CANVAS produces a weekly report on several countries where nonviolent resistance can play an important role in confronting challenges to democracy, including Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, Syria, the United States, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
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Juan Jiménez Mayor, leader of an anti-corruption panel in Honduras, has resigned as a result of “rising hostility from the Honduran government” toward him and his group of prosecutors. His resignation was accompanied by the resignations of the panel’s top prosecutor, Julio Arbizu, and of Chilean judge Daniel Urrutia.
The efforts to block the panel, which included threats, freezing proposed legislation to protect witnesses, and stalling the enforcement of new campaign finance laws, are the “beginning of a political offensive against the fundamental pillars that are against corruption in Honduras,” says director of the National Anti-Corruption Council Gabriela Castellanos.
Transparency international has released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. This year’s report shows that the majority of countries are making little or no progress in ending corruption. The index found that New Zealand and Denmark rank highest, in other words least corrupt, while Syria, South Sudan and Somalia rank lowest.
The ‘Mass Shooting Generation’: Children, born after the Columbine attack in 1999, that have grown up in a world that treats gun violence at schools like an unfortunate fact of life. But now they’re growing up, finding their voices, and in light of recent incidents, they’re making themselves heard.
The three main presidential candidates have formally accepted their nominations. For the first time in modern Mexican political history, three independent candidates from outside the traditional parties are ready to enter the competition too, pending ratification by electoral authorities.
Each party candidate held a rally in Mexico City this week, addressing key issues including corruption and violence, the economy, and relations with the United States under President Trump. The LA Times covered their addresses. See a summary below.
Lopez Obrador, of the leftist MORENA party, proposed creating a federal public security department that would incorporate military and police forces, to address security issues in the country. This is Lo?pez Obrador’s third bid for the presidency, and he currently leads the polls. In a speech, Lo?pez Obrador, vowed to maintain a friendly realtionship with Washington, but calls the idea of a wall along the border unnecessary and in violation of human rights.
Ricardo Anaya of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) was sworn in as the candidate for a coalition between the conservative PAN and the left-leaning Partido Revolución Democrática (PRD). His main speaking points were violence and corruption, inequality, and poverty. Anaya proposed to grow the economy by boosting investment and progressively increasing the minimum wage, saying, “the best social policy is economic policy, and well-paid jobs.” Regarding the wall, he declared, “Mexico will not pay a single cent,” and insisted that, while relations with the US will remain friendly, he would not let Mexico be taken advantage of.
José Antonio Meade accepted the nomination by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the ruling party that dominated Mexican politics for most of the 20th century. He too spoke on corruption and violence. His more unique message was to promise to create a “national registry of the needs of every person,” which would include things like scholarships, medicines, and transportation.
This week saw the US consumed by debate over gun control. This comes directly in the wake of the shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead and many more injured. Although many agree that something should be done to prevent further attacks of this nature, disputes over the exact course of action highlight a fissure in the country. Students and many democratic lawmakers are calling again for a ban on highly dangerous weapons. They want also more thorough background checks and stricter regulations about who can legally purchase guns. Gun proponents, as per usual, have accused these people of “hating freedom.” Republican lawmakers, including Florida State Senator Marco Rubio and US President Donald Trump, see the shooting as evidence that there are too few guns in use. Trump has suggested arming teachers in classrooms to dissuade attackers and rejected the idea of active shooter drills. Regardless of the president’s intentions, a poll this week found that two out of three Americans, a significant majority, support stricter gun legislation. The disparity between this popular opinion and the national legislation brings again into focus the non-democratic implications of the powerful gun lobby in the US.
In other news, Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to move forward with his investigation into Russian interference in the US presidential election. Last Friday, he released an indictment against 13 Russians. It says these agents created false American identities on social media to “deepen racial and partisan divides and to stoke distrust in democracy.” More recently, Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, has been charged with financial crimes that include money laundering. Campaign Deputy Rick Gates has also been charged, caught up in a complicated plot to leverage money from Manafort’s real estate. He is expected to plead guilty in cooperation with the counsel. CNN also reports that Mueller is investigating Jared Kushner’s efforts to secure foreign funding for his interests during the presidential transition.
More than 400 people have been killed by a government aerial offensive, backed by Russia, in Eastern Ghouta this week. The attack was launched on the rebel-held enclave on Sunday and has continued since. Human rights groups and the UN Special Envoy to Syria are pressing for an urgent ceasefire and immediate humanitarian access. They estimate that well over 2,000 people in the territory are injured, and the death toll is steadily climbing. Russia has so far rejected all agreements, stating the need for a ceasefire that would apply also to the Islamic State, Al Nusra, and additional rebel groups in the Ghouta region.
A ceasefire must be reached soon – each day of its delay worsens the humanitarian crisis in the region. Said Doctor Abu Yahia, “Our medical center was hit in four air raids yesterday, which caused significant damage to the facility and the services it offers…Hospitals across the entire city have been bombed.” Hospitals and support cannot continue at their present rate for much longer, especially not while being targeted. This has been one of the bloodiest weeks in the country’s long civil war.
