The Amazon rainforest is responsible for 25% of the world’s oxygen and home to indigenous tribes, however, the portion of the forest that lie in Brazil is under targeted attacks by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president.
WHO IS JAIR BOLSONARO
Jair Bolsonaro was a former captain under Brazil’s military dictatorship and was elected president in October 2018. Many are touting his election as a continuance of the rightward authoritarian shift in global politics. Bolsonaro is a climate skeptic whose environmental policy, consisting of opening up the Amazon for development and agribusiness, has drawn international condemnation.
Historically, Brazil has been a successful leader in combating the climate crisis. According to the New York Times, between 2004 and 2012, Brazil created new conservation areas, increased monitoring of the forest, and took away government credits from rural workers caught razing protected areas. These efforts brought deforestation to the lowest levels since record keeping began.
These practices, however, are nowhere to be seen in Bolsonaro’s administration. Bolsonaro has said that “Brazil is like a virgin that every pervert from the outside lusts for,” and claims that criticism of his environmental policy is an attempt to restrict Brazil’s growth. Bolsonaro believes that opening up the Amazon to commercial exploitation--including mining and agribusiness--is the key to the development of Brazil’s economic potential. He has pulled back on enforcement measures like fines, warnings, and the seizure of illegal deforestation equipment. He has systematically slashed the environmental agency’s budget and recently claimed that his own government’s satellite found evidence that claims of dangerous deforestation are “lies.” According to the Associated Press, Brazil’s portion of the Amazon has lost more than 1,330 square miles of forest since Bolsonaro took office in October of last year. The Amazon produces 25% of the Earth’s oxygen, is the most biodiverse spot on the planet, and is currently losing the equivalent of three football fields of tree cover a minute. The rainforest is also incredibly vital in absorbing and sorting carbon dioxide through a natural process which slows down global warming. However, when trees are cut down, bulldozed, or burned the Carbon Dioxide is released back into the atmosphere. An independent research study aimed at cataloguing the impact of Amazon destruction on global warming conducted by the Associated Press found that in the last 50 years, one fifth of the Amazon has been cut and burned to make way for logging, mining, and ranching. Scientists are afraid that should the current trend continue, the Amazon could potentially degrade into a savannah and would no longer be capable of its natural processes that aid in combating climate change. Oppositely, Bolsonaro believes that the key to Brazil’s economic future lies in opening up the Amazon for commercial exploitation and has dubbed any criticisms of his policies as a concerted attempt at stifling Brazil’s economic growth, despite proof from human rights activists that commercial exploitation greatly endangers the Amazon’s hundreds of indigenous tribes.
The majority of the world’s 100 or so uncontacted tribes live in the Amazon in Brazil, and their protection is inscribed in Brazil’s constitution. Indigenous tribes are guaranteed under law the preservation of their rights and cultures, which have been persecuted for centuries. Bolsonaro has forgone those enshrined promises and instead campaigned on hard cuts to government funding for indigenous peoples and has frozen the expansion of federally protected reserves. In response to concerns about what opening up the Amazon to mining could do to indigenous populations, Bolsonaro stated that “indigenous people want to work, they want to produce and they can’t,” despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of people in more than 400 tribes live, and rely on, the Amazon.
Survival International, an organization dedicated to protecting indigenous people and their tribes, has called for increased police protection for tribes in the Amazon. However, due to violence from illegal loggers and ranchers, Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department FUNAI, has been prevented from working in the area. Despite these concerns, Bolsonaro continues to defend his economic agenda and, according to a Guardian article which likened his forgoing of indigenous rights to genocide, stated that, “(t)here is no indigenous territory where there aren’t minerals. Gold, tin, and magnesium are in these lands, especially in the Amazon, the richest area in the world. I’m not getting into this nonsense of defending land for Indians.” Human rights activists have called the situation an emergency, stating that the remote Awa tribe live in such fear that they “teach children not to cry so no one can know where they are.” Additionally, a plethora of gold miners have invaded the Yanomami territory bringing disease and death to its people. Facing international outrage and cries to stop his commercial exploitation Bolsonaro offered a resounding and final response; “the Amazon is ours, not yours.”
-By Monericka Semeran, WACNH Intern
It's August 14, 2019: For the first time since 2007, the yield of US 10-year Treasury bonds falls below that of the 2-year bonds. This inversion sends ripples throughout financial markets, as these flips have occurred before every recession in modern history, causing investors to quickly take money out of stocks and invest in bonds instead. The last time the economy saw such a yield-curve inversion was December 2005, two years before the Great Recession. Following the financial scare, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day 808 points lower than it began it, a 3.1% drop. This is not a surprising occurrence these days in the financial markets though, as the Dow Jones had fallen and risen 350 points in each session last week, with a dark cloud of economic uncertainty hanging over every decision to invest that dates back a year and a half. Now, let's take it back to the beginning...
