Weekly Report: 02 February 2018

Photo: Maldivian opposition protesters demand the release of political prisoners in Male, Maldives (AP Photo/Mohamed Sharuhaan, via US News) Venezuela United States officials claim that their economic sanctions are “absolutely working” and plan to continue them in a push on the South American country towards democratic change. One official explained that the sanctions have begun to force Venezuela to default on its debts. He goes on to blame Venezuela’s total economic collapse on “the bad choices of the Maduro regime.” “Our strategy on Venezuela is extremely effective,” said the same official. Amid these international sanctions and the country’s economic collapse, Maduro has continued to consolidate his power. Venezuela has “long accused Washington of trying to topple the government” and places responsibility for hyperinflation, and for food and medicine shortages, squarely on foreign interference. Inside Venezuela, Venezuelans have been looting food delivery trucks in desperate attempts to find food, as well as organizing food riots and protests. While Venezuela is no stranger to unrest, the looting is less a resistance to the political regime than it is a near necessity for the lower classes, whose livelihoods have been wrecked by the economic collapse and rampant inflation. David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America who has spent decades researching Venezuela, commented, “They want relief, not necessarily to force Maduro from power.” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has embarked on a tour around Latin American countries. Along the way, he has mused aloud that Venezuela may soon be subject to a military coup. He states that he has no intelligence to support the claim, but is basing this...

Weekly Report: 26 January 2018

Photo: Women protested the government’s failure to comply with a gender quota in the Kenyan government (via africanews.com) Cuba The US announced Tuesday its intention to promote “free and unregulated” internet access in Cuba, according to a statement by the State Department. Internet access in Cuba has long been a controversial and highly restricted subject, and Cuban media has already declared this plan an “attempt to destabilize the island”. Currently, the government has approximately 500 wifi hotspots set up around the country for citizens to use, however all of them are restricted and none of them are free of charge. Furthermore, with a monthly average salary of $25 in the country, the current usage fee of around $2 per hour excludes a huge portion of the population from access. The plan is part of US President Trump’s efforts to redefine the relationship between the countries after many changes made during the Obama era. While the plan was denounced by Cuban Communist Party Newspaper Granma as a move to “subvert Cuba’s internal order”, and covered by the Havana Times with the headline “US Wants to Force Feed Cuba with Free Internet”, articles by younger Cubans tend to see the news rather differently. An op-ed by Yudarkis Veloz Sarduy discusses the exciting developments that more widespread internet access could bring to the island. It describes the government opposition to the US’ decision as a mechanism of subversion, rather than as a benevolent protection of the people’s social order. In any case, both opinions reflect the strong control that the government strives to maintain over the society. In other news from Cuba,...

Weekly Report: 19 January 2018

Photo: “Renegade helicopter pilot Oscar Pérez was killed in a nine-hour long siege near the capital, Caracas, on Monday, the Venezuelan government has confirmed.” Though on the run, he attended at least one opposition march. (via BBC News) Democratic Republic of Congo After the UN human rights office called on the DRC to not use force against protests, Congolese police have completely ignored this request. On Friday the 12th of January in the capital Kinshasa, they fired teargas at dozens of churchgoers, who were mourning the deaths of seven people killed in the protests that took place two weeks ago against President Joseph Kabila. This was done supposedly to prevent the gathering from evolving into a political demonstration. As a result of Kabila’s refusal to step down, there have been several protests and consequent deaths and militia violence in the past two years. There is deep fear that the DRC will relapse into civil wars. The persistence of Kabila to remain in power with no mandate and to keep his opposition weak and fragmented is fueling resistance amongst several institutions and groups. For instance, the Catholic church, with broad credibility in the DRC, “has emerged as a lightning rod for opposition” against Kabila. Moreover, as announced by a senior UN official on Wednesday at a news conference in Geneva, militias in eastern DRC are uniting in opposition to Kabila. They, along with additional militia groups in the country, are in agreement with regards to the political agenda and the transition of the DRC without President Kabila. The IOM has furthermore stressed the gravity of the situation in the DRC and that...