In the north of Syria, militias loyal to Assad reclaimed Afrin. For about a month, Turkey has been conducting an assault on this Kurdish-held area, and although this is seen as a victory for Syria, the assaults have not ceased. Turkey had previously been promising to rebuild the city to be reinhabited, however this recent development serves as a harsh setback. It also complicated Turkey’s mission, which had been heavily influenced by the presence of the Kurds in Afrin as a perceived security threat to the Turkish border.
Rights groups in Myanmar report that the site of a mass grave in Rakhine state is being bulldozed, purportedly on government orders, flattened to “hide evidence.” This follows the report by the Associated Press that exposed other sites of massacres backed by witness reports and video documentation. Aerial photography showed other villages razed, suggesting that the government cleared not just the destroyed areas, but tracts that had until then stayed unaffected and intact as well.
Rohingya refugees continue to refuse to repatriate, demanding that their civil rights be upheld and their homes be rebuilt before they return. As the government knocks down yet more houses, these demands seem far from being met. A government spokesperson stated the land being bulldozed was only “plain land” that the government was preparing for efforts to rebuild. Construction crews have erected new housing structures on some of the cleared areas, intending to provide housing for Rohingya, according to a government administrator in Maungdaw. That does not appear to be the case for the majority of those built or planned so far, however, and many Rohingya fear authorities are seizing land they’ve lived on for generations. The UNHCR maintains its concerns that conditions in Rakhine state are not safe for voluntary return.
Rights groups have also urged authorities to release information about two ethnic Kachin civilians who were reportedly captured by soldiers in northern Myanmar.
The ruling government has announced its readiness for a dialogue with the opposition, just one day after extending the national state of emergency. This controversial move is not likely to inspire progressive talks, as the emergency was extended in order to subdue the opposition protests in Male. The original emergency, imposed by President Yameen after the release of opponent political prisoners, was set to expire after 15 days. On day 14, the protests had yet to be quelled, so the emergency will now continue for another 30. The opposition has called this move illegal.
This island nation has lately become cause for international concern. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India has condemned the extension of the emergency in a public statement. “It is important to ensure that all democratic institutions are allowed to function in a fair and transparent manner in accordance with the Constitution,” stressing also a return to normalcy as soon as possible. The Maldives has nevertheless stressed its desire for India to stay out of the nation’s domestic affairs. “There is no doubt that the Maldives is experiencing one of the most difficult periods in its history. It is therefore important that friends and partners in the international community, including India, refrain from any actions that could hinder resolving the situation facing the country,” stated the foreign ministry.
International concern has also been raised over Chinese influence. Shortly after the state of emergency was imposed, eleven Chinese warships were deployed to the East Indian Ocean. China never confirmed that the ships were sent in response to the emergency, however they failed to indicate any other reason they might be there. Amid China’s other efforts to expand its influence in the region, however, this latest move concerns other countries in the region, giving them cause to keep vigilant.
President Maduro announced the presale of Venezuela’s new oil-backed cryptocurrency on Tuesday. As Venezuelans continue to struggle with runaway inflation, the government hopes this digital currency will provide an alternative for the collapsing bolivar. The price of the so-called ‘petro’ will be pegged to the price of a single barrel of Venezuelan crude oil. The government hopes that petro sales will help with the repayment of debts and allow investors to circumvent the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. However, many potential investors harbor doubts and do not “trust the government to faithfully maintain the link” between the price of the petro and the price of oil. Furthermore, as the US considers imposing sanctions on Venezuelan oil, the petro’s backing looks less and less stable. Read the government reports on the petro proposal here.
On Wednesday, Maduro announced his intention to hold a “mega-election,” by adding legislative elections to the scheduled presidential elections in April. Originally, the legislative elections had been scheduled for 2020. The Washington Post has said could that this change could “obliterate the opposition-dominated legislature” by shortening their term by two years. This announcement also followed the opposition coalition’s refusal to nominate a candidate for the presidential election. In any case, the National Assembly, populated largely by opposition members, has been ineffectual since Maduro instated a Constituent Assembly. This extra body, with wide-ranging powers and filled with his supporters, has overpowered the national legislature. The April elections hold little hope for any opposition members to retain their positions, especially as major leaders of the coalition are barred from public office for the next decade, have fled the country, or are under house arrest. Maduro also plans to include municipal and state legislative councils in the April elections. An analyst who also served as a Venezuelan cabinet minister in the early 90’s, Moisés Naím, said Maduro was imitating Putin and Hussein in staging “virtually meaningless elections.” If the opposition boycotts the congressional elections as well, he could replace the only institution not under his control and command nearly every elected office in the state. The Lima Group has stated they will not recognize the results of the April presidential election.
