Weekly Report: 8 February, 2019


February 8, 2019

Venezuelan soldiers erected blockades on the Tienditas Bridge at a border crossing between Colombia and Venezuela. (Edinson Estupinan / AFP/Getty Images)


Cuba is now in the middle of the ongoing tensions between Colombia’s ELN rebel group and the Colombian government, as leaders from the rebel group have said that they will not leave Cubawithout confirmation from Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez that he will adhere to conditions agreed to by the previous president of Colombia. The conditions set by Marquez’s predecessor agree to: “guarantee guerrilla commanders safe return to Colombia or Venezuela within 15 days of peace talks, and to bar military offensives for 72 hours”. President Marquez has asked Cuba to extradite those representing the group. Cuba has been the previous site of peace talks between the group and the Colombian government, and have openly stated that while they denounce the car bombings confirmed to be caused by the rebel group, they will still follow the protocol of the conditions as it has been previously established.



An anti-government activist has been released after being held 17 months for creating videos deemed hostile to President Ali Bongo. Herve Mombo Kinga was initially charged with spreading propaganda and insulting the president, and faced 8 years in prison. Mombo Kinga was released on Tuesday after the judge threw out the case.



A devastating mudslide in Bolivia has caused significant damage, resulting in at least 14 people killed and around 50 injured. The mudslide comes amidst economic concern, as Brazil and Argentina, Bolivia’s biggest natural gas export customers, have announced that they plan to boost their own economies by becoming their own outputs and work to further access the global market. As the 2019 presidential elections approach, Bolivia remains in a debt thatsteadily increased during Evo Morales’s presidency.



The wave of oppression launched by Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua continues to restrict freedoms and force the regime’s opponents to flee. The crackdown began soon after a huge number of protests in April calling for Ortega’s resignation. Since the crackdown began, 324 people have been killed and thousands more have either been arrested or forced to flee the country. One of the greatest targets has been the media, with many journalists being arrested, and opposition media sources being shut down. Despite sanctions from the U.S., Ortega says he will not step down. As long as he stays in power, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans will continue to flee to nearby Costa Rica.


North Korea

A confirmed second summit meeting between North Korea and the United States is set to take place February 27th and 28th in Vietnam. President Trump has said that “the meeting is set” and that he sees a “good chance” of reaching a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Last week, Trump even praised North Korea on their “tremendous progress” in denuclearization negotiations.

Despite Trump’s praise and optimism, a report was recently released showing that North Korea is attempting to hide and protect its weapons. The report was submitted to the UN Security Council sanctions committee on Friday, February 1. In this report submitted to the UN Security Council, sanctions monitors stated that, “The North Korean nuclear and missile program remains intact and shows no change in North Korea’s behavior”.



Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry has begun to protest the number of Rakhine Buddhist and tribal groups that are fleeing from the violence in Myanmar. Bangladesh has already taken in over 1,000,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees, and are struggling to keep up with new refugees trying to escape violence between the military and insurgent groups. Bangladesh has reached out to Myanmar’s government, asking them to take “effective and urgent steps” to stop the violence. The protest comes shortly after Angelina Jolie addressed a group of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, calling for improved conditions and a commitment to ending the violence.


United States

President Donald Trump delivered his much-anticipated State of the Union Address on Tuesday, February 5, touching on both his infamous wall and upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late February. Trump confirmed that he plans to send another 3,750 troops to the southern border with Mexico, and again mentioned his desire for building a wall by stating: “In the past, most of the people in this room voted for a wall – but the proper wall never got built. I’ll get it built”. In this State of the Union Address, he confirmed his second meeting with Kim Jong-un, while adding, “If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea”.

Protestors gathered at the Executive Mansion in Richmond, Virginia on Monday, February 4th to challenge Governor Ralph Northam’s position of power after racist photos of him were released. The photos date back to his medical school career, showing two people, one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan mask and robe, and another in blackface. Northam announced that he was still going to continue serving the remainder of his term, which would be until 2022. Around 100 protesterswere present in Richmond, carrying signs both calling for Northam’s resignation and advocating for him to step down.



A new report shows that 17 survivors of recent acid attacks in Cambodia did not receive free government treatment – a right they are supposedly entitled to. Legislation introduced in 2012 was meant to stop the crime by holding attackers responsible and providing the necessary recovery aid for free. While the number of attacks has gone down since the legislation was introduced, acid is still readily available for purchase on the streets, and many attacks still go unreported. Additionally, doctors interviewed had no idea that acid attack survivors should be treated free of charge.

