Photo: President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address at Parliament in Cape Town (Reuters)
It has been reiterated numerous times over the course of the week that the Syrian people alone are the only ones to determine the future of their country, reinforcing Syria’s sovereignty and reaffirming Syria’s commitment to the final statement of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Continuing aggressions by Turkey and Israel bombard Syria, causing countless injuries and claiming several civilian lives. The UN Secretary-General “has called for an immediate de-escalation in Syria after Israeli recent aggression on Syrian territories.”
In commemoration of the 36th anniversary of the open strike announced in 1982 against the Israeli occupation, authorities and their decision to annex Golan and impose the Israeli laws and “identity” on its Syrian citizens, locals of the occupied Syrian Golan gathered on Wednesday. “The Syrian people in the occupied Golan have always renewed their deep attachment to homeland and commitment to the Syrian identity, undaunted by repressive Israeli measures”.
The United States was shaken this week by a devastating shooting at a Florida high school. A 19-year-old gunman killed 17 and injured an unknown number of people. This is the 239th school shooting since the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 in 2012, but also the deadliest in this time frame. President Trump has called the shooter “mentally disturbed,” evoking the sentiment that the shooting is a result of poor mental health infrastructure in the United States. Many across the country see it rather as yet another consequence of insufficient gun regulations. The Florida shooter, despite a long history of dangerous and erratic behavioral issues, did pass his background check and purchase the gun he used legally.
In other US news this week, senators have rejected an immigration deal proposal that would have funded the wall and instituted strict limits on incoming migrants, but helped the ‘Dreamers’ whose fate has been recently under threat by the Trump administration. This leaves those hundreds of thousands of people, who have known no life other than that they’ve lead in the US, with uncertain futures. In other immigration-related news, on Thursday the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that President Trump’s ban on people traveling into the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries is unconstitutional.
Candidates for the presidency will have to register online by February 26th for their position on the ballot to be confirmed March 5th. The opposition party has 9 days to make its final decision to whether or not their will abstain from the race.
The Lima Group, plus Canada, have criticized the government’s decision to hold elections without coming to an agreement with the opposition. The countries said the election “would not be free and fair as long as Venezuela has political prisoners, the opposition was not fully participating and Venezuelans abroad were not allowed to vote” and advised the government to reconsider their election calendar. Colombia stated they would not recognize the outcome of the elections.
The President of Venezuela has ordered the country’s consulate in Miami to be reopened before the elections in April. It had been closed in 2012 by Chavez. US Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, echoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s earlier comments, tweeted about supporting a military coup in Venezuela. When the Associated Press contacted him, he emailed back “The Maduro regime is an illegitimate government which has brought suffering and misery to the people of Venezuela.” Thousands of people in Florida are from Venezuela, having fled crime, economic deprivation, and unrest under Maduro’s regime.
Brazil will declare a “state of social emergency” in Roraima, a northern border state. To control the flow of refugees from Venezuela, the government will boost funding and troops in the area, said Defense Minister Raul Jungmann on the 14th. Ten percent of the population of the Roraima’s capital are arrivals from Venezuela – about 40,000 people who are now straining public resources. Colombia is also struggling with Venezuelan immigration as thousands of people cross its borders.
As Cambodia nears its July national elections, the ruling CPP continues to consolidate its power, moving the state closer to single-party dominant rule. In addition to the le?se majeste?? law proposed last week that makes defamatory speech about the Cambodian monarchy illegal, five other amendments were passed, each impacting the freedom of citizens or limitating the potentional power of any opposition groups. These amendments to the Cambodian constitution included new restrictions on voting rights, authority by the government “to take action against political parties if they do not ‘place the country and nation’s interest first’,” and an instruction that Cambodia is not to interfere in “internal affairs of other countries since it opposes foreign interference in its own affairs.” This last amendment seems to target the CNRP, the largely dismantled opposition party, which has consistently appealed to the international community to pressure the government toward free and fair elections. Prime Minister Hun Sen pivots, from picking away at his opposition, now fragmented and mostly in exile, to entrenching his position through legislation.
At the same time, Cambodia’s economy is flourishing. Tourism, largely from China, fuels the economy along with low-cost manufacturing for the rest of the world. Cambodia is edging towards China’s position of key manufacturer in the global market as China’s wages rise and firms look for new locations from which to source their products. Some firms may however be attempting to pressure the Cambodian government as Walmart did, to respect its civil society.