Vietnam – A court in central Vietnam has sentenced an environmentalist blogger to 14 years in prison for “abusing his democratic freedom and opposing officials on duty.” Activist Hoang Binh led several protests against authorities over the handling of a major environmental disaster caused by a steel plant development in 2016. His sentence is one of the harshest to have been delivered to a peaceful activist in this country. – Reuters
Colombia – President Juan Manuel Santos is asking for international aid to handle the large number of immigrants fleeing Maduro’s regime in neighboring Venezuela. – NPR
Nigeria – Dozens of girls remain missing after Boko Haram militants attacked a school this week. A problematic combination of silence and conflicting reports from the government, regarding the status of the search and the girls’ recovery, are causing parents intense stress and grief. – NYTimes
Romania – Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has said publicly that he’s looking to replace the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor. This seems to be a direct consequence of the large number of politicians from the ruling party convicted by the prosecutor and an attempt to ease future abuses of power. – Bloomberg
Israel – An investigation is underway, looking into whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided “official favors” to the largest telecom company in Israel in exchange for positive online news coverage. This comes on top of the separate bribery allegations already facing Netanyahu. – Economist
Poland – A drastic increase in logging activity in the Bialowieza Forest, one of the world’s last primeval forests, violates international law. The European Court of Justice is expected to take appropriate action, further increasing tension between European Union and this defiant member state. – NYTimes
Zimbabwe – The funeral for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was held this week with more than 5,000 people in attendance. Those supporters, however, now find themselves in rival factions as the party attempts to move forward with different ideas about leadership and direction. Skirmishes broke out between the various groups at the funeral. – BBC | DW
Photo: President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address at Parliament in Cape Town (Reuters)
It has been reiterated numerous times over the course of the week that the Syrian people alone are the only ones to determine the future of their country, reinforcing Syria’s sovereignty and reaffirming Syria’s commitment to the final statement of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Continuing aggressions by Turkey and Israel bombard Syria, causing countless injuries and claiming several civilian lives. The UN Secretary-General “has called for an immediate de-escalation in Syria after Israeli recent aggression on Syrian territories.”
In commemoration of the 36th anniversary of the open strike announced in 1982 against the Israeli occupation, authorities and their decision to annex Golan and impose the Israeli laws and “identity” on its Syrian citizens, locals of the occupied Syrian Golan gathered on Wednesday. “The Syrian people in the occupied Golan have always renewed their deep attachment to homeland and commitment to the Syrian identity, undaunted by repressive Israeli measures”.
The United States was shaken this week by a devastating shooting at a Florida high school. A 19-year-old gunman killed 17 and injured an unknown number of people. This is the 239th school shooting since the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 in 2012, but also the deadliest in this time frame. President Trump has called the shooter “mentally disturbed,” evoking the sentiment that the shooting is a result of poor mental health infrastructure in the United States. Many across the country see it rather as yet another consequence of insufficient gun regulations. The Florida shooter, despite a long history of dangerous and erratic behavioral issues, did pass his background check and purchase the gun he used legally.
In other US news this week, senators have rejected an immigration deal proposal that would have funded the wall and instituted strict limits on incoming migrants, but helped the ‘Dreamers’ whose fate has been recently under threat by the Trump administration. This leaves those hundreds of thousands of people, who have known no life other than that they’ve lead in the US, with uncertain futures. In other immigration-related news, on Thursday the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that President Trump’s ban on people traveling into the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries is unconstitutional.
Candidates for the presidency will have to register online by February 26th for their position on the ballot to be confirmed March 5th. The opposition party has 9 days to make its final decision to whether or not their will abstain from the race.
The Lima Group, plus Canada, have criticized the government’s decision to hold elections without coming to an agreement with the opposition. The countries said the election “would not be free and fair as long as Venezuela has political prisoners, the opposition was not fully participating and Venezuelans abroad were not allowed to vote” and advised the government to reconsider their election calendar. Colombia stated they would not recognize the outcome of the elections.
The President of Venezuela has ordered the country’s consulate in Miami to be reopened before the elections in April. It had been closed in 2012 by Chavez. US Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, echoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s earlier comments, tweeted about supporting a military coup in Venezuela. When the Associated Press contacted him, he emailed back “The Maduro regime is an illegitimate government which has brought suffering and misery to the people of Venezuela.” Thousands of people in Florida are from Venezuela, having fled crime, economic deprivation, and unrest under Maduro’s regime.
Brazil will declare a “state of social emergency” in Roraima, a northern border state. To control the flow of refugees from Venezuela, the government will boost funding and troops in the area, said Defense Minister Raul Jungmann on the 14th. Ten percent of the population of the Roraima’s capital are arrivals from Venezuela – about 40,000 people who are now straining public resources. Colombia is also struggling with Venezuelan immigration as thousands of people cross its borders.
As Cambodia nears its July national elections, the ruling CPP continues to consolidate its power, moving the state closer to single-party dominant rule. In addition to the le?se majeste?? law proposed last week that makes defamatory speech about the Cambodian monarchy illegal, five other amendments were passed, each impacting the freedom of citizens or limitating the potentional power of any opposition groups. These amendments to the Cambodian constitution included new restrictions on voting rights, authority by the government “to take action against political parties if they do not ‘place the country and nation’s interest first’,” and an instruction that Cambodia is not to interfere in “internal affairs of other countries since it opposes foreign interference in its own affairs.” This last amendment seems to target the CNRP, the largely dismantled opposition party, which has consistently appealed to the international community to pressure the government toward free and fair elections. Prime Minister Hun Sen pivots, from picking away at his opposition, now fragmented and mostly in exile, to entrenching his position through legislation.
