Weekly Report: 15 June 2018 — CANVAS

Photo: A Nicaraguan demonstrator stands next to graffiti reading “Ortega Out”. Reuters.

Malaysia

The Malaysian government seeks to receive reparations from companies like Goldman Sachs that contributed to the IMDB scandal resulting in enormous debt. Financial minister Lim Guan Eng stated that he intends to “seek some claims” from Goldman Sachs and eventually have the money returned.

In other news, Malaysia’s top two judges, Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal President Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin have resigned and will officially step down on July 31. Their resignations occurred amidst Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s ongoing removal of senior government officials with close ties to the previous administration. Muhammad bin Ibrahim, the Central Bank Governor, also resigned in June, having only completed two years of his five-year term.

Venezuela

After months of medicine shortages in the country, polio appears to have made a disturbing comeback in Venezuela nearly three decades after its eradication. A case was reported in a child from the state of Delta Amacuro: health care officials and the WHO are awaiting final confirmation from lab results. The case was allegedly reported over a month later than international health regulations require. The lack of basic vaccinations in the country has also sparked an increase in other formerly eradicated diseases such as diphtheria, tuberculosis, measles, and malaria: malnutrition from food shortages has only served to compound Venezuelans’ vulnerability to these diseases.

Annual inflation has reached 24550%, and Venezuelans are unable to buy a meal with one day’s salary. The country’s economic collapse continues to deepen as oil production deflates and Venezuela is unable to meet its contractual exports of crude oil. As output falls, the government of a country with the largest known crude reserves is now considering importing fuel. Workers at the state-run oil company PDVSA are abandoning their once-enviable positions as inflation renders their salaries nearly worthless, some taking equipment with them. The loss of both equipment and workers will likely stunt the industry’s already-dubious recovery.

The Supreme Court has rejected Henri Falcon’s case to challenge the May 20 election, citing a lack of evidence indicating electoral fraud.

As part of Maduro’s promised post-election national dialogue, another 43 prisoners are to be released, bringing the number to higher than 120. Many of those released are considered by civil rights groups to be illegally arrested political activists. The releases are conditional — the prisoners must agree not to speak to the press or travel internationally.

Maduro is replacing his vice president with a longtime loyalist, Delcy Rodriguez. Before her appointment, Rodriguez was at the head of the powerful National Constituent Assembly, which will convene to find her replacement, and gained her new position through years of loyalty to Maduro.

The US has frozen 800 million USD in assets allegedly belonging to Venezuelan official Diosdado Cabello — an amount that could cover two months of the country’s debt payments.

Vietnam

A draft law on new economic zones has sparked fears among Vietnamese citizens who claim their economic stature may be threatened by the encroachment of Chinese investors. As a result, nationwide protests erupted on Sunday, leading to multiple arrests. The government has stated that the “bill is designed to give a strong boost” to their economy, but because of the protests, the vote on the law has been delayed for further research.

Over a hundred protesters were taken into custody, including an American citizen named Will Nguyen, whom the United States is attempting to get released. Nguyen participated in a peaceful demonstration in Ho Chi Minh city. Police dragged Nguyen through the streets after accusing him of “disturbing the peace”. Nguyen has been detained but has not yet been charged.

Some protesters were subjected to police brutality, being dragged and beaten on the streets. Many took to social media to publicize the run-ins with the police. According to the Human Rights Watch, “A protester in Ho Chi Minh City told Radio Free Asia: ‘We were protesting peacefully and didn’t incite anyone. But they grabbed me and pushed me onto a bus on Le Duan Street, with five or six policemen beating me the whole time.’”

This protest is considered illegal under Vietnam’s restrictions on anti-government demonstrations and freedom of assembly.  

Poland

Parents of disabled children occupied the Polish parliament to seek greater federal support. According to the protest spokesperson, Iwona Hartwich, an exact same protest happened outside the lower chamber of parliament four years ago but their demands have not been realized.

Former Polish President Lech Walesa—one of the key leaders in the Solidarity anti-communist movement—has come out fighting against the present judicial reform. He has asked the European Court of Justice to “investigate the dramatic changes in the judiciary” that have undermined the separation of powers and politicized the judiciary.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has formulated plans to address Poland’s relationship with the EU in a constitutional referendum for the first time since Poland joined the bloc. The list of questions is set to be finalized next Tuesday and among others, will question the primacy of the Polish Constitution over International and European Law.

Meanwhile, Poland’s Supreme Court has ruled against a print shop employee who refused to print banners for an LGBT business group. This “liberal” ruling comes amidst the list of accusations aimed at the Polish judiciary.

Colombia

A recent government study estimates that approximately 1 million people have immigrated to Colombia from Venezuela in the last two years. The surge in immigrants comes amidst deteriorating economic conditions in the neighboring country. The Colombian government has announced that it is preparing measures to provide the migrants who participated in the census with temporary permits to stay, in effect giving them access to legal work, education and medical services.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that Colombia must investigate the 1998 death of journalist Nelson Carvajal Carvajal. The Court also condemned the Colombian government’s inaction, which marked the first time it ruled on a case regarding the murder of a journalist.

