Bolaños, highlighting movements struggling to protect the local environment and assert their rights to informed consent as tools of resistance against the economic policies that put mining exploitation at the top of the agenda.

She said that the peace accords “create new proposals for sustainable, agrarian development and land access that are going to greatly affect rural communities.” But for many, the question of what kind of development remains key.

Rosero argued that the armed conflict deepened historical inequalities battering those at the margins of society and “served to impose a set of economic, social, cultural policies while the people were focused on survival.” He emphasized that Colombia’s poorest and most vulnerable communities have suffered widespread forced displacement and runaway poverty, while a proliferation of mining exploitation and drug trafficking has taken a toll on the environment.

The imposed development model Rosero talked about — and fears will get another boost with the peace deal — is directly at odds with the collective, sustainable, low-carbon way of life practiced by native communities spread across Colombia’s ecologically-rich Amazon rainforest, Andes mountains, Orinoco savannas, Caribbean plains, and other regions. Together, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities legally hold 37 million hectares of land across the country, and about half of Colombia’s total forest area is located in designated Indigenous and Afro-descendent reserves, known as resguardos.

A growing body of research shows that collective land rights of Indigenous groups has the power to support local economic development, improve community well being, strengthen environmental preservation, slash carbon emissions, and ward off deforestation. Underlining the centrality of questions of communal land tenure, the first chapter of the peace agreement identifies unresolved land ownership issues as one of key the reasons for the outbreak of the conflict with the FARC in the first place in the 1960’s.

At the crossroads of critical and complex issues, land ownership is a matter that urgently needs to be addressed, not only for the Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities whose territories are in question, and not only for the climate, but also for a future free of conflict with guarantees that the war will not repeat itself.

Learning from the Past

The challenges facing Colombia may be new to the country after decades of war, but the looming questions, particularly about the inclusion of diverse groups and protection of their rights, don’t come as a surprise to those who have observed similar peace processes elsewhere in the region.

Rodolfo Cardona, a representative of a nature conservancy and community well-being program in Guatemala’s Peten region, told teleSUR by phone from Bogota that Guatemala’s peace deal — and its shortcomings — can offer many lessons to Colombia as it navigates this historic moment. Importantly, he stressed that even though Guatemala ended its 36-year civil war with the signing of the peace accords in 1996, the Central American country failed to transform its culture of violence, while sidelining Indigenous issues in the agreements. Now, Guatemalan society still struggles under the weight of the root problems of inequality that spurred the war, epitomized today in soaring levels of outmigration, rampant gang activity, and unfinished fights for justice.

While the process in Colombia has significant differences from Guatemala’s, the history can still offer a warning sign, Cardona argued. Critics say that lawmakers in Guatemala dragged their feet after the 1996 accords, betraying a lack of political commitment among elites to build — as it has been called in Colombia — “true and lasting peace.” The 50 proposed constitutional amendments born directly and indirectly out of the peace accords were struck down at the ballot box in 1999 — three years after the 1996 accords — as confusion and disillusionment discouraged over 80 percent of voters from going to the polls. As a result, Guatemala’s dictatorship-era constitution hasn’t been updated since the final years of the 36-year civil war in 1993, leaving cornerstones of the peace process unprotected by the constitution.

The historical lessons hangs heavy for Cardona as Colombians prepare to vote in the Oct. 2 plebiscite on the question or whether or not they accept the peace deal between the Colombian government and the FARC. Unlike in Guatemala, the plebiscite comes quick on the heels of the signing of the agreement and is aimed at giving democratic legitimacy to Congress to make legal reforms after the vote, but it is still pivotal in defining the tone of the path forward.

“The ‘Yes’ represents approval for carrying out changes in a concerted way,” said Cardona, adding that he sees it as a question of completing a process that started with the outbreak of the conflict 52 years ago. “A ‘No’ represents leaving the process in the middle and incomplete.”

He expressed hope in Colombians to vote “Yes” to the deal, predicting it could play a part in helping to prevent future social conflicts, violence, and even unnecessary deaths.

Cardona was pleased to see the “Ethnic Chapter” in Colombia’s peace accords, a preliminary remedy to the problem of Indigenous issues being “forgotten” in Guatemala’s peace deal after the Maya population suffered a brutal genocide under the dictatorships. Nevertheless, as a leader of a successful community forest management project that has borne great benefits for the environment and local rural Indigenous population in Peten, Cardona warned that government dialogue strategies don’t always mesh with Indigenous practices. He stressed following the will of the people, not imposing technocratic solutions from above, is essential.

While offering advice for Colombia, Cardona also said he hopes that the end of the longest war in the Western Hemisphere will cause his own government to reflect on its progress — and lack thereof — toward peace.

“Now Colombians have inspired us once again,” he said. “We hope Colombians will take into account the problems and experiences we had in Guatemala, so as to not take the same path.”

It’s a challenge Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities have already accepted.
ELN to Halt Offensive Action During Colombia's Peace Plebiscite
ELN Commander Beltran is the lead negotiator in the peace talks with the government of Colombia. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 September 2016

The guerrilla group says it will support the peace agreement and assure Colombians can safely vote for its approval.

Pablo Beltran, commander of Colombia's National Liberation Army said Friday that the guerrilla group will cease all offensive actions during the plebiscite to vote on the peace agreement.