At the same time, Cambodia’s economy is flourishing. Tourism, largely from China, fuels the economy along with low-cost manufacturing for the rest of the world. Cambodia is edging towards China’s position of key manufacturer in the global market as China’s wages rise and firms look for new locations from which to source their products. Some firms may however be attempting to pressure the Cambodian government as Walmart did, to respect its civil society.
The Cambodian National Council for Women signed its annual report this week. The report congratulates the government on its efforts to elevate gender equality in society, highlighting examples like the issuance of land titles to “poor women and widows” and an increase in female civil servants. Women’s rights activists, however, doubt the validity of the achievements. They point out that the increase in female civil servants was barely significant, with just one percent growth, and more than half were at lower level and municipal positions: never at any decision-making level. Nominations for the seats claimed from the recently-dissolved opposition party being almost exclusively men, “female representation at the national level has actually dropped.” Thida Khus, executive director of women’s rights NGO Silaka, declared that efforts towards gender equality have “come to a standstill” due to the political tension in the country. She hopes attention will return to the issue after the July elections.
The Carnival of Oruro: Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Bolivia commenced on February 9th. Traditionally, it is a 10-day celebration that honors Bolivia’s indigenous history and Christian symbols in a display of cultural syncretism. It is considered one of the world’s most important celebrations and one of the largest in South America.
The first day of the Carnival saw a gas explosion and a traffic accident. A series of further explosions, in this case deliberate, took place over the course of the Carnival. This has led President Morales to call for exhaustive investigations of the explosions that have claimed over 40 lives and injured over 120 civilians. One of the attacks was labeled a “fatal homemade Carnival Bomb.” ‘A Criminal Attack’,” as the deadly device consisted of ammonium nitrate, dynamite, and explosive oils. This is not the first year that Carnival has claimed innocent lives, leaving concern and sadness lingering amongst the Bolivian people as tragedy strikes once more.
Bolivia Without Violence launched a campaign called “Carnival without excess, without violence,” which aims to reduce “crime during the annual celebrations and [encourage] men to treat women and girls with respect.” Bolivia is also raising awareness of the Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free From Violence, which, according to the UN, has yet to reduce femicide. Statistics have shown that over 100 women arehave been murdered yearly in Bolivia. The campaign consists of private, public, and international organizations, including UN Women and local municipal governments that, who distribute thousands of leaflets, install billboards, establish emergency hotlines, and broadcast educational videos.
History recalls several decades of Bolivia “fighting to reclaim its coastal territory from Chile, which it lost in the 1897 War of the Pacific,” leaving the country landlocked. March 23rd marks the yearly celebrations Bolivia holds to celebrate the Day of the Sea, a national holiday marking the loss of its territories to Chilean forces. President Morales has announced a mass mobilization to commemorate the centennial of the maritime claim against Chile, in which nationwide ceremonies will be held as a “show of unity of the Bolivian people around the maritime demand.”
In light of intensifying criminal activity throughout the country, Mexican federal intelligence agents have been assigned to tail presidential candidates: notably PAN candidate Anaya, an opponent to ruling PRI’s candidate Meade. Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete said that Anaya was supposed to have been informed of the security detail and insisted that the tail was for security reasons only– not, as Anaya wrote, in order to spy on the opposition. The agents had been assigned to tail Anaya through his tour of the Veracruz state, where cartel-related violence is common. The detail was to simply “report any mishap” that may occur on the campaign trail as part of a “protocol in which [they] analyze security issues in the states.” Critics have claimed this use of agents and resources is “wasteful,” particularly as the country struggles to conduct successful and effective intelligence operations against its main security threat: drug cartels.
An indigenous woman named Maria de Jesus Patricio, or “Marichuy,” is running as an independent candidate in the presidential race. This week, she was injured and one member of her team was killed in a car accident. The candidate previously served as the spokesperson for the political arm of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, the National Indigenous Congress. Patricio has not collected enough signatures to enroll officially as an independent candidate, let alone win the presidency. However, her presence in the political field helps to draw attention to the poor, the indigenous, the most marginalized in the country, and their struggles in civil participation.
Polls continue to show left-wing presidential candidate Lo?pez Obrador in the lead with 33 percent of support, although Anaya, candidate for the left-right coalition called “For Mexico in Front,” has been catching up, now only 8 points behind with 25 percent. Jose Antonio Meade of the ruling PRI trails behind still, with one poll showing a decrease from 17 percent to 14 percent.