April 3, 2018: US President Donald Trump announced a series of tariffs on Chinese goods totaling $60 billion, including products from shoes and clothing, to consumer electronics. The move comes on the heels of an announced tariff on all global imports into the US of steel and aluminum, giving exemptions to allies such as Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, South Korea, Argentina, and Brazil. These two moves, directly targeting Chinese trade, fulfill a promise made by Trump throughout his 2016 presidential campaign to reduce the over $300 billion trade deficit with China and comes after an investigation into Chinese trade practices, which began in August 2017. The tariffs were defended by US trade representatives and President Trump by saying that the government’s aim is, “strategically defending itself from China’s economic aggression,” particularly on the subject of intellectual theft by China, who is viewed by the administration as an “economic enemy”. China immediately responded to the initial steel and aluminum tariff with $3 billion in tariffs on American goods, including pork and wine. Following the targeted tariff list, however, China responded with a more proportionate tariff regime of $50 billion as well, including American chemicals and cars.
July 6 2018: Three months later, the revised first round of tariffs on Chinese goods totaling an additional $50 billion, went into effect, focusing on goods containing “industrially significant technology.” This round of tariffs came just a month after US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that the trade war would be put ‘on hold.’ China’s first round of tariffs went into effect the same day, revised down to $34 billion worth of goods. At the same time, a list for a second round of tariffs was under review by the White House, totaling $16 billion and including instruments, electrical machinery, and iron and steel products.
July 10, 2018: Just four days after the first list of tariffs went into effect, the third list of tariffs, and the most extensive to date, was announced by the US Trade Representative. The list targeted over $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, including over 6000 separate commodities and proposes a 10% tariff on these products. China responded with $60 billion in tariffs on August 3, and 11 days later, China lodged its first formal complaint against the US with the World Trade Organization, alleging that US tariffs on solar panels are affecting its trade advantage. On August 23, both countries second round of tariffs went into effect and China lodged another WTO complaint against the US, followed by the third round going into effect on September 23.
December 1, 2018: The United States and China, over a working dinner at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, agree to a 90-day truce in the trade war. Both countries agreed to refrain from increasing existing or imposing new tariffs while both countries work towards a larger trade deal. Substantive trade talks in this period occur from January 7 to 9, January 30 and 31, February 11 to 15, February 21 to 24, March 28 and 29, April 3 to 5, and April 30 to May 1, 2019.
May 5, 2019: News out of each trade meeting was generally positive and signaled that a larger trade deal was certainly possible to hammer out between the two sides, evident by the openness by both sides to extend the truce period to have the best chance at making a deal. However, on May 5 Donald Trump threatened that the third list of tariffs, worth $200 billion, would see a bump from a 10% tariff to a 25% one and that he was considering a 25% tariff on a further $325 billion worth of Chinese goods. The tariff bump went into effect just 5 days later, signaling an official end to the truce period and forcing China to do the same on its third-round tariffs. In tweeting about the tariff increase, Trump cited the need for talks to accelerate and that China would not be able to continually renegotiate. Six days later, Chinese telecommunications and electronics company Huawei was banned by the US from purchasing from US companies unless given government approval. Through June and July, trade talks were held again and signaled positive progress, a second temporary truce was agreed, and some restrictions were relaxed.
August 1, 2019: Despite a perceived warming of trade talks, Trump announced another 10% tariff, this time on $300 billion in Chinese goods, effective September 1. This tariff regime is the largest one announced, effectively placing tariffs on all Chinese products imported into the US, and further threats were made to raise existing tariffs again.
August 5, 2019: In perhaps the most significant action taken during the US-China Trade War, for the first time since 1994, the US Treasury officially designated China as a ‘currency manipulator.’ The move comes after the Chinese yuan fell to its lowest exchange rate against the US dollar in 11 years after the August 1 announcement of new tariffs. China has long been treated internationally as a currency manipulator, keeping the yuan artificially low to gain a competitive advantage in trade, but the move to officially designate them as such is a very drastic and rather unexpected one.
The US trade war with China that has seen actions and reactions taken and implemented back and forth over the last almost two years has injected a constant sense of volatility in the global economy, and of possible instability. The erratic movement of the Dow Jones last week makes this evident; further accentuated by its performance on August 19, which followed up a close on Friday up 300 points with another 300-point rise, indicating an optimistic view on an approaching end to the trade war and limits to its economic fallout. Though there may be reason to hope that the volatility of this trade war may be coming to end before the year is over, about 74% of economic analysts surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics still believe that the US is headed towards a recession in the next two years. Strong showings on the stock market for the foreseeable future don’t rule out a recession, as the stock market rose for 12 months straight following the last yield-curve inversion of bonds in 2005. The trade war has certainly increased the overall unpredictability of global markets, and for the everything else not involved in these market mechanisms, it is only a waiting game as to whether a recession is on its way or not.
