Photo: Maldivian opposition protesters demand the release of political prisoners in Male, Maldives
(AP Photo/Mohamed Sharuhaan, via US News)
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 off the trend of military takeover in times of serious crises in Latin America. He also states that he is not advocating for a military coup in the unstable country. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Arreaza criticised these comments and encouraged Latin American countries to ‘unite against a common enemy’: US imperialism.
The Associated Press has released a report (containing graphic descriptions) on a late August attack by Myanmar soldiers, who killed hundreds of villagers and dumped their bodies in mass graves. Cell phone evidence with time stamps backs up the claims in the report made by refugees who survived the attack. Those who could, ran to hide in trees outside the village. The soldiers arrived armed not just with rifles, but with shovels and acid as well, prepared to hide their crimes. Myanmar’s military communications office has refused to speak to the press about the recent report. A local security officer stationed near the village denied knowledge of any mass graves.
Last week we learned about a petition started by Rohingya refugees, setting out demands that must be met before they will willingly return to Myanmar. Chief on this list are the need for security, legislation ensuring them citizenship and corresponding rights, and that their homes be rebuilt before they return. High levels of distrust in the Myanmar government and its promises stem from over 40 years of mistreatment. Rohingya have fled in mass numbers from Myanmar before, in the 1970’s and then again in the 1990’s.
This week, it has appeared increasingly likely that the attempts to return the refugees are already foundering, and Bangladesh continues to refuse to consider local integration options. Meanwhile Myanmar is not making any moves towards increasing the security or upholding human rights for returning Rohingya. The refugees in Bangladeshi camps have expressed that they would rather starve in the camps than face almost certain death in Myanmar.
Maldivian opposition leaders have filed a petition to the nation’s Supreme Court on Sunday to temporarily remove incumbent President Abdulla Yameen. The petition stated that Yameen should be suspended for misrule, rights abuses, and “unprecedented corruption, including unjust enrichment through appropriation of state properties and funds for personal benefit, for the benefit of his family and political associates,” reported Al Jazeera. Signatories included former presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Yameen’s half-brother. The President has dismissed the petition and denied accusations. The Supreme Court has not commented yet on whether they would hear the petition.
On Monday, the Criminal Court also issued a 15-day remand period for MP Faris Maumoon (Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s son), following his arrest on Saturday, only shortly after he had been released from six months in police custody. Earlier, on Saturday, reports about a resignation of Police Commissioner Ahmed Areef and unrest within the police department had spread, but have since been refuted by police officials.
The most prominent news from the Maldives released on Thursday, when the Supreme Court surprisingly ordered the immediate release of nine key political prisoners. Among them was Mohamed Nasheed, currently still in self-exile, who now might be able to run for presidency again in this year’s election, though new trials were ordered. Nasheed had been sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges, largely criticized as politically motivated. The court acted further, overturning another ruling on Thursday that will allow 12 opposition parliament members to return to the legislative body, now with an oppositional majority. In their reaction, the opposition stated this verdict to “effectively end President Yameen’s authoritarian rule”, wrote Agence France Press on the Guardian. The administration and police announced that they will comply with the ruling, while President Yameen has ordered the dismissal of the police chief. Hundreds of opposition supporters celebrated in the streets of the capital Male, but were quickly pushed back by police, who also fired teargas. Nasheed meanwhile urged his supporters “to avoid confrontation with the police.” By early Friday, the Associated Press had reported of violent clashes between protesters and the police.
The United States of America
This past week began in the US with the first State of the Union address by President Trump. This annual speech is the head of state’s chance to directly address the American people, to share with them what he has accomplished, to remind them of his continuing goals, and to announce new plans, policies, and initiatives that he has for the nation. While this year’s address took plenty of time to revel in its “extraordinary success” and to reiterate many of the policies that Trump outlined in his campaign, it introduced very little new policy. Much of the speech was dedicated to taxation and immigration policy. Trump spoke at great length about the dangers that immigrants pose to the US, the toll that such high immigration takes on the American people, and of course the urgent need for a wall along the border with Mexico. This part of the speech was seriously unsettling to a huge portion of the American public. Additional points included increasing investment in fossil fuels, funding infrastructure improvements, fighting the national drug epidemic, increasing military funding, and the announcement that he would continue to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.