South Africa – Jacob Zuma, former President of South Africa, “announced on Wednesday evening that, although he does not agree with his decision, he will resign as president of the republic effective immediately”. – news24 | DW
Zimbabwe – Morgan Tsvangirai, former prime minister and leader of Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, has died. The future of his party and its leadership remains uncertain. – NYTimes
Ethiopia – Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned after deadly unrest pushed his government to release several high-profile political prisoners. – NYTimes
Maldives – The alliance of Opposition parties in the Maldives has appealed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to mediate all-party talks to resolve political turmoil in the country. – First Post
Myanmar – This week, Bangladesh authorities passed a list of 8,032 names of Rohingya refugees to be repatriated to Myanmar. This is despite the fact that the U.N. announced the conditions in Myanmar are unacceptable for voluntary return, given that Myanmar hasn’t addressed the Rohingya’s exclusion and denial of rights in Myanmar, and the outflow of refugees from Myanmar continues. – NYTimes | Washington Post
Photo: “Thousands of citizens took to the streets of Afrin [Syria] to denounce the Turkish aggression on their city.” (Syrian Arab News Agency)
Democratic Republic of Congo
This week, the Congolese government has ordered former colonizer Belgium to close its consulate and cut off flights from Brussels. This came as a result of worsening relations between the two nations since the Belgian government terminated all cooperation on projects in the former Central African colony over human rights and security concerns. However, “the Belgian government has redirected €25m allocated for such projects to non-government organizations working on humanitarian aid in the country.”
Ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu has erupted in northeastern DRC, taking the lives of more than 24 people and leaving hundreds of homes burned to the ground. Meanwhile, the US has slapped sanctions on Congolese General Muhindo Akili Mundos and rebel leaders Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, Guidon Shimiray Mwissa, and Lucien Nzabamwita for “contributing to widespread poverty, chronic food insecurity, and population displacement”. These are the same four men that the UN Security Council sanctioned last week for human rights violations.
As conflicts persist in the DRC, rampant militia groups “have recruited at least 585 children for use as fighters or human shields in the war afflicting in Kasai regions.” In addition to the recruitment, humanitarian organizations disclosed that at least 120 children have been abducted and abused and another 350 have lost track of their families, classifying them as unaccompanied.
Consequently, over 8,000 Congolese have fled to neighboring countries Burundi and Tanzania over the past week, following military operations to rid eastern DRC of the various militia groups. Moreover, many refugees are displaced, and many NGOs report that the number of refugees fleeing is an understatement of the crisis.
As President Joseph Kabila still refuses to step down after his mandate ended in December 2016, elections meant to replace him continue to be repeatedly delayed. Since the DRC’s constitution does not allow the president to seek a third consecutive term in office, this has led to speculation of his unwillingness to give up power. Thus it has been stated that President Kabila “intends to respect the constitution and relinquish power after elections scheduled for December” of this year.
Power struggles have broken out within Zimbabwe’s main opposition party. This follows the news that opposition leader Tsvangirai will leave the country to seek medical treatment for colon cancer in South Africa. The details and severity of his illness are unclear, with a huge disparity between reassurance from him that he is recovering and reports from major media outlets that call him “critically ill.” In any case, Tsvangirai’s departure from the country is itself a huge destabilizing force for his party. To make it worse, the election is mere months away, and the negative prospects for the opposition are seriously exacerbated by the disarray of the leadership structure in his absence. Tsvangirai has three deputies, of which one, Nelson Chamisa, was appointed to serve as the interim leader until his return. Others in the party are disputing this decision. Many feel that deputy Elias Mudzuri, who was the acting leader before this recent announcement, should continue to hold the position. Still others believe that the temporary leader should be the third deputy, Thokozani Khupe. The infighting bodes very poorly for the upcoming election. An opposition alliance had already endorsed Tsvangirai in the upcoming election against Mnangagwa, but further endorsement of any of the replacements seems rather unlikely while the party is in disarray. All of this helps Mnangagwa, whose ultimate goal is to stay in power.
In other election-related developments, many have begun to speculate that Mugabe is forming a new political party, “The New Patriotic Front”, with other members of his ousted regime. The party declares that the November coup was illegal and calls on the military to reinstate Mugabe as leader of Zimbabwe. This development is still in its early stages, but could eventually come to have very serious consequences for the country and its upcoming elections.
On Wednesday, Zimbabwean leaders and civil society organizations called on Mnangagwa to end the political violence that has been rampant in the country over the past few weeks. The speakers referenced a legislator who was pelted with stones last week and underscored the importance of defending democracy. Nelson Chamisa addressed the country: “I am saying this because we are seeing an escalation of attacks on MPs and citizens, particularly as we approach general elections, yet we do not want elections to be tainted by violence and instability, and this issue must be taken to the President so that his call for peaceful elections is taken seriously.”
Cambodia announced a new law banning anyone from insulting the king: offenders risk up to five years in jail. Hun Sen, a leader planning to extend his tenure in the July elections, led the cabinet meeting in which the law was adopted. He has already made progress dissolving the opposition and “[has driven] many of his critics into self exile”.
The current king, Sihamoni, keeps a relatively low profile, particularly compared to his father, and his status is mostly symbolic. He is regarded kindly by Cambodians and is largely seen as “above the political fray.”
Rights groups are still nervous that this new law will allow dissenters to be targeted, particularly because Hun Sen has often been accused of having the courts in his pocket.