Weekly Report: 12 January 2018

Photo: “The Reuters journalists U Wa Lone, center front, and U Kyaw Soe Oo, center back, were escorted by the police in Yangon, Myanmar, on Wednesday, after being charged with obtaining state secrets.” (Lynn Bo Bo/European Pressphoto Agency, via NY Times) Democratic Republic Congo After violent acts by security forces in the context of recent demonstrations, the UN human rights office called on DRC not to use force against protests, reported the UN News Centre late last week. Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also underlined “that ‘necessity, proportionality, non-discrimination and accountability are key principles that underpin the use of force for the management of peaceful assemblies,’” and pointed out the importance of ensuring the exercise of freedom of association, peaceful assembly, opinion and expression. According to her, “credible and independent investigations” should also be conducted in cases of alleged use of excessive force and human rights violators “should be brought to justice.” The DRC authorities should further hold “constructive dialogue with the opposition”. Furthermore, the UN is to investigate into the attack leading to the death of 15 peacekeepers in DRC in December, the bloodiest attack in DRC’s UN Mission (MONUSCO) since 1999 so far. Investigators are also set to examine other assaults on UN personnel in the area, and to subsequently make recommendations on the prevention of such incidents in the future, reported Al Jazeera. From Monday to Wednesday, two days of national mourning for recent deaths caused by flooding and mudslides in the capital Kinshasa were held in DRC. According to an Agence France Press article on News24,...

Weekly Report, 5 January 2018

Photo: Iranian protesters at a rally in Tehran, Iran, on Saturday. Iranian hard-liners rallied Saturday to support the country’s supreme leader and clerically overseen government as spontaneous protests sparked by anger over the country’s ailing economy roiled major cities in the Islamic Republic – Credit: AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi Democratic Republic Congo The last days of the year ended very violently in DRC. UN Peacekeepers have said that security forces killed at least seven people on the last day of 2017, during protests against President Joseph Kabila’s refusal to step down from office. Catholic churches and activists called for peaceful demonstrations after Sunday mass, to which police responded with teargas and bullets, according to the Guardian. UN Secretary-General Guterres expresses concern about the violent dispersion of protests by national security forces in Kinshasa and a number of other cities. In a reaction to these events, this week Catholic Church leader Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, has condemned the state’s response to protests over the weekend as “barbarism”. In these protests, a dozen people were killed, according to recent estimates from protest-organizers. The protesters were mobilized by a Catholic Church committee in DRC, and supported by opposition groups, civil society organizations, and other activist-groups. According to Reuters, the Cardinal stated that the deadly crackdown on protesters who marched all over the country on Sunday has “created a sociopolitical malaise that cuts across our dear and beautiful country.” The Guardian Reuters Cambodia Late last week, Globe and Mail reporter Nathan Vanderklippe wrote on the changing media-field in Cambodia. As one of the most open media environments in Southeast Asia has slowly turned into...

CANVAS Annual Review: December 29, 2017

Photo: “Demonstrators clash with the Bolivarian National Police during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela, April 10, 2017.” (AP, via VOA.com) Venezuela Tensions from 2016 continued and on 30 March 2017, the Venezuelan Supreme Court decided to take over legislative powers from the National Assembly (NA). This decision triggered widespread protests and the court quickly reversed its decision on April 1st. Nevertheless, protests continued almost daily for over three months. Protests regularly included violence and led to clashes between young protesters and the National Guard, causing the death of about 120 people this year. Critics did not only come from the opposition blaming the government for increasing autocratic tactics, but also from within the chavista ranks, formerly loyal to Maduro. Amidst growing pressure, President Maduro announced the decision to call for a new constitution “saying it was the ‘only road to restore peace’ in the country“, and the establishment of a Constituent Assembly (CA) to draft the new constitution. The opposition which largely criticized the President’s intentions then organized a symbolic and unofficial referendum against the plan. While it coincided with a trial-run for the official July 30-vote for the new CA, the opposition’s unofficial referendum produced high turnouts, showed large rejection of the government’s plan and raised hopes for further pressuring the government. However, the CA was eventually created in a controversial vote, criticized for being illegitimate and boycotted by the opposition. Large numbers of security forces had appeared to overlook the election sites, but also at protests – peaceful and violent – which were repressed violently with no tolerance for the pro-democracy demonstrators. The new pro-government assembly then...