Sam Rainsy, an opposition leader and acting president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party currently living in exile, has said that his return to Cambodia this year is “imminent”. He hopes that his return to the country will encourage Cambodians to rise up against the current prime minister, Hun Sen. In response, the General Immigration Department has ordered his immediate arrest, should he return to the country.



This week the massive border strikes in Mexican border city Matamoros are potentially coming to a close. The uproar began in mid-January, following President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s announcement of his plans to double the minimum wage in Mexico’s border zones, responding to shockingly low wages as some laborers make less than $1 an hour. The President was supposedly unaware that some union contracts at the plants are indexed to minimum wage increases. At this point in the mass strike, 44 of the 48 factories have compromised with 20%pay increases.

President Donald Trump announced his plan to send 3,750 troops to the southern border with Mexico during his State of the Union Address given on Wednesday, February 5. The soldiers jobs while at the border will be to be help border-patrol agents, install miles of razor wire, and continue surveillance work in the area.

A small Arizona town that borders Mexico has called the recently installed wall of razor wire along the border fence inhuman, fueled further with information that US troops installed more wire this past weekend. The city council is scheduled to vote on a proclamation condemning the wire. Mayor of the small town of Nogales, Arturo Garino said, “That wire is lethal, and I really don’t know what they’re thinking by putting it all the way down to the ground”.



Former Maldives president Yameen Abdul Gayoom, and a former Cabinet minister have been charged with money laundering. The case comes from a “shady deal” to develop certain islands for tourism, and a mysterious 1 million dollars in Yameen’s account. The president was elected out of office last year, and the Maldives’ new president has vowed to investigate corruption charges surrounding Yameen’s presidency.



This week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe has blamed the violently escalating protests on western countries and “rogue NGOs”. Mnangagwa specifically mentioned the United States, stating: “the west does not care about human rights…I’m (certain that) the US is more worried about their interests in the region than anything else. They would accept a dictator as long as they are pliable and do their bidding”. Violence has continued since mid-January, and at this point in the protests there are at least 12 deaths of citizens and several cases of beatings, torture, and arrests being monitored by the Human Rights Watch.

The Zimbabwe Teachers Union and the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) planned to strike earlier this week, demanding a raise in wages amidst the economic crisis that sparked the previous protests. Despite their anger and desire for immediate change, thereremained a poor turnout as many were fearful of response from security forces; video footage of police response to protestors last month was alarming and clearly deterring to many. Some children were reportedly sent home on Tuesday morning, while others attended school but werenot taught lessons due to the strike.

In the midst of chaos, Mnangagwa invited opposition candidates from the 2018 elections to further discuss the post-election dialogue, perhaps in a final effort to bring some calm and cooperation to Zimbabwe.



Victims of July’s dam collapse in southern Laos are still suffering from the effects of this disaster. Those who lost their homes were forced to move into temporary housing, and still haven’t been relocated 6 months later. Though better than the tents they initially were sent to, the houses they are in now are overpacked and unsanitary, causing many cases of dengue fever and malnutrition. Compensation for those who lost family members has been disbursed, but thecompensation for those who lost their homes has yet to be approved by the government.



Vietnam is the official host country of the second summit meeting for denuclearization talks between United States President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, set to take place February 27 and February 28. Vietnam is a prime location, clearly well thought out as it offers some advantage to both countries. For Kim Jong-un, Vietnam is relatively close to North Korea, and certainly a shorter travel distance than potential other options for location. For the United States, the choice of Vietnam is symbolic, telling of the history of the previously warring United States and Vietnam that today are able to have positive relations since the end of the war.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Recently elected president Tshisekedi has begun to face some of the first challenges of his presidency, including a number of strikes, as well as calls for “peaceful resistance” coming from his rival candidate Martin Fayulu. The stikes began last week, coming from a variety of sectors, including firefighters, maritime transport workers, and private sector employees. Most of the workers are suffering from many months of back-pay and are taking the opportunity of new leadership to demand changes.



