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Weekly News Digest for December 1st, 2023

Compiled by Sara Anis Ali, Grey Cohen, Alex Hsu, Meagan McColloch, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Zoe Shepard

Edited by Sara Anis Ali, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Zoe Shepard, Niamh Dempsey

Asia and the Pacific

Indian National Charged by U.S. Prosecutors for Attempted Assassination of Sikh Leader

On Wednesday, U.S. prosecutors indicted Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national, in an alleged murder-for-hire plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Pannun is a prominent Sikh separatist who runs Sikhs for Justice, a New York-based organization that advocates for the creation of a separate Sikh homeland. Gupta is alleged to have worked with an Indian government official in planning and recruiting personnel for the attempted assassination. The Indian official, as described by U.S. prosecutors, is a senior field officer with intelligence responsibilities who directed the assassination plot from India. In India, Pannun has been labeled a terrorist, and his organization is banned.

This thwarted assassination plot comes a few months after the June murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an Indian-born Canadian citizen residing in Vancouver. Nijjar, who was acquainted with Pannun, was also a prominent Sikh separatist in his community who advocated for an independent Sikh homeland. That murder, and the subsequent accusation and investigation by the Canadian government, led to rising tensions between Canada and India.

With the unsealing of the indictment, prosecutors have exposed a connection between Nijjar’s murder and the attempted murder of Pannun. Prosecutors say that the same Indian government official who oversaw Nijjar’s murder also directed Gupta to orchestrate Pannun’s murder. The official had sent Gupta Pannun’s home address, phone numbers, an itinerary of his day-to-day activities, and a video of Nijjar’s dead body, and Gupta was instructed to contact a hitman to murder Pannun soon after Nijjar’s death. However, the hitman was actually working undercover for U.S. law enforcement, resulting in the current situation.

This ongoing issue will certainly damage U.S.-Indian relations. The Biden Administration sees deepening ties with India as one of its most important strategies in containing a rising China. The new indictment throws a wrench in this process. The U.S. will have to take a step back amid domestic and international pressure and figure out a cohesive way to move forward. Luckily, the Indian government has taken this situation seriously, forming a high-level committee to investigate the matter. Hopefully, both governments will use this investigation as a means of cooperation and reach a desirable conclusion.

Central America and the Caribbean

Mexico Attends APEC to Discuss Migration and Fentanyl with U.S./China

The Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit took place in San Francisco in mid-November featuring multilateral and bilateral meetings of world leaders from around the Pacific Rim. A focus of the summit was United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting after increasingly tense relations have strained communication between the nations. Their conversations displayed efforts by the countries to mitigate the fentanyl crisis in the U.S. This conversation heavily involves Mexico, as it is the import center of Chinese pill presses and precursor chemicals that supply the fentanyl that reaches the U.S. border.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrado’s (AMLO) decision to attend the summit reversed his previous intentions to skip due to Peru’s invitation. AMLO does not recognize the current Peruvian President, Dina Boluarte, who he says was instilled in a coup that ousted former president Pedro Castillo. While in San Francisco, AMLO held multiple bilateral talks over trade, infrastructure, and migration.

AMLO’s talks with President Biden centered around migration challenges and the fentanyl crisis. Migration through Central America to Mexico, and eventually across the U.S./Mexican border, has continued to rise despite policies, legislation, and bilateral agreements aimed to stem the flow. President Biden is hoping to continue efforts to manage illegal immigration across the southern border. Another topic discussed was the drug crisis in the U.S. which is mainly sourced from Mexican drug trafficking. Mexican cartels use Chinese resources to manufacture fentanyl that goes to large markets in the U.S. However, experts are skeptical of AMLO’s commitment to mitigating drug production within his country. They call his policies “regressive” and claim they often deprioritize “a public health approach.”

Any legitimate movement to curb fentanyl production by Mexico will require coordination with China. In a talk between the leaders, President Xi and AMLO discussed cooperation on counternarcotic efforts. Furthermore, President Xi brought up interest in collaboration on infrastructure, finance, and electric vehicles. These relations would encourage Chinese business investment in Mexico. This is a move by China to expand its influence in Latin America and counter American influence in the region.