Beltran said in an interview with ELN radio network Radio National Patria Libre, the country’s second-largest guerrilla group supports the peace deal between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The agreement will be signed on Sept. 26 with the presence of regional leaders and heads of state, but will still need to be ratified by Colombians in a plebiscite set to take place on Oct. 2.

"To dispel any doubts, the commitment is that there will be no offensive action by the ELN during the plebiscite to facilitate the participation of the people,” said Beltran.

Israel Ramirez Pineda alias Pablo Beltran, is a member of the ELN Central Command and the Dialogue Delegation that began peace talks with the Colombian government on March 3, a decision that was reached in Caracas, Venezuela. Talks have since been stalled, however.

The FARC-EP has frequently stressed that a key part of building peace in Colombia is to end hostilities between the government and the ELN.

“The fact that we criticized it (the peace agreement) does not mean that we are an obstacle,” said Beltran. “For us, it’s true to say that we are on the same road but in different lanes, but we have the same direction,” said the group commander.

The rebel group announced the public phase of the talks would begin in May, and said they are willing to work together with government officials to achieve a peace agreement, but according to Beltran the government has tried to modify those agreements.

“Do not expect that the ELN will allow or agree to a renegotiation of the agreement, for that you can’t count on us,” said Beltran.

Beltran said the group hopes the next meeting with the government will help set a date to continue negotiations in Quito, Ecuador, since Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa offered to host the process and play the role that Cuba had in the negotiations with the FARC-EP since 2012.

The ELN wants the government to commit to a bilateral cease-fire before talks begin, meanwhile, the government wants the rebel group to cease some of its activities, such as detentions.
Colombia to Sign Peace Deal with FARC, End Decades-Long War
Cuban President Raul Castro arrives in Cartagena to witness the signing of the peace deal. | Photo: EFE


The agreement's signing is widely considered to be one of the most significant events in the history of Colombia.
Key Facts

- Over a dozen presidents have confirmed their attendance to witness the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) Monday in Cartagena de Indias, on the Caribbean coast.

- Representatives of the FARC-EP took off from a remote region of the country known as the Yari Plains on Saturday upon the conclusion of the 10th National Guerrilla Conference, where 200 delegates voted to unanimously approve the peace deal.

- The heads of state of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela have all confirmed their attendance.

- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, a supporter of the Colombian peace process, will also travel to Cartagena, alongside the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein and Gerard van Bohemen, the head of the Security Council.

- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry along with the heads of the Organization of American States, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Inter-American Development Bank will also participate.

- In total, approximately 2,500 people are expected to witness the signing of the deal with another thousand journalists also expected to cover the event.

- The ceremony will be an all-day event with the actual signing occurring at 5 p.m. local time. The deal will be signed by President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Timochenko.

- The text of the pact will later be submitted to a popular vote in a plebiscite to be held on Oct. 2. Poll indicate the deal will be approved by a wide margin.

- Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict has left nearly 5 million people displaced, more than 218,000 dead, at least 79,000 disappeared and 30,000 kidnapped since 1958.

- The deal, which will bring an end to over five decades of armed conflict, is widely considered to be one of the most significant events in the history of Colombia, with repercussions for the rest of the region.
Venezuela Opposition at Crossroads as 2016 Recall Hopes Fade
Hannah Dreier, Associated Press
6:03 am, Monday, September 26, 2016

In this Sept 18, 2016, file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a press conference after closing ceremony of the 17th Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Porlamar, on Venezuela's Margarita Island. In Venezuela two-thirds of voters say in polls they want President Nicolas Maduro gone amid worsening shortages and inflation. Photo: Ariana Cubillos, AP / Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Photo: Ariana Cubillos, AP

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela is in terrible shape. Two-thirds of voters say in polls they want President Nicolas Maduro gone amid worsening shortages and inflation. It seems like the job of the opposition would be easy.

But critics of the country's 17-year-old socialist government are reeling after elections officials torpedoed their primary political effort for the year — a campaign to recall Maduro and hold an early presidential election.

Electoral officials said last week that the opposition could go ahead and try to trigger the recall by collecting signatures from 20 percent of voters over three days at the end of October, but if they should succeed, the recall vote would not be held until next year.

The decision all but assures the socialists will remain in power until the next regularly scheduled presidential election in 2018. If Maduro is not recalled before the midpoint of his term, which come before year's end, by law he would be replaced by his vice president instead of through a new vote.

The ruling has divided the always-fractious Democratic Unity coalition of three dozen opposition parties. Some want to press on with the signature-gathering drive as a show of force, while others say the electoral body's decision confirms what they have argued all along: that working within a system controlled by the ruling party is pointless, and what Venezuela needs is a new round of street protests.

Opposition leaders spent the weekend holed up at an upscale hotel in wealthy eastern Caracas to decide how to proceed and were expected to make an announcement Monday afternoon.

Not all of them were heeding Democratic Unity Secretary-General Jesus Torrealba's call to refrain from commenting until a decision on the way forward.

"It is time for civil disobedience," former presidential candidate Maria Corina Machado said on Twitter.

Other hardliners joined her in saying the rules laid out by the government make it impossible to gather the 4 million signatures needed to trigger a recall vote. Elections officials are requiring the opposition gather signatures from 20 percent of the electorate in each state, as opposed to nationwide.

They also plan to open centers for electronically verifying signers' government-registered fingerprints for just seven hours a day on Oct. 26-28, with an hour off for lunch.

