Weekly Report 24 May 2019


May 24, 2019

A woman holds a sign that reads “Fighting cheated election” during a protest following the announcement of last month’s presidential election results outside the Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu) headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia. Source: Reuters


Cuba is experiencing a food shortage in response to the current economic crisis in Venezuela. Towards the end of 2018, the country was mostly experiencing a flour shortage, and as the 2019 year progressed, the price of pork and chicken significantly rose in price. Cubans have taken to social media using the hashtag #LaColaChallenge to post pictures and videos showing the long waits in grocery stores, angry customers, and food queues. The government has blamed the lack of food on international providers and the poor state of the milling industry, as well as blames hoarders for preventing others from getting the items they need.

This week, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavu?o?lu said that Turkey will continue to support an end to sanctions and the embargo placed on Cuba. Following his meeting with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, he also reinforced Turkey’s support of Cuba through a series of tweets.


President Ali Bongo dismissed both Vice President Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou and Forestry Minister Guy Bertrand Mapangou this week in the midst of a scandal regarding the theft of nearly $250m worth of hardwood. In March, 392 containers of illegally felled kevazingo wood were found and seized by authorities, but by the end of April, 353 of the containers had disappeared. The kevazingo tree is very rare and therefore protected by law, though it remains in high demand in Asia. Several top Gabonese officials were fired at the beginning of May because of the scandal, but Bongo did not give an official reason for firing Moussavou and Mapangou.


This Saturday, current Bolivian President Evo Morales launched his campaign for a fourth term, despite his proposal to amend the constitution to allow him to seek a five-year term being rejected by voters in 2016. He worked around this by winning a court ruling which came to the conclusion that refusal to allow him to run would be a violation of human rights. The latest Ipsos survey shows Morales is leading with 33% support.  

In an even more surprising move, the Organization of American States (OAS) has supported Morales’ decision to seek another term. Luis Almagro, the secretary general of OAS, visited Bolivia on May 17, and was vocal about his support for Morales. Almagro even joined Morales in the Chapare province, and stated that, “it would be absolutely discriminatory” to deny Morales’ right to run for a fourth term.


Nicaragua’s opposition forces called for a 24-hour general strike on Wednesday in order to put pressure on President Daniel Ortega and his promise to release political prisoners. The government announced on Monday that they were in the process of releasing 100 prisoners  as part of the effort to release as many as 300 prisoners by June 18. The list of prisoners set to be released was decided on by Ortega’s government and the opposition earlier this year, though the two parties differ on how many political prisoners remain in custody. One of the prisoners held since last May’s protests, U.S. citizen Eddy Montes, was killed earlier this week while in custody. In response, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights called on Nicaraguan authorities Wednesday to protect 17 prominent detainees.

North Korea

This week, the North Korean state-run Korean Central News Agency published an article targeting Democratic presidential contender, Joe Biden, calling him an “imbecile” and “a fool of low IQ”. North Korea is responding to Joe Biden’s comments at a campaign launch event last week in which he asked a crowd, “Are we a nation that embraces dictators and tyrants like Putin and Kim Jong Un?”. The North Korean article responded by stating, “what he uttered is just sophism of an imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being, let alone a politician”.

This week, North Korea’s UN ambassador, Kim Song, sent a letter to the current UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, stating that the Trump administration committed “an unlawful and outrageous act” by taking over the North Korean ship Wise Honest and moving it to the American Samoa. Song stated that the seizure of the ship was a violation of the UN Charter. The US defended their decision to seize the ship by stating that it carried coal that was in violation of UN sanctions.

A North Korean restaurant in the northern Vietnamese city of Hanoi is being accused by a think tank in the United States of being a cover for a company selling high-tech facial recognition software. Sales of such software could be a possible violation of UN sanctions imposed in 2017, which regulates businesses that financially support Kim Jong Un and his regime.


Last week, the World Bank published details for a new development program meant to fund cash-for-work programs and support small businesses in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Since its announcement, human rights advocates and aid groups have condemned the $100m project, saying it could worsen tensions in the already conflict-driven area. More than a dozen Myanmar-based NGOs sent a letter to the World Bank saying that the underlying human rights issues must be addressed before meaningful recovery and development can begin. Specifically, the letter stated that before implementing the project, the World Bank would need to ensure that Muslims in the state had access to citizenship and freedom of movement. The World Bank acknowledged the letter, saying they too were concerned about the restrictions on Rohingya Muslims, and had raised those concerns with the government.