Opposition MP Sam An was jailed in 2016 for “incitement” when he accused the government of using “incorrect border maps during negotiations with Vietnam” in a Facebook post. Sam An appealed the conviction, taking it to the Appellate Court and eventually the Supreme Court. Today, the Supreme Court upheld the previous decision and Sam An returned to jail to finish serving his sentence of two and a half years.
A letter from September of 2017 has recently been made public, wherein the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications within the Cambodian government ordered internet providers to block access to the Cambodia Daily website. Executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, Nop Vy, states the “government’s actions were damaging to media freedom and open access to information.” The government also suspended 20 radio stations that carried US content, and banned the National Democratic Institute. The Institute is US-funded and supports transparent government and civic participation.
Ten tourists were arrested in Siem Reap for taking pornographic photos and publishing them online. Seven of the foreigners have been released on bail. Locals describe the group, and other tourists in general, as acting in a manner very disrespectful toward Cambodian culture. The locals and police there are frustrated with and tired of the inappropriate and party-oriented behaviors of the vacationers.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Mexico to keep an eye out for Russian influence or interference in their elections, saying that “European counterparts had noticed that Russia had its fingerprints on a number of elections.” An aide for ruling PRI candidate Meade warned in January that Russia may try to support López Obrador.
López Obrador of MORENA has an 11 point lead ahead of his competition for the presidency, with 34% of the vote according to polls from Parametria. The runner-up, Anaya, is 5 points ahead of the ruling party’s candidate, Meade, and has gained some ground on López Obrador. This year’s election could be the first year independent candidates are on the ballot in this country with a history of de facto single-party rule. These candidates, although it is doubtful they will win, could take votes from the other candidates and affect the outcome. This is particularly true as many Mexicans are still undecided between the top three.
Deaths at the border between the US and Mexico rose in 2017, from 398 in 2016 to 412, even though the number of people attempting to cross the border dropped significantly. Accompanying this statistic is the 44% drop in border patrol apprehensions. Altogether, it appears “the deterrent is Donald trump” according to bluntly stated article by The Economist.
A US brewery is setting up shop in a Mexican state and will neighbor with local farmers. Already suffering from water shortage, the farmers worry the new brewery will suck up all the water, strangling their livelihoods. Last summer, local farmers protested the project with other residents, forming a movement called Mexicali Resists. Thousands of people gathered in protest before government buildings, blocking deliveries going to the construction site. Now unrest has flared again as protesters camp out in front of the site, clashing with police and private security as dozens block the construction of a water pipe to the factory. In the 1940s, large tracts of land previously owned by a cotton-producing company were split into community-owned ejidos, and with the land came water rights. Now, the farmers guard the water rights carefully and are “seething at the idea that precious water rights are being handed over to gringos.” Since its formation in 2016, Mexicali Resists has employed several tactics to stymie the progress towards completing both the brewery and its water supply, ranging from blockades to climbing a crane coupled with a hunger strike, to physically confronting police officers.
Alejandra León, a lawyer for some of the farmers, reports that an environmental impact study on the brewery revealed which current wells would be tapped (as the area has banned drilling of new wells as the water table recedes). The owners were unaware the company had looked into using their wells.
The International Criminal Court has taken initial steps towards investigating Venezuela over “allegations of excessive force and other abuses,” including “serious abuse and ill-treatment” of detained opposition members by government security forces in response to opposition protests. In the past, Maduro has dismissed criticism of his regime as US-prompted attempts to undermine his government. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the ICC began the preliminary examinations after “a careful, independent and impartial review of a number of a number of communications and reports”. While Bensouda has not released the names of the leaders to be investigated, the ICC mandate is to prosecute individuals for serious crimes, such as crimes against humanity: heads of state and government officials are generally the subjects. The examination will continue if the court finds enough evidence to commit to a full investigation and if the national courts are found unable or unwilling to conduct proper trials on their own. Protesters, quelled by the reaction from the Venezuelan government, may need to step forward to assist in this case. There is no timeline for this examination, or the possible investigation to follow.
Sitting President Maduro has officially been chosen as the Socialist Party candidate and the election date has been set for April 22nd. Both decisions immediately follow the end of talks between opposition and government, without agreement. The quick elections have drawn criticism from other Latin American countries, wanting the government and opposition to conclude negotiations addressing the conflict first, and the US said it will reject the “snap” election. The opposition is still undecided on a candidate, or if it will even participate in the election, despite its role in pushing for elections originally. Maduro has announced plans to “wean Venezuela’s economy off” of oil production.
This comes at the same time the US is considering sanctioning Venezuelan oil in an attempt to pressure the country into holding free and fair elections. Venezuelan oil production has been decreasing since 2014, but still the country pumped more than one million barrels a day in December by industry estimates.
The fall in production has only intensified the suffering of Venezuelans, already experiencing food and medicine shortages. Other Latin American countries stated they are disinclined to take measures that may worsen the humanitarian crisis.