The opposition also says there will not be nearly enough fingerprint-registry centers. For example the remote jungle state of Delta Amacuro will have just 10. Nationwide there will only be 5,400 — a quarter of what the opposition had been seeking.

The electoral council's ruling has drawn international condemnation, including from the United States, where State Department spokesman John Kirby said the conditions "deprive Venezuelan citizens the opportunity to shape the course of their country." Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro accused election officials of presiding over the erasure of Venezuelans' democratic rights.

The Venezuelan professional class that makes up the bedrock of the opposition's support is eager for a quick response. Anti-Maduro candidates swept legislative elections in December in the biggest defeat yet for the movement started by the late Hugo Chavez, but they have been outmaneuvered ever since with their legislation blocked by the government-stacked supreme court.

Meanwhile, the economy has only gone further into its tailspin as the price of oil remains low. Many basic foodstuffs and medicines have become impossible to find without turning to the black market, driving Maduro's approval ratings down to a nine-month low of 21 percent.

Energy sector worker Oscar Rangel said the news that the referendum will not happen this year was disheartening for people in desperate need of hope.

"I have two relatives in Caracas with cancer. Without the referendum, I don't see a way that they will get the treatment that they need," he said.

After watching the momentum of anti-government protests in 2014 fade in the face of a government crackdown, the opposition has been getting back its nerve. On Sept. 1, hundreds of thousands of pro-recall demonstrators took to the streets of Caracas in what was the biggest street protest in years.

But subsequent demonstrations have been sparsely attended. The opposition's inconsistent ability to rally supporters was on display the very night of the Sept. 1 protest: At a plaza that is the opposition's traditional stronghold, only a few people could be heard heeding a call to bang pots and pans in protest.

Political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas said that should the opposition push forward with the signature drive, the outcome of those three days in October could determine Venezuela's fate for the next three years.

"The government is gambling everything on this, and the opposition is, too," Pantoulas said. "If the opposition doesn't get the 20 percent, it will have lost its most powerful weapon. How are you going to ask a president to resign if you couldn't even get 20 percent of the electorate on board?"
Associated Press writer Fabiola Sanchez contributed to this report.
Hannah Dreier is on Twitter at Her work can be found at

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Africa Ready to Pull Out of UN: President Mugabe Says
Zimbabwe Sunday Mail

African countries have intensified their push to get two permanent seats in the United Nations Security Council with the continent’s leaders exploring the option of pulling out of the UN if their demand for reform is not met, President Mugabe has said.

The President made the remarks at the Harare International Airport yesterday while addressing hundreds of Zanu-PF supporters who welcomed him on his return from the UN General Assembly in New York, as well as the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Venezuela.

In a bold speech that is likely to stir debate on the continent, President Mugabe said African leaders discussed options of withdrawing from the world body on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. The decision, was however, shelved until next year’s UN summit where the continent’s leaders are expected to go for broke.

Under the Ezulwini Consensus agreed to in 2005, African countries have been requesting two permanent seats in the UN Security Council as well as five non-permanent seats but Western countries have refused to give in to Africa’s demands for fair representation in the global organisation.

President Mugabe said: “Asi pagore rino takaenda mushure mekuti taita committee yedu, yekuAfrica kuti ngatichisunganayi tigoti isu kana musungo uyu watirikuda warambwa tingaitei?

“Tinova nehurombo nekuti takanga tisati tapedza kukurukura ku Africa Union nekusungana asi zvichazovako mugore riri kuuya iri rekuti tinoda chisungano chinoti icho kana vakaramba vachi ramba . . .”

President Mugabe said the UN would be the loser without Africa as well as other powerful countries such as China and Russia who could be willing to form a new body.

He said not all powerful nations in the UN Security Council were against Africa’s demands but the West is throwing spanners to block the continent from getting two permanent seats.

He said, “Handi dzose dzirikuramba ana Russia nana China varikubvuma, varikuramba iBritain, France neAmerica.

“Vakaramba vachiramba kudaro United Nations yakasimbaradzwa nenyika dzekunze, varege kuzochema, isu tese tasungana kunovamba wedu musangano.

“Tingauvambe pamwe chete ne China, pamwe chete ne India, nedzimwe nyika dzeku Asia, togoona kuti vanosara navanani.

“Izvi ndozvatiri kuda kuzoita, gore riri kuuya muna September tasungana zvakanaka.”

President Mugabe said although the issue had been widely discussed, some cowardice African Heads of State were afraid of implementing the move for fear of reprisal by the West.

He said fellow African countries needed to be courageous if they were to take the West head-on and make bold demands.

“Tanga tichiri kukurukura, ne report yatakapihwa iyoyi inoti iyoyo ngatikurukurei, tisungane tose.

“Hameno kuti tichasungana tose here nokuti panyaya dzakadai panotodiwa vakasimba, saka ndovatinotoda ivavo, zvino pane vane kungo tyatya zvinozonzi ndozodii, saka Africa mazuvano haisisiri kutungamirirwa neva tungamiriri vaye vakavamba AU, ayewa, angova magwara ega ega, magwara vanegwara vanotya, vatyi voga voga.

President Mugabe also revealed that other African leaders count on him to rebuff the West because they fear speaking out.

“Saka tinoda kuva simbaradza pamazuva iwo ano aya tichi famba saka vanototi aah, dai maramba muchiti tungamirira papfungwa idzodzi, tikati ngativei tese ka tibatane, vaMugabe havangangoti ndivo voga vanobuda vachitaura nyaya iyi.