In other news from Washington, a controversial memo is prepared for release, against the wishes of many national lawmakers and top law enforcement officials. It regards FBI’s Russia inquiry, supposedly accusing the Justice Department and FBI of abusing their authority. FBI director Christopher Wray has stated that he may quit his position if the memo is released, further complicating the whole situation. Lawmakers in favor of its release, notably including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, have said that it does not undermine the Mueller investigation. President Trump, on the other hand, has said that the contents of the memo will discredit the Russia investigation. This is especially problematic for the democrats and law enforcement officials who oppose the memo’s release. They have raised questions about the memo’s accuracy and about its omission of key information that they say is needed to put the issue into proper context. After all, this memo reflects simply the thoughts and opinions of its author, Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. It is not a formal, government-sanctioned release. In any case, Washington is bracing for impact.
On Wednesday, Reuters revealed that the government is going to match the lease contracts of white farmers to the same 99-year lease period black Zimbabweans had been able to opt for. This measure concerning land ownership addresses one of Zimbabwe’s most sensitive issues. At the same time, efforts were launched to find and repatriate millions of dollars which had been smuggled oversees during the last years of Robert Mugabe’s rule. According to the Guardian, observers have noted that the current anti-corruption drive could be covering Zanu-PF intra-party factional fights. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has meanwhile made the headlines by saying that Robert Mugabe did not make mistakes during his time in power, when asked by Russia’s Sputnik News.
Reuters had further seen an appointment letter, revealing that President Emmerson Mnangagwa named High Court Judge Priscilla Chigumba as new head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Chigumba is set to take the post which has been vacant since former chair Rita Makarau resigned in December. Different opposition figures have stated in reaction that they would be alertly watching Chigumba in her new position. Some pointed out Chigumba now had to rise to the occasion, while People’s Democratic Party (PDP) spokesperson, Jacob Mafume, voiced his concern that “a key participant in the elections gets to choose a chairperson on his own,” wrote New Zimbabwe. With regard to the election, VOA Zimbabwe had reported early this week that the EU had signaled its willingness to send election monitors to Zimbabwe. Simultaneously, Reuters reported that a “company helping to produce a new voter roll for Zimbabwe has accused the election commission of ‘impropriety’ in its handling of
tenders, potentially tarnishing the credibility of [the upcoming] poll.”
Facing “severe turbulences” ahead of the election, Zimbabwean main opposition political parties have called for unity in the MDC Alliance. One of the bigger challenges is alliance candidate Morgan Tsvangirai’s ailing health. At the same time, the MDC Alliance’s President said that US President Trump had “pledged to bail out the MDC Alliance government with $15 billion for reconstruction and economic recovery programmes if they are voted into office in the forthcoming polls”, reported New Zimbabwe. National People’s Party (NPP) leader and presidential candidate Joice Mujuru who is currently touring Zimbabwe, has been assaulted with rocks, but not seriously injured, alongside others at a political rally. The NPP blames Zanu-PF supporters for the assault.
Imprisoned opposition leader Kem Sokha was denied bail by Cambodia’s Appeal Court in his first court appearance since his arrest in September. Kem Sokha was charged with treason, accused of trying to topple the government with American support. Thursday’s ruling upheld an earlier decision after lawyers had filed an appeal on January 18. According to one of Sokha’s lawyers, the judge stated that Sokha should be kept in prison “due to ongoing court procedures and his own safety,” wrote Channel NewsAsia. This lawyer expressed disappointment and will discuss a possible appeal at the Supreme Court with Sokha and other lawyers.
Meanwhile, self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy officially launched the Cambodia National Rescue Movement, which he and other opposition members abroad had announced earlier this month. Rainsy spoke to approximately 400 supporters in California at the launching event. He called this movement ‘symbolic’ and seeks to keep the now-dissolved CNRP ‘alive’, release Kem Sokha and other prisoners for political charges, and ensure free, fair and ‘inclusive’ elections with a participation of the CNRP. In the meantime, Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned him not to bring his movement to Asia, saying the government would take action against it, calling it ‘terrorism’. In another reaction, two Khmer Kampuchea Krom advocacy organizations have appealed to all Khmer Krom not join the new CNRM, while another organization said “individuals should decide their political alliances themselves, after careful consideration.”
After the sentencing of two environmental activists last week, Cambodian soldiers allegedly killed a three-person team, which had been on patrol in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in North-Eastern Cambodia on Tuesday. The team was said to include a forest protection ranger, a military police officer, and a Cambodian employee of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. They had confiscated Vietnamese logging equipment illegally, said a senior environmental official in the province. He asserted that “the three were killed […] by government armed forces who backed the illegal timber cutting”. The Guardian further wrote that they “are the latest victims of an alarming trend in recent years, the murder of environmental defenders by parties seeking the financial exploitation of natural resources.”