Colombia has been opening their borders to millions of people, so many that numbers are beingcompared by the United Nations to the movement of migrants across the Mediterranean in 2015. Colombia has specifically opened its borders to Venezuelan migrants; the UN has estimated that around 5,000 Venezuelans have been leaving their country each day as the economic crisis worsens. Along the border, aid workers and volunteers have noted the sudden and somewhat recent rise of Venezuelan migrants in the area. “I’ve never seen a government trying this hard to register people and leave the borders open”, said deputy director for the International Rescue Committee, Trisha Bury.

The United States is attempting to send aid to Venezuela as the crisis steadily worsens; United States trucks with aid, food, and medicine is headed for Cucuta, a border city between Colombia and Venezuela. US-supported leader Juan Guaido has been attempting to receive humanitarian aid, but opposition leader Nicolas Maduro has been clear about his rejection of any help from the United States.



Tensions continue to rise both within Venezuela and worldwide as more and more countries begin to weigh in and take sides regarding the presidential crisis. As of February 4th, most EU member states, including the U.K., France, Germany, and Spain have joined the United States in backing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president. On February 5th, eleven of the fourteen members of the Lima Group, which includes Canada and Latin American countries, also announced their support for Guaidó. The support for Guaidó coming from outside countries has angered Maduro, who said when asked about the possibility of war that it “depends on the level of madness and aggressiveness of the northern empire and its Western allies”. Many fear that this statement means that Maduro could be warning of a civil war within the country, also stating that President Trump could “repeat a Vietnam in Latin America” by sending military intervention. The EU remains that they will recognize Guaidó as interim president until Maduro calls for a new election.

The people of Venezuela have also become vocal in their calls for a new election, taking to the streets to protest Maduro’s presidency. On February 2nd, tens of thousands of protesters gathered, hoping to give Maduro the final push to step down, though their efforts were unsuccessful. Maduro remains insistent that he will hold his position, and also remains unwilling to accept any foreign aid. Years of food and medicine shortages and hyperinflation have led to the current crisis, forcing thousands of Venezuelans to flee across the Colombian border every day. Many countries, including Canada and Germany, have pledged to send almost 50 million dollars in aid, but most efforts have been blocked by Maduro. On February 8th, two US trucks carrying food and medicine supplies were stopped at the border by a blockade. While Guaidó has called on the country’s armed forces to let the aid in, the military remains loyal to Maduró, who fears that the aid could be a cover for an invasion to oust him.



The recent clearing of Ipoh’s Kledang Hill is causing concern in Malaysia, as the reasons for clearing and stripping of the hill remain completely unknown. There has been a loss of hundreds of trees at this point in the clearing process, despite the hill being a part of Kledang-Saiong Forest Reserve, making it part of a protected and preserved region. Field officer Sahabat Alam Malaysia Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman has stated that the “lack of information about the project invited suspicions that the clearing activity was illegal”.



An award-winning journalist, Maria Ressa, has been arrested on tax evasion charges, but now faces libel charges for an allegedly defamatory article published in 2012. The charges carry up to 12 years of jail time. The charges have been criticized by both Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International, who have called them absurd and demanded an end to her harassment.

The Philippines has declared a measles outbreak following 1,813 measles cases and 26 deaths from the disease as of January 26th, which is a 74% increase since 2018. There is now concern for the 2.4 million children who have not been vaccinated. While the country has tried to encourage vaccinations, many parents fear that there may be complications related to a dengue vaccine. As a result, vaccination rates have dropped to 60% in 2017, well below the target goal of 95%.



Thailand’s Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya has announced that she will run for Prime Minister with the Thai Raksa Chart Party. The move comes as a surprise to many, as the Thai royal family has not been involved in politics for years, and the era of absolute monarchy ended 86 years ago. If she were to win the position, she and her brother, who is set to be coronated as king in May, would hold two major power positions in the country. Many hope that if the princess is elected as prime minister, she will bring democracy and development back to the country, and force the junta rule to finally end.


Other news:

Sudan – There have been ongoing protests in Sudan, actively threatening the 30-year rule of President Omar al-Bashir, who has previously been accused of war crimes. Protests initially began in December of 2018 when the government tripled the price of bread. Teachers, lawyers, doctors, and pharmacists were all involved in the protests taking place in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. Bashir delivered a speech following the ongoing protests, promising growth and action to be taken within the country, saying, “The youth, for whom we have built universities, have to be ready to continue with the mission of building a new Sudan”. The Human Rights Watch has reported that at least 51 people have been killed in protest-related violence. (Al Jazeera)