“Saka takazoitaiwo hurukuro yedu yekuenda ku United Nations bvavanzwa, ndo zvavakataura ndikaita musangano ikoko nemamwewo ma President.”

President Mugabe went on; “Chechipiri ndechechichemo che Africa yose inoti aaah, pakamirirwa matter ne United Nations Africa haina kupihwa masimba akapihwa dzimwe nyika dzinoti Britain, France, Russia, China, America, shanu idzi.

“Shanu idzi ndodzinonzi permanent members, permanent members dzichinzi ndidzo dzaivepo pakavambwa the United Nations pakupera kwe hondo muna 1945.

“Saka ivo vakazvipa masimba ekuti hapana chinoitwa chikurukuru chisina kubvumiranwa nesu.

“Kana mumwechete wavo akangoti isu hatidi hatienderere mberi ndo inonzi veto iyoyo.

“Vamwe vakangoti ngatiite zvemberi mberi. Imwe chete ikangoti hatidi, zvatorambwa.

“Saka isu takagara pasi kukasanganwa ne Africa yose ku Swaziland kudhorobha ravo rinonzi Ezulwini, Ezulwini pachindevere nechi Zulu ne chi Swati, zvinoreva kuti kudenga. Tinoti isu tinoda kuti zvino Africa ivewo nevaviri vane simba rakaita sevavo vashanu ava.

“Vanoenda kunonzi kuSecurity Council, vapinde imomo, vatanga tichipinza imomo vanga vasina masimba aya, vanga vachingopedza makore maviri vobuda totsvaga vamwe, dunhu ne dunhu, zvichidaro, tikavava kusvika tati tinoda kupinza vaviri ava, vanomirira Africa vane simba rinema permament members iwaya, kana veto iyo, inotiyo mumwe chete wavo akati icho chinhu handichide, ikaramba iripo nesuwo tinoti vedu vave neveto iyoyo.

“Asi isusu tanga tati, veto iyoyo inotadzisa zvinhu kuti zvienderere mberi, ngaibviswe, kana yabviswa, hazvina mhosva, veduwe vanenge vasina veto iyoyo, saka chechimwe chichemo chandinoenda nacho ku United Natons ichochi chekuti ngakuve ne kuchinjwa kwe United Nations kubvumira isu ve Africa tive ne vaviri ava…vanesimba rakaita sevava vashanu.

President Mugabe said he also used the UN forum to denounce illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe.

He said the NAM summit in Venezuela was significant as Non Aligned countries helped Zimbabwe in its struggle for independence.

The President was welcomed by Vice Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, Ministers Sydney Sekeramayi, Dr Christopher Mushohwe, Saviour Kasukuwere, Samuel Undenge, Supa Mandiwanzira, Patrick Zhuwawo, Nyasha Chikwinya, Miriam Chikukwa and Mandi Chimene, senior Government officials and service chiefs.
Charlotte Protester Justin Carr ‘Died for a Cause,’ His Mother Says

The mother of 26-year-old Justin Carr, who was fatally shot during protests in uptown on Wednesday night, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday that her son died for a cause.

Vivian Carr said her son wanted to tell his grandmother, who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., that he had taken part in the protest.

“ ‘I just want to come down here and help out,’” Vivian Carr said her son told her.

Police said they found Carr suffering from a gunshot wound in the 100 block of East Trade Street at about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Carr was shot in the head, Observer news partner WBTV reported, citing a police report.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police on Friday arrested Rayquan Borum, 21, of Charlotte on charges of first-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a felon and being a fugitive from another state.

Carr joined hundreds of others protesting the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott as he waited in the parking lot of a University area apartment complex for his son to get off the school bus.

During protests on Thursday over Scott’s death, participants paused marching and chanting briefly for a moment of silence in Carr’s memory. A small memorial with candles was set up for Carr.

The memorial was near the Omni Hotel, at the approximate spot where officials say Carr was shot. He died Thursday afternoon at Carolinas Medical Center.

Vivian Carr told CNN’s Cooper that her son was a good man who liked to talk. A favorite topic was his expectations as a father to be, she said. A son is due in late October.

“He was so excited,” Vivian Carr told Cooper. “He wanted to teach him how to play sports, just as he did.”

Carr’s brother Kenneth told Cooper that Justin often spoke about social issues that touched his heart.

“Justin never had any problem speaking out about any particular situation or cause,” Kenneth Carr told Cooper.

Anna Douglas of McClatchy’s Washington, D.C., bureau contributed.

Read more here:
Protester Expects Big Rally Sunday, Says Silence by NFL Football Team Has Been Noticed
Tom Pelissero, USA TODAY Sports
11:07 p.m. EDT September 24, 2016
(Photo: Diedra Laird, The Charlotte Observer)

CHARLOTTE – Brian Mayes was back on the sidewalk near Independence Square on Saturday, handing chalk to passersby and encouraging them to write personal messages up the street from the words that brought people here: “9-20-16 KEITH SCOTT.”

Demonstrations and protests have continued in this city – peacefully in recent days, after an initial spate of violence and looting – over the officer-involved shooting death of Scott, 43, that was captured on police dash camera and body camera footage released late Saturday.

Mayes plans to be among those carrying the message outside Bank of America Stadium on Sunday before the Carolina Panthers-Minnesota Vikings game. And that demonstration will be even larger, Mayes predicted, to make sure Panthers players can’t ignore it.

