July 24, 2017
Photo: Protests in Poland/ CNN.
This Thursday, a research group at New York University published a new report, which revealed a vast network of businesses owned by President Joseph Kabila and his family which pervades virtually all sectors of the economy. While the Congolese constitution does not bar government officials from owning private enterprises, it remains far from clear how the family amassed its wealth – apart from lucrative state contracts, disproportionately awarded to firms owned and operated by the President’s close relatives.
Observers note that further enrichment is a powerful incentives for Kabila, who has been receiving approval ratings in the single digits and recently declined the public’s appeals to hold elections on the grounds that DRC could not afford them, to cling to power. The President and his family continue to invest large sums in real estate around the country and assets which are not easy to liquidate – a further troubling sign that they do not intend to relinquish the presidency.
The Mexican government has routinely undermined a national anti-corruption system put in place by President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose approval ratings have dwindled to the teens after he was caught in a conflict of interest scandal last year. The mechanism has not had the promised effect of tackling corruption, which still costs Mexico between 2%-10% of GDP annually, but rather given the appearance of reform while harassment and suppression of anti-graft activists continues.
Tens of thousands of Poles demonstrated in from of the Warsaw palace on Thursday, after the lower house of Parliament passed a bill which would gravely curtail the freedom of the judiciary. If approved by the government- controlled upper house, the new bill would allow the president to dismiss all current Supreme Court Justices and hand-pick replacements. Since coming the power, the PiS, which sponsored the new legislation, has eroded other liberties as well: freedom of expression, through new media laws, and freedom of assembly.
In response to the vote in the lower house, a top EU official threatened the use, for the very first time in EU history, of Article Seven –which would even provide for sanctions or a suspension of Poland´s voting rights if the political onslaught on the judiciary persists. European Parliament president Donald Tusk has taken a more conciliatory stance and requested a meeting with President Duda to seek ways out of a situation which, the former stated, goes against Eropean values and tarnishes Poland’s international image.
President Trump has decided to end the CIA’a covert program to train moderate rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad. The program was a central measure undertaken by the Obama Administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad. US’s involvement in Syria now consists of air strikes on Isil and the Pentagon-run train-and-equip program supporting Kurdish forces currently battling to capture Isil strongholds in Raqqa.
Many observers worry that the discontinuation of the program will not only disparage and undermine moderate opponents of the regime, but advantage radical rebel groups, since the USA will have even less opportunity to control the flow of sophisticated weapons from Turkey and Persian Gulf allies.
Millions of people are taking part in a general strike called by the opposition in an effort to pressure President Maduro to cancel the July 30 vote for a new constituent assembly. Protesters barricaded roads in the capital and other cities across the country during the country-wide strike. Hundreds have been arrested and at least three killed.
This comes after a referendum on Sunday in which nearly 7.2 million Venezuelans rejected the upcoming vote, which could lead to a rewriting of the country’s constitution and a further consolidation of Maduro’s power. The referendum was non-binding and organized by the country’s main opposition parties; it has been condemned as illegal by the Maduro regime.
A Venezuelan diplomat at the UN broke with the government on Thursday and is calling for Maduro’s resignation. Several influential countries have called for Maduro to cancel the vote, including the US, France, Spain, Colombia, and EU leaders.
Human Rights Watch has recently reported that as political violence is on the rise in the face of the 2018 elections, police are failing to investigate reports or attacks. Recent examples of violence include the destruction of house of an MDC-T (Zimbabwe’s main opposition party) local councilor as well as reports of unidentified men burning down a bar in Harare owned by Elias Mudzuri, the deputy president of the MDC-T. Although activists have accused ZANU-PF of orchestrating these attacks, ZANU-PF has struck back by stating that these were merely inside-jobs conducted by the MDC-T itself. Regardless though, no arrests have taken place in response to the events, and it is feared that such on-going examples of impunity will only further fuel fire in Zimbabwe.
On Sunday July 19th protestors gathered at the U.S. Women’s Open bath the Trump National Golf Club to protest against Donald Trump. Activists held pink umbrellas and spelt out messages on their white tee-shirts as they stood in front of the Trump National clubhouse. Other protestors wore shirts encouraging the US Golfing Association to “Dump Sexist Trump.”
Later, on Wednesday, police arrested 155 demonstrators holding a sit-in inside three senate office buildings. Earlier on Monday, the US Republican party, having yet again failed to pass a healthcare replacement bill, began to push for the repeal of the American Care Act. Republican efforts have not been aided by the fact that two additional Republican senators also early voiced their opposition to the proposed bill.
More recently, activists across the states have just commenced a week of protests, recalling the 230 protestors that were arrested 6 months ago for rallying against President Trump’s administration on January 20th. The “Week of Solidarity” is set to take place in Washington D.C. as well as several other cities such as Pittsburgh and New York City. Protestors anticipate to rally around a DC court at the end of the week on July 27th as a hearing is held over dismissing felony chargers against the January arrestees.
With regards to the March 6th Travel Ban, the Supreme Court also recently ruled that anyone with a “bona fide relationship” to a US person would not be barred entry, therefore allowing for family members such as grandparents to visit from the six countries mentioned in the ban.