February 23, 2018
Photo: Students demonstrate in the US capital, using a lie-in to protest for stricter gun laws and honor the victims of school shootings.
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