“It just seems like they’re focused just on the game,” said Mayes, a 25-year-old warehouse worker. “A little thing here and there, but just one walk from the end of that corner would mean a lot to a whole lot of these people out here.

“You’ve got practice. We understand you’ve got lives. But five minutes to walk down the street and wave to a few people? That’d mean a whole lot more than they believe. I guarantee if you had one or two NFL players walk down here, there wouldn’t be too many people outside the game tomorrow.”

At a time when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem has sparked discussion about racial inequality, police brutality and other issues, no Panthers players have joined in before games and there are no indications they plan to do anything organized as a group Sunday.

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the reigning NFL MVP, spoke this week about being an African-American and broader issues of justice and oppression. But he chose his words carefully, saying he’s in a “lose-lose” situation if he addresses topics of racial politics.

“Like when Cam Newton (is) on that microphone, you can’t say ‘I see y’all out there’ or anything?” Mayes said. “You ain’t got to jeopardize your career for something simple. Little things to the community mean so much.”

Among the demonstrations here Saturday were a small group that formed a line in a crosswalk, forcing police to shut down two lanes of traffic. At one point, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Capt. Mike Campagna approached the group and they asked him to pray with them, to which Campagna obliged.

“We’re expecting it,” Campagna said of demonstrations at the Panthers-Vikings game. “I’m certain that there will be some people that will come out and demonstrate there, and that’s fine, too. They can do that. Once again, we’re going to balance the rights of those involved and the rights of those who want to come out and watch a football game, too.”

The National Guard also has a strong presence with tanks and armed soldiers in the streets here. At one point Saturday night, as hundreds of protesters marched through the streets, some broke off and walked toward soldiers positioned outside a hotel, starting chants of: “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riots here!”

James Nickerson, 19, said he expects another large crowd at the stadium to express “support for everything in Charlotte, what’s going on: racism, the (persecution) of black people. They’re shooting people for nothing now.”

Mayes said he’s not aware of any plans for protestors to enter the stadium Sunday, as dozens did at a 2014 Rams-49ers game in St. Louis at the height of tensions in nearby Ferguson, Mo. But any acknowledgment by players of what’s happening outside, he said, would be welcomed.

“We can’t tell you the last time you done seen this many African-Americans outside of a party or something like that, and it’s no confrontation or nothing like that,” Mayes said. “You’ve got people out here that had problems with each other outside on the street and they’re out here. We got way bigger issues.

“Look how open people are to sign their name." Mayes said, pointing to the chalk. “Just speaking to somebody. Like I tell people, man, a smile can take somebody a long way.”

Follow Tom Pelissero on Twitter @TomPelissero  
Syrian President Al-Assad’s Interview With the Associated Press
22 September، 2016

To watch the video of this interview just click on the website below:

Damascus, SANA, President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Associated Press published Thursday, following is the full text:

Journalist: President Assad, thank you very much for this opportunity to be interviewed by the Associated Press.

President Assad: You are most welcome in Syria.

Question 1: I will start by talking about the ceasefire in Syria. Russia, the US, and several countries say a ceasefire could be revived despite the recent violence and the recrimination. Do you agree, and are you prepared to try again?

President Assad: We announced that we are ready to be committed to any halt of operations, or if you want to call it ceasefire, but it’s not about Syria or Russia; it’s about the United States and the terrorist groups that have been affiliated to ISIS and al-Nusra and Al Qaeda, and to the United States and to Turkey and to Saudi Arabia. They announced publicly that they are not committed, and this is not the first attempt to have a halt of operations in Syria. The first attempt was in last February, and didn’t work, I think, because of the United States, and I believe that the United States is not genuine regarding having a cessation of violence in Syria.

Question 2: Do you believe there could ever be a joint US-Russian military partnership against the militants, as outlined in the deal?

President Assad: Again, practically, yes, but in reality, no, because the United States doesn’t have the will to work against al-Nusra or even ISIS, because they believe that this is a card they can use for their own agenda. If they attack al-Nusra or ISIS, they will lose a very important card regarding the situation in Syria. So, I don’t believe the United States will be ready to join Russia in fighting terrorists in Syria.

Question 3: This week, the US has said the coalition attack on Syrian troops was an accident. Do you accept that explanation?

President Assad: No, no. It’s not, because it wasn’t an accident by one airplane for once, let’s say. It was four airplanes that kept attacking the position of the Syrian troops for nearly one hour, or a little bit more than one hour. You don’t commit a mistake for more than one hour. This is first. Second, they weren’t attacking a building in a quartier; they were attacking a huge place constituted of many hills, and there was not terrorist adjacent to the Syrian troops there. At the same time, the ISIS troops or the ISIS militants attacked right away after the American strike. How could they know that the Americans are going to attack that position in order to gather their militants to attack right away and to capture it one hour after the strike? So it was definitely intentional, not unintentional as they claimed.

Question 4: Did Syria or Russia launch the attack on the Red Crescent convoy this week, and should Moscow be held responsible, as the White House has said?

President Assad: No, first of all, there have been tens, maybe, of convoys from different organizations around the world, coming to different areas in Syria for the last few years. It has never happened before, so why to happen now, either by the Russians or the Syrians? No, it’s a claim. And regarding the claim of the White House yesterday, accusing either the Syrians or the Russians. In that regard, I would say whatever the American officials said about the conflicts in Syria in general has no credibility. Whatever they say, it’s just lies and, let’s say, bubbles, has no foundation on the ground.