-Michael Pappas, WACNH Events and Education Coordinator
Kashmir is an ethnically diverse Himalayan region that was contested territory even before Pakistan and India gained their independence from Britain in 1947. Following the partition of India, the Indian Independence Act allotted Kashmir the freedom to choose the country that they would join. Kashmir’s Maharaja, Hari Singh, chose India in return for its help against invading Pakistani tribesmen. However, war still erupted between India and Pakistan and the United Nations recommended that they handle matters by holding a referendum vote in which the people of Kashmir would choose which nation to join. Unfortunately, neither party could agree on a plan to demilitarize the region for the voting to take place. The UN forced a ceasefire in 1949 and the region became officially divided.
A second War took place in 1965, and another brief conflict occurred in 1999, at which point both India and Pakistan were nuclear powers. Today, both nations claim Kashmir as theirs despite only occupying certain territories. An armed revolt has been steadily increasing in the Indian occupied territory for 30 years, and the Indian government blames Pakistan for backing the separatist militants.
According to BBC News, there were earlier signs of unrest before the official Indian revocation order, including the deployment of tens of thousands of Indian troops to Kashmir, the cancellation of a major Hindu pilgrimage, the shutting of schools and colleges, ordering tourists to leave, suspending internet access and communications, and arresting political leaders. Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is a special provision that allows Kashmir its autonomy, which includes the right to make its own laws, have its own flag, and have its own constitution. The article also allowed for rights regarding permanent residency, property ownership, and other fundamental laws. According to an Al Jazeera article on the matter, this allowed the Kashmir government to potentially bar outsiders from buying property in the region and settling there.
The current situation on the ground is one of turmoil according to several residents. The main city is currently a maze of razor wires and steel barricades, with drones and helicopters flying overhead according to reporters for Al Jazeera. Kashmiri resident Zameer Ahmed told the Associated Press “The entire Srinagar city has been knitted in razor wire to seek our resilience and obedience.” This has created a situation that makes Kashmir is currently the most militarized region in the world, with no easy solutions in sight. People with family in the region who live elsewhere have reported that they have not had any contact with their loved ones, and are unable to reach them due to the communication shutdown. Many of them have taken to Twitter and believe that the internet shutdown is an attempt by the Indian government to stop activists from documenting what is actually happening.
Prime Minister Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are employing increasingly nationalistic language and practices, leading many Kashmiri activists to believe that the revocation of article 370 is an attempt by the government to essentially erase the only majority Muslim region in India. They state that PM Modi seeks to make India a Hindu only country by allowing Hindus to settle in Kashmir. Modi, however, stridently disagrees with this interpretation, and the Home Minister, Amit Shah, stated “I want to tell the people of Jammu and Kashmir what damage Article 370 did to the state. It’s because of these sections that democracy was never fully implemented, corruption increased in the state, that no development could take place. The Indian government is also moving to break the region into administered districts: Muslim-majority Kashmir and Hindu-majority Jammu, and Buddhist-majority Ladakh. Senior leader of the opposition party, P Chidambaram, responded to Shah and described the move as a “catastrophic step,” stating “you think you have scored a victory, but you are wrong and history will prove you to be wrong. Future generations will realize what a grave mistake this house is making today.”
Much like Kashmir, the legality of the revoking Article 370 is also hotly contested. One constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap, told the news agency ANI that the order was “constitutionally sound,” and that “no legal and constitutional fault can be found in it. Yet, the BBC reports that another constitutional expert AG Noorani told BBC Hindi that it was “an illegal decision, akin to committing fraud,” and that it “could be challenged in India’s Supreme Court.” However, the Supreme Court has stated that the Kashmir crackdown can continue. An open letter signed by 69 human rights activists and organization, lawyers, journalists, and academics addressed PM Modi over concerns of human rights violations due to the crackdown. They are calling on Modi to revoke the harsh curfew, reinstate communications, release the political rivals that were arrested, and reinstate Article 370. There are no signs, however, that PM Modi will acquiesce to the requests.
-Monericka Semeran, WACNH Intern
On Monday, India’s government announced that the special, pseudo-autonomous status for the region of Kashmir would be removed. In preparation of the announcement, the government deployed thousands of troops to the region in the two weeks prior, arrested hundreds of local politicians, closed schools, banned public meetings, and “severed internet connections, mobile phone lines and even land lines,” attempting to prevent communication in or out in anticipation of unrest.
The provision allowing for Kashmir’s special status, now being revoked, is Article 370, which was added to India’s constitution in 1947 when British India was split into two nations, the Muslim-majority Pakistan and Hindu-majority India. Jammu and Kashmir was a majority Muslim state ruled by a local prince lying between the two nations, with both countries sending in troops and India taking two-thirds. Article 370 was signed by the prince at the time, granting regional autonomy to the area in exchange for joining India. In the decades since, Pakistan and India have governed their parcels of Kashmir separately with hopes of one day having full control, fighting two major wars over it. Even today, troops on either side periodically fire shots against the other, and Muslim extremists have resorted to violence on many occasions trying to expel Indian forces, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that left 166 dead.