Cambodia

International groups, including a group of ASEAN MPs, continue to criticize Cambodia’s upcoming round of elections due to limitations on opposition participation. Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken several controversial steps to secure a victory including continuing his crackdown on possible sources of dissent including a major newspaper, arresting major opposition figures, and promising cash rewards at rallies.

The United States has enacted sanctions on the head of Prime Minister’s Bodyguard Unit in response to a 2015 attack on opposition politicians. The sanctions come as relations with western countries continue to fray, given that an Australian filmmaker is set to go on trial for espionage charges.  

Nicaragua

This Thursday, streets across the country emptied as the opposition called for a 24-hour national strike in rejection of President Ortega’s rule. With public transit shut down and banks and bakeries shuttered for the day, the country was in a state of economic standstill. Violent clashes continued despite the strike in several areas and at least 6 people were killed when pro-government forces continued to challenge activists’ blockades. These barricades were constructed on over two-thirds of the country’s roads in an effort by anti-government groups to halt government forces.

Amid reports of riot police and paramilitary forces firing indiscriminately at groups, the NGO Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights has raised the death toll for the past two months to 162, many of whom were students, although the government reports a lower number. Students have led the cause since its inception in April, protesting the proposed cuts to social programs. Several universities have been converted into makeshift camps for anti-government students looking to tackle Ortega.

Nicaraguan Bishops, who have been at the forefront of negotiations between the two sides for the past two months, are to meet at 10 am to announce both their mediation offer from last week and Ortega’s response, an update the country has been anticipating for a week. Activists have been pushing to bring forward the next presidential election, currently scheduled for 2021, and reform electoral rules. However,  the government has described their demand as on par with a coup and has shown no indication of acquiescence.

The government sent a report on Tuesday to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in which it accused opposition groups of violence resulting in the killing of two important Sandinista figures. The report also recounted incidents of roaming groups armed with firearms, mortar shells, and Molotov cocktails, committing “acts of terrorism” against Nicaraguans. The IACHR on Wednesday released a preliminary investigation report in which it condemned the use of force by the state and “grave human rights violations” during the government crackdown. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the report as “biased” and maintained its stance that the opposition is trying to undermine democracy.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese President Joseph Kabila will not seek a third term in the upcoming December elections after promising to abide by constitutional term limits. Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala will attend the African leaders’ meeting next week in Luana to convey this message.

The International Criminal Court has directed the “interim release” of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a warlord and former Vice President of the DRC. Amnesty International has formally decried this acquittal and has called the ICC’s ruling a “huge blow to the many victims” who suffered during the wars waged in the Central African country.

Myanmar

After a meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and Christine Schraner Burgener, visiting Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General, Myanmar agreed to cooperate with the UN to address the Rohingya crisis. However, the contents of the signed Memorandum of Understanding have not been publicly released. Additionally, there has been contention regarding whether the investigating commission should consist entirely of Myanmarese people or include international actors. Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen isolates three reasons international intervention is necessary. First, the issue has received international attention and grapples with ethnic identity and citizenship. Secondly, Myanmar’s own initiatives in the past have been extremely ineffective in bringing about significant progress and it is doubtful whether those commissions serve the best interests of the Rohingya people. Thirdly, past actions prove that international pressure is necessary to expedite the repatriation of refugees and make investigations more transparent.

Following a decrease in European tourists after press coverage of the Rohingya crisis, Myanmar is easing restrictions for travelers from Japan, South Korea, and China to strengthen its tourism industry. Also, there have been increased efforts to strengthen bilateral trade and investment between Myanmar and Thailand. Myanmar Insight 2018 is an event planned for July 20th in Bangkok to provide a platform for Myanmar’s policy makers to inform Thai business people about Myanmar’s economic policies, laws, and regulations. China continues to strengthen its regional powers through infrastructure investments in the China-Myanmar economic corridor. Additionally, Toyo Ink Group, a Japanese chemical maker, is investing in a $6.5 million facility in the Yangon Region to expand its productions into Myanmar.

North & South Korea

The Singapore Summit resulted in North Korea’s promise of disarmament in exchange for the United States’ halting joint military exercises with South Korea and the lifting of sanctions. Although President Trump framed the meeting as a success, many remain skeptical, especially given the lack of details. The final document signed by Chairman Kim and Trump had no mention of a means for verification or the irreversibility of disarmament. It also does not stipulate a timetable for the objectives.

Trump’s post-summit claim that North Korea is “no longer a Nuclear Threat” is inconsistent with the history of North Korean policies and strategies. Furthermore, the scattered network of hundreds of hidden facilities will make inspection and verification extremely difficult—studies predict the process of disarmament could take anywhere between two and fifteen years. However, it is also possible that Kim regards the lifting of sanctions and rising quality of life within North Korea as a stronger safeguard for his power than military protection against the US, South Korea, and Japan.