The United States of America
The government has shut down and reopened again, the second time in 2018. The spending agreement that ended the last shutdown expired this week, and national lawmakers have been unable to reach another agreement for national funding moving forward. Many expect this shutdown to be very brief, with a deal seeming well within sight. Earlier in the week, Trump had said that he would “love to see a shutdown” if the legislators couldn’t come to a deal that satisfied him on immigration.
President Trump is garnering criticism for his plans to hold a military parade through the US capital this summer. Although he was reportedly inspired by one such parade he saw in France on Bastille Day, many Americans associate these displays primarily with authoritarian regimes. While this decision is not nearly enough to label Trump as an authoritarian-esque leader, it falls along a string of similar events that, when taken together, are cause for concern for many fearful Americans. Earlier in the week, the president accused Democrats of treason for not standing and applauding him during the State of the Union.
In the financial world, US stock markets made global headlines as they fell and shook over the course of the week. The market swings “can be traced to the positive U.S. jobs report on Friday, a sign of a strengthening economy in which workers are finally earning higher wages”. Concerns over inflation have also been raised, however, and it seems likely that the Federal Reserve will consequently raise interest rates.
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court, in a surprise move, ordered the immediate release and re-trial of nine key political prisoners, along with the reinstatement of 12 opposition parliamentarians who would in session create an oppositional majority. Among the prominent opposition prisoners was former President Mohamed Nasheed, living in self-exile, who had been sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges that were largely criticized as having been politically motivated.
Celebrations that had turned to protests demanding President Yameen to comply with the decision occurred over the weekend. While the administration and police had originally announced that they would comply with the ruling, the Maldivian government has since refused and, should the Supreme Court move for the impeachment or arrest of President Yameen, has ordered its security forces not to comply.
On Saturday, when parliamentary sessions had been set to resume, the government suspended the parliament. Security forces blocked the members that tried to enter the parliament anyway. Monday, parliamentary sessions had been postponed indefinitely, and the political prisoners remained in jail. The Legal Affairs Minister commented that there were ‘numerous challenges’ to implementing the order, contradicting a Supreme Court statement from the preceding day that had stated the opposite.
Later on Monday, President Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency, stating that the Supreme Court decision had “resulted in the disruption of the functions of the executive power, and the infringement of national security and public interest.” With this announcement and two later amendments, numerous constitutional rights have been suspended and Yameen “has effectively quashed any moves by the opposition to impeach him while also stripping the Supreme Court of any authority,” while giving “security forces sweeping powers to make arrests.”. After the state of emergency had been declared, security forces stormed the constitutional court, eventually arresting two Supreme Court judges, whom President Yameen accused of plotting to overthrow him. The chief judicial administrator and former-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom were further arrested, as well as three family members of one Supreme Court judge.
Late on Tuesday, the three remaining Supreme Court judges announced that the decision to release the nine opposition politicians from prison would be reversed, although the ruling to reinstate 12 opposition legislators would remain valid. Opposition politician Eva Abdulla accused Yameen of coercing and intimidating the judges to get the ruling he wanted.
Last Friday, Mohamed Nasheed had announced his plans to run in the elections, still optimistic the opposition “would succeed in ending the autocratic government within the next […] days and urged the people […] to stand against the injustice of the government.” He has since described “the government’s refusal to obey the court order as tantamount to a coup”. In reaction to the emergency decree, the united opposition urged the security forces “not to support a dictatorship” and Nasheed “accused Yameen of declaring ‘martial law’”, asserting that he should be removed from power. Later in the week, reports appeared about death threats against the arrested Chief Justice and opposition legislators.
India and the United States, along with other international actors including the UN and EU, have expressed concern about the emergency decree, calling on the government to “lift it and restore civil liberties”. Nasheed has urged the US to introduce targeted sanctions and appealed to India to intervene with “a physical presence”. China subsequently asserted that India “has no justification for intervening in the Maldives crisis” and President Yameen “sent envoys to friendly nations such as China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to brief them on a political crisis”. A high UN official has warned the Security Council of a further deterioration in the Maldives, while an EU delegation has arrived on-site, though unable to meet the President or other senior government officials.
Syria welcomes the outcomes of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that was held on January 29th and 30th in Sochi, Russia. Unanimous consensus was reached regarding Syria’s sovereignty, independence, safety and territorial unity, and the right of the Syrian people to choose their political and economic systems. This affirmed that “the political progress in Syria cannot begin or continue but under the leadership of Syria without any foreign interference.”
Though several officials and groups consistently condemn Turkey’s aggression on the Afrin area in Syria, the hostility has yet to cease. This is heavily influencing the further destabilization of the region. Consequently, after 19 days of Turkish aggression, thousands of citizens took to the streets of Afrin to denounce and oppose Turkey’s assaults.
The Foreign and Expatriates Ministry of Syria has “condemned the false allegations made by the United States in which it accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in the Eastern Ghouta in Damascus Countryside.” Syria upholds the belief that the use of chemical weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction is a crime against humanity, that is conceived as unacceptable, immoral, and unjustified act under any condition. It is claimed that the accusations are merely fabrications of US partners on the ground and that there is no evidence of such attacks. Furthermore, it is believed that US allegations coincide with efforts to end the crisis in Syria via a peaceful solution and are made after the US and its allies fail to pass anti-Syria resolutions at the UN Security Council and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Syria believes the US’s motivations for maintaining presence in the country are no longer to fight ISIS.