Contributing to the long-running disputes in Kashmir is the continued status of Article 370 being in question, because “(a)lthough it was intended to be temporary, Article 370 says that it can only be abrogated with the consent of the legislative body that drafted the state constitution. That body dissolved itself in 1957, and India's Supreme Court ruled last year that Article 370 is therefore a permanent part of the constitution.” The administration of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi contests this ruling, believing that it should be up to the President, who is beholden to the ruling party, Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Indian Judiciary has been on shaky ground throughout Modi’s tenure, and Modi himself campaigned for re-election against Pakistan and promising to integrate Kashmir fully, a cornerstone of the BJP for decades, which resulted in his party’s landslide victory in May.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan vehemently condemned the status revocation, warning that it could lead to war between the two rival nations, ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Muslims, and an increase in terrorist attacks. A suicide bombing in Kashmir in February by a Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, which left 40 Indian security forces dead and led to the first aerial skirmishes between the two countries in five decades, is largely believed to have been the catalyst for the government’s move for Kashmir. Pakistan, which is currently helping mediate a deal between the United States and the Taliban in Afghanistan, is in favor of US mediation for negotiations with India over Kashmir, but India has rejected such requests in favor of direct talks with its rival. Some Pakistani officials have said that flareups in Kashmir could hinder the country’s ability to “support the U.S. mission in its mission in Afghanistan.” The Taliban promptly denounced this rhetoric, urging “both India and Pakistan to refrain from taking steps that could pave a way for violence and complications in the region,” and not to link the issues in Kashmir with Afghanistan, “because the issue of Afghanistan is not related nor should Afghanistan be turned into the theater of competition between other countries.”
Since the presidential decree on Monday, protests have been breaking out in Kashmir and soldiers and police have used violence against those demonstrators and civilians, though the communication blackout has prevented reports of violence from getting out. Elsewhere in India, several opposition parties, and some regional parties, came out in support of the administration’s decree, while celebratory demonstrations broke out in Mumbai, Delhi, and the Western state of Gujarat, where Modi is from. On Thursday night, Modi addressed the Indian people, defending the move to wrest control from Kashmir by claiming that it would “bring a cleaner, less corrupt government, more security and a stronger local economy.”
The sudden move by Modi and the BJP to fundamentally shift the power balance in Kashmir is not an entirely surprising move, by a Prime Minister and party centered around India as a Hindu nation. The Muslim-majority region of Kashmir holding a unique status in the country, as well as being a longstanding flashpoint and epicenter for the tense rivalry between India and Pakistan, has long made it a key prize for Hindu nationalists in the nation. With Modi’s seemingly overwhelming mandate in two straight election for his policies, pushback from within India against the move will almost certainly be minimal. Additionally, the idea that people in both Pakistan and India have wrapped parts of their national identities around the standoff in Kashmir makes conflict a distinct possibility. While the two nuclear states have narrowly avoided war in the decades following their acquisitions of nuclear weapons, the official status of Kashmir have never shifted as much as now. It is unclear what news will continue to come out of the region while India continues its communications blackout, and where the relationship between Pakistan and India will stand whenever the dust settles.
- By Michael Pappas, WACNH Events and Education Coordinator
War broke out in Yemen in 2014 when the Houthi rebels--a Shiite rebel group linked to Iran with a history of rising up against the Sunni government-- seized control of Yemen’s de jure capital and largest city, Sanaa. The Houthis are loyal to former president Ali Addullah Saleh and are demanding a new government for Yemen.
War escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) launched ferocious air attacks against the rebels to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Many have accused Saudi Arabia and Iran of using Yemen and its citizens to fight their own proxy war and, according to The Global Conflict Tracker, their involvement threatens to create a broader Sunni-Shia divide in the region. Numerous Iranian weapons shipments have been intercepted by the Saudi naval blockade, forcing Iran to send out their own navy. This further risks military escalation between the two countries.
Separate from the ongoing civil war, the United States continues counter-terrorism operations in Yemen, relying on airstrikes to target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and militants loyal to the Islamic State. The US has also launched 200 airstrikes in Yemen against the Houthis, even though they pose no direct threat to America. However, the continued bombing of Saudi infrastructure, by these rebels, is a great threat to an important US ally.
Yemen has been dubbed by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian conflict. The Global Conflict Tracker estimates that 22.2 million people are in need of assistance in the region, with 91,600 killed since 2015, and over 2 million displaced. Yemen is facing a cholera outbreak that has affected one million people. An estimated 85,000 children have also died from starvation due largely to a refusal by the Houthis to accept United Nations aid. This situation has only been made worse by a man-made famine created by the rebels blockading of cities, with an additional 8 million at risk of famine. Global Conflict Tracker reports that all sides of the conflict have violated human rights and international humanitarian law.
Al-Jazeera claims that the campaign against the rebels, now in its fifth year, has largely failed. Houthis still maintain control of Yemen’s capital and its largest city, as well as their increasing attacks on UAE-Saudi military positions.