Question 5: So what happened to the convoy? Who should be held responsible?

President Assad: Those convoys were in the area of the militants, the area under the control of the terrorists. That’s what they should accuse first: the people or the militants, the terrorists who are responsible for the security of this convoy. So, we don’t have any idea about what happened. The only thing that we saw was a video of a burnt car, destroyed trucks, nothing else.

Question 6: Several eyewitnesses have told AP that 20 missiles were launched against the convoy. There is footage of torn bodies. This does not seem as though it would be anything but an attack from the air. Eyewitnesses are also talking about barrel bombs, and as you are aware, your administration has been accused of using barrel bombs in some circumstances. You still think this was an attack from the ground by rebels?

President Assad: Yeah, first of all, even the United Nations said that there were no airstrikes against that convoy. That was yesterday. Second, at the same time of that event, the terrorists were attacking the Syrian troops by missiles. They launched missile attacks, we didn’t respond. Third, you cannot talk about eyewitnesses for such judgment or accusation. What are the credibility of those eyewitnesses, who are they? We don’t know.

Question 7: We have eyewitnesses that were relatives, we have the White Helmets, we have many people saying that they witnessed helicopters in the air. Now, only the Syrians and the Russians have helicopters. Are you saying this is just invented?

President Assad: Those witnesses only appear when there’s an accusation against the Syrian Army or the Russian, but when the terrorists commit a crime or massacre or anything, you don’t see any witnesses, and you don’t hear about those White Helmets. So, what a coincidence. No, actually, we don’t have any interest in doing so for one reason: because if we attack any convoy that’s going to the civilians, we are working for the interest of the terrorists, that will play into their hands directly, in that regard we are pushing the civilians toward the terrorists, we put them in their laps, and we are providing the terrorists with a good incubator, something we wouldn’t do. This is first. Second, we are, as a government, as officials, we are committed morally toward the Syrian people, morally, constitutionally, and legally, to help them in every aspect to have the basic needs for their livelihood.

Question 8: Your administration has denied the use of chemical weapons, of barrel bombs, despite testimony and video and the results of a UN investigation. We also are hearing similar denials about airstrikes on civilians and medical workers. Can this all be false allegations by your opponents?

President Assad: First of all, the first incident of gas use in Syria was in Aleppo about more than three years ago, and we were the ones who invited the United Nations to send a delegation for investigations about the use of chemical weapons, and the United States objected and opposed that action for one reason; because if there’s investigations, they’re going to discover that the terrorists used gas, not the Syrian Army. In that regard, in that case, the United States won’t be able to accuse Syria. That’s why they were opposing that delegation. In every incident, we asked the United Nations to send a delegation, and we are still insisting on that position, that they have to send delegations to make investigation, but the United States is opposing. So, actually, if we’ve been using that, we wouldn’t ask for investigation.

Question 9: To the international community, it seems as though none of the charges or accusations stick, that everything is denied, everything here is ok, by your administration. Do you not feel that that undermines the credibility? In other instances, the Americans for example admitted the attack on the Syrian military was a mistake. Now, you don’t accept that, but from the Syrian administration, all the international community hears is denial.

President Assad: Regarding which issue?

Question 10: Regarding the accusations of violations of human rights, of barrel bombs…

President Assad: Look, if you want to talk about mistakes, every country has mistakes, every government has mistakes, every person has mistakes. When you have a war, you have more mistakes. That’s the natural thing. But the accusations have no foundation regarding Syria. When they talk about barrel bombs, what are barrel bombs?

It’s just a title they use in order to show something which is very evil that could kill people indiscriminately, and as I said, because in the media “when it bleeds, it leads.” They don’t talk about bombs; they call it barrel bombs. A bomb is a bomb, what’s the difference between different kinds of bombs? All bombs are to kill, but it’s about how to use it. When you use an armament, you use it to defend the civilians. You kill terrorists in order to defend civilians. That’s the natural role of any army in the world. When you have terrorists, you don’t throw at them balloons or you don’t use rubber sticks, for example. You have to use armaments. So, it’s not about what the kind of armament, it’s about how to use it, and they want to use it that time to accuse the Syrian Army of killing civilians. We don’t kill civilians, because we don’t have the moral incentive, we don’t have the interest to kill civilians. It’s our people, who support us. If you want to kill the Syrian people, who’s going to support us as a government, as officials? No one. So, in reality, you cannot withstand for five years and more against all those countries, the West, and the Gulf states, the petrodollars, and all this propaganda, the strongest media corporations around the world, if you don’t have the support of your own people. That’s against the reality. So, no, we don’t use it. I wouldn’t say that we don’t have mistakes. Again, that many mistakes that have been committed by individuals, but there’s a difference between a mistake or even a crime that’s been committed by an individual, and between a policy of crime that’s been implemented or adopted by a government. We don’t have such a policy.

Question 11: And yet the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who are fleeing the country, many drowning on the way, many of them say they are fleeing your forces. What exactly are they fleeing if this campaign doesn’t exist, if this campaign of violence, indiscriminate against them…?

