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Weekly News Digest for August 23, 2020

Compiled by Karan Pol & Kelly Dobso


Breaking News:

Venezulean Elections and Trafficking

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó is calling for a complete boycott of Venezuelan election, arguing that fraud is inevitable. Guaidó calls on international forces as well as members of Parliament to combat Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship. President Maduro has made strong moves to limit the power of the opposition by replacing three leaders with friendly substitutes and imprisoning five legislators on false charges. These developments come as Iranian fuel tankers and aircrafts loaded with firearms headed toward Venezuela were intercepted by American authorities.

If the opposition manages to successfully boycott the election, Guaidó will no longer be considered president of the legislature which is the basis of his claim to be head of state. This situation develops as support for Guaidó dropped more than 60% since February 2019. In this case, the international community will hold great responsibility in Venezuela’s future, choosing between diplomatic action that reifies Maduro’s control or functionally installing a leader of its choosing.

The Poisoning of a Critic of Putin

Vladmir Putin’s most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, collapsed and fell ill on a domestic flight after drinking tea that was believed to be poisoned. He was transported to a hospital in Siberia and a Russian doctor originally diagnosed him with a “metabolic disease that may have been caused by low blood sugar”. Upon investigation, traces of industrial chemical substances were found on Navalny’s, but the doctor still affirms that he was not poisoned. After initial objections to prevent Navalny from receiving medical attention outside the country, the Kremlin allowed him to be airlifted to Germany.

Buy One Get One Hurricane Free

Tropical systems Marco and Laura are heading toward the Gulf of Mexico at the same time, both expected to develop into hurricanes before they reach the United States mainland. This event marks the first time on record that the Gulf has had two hurricanes at the same time. The 2020 hurricane season is setting records, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimating nearly twice the normal number of named storms.

North America

Joe Biden Vows to End a ‘Season of Darkness’

With the 2020 Democratic National Convention ending on August 20th, Vice President Joe Biden accepted his Presidential nomination with a virtual speech on what he brings to the ballot. Biden’s speech covered a wide range of topics with a strong focus on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and the failures of the Trump administration. He called on the audience to remember that his “character is on the ballot” in November.

Biden’s speech drew praise from both sides of the aisle, supported by speeches from President Barack Obama, Senator Kamala Harris, Governor John Kasich, and many others over the course of convention. The Vice President’s ability to gain bipartisan support displays a sense of American unity which will be core to his campaign as we approach the November election.

Fire, Lightning, and Darkness Across California

A record-breaking heat wave has ravaged the state of California as more than 120,000 acres of land are covered in wildfires. The heat wave has produced one of the highest temperatures ever recorded in human history, at 130 degrees Fahrenheit, with the world record at 134 degrees recorded in Death Valley in 1913. With the demand for air conditioning rising as a result, the power grid is operating near capacity, contributing to a series of blackouts.

This crisis is exacerbated by thousands of lightning strikes borne by moisture from a tropical storm and extreme heat off the coast. This lightning has already sparked nearly 400 known wires across the state while further damaging the already stressed power grid. California has experienced climate warming at a faster rate than the global average contributing to this disaster. To date, six people have died due to the wildfires and COVID-19 complicates evacuation procedures as social distancing must continue to be maintained.

Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Trump administration is pushing to allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the first land leases potentially being sold by the end of 2020. While the United States may profit fiscally from the endeavor, there are great risks posed to the plethora of indigenous species as well as an increased contribution to anthropogenic climate change. This move comes two months after the Arctic circle recorded a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, its highest ever.

This action is permitted by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which stipulates that each lease sale must contain at least 400,000 acres and that the areas intended for least must have “the highest potential for the discovery of hydrocarbons,” opening up to 2,000 acres of Arctic land for new operations. Environmental activists and policymakers hope to combat this endeavor by leveraging protections under the Endangered Species Act.


India-China Border Talks and Tensions

The months-long dispute in the Ladakh region in the Himalayas has resulted in a series of talks between the two Asian powers. While more than a dozen rounds of talks have failed to break the ice, officials from both parties are attempting to resolve this dispute peacefully, in spite of recent casualties.

Chinese expansion through the Belt and Road Initiative along with its close ties to Pakistan come in direct opposition to Indian Prime Minister Modi’s insistence that “sovereignty is supreme.” In the context of economic downturn and the pandemic, physical conflict is a worst-case scenario.

US-China Trade Talks

Chinese and American officials have agreed to hold trade talks to evaluate the progress of their phase one trade deal, according to the Chinese commerce ministry. It is unclear if these talks will actually pass as President Trump postponed trade talks scheduled for August 15. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade talks have been difficult between the two states.

Tensions between the two powers seem to be rising against after the United States officially suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong following recent Chinese national security laws, which brought the city’s autonomy into question. President Trump signed the executive order on July 14, stating that Hong Kong will [receive] no special economic treatment.”

DPRK’s New Second-in-Command: Kim Yo Jong

According to South Korean intelligence forces, Kim Jong Un has given the authority to oversee “general state affairs” to his sister, Kim Yo Jong. This decision provides greater credence to the claim that the younger Kim is the de-facto second-in-command. Many other top-ranking officials have also been appointed with greater responsibilities under a push to alleviate stress from the Supreme Leader.