The attacks last month came as the rebels launched a medium-range ballistic missile and an armed drone at a military parade in Aden, a southern city in Yemen. The missile attacks killed dozens of people and a separate suicide bombing killed 10 more. The military parade that was attacked belonged to the Yemeni Security Belt Forces who are backed by the UAE. The Houthis have their very own TV station in Yemen called Al-Masirah, where they described the parade as being staged in preparation for a military move against them, thus justifying their attack. Reuters news quoted a medical and security source who stated that 32 people were killed in the attack, Associated Press put the number at 40, and Al-Jazeera placed the number of casualties at 47.
Al-Jazeera states that the Houthis sought to send a message to the Saudis and the UAE that the rebels would “hit them hard” if they are to continue military operations in the country. Other attacks have plagued the city as well; including a suicide bombing that killed 10 people and wounded 16. Also, a car, a bus, and three motorcycles laden with explosives targeted a police station according to the Associated Press. Yemen’s Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed in a tweet, blamed Iran for the attacks, but provided no proof. Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia responded to Al-Jazeera’s requests for a comment on the attacks.
The UAE has announced plans to withdraw their troops from Yemen, stating that they will switch from a “military-first” approach to a “peace first” one. Experts are worried however that their departure will create a security vacuum that the rebels will be eager to fill. The director of the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University states that the resulting security vacuum is because there was no arrangement with the legitimate government or the Saudis. He went as far as to say that “without the Houthis there cannot be stability,” there is no outright proof as to whether or not he is correct and until a peaceful agreement is reached, Yemen’s state remains very much in flux.
On April 2, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned from his position after 20 years in power, ousted by widespread protests that began when he announced, almost two months prior, that he would be seeking a fifth term. Uniquely in the Arab world after the Arab Spring, Algerian protestors “‘removed a president without exiling him,’ as in Tunisia, ‘(w)ithout imprisoning him,’ as in Egypt, ‘(a)nd without killing him,’ as in Libya.” A bloodless revolution. Now four months after Bouteflika’s resignation, however, protestors continue to take to the streets of Algiers in significant numbers twice a week.
To the protestors, Bouteflika was simply one cog in the government machine often referred to simply as “power,” which also includes a cadre of government officials, wealthy businessmen, and the military’s upper echelons. When Bouteflika announced he would not seek another term amidst the earlier protests, the protestors soundly rebuffed this concession by the government. The last straw, though, was Bouteflika’s April 1 announcement that he would resign by April 28, which wasn’t soon enough, and the army chief of staff, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, forced Bouteflika to resign the next day.
Central in the ousting, Gaid Salah quickly became a very important figure in the transition period, serving as a de facto leader instead of interim President Abdelkader Bensalah. Under his de facto rule, he “has presided over a purge of the elderly leader’s associates and senior officials, sending a dozen or more to prison on corruption charges. However, he has refused to facilitate a civilian-led political transition. Presidential elections, due on July 4, were postponed for lack of candidates.” Also, since June, his forces have arrested protestors and blocked news websites. The General has continued to push for a presidential poll to be held as soon as possible, but protestors continue to reject this unless initiated by a civilian-led interim administration without the involvement of the military, interim President Bensalah, or Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, all of whom are considered ‘old guard’ power players. Both previous attempts by the military to schedule elections have been denied, with protestors fearing the polls potentially being rigged.
In order to develop a plan “to mediate between the public authorities and the civil society and parties,” Bensalah announced on July 25 the creation of a 6/7-member committee. This body, known as the Algerian Mediation and Dialogue Committee, revealed its plan on July 30 to invite 23 more national figures to the body to help expand its scope, but protestors reject the body’s mandate as unrepresentative of those in the streets. The same day, General Gaid Salah rejected the preconditions demanded by protestors to allow a presidential poll to proceed and continues to press for elections to be held soon.
Fortunately for civilians, the protestors currently appear to have the upper hand over the de facto military rule. The protests have been far too successful and popular in their ousting of President Bouteflika for Gaid Salah to use violence to quell the protests. Polls conducted by Brookings early last month of civilian protestors, civilian non-protestors, and military personnel (soldiers, junior officers, and senior officers) have shown broad support for the protests, their goals, their ousting of Bouteflika, as well as the need for radical change of the nation’s political system. With that in mind, even if military leadership gave orders for violence to be used against protestors, it is unclear whether, if not unlikely that, rank-and-file soldiers would do so. With the vigor and stamina of the protests still strong after five months, and strong support across the country, a civilian-led government looks poised to rule in Algeria once again sooner rather than later.
Protests over corruption and misappropriation of government funds have erupted in the small island nation of Haiti, with many protesters calling for the resignation of the nation’s president, Jovenel Moïse.
Haiti, a nation in the Caribbean that shares an island with the Dominican Republic, is yet another country where the government is seeing an onslaught of democratic protests. Thousands marched through Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital, in protest of allegations that the current president, and members of his administration, have embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from an oil program with Venezuela. The funds were meant to finance social programs, infrastructure, and to combat the nation’s outbreak of cholera.
