July 16, 2021
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers anti-government protests in Cuba, deadly riots in South Africa, and a costly fire in an Iraqi Covid hospital.
Cubans continue to take to the streets as anti-government demonstrations grow in both size and number across the island. Last Sunday, the Caribbean nation saw the largest wave of protests since the 1994 “Maleconazo” – and the whole world is watching. Cubans protest a lack of freedom, food, medicine as the country undergoes a dire economic crisis aggravated by the covid-19 pandemic and U.S. sanctions. According to anti-government activists of the Movimiento San Isidro, the famed Cuban art collective, more than 100 people have been arrested or are missing on the island following the first day of protests. Moreover, one person died during clashes with police on Monday, Cuba’s Ministry of Interior said Tuesday according to state-run Radio Rebelde. Find more information on the situation in Cuba in the country-specific section below.
South African security forces were struggling to restore order in part of the country on Tuesday, as police said the number of people killed in days of protests and looting rose to at least 72, some of the worst violence the country has seen in years. Protests began last week as former South African President Jacob Zuma turned himself in to the authorities to serve a 15-month jail term for contempt of court. He had refused to appear at an anti-corruption commission to face several allegations, including bribery and fraud, which he has repeatedly denied. Among those killed were 10 who died in a stampede in the township of Soweto as demonstrators ran from police.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Covid-19 cases have risen 10% last week, with the highest numbers recorded in Brazil, India, Indonesia and Britain. With the rapid spread of the Delta variant, low vaccination rates, and relaxation of safety guidelines, the world is seeing a surge in infections. Some cities have begun to reinstate restrictions and lockdowns. Sydney, Australia will remain in lockdown throughout the rest of July. Seoul, South Korea is under strict distancing guidelines. Parts of Spain are seeing curfews imposed and London has reinstated masks on public transportations.
On Thursday, the World Health Organization reported that Coronavirus-linked deaths in Africa have increased by 43% this past week due to lack of intensive-care beds and oxygen. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said that “this is a clear warning sign that hospitals in the most impacted countries are reaching a breaking point.” With shortages of healthcare workers, supplies, and infrastructure needed to support Covid-19 patients, leaders are turning their focus to vaccines. Less than three percent of Africa’s total population has received its first dose of the vaccine. After talking with the World Bank on Thursday, African leaders have appealed for at least $100 billion USD for financial support by the end of the year.
Indonesia reported 54,517 new cases on Wednesday, making it the new epicenter for Coronavirus in Asia. Officials are worried about how Indonesia’s health care system will be able to handle the rising hospitalizations rates alongside draining supplies. A recently published study showed that nearly half of Jakarta’s residents may have contracted Covid-19. President Joko Widodo responded to the country’s situation, stating that vaccines are Indonesia’s hope to recover. On Tuesday almost 3.5 million doses of Astrazeneca vaccines arrived as part of COVAX. The government has not announced how the vaccines will be distributed yet.
On Friday, anti-junta activists set off a bomb at the office of Myanmar’s state electricity provider. State TV reports that four employees and three others were injured in the explosion. Myanmar’s Electric Power Corp. faces increasing pressure from both the military and opposition activists. After the military coup in February, large numbers of civilians refused to pay their electric bills as a low-risk form of resistance against the oppressive regime. Recently, however, the military has begun forcing electricity companies to shut off the power of those with outstanding bills. Many rely on electricity too heavily to continue boycotting the ECP. In response, those opposition activists willing to use violence have attacked at least nine ECP offices in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, warning the companies and their employees not to cut off power.
Myanmar counted 5,000 daily Covid-19 cases on Monday. With cases so high, the demand for oxygen has skyrocketed; but according to reports, hospitals are so overwhelmed that they are turning away patients deemed too sick for treatment. In cities like Yangon and Mandalay, desperate Covid patients are forming lines to access limited supplies of oxygen. Over the past months the military has exacerbated the pandemic by arresting health officials and occupying clinics. Now, amid a nationwide oxygen shortage, doctors report that the military is blocking the oxygen supply to private clinics, instead funneling oxygen into military hospitals. Others have reported that soldiers have opened fire into crowds of people lined up for oxygen. The junta’s handling of the pandemic, especially hoarding necessary covid treatments, has resulted in hundreds of preventable deaths.
In light of the exponentially worsening situation in Myanmar, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Wednesday to urge them into action. Given that ASEAN membership includes both Myanmar’s military government and their unofficial ally, Russia, diplomatic efforts to restore democracy in Myanmar have stalled. All ASEAN members agreed on a five point plan in April that called for increasing humanitarian aid to civilians, assigning a special envoy, and ending military violence. Since then however, Myanmar’s military has rejected ASEAN’s consensus and suggested their own completely different plan. Many outspoken members of ASEAN including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, are also demanding that Myanmar release ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and are growing frustrated at the lack of productive action as the situation in Myanmar declines steadily.
In other news, after being selected to represent Myanmar at the Olympics, swimmer Win Htet Oo announced in April his decision to boycott the Olympics in protest of the junta’s rule. Now Win Htet Oo has condemned the International Olympic Committee’s decision to allow Myanmar’s participation in the games at all, pointing out that its neutrality policy “[recognizes] the legitimacy of a murderous regime.” Instead, he requests that Myanmar’s athletes be allowed to compete under a neutral flag.
The aftermath of the July 5th Tbilisi Pride demonstration and counter-demonstration has played out this week as rallies were held following the death of a cameraman. Lekso Lashkarava, 36, passed away Sunday morning from injuries he sustained during the attack of media representatives by right-wing groups, who were protesting the LGBT event. Later that day, journalists, activists, and politicians gathered outside the Tbilisi parliament building to commemorate Lashkarava and demand Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s resignation. The crowd amassed to 10,000 and remained peaceful as they demanded immediate and effective governmental response to the attack. Journalists have continued to hold rallies this week in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, stating that they would not stop protesting until the attackers are punished and Garibashvili steps down. The international community has condemned the violence and called on the Georgian government to protect journalists, the freedom of the press, and human rights. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is conducting a forensic analysis on the death of Lashkarava, and as part of an interim report stated the cause of death may have been related to a drug overdose. Prior to the demonstrations, Garibashvili warned about civic confrontation, citing Georgia’s large conservative majority. While he said “we will hold all the perpetrators accountable,” he continues to refer to the Pride march as a “propaganda parade.”
On Monday, Georgia’s Parliament appointed six judges to the Supreme Court, after ongoing controversy over the judicial validity of the appointments. Interviews were conducted over the past week with nine candidates, who were nominated by the High Council of Justice, an unelected judiciary body. Three of the nine failed to reach enough votes. The vote had been delayed by opposition lawmakers who were calling to suspend the election, citing an April 19th agreement to first conduct significant judicial reform. The U.S. Embassy responded to the appointment, calling it “extremely disappointing” and noting that it “constitutes a significant missed opportunity to strengthen confidence in Georgia’s judiciary and advance its democratic development.”