President Assad: You have to look at the reality in Syria. Whenever we liberate any city or village from the terrorists, the civilians will go back to the city, while they flee that city when the terrorists attack that area, the opposite. So, they flee, first of all, the war itself; they flee the area under the control of the terrorists, they flee the difficult situation because of the embargo by the West on Syria. So, many people, they flee not the war itself, but the consequences of the war, because they want to live, they want to have the basic needs for their livelihood, they don’t have it. They have to flee these circumstances, not necessarily the security situation itself. So, you have different reasons for the people or the refugees to leave Syria. Many many of them supported the government in the recent elections, the presidential elections, in different countries. So, that’s not true that they left Syria because of the government, and those accusations mean that the government is killing the people, while the terrorists, mainly Al Qaeda and al-Nusra and other Al Qaeda-affiliated organizations or groups protected the civilians. Is that the accusation? No-one can believe it, actually.

Question 12: Let’s turn our attention to the people that can’t flee, the people who are in besieged cities around Syria. For example, Aleppo. To go back to the ceasefire agreement, aid was supposed to get into the city, but you did not hold up your end of the agreement. Why was that, and how can you really justify withholding aid to cities?

President Assad: Again, if we talk about the last few years, many aid convoys came to different cities, so why does the Syrian government prevent a convoy from coming to Aleppo for example, while allowing the others to reach other areas? This is contradiction, you cannot explain it, it’s not palatable. This is first. Second, if you look at the others areas under the control of the terrorists, we’re still sending vaccines from the Syrian government’s budget, we’re still sending salaries to the employees from the Syrian government’s budget. So, how can we do this and at the same time push the people toward starvation in other areas? More importantly, the terrorists who left liberated areas under what you call reconciliation or certain agreements in different areas, they left to fight with other terrorists in Syria while they send their families to live under the supervision of the government. Why didn’t we put those families to starvation? So, this is contradicting, I mean what you’re talking about is contradicting the reality, and we don’t contradict ourselves.

Question 13: But the world saw the reality of Aleppo. There were UN convoys of aid that were not allowed into the city. Are you denying that that was the case?

President Assad: The situation has been like this for years now. If there’s really a siege around the city of Aleppo, people would have been dead by now. This is first. Second, more importantly, they’ve been shelling the neighboring areas and the positions of the Syrian Army for years, non-stop shelling of mortars and different kinds of lethal bombs. How could they be starving while at the same time they can have armaments? How can we prevent the food and the medical aid from reaching that area and we cannot stop the armaments form reaching that area, which is not logical?

Question 14: So what is your message to the people to Aleppo, who are saying the opposite, that they are hungry, that they are suffering malnutrition, that there are no doctors, that doctors have been targeted and killed in airstrikes, that they are under siege and they are dying? What is your message to them?

President Assad: You can’t say “the people of Aleppo” because the majority of the people of Aleppo are living in the area under the control of the government, so you cannot talk about the people of Aleppo. If you want to talk about some who allegedly are claiming this, we tell them how could you still be alive? Why don’t you have, for example, an epidemic, if you don’t have doctors? How could you say that we attacked, they accuse Syria of attacking hospitals, so you have hospitals and you have doctors and you have everything. How could you have them? How could you have armaments? That’s the question. How can you get armaments to your people, if you claim that you have people and grassroots while you don’t have food? They have to explain; I don’t have to explain. The reality is telling.

Question 15: Yet, they say the opposite. They say they are surviving on whatever they can, on meager means, and they are a city under siege. You do not accept that Aleppo is a city under siege with people starving and hungry?

President Assad: Again, how can I prevent the food, and not prevent the armament? Logically, how? If I can prevent food, I should be able to prevent armaments. If I don’t prevent armaments, that means everything else will pass to Aleppo.

Question 16: Have you been to Aleppo recently? Will you go to Aleppo?

President Assad: Of course I will go.

Question 17: And how does it feel for you to see the devastation in parts of what was known as the jewel of Syria?

President Assad: Devastation is painful, of course, but we can rebuild our country. We’re going to do that. Someday the war will stop. The most painful is the devastation of the society, the killing, the blood-shedding, something we live with every hour and every day. But how would I think? I think when I see those pictures how would Western officials feel when they look at this devastation and these killing pictures and they know that their hands are stained with their blood, that they committed the crime directly in killing those people and destroying our civilization. That’s what I think about.

Question 18: Yet, to the outside world, it feels as though the end justifies any means in your war on terror. Do you accept that?

President Assad: They don’t have morals, of course. This is a Machiavellian principle; the end justifies the means. We don’t accept it, no. Your policy should be a mixture between your interests and how you reach your ends, but based on values. It cannot be only the end justifies the means, because for the criminals, ends justify the means, for thieves, for every illegal and immoral action, the end justifies the means. That’s exactly what you mentioned in your question, this is the base, the foundation of the Western policy around the world these days.

Question 19: What is your message to the Syrians who have fled the country? Some of them didn’t make it, others did. Do you call on them to come back, do you expect them to come back?

President Assad: Of course. It’s a loss, it’s a great loss. The worst loss for any country is not the infrastructure or the buildings or the material loss; actually, it’s the human resources loss, something we want to see coming back to Syria, and I’m sure that the majority of those Syrians who left Syria, they will go back when the security and when the life goes back to its normality and the minimal requirements for livelihood will be affordable to them, they will go back. I am not worried about this.

Question 20: Do you have any expectation of when that will happen, when Syria will be pacified to some degree that they can come back?

