Weekly Report: 15 March 2019 — CANVAS

A demonstrator shouts slogans during a protest against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government in Managua, Nicaragua on 23 September 2018. Reuters/Oswaldo Rivas

Cuba

The work to ease tensions between the United States and Cuba first initiated during Barack Obama’s presidency has now reversed, with tensions now rising higher between the two countries. While experts say Cuba was eager to salvage the relationship, that has changed in Trump’s era of increased threats and sanctions against the island country. With tensions rising, Cuban state television channels have begun to air footage every night last week showing tanks rolling out and soldiers taking position. The airing of these images dubbed as “training for The War of the Whole People” is likely in response to the threat of a US invasion in Venezuela, which could potentially spill over in Cuba.

Bolivia

In a visit to Athens this week, Bolivian president Evo Morales voiced his continued support of Venezuela’s Maduro, and encouraged Western powers to stop meddling. Morales also said that history has proven Western intervention never bodes well, and encouraged the countries to rather support a dialogue within the country.

Nicaragua

This week showed both hope and disappointment in Nicaragua, amidst negotiations held between The Civil Alliance, made up mostly of students, entrepreneurs, and activists, and Daniel Ortega’s government. The negotiations were introduced to resolve the year-long struggle, but upon The Civil Alliance’s demands that Ortega release all political prisoners, Ortega’s government refused, and the opposition walked out.

        Ortega’s government released a statement on Monday saying they were prepared to continue peace talks, to which The Civil Alliance responded by saying they would, “return to the negotiating table only when the government of Nicaragua provides the country with convincing signs they want to find solutions to the crisis”. The Nicaraguan government and the Civil Alliance agreed on March 13 to resume peace talks, as the government agreed to release protesters that have been previously detained.

North Korea

In North Korea’s parliamentary election this week, Kim Jong Un did not appear on the ballot – the first time a leader has not been nominated for parliament in North Korea’s history. Regardless, Kim will still hold the same amount of power. These elections are mainly conducted as a way for North Korea to seem more democratic to the west, though there is only ever one state-appointed nominee from the Workers Party to vote for. By not putting Kim on the ballot, analysts think the country may be trying to be perceived as a “normal state” by the rest of the world.

Myanmar

Following a visit to Myanmar, UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, presented her report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, highlighting areas of significant concern, and questioning whether the Bay of Bengal was “truly habitable”. She noted that across the country there continues to be human rights abuses committed against the Rohingya population that fled from the Rakhine State in 2017. She also stated that there was, “nothing to indicate that conditions have improved for the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar”.

United States

The United States has removed the last 14 remaining diplomats from the US Embassy in Venezuela. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the diplomats were removed because of their presence becoming a “constraint on US policy. However, Maduro claims that the diplomats were told to leave by his regime, saying that they were “a threat to the country’s peace and stability.”  Despite their removal, the United States remains actively involved in Venezuela’s conflict, and is still committed to backing Juan Guaido.

Cambodia

        A drug raid of a nightclub resulted in the arrest of Kith Theang, a business tycoon who is the owner of the Phnom Penh nightclub. Police found 50kg of methamphetamines, and eventually arrested over three hundred people in connection to the case.

Mexico

Nineteen asylum seekers have disappeared in Mexico after they were pulled from a bus heading toward the US border by a group of armed men. While no information is currently known on their whereabouts, a search is being conducted by state and federal police, as well as a number of prosecutors.

Mexico has rejected the United States’ “Remain in Mexico” policy which calls for the return of asylum seekers to Mexico while they wait for their immigration court hearings. When the plan was initially announced in December, Mexico agreed to hold the migrants for humanitarian reasons, but only temporarily. Many immigrant rights groups have fought the policy, saying that it forces refugees to wait in Mexican border cities that are sometimes just as dangerous as the countries they are escaping. While US immigration officials say only 240 migrants have been returned across the border, this number is soon expected to increase.

Zimbabwe

A doctors’ strike in Zimbabwe has now entered its second day, as health workers claim that patients are dying due to a lack of medical supplies. One doctor said that the hospital has no more cancer drugs left, so patients are being given diagnoses, then sent away to die. The dozens of doctors striking have written an open letter to President Mnangagwa stating that the supplies they do have likely won’t last until the end of the month. Because of the lack of resources, simple diseases and procedures are now resulting in sometimes deadly complications, with no hope for more supplies in sight.