These changes come after Kim Jong Un gave an address to party leaders that the country faced various challenges and that his developmental goals had been delayed. North Korea, after a bout of sanctions, flooding, and the pandemic, is headed toward the worst economic contraction in two decades.


Military Coup Forces Malian President to Resign

On August 18, Malian soldiers detained President Keïta, and he resigned hours later. The military coup was carried out by a group of soldiers who call themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (NCSP) and aim to stabilize the country. The group's motives were compounded with months of mass protests to call out alleged corruption through disputed elections and state security issues.

Coups are not abnormal within Mali. Keïta’s predecessor, Amadou Toumani Toure, was forced to resign in 2012 after a military takeover as well. After Tuesday's takeover, the African Union suspended Mali, claiming that military coups are “something of the past which we cannot accept anymore”. The Malian government also faces global criticism from the United Nations, France, and the United States. The governing group is reportedly working to organize a general election date in order to establish “strong institutions”.

The Sudanese Transitional Government and a Crackdown on Protests

Protestors filled the streets of Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, on August 17 to call for the fulfillment of the Constitutional Declaration which passed a year prior. The mandate outlined steps for the state to transition towards a democratic government with reconstructed political institutions. Civilians demanded the need for a formation of a legislative council and an alleviation of the financial crisis.

After the protestors demanded to see the prime minister, the police cracked down and used excessive force in the form of tear gas and alleged physical attacks. As of Monday evening, 77 people were detained and a handful were hospitalized. The Constitutional Declaration set aside three years for a transitional government, which provides both protestors and the government two years to negotiate and ensure these demands are met and human rights abuses are not repeated in order to move forward.

Al-Shabab Continues Deadly Attacks in Mogadishu

Another attack at the hands of the militant group, al-Shabab, ravaged the capital of Somalia on August 16. The group strategically attacked a hotel that is often visited by government officials, journalists, and activists, possibly in order to sway officials to deliberate concessions. They began the seige by carrying out a suicide car bomb attack that opened the front gates and proceeded to take hostages within the building. Security forces and al-Shabab members fought in an hours-long shoot out that resulted in the deaths of 11 victims, five militants, and wounded 43 others.


Belarus & Russia vs the European Union

The European Union issued a response on August 19 stating it does not recognize the results of the Belarus election by arguing the poll was fraudulent and describing it as “neither free nor fair”. Sanctions for those responsible for violence against protestors and election fraud have also been promised by the EU. The criticism of Belarus by the international organization comes after two weeks of protests, violent crackdown and dissent, and the fleeing of the opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to Lithuania.

President Vladmir Putin has been offering “security assistance” to the incumbent government. EU officials are beginning to worry that there will be a Russian military intervention, similar to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Poland, one of Belarus’ neighbors, called for a European Union summit and strongly condemned the violence. On August 18, Latvia declared the need for a “new, internationally monitored election in Belarus”.

Latin America

Cuba Joins the Race for a Vaccine

Cuba announced their vaccine, Soberana 01, will proceed to phase I and II of clinical trials. Starting next week, 676 adults will be evaluated for the vaccines side effects and possible toxicity. Francisco Duran, the top epidemiologist, stated to expect a vaccine for worldwide use in early 2021. The results from Cuba’s clinical trials will be published in February of 2021.

Cuba joins the United States, Russia, China, Australia, the UK, and Germany in the race to establish the first COVID-19 vaccine. Russia, one of Cuba’s closest allies, recently announced the development of a vaccine after skipping the completion of clinical trials, and it will be administered to civilians in the following weeks. The company financing Russia’s vaccine is looking to expand its production capabilities in Cuba starting in November.

The Burning Amazon

The Amazon rainforest is still on fire. While Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to stop the burning, the issue isn’t straightforward. Deforestation for ranching and agriculture has been crucial to towns like Novo Progresso’s economic development, all at the cost of the local environment and global climate.

Bolsonaro sent troops in May, ahead of the dry season, to prevent deforestation but the efforts were deemed as too little too late. Currently, the dry season has grown longer by a month and even hotter than before, as the Amazon has lost nearly 17% of its original area. In July alone, 6,803 fires were documented in the region, up from 5,318 in 2019. With Bolsonaro claiming that these fires are a lie, it’s unclear if he is committed to actually fighting deforestation in the rainforest.

Middle East

Russian General Killed in Syria

On August 19, a landmine explosion killed a Russian general and injured two others in southeast Syria. It is unclear which group is responsible for the landmine. Russia has been a prominent and important ally to the Bashar al-Assad regime since 2015.

Hezbollah Member Found Guilty in Assassination of Former Prime Minister

After fifteen years, justice has been served for the 22 victims of a devastating suicide bombing. A United Nations tribunal found Salim Ayyash, a member of Hezbollah, guilty for the bombing that assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hairiri in 2005. Four members of Hezbollah were tried in court, yet were absent due to the Lebanon-based group hiding their current location. The three other members were cleared of charges owing to the prosecutors only acquiring sufficient evidence to charge Ayyash.


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