The Foreign and Expatriates Ministry of Syria has also expressed that Israel’s repeated attacks on Syria reflect Israel’s continuous “aggressive approach represented by supporting terrorist groups to prolong the crisis in Syria and to raise the morale of the terrorists”. On Wednesday, Israeli aircraft fired missiles from Lebanese airspace, which coincided with armed terrorist organizations’ attacks. Over 1,000 rockets and mortar rounds were launched on several cities in Syria, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians. This is deemed proof of coordination, partnerships, and alliances between Israel and terrorist organizations. Thus, the peace and security of the region and, on a larger scale, the world are threatened. The Syrian government reiterated its warnings to Israel, stressing the serious repercussions that would be taken if Israel persists with its attacks on Syria, continued terrorist support, and occupation of Arab territories.
It was officially announced by the Kazakh Foreign Minister that the 9th round of Astana meetings on Syria will hopefully be held at the end of February. Also, it has been agreed by Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan that a new Russian-Iranian-Turkish summit on Syria will be held in Istanbul – date pending.
- Syrian Arab News Agency [SANA] (Syrian National Dialogue Congress)
- SANA (Continued Turkish Aggression)
- SANA (Thousands Take to the Streets)
- SANA (Chemical Weapons Allegations)
- SANA (Crime Against Humanity)
- SANA (Israeli Attacks)
- SANA (9th Round of Astana)
- SANA (Russian-Iranian-Turkish Summit on Syria)
What really scares populists? Grassroots campaigning and humour: How can ideas that toppled a dictator be used today to defend democracy? In this latest article for The Guardian, Srdja Popovic speaks from his experiences with OTPOR! to explain how people can use laughter, unity, and nonviolence to defend their democratic institutions from destruction.
#RiceBunny – The Resilient #MeToo Movement in China: #MeToo has been one of the most profound developments in the modern feminist movement. In China, however, the government and censorship have created additional obstacles for students and activists seeking justice. The resulting hashtag #RiceBunny is a message from Chinese women to the world that they will not be silenced.
Myanmar – Myanmar’s government has denied the claims in the AP’s report on mass killings and graves. Instead, they argue that only “terrorists” were killed and then “carefully buried.” A man named Islam saw the horrors committed by the soldiers firsthand. He was a Buddhist in the military forces, but converted to marry a Rohingya woman. When the soldiers came to his village, he was conscripted with other Buddhists to help massacre his fellow villagers: those who refused were jailed or killed. Islam escaped one night past drunk guards and fled to Bangladesh, where he was reunited with his wife. – NY Times | The Guardian
Bangladesh – Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister and leader of the country’s main opposition party, has been sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment on corruption charges. – Al Jazeera
Ecuador – A referendum this week has resulted in the decision to set a two-term limit on the presidency, the most straightforward consequence likely being the prevention of leftist ex-leader Rafael Correa from ever returning to power. – TeleSUR
Germany – A deal has finally been reached for a new German government, more than four months after negotiations began. The conservative alliance and the left-leaning Social Democrats have again joined in coalition, leaving the controversial, far-right AfD party as the leading opposition. Members of the Social Democratic Party will now vote on the new configuration. – NYTimes
North Korea/South Korea – Kim Jong Un’s sister has arrived at the Olympics and shaken the hand of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The diplomatic challenge of getting North Korea to attend the international event was a strategic operation that lasted months. – Bloomberg
South Africa – Over the weekend, senior leaders of the ruling ANC party met with President Zuma to ask him to step down amidst mounting pressure over corruption allegations. By Wednesday, reports stated that Cyril Ramaphosa, who had taken Zuma’s position as the ANC’s leader last month, was “holding direct talks with Jacob Zuma over a transition of power”, possibly implying a sooner-than-expected change of leadership. – The Guardian | Reuters
Hong Kong – Late last week, three leading Hong Kong activists and the 2014 Umbrella Movement were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by US Congress members. Beijing has condemned the nomination “as a form of ‘meddling’ in its internal affairs.” – Al Jazeera
Kenya – Following last week’s media shutdown, two TV stations resumed broadcasting on Monday, the final station getting back on-air Thursday, after a court ordered their immediate restoration late last week. The government had not yet commented on the delay. This came in the context of an opposition ‘mock inauguration’ last week Tuesday, which led to the arrest of three opposition figures who had participated, of which two were released the same day and another was deported to Canada. – Reuters | NY Times
Bolivia – As heavy rains and flooding continue to drench Bolivia, over 3,100 families have been displaced. Also, the Bicentennial Library Project of the Martí Studies Center in La Paz gave a “a more complete version of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s diary” to Cuba. Bolivia’s Ambassador to Cuba said the delivery of the newfound documents “represents a vital step in understanding the past and present” for the country, according to Presna Latina. – teleSUR | teleSUR