Weekly Report: 1 March, 2019 — CANVAS

President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un before a meeting at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam on Feb. 27, 2019. Saul Loeb / AFP – Getty Images Source: NBC

Cuba

Cubans voted on Sunday to update the country’s constitution while preserving the socialist system of government. Results showed that 87 percent of voters approved the referendum, which updated some of the language on electoral, financial, and criminal laws. While 4.15 percent of ballots weren’t counted because of mistakes, still 9 percent of voters opposed the new constitution – a high number for a country where opposition parties are illegal. Most opposition came from Evangelical Christians who fear the new constitution could eventually allow for the legalization of gay marriage. There was also some opposition from younger Cubans who fear the new wording is still too conservative and will not allow growth for future generations.

Gabon

Gabonese President Ali Bongo has returned to Gabon on Sunday following his month-long stay in Saudi Arabia for treatment of a health condition. This week he was immediately back to work, overseeing a cabinet meeting and meeting heads of the Constitutional Court and National Assembly and his chief of staff. His prolonged absence left many in Gabon feeling unsettled as the state of his health was not released.  

Bolivia

Bolivia declared a national emergency this week because of natural disasters caused by heavy rains over the past few weeks. On Wednesday, the country’s Minister of Defense announced that 5200 families have been affected and 59 homes have been destroyed in the 61 affected municipalities. By declaring a national emergency, the country will be able to allocate around 7 million dollars  to activating national resources. The Bolivian State Housing Agency also reported an allocation of about 10 million dollars earlier this month to replace houses destroyed by the floods.

Nicaragua

The past six months under Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has been cause for significant concern for human rights organizations, especially with hundreds of arrests of political opponents and activists. Michelle Bachelet, UN Human Rights Chief, has recently expressed alarm at increased suppression and political instability.

Ortega announced last week negotiations to take place “to consolidate peace”.  Nicaraguans are hopeful that the talks will inspire a resolution to the ongoing political crisis. Prior to scheduled talks with the opposition, Nicaragua released dozens of prisoners arrested during protests and demonstrations against the President Daniel Ortega and his government. The releases were announced by the Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH), but there are no further details about the releases made. The crackdown by the end of October resulted in 325 deaths, and over 750 arrests.

North Korea

The Trump-Kim summit took place on Wednesday and Thursday this week. After months of anticipation, the summit has ended in no-deal – much different from Trump’s goal of North Korea’s denuclearization. In interviews after the failed talks, Trump said that North Korea wanted the U.S. to lift sanctions in their entirety, which was not possible. Despite the fact that no agreement was signed, Kim did say that he “wouldn’t be here right now” if he wasn’t willing to denuclearize. Trump also said that Kim promised to not continue nuclear and rocket testing. Kim Jong Un will remain in Vietnam for an official state visti beginning on Friday, while Trump has already left for the United States.

Myanmar

This week, the United Nations is addressing accusations that they have ignored signs of escalating tension and ethnic violence in Myanmar and are launching an inquiry into its conduct over the past decade. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Ki has advised global investors to focus their investments on the Rakhine State, a region characterized by mistreatment of Rohingya people, claiming that the world needed to stop focusing on the “negative aspects” of the area. Since 2017, around 750,000 Rohingya have fled the Rakhine State due to reports of torture at the hands of Myanmar police.

Speaking to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday, Bangladesh Foreign Security Shahidul Haque stated, “I regret to inform the council that Bangladesh would no longer be in a position to accommodate more people from Myanmar,” addressing the recent increase of over 700,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh in the past 18 months.

On Wednesday, February 27 thousands rallied in Myanmar’s commercial capital of Yangon to support a constitutional reform. The reform would promote changes to the charter regarding the army’s role in politics, and comes at a time where there is ongoing tension between the ruling party and the military. Protesters and democracy activists shouted chants like, “take a rest, military dictatorship”.

 

United States

The Trump-Kim summit endedon Thursday in Vietnam with no deal signed between the two countries. While Trump had hopes of North Korea agreeing to denuclearize, Kim ultimately would not agree unless the U.S. lifted all sanctions against North Korea. Trump still described the talks as productive, but said he had not committed or made plans for any third summit.