United States

This week, tensions between the United States and Iran continue to rise, as United States President Donald Trump took to Twitter, writing, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”.

This tweet comes after Washington officials continue to debate whether Iran or militias supported by Iran are planning attacks on US assets. In an interview that evening, Donald Trump lessened the harshness of his comments, instead stating that he “does not want to fight”, and that he just “does not want them to have nuclear weapons, and they can’t be threatening us”. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major-General Hossein Salami, responded to Trump’s comments by stating that, “Iran is not looking for any type of war, but it is fully prepared to defend itself”.


Prime Minister Hun Sen continues to crackdown on political dissent in Cambodia, with many opposition party members forced to flee or fear for their lives. Since March, at least three members of the opposition party CNRP have been assaulted in what they say are politically motivated attacks. One man, Tith Rorn, was arrested on April 15 for a fight with a pro-government activist that took place 13 years ago, then died a few days later while in prison. Meanwhile, former CNRP members still face almost daily harassment, threats, and even attacks. As many as 60 former members have also been summoned to court over the past few weeks, facing hours-long questionings over allegations that they’ve continued their party’s activities. On May 10, the group Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) responded to the situation, calling for an independent investigation into Rorn’s death, and urged the Cambodian government to stop targeting opposition members.


Concern among human rights groups of rising violence against journalists and reporters in Mexico continues, as another journalist was killed on May 16. The journalist Francisco Romero received a tip about a potential story, and upon arriving at La Gota bar, he was murdered by an unidentified gunman. Reporters Without Borders states that Mexico is one of the deadliest countries in the world for news reporters. Romero was popular in his covering of topics such as crime and violence in the city, and upon his death he was receiving protection from the country’s federal protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders.

Migrants seeking asylum in the United States are facing pressing threats as the wait process for their court hearings is becoming longer, forcing them to wait months in Mexico just for a judge to hear their case. This is an effect of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Some areas where migrants are forced to wait have seen significant rises in violence, like the city of Juarez, that has seen 575 homicides in the city just this year. There is also an increased hostility towards migrants in border cities, making it an unsafe stay for long periods of time.


The Maldives High Court ruled on Monday that former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s conviction on terrorism charges would be overturned. They also ordered a new trial looking into Adeeb’s alleged attempt to assassinate former president Yameen Abdul Gayoom. The charges came out of an incident in 2015 when an explosion occurred on Yameen’s boat. Some say the charges may have been political, as a way for Yameen to disable his political opponents. Adeeb still faces corruption charges, and his sentence is now set at 18 years, though it could be reduced to 8 depending on if another challenged conviction is overturned.


On May 25, the Zimbabwean city of Gweru will host 6,200 MDC delegates for the fifth MDC congress. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has already elected Nelson Chamisa as their party leader, but still have to hold elections for the youth and women’s assembly leadership.         

Zimbabwe is experiencing a food crisis, as it was reported that 37% of the urban populace require food aid in Zimbabwe. Famine Early Warning Systems Network has cited the current food shortage to being an effect of poor rainfalls in November. Zimbabwean families and households have had to adjust to the food shortage by reducing their meal sizes. It was reported by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee that 2.4 million people were in need of food aid between January and March in rural communities.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

President Tshisekedi has named Sylvestre Ilunga Ilukamba as the new Prime Minister of the DRC, announced on Monday by the presidential spokesman. Ilukamba is a known supporter of former president Joseph Kabila, his appointment even being the result of a deal between Tshisekedi and Kabila.  

Health workers are becoming concerned over the continued violence in the DRC, and its impact on the spread of the Ebola epidemic. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have warned that the virus could spread to urban areas and across international borders if the violence continues. International health workers are also experiencing a severe shortage of money, inhibiting their ability to safely treat patients amidst violence. The DRC Ministry of Health has reported that Ebola in the country has a 66% fatality rate. Ilunga Kalenga, the DRC Health Minister, spoke to reporters in Geneva, ahead of the World Health Assembly, stating that, “the real emergency we face right now is security”.


Last week, Colombia’s army implemented new orders instructing commanders to double the number of criminals and militants they kill, capture, or force to surrender in battle in rural Colombia. Some senior army officials were concerned by the orders, saying the intense pressure heightened the risk of civilians being hurt or killed in the attacks. A similar measure was implemented in the mid-2000s, and as many as 5000 illegal killings occurred as a result. Because of backlash, the army announced Tuesday that they were changing their pledge, going back on their original call for double killings.


