Weekly Report: 14 February, 2019 — CANVAS

Migrants from Honduras, arrive at a migrant hostel hoping to be taken in as they wait to apply for asylum in to the United States in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Cuba

As Cuba nears the February 24th date of a final referendum to make changes to their constitution, the state has begun to crackdown on protesters who are arguing for a NO vote. On Monday, 20 members of the opposition group ‘Cuban Patriotic Union’ were detained. In the following days, a number of other activists had their homes raided and also faced arrests. The new constitution will change some government structures but keep the Communist Party as supreme.

Prince Charles is set to visit Cuba this spring, a first for any member of British royalty. Florida senator Rick Scott argues that the prince should visit Florida instead, saying that a visit to Cuba would “condone the Castro regime’s brutality”.

Gabon

President Ali Bongo Ondimba has been attempting to restore people’s confidence in the government of Gabon. This comes soon after the coup attempt on January 7. Bongo has reportedly strengthened his control on the government, and previously requested and received$350 million from the United States government.

Bolivia

Bolivian President Evo Morales has slammed Juan Guaidó’s remarks about welcoming a US military intervention in Venezuela. After the US and EU-backed interim president Guaido stated that he would not rule out US intervention to remove Maduro from power, Morales tweeted that Bolivia rejects Guaido’s statements.He has also tweeted that the economic blockade threatened by the US will “threaten the human rights of the Venezuelan people”.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua has experienced political and social unrest since April 2018, when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega unleashed a violent crackdown on his opponents. Since this point, there have been at least 325 deaths, 550 arrests, and countless injuries related to the violence that erupted. Many living within Nicaragua are forced to make the extreme decisions of whether to stay in the country or figure out a way to leave, specifically business owners who are struggling with plummeting sales.

Economists in Nicaragua worry that a new and upcoming social security overhaul that wouldraise payroll taxes and cut pensions would cause a similar if not worse revolt than that of 2018.Mario Arana, who was the previous head of the Treasury and former President of Nicaragua’s Central Bank, stated, “This measure is absolutely much more drastic since it’s not gradual but instead immediate, and it will affect the nearly 800,000 insured in the country”. This package was approved in January and took effect in the beginning of February.

North Korea

With the upcoming Trump-Kim summit set to take place at the end of the month in Vietnam, both the US and North Korea are preparing for talks centered around denuclearization. However, one topic will likely not be discussed – human rights. Before the last summit, Trump promised to discuss human rights conditions within the country, but later said that the issue was barely discussed. With a clear focus on denuclearization this time around, it seems that human rights will once again be largely ignored. While the goal of the summit remains to be denuclearization, US national security officials have stated that North Korea has done little to work toward this, and that a nuclear declaration from the country will likely be incomplete.

Myanmar

This week, Myanmar saw action taken to demand justice for human rights violations committed against minority groups. Rohingya activists, alongside Rohingya refugees, international legal experts, and human rights activists, gathered in Colombia University in New York to hold discussions on seeking retribution for Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya ethnic group.

Myanmar is also being criticized by Amnesty International following reports that the military ispreventing civilians from getting food and humanitarian help. The United Nations reported that around 5,200 people have been actively forced from their homes for reasons related to the ongoing conflict.

On Tuesday, February 12th, around 3,000 demonstrators gathered at the capital of the state of Kayah, symbolically at the Loikaw Statue. Since its unveiling, 54 have been charged withdefamation and incitement, and unlawful assembly. Khun Thomas, a demonstrator at the site,said, “We are not objecting to the general’s statue itself – we are demanding to implement his promises first”. Myanmar police responded to the protest with the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons.

United States

A former US air force officer has been accused of spying for Iran. Monica Witt joined the Air Force in December 1997, and worked as a Persian-Farsi language specialist, and later a Special Agent. During her years with the Air Force, Ms. Witt was been privy to classified information that prosecutors now say she disclosed to Iranian officials. Ms. Witt reportedly had an “ideological” turn in the summer of 2013, after she had converted to Islam and was not respected by the US military for her decision to do so. It was then that she tried to defect to Iran through their embassy in Kabul.

Mexican drug lord, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, also known as El Chapo, stood trial this week in New York for his charges of drug trafficking, being found guilty for all 10 counts. After already escaping from two prisons in Mexico, the United States will likely house El Chapo in the highest security prison in the country, in southern Colorado.

Cambodia

47 Malaysians were detained in Cambodia this week, and many of the detainees are believed to be innocent by the Foreign Ministry, and instead involved unknowingly in a job scam. Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah of Malaysia has said, “we have sought the help and cooperation of the Cambodian government to assist in the release of these innocent Malaysians as soon as possible”.

This week the European Union reminded Cambodia that the “clock is ticking” in terms ofreleasing trade privileges due to ongoing human rights concerns. The EU officially began the process of imposing sanctions, and these sanctions could be detrimental to Cambodia’s economy as the EU is Cambodia’s largest trade export. The current process undertaken by the EU will be ongoing for six months as the EU monitors the situation in Cambodia, and then a final decision will be made about permanent withdraw of trade preferences.

Mexico

As caravans of migrants continue to flow toward the United States, it is the Mexican towns on the border facing the biggest effects. While NGOs and churches in these towns are working to provide food and shelter to these large groups of migrants, community members remain suspicious and officials are feeling overwhelmed. In the town of Piedras Negas, only 15 asylum requests are handled per day, forcing 1700 migrants to stay in the makeshift shelter of an abandoned factory until their requests are processed – which could take 5-7 months. Those staying in the shelter say that conditions are good, but authorities’ fears continue to increase over an ever-growing number of refugees and a potential closure of the US border.