On the other side, the United States offered security guarantees and the lifting of sanctions upon denuclearization–although there have been suggestions that sanctions may be lifted earlier. However, the agreement to end joint military drills with South Korea was met with concern from neighboring countries. For example, a text message from South Korea’s Ministry of Defense and a statement from the U.S. military command in South Korea suggested that they were not aware of Trump’s intentions to end the training exercises. Furthermore, a South Korean senior official pointed out that this matter concerns the U.S.-South Korean alliance and therefore cannot be negotiated between the US and North Korea. Taro Kono, Japanese Foreign Minister, sought to clarify whether the halting of US military drills in South Korea was “contingent on North Korean denuclearization.”

Overall, the situation requires more careful observations before conclusions are drawn as to whether the summit was indeed a “success.”

Syria

On June 14th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to justify Israel’s numerous attacks on Iran-backed Shi’ite militias in Syria. His speech at the International Homeland Security Forum conference capitalized on the growing concerns about the millions of displaced Syrians and religious tensions between the Sunni Syrian majority and Assad’s Shi’ite government. Netanyahu accused Iran for bringing Shi’ite fighters into Syria and causing the exodus of Syrian Sunni refugees into Europe. He claimed that this conflict will serve as the foundations of “a religious war . . . that would cause endless upheaval and terrorism” and “millions more that go into Europe.” He subsequently framed Israel’s bombing the militias in Syria as an action that ensured “the security of the world.”

In response to Bashar al-Assad’s brutal efforts to take back “every inch” of Syrian territory, the United States State Department released a statement noting that it “will take firm and appropriate measures” against the Syrian government’s military actions. It also stated that Russia is responsible for leveraging its influence to “cease further military offensives.” Furthermore, in the next few weeks, senior officials from the US, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and others will meet to discuss Syrian political reform, rewriting the constitution, and holding elections. These meetings will be facilitated by Staffan de Mistura, UN envoy to Syria.

There continue to be concerns among rights groups, refugees and international actors over Law 10, which gives the government the authority to seize and develop properties that belong to displaced Syrians. The government has claimed that Law 10 is necessary to rebuild areas that have been destroyed during the war and to regulate illegal settlements. However, countries like Turkey and Lebanon have argued that this will keep Syrian refugees from returning. Additionally, Russia and Germany’s concerns have placed this issue on the United Nations Security Council’s agenda.

USA

The much-awaited Kim-Trump summit took place in Sentosa, Singapore this week. Both the leaders agreed to a “freeze-for-freeze” policy wherein the US would stop its war games- joint military exercises with South Korea- on the peninsula while Kim promised to stop his ICBM and nuclear tests.

The G-7 meeting in Canada only increased discord between the United States and its allies. The EU has already retaliated with tariffs, which will be implemented either in late June or early July. Import duties will be $3.3bn worth of US products. Trump is also ready to stage another trade war with $50 billion in tariffs against Chinese goods, which aligns with his campaign promises. It remains to be seen how this will impact  the US economy.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has raised the interest rate to two percent. The last time the federal rate exceeded two percent was in the late summer of 2008, just before the financial crisis. However, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, is increasingly confident and optimistic about the economy’s ability to sustain growth.

Zimbabwe

American diplomats in Harare condemned the death of a two year old as a “senseless and horrific act,” warning of repercussions if the death is found to be politically motivated or related to the upcoming elections. Tensions are high in the country before the first elections held without President Robert Mugabe. However, the general election environment has been lauded as more peaceful and open than ever before.

Maldives

On Wednesday, the Maldivian Supreme Court sentenced former President Abdul Gayoom, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, and Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed to 19 months in prison without a fair trial. The three men, charged with obstruction of justice, allegedly refused to provide their cellphones for a police investigation; however, they have denied these accusations.

This is not the first time Maldivian authorities have detained Gayoom, Saeed, and Hameed. In February, the men were arrested on charges of plotting a coup after current President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency. These charges have yet to be tried in court.

The international community has widely condemned the trial. On Thursday, US State Department official Heather Nauert stated that the United States was “deeply dismayed” by the court’s lack of fair process and that the sentencing “casts serious doubt on the commitment of the Government of the Maldives to the rule of law.” Furthermore, this court decision has called the Maldives’ “willingness to permit a free and fair presidential election” into question.

Other news:

Argentina After 22 hours of debate, the Argentine Chamber of Deputies has passed a groundbreaking bill allowing abortions before 14 weeks of pregnancy. Protests in favor of the bill rocked Buenos Aires this week. – National Public Radio

Laos Over 19,000 teachers are needed across the country, according to a survey of 12,744 schools, but only 1,850 teachers will be enlisted for public schools for the next twelve months. Lao News Agency

Mexico Since the start of the election season in September, 113 politicians have been killed in Mexico. The number continues to rise as the July 1st election date approaches, with two more deaths reported on Thursday. – Vox | Reuters

Bolivia –Bolivian president Evo Morales has set out on an international tour this week seeking out investors who may make financial ventures in Bolivia. On Wednesday Morales met with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss economic and political issues.” Morales hopes to secure over 1 billion dollars in investments; he will also make stops in Holland and China. – TeleSur

CANVAS News

Georgian Prime Minister Resigns Amidst Protests Against Corruption

Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili resigned on Wednesday following several weeks of popular protest and political disagreements with Georgia’s ruling party. Kvirikashvili’s resignation accompanies several other step-downs by major government officials following popular outcry and protests against corruption.