The World this Week: September 25th, 2018

South and Central Asia

India launched a massive new healthcare scheme, known as “Modicare” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in advance of national elections next year. The program seeks to provide improved access to health care for 500 million Indians, making Modicare the most extensive government program of its kind in the world. Qualifying Indian families will be given an allowance of 500,000 rupees ($6,881) to cover hospital expenses as well as improved access to primary care.

No one is quite sure how much the program will cost or what effect it will have on India’s healthcare system moving forward. The government estimates costs to exceed $1.5 billion once the program is fully implemented. There is some fear that increased demand could further strain a health care system that already struggles to meet current demand and drives India’s most destitute deeper into poverty.

India has canceled a meeting at the United Nations between its foreign minister and the Pakistani foreign minister less than 24 hours after agreeing to what would have been the first high-level contact between the nuclear-armed neighbors in 3 years. Cited as the reason for the decision to call off the meeting was the discovery of the bodies of three police officers in Kashmir. India claims that Pakistan has “evil agenda” and that the murders “confirm that Pakistan will not mend its ways.”

The Middle East and North Africa

25 people were killed during an attack on a military parade this past Saturday in the city of Ahvez, Iran. Supreme Leader Khamenei places blame for the attack on the Gulf Arab States and the United States. Two groups are claiming responsibility for the attacks, the Islamic State and the Ahvez National Resistance, although neither group has provided evidence for the attack.

At a Sunday meeting in Algiers, OPEC has decided that they will not increase oil production, despite calls from President Trump to lower oil prices.  Oil prices have risen primarily due to U.S. sanctions on Iran, which have created a decrease in oil supply and an increase in the price of oil. At the Sunday meeting Energy Minister of Saudi Arabia, Kahlid al-Falih, claimed: “Markets are quite balanced today, there’s plenty of supply to meet any customer that needs it.”

North America

World leaders gather this week in New York for the 73rd annual meeting of the United Nations. President Trump and top administration officials plan to use the platform to denounce Iran’s regional activities, including support for proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, as well as ballistic missile development, and to call for crippling new economic sanctions on the regime. The administration’s position is set to pit the US against its European allies over the fate of the JCPOA, or Iran Nuclear Accord, as European leaders have stated their commitment to the deal and opposition to the imposition of more sanctions. For its part, Iran will try to widen this divide between America and its allies and paint the US as untrustworthy and disingenuous. The meeting comes as Western companies flee Iran in the face of potential American sanctions.

According to Turkish authorities Andrew Brunson, the American pastor jailed on terrorism charges in Turkey in the wake of the 2016 failed coup attempt, might be released as soon as next month. The pastor’s detention set off a diplomatic standoff between the US and its NATO ally and has precipitated a severe decline in relations between the two countries. President Trump called the charges a “total disgrace” and imposed sanctions last month on two top Turkish officials, which exacerbated an economic crisis in the country and pushed the lira to historic lows. Mr. Brunson currently resides under house arrest while he awaits his Oct. 12 court date. His release would alleviate some strain on US-Turkey relations, although other issues remain such as how to restore peace in Syria, and Turkey’s proposed plan to purchase an advanced missile defense system from Russia.

Europe

Pope Francis has recognized seven bishops appointed by China in a historic accord to improve ties between the Vatican and the communist country. China, according to the BBC, has some 10 million Catholics. This issue has been at the heart of a dispute since China first broke off diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951.

In Switzerland, more than 60 percent of voters have rejected two proposals on ethical and sustainable food. The projects were aimed at boosting local farming and promoting sustainable agriculture. Opponents, including business leaders and the government, had warned of higher food prices and fewer choices.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Guatemala declared an international commission special prosecutor as a “national security threat.” The UN-backed CICIG (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala) was established as a joint venture with the Guatemalan government. CICIG has been central to the country’s successful dismantling of government corruption including the removal and indictment of former President Molina. The move represents a continued effort by President Jimmy Morales to undermine CICIG and cement his power.

China is making connections across the Caribbean. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi had a full agenda last week as he made his first visit to CARICOM. Minister Wang oversaw the inauguration of a new Chinese Embassy in the Dominican Republic on Friday. The governments initiated diplomatic relations in May when the Dominican Republic severed ties with Taiwan. The following day Minister Wang traveled to Guyana to discuss their place in the Belt and Road initiative.

Argentina is beginning a major organized crime trial. On September 20th, the latest round of legal proceedings kicked off against “Los Monos” in Rosario. Rosario is a major port city along the Pacific narcotics trafficking routes. “Los Monos” stand accused of controlling the drug trade there. The group remains one of the deadliest in Argentina’s recent history. Since the May sentencing hearings for key figures in “Los Monos,” they have attempted 16 attacks against Judges. Its leaders continue to operate with impunity from prison.

A key Hezbollah figure was arrested in the Triple Frontier region. Brazilian authorities took Assah Ahmad Barakat into custody near the Argentinian-Paraguay border. Barakat was previously sanctioned by the U.S. for running several front companies to finance Hezbollah’s operations. The Triple Frontier, where Barakat was located, is a dense jungle forest where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay share a border. It is a known hotbed for terrorists and other transnational criminal organizations.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Twelve crew members from a Swiss cargo vessel owned by Massoel Shipping were kidnapped by pirates in Nigerian waters this past Sunday. The vessel was transporting wheat from Lagos to Port Harcourt when the pirates boarded using long ladders and wire cutters. 12 of the 19-member crew were taken hostage, including seven members from the Philippines as well as Slovenia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, and Bosnia. The shipping company has stated that specialists are en route to ensure the hostages’ “speedy and safe release.”

In the upcoming United Nations General Assembly, several African heads of state will be addressing the UN for the first time, including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa. In addition to this, two of the continents most celebrated figures will be honored at the UNGA: Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s famous anti-apartheid leader, and Koffi Annan, the former UN Secretary-General. Many African heads of state have already arrived in New York to attend various delegations and meetings regarding development goals.

Elections in Cameroon are set for October 7th, with the country’s current President Paul Biya up for re-election despite many violent protests from the English-speaking separatists. Amnesty International has authenticated a video depicting this minority group with the decapitated head of a policeman and condemned it a “horrific escalation of violence.” These anglophone minorities, located in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country, have cultivated resentment for the French-speaking majority after years of perceived discrimination. The group is demanding a separate state called Ambazonia dedicated to English-speaking citizens.

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