The Cambodian National Council for Women signed its annual report this week. The report congratulates the government on its efforts to elevate gender equality in society, highlighting examples like the issuance of land titles to “poor women and widows” and an increase in female civil servants. Women’s rights activists, however, doubt the validity of the achievements. They point out that the increase in female civil servants was barely significant, with just one percent growth, and more than half were at lower level and municipal positions: never at any decision-making level. Nominations for the seats claimed from the recently-dissolved opposition party being almost exclusively men, “female representation at the national level has actually dropped.” Thida Khus, executive director of women’s rights NGO Silaka, declared that efforts towards gender equality have “come to a standstill” due to the political tension in the country. She hopes attention will return to the issue after the July elections.
The Carnival of Oruro: Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Bolivia commenced on February 9th. Traditionally, it is a 10-day celebration that honors Bolivia’s indigenous history and Christian symbols in a display of cultural syncretism. It is considered one of the world’s most important celebrations and one of the largest in South America.
The first day of the Carnival saw a gas explosion and a traffic accident. A series of further explosions, in this case deliberate, took place over the course of the Carnival. This has led President Morales to call for exhaustive investigations of the explosions that have claimed over 40 lives and injured over 120 civilians. One of the attacks was labeled a “fatal homemade Carnival Bomb.” ‘A Criminal Attack’,” as the deadly device consisted of ammonium nitrate, dynamite, and explosive oils. This is not the first year that Carnival has claimed innocent lives, leaving concern and sadness lingering amongst the Bolivian people as tragedy strikes once more.
Bolivia Without Violence launched a campaign called “Carnival without excess, without violence,” which aims to reduce “crime during the annual celebrations and [encourage] men to treat women and girls with respect.” Bolivia is also raising awareness of the Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free From Violence, which, according to the UN, has yet to reduce femicide. Statistics have shown that over 100 women arehave been murdered yearly in Bolivia. The campaign consists of private, public, and international organizations, including UN Women and local municipal governments that, who distribute thousands of leaflets, install billboards, establish emergency hotlines, and broadcast educational videos.
History recalls several decades of Bolivia “fighting to reclaim its coastal territory from Chile, which it lost in the 1897 War of the Pacific,” leaving the country landlocked. March 23rd marks the yearly celebrations Bolivia holds to celebrate the Day of the Sea, a national holiday marking the loss of its territories to Chilean forces. President Morales has announced a mass mobilization to commemorate the centennial of the maritime claim against Chile, in which nationwide ceremonies will be held as a “show of unity of the Bolivian people around the maritime demand.”
In light of intensifying criminal activity throughout the country, Mexican federal intelligence agents have been assigned to tail presidential candidates: notably PAN candidate Anaya, an opponent to ruling PRI’s candidate Meade. Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete said that Anaya was supposed to have been informed of the security detail and insisted that the tail was for security reasons only– not, as Anaya wrote, in order to spy on the opposition. The agents had been assigned to tail Anaya through his tour of the Veracruz state, where cartel-related violence is common. The detail was to simply “report any mishap” that may occur on the campaign trail as part of a “protocol in which [they] analyze security issues in the states.” Critics have claimed this use of agents and resources is “wasteful,” particularly as the country struggles to conduct successful and effective intelligence operations against its main security threat: drug cartels.
An indigenous woman named Maria de Jesus Patricio, or “Marichuy,” is running as an independent candidate in the presidential race. This week, she was injured and one member of her team was killed in a car accident. The candidate previously served as the spokesperson for the political arm of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, the National Indigenous Congress. Patricio has not collected enough signatures to enroll officially as an independent candidate, let alone win the presidency. However, her presence in the political field helps to draw attention to the poor, the indigenous, the most marginalized in the country, and their struggles in civil participation.
Polls continue to show left-wing presidential candidate Lo?pez Obrador in the lead with 33 percent of support, although Anaya, candidate for the left-right coalition called “For Mexico in Front,” has been catching up, now only 8 points behind with 25 percent. Jose Antonio Meade of the ruling PRI trails behind still, with one poll showing a decrease from 17 percent to 14 percent.
South Africa – Jacob Zuma, former President of South Africa, “announced on Wednesday evening that, although he does not agree with his decision, he will resign as president of the republic effective immediately”. – news24 | DW
Zimbabwe – Morgan Tsvangirai, former prime minister and leader of Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, has died. The future of his party and its leadership remains uncertain. – NYTimes
Ethiopia – Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned after deadly unrest pushed his government to release several high-profile political prisoners. – NYTimes
Maldives – The alliance of Opposition parties in the Maldives has appealed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to mediate all-party talks to resolve political turmoil in the country. – First Post
Myanmar – This week, Bangladesh authorities passed a list of 8,032 names of Rohingya refugees to be repatriated to Myanmar. This is despite the fact that the U.N. announced the conditions in Myanmar are unacceptable for voluntary return, given that Myanmar hasn’t addressed the Rohingya’s exclusion and denial of rights in Myanmar, and the outflow of refugees from Myanmar continues. – NYTimes | Washington Post