Compiled by Kelly Dobso, Trinity Gates, Dinah Gorayeb, Austin Myhre, and Charlotte Smith
Ottowa’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ Continues to Cause Disruptions
Truck drivers are continuing to protest in Ottawa by blockading three U.S.-Canada border crossings. The truckers originally began striking on January 28 in opposition to U.S. and Canadian rules requiring cross-border truckers to be fully vaccinated. However, the protests have expanded into opposing pandemic restrictions and broad public health measures. Some businesses in Ottawa were forced to close or cut production, like Ford and General Motors, due to the blockades, security concerns, and city-wide disruptions. A far-right organizer of the convoy claimed that they would resort to using ‘bullets’ to end the restrictions, signaling that the demonstrations are far from over.
Asia and the Pacific
U.S. Secretary of State Holds Meetings with Indo-Pacific Leaders
On Wednesday, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Australia for a summit of the Indo-Pacific ‘Quad,’ which is a strategic security network between the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia. The summit will see an emphasis on addressing rapprochement between Russia and China as well as on increasing COVID-19 vaccine production. After the Quad summit, Blinken will travel to Fiji, where he will meet with 18 Pacific Island leaders who have faced mounting pressure to balance relations amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China. Finally, Blinken will return to the U.S., meeting in Hawaii with Japanese and South Korean officials about North Korea’s nuclear program and other issues.
East Africa Likely to Face Severe Hunger as Drought Worsens
The United Nations estimates that 13 million people in East Africa are likely to face severe hunger this year as three consecutive failed rainy seasons have destroyed crops and forced people from their homes. With below-average rainfall expected, the shortages of water and land will lead to hikes in staple food prices, inflation, and fewer agricultural jobs, which will further exacerbate disparities in food access. The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) also notes that the mass displacement of people from their homes has led to increased conflict between local communities and also throughout the greater region.
The U.S. Deploys Thousands of Troops to Support Allies in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Last week, the Biden administration made its first overt move against Russia by directing 3,000 American troops to Europe’s defenses. About 2,000 troops were sent to Poland, and 1,000 were sent from an infantry base in Germany to Romania, where they will be positioned on the Eastern flank of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In addition, officials have stated that more than 8,500 troops are on standby to be deployed. These moves by the United States are intended to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine and dispel further conflict in Eastern Europe. President Joe Biden has stated that the U.S. will not defend Ukraine but will support its allies in Europe on this matter. However, Russian officials have condemned these actions as a potential threat to its national security. Russian President Vladimir Putin also accused the U.S. of provoking Russia into war, claiming that the Minsk agreements between Russia and Ukraine were being violated and that NATO was not willing to acknowledge Russia’s concerns and demands. Ultimately, Russia has denied any intentions of invading Ukraine but nonetheless holds the potential of using military force if Russia’s wish that Ukraine be denied membership in NATO is not fulfilled.
Belarusian President Threatens War if Russia is Attacked
After Russia deployed tens of thousands of troops to Belarus, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko recently stated that the country will only go to war if the country’s ally Russia faces aggression. On this point, Lukashenko said that “If our country faces an aggression, there will be hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers here, who will defend this sacred land together with hundreds of thousands of Belarusians.” Such a sentiment has sparked concern among the United States and other Western countries. Adding to these worries, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya stated that Lukashenko is in a weak political position and therefore wants to express loyalty to Russian President Putin and even encourages the deployment of Russian troops around Belarus.
Latin America and the Caribbean
DRC Refugee Murdered in Brazil
Moise Kabagambe, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was beaten to death on the night of January 24th at the bar where he worked in the neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, after demanding overdue wages from his boss. The autopsy showed that Kabagambe died from blunt trauma to his chest, and the media has circulated a video showing a group of men, including his boss, assaulting and beating him with baseball bats, while also tying him up with a cord. Authorities stated three people have been arrested so far.
Kabagambe’s mother, Ivana Lay, told the news “They killed him like an animal,” and “They killed my son because he was Black because he was African.” His brother, Sammy Kabagamble, stated the conflict started after Moise demanded to be paid two days’ worth of overdue wages, he continues “He wanted his money and they didn’t want to pay him. That’s when the argument started. The manager grabbed a piece of wood to hit him. He (Kabagambe) grabbed a chair to defend himself.”
Kabagambe arrived in Brazil when he was only 11 years old, fleeing DRC fighting between Hemu and Lendu ethnic groups that killed many of their relatives. Refugee support in Rio de Janeiro, PARES Caritas RJ, in a joint statement with UNHCR, said their team watched Moise grow and integrate into society, and “everyone knew him.” The killing triggered outrages across the country, calling for reckoning on how refugees and asylum seekers are treated in Brazil. The country houses 73,000 registered refugees and more than 231,000 asylum seekers, but only 1,826 are from DRC. Mayor of the city, Eduardo Paes, stated the killings are “unacceptable and revolting,” and he is “confident police would bring the attackers to justice.”
Woman is Freed from Jail after Miscarriage in El Salvador
After serving 10 years of her 30-year sentence, authorities in El Salvador freed a woman jailed on charges of killing her baby. The Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion stated the woman, Elsy, was arrested in June of 2011 after reporting an “obstetric emergency,” accused of aborting her baby and charged with aggravated homicide. In the country, abortion under any circumstances is illegal, even in the cases of rape or incest, or the woman’s health is in danger.
The Citizen Group stated Elsy’s original court case was filled with irregularities and neglected her presumption of innocence, and she is only one of the 17 similar cases the freedom rights group is trying to overcome. In December of last year, a campaign called “Free the 17” swiped the country, and celebrities including America Ferrera, Milla Jovovich, and Kathryn Hahn called on the President to pardon the women.
Heavy Landslide Hits Colombia
The landslide triggered by heavy rains on February 9th so far has killed at least 14 people in the country, and at least 35 people have been hospitalized after several homes were engulfed. Rescue teams have been searching for more survivors, but at least five homes were buried by the mud and dozens remain missing.
The United States Unfreezes Afghan Assets, Seizes Half
The White House announced that it would unfreeze the $7 billion in Afghan assets and seize half of it to distribute to 150 family members of people killed in the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. justifies this action by referring to a 2010 lawsuit by the family members against the Taliban and al Qaeda for their role in facilitating the attack. However, U.S. law prohibited these family members from suing Saudi Arabia, despite 15 of the 19 hijackers being Saudi. In other words, the U.S. is taking money