In 2010, Haiti faced a devastating earthquake where over 200,000 were killed and the nation’s infrastructure was ruined. Already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and facing an outbreak of cholera, as well as infamous for government corruption, Haiti faced a difficult challenge to rehabilitate itself. However, in 2005 an oil agreement with ally Venezuela provided the country with the opportunity to create funds to combat their myriad of crises.
Time magazine reports that in 2005, Venezuela’s former president Hugo Chavez set up the PetroCaribe deal with Haiti and 17 other Caribbean nations. In the agreement, the nations were allowed to purchase oil from Venezuela’s countless reserves, and were able to defer payments for up to 25 years, charged at extremely low interest rates. These Caribbeans nations would then sell the oil to other parties and use the money saved in the transaction to finance social programs, rebuild infrastructure, and combat public health issues. However, the article in Time magazine states that the deal began to suffer in 2014, following Venezuela’s economic collapse. In 2018 Venezuela stopped fulfilling its PetroCaribe commitments to Haiti, which has created an oil crisis for the small nation.
In November of 2017, a five person team in Haiti’s senate began investigating allegations of misappropriation of funds, when profits being brought in through PetroCaribe were not made visible in infrastructure or public health improvements. The investigation team reported evidence of widespread corruption and misappropriation of the funds under three consecutive governments, with huge amounts of money missing. According to a New York Times article on the matter, the senate team found that at least $2 billion (the equivalent of almost a quarter of Haiti’s economy in 2017) went missing, and the nation still owes Venezuela billions for the oil. Their findings stated that the amount of money in government coffers was misrepresented, exchange rates were adjusted, and more than half the contracts given to companies to rebuild infrastructure did not go through the usual government processes. There was also little oversight because the money was not coming from standard international aid packages.
Protests sparked in summer 2018 when inflation rates spiked out of control and the government announced plans to raise fuel prices. Protesters have dubbed themselves PetroChallengers with hashtags #KotKobPetwoKaribea (Where is the PetroCaribe money?) and #PwosePetroCaribea (Prosecute those involved in PetroCaribe). Protesters are also demanding the resignation of those implicated, including current president Jovenel Moïse. Before the president came to office he was the head of the company Agritrans, a company that was paid $700,000 to repair roads, which some found strange considering their job is to grow bananas. Moïise has denied any wrongdoing and refused calls to step down, stating on Twitter “I’m looking you in the eye today to say: your president, whom you voted for, is not guilty of corruption.” He added that those who are guilty should be “brought to justice in a fair, equitable trial without political prosecution.”
By Monericka Semeran, WACNH Intern
The United States and Turkey have been NATO allies since 1952 and share some important interests, but they are also faced with various challenges in recent years. Turkey’s core security and economic relationships, as well as institutional links, remain with Western nations, as reflected by some key U.S. military assets based in Turkey and Turkey’s strong trade ties with the European Union. However, various factors complicate U.S.-Turkey relations. For example, Turkey relies to some degree on nations such as Russia and Iran for domestic energy needs and coordination on regional security, and therefore balances diplomatically between various actors. Bilateral relations between the Trump Administration and the Erdogan government have faced several recent challenges. The acquisition of S-400 air defense systems from Russia has endangered the relations between the US and Turkey, particularly from a NATO standpoint.
Turkey has taken delivery of a controversial Russian missile defense system, despite opposition from the US. The shipment of the S-400 missile defense system arrived on an airbase in the capital Ankara this past Friday, as confirmed by the Turkish defense ministry in an announcement on Twitter.
Turkey had plans to buy 100 F-35 planes from the US, but after Turkey announced in 2017 that it also planned to install the S-400 Russian missile defense system, the US nixed the deal for the advanced fighter jets. This was due to US officials concerns that by having this Russian missile system, and Russian technicians to help the Turks operate it, the Russians could learn how to possibly shoot down the F-35, as well as learn about other vulnerabilities. As such, the U.S. has indicated to Turkey repeatedly that there's no way Turkey can be allowed to have the F-35 jet if they buy the Russian S-400. As the Russian system arrives on Turkish soil, NATO stated that it's concerned about Russian missiles being deployed by a long time NATO ally. For some observers, the S-400 issue raises the possibility that Russia could take advantage of U.S.-Turkey friction to undermine the NATO alliance. In April 2019, Vice President Mike Pence asked publicly whether Turkey wants “to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history” or “risk the security of that partnership.” In 2013, Turkey reached a preliminary agreement to purchase a Chinese air and missile defense system, but later in 2015 withdrew from the deal, perhaps due to concerns voiced within NATO as well as China’s reported reluctance to share technology. Much of the reports stated that the US government has told Turkey that purchasing the S-400 would have “unavoidable negative consequences for U.S.- Turkey bilateral relations, as well as Turkey's role in NATO.” Some potential examples include, sanctions against Turkey, risk to other potential U.S. arms transfers to Turkey, reduction in NATO interoperability, and introduction of “new vulnerabilities from Turkey's increased dependence on Russia for sophisticated military equipment.”