The House of Representatives has voted to overrule Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the United States’ southern border. By declaring a national emergency, Trump is able to override Congress’ refusal to provide funding for his border wall and build it with military funding instead. Democrats say that this declaration is unconstitutional, and thirteen republicans sided with them in the recent House vote. Now the vote to overturn Trump’s declaration will head to the republican-majority senate, though some conservatives are expected to vote with democrats. If the senate approves overturning the national emergency declaration, Trump will likely veto and the case will most likely end up in the Supreme Court’s hands.

Cambodia

As human rights violations continue to be unaddressed, U.S. lawmakers has asked the Trump Administration to review preferential trade terms with Cambodia through a legislation introduced on Wednesday. The Cambodia Trade Act (CTA) would ultimately decide whether the privileges should be “withdrawn, suspended, or limited”.  Cambodia currently exports around $180 million of goods to the United States per year.

Cambodia experienced the same punishment from the European Union a few weeks ago, where the legislation could see Cambodia’s preferential access suspended.

Mexico

Mexico’s president announced on Tuesday that he will not take sides regarding the crisis in Venezuela, despite U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s calls for Mexico to recognize Juan Guido as the rightful president of Venezuela. President Lopez Obrador told reporters that he does not want to get involved, but urged both sides in Venezuela to seek a peaceful solution. He also voiced his beliefs that the disputes over humanitarian aid should be resolved by the United Nations.

Teachers from Oaxaca are in Mexico City staging a 72 hour campout to protest the General Professional Teaching Service Law. The teachers are also calling for the concept of multicultural education instead of bicultural education in order to better represent the many indigenous groups across Mexico. Despite the absence of 800 teachers in the protests, 90% of classes in Oaxaca resumed as normal.

Maldives

On Monday, February 25, opposition lawmakers submitted a motion of no-confidence against Defense Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi, following her comments made to an Indian newspaper where she said, “If the Indians really wanted to occupy Maldives, they never had the intention, I’m sure, but if they do, I don’t know how we can stop it. You see, your airforce, your navy, your infantry, literally there is nothing we can do… this is just being practical.” Opposition supporters almost immediately retaliated, and promised to summon the Defense Minister for questioning. There has recently been increased anti-India sentiments among opposition supporters.

Zimbabwe

With Zimbabwe’s financial crisis worsening every day, the country has introduced what they hope will be a solution – a new currency. The RTGS dollar rolled out this week will ideally bring together debit card, mobile payments, and bond notes to have the same value. The country has also given up on the previous notion that the bond notes rolled out in 2016 have the same value as the US dollar. This time, they are saying that “the value of the RTGS dollar against the US dollar will be set by the market.” The new currency was initially sold to banks at a rate of 2.5 RTGS to 1 U.S. dollar. By allowing the value to fluctuate, the black market will ideally be eliminated.

Botswana officially gave Zimbabwe a loan of $600 million on Thursday, when an agreement was signed between the two countries. The agreement, which was signed in Harare, allocates $500 million of the loan for the diamond industry, with the other $100 million going to helping private companies who have been hurt by Zimbabwe’s currency shortage.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Seven months have passed since the DRC’s ebola crisis began, and over 500 people have died, with the virus still not under control. As the epidemic rages on, people are growing less trusting of health agencies and doctors. As a result, two ebola clinics have been set on fire by arsonists this week, with the most recent attack happening on Wednesday. The clinic which was attacked on Sunday was forced to close down as a result of damage from the fire. Health workers already struggle to find proper facilities and equipment for fighting the virus, and these recent attacks have created huge setbacks.

The United States announced last week that officials involved in the DRC’s recent election misconduct will be denied visas. This ban on visas will affect 5 senior Congolese officials in addition to their immediate family members. The state department also stated that they would impose visa restrictions on a number of other officials who were involved in human rights abuses during the election.

Colombia

Violent encounters along the Venezuelan border with Colombia began on Friday, February 22, resulting in 285 injuries and 37 hospitalized on the Colombian side of the border, as stated by Colombia’s foreign minister. The clashes came as a result of armed government forces attempting to block shipments of aid from entering Venezuela. United States Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Colombia for an emergency meeting with regional leaders, as well as meet with Juan Guaido in an attempt to resolve the worsening crisis.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has responded by closing two international bridges, stating Colombia needed 72 hours to assess the damage and clear as much as they could. Colombia attempted to reopen their side of the border on Wednesday, February 27, but Venezuela kept their side closed. Regional director of Colombia’s Civil Defense, Miguel Perez, spent Wednesday traveling across the bridges attempting to find someone in Venezuela that he could negotiate with.