In the international realm, US senators have urged the UN in a letter to address the situation in Cambodia and introduce sanctions, prompting discussions within Cambodia and beyond, among politicians and analysts.
Turkish forces continue to inflict aggression on certain regions in Syria. This has caused serious controversy as civilians are being killed and houses, places of worship, and archaeological sites are being destroyed. It was voiced by the General Directorate for Antiquities and Museums at the Ministry of Culture that Syrian identity and “the past of the Syrian people and their present and future” are being threatened.
In opposition to US intervention in Syria, a solidarity stand was organized at Aleppo University. They stood “in support of the national decision and in rejection of the US intervention in Syria and the US illegal military presence which violates the international law and makes an aggression on the Syrian sovereignty.” There is skepticism that this intervention hinders any efforts to realize a political solution to the Syrian crisis, and instead supplies and supports terrorist existence. This show of solidarity also symbolized the unity of the Syrian citizens and “their support to the Syrian Arab army in its war against terrorism and the evil powers.”
Additionally, the Damascus University and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) mission in Syria aims to cooperate in the organization of “workshops, lectures, and programs related to spreading the concepts of international humanitarian law.”
Meanwhile, more promising prospects for Syria emerged as the Syrian National Dialogue Congress took place this week in Sochi, Russia. The conference hosted around 1500 participants and observers representing different parts of Syrian society and figures from foreign opposition groups. A popular perspective highlights the importance of holding the Congress as a “step on the road to resolving the crisis in Syria”, even though some groups were absent. Though the reality is that the Congress will not achieve political reconciliation, its purpose is to lay the groundwork for future settlement of the crisis, shedding light on the different common positions and views regarding the conflict’s resolution.
Staffan De Mistura, the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, strengthened the necessity of a constructive dialogue and political solution as the only solution to the crisis in Syria. The results of the Congress were transmitted to Geneva as a contribution to the settlement process among the Syrians according to the UN Security Council Resolution No.2254.
The Congress concluded with a final statement that was composed and approved by the different perspectives present. It stated, “We, the delegates of the Conference of the Syrian National Dialogue, representing all segments of Syrian society, its political and civil powers, ethics, confessional and social groups, … with the intention to put an end to seven years of the suffering of our people, through the achievement of a common understanding of the necessity for the salvation of our homeland … the restoration of its dignity on the regional and world stage, the provision of fundamental rights and liberties for all its citizens, and most importantly the right to peaceful and free life without violence and terror.” The statement went on to say that “respect of and full commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of the Syrian Arab Republic as a land and a people, in this regard no part of the national territory shall be ceded. The people of Syria remain committed to the recovery of the occupied Syrian Golan by all lawful means in accordance with the UN Charter and international law.” (To read the entire statement click here)
Democratic Republic of Congo
Waves of violence continue to engulf the DRC. UN peacekeepers are currently stationed in the country, having been deployed with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). DRC President Joseph Kabila claims, however, that “MONUSCO has not ‘eradicated’ any armed group in nearly 20 years.” Furthermore, many armed groups have been ambushing the peacekeepers, even killing one on Saturday.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who condemns the killing, has called on all armed groups in the DRC “to lay down their arms and seek to resolve their grievances peacefully”. To the dismay of Guterres, however, President Kabila has warned MONUSCO not to consider the DRC under the UN’s care, adding that he would clarify DRC-UN relations in the coming days.
To escape the violence, surges of refugees are fleeing to neighboring countries like Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda. Military operations have intensified against the various armed groups. This has alarmed the UNHCR, as they witness thousands of children, women and men abandoning their homes.
Escaping forced recruitment, direct violence, and other abuses by armed groups, scores of refugees had no option other than to flee their homes to neighboring countries, already hosting many other refugees, and to existing overcrowded transit centers and camps. Since the beginning of 2018, over 5 million Congolese have been displaced, both internally and externally. “This places DRC among the world’s biggest displacement crises.”