It was reported this week that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido was considering negotiations with Maduro, as the political and economic crisis does not seem to be wavering. Both sides have sent representatives to Norway for talks, a move that Guaido previously rejected. Guaido has continued to encourage supporters to protest Maduro and his regime.

This week, Nicolas Maduro proposed early elections for the National Assembly. The National Assembly is headed by opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized as the country’s leader by most western countries. At a pro-government rally, Maduro stated, “We will legitimize the sole institution which has not been legitimized in the last five years”. Juan Guaido called the proposal “a farce”.  

U.S. oil sanctions on Venezuela are showing their effects, as drivers wait hours, sometimes a full day, in lines for fuel. People have even been napping on the hoods of their cars as they wait, and some have become so fed up with the lines that they pay police the equivalent of $3.60 just to cut into a shorter line.  In an interview with Reuters on Wednesday, Guaido suggested that the United States should protect Citgo from seizure to keep the refiner in Venezuelan hands. Citgo is a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA, and is the country’s most important overseas asset. Guaido stated, “Our objective is to protect the nation’s assets, (which is necessary) because of irresponsible borrowing”.


A Malaysian man arrested in Singapore for drug trafficking and sentenced to death was granted a stay of execution on Thursday. Malaysian Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Liew Vui Keong said he was pleased with the news and had liaised with counterparts in Singapore. Singapore has received three requests from Malaysia to intervene with death penalty cases, two of which are for drug trafficking. Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister Shanmugam, though, said that he wished Malaysia would respect their death penalty punishment despite the two countries’ ideological disagreements.


This week, an Indonesian woman convicted in the Philippines in 2012 for drug trafficking was released and sent home. She was originally charged with smuggling 6 kilograms of cocaine into the Philippines, and was arrested at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in September 2012. Indonesian Embassy officials helped her return home on Sunday.

This week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte demanded that containers of garbage originally sent from Canada be immediately returned to their country of origin. The containers have been sitting in Manila International Container Port and Subic Container Terminal for about five years. The Canadian government responded by stating that they hired a shipping company to remove the rotting garbage that is in the Philippines. According to the Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, “the removal will be completed by the end of June”.  


Thailand’s newly elected parliament will meet for the first time today since the long-delayed election took place on March 24. The election had controversial results, with the country’s armed forces keeping the power they had held since the military coup in 2014. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup, is expected to become Prime Minister, as his party – the National Council for Peace and Order – will likely hold a majority in both parliamentary houses. In their first meeting, the pro-military parties and pro-democracy parties will try to form coalitions and create majorities, stabilizing their power.


The United States Pentagon met with Donald Trump on Thursday to discuss sending an additional 5,000 to 10,000 troops to join the more than 80,000 US troops already stationed in the Middle East. If approved, the US would also send more missile batteries, warships, and warplanes to the region. Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized that the decision to send more troops would be to boost US defenses and deter attacks from Iran, rather than create a crisis. Later on Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that they will not surrender to US pressure and will never abandon their goals, even if they are attacked or bombed. Iran’s top military chief called the worsening tensions and standoff with the United States a “clash of wills”, warning that any enemy attack would be met with a crushing response. Tensions have been very high between the two countries since Donald Trump pulled out of 2015’s nuclear deal last year – and show no signs of easing up anytime soon.

Other News:

Sudan – This week, Sudan’s main protest group called a general strike, following stalled talks with the country’s military leaders on the next leader for the anticipated three-year transition. The protesters want a civilian-lead sovereign council, while the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) state that the army is adamant on their leading the transition with a military majority council. SPA called for a large civilian presence for a general political strike. (Al Jazeera)

Indonesia – Deadly protests broke out in Jakarta this week after official election results were released showing current president Joko Widodo beating his opponent Prabowo Subianto. The protests started out peaceful, but quickly turned violent when six people died, and more than 200 were injured. The causes of death are being investigated, but police say they were likely caused by a group of provocateurs. Access to social media has been blocked in certain areas in order to “stop the spread of rumours” regarding the protests. (BBC)

United Kingdom – Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party, announced this morning that she has resigned from office. She has served since 2016, and she will officially step down as the Leader of the Conservative Party on June 7 of this year. In her resignation speech she stated, “It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit”. (BBC)