Far-Right Populist Geert Wilders Wins Dutch Elections

Last week, populist Geert Wilders won a massive victory in the Dutch elections, which puts him in line to lead talks with other parties about forming the next governing coalition in the Netherlands. Wilders’ Party for Freedom is predicted to secure 37 seats out of the 150-seat assembly, as results are expected to be finalized this week. Although the Party for Freedom won the most seats in the election, the party still needs at least two coalition partners to form a majority in the lower house of parliament. If Wilders succeeds, he will become the first far-right prime minister of the Netherlands. However, excluding the center-right party VVD’s Dilan Yeşilgöz, most of the parties vowed not to govern with Wilders due to his extremist views.

Wilders’ election platform included removing the Netherlands from the European Union, halting the acceptance of asylum seekers, reducing the cost of living, and working towards the “de-Islamization” of the Netherlands. Wilders has a history of espousing anti-Muslim rhetoric, calling Islam a “backward religion” and suggesting that the Netherlands should ban mosques and the Quran. As Wilders faces pressure to form the next governing coalition, the populist has taken a milder approach to Islam and migrant issues than in the past, promising that whatever policies he pushes will be “within the law and constitution.” However, the victory of the political right is not unique to the Netherlands.

Some experts argue that Wilders’ huge victory in the Netherlands indicates a shift in European ideologies. In Italy, Giorgia Meloni won last year’s election for her Brothers of Italy party, campaigning on an anti-immigration platform. In Germany, the far-right Alternativ für Deutschland Party is polling ahead of the three parties that form the country’s coalition government. In Finland, a far-right party earned a coalition role, and in Sweden, far-right parties became de facto government partners. Ann Cathrine Junger, a political scientist at Sweden’s Södertörn University, claims that far-right ideologies “have entered the mainstream” and have become “the new normal.” Junger’s statement is especially relevant to migration policies, as the number of migrants entering Europe this year has soared to levels not seen since 2016, amplifying the far-right’s cry against migration. In the United States, the rise of far-right ideologies in Europe is being closely watched by analysts hoping to forecast the outcome of the 2024 elections.

Middle East and North Africa

American Secretary of State Visits Israel

Over the past seven days, Israel and Hamas maintained a cease-fire, allowing for the release of Israeli nationals, specifically women and children, who were taken hostage on October 7th. In exchange, Israel halted its attacks in Gaza and allowed for aid to enter the strip. As the truce is set to expire, negotiations for a further extension are ongoing but the likelihood of a permanent ceasefire is low.

Previously, Israel and Hamas had agreed to extend the pause to a seventh day, and officials from Egypt and Qatar are now working for another two-day extension through negotiating the release of male hostages. However, with American Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit, it is evident that the United States will support Israel’s continued military offense in Gaza, despite the international community's calls for a permanent ceasefire.

Secretary Blinken arrived in Israel on Thursday to help further negotiate the truce. During his time there he stated that Israel should focus on minimizing Palestinian casualties if the war continues. Secretary Blinken also urged that Israel take, “concrete steps to reduce civilian deaths,” clarifying that the US does not oppose Israel’s military involvement in Gaza, but Israel must ensure civilian objects are not attacked nor vital aid blocked from civilians. Since the start of the conflict between Hamas and Israel, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that the Israeli government’s focus would remain on two objectives: releasing hostages and destroying Hamas. During the meeting, Netanyahu affirmed that Israel will not rest until the threat of Hamas is eliminated.

The prospect of a prolonged truce continues to worsen as Hamas grows reluctant to overextend its support for releasing hostages, specifically the men and military personnel. Furthermore, Hamas officials stated that if fighting restarts or continues, it would be far more difficult to come to an agreement on a “comprehensive truce”. Given that the current truce is set to run out, and Israel intends to restart its military offense in Gaza, it is unclear whether the truce will continue or if there is a possibility of a ceasefire.