North/South Korea – After what has been seen as a rapprochement between the nations over the upcoming Winter Olympics in the South, the North has abruptly cancelled a joint cultural performance. The reason was ‘biased’ and ‘insulting’ media coverage in the South, according to a North Korean telegram. South Korea reportedly called this move ‘regrettable’. Meanwhile, the North Korean flag is displayed alongside others at the Olympic village. – BBC
Kenya – On Tuesday, thousands attended the mock-inauguration of Raila Odinga in Nairobi, after it had been unclear whether police would permit supporters to gather. The gathering was mostly peaceful, though there were unconfirmed reports of scattered clashes and teargas used nearby. However, authorities appear to have ordered a media blackout to hamper coverage in Kenya. Intending to play the role of ‘deputy-president’ in the mock inauguration, Kalonzo Musyoka was reportedly blocked from participation in the event, and said on Wednesday that gunshots were fired at his home and a grenade detonated in what was “an assassination attempt.” – The Guardian
Spain – Tuesday, Catalonia postponed the election of its new regional president until further notice, following Spain’s Supreme Court decision that Carles Puigdemont, separatist leader the only candidate, could not be elected without physical presence. Remaining in Belgium, Puigdemont stated that he could lead the region from abroad, fearing to be arrested for charges including sedition and rebellion upon return to Spain. The candidate was the only nominee for the post after separatists won by a small margin in December regional elections. Pro-independence parties said they would not nominate a new candidate, suggesting a continued push for secession, amidst a sustained direct control by the national government. – Reuters
Bolivia – Bolivian President Evo Morales is revising the Patriotic Agenda for 2020-2025, the country’s long-term national goals, to address the needs of the country’s growing middle-class sectors. “The current agenda is composed of 13 proposals to eradicate poverty, stabilize the economy, and provide basic social, health, education services.” – teleSUR
Cuba – Fidel Castro’s son popularly known as “Fidelito” to the Cuban people, has committed suicide at 68 years old. He had been a USSR-trained nuclear physicist, and headed the nuclear program from 1980 to 1992. – BBC
Poland – On Thursday, Polish lawmakers approved a draft of legislation that would make it illegal to charge Poles for any type of complicity in the tragedies of the Holocaust. Because the Polish state did not yet exist, lawmakers in the country have long refuted terms like “Polish death camps”, that were of course operated by the occupying Nazi forces. This new proposed law is nevertheless drawing sharp criticism, especially from the US and Israel, who point out that even under occupation, the Polish people themselves were often complicit, and that this law seems to be an attempt by Poland to undermine open speech and to potentially rewrite history in a more favorable way. – NYTimes
Uzbekistan – Rustam Inoyatov, security chief of Uzbekistan, was ousted yesterday by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in a bloodless coup. Inoyatov had been the biggest brake on Mirziyoyev’s transformative politicking. Although a popular world perspective portrays this development as encouraging, it gives no indication of how Mirziyoyev plans to use his now-unchecked power. – The Diplomat
Mexico – A student disappeared for days after being arrested and beaten by police officers. He was eventually found, disoriented and unsure of his own identity, with “visible signs of torture.” His peers, joined by students from many other schools, have organized a massive protest; they shut down their schools and are demanding that the government investigate the officers. Two officers have already been arrested. In other news, recent polls show candidate López Obrador from the political party MORENA leading the race with 32 percent. – BBC teleSUR Reuters
CANVAS would also like to bid farewell to Gene Sharp – dear friend and powerful inspiration. His passing is an obligation to carry on the torch of democracy, human rights, people power, and nonviolent struggle with even stronger commitment. “Sharp had an extraordinary talent for finding movers in every corner of the world, and he offered them a guiding light as they fought for democratic change.” In a piece for the Washington Post, Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic, co-founders of CANVAS, reflect on the passing of visionary Gene Sharp. They remark on his legacy, as it affected their own movement in the past, and as it continues to shape nonviolent movements into the future. Read more here: Gene Sharp has passed away — but his ideas will go on inspiring activists around the world
Women’s Rights are Human Rights – Iranian Women Protesting the Veil Law: In the struggle for women’s rights in Iran, enduring since the 1979 Revolution, a resurgent act of protest this week demonstrated the exasperation many have with the implemented Sharia Law. This policy sidelines women and bestows on them the “harsh reality of subjection to a patriarchal interpretation of Islamic law when applied by the legal machinery of a modern state.”
Protesting Putin – Thousands Demonstrate Across Russia: Across Russia on January 28th, demonstrators took to the streets in opposition to Vladimir Putin and in support of boycotting the upcoming presidential elections in March. The rallies were called by Alexei Navalny, the politician widely regarded as Putin’s only significant political opponent. From Moscow to Vladivostok, thousands of Russian citizens, especially young people, braved police threats and frigid temperatures to make their voices heard.