Venezuela

Violence broke out this weekend at the Venezuelan/Colombian border when protesters clashed with forces loyal to Maduro over the blocked aid. At least 4 people died and over 300 were injured as a result of military firing tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of protestors. U.S. Vice President Pence, who was in Colombia early this week to meet with opposition leader Guaido, denounced the attacks and said the the United States would impose additional sanctions against Venezuela.

Following his meeting with U.S. Vice President Pence and other world leaders from the Lima Group this weekend, opposition leader Guaido has announced that he will begin exercising his duties as president upon his return to Venezuela. In a video posted to his twitter, Guaido made the announcement and asked for continued support from his base. Despite his strong statements, Guaido does fear that he may be arrested upon returning to Venezuela. Regardless, he remains confident that even his arrest would not stop the movement, and may even strengthen the opposition to Maduro’s regime.

Malaysia

In June 2018, Malaysia announced their 40,000 Chin refugees would have to return to their home countries by 2020 as they would no longer be considered as refugees. The UN High commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began phasing out their protection of Chin refugees by August, stating that the Chin State was safe enough to return to. Many of the Chin refugees fled from Myanmar, where they faced ongoing harassment and persecution.

Philippines

A group of international law enforcement agencies met on Wednesday to celebrate the inauguration of the first Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center. The Center will feature a collective of law enforcement from the Philippines, Australia, and the U.K. working to combat the online exploitation of children across the Philippines. While the Center will remain focused on the Philippines for now, they eventually hope to expand their reach to all of Southeast Asia.

Thailand

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, one of Thailand’s rising political stars, is under public eye as police want to prosecute him under the Computer Crime Act for criticizing the military government on a Facebook video. He has actively encouraged young people to vote for the upcoming elections to be held on March 24, and has vowed to end Thailand’s military “dictatorship”. Prosecutors have stated that they will decide on the indictment two days after the elections.

Vietnam

Vietnam was in the spotlight this week as it was the site of United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s second summit meeting, taking place February 27-28. There was no agreement made between the leaders. While Trump left Vietnam on Thursday, Kim is set to stay in Vietnam through Saturday.    

India and Pakistan – Tensions between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region have escalated immensely over the past weeks, reaching their highest point in decades. On February 14, a suicide car bombing was executed by a Pakistani group, JeM, in the Indian-controlled region of Kashmir and killed 42 people. This week, India fired back by launching air raids on an area occupied by a JeM training base. In the cross-fire, at least eight Pakistani civilians were killed. Today, an Indian pilot who was shot down and has been detained by Pakistani forces since Wednesday is expected to be released. Many hope that the release of this pilot could be the goodwill gesture that will de-escalate the ever-growing tensions. (CNN, Al Jazeera)

Sudan – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir announced a state of emergency on Friday, February 22 following ongoing demonstrations across the country. This week, Bashir issued four new emergency laws forbidding protests while imposing new economic restrictions. Mohamed Awad, a legal expert and activist, stated, “In the current situation, there is no legal need for imposing the emergency. The solution is 100 percent political. Peaceful transfer of power is the solution”. Recently announced measures state that acts such as sharing new that authorities believe could “put the country in danger” on social media could result in a prison sentence. Protests were ongoing on Wednesday at the Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman and at a hospital in Khartoum’s Bahri section following the release of the news. (VOA)  

Palestine – Palestinian protests along the Gaza border last year resulted in 189 deaths between March 30 and December 31 of 2018. UN human rights experts have launched a commission of inquiry to investigate whether Israeli soldiers committed war crimes. The UN Human Rights Council stated that over 6,000 demonstrators were shot by military snipers over the course of nine months. The protests, called “the Great March of Return” are in support of Palestinian refugees returning to what is now Israel. The Israeli government believed that terrorists used the protests to cross into Israeli territory, thus initiating Israeli soldiers ordered along the border fence. The commission states that shooting a civilian that is not directly participating in hostilities constitutes a war crime.  (BBC)