USCGC Willow and Her Danish Majesty's Ship Hvidbjoernen participate in Operation Nanook, 2011. Wikimedia Commons.

The World This Week: February 11, 2019

Asia and the Pacific

In India, at least 99 people have died and hundreds other hospitalized after drinking toxic bootleg moonshine, a number that is expected to continue to rise. The incident occurred in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where many residents are too poor to afford name brand alcohol and often rely on bootleg and black market sources. The liquor was found to have dangerous levels of methanol, which if consumed attacks the nervous system and can cause blindness, liver damage, and death. This is the latest in a long history of bootleg alcohol poisonings, with notable past incidents killing 102 in 2015 and 133 in 2011, with many others hospitalized.

The U.S. envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, has been in Pyongyang negotiating the terms of a second leadership summit between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un and U.S. President Donald Trump. The summit is slated to be held later this month in Hanoi, Vietnam. While the prenegotiations have largely been characterized as successful, observers are skeptical of the upcoming summit achieving any meaningful outcomes.

Europe and Central Asia

Russia considers whether to disconnect from the global internet, briefly, to test cyber-defenses. This will mean data passing between Russian citizens and organizations will stay inside the nation rather than being routed internationally. This test is expected to happen before April 1st, 2019, but no exact date has been set.

Last year a law, called the Digital Economy National Program, was drafted by Russian Parliament mandating technical changes in order to operate independently. It requires Russia’s ISPs to ensure that it can operate in the event of foreign powers acting to isolate the country online. NATO and allies have threatened to sanction Russia over alleged cyber-attacks and other online interferences. Measures by the draft law include Russia building its own version of the net’s address system so it can operate if links to these internationally-located servers are cut.

The test is also expected to involve ISPs demonstrating that they can direct data to government-controlled routing points. Eventually the Russian government wants all domestic cyber traffic to pass through its own routing points. It is believed to be part of an effort to set up a mass censorship system akin to that seen in China.  

Turkey has called on Beijing to respect the rights of Uyghurs, a Turkish ethnic minority living in China’s Northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and close to the re-education camps where up to a million Uyghurs are reportedly held. Spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Hami Aksoy, said in a statement on February 9th, “We invite the Chinese authorities to respect the fundamental human rights of Uyghur Turks and clos the internment camps. We call on the international community and the Secretary General of the United Nations to take effective measures in order to bring to an end this human tragedy in Xinjiang.” The Chinese embassy in Ankara rejected the statement as a “violation of facts” and insisted that China was fighting separatism, extremism, and terrorism. It was not seeking to “eliminate” the Uyghurs’ ethnic, religious, or cultural identity.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Former San Salvadoran Mayor, Namibia Bukele won El Salvador’s presidential election last week with over 54% of the vote, marking a possible shift from a two-party dominated political system. 35 year old Bukele was considered an outside candidate who appealed broadly to the population. While Bukele led by 20 points, the predominant political parties (leftist FMLN and conservative ARENA) still hold 87% of parliamentary seats. Bukele will need to make compromises or adapt his vision if he expects to achieve campaign promises. President-elect Bukele campaigned on anti-corruption, job creation, and revitalizing El Salvador. He even suggested working with the international community to develop anti-impugning programs like CING in Guatemala. The question remains whether Bukele’s strategy can address the systemic violence in his country. Bukele spoke out this weekend about El Salvador’s 2018 break in relations with Taipei. He suggested that the country would re-evaluate relations with China who pledged to provide food and $150 million for “social projects” in El Salvador.

Maduro’s regime opted to block international aid Wednesday by placing an fuel tank and shipping containers on a key bridge connecting Cucuta, Colombia to Venezuela. The United States shifted the onus to Interim President Guaido on determining how to access and distribute the assistance he requested. Maduro maintains that the aid is unnecessary and that the mass migration is a fallacy created by the United States and his enemies. Maduro has focused the past week on several failed money transfers and consolidating state funds. Maduro’s regime has historically reinvested the country’s near worthless bills into the gold mining industry, The international community met Thursday in Uruguay to discuss options forward.

Middle East and North Africa

Thailand has released from jail Bahraini football player Hakeem al-Araibi. Al-Araibi, who in 2014 fled Bahrain to seek asylum in Australia was detained while on his honeymoon in Bangkok. Bahrain was seeking to extradite al-Araibi on vandalization charges, but he denies these claims. Many human rights activists say al-Araibi’s criticisms of the Bahraini government could put him in danger if he is sent back.

Iranians took to the streets on Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The revolution of 1979 saw Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s government replaced with an Islamic Republic led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.  President Hassan Rouhani spoke to those gathered at Azadi Square, commenting that U.S. sanctions could not break the Islamic Republic.

On Monday the United Nations said that enough grain to feed several million people is at risk of spoiling in Yemen. The grain is stored in the Red Sea Mills silos, in the city of Hodeidah. The grain was stored by the World Food Programme and is said to be enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month. The silos are under control of Yemens’ Houthi rebels and access to the grain has been denied to all aid organization groups. Some reports claim that over the past three years, up to 85,000 children in Yemen may have starved to death.

North America

Canada is keeping an eye on the Arctic as Russia makes moves towards the North Pole for the first time in decades. Russia has reopened Cold-War era air bases and built several new deepwater ports and dozens of new icebreakers. NORAD has reported 20 sightings and 19 intercepts a year. Canada is having trouble competing with this development. Canada launched its first Arctic patrol vessel and updated its satellite surveillance but does not have anywhere near the infrastructure capabilities that Russia is deploying. Richard Walker, a Global Affairs Canada spokesman, said, “While we perceive no immediate military threat in the Arctic region, we remain vigilant in our surveillance of our Northern approaches.” Canada maintains its focus on cooperation among Arctic Council members, citing shared interests in sustainable development, scientific research, and environmental protection.

In the U.S., dispute over the issue of border security has escalated as key seats of power have changed hands among the political parties. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, a recently-elected Democrat, pulled back most of the state’s National Guard troops at the border to Mexico. She stated that her state “will not take part in the president’s charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops.” Gov. Lujan Grisham also ordered troops borrowed from other states for border security to return to their home states. The remaining troops on the border in the southwestern part of the state are ordered to “assist with the ongoing humanitarian needs of communities there.”

Meanwhile, in Mexico labor unrest has spread from Matamoros to the northern border city of Reynosa. After striking for the past two weeks, laborers in Matamoros reached an agreement to receive 16% raises to end the strikes. Workers in Reynosa, however, are hoping that direct negotiations with employers, without the involvement of trade unions, will satisfy worker concerns without having to resort to an all-out strike. A point of concern for these laborers, however, is that despite the achievement of raises for workers in Matamoros and the possible negotiations in Reynosa, many manufacturers are pulling out of the region. Ultimately, these strikes could result in the loss of around 30,000 jobs over the next six to nine months.

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