North America

Congress Debates Aid to Israel

A debate is unfolding among Democrats in Congress and the Biden Administration regarding the provision of security aid to Israel during the Israel-Hamas War. Deviating from the established norms on Capitol Hill, Democrats find themselves at odds with each other over whether to attach conditions to the military funding traditionally approved for Israel. While historical norms have involved approving significant military funds with minimal or no conditions, the large civilian death toll in the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict has prompted a growing number of Democrats to express concerns about the intended use of military aid.

The Biden Administration has proposed providing $14.3 billion for Israel's military efforts against Hamas within a broader national security package. This package also allocates additional funds to facilitate the prompt delivery of humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer foresees the chamber initiating work on a legislative package next week, encompassing the aid measure. Many Democrats argue that any aid package should include humanitarian assistance to Gaza and mandate that Israel, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's leadership, formulate a plan to decrease civilian casualties.

These concerns are part of a broader debate within the Democratic Party about the level of restraint Israel should use in its strikes on Gaza. In a recent address regarding the rise of antisemitism in the U.S., Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer expressed a desire for Israeli leaders to minimize civilian casualties. Although Schumer has committed to the Senate to work diligently to deliver humanitarian aid for Palestinians, he has not joined the push to impose explicit requirements on U.S. funding for Israel.

Senate Republicans contend that imposing conditions on Israel through aid packages would weaken the Israeli military. They argue that Israel deserves the necessary resources to reestablish its security. Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has consistently been the leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving $3.8 billion annually exceeding the amount given to any other nation, besides the recent exception of Ukraine.

South America

Venezuela to Hold Controversial Referendum on Annexing Essequibo Region

On December 3, Venezuelans will head to the polls to decide the fate of the disputed Essequibo region which currently belongs to its eastern neighbor, Guyana. The region is home to 125,000 people and encompasses a landmass larger than England or Greece. In a statement made before the judges at the International Court of Justice, Venezulea’s Vice President Delcy Rodríguez said “Nothing will prevent the referendum scheduled for December 3 from being held.” In his defense of Guyana during the court proceedings, American lawyer Paul Reichler called the referendum “a textbook example of annexation.”

Although the border between the two countries was finalized by an international tribunal in 1899, tensions over the territory resurfaced in 2015 when offshore oil deposits were discovered within the disputed maritime border. The majority of Guayana’s foreign investment lies within this mineral-rich region, a fact not overlooked by the Venezuelan government. Venezuela considers Essequibo its own because the region was within its boundaries when the nation was a Spanish colony. Venezuelan schoolchildren are taught that the territory is rightful Venezuelan territory to this day.

By utilizing patriotic rhetoric including the issuance of revised maps, songs, and TV commercials, President Nicolás Maduro hopes to convince citizens of Venezuela to vote “yes” to all five ballot measures. One of which calls for the creation of a new Venezuelan state in the disputed territory and granting Venezuelan citizenship to current and future area residents. With a presidential election expected to be held in 2024, the unpopular Maduro government hopes to use the issue of Essequibo to rally support among voters. If the referendum succeeds, subsequent Venezuelan action will be a major test of the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court and the standard of international law it upholds.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Violence in Sierra Leone Determined to be Failed Coup Attempt

On Sunday, gunmen launched attacks on several locations in Sierra Leone, including military barracks and a prison. The attacks, attributed to renegade soldiers, resulted in the death of 20 people and the escape of 2,200 convicts. 14 people, including 13 military officers, have been apprehended in connection with the attacks. On Tuesday, Sierra Leonean Information Minister Chernoh Boh characterized the violence as a failed coup attempt intended to, “illegally subvert and overthrow a democratically elected government.”

The political landscape in Sierra Leone, which experienced violent civil war throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, has grown tense following the reelection of President Julius Maada Bio earlier this year. The opposition candidate, Samura Kamara, rejected the results as fraudulent. European Union and United States observers have also expressed concerns about the legitimacy of the election.

While Sierra Leonean officials appear to have stopped the perpetrators of the supposed coup attempt, calm has not yet returned to the capital city, Freetown. A complete shutdown of public life has been lifted, however, nighttime curfews remain in place and authorities are still searching for the perpetrators of the coup.


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