Weekly Report: 22 March 2019 — CANVAS

People walk on a flooded street in Buzi, central Mozambique, after the passage of the Cyclone Idai. AFP/Getty Images

 

Cuba

This week, the Trump administration announced their plan to end five-year visitor visas for Cubans, making it significantly more difficult for Cubans to visit relatives, or take part in academic exchanges within the United States. The State Department cited this decision as being one of reciprocity, due to Cuba’s only accepting one-time temporary visas from outsiders.

News of the suicide of Kenyan Dr. Hamisi Ali Juma shocked news outlets, initiating Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman to hire a team of experts to investigate the events leading to his death. Senators have already alleged to harsh treatment of Kenyan medics in Cuba, potentially being a large factor in the doctor’s death. Senators have called on the government to further investigate the terms and conditions of the exchange program.

Gabon

President Ali Bongo’s office announced on Thursday that the president would return to Gabon this weekend for the third time since suffering a stroke late last year. In the announcement, the spokesman expressed the president’s excitement to return to his country, as well as his thanks to Moroccan King Mohammed VI for his welcome and support throughout Bongo’s stay.

Bolivia

This week, Bolivia expelled several Venezuelans that have been accused of conspiring against the Cuban Embassy in La Paz. Bolivian President Evo Morales maintains his close relationship with Venezuela, the relationship forming during Hugo Chavez’s regime. Five Venezuelans have been detained, and have confessed to being a part of political activities.

General elections in Bolivia, originally scheduled for October 27, 2019, will now be held October 20, a full week earlier than planned. The reasoning for the change was to not coincide with the Argentina and Uruguay elections, scheduled for the 27th.

Nicaragua

The government crackdown in Nicaragua has reached a new critical point, and this week a group of countries from the region will meet with the UN Human Rights Council to discuss potential solutions. This is the first time Nicaragua has ever required a resolution by the UNHRC. The decision comes after months of Nicaraguans coming forward to share their experiences of abuse by Ortega’s regime – though all claims have been denied by the Nicaraguan government. Additionally, Human Rights Watch has been calling for the UNHRC to present a solution since August, though the situation has deeply deteriorated since then.

More than 100 anti-government protesters were arrested on Saturday during a march calling for President Ortega to release the hundreds of political prisoners arrested over the past year. The new arrests come just one day after Ortega released 50 political prisoners and vowed to release more. These arrests show that despite promises of change and renewed talks with opposition groups, Ortega’s regime will continue to suppress the Nicaraguan people.

North Korea

Two US Senators have addressed their frustrations regarding the Trump Administration’s slow movement on designated sanctions of North Korea. The letter addressed a 2019 UN report that highlighted concerns regarding North Korea’s defying US sanctions, and increased smuggling of petroleum products and coal, while also violating bans on arms sales.  

Spanish authorities announced this week their plans to further investigate an attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid, reportedly taking place on February 22, right before the denuclearization summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. The attack was carried out by 10 people with fake firearms, who interrogated people inside.

Myanmar

A prominent Rakhine leader has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for treason, a verdict which can also carry the death sentence. This verdict is likely to intensify the already high tensions between the army and the ethnic group. Aye Maung was initially arrested for his “inflammatory speech” in January 2018, the day before deadly riots broke out and Rakhine rebels briefly took control of a government building, leading to the deaths of 7 protestors.

United States

US President Donald Trump has stated that the United States could impose harsher sanctions on Venezuela, stating that “all options are open” in the country’s handling of the Venezuelan crisis, and that the US is “not looking for anything other than taking care of a lot of people”.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, while criticizing Maduro’s regime, also criticized the implementation of US sanctions, highlighting concerns that it may cause more harm to Venezuelan citizens. Bachelet said to the Human Rights Council that she was concerned it “may contribute to aggravating the economic crisis, with possible repercussions on people’s basic rights and wellbeing”.

Cambodia

After top Cambodian opposition politicians recently announced their plans to return to their home country, Prime Minister Hun Sen responded by issuing a number of arrest warrants for them. The exiled activists are members of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved in 2017 after accusations of trying to overthrow the government. Their banishment occurred shortly before the election, which allowed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to compete nearly uncontested and take all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Activists from the CNRP worry that Hun Sen is taking the country down a dark path, though aren’t able to help without returning to the country where they risk arrests or death.

Mexico

Santiago Barroso, a Mexican journalist often covering crime and drug gangs in the north Sonora state, was shot and killed in his home near the US-border. Officials have stated they are still unsure whether the killing is linked to his work, but this marks yet another death of a journalist in Mexico, being the third killing this year.

Zimbabwe

The deadly Cyclone Idai swept across Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi this week. The cyclone has left nearly 100 dead, and hundreds more missing. Opposition politicians are placing blame on the Zanu-PF government for not being as active in releasing warnings, but the ruling party argues that natural disasters are detrimental in developing countries, and that the blame cannot be put wholly on one source.