- By Furkan Cakin, WACNH Intern
Iran and the West have long had an increasingly intertwined, and oftentimes combative, relationship. For most of World War I, the United Kingdom occupied most of the nation known at the time as Persia, fully withdrawing in 1921. That same year, however, the British supported a military coup over the ruling Qajar dynasty, which ended in the appointment of Reza Khan as Prime Minister. Four years later he was named the monarch of the country. Throughout the Shah’s rule of Iran, the UK continued to control the country’s oil through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In the leadup to World War II, Reza Shah preferred doing business and receiving technical expertise from what would soon be Axis nations, rather than the Allies. This preference led to an allied invasion of Iran in 1941 and the forced abdication of the throne from Reza Shah to his son, Mohammad Reza Shah.
In 1951, Mohammad Mossadeq was appointed as the 35th Prime Minister and later that year took the controversial move to nationalize the oil industry, ending the British monopoly. Two years later, with the assistance of British Intelligence, the CIA carried out its first covert mission to depose a foreign nation’s government, creating a coup and successfully removed Mossadeq. With Mossadeq out of power, the Shah became a more authoritarian ruler, fully secularizing the nation and wielding secret police forces for extrajudicial arrests and tortures. After the oil crisis in 1973 saw oil prices spike, Iran experienced double-digit inflation, and followed that up with a recession.
Demonstrations against the Shah became serious early in 1978, due in large part to the abuses and alleged assassinations carried out by the secret police, as well as the rapid secularization policies alienating the religious core of the country. After a year, the Shah fled to the United States, Ayatollah Khomeini returned from his exile, and Iran was declared an Islamic Republic in April 1979. Due to their longstanding support for the Shah, as well as the active role they played in the coup against Mossadeq, the United States has been viewed as an enemy of Iran. This view was largely fueled during the Islamic revolution and was put on full display when the US Embassy in Tehran was stormed in November 1979, with 52 people in the embassy being taken hostage, a hostage crisis that lasted 14 months.
Since then, the tension between the US and Iran has remained. In his 2002 State of the Union address, then-President George W. Bush included Iran in his ‘axis of evil’ alongside Iraq and North Korea, particularly for their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Later investigations confirmed that the pursuit of nuclear weapons ended that year, but the country continued to pursue civilian nuclear energy. The mere presence of enriched nuclear material in Iran led to several bouts of economic sanctions targeting the nuclear program, which were lifted with the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known colloquially as the Iran nuclear deal, in July 2015.
After the campaign leading up to his 2016 election, where he ran on the idea that the deal was a bad one for the United States that did little to prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, President Trump announced that the country would be violating the JCPOA. This would be following a 180-day transition period beginning May 8, 2018, after which “the highest level of economic sanctions” would be imposed on Iran. This announcement was justified on the grounds that, as Trump stated, “we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying, rotten structure of the current agreement,” and that Iran was in fact building a nuclear program; a claim without compelling evidence. At the time, Iran, the deal’s European signatories, and Russia expressed regret at the decision, but Iran stated that the deal could survive without US participation. On November 5, 2018, the United States “fully re-imposed the sanctions on Iran that had been lifted or waived under the JCPOA.” According to the US Treasury Department, “(t)hese are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as the energy, shipping and shipbuilding, and financial sectors. The United States is engaged in a campaign of maximum financial pressure on the Iranian regime and intends to enforce aggressively these sanctions that have come back into effect.”
Following the US’s violation of the JCPOA by re-imposing economic sanctions on Iran, the Islamic Republic begun to slowly indicate that it would be straying further from the deal, as well. On May 12, Gulf tensions began to grow as four commercial oil tankers were attacked off the coast of the UAE, “one was flying a UAE flag, two were tankers owned by Saudi Arabia, and the fourth was a Norwegian tanker.” While the culprit remained unknown, it was determined to be a state actor. A month later, on June 13 two more ships were attacked, one a Norwegian oil tanker and the second a Japanese chemical tanker. This occurred at the time Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was on a state visit to the Islamic Republic. The US suspected both targeted attacks were carried out by Iran using limpet mines and announced four days later that an additional 1,000 troops would be sent to the Middle East. A day later, it was announced “(d)uring a news conference at the Arak heavy water reactor facility, that Iran had increased low enriched uranium production fourfold and would exceed the limit of 300 kilograms by June 27,” violating the JCPOA, in response to the US’s sanctions.
A day after the announcement, Iran shot down an American drone aircraft, with the Revolutionary Guard claiming that it had shot down an "intruding American spy drone" after it entered the country's airspace. A US official disputed this claim, saying that while the drone had been shot down by Iran, it had occurred while the drone was in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. Responding to the drone downing, the US imposed more sanctions and carried out a cyberattack against the computer systems controlling the Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s rocket and missile launchers. In April, the Trump administration had designated the Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization (Iran responded with giving the US military the same designation).