Laos

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has published a report naming Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos as being at the heart of both methamphetamine production and trafficking in East and Southeast Asia. The 90-page report highlights areas of significant concern, as well as individualized profiles of all three countries, called the “Golden Triangle”. There have been notable surges in methamphetamine confiscations in just two years between 2016 and 2018.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

President Tshisekedi signed a decree on Wednesday that he would free around 700 political prisoners who were jailed under Joseph Kabila’s regime. The release of these political prisoners was one promise he had made to complete within his first 100 days in office. Tshisekedi also announce that he would work to improve the conditions for a return of those who fled the country for political reasons. He also urged political exiles  currently residing in neighboring Republic of the Congo to return home.

Colombia

The power outage in Venezuela continues, forcing many to seek refuge within Colombia, including relatives of Maduro. His relatives request to cross the border into Colombia for a week was denied, the mitigation directing saying, “While the people of Venezuela die in hospitals because of lack of electricity, we’re not going to allow those close to the Maduro regime to vacation in Colombia, evading the reality of a people in agony”.

        This week, Colombians marched in favor of a peace deal made with the FARC. Demonstrators say that President Ivan Duque is hindering the process of achieving peace.

Venezuela

A nationwide power failure affected most of Venezuela this week, leaving 19 out of 23 states without power for as long as a week. While power has now been completely restored, the failure created disruptions for many businesses and schools, and created chaos in many hospitals. Opposition groups have said that as a result of the failures, 26 people are dead, including 6 babies. While the power has been restored, some cities still face intermittent shortages, as well as the risk of lootings and unsafe drinking water. Venezuelans in the northern states even reported black water coming out of their faucets, though officials say this is related to human error and not the power outages.

President Maduro has blamed the United States for the outages, saying that it was a “demonic plot” to force him from power with an “electromagnetic attack.” He also accused opposition leader Juan Guaido of sabotaging the national power grid, and has asked the country’s supreme court to investigate this claim. However, analysts and engineers have disagreed, saying that the outage is a result of years of underinvestment, mismanagement, and neglect by Maduro’s regime.

Malaysia

Malaysia has rejected Vietnam’s plea to free Doan Thi Huong, a Vietnamese woman accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam. Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s half-brother, was murdered in 2017. This request comes only one day following Malaysia’s release of an Indonesian woman accused of the same charge. The Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh asked Malaysia to, “ensure a fair trial for Huong and set her free”. Vietnam’s justice minister has also been in contact with Malaysia’s Attorney General attempting to secure her release.

Philippines

A water shortage in the capital region of the Philippines is worsening. The shortage has now affected over 6 million people, with a spokesman from Manila Water Co. Inc., saying that these people will have their water cut anywhere from 6 hours to 21 hours per day until the reservoirs refill in the rainy season of May and June. Initially, the shortage affected dozens of villages, but now, have spread to large cities including the capital, Manila. With so many questions on why these shortages are happening, and for such long periods of time, the supplier company will face an upcoming senate probe on March 19.

President Duterte announced on Thursday that 46 government officials, including three congressmen, are involved with illegal drugs. While the president does not have solid proof that the allegations are true, he said that he trusts the government agencies that provided him with the information. This is the latest in Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, which has caught the attention of many international human rights groups with thousands of drug killings taking place.  

Thailand

As Thailand’s March 24th election approaches, the introduction of a cyber-security bill hinders the hopeful anticipation of democratic change. The Cyber Security Bill was passed February 28, and may give the current military government the power to seize data and electronic equipment without proper legal authority. Katherine Gerson, a Thailand researcher at Amnesty International, stated, “This law’s aim is simple: to put the internet in a cage”.

Vietnam

Six activists in Vietnam are headed to prison, facing long sentences of 8-15 years for their peaceful protests last year. A high court is scheduled to hear their appeals early next week in Ho Chi Minh City. The activists were initially arrested for participating in a pro-democracy group, as well as participating in public rallies, and expressing views on social media. Human Rights Watch has condemned the arrests, in addition to the other 142 people who have been convicted on similar charges since June of last year.

Other News

Algeria – For several weeks, Algerians have protested current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s extension to his already 20-year rule. While Bouteflika announced he would not be seeking reelection, he also delayed the election date. Algerians responded with protest, and even jokingly took to social media stating that they would have to change the slogan from “No to a fifth term” to “No to an extended fourth term”, and calls for another Friday demonstration were made. (Al Jazeera)

New Zealand – A terrorist attack took place at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday, with 49 people currently reported dead. According to police, four people were taken into custody, with one man already being charged with murder. In light of the attacks, New Zealand’s relatively relaxed gun laws are likely to face increased scrutiny.  (CNN)