Central America's rainforests are being destroyed by drug traffickers who cut roads and airstirps on officially protected lands, according to a paper in the journal Science. The phenomenon, called "narco-deforestation," is occurring across large swaths of Guatemala and Honduras, and perhaps elsewhere. Erik Nielsen, an assistant professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability at Northern Arizona University, said: "Not only are societies being ripped apart, but forests are being ripped apart." He added that cattle ranches are being established on cleared land as fronts to launder drug money.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel toured Asia earlier this month ahead of Obama's coming visit, and at an April 10 stop in Ulan Bator signed a "joint vision" statement with his Mongolian counterpart Dashdemberel Bat-Erdene, calling for expanding military cooperation through joint training and assistance. "A strong US-Mongolia defense relationship is important as part of the American rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region," Hagel told a joint press conference. Bat-Erdene ruled out the possibility of hosting US forces, citing a Mongolian law that bars foreign military bases from the country. But the agreement is clearly aimed at extending US military encirclement of China. Days earlier, Hagel had lectured his hosts in Baijing over China's establishment of an air defense zone in the East China Sea. He also made a flat warning about the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, telling reporters: "We affirmed that since [the Senkaku Islands] are under Japan's administrative control, they fall under Article 5 of our Mutual Security Treaty." (AFP, April 10; Time, April 8)
Workers at six out of ten factories in Dongguan owned by Taiwanese multinational Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings have been on strike since April 14 after discovering the company has not been paying its 70,000 employees legally required levels of social security and housing contributions. At least 10,000 Yue Yuen workers took to the streets the day the strike began. Yue Yuen produces shoes for sportswear brands including Nike, Adidas and Asics. The strike is emblematic of a new wave of labor struggles in Guangdong, where Dongguan is located, and other industrial regions of China. Samsung, Lenovo, Nokia and Wal-Mart are among the companies hit by stoppages in recent weeks. Strikes are up by almost one-third in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period last year, according to research by Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. The group's findings also reveal "a more forceful response from the local authorities," with a four-fold increase in police interventions and a sharp rise in arrests. This trend is confirmed by recent trials of worker activists and strike organizers. (Bloomberg, April 19; China Worker, April 17; China Labour Bulletin, April 14)
Nigerian militant network Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the April 14 bombing of a bus station in Nyanya, a suburb of the capital Abuja, that killed 75 people. In a video message, Boko Haram commander Abubakar Shekau says he ordered the attack, but says nothing about the mass abduction of more than 100 teenage girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, most of whom are still missing. In the video, Shekau describes the bombing as a "tiny incident," and warns of many more to come. In words directed by name at President Goodluck Jonathan, Shekau says: "Jonathan, you are now too small for us. We can only deal with your grand masters like Obama the president of America. Even they cannot do anything to us. We are more than them."
Brazilian Military Police backed by Marine troops occupied the massive Maré favela next to Rio de Janeiro's Galeao international airport on March 31, allegedly without firing a shot. The aim was to secure one of the city's most violent districts, long under control of drug gangs, ahead of the World Cup, to be held in Brazil in June. Shock troops of the elite Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) and Marines in armored vehicles and helicopters secured the Maré area, where 130,000 people live in poverty on the north side of Rio. Police said they seized guns and 450 kilos of marijuana, and arrested two suspected dealers. But residents said most gang leaders slipped out the favelaahead of the occupation. The operation had been expected; in preceding days Police Pacification Units (UPPs) had been installed in 174 of Rio's favelas— home to around 600,000 people. (InSerbia, April 1; MercoPress, March 31)
The offices of the Cali Municipal Workers Synidicate (Sintraemcali), located in the center of the Colombian industrial city, was attacked with hurled incendiary bombs April 16, causing damage to the facade and plumbing of the building. Sintraemcali called the bombing a "terrorist attack," and pledged to file a complaint with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. The attack came five days after a judge in Bogotá ordered the president of the republic, Juan Manuel Santos, to issue a formal pardon to members of Sintraemcali, the Colombian University Workers Syndicate (Sintraunicol) and the Bogotá Telecommunications Workers Synidate (Sintratelefonos), who had been accused by former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez of being linked to terrorist groups and constituting a "Brotherhood of Terrorism." (Radio Caracol, Etorno Inteligente, April 16)
Algerian security forces on April 16 violently dispersed an attempt by opposition activists to stage a protest in the capital against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's run for a fourth term in this week's elections. Only a few members of the opposition alliance Barakat—President Abdelaziz Bouteflika—were able to assemble in central Algiers before police routed them. Barakat was able to hold a rally in a stadium, where some 5,000 gathered to chant "Boycott" and "The people want the regime out!" Mohsen Belabes, a leader of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), told the crowd: "The people here are the people who have been excluded, who have been put aside, but this is the real Algeria. The regime will collapse, but Algeria will survive."
The United States and Turkey have said they are following up on renewed accusations that the Syrian regime continues to use chemical weapons against civilians. If true, the government's use of such weapons would be a violation of its agreement with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, both of which it signed last September. Over the past few months, members of the Syrian opposition, including the main umbrella group the Syrian National Coalition, have accused the regime of using chemical weapons, mainly in the suburbs of Damascus, in areas such as Jobar and Harasta. "There have been at least four such attacks in recent months, involving high doses of chlorine and pesticides," said Sinan Hatehet, director of the Coalition's media office. He added that although the attacks only killed around 15 people, the chemicals were primarily being used as a psychological weapon.