Juan Guaidó leads a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in January 2019. Maduro has barred Guaidó from holding office and stripped him of parliamentary immunity. (Alex Abello Leiva via Wikimedia Commons)

Juan Guaidó leads a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in January 2019. Maduro has barred Guaidó from holding office and stripped him of parliamentary immunity. (Alex Abello Leiva via Wikimedia Commons)

The World This Week: April 1, 2019

Asia and the Pacific

Japanese authorities have released the name of the next era, set to begin in May after the abdication of the current emperor, Akihito, in favor of his son Naruhito. In a speech announcing the selection, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that the name, Reiwa (令和) was chosen from a 1,200 year old classic Japanese poem and means “beautiful harmony”. The choice to pull from a Japanese source makes the selection unique, as previous eras have instead drawn from classical Chinese literature. The name has caused some controversy, especially among the Japanese youth, as the word rei is more commonly translated as “order” or “command” – leading to criticisms that the Abe government, which has come under fire often for perceived authoritarian tendencies, is promoting a name that advocates an ideal of control and subservience. The current Heisei (“achieving peace”) Era began in 1989 with the accession of Akihito to the throne. Emperor Akihito’s abdication will be the first in over two centuries. Akihito has indicated his desire to retire from the position since at least 2010, citing his advanced age and declining health, but the country’s statutes regarding imperial succession did not provide for such a possibility. In 2017, the National Diet, Japan’s legislature, passed a law that allowed Akihito to transfer power to his son without amending imperial statute for future rulers.

North America

A leaked study by the Environment and Climate Change Canada group reported that Canada is warming at twice the global average. Northern Canada, according to the report’s estimates, is heating up even faster: at three times the rate of the rest of the world. Since 1948, Canada’s annual average overland temperature has gone up 1.7 C, while Northern Canada’s annual average temperature has risen 2.3 C. These increases in temperature have caused a significant increase in rainfall and a decrease in average snowfall in the southern regions. This increases urban flood risk and the likelihood that extreme heat events will take place every 2-5 years, rather than every 20 years as per usual.

President Trump threatened to close the southern U.S. border, though it is unclear whether or not he will actually do so. It would be politically possible to close the border, but it would be an economic and diplomatic disaster. U.S. officials warn that closing the border would result in billions of dollars of losses and would destabilize border towns and cities. It would also do very little to stem the flow of migrants from Central America who are crossing the border. Supporters of closing the border argue that while it would have some negative effects, it would be a dramatic move to draw attention to the immigration crisis. At this point, it is anyone’s guess whether President Trump will follow through.

In Mexico, Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo told a conference that the decrease in corruption in the Mexican government is nothing short of extraordinary. In 2000, Mexico was ranked 53rd on the OECD’s corruption rankings. By last year, he stated, that ranking had gone down to 138. Durazo claims that grade is “worthy of a Nobel prize.” He argues that corruption was supported at the highest levels of government during the previous administration, and that Obrador’s administration is working to fight corruption first in the public administration, and then in the security forces. The World Economic Forum estimates that insecurity and corruption eats up 21.9% of Mexico’s GDP. Durazo insists that fighting corruption will increase Mexico’s socioeconomic situation and improve social programs throughout the country.

Europe and Central Asia

74 years after the end of World War 2, the community of Brest—a small town in Belarus located on the border with Poland— is still recovering the remains of its Jewish population murdered by the Nazi regime. A mass grave was discovered as building work began on an elite apartment block. Specially trained soldiers have unearthed the remains of more than 1,000 Jews killed when the city of Brest was occupied by Nazi Germany. During excavations, military teams usually search for the bones of Soviet soldiers. However, in this mass grave they have removed the small skulls of teenagers. 

Before the war, almost half of the 50,000 population of Brest were Jews. Up to 5,000 men were executed shortly after the German invasion in June 1941. Those left were later crammed into a ghetto. Its thought that the grave discovered within the old ghetto includes those who managed to hide at first, only to be rooted out. 

The bones will be reinterred at the city cemetery along with soil from the site. 

The Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan (SDPK), the largest party in Kyrgyzstan’s parliament and the party of the current president, has been split. The problem is the result of a public rift between the current President, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, and former President Almazbek Atambaev. This rift could have serious ramifications for the entire country. 

Atambaev originally supported Jeenbekov’s candidacy for presidency. Though, there was some speculation that Atambaev planned to continue governing the country through his successor. However, after Jeenbekov took office in November 2017, he gradually dismissed most of the key holdovers from Atambaev’s government. During this time there were several investigations into alleged corruption during Atambaev’s tenure. These were prompted by the disastrous accident at the Bishkek Thermal Power Plant (TPP) in January 2018. The Bishkek TPP had previously been repaired and upgraded using Chinese loans of $386 million. However, the Prosecutor, General Otkurbek Jamshitov, has determined that some $111 million of the Chinese money had been stolen. 

In May 2018, Jeenbekov brought the first call for stripping Atambaev of his immunity as a former president. This appeal was repeated in the months that followed. 

On March 17, 2019, Kyrgyzstan marked the 17th anniversary of the Aksy tragedy, an even widely regarded as the first time blood was shed in independent Kyrgyzstan in the name of politics. Atambaev used this as an opportunity to claim credit for Jeenbekov’s rise to residency and the issue of North-South divides in the country. 

The feud between Jeenbekov and Atambaev casts doubt on the credibility of other politicans in the region. The persistent allegations of corruption, nepotism, and cronyism brings into question the deals with foreign business partners and investors, as well as the results of the 2017 presidential election. Public trust in officials has never been high in Kyrgyzstan, but what remains has taken a beating. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

South Africa’s foreign minister has called an urgent meeting with ambassadors following attacks against foreigners in Durban. A week ago, three people died amid protests targeting shops, many of which are foreign-owned. Around 50 people sought shelter at a police station when a group of unemployed South Africans forced them out of their homes in the night. Foreigners are targeted by people who accuse them of taking jobs from locals. About 100 people attacked small food shops on Sunday night and into Monday morning, looting and burning the buildings. One woman died when she fell through a roof while she was running away from protesters. Another two people died from gunshot wounds, allegedly inflicted by a shopkeeper. Last Tuesday foreigners started seeking shelter in a mosque and a police station. The minister of international relations and cooperation, Lindiwe Sisulu, urged the police to act against people targeting foreigners.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria has announced a major cabinet change, after weeks of protests with demonstrators demanding he resign. State TV reports 21 of the country’s 27 ministers have been replaced. Noureddine Bedoui will remain as prime minister. Analysts say the reshuffle could be the start of the process leading to Mr. Bouteflika’s resignation. Following the protests, he has dropped plans to seek re-election. The elections have also been postponed and the government has promised to organise a national conference. Now aged 82, Mr. Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

Latin America & The Caribbean

Venezuelan officials barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from public office last Thursday, citing personal finance inconsistencies. Guaido was not deterred by the Maduro regimes denunciations and continues his “Operacion Libertad.” Venezuela also faced another round of power outages this weekend, the fifth in the last three weeks. 14 of 23 Venezuelan states were affected. Guaido called for both local and nationwide efforts to increase pressure on the Maduro regime and their inability to manage the situation. The public responded Sunday with protests in several Caracas neighborhoods and other provinces demanding better services.

Elsewhere, the Trump administration concurrently cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras while announcing joint police operations with the countries. Brazil opened a trade mission in Jerusalem. The Bolsonaro government previously promised to move the embassy there. Honduras recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and expressed interest in also establishing a trade mission. The Cuban telecom firm ETECSA and google signed an agreement to improve the country’s internet connectivity.

North Africa and the Middle East

President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK party has challenged election results after they showed Turkey’s ruling party trailing in the country’s two largest cities, Ankara and Istanbul. The ruling party has submitted objections in all 39 of Istanbul’s districts and all 25 districts in Ankara. The goal of these objections is to get a recount and reassessment of all votes. As of Monday, Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was shown to be ahead by about 28,000 in Istanbul.

The office of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has said he will resign before his term expires on April 28. While millions in the country have been protesting Bouteflika’s regime, many are saying that a new political system is needed along with his resignation. Many of the protests have been led by the growing youth population, who face a 29% unemployment rate.

Iran continues to battle flooding in the western half of the country that has struck hundreds of villages in the past two weeks. States of emergencies have been declared in multiple places, and Iranian authorities have just ordered evacuations in about 70 villages of the Khuzestan province. While relief efforts are underway, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blames U.S. sanctions for hindering relief and rescue operations. The floods have reportedly cut off around 80 intercity roads and 2200 roads to villages.

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