The World This Week 9/21/21

This is a brief overview of the week’s top news stories organized by region.

LATIN AMERICA – Covered by Daniel Stephens

In El Salvador, massive protests have erupted over Bitcoin becoming legal tender. Thousands of demonstrators in the capital San Salvador have expressed frustration over the controversial decision, emphasizing that it will bring instability and inflation to the developing country. Bitcoin machines across the country have been vandalized and destroyed. El Salvador allowed businesses to begin accepting Bitcoin as a form of payment on September 7th, emphasizing it will be easier for Salvadorians working abroad to send money back to the country. The precedent that El Salvador has set for the official use of digital currency may encourage other developing countries to utilize similar practices, however concerns and protests may continue to grow over the volatility of digitally based currency. 

Mexico City hosted the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) to address the issues of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic in the Latin American region. The event was largely attended by leftist leaders from the region. Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel made the event his first foreign visit since large protests took place on the island in July. Mexico reaffirmed its support for the Cuban leader during his arrival on Mexico’s Independence Day. 

A United Nations fact-finding mission has found that Venezuela’s justice system is playing a role in repression of government critics. The judiciary has allowed serious human rights violations to go unchecked, allowing public officials to commit crimes. The UN team conducted interviews and analyzed detentions of people who were perceived to be political opponents, finding instances of torture and sexual violence. The UN report illustrates many concerns that have been highlighted by human rights activists for years. The Venezuelan government has not commented on the report. 

BRAZIL / CARIBBEAN – Covered by Ana Figueiredo

The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, refused to adhere to the “honor system” presented by the United Nations (“UN”), that is demanding world leaders arriving in New York for its General Assembly this week, to attest that they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Jair Bolsonaro said that as he was infected by the virus some months ago, he is already immunized against COVID-19. Brazil has the second-highest covid-19 death toll in the world — second only to the United States — with nearly 590,000 deaths and 37 percent of the population fully vaccinated, according to Our World In Data. Jair Bolsonaro is supposedly scheduled to kick off the 76th United Nations General Assembly’s general debate on Tuesday.

Brazil’s leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva remains ahead of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro by a significant margin in voter preferences for the 2022 elections, a survey by pollster Datafolha showed on Friday. Neither candidate has officially announced his candidacy for the October 2022 election, but according to the simulation, Lula would win 56% of votes versus 31% for the incumbent, compared to a 58%-31% advantage in the last poll. The variation since July fell within the poll’s margin of error. Other polls also show Lula’s clear advantage as Bolsonaro’s popularity slips due to rising inflation, high unemployment and his handling of the world’s second-deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.

A Brazilian immigrant woman died last week, trying to cross the New Mexico state border to enter illegally in the United States. Data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection received by the BBC shows that 46,410 Brazilians were arrested from October 2020 to August 2021 for illegally crossing the country’s southern border through Mexico – a record. According to local authorities, border officials encountered more than 600 migrants a day, an increase of more than 2,000% over the previous year.

SOUTH EAST ASIA – Covered by Andrew Salchli

Former boxing world champion Manny Pacquiao has declared that he is running for president of the Philippines to bring an end to poverty and corruption in his home country. There is push back on his abilities in this totally new arena where he cannot punch his way out of any argument or disagreement with someone. The election is in May 2022, and even though he does have political experience the fact that he has not been the sole leader of not only a governing body, but an entire country is ammunition for the opposition to his legitimacy. While in public service he did not have the best attendance record, nor did he have his full attention to being a congressman. There were times where he would be away for long period in order to train for his upcoming fight, and since he can make a considerable amount more money in boxing than he can in being a public servant, what is to say that he would not take a step away from being President for another boxing match to earn another huge payday? The 2022 Presidential election for the Philippines will be one to watch for more than just Pacquiao, but to see if this country can in fact elect a leader that will address the issues of poverty and corruption. Even though Pacquiao is once again the big name to draw in an audience this time the stakes are higher than any match, he has ever been in.