The UAE has provided $4,9 million in emergency aid, alongside neighboring and regional countries providing further humanitarian assistance. President Mnangagwa has also declared further government assistance, including medicine and food.  

Laos

The World Bank has agreed to give Laos a $72 million loan in order to finance three projects working to reduce childhood malnutrition and improve the use of public resources, as well as service delivery. The $25 million “Scaling-Up Water Supply, Sanitation, and Hygiene Project” will provide households in the four northern provinces with access to improved water supply, sanitation, and hygiene services. These same families who are most affected by malnutrition are also targeted by the $27 million “Reducing Rural Poverty and Malnutrition Project.” Both of these projects are working directly to combat the very high percentage (40% of children under 5 years old) of malnutrition in the region. The last project, Enhancing Public Finance Management through Information and Communication Technology and Skills Project” will receive $20 million and continue an initiative already in place working to implement a basic public financial management system.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

This week, the DRC has addressed and admitted to local official’s roles in the harsh crackdown that lead to hundreds of violent deaths last December. DRC Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa addressed the UN human rights council on Tuesday, stating, “What happened in Yumbi in December 2018 is not a source of pride for my country,” in response to a UN investigation held between in the middle of January.

A United Nations top official has suggested that President Felix Tshisekedi form a new government as quickly as possible, as his progression to a power position is one of the first peaceful transitions that the DRC has seen. Tshisekedi, quoted during his inaugural speech, called for the “building of a modern, peaceful, democratic state, and the release of all political detainees”.

Colombia

Recently elected Colombian President Ivan Duque began to follow through on his campaign promises of changing the 2016 peace deal. Last week, Duque objected to 6 out of 159 articles in the law implementing the peace deal with opposition group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Duque and his supporters believe that the establishment of a tribunal for war crimes makes the law too lenient toward commanders and former members of the opposition. The constitutional court said this week that they cannot rule on whether or not the changes are constitutional until they have been approved by congress. Large numbers of students have taken to the streets to protest the president’s move, saying that he is trying to stop Colombia’s peace process.

Venezuela

Representatives of opposition leader, Juan Guaido, stated on Monday that they have seized three diplomatic properties that have been previously used by the government of Nicolas Maduro. Guaido has stated that the purpose of taking over diplomatic buildings is to “strengthen bilateral relations with the U.S., and to better serve the Venezuelan community in the country”. Guaido’s main representative, Carlos Vecchio, said to reporters in Washington that they had officially “taken control of two defense buildings in the city and one consular building in New York”, and that there is a plan to take over the Venezuelan embassy in Washington “in the coming days”.

Malaysia

Formar Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak submitted four appeals related to his charges of criminal breach of trust and abuse of power to the Court of Appeals this week, three of which were denied. Najib was initially supposed to stand trial from February 12 to March 29 this year, though the four appeals filed by his lawyers have postponed his trial. Critics say that these appeals are just delay tactics to keep Najib out of prison for as long as possible.

Philippines

Seventeen months ago, a siege by Islamic State-linked militants drove hundreds from their homes in the Southern Philippines city of Marawi, the survivors of which are still unable to return. Hundreds marched on Wednesday, demanding to return back to their homes. One protester stated frustrations with the government because, “it keeps issuing timelines only to offer excuses later”. Eduardo del Rosario, head of a government task force in charge of rehabilitating the city, told evacuees that clearing operations would likely be finished by August.

Thailand

Thailand will hold the much-delayed general election this Sunday. The election will present 68 candidates for prime minister, all of which have very different backgrounds. Millions of young people will be voting for the first time in this election, and are very hopeful that a strong turnout from them could create real change in the country. However, many older Thais are less optimistic. They believe that despite promises of democracy from the ruling military party, “the election is already decided.” Many experts agree, saying that ruling party Palang Pracharat’s move to reserve a third of seats in parliament for the military will ensure their grasp on power, despite nationwide anger at their increasingly oppressive policies.

Other News:

Mozambique – Cyclone Idai has completely devastated a number of villages and towns in Mozambique. The cyclone hit last week, causing the two rivers in the area to burst their banks and wash over the densely populated area. The UN has confirmed 242 dead in Mozambique, 259 in Zimbabwe, and 56 in Malawi, though with flooding still affecting the area, these numbers are expected to rise. Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said on Monday that they believe more than 1000 people have died, though experts now say that is a conservative estimate. While a large international rescue effort has begun, thousands of people are still missing or in need of assistance in the form of food, shelter, and clean water. (The Guardian), (CNN)

New Zealand – Following the shootings at two New Zealand mosques last week that killed 50 people, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced the banning of all military-style assault rifles. The announcement comes just 72 hours after the attacks took place, and will also include the banning of all semi-automatic weapons, implementing a buy-back program that is estimated to cost $100-$200 million dollars. (CNN)