President Assad: If we look at it according to the internal Syrian factors, I would say it’s very soon, a few months, and I’m sure about that, I’m not exaggerating, but when you talk about it as part of a global conflict and a regional conflict, when you have many external factors that you don’t control, it’s going to drag on and no-one in this world can tell you when but the countries, the governments, the officials who support directly the terrorists. Only they know, because they know when they’re going to stop supporting those terrorists, and this is where the situation in Syria is going to be solved without any real obstacles.

Question 21: So, let’s just dwell on that point for a moment. Do you believe that within a couple of months the situation in Syria will have dramatically changed in your favor to the point that refugees can come back?

President Assad: No, because I don’t believe that in a couple of months Erdogan and the United States regime, and the Western regimes in general, and of course Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are going to stop the support of the terrorists. I don’t see it in the next two months.

Question 22: So how can you really incite Syrians to come back in two months as you said?

President Assad: I said if there are no external factors. I said if you look at it as an isolated case, as a Syrian case, which is theoretical, I mean, this is where you can say that in few months you can solve it. But now you’re talking about an arena which is part of the international and regional arena, not isolated. So, this is why I said no-one has the answer when will it end.

Question 23: It’s now one year since Russia got involved in the war. Before the intervention you were losing territory and control. Did you ever feel like you were losing the war?

President Assad: We didn’t look at it that way, to lose the war, because whenever you have Syrians working with the terrorists, it’s a loss. How to lose the war, this is hypothetical question, to be frank. It’s not about your feeling; it’s about the reality. In the war, you lose areas, but you recapture another area. So, it is difficult to tell whether you are losing or gaining or it was a standstill. No-one has this answer. But definitely, after the Russian intervention and supporting the Syrian Army, legally of course, we felt much much better. We captured many main cities, many main positions at the expense of the terrorists’ areas.

Question 24: Even if you were to win the war, what would be left of your country and Syrian society? Will you have to think again about the prospect of a partition in Syria?

President Assad: No, we never thought about it, and the majority in Syria don’t believe in this, and I don’t think the reality, in spite of this savage war, has created the atmosphere for such partition. Actually, in many areas, the social situation is much better, because when you want to talk about partition you need to find these borders between the social communities. You cannot have partition only on political bases or geographic bases. It should be social first of all when the communities do not live with each other. As a result of the war, many Syrians understand that the only way to protect your country is to live with each other with integration, not only in coexistence, which is actually more precise to call cohabitation, when people interact and integrate with each other on daily basis in every detail. So, I think in this regard I am more assured that Syria will be more unified. So, the only problem now that we face is not the partition, but terrorism.

Question 25: And yet you are not seen as a unifying force in Syria; people think that the society is torn apart. Just to use one example, on a personal level, you trained as a doctor and yet your administration stands accused of targeting medical and rescue workers as they race to save lives. How do you make peace with this?
And is this a society that, after suffering such consequences, can really just forget the past and move on?

President Assad: I cannot answer that question while it’s filled with misinformation. Let us correct it first. We don’t attack any hospital. Again, as I said, this is against our interests. If you put aside the morals, that we do not do it morally, if I put it aside, I am talking about now, let’s say, the ends justify the means, if I want to use it, we don’t have interest. This is how we can help the terrorists if we attack hospitals, schools, and things like this. Of course, whenever you have a war, the civilians and the innocents will pay the price. That’s in any war, any war is a bad war. There is no good war. In any war, people will pay the price, but I’m talking about the policy of the government, of the army; we don’t attack any hospital. We don’t have any interest in attacking hospitals. So, what is the other part of the question? Sorry, to remind me.

Question 26: That’s ok, that fits into the general question, but I would like to follow up with: others say the opposite, including medical workers and including the Syrian White Helmets. If you value their work, racing to the scene of whatever it may, to try and save lives, does that mean you would support the recent nomination of the White Helmets for a Nobel Peace Prize?

President Assad: It is not about the White Helmets, whether they are credible or not, because some organizations are politicized, but they use different humanitarian masks and umbrellas just to implement certain agenda. But, generally if you want to talk about the humanitarian support, how can I attack hospitals while I am sending vaccines, for example? Just explain it. You tell me two different things, two contradicting things; one that I am talking about is reality, because everybody knows that we are sending vaccines, the other one is that we are attacking hospitals. They do not match.

Question 27: Would you support them for a Nobel Peace Prize?

President Assad: Who?

Question 28: The White Helmets.

President Assad: What did they achieve in Syria? And how un-politicized is the Nobel Prize? That’s the other question. So, if I get an answer to these two questions, I can answer you. But I would only give a prize to whoever works for the peace in Syria, first of all by stopping the terrorists from flowing towards Syria, only.

Question 29: My last question: The US election is now just a few weeks away. How do you expect that a Clinton or Trump presidency would differ in terms of US policy towards Syria, and specifically towards you?

President Assad: The problem with every American candidate regarding the presidency, I am not talking only about this campaign or elections, but generally, that they say something during the campaign and they do the opposite after the campaign. As we see now the American officials, they say something in the morning and they do the opposite in the evening. So, you cannot judge those people according to what they say. You cannot take them at their words, to be frank. We don’t listen to their statements, we don’t care about it, we don’t believe it. We have to wait till they become presidents, we have to watch their policy and their actions and their behaviors. We do not have a lot of expectations, we never had. We have hopes that we can see rational American presidents; fair, obey the international law, deal with other countries according to mutual respect, parity, etc., but we all know that this is only wishful thinking and fantasy.

Journalist: Thank very much, President Assad.

President Assad: Thank you.