This past week, in Myanmar, amid the ongoing fight between the Military government that took control of the country in February 2021, and the National Unity Government (BUG), telecommunication towers was destroyed. An attack of this nature has greatly impacted hundreds of thousands of Burmese citizens, estimates are that there were 700,000 people that lost internet connection. The towers belong to a wide array of telecommunication equipment run by the partly army-controlled company, Mytel. This is not the first time in the conflict that the internet has been shut down as a result of the fighting. Any time that the telecommunication infrastructure is prey to an attack, the ones who pay the most are the average citizens who are trying to obtain information about what is going on in their country and around the world. Once again, the world is shown the atrocities upon the Burmese people and the impact this fighting has on their daily lives.

EAST ASIA – Covered by Camden Hanley

North Korea tested a cruise missile analysts say could have nuclear capabilities. A few days later they launched two ballistic missiles into the sea to the east of the Korean peninsula. Shortly after, South Korea completed a successful test of a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM), becoming the first country without nuclear weapons to develop such a system. The North Korean missile launches have drawn international scrutiny from the Japanese defense ministry and other countries within the UN. North Korea has continued to develop its weapons systems amid a stand-off over talks to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities in exchange for US sanctions relief. South Korea has continued to expand its military capabilities pursuing ballistic missiles, submarines, and its first aircraft carrier. They have asked China to help restart the dialogue as they claim North Korea has ignored South Korean and US offers for talks and engagement. The arms race between the two countries has accelerated as South Korean President Moon pushes for a more autonomous foreign policy, a wariness of relying on the US after the Trump presidency, and military developments in China and North Korea.

Taiwan proposed extra defense spending of T$240 billion ($8.69 billion) over the next five years as it warned of an urgent need to upgrade weapons in the face of a “severe threat” from China. The new spending is expected to be approved by the Taiwanese parliament. It will be used to purchase cruise missiles and warships among other things. This money is in addition to planned military spending of T$471.7 billion for 2022. As China’s military strength has grown, the Taiwanese have been seeking to demonstrate that they can defend themselves. They have been testing new, long-range missiles, have deployed a new class of stealth warship they call an “aircraft carrier killer”, and are developing their own submarines.

The campaign to become Japan’s next prime minister has begun, with four candidates vying for leadership of the ruling party in an unusually tight race. The current prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, shocked many when announcing he would not be running to head the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). A vote will be held on 9/29/21 to decide who will head the LDP and then contest in a general election to be held in late November. The LDP is expected to retain power in the general election meaning its leader is likely to be the person in charge of the country with the world’s third largest economy. The four candidates include vaccine chief Taro Kono, ex-foreign minister Fumio Kishida, ex-Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Sanae Takaichi, and former gender equality minister Seiko Noda. Takaichi and Noda are both females seeking to become the first female prime minsters of Japan, though are considered long shots in the race. If none of the candidates receive a majority, a second round of voting will be held between the top two candidates. Suga’s short term has led some to wonder if Japan could return to the “revolving door” of leaders seen before Shinzo Abe.

NORTH AFRICA – Covered by Dalton Goble

The migrant crisis facing the EU this year has doubled the number of migrants from last year, which has floodlit the systemic abuse of power and lack of protection for fleeing persons that have been returned by the Libyan coast guard. A spokeswoman for the United Nations’ (UN) International Organization for Migration, Safa Msheli, has reported that the Libyan coast guard “intercepted more than twenty-four thousand individuals this year”, and brings attention to a concern that currently only six thousand migrants are accounted for in official detention centers. Leaving eighteen thousand individuals left missing by detention centers. A previous Associated Press (AP) report in 2019 contends that “militias tortured, extorted, and otherwise abuse migrants for ransoms” despite hundreds of millions of dollars sent as aid from the EU by proxy of UN channels.