The exchanges between the West and Iran have only continued in the past month. The UK seized an Iranian oil tanker for violating sanctions on Syria, Iran seized an Emirati tanker, a British tanker and a Liberian vessel last week, and the US punished a Chinese company for importing Iranian oil on Monday. Iran announced it had captured 17 American spies and sentenced some to death (disputed by the US), rejected plans for a European-led maritime security force in the Gulf unveiled by the UK foreign secretary on Tuesday, and tested a medium-range ballistic missile on Wednesday.
It is difficult to see a clear path forward where the tension building up over the past year, especially during the last two months, will be defused soon. The violation of the nuclear deal by the Trump administration was the first domino to fall and lead the Gulf to its current predicament, and it is unclear what the future holds for it. On one hand, Iran said on Wednesday that a formal offer for a ship swap would be forthcoming to swap the British tanker they seized with the Iranian tanker that the UK seized, a sign of potential willingness for compromise. While on the other hand, shipping in the Strait of Hormuz remains tense, Iran tested a ballistic missile this week, and debate continues as to how averse the US and Iran are to actual conflict. The average person must just hope that conflict remains the last option that either nation wishes to follow, but both countries need to demonstrate a maturity to stray from the current ‘tit-for-tat’ strategy that inches both closer to an increasingly inevitable, and very regrettable, end.
Hong Kong’s relationship with China is an increasingly peculiar one because the region exists under the “One Country, Two systems” agreement. In the mid 1800s, China lost a series of Opium wars to Great Britain, and as such they had to capitulate several of their territories and a large sum of money. The agreement was that Hong Kong would exist as a British colony for 99 years, an agreement that ended in 1997. When the agreement came to an end, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese President Jiang Zemin agreed that the best course of action was to slowly integrate Hong Kong back into China. They proposed the “One -Country, Two-Systems” model. Where Hong Kong would technically be a part of China but exists with its own culture and its own government. This model will come to an end in 2047 and in the meantime China is meant to respect Hong Kong’s status as an autonomous region. China, however, is growing increasingly impatient.
These are not the first protests Hong Kong has initiated as a response to China’s perceived encroachment on their autonomy. In 2014 the Umbrella Protests occurred in response to China’s meddling in Hong Kong’s elections. The Umbrella Protests were relatively peaceful until police began spewing tear gas at the crowd, forcing them to use umbrellas to try and block the attack. China has also recently built the largest maritime bridge (34 miles) between itself and Hong Kong to bring the two regions closer together. Their have also been recent efforts to bring Hong Kongers into more traditional Chinese culture. Mainland China speaks Mandarin while Hong Kongers speak Cantonese; the Cinese government has dubbed Cantonese as illegitimate and a bastardized version of Chinese, and has established schools in Hong Kong in a re-education effort. Hong Kong rejects these re-education attempts and is willing to fight for the preservation of their culture, at least until the agreement ends in 2047. These are the first protests where nearly a third of the country have taken to the streets to defend their autonomy and it all started with a murder.
More than a year ago, a Hong Kong couple traveled to Taiwan for a vacation. Whilst staying at a hotel in Taipei, the man murdered his then pregnant girlfriend before making his way back to Hong Kong where he confessed to the crime Hong Kong, however does not have an extradition treaty with Taiwan and it appeared as though the man would go free. To avoid this, the Hong Kong legislature drafted a bill that would allow for extradition with Taiwan, but the bill would also allow mainland China to exercise their extradition rights on any Hong Kong citizen whom Beijing believes to have committed a crime.
The prospect of their citizens having to face justice in mainland China worried many Hong Kong citizens; Hong Kong is a democratic region with a quasi-bill of rights laid out in the One-Country, Two-Systems agreement, while China is an authoritarian government. Hong Kong has freedom of speech, press, assembly, and the right to a fair trial. China, however, has none of these and has been condemned by human rights organizations for their inhumane treatment of prisoners. Not only that, but Hong Kong protesters also view this as a way for China to wrongfully imprisoned people who speak out against them. This worry is not unfounded seeing as how bookkeepers who operated a bookstore that sold reading material banned in mainland China, and books that were critical of the Chinese government, mysteriously disappeared. One of the men reappeared a year later on Chinese state television apologizing for selling the books, and claiming that he is deserving of any punishment the Chinese government should decide for him.
In response to these impingements 2 million out of 7 million Hong Kong citizens have taken to the streets in protest. These protests are largely different from previous ones not only because they are comprised of such a large percentage of Hong Kong’s population, but because citizens from the business sector also joined in, as well as an increasing number of young people. So far, the protests seem to have worked with Hong Kong’s current leader Carrie Lamhas putting the extradition bill on hold. Despite this, many pro-democracy leaders are not placated because they don’t believe the act goes far enough and they reject Lamhas’ negative response to the protesters by referring to them as “rioters” and refusing to allow them any legitimacy. The pro-democracy leaders would like to see the bill officially withdrawn from the legislature. They believe that the bill would pass easily in the legislature because of the majority pro-China influences in the law-making body if it is to remain. The citizens of Hong Kong dedicate themselves to keep protesting until the bill is officially withdrawn and they no longer have to worry about China’s growing influence in their government.
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