Maldives

Former Maldives President Abdullah Yameen was charged with money laundering, allegedly receiving one million dollars stolen from the state. He will face a sentence of up to 15 years, despite his denial of any misconduct. The Maldives government is now seeking international help to attempt to recover the millions of dollars that were lost during Yameen’s presidency.

Zimbabwe

The Trump administration issued a statement this week warning Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa to not use excessive force on the country’s citizens. As protests have been breaking out over the past few weeks, the army and police have responded violently, killing at least 17 and injuring 600 more. The Zimbabwe government has stated that they will not remove military force from the streets until the protests have been stopped.

Teachers unions have suspended their national strike, returning to work on Monday after meeting with the country’s Education Minister. Teachers warn though, that if the government does not meet their demands, they will go on strike again.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo continues to see the effects of the recent Ebola outbreak, that has taken 502 lives, while 271 have been effectively cured. While a vaccination program is ongoing, and has helped prevent deaths, there are now active allegations against health workers for using the vaccine in exchange for sexual favors, specifically targeting vulnerable locations resulting in further gender-based violence. The Ministry of Health stated that participants in focus groups had, “expressed concerns about women and girls being offered Ebola-related services in exchange for sexual favours”.

Martin Fayulu, the runner-up for the DRC presidential election in 2018, has called for a rematch. Fayulu has met with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and EU Foreign Relations Chief, Federica Mogherini regarding the potential rematch. Fayulu believes that the results had beenfabricated, and suggested setting up an African Union special committee upon receiving results.

Colombia

Colombia’s migration office has “cancelled over 300 daily entrance passes for Venezuelan politicians and their families who support President Nicolas Maduro” The head of Colombia’s migration agency issued a statement saying that it’s not fair for supporters of the dictatorship to freely enter the country and enjoy the benefits while 800,000 migrants have had to flee Venezuela for Colombia because of hunger and supply shortages.

Venezuela

The US is seeking a United Nations Security Council resolution that will call on Venezuela toconduct fair presidential elections with international observers present. Donald Trump’s Latin Advisor claimed this week that “there is not a single scenario” in which Nicolas Maduro and his “cronies” would retain and hold power in Venezuela. Russia continues to support Maduro, thus refusing to support a US-led campaign.

Guaido revealed on Monday, February 11th that he and his team had delivered the first shipmentof international humanitarian aid, although he did not state how he was able to deliver the aid or where it had come from. He did state the aid that was delivered was small in scale due to the Maduro’s blocking of the border last week.

This week Maduro threatened Juan Guaido, stating, “This person, who believes that politics is a game and he can violate the constitution and the law, sooner or later will have to answer before the courts”. This comes alongside news of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled Congress naming a new board of directors for the oil firm PDVSA in an effort to remove the oil revenue from Maduro’s control.

Malaysia

The trial for former Malaysian Prime Minister has been postponed with no new date set. Najib Razak is on trial for nearly 40 counts of corruption, stemming from the 1MDB deal launched in 2009 as a “multibillion dollar investment by a Saudi oil firm” which was supposed to be used to create jobs within Malaysia. Suspicions emerged when Najib’s family was suddenly seen flaunting huge amounts of wealth, and an investigation found “hundreds of millions of dollars” placed in Najib’s bank account in 2013.

Philippines

Maria Ressa, Philippine journalist arrested Wednesday, February 15 on charges of “cyber-libel”was freed on bail following international condemnation. Maria Ressa is recognized in her field as being named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2018, having a career with CNN, and eventually becoming co-founder of Rappler, one of the most hard-hitting investigatory news outlets based in the Philippines. Activists were almost immediately vocal in their discouraging of treatment of Ressa, including former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who called Ressa’s arrest “outrageous”. Amnesty International had previously called out President Rodrigo Duterte’s government for “relentlessly intimidating and harassing” journalists.

Thailand

Thailand’s Princess has been disqualified from running for Prime Minister. Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya announced just last week that she would run as the Thai Save the Nation party’s candidate for prime minister, but was shut down after her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, said that her running would be “inappropriate.” Soon after the king made his announcement, the Election Commission announced that “monarchy must remain above politics” and that the princess would be officially disqualified from running.

Other news:

Iran – Following the wave of protests that occurred in Iran in 2018, there remain unanswered questions regarding the deaths of nine protesters who died under “suspicious circumstances”, and a lack of acknowledgment for protesters that were killed in the streets while protesting. The Worldwide Threat Assessment for 2019 was released on January 29, where the US Director of National Intelligence stated, “we assess that Tehran is prepared to take more aggressive security measures in response to renewed unrest”. (CNN)

Nigeria – With the upcoming February 16 presidential and legislative elections, many have fears of significant violence erupting following the elections. On Sunday, February 10, five members of the All Progressive Congress (APC) were shot and killed, leading authorities to believe it to be a targeted attack by the opposition. This week, two electoral offices were burned down, sparking suspicion and general concern. Nigerian elections have resulted in violence in the past, instilling fear that Saturday will be “no different from previous polls”. (Al Jazeera)

Spain – Eight leaders from the Catalonia separatist movement are set to go to trial next week in Madrid, where they could face up to 25 years in prison. Also in Madrid, 45,000 people have taken to the streets to protest Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s plan to have talks with secessionists. Conservatives in the country say that the offering of these talks is grounds for treason, while separatists rejected the offer, saying they want a new independence vote. (BBC)