Protestors in Tunis, Tunisia have gathered to openly demonstrate their complete opposition to President Kais Saied, who fired the prime minister and suspended parliament on July 25. While Saied states that the measures were necessary to address extenuating factors that faced the nation. Ennahdha, the minority political party, and other critics are claiming that the move to consolidate power to the executive has violated the constitution that was written post-Arab Spring. Despite his removal of other constitutional leaders, Saied has promised to put into place a replacement in “the coming days”.

WESTERN EUROPE – Covered by Zack Settle

Last week’s announcement of the new defense pact (Aukus) between the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia has caused a furious reaction by French President Emmanuel Macron.  President Macron’s fury is primarily because it has revealed France’s status as a global power. There are three truths that France must now face, including that complaining about how they were treated does not change what has already occurred.  The second truth is that the Aukus affair shows that the United States no longer has a significant interest in the “outdated behemoth that is NATO.” The final harsh truth is that France has no realistic way to fulfill its global ambitions, given that the Chinese build enough ships every four years to dwarf the French fleet.

With the crucial German election only a few days away, no party can afford a scandal to distract the public from the country’s issues. But this situation may be unfolding for the current leader in the polls, the SDP, led by Deputy Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The Financial Intelligence Unit, which Scholz is the supervisor of as Finance Minister, is under scrutiny for only forwarding 17% of its suspicious transactions from banks to the police or public prosecutors.  A raid was recently conducted at one of the financial institutions Scholz was investigating, which led to a statement from the prosecutor’s office indicating that Scholz was under investigation as well.  The SDP has accused their primary opponents and present coalition partners of orchestrating the incident to save their floundering campaign. This news has led to a closed-door meeting being called for the Bundestag Finance Committee on Monday morning. A conversation will occur between Scholz and other parliamentarians of all parties on the recent revelations. 

EASTERN EUROPE – Covered by Cory Lee

COVID-19 vaccination rates among European countries vary significantly.  In Western European countries, such as Belgium, Denmark, and Portugal, eighty percent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated.  Meanwhile, Eastern European countries haven’t been as successful.  For example, Romania’s vaccination rate is only thirty-two percent, with Bulgaria falling shortly behind with only twenty percent of its adult population fully vaccinated.  Perhaps the main reason why Eastern European countries struggle to fully vaccinate their adult population is misinformation.  Vessela Tcherneva, deputy director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and head of the Sofia, Bulgaria office, seems to believe these anti-vaccine sentiments are rooted in a deep mistrust of state institutions and could be a reason why most Eastern European countries are hesitant to implement vaccine mandates like those enforced in France and Italy.  While the European Commission has said it is helping countries fight misinformation, the European Union has limited authority because Member States are in charge of their own vaccination campaigns.  Until Eastern European countries take responsibility to push for nationwide inoculation campaigns, it is unlikely Europe will see much change in their vaccination rates.

When Law and Justice (PIS), the party that currently governs the Polish government, began coming to power in 2015, it took control of TVP, the public television broadcaster, and purged its management.  Then, last month, Law and Justice introduced a bill that would limit foreign ownership of media companies to only 49%.  While some Polish leaders have spoken out against this bill, arguing that freedom of speech would be hindered, Law and Justice defended its position by stating, “The Polish media should be Polish.”  Previous actions by the Polish government seems to lean toward this assertion.  In March 2021, PKN Orlen, a state-owned oil refiner, bought Polska Press, Poland’s leading newspaper publisher, from its German owner, and soon after this acquisition, all senior editors were replaced.  Law and Justice’s latest target is TVN24, a news channel.  Unlike TVP, TVN24 is critical of the government and is incredibly influential as it was the most-watched news program in Poland in the first half of 2021.  Currently, TVN is owned by Discovery, a major American media company.  If the aforementioned bill passes the Senate, Discovery may not be able to renew its license this month, which may force Discovery to divest the channel.  As a result, TVN may be at risk of dissolution, and if that occurs, freedom of speech may be materially altered in Poland.

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