The World This Week: February 8, 2021

Latin America

On Monday, four weeks before El Salvador’s scheduled legislative and municipal elections, gunmen opened fire on activists returning from a campaign rally of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Two people were killed, and five others were injured in the attack. The FMLN is a left-wing party and currently the main opposition party to President Nayib Bukele and his center-right Gana party. Bukele has been criticized by some FMLN members for inciting violence against their party, but President Bukele tweeted those responsible for the attacks “would pay for their acts.”

Over $7 Billion will be given to victims of the 2019 Brumadinho dam disaster in Southeastern Brazil. The dam contained waste from an iron ore mine leading to a sea of mud that destroyed farms and staff offices. The disaster led to the deaths of 270 people. Brazilian mining company Vale, which operates the dam, has pledged to “fully compensate” for the disaster and is required to pay for the repair of all the environmental damage and restoration of the Paraopeba River. The company stated it is fully prepared to spend in the excess of $2 billion in restoration efforts. In 2020, Brazilian prosecutors charged 16 members of Vale with intentional homicide and environmental offenses, claiming they hid information about a potential dam collapse. Investigations and recovery efforts are still ongoing.

Colombia’s Navy is searching for potential survivors of two boats capsizing in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, January 27th. At least 14 people, 7 of them children, were killed when the boats capsizing carrying locals from Tumaco to San José del Guayabo. Officials have stated that none of the recovered bodies were reported to be wearing life jackets. 35 people, including 5 children, have been rescued from the disaster, and survivors described the waters as “unusually turbulent” during the accident. With the boats being unregistered, there is no record of how many potential survivors there may be.

Eastern Europe

Tens of thousands rallied across Russia this last week in one of the biggest turnouts in years after a Moscow court sentenced opposition leader Alexsei Navalny to nearly 3 years in prison. Navalny, a popular anticorruption activist turned opposition leader, returned to Russia after spending months in Germany recovering from an assassination attempt on his life. Many Western officials claim the Kremlin ordered the attack on Mr. Navalny using a military-grade nerve agent “Novichok”. The Kremlin denies these allegations. Police continue to use increased force and have arrested thousands of protesters since the demonstrations began on 17 January.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday that 3 diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden participated in illegal protests on 23 January and that they must leave the country immediately. The expulsion came to light while Josep Borell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, was in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his visit to Moscow. Many Western leaders have condemned the expulsions. “We consider this to be unjustified,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. On Sunday, Germany, Poland and Sweden each expelled a Russian diplomat from embassies in Stockholm, Berlin and Poznan in retaliation and denounced Russia’s actions as unfounded.

South East Asia

General Min Aung Hlaing, the leader behind the recent coup in Myanmar, spoke out in support of the actions taken by his military. Hlang has been adamant about the coup even in the face of domestic opposition protests. He stated that “the electoral commission had failed to investigate irregularities over voter lists…”, an issue that the commission has since refuted. They say that there is no evidence to support these claims. The General continued to say that a newly reformed commission would be established, thus being able to hand power over to the winner of the new elections. 

Those civilians who have shown up in waves are doing so in the response to the military restricting the accessibility of the internet throughout the country. Myanmar is no stranger to military oppression; in fact, the Burmese were under military control from 1962 – 2011. Hlang has stated that he wants to achieve a “true and disciplined democracy”. Citizens who do not support the military coup have called for the release of the former political figures that were placed under house arrest supporting the coup last week. 

Protestors have used different methods of showing their disdain for this coup; they have borrowed a method from Thailand protesters by raising their arms in the three-fingered salute from the Hunger Games. These protests have been largely peaceful and non-violent; however, there was one instance of police firing into a large crowd in the town of Myadwaddy where a woman was reportedly shot. 

Africa

The Tigray region conflict in Ethiopia has created a humanitarian crisis. Aid has been slow to arrive even with increasing reports of starvation coming from the area. Conflict began on November 4th between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the federal troops after Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, said that the TPLF attacked an Ethiopian National Defense base. The United Nations is now acknowledging that Eritrean troops do control most of the Tigray region and are preventing aid from reaching an estimated 4.5 million who are at risk of starvation.

South Africa’s Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, has stated that the government of South Africa will not provide the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to its citizens yet. Trials done at the University of Witwatersrand showed the vaccine to be less effective against the Covid-19 variant found in South Africa. South Africa has now reached more than 1.4 million cases of Covid-19 and over 46,000 people have died from the virus. The government has stated it will begin administering Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to citizens as well as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has shown success in protection against the South African variant strand of the virus although slightly less.

Already a fragile country, Somalia is set to miss the deadline of choosing a new president. The current president, Mohamed Abdullah Mohamed, is running for re-election in a year when the country set out to have a “one person, one vote” election for the first time since 1969. Frequent attacks by the Shabaab Islamist militant group including a car bomb that killed 13 members of the security forces this past Sunday makes this form of voting impossible. Instead they will use a system where “delegates chosen by clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.” The election plays an important role, not just in Somalia, but for the Horn of Africa’s social, economic, and political relations.

Asia

China has been condemned by the US and UK governments over reports of systematic sexual assault and abuse of women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs throughout the Xinjiang region. China has denied all allegations, accusing the BBC’s  investigation of making a “false” report.  The US, UK, and Australian governments are now calling for “international efforts to hold China to account” and are urging for international observers to be given immediate access to the camps. These reports follow allegations of other human rights abuses in the Xinjiang internment camps, including the indoctrination, mass surveillance, genocide, and forced sterilization of Uighur detainees.  During his final days in the outgoing Trump administration, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that China’s repression of Uighur Muslims in its Xinjiang region was an act of  “genocide and crimes against humanity.” Current Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has stood by his predecessor’s allegations, reiterating in a January press conference that “my judgment remains that genocide was committed against – against the Uyghurs and that – that hasn’t changed.”

A “minor face-off” has taken place between Indian and Chinese troops amidst ongoing border disputes within the Himalayan Mountain region of Sikkim. An Indian army official stated that the incident had been “resolved by local commanders as per established protocols,” but no further details were given. This incident comes in the wake of several clashes seen at the disputed border within the past year. One violent clash at the border in June 2020 resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese soldier casualties. While Indian media reported injuries on both sides during the latest clash, the army urged the media to “refrain from exaggerating reports.” Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times, tweeted that there was “no record” of such a clash. Reports further assert that Indian and Chinese military officials held talks concerning the borders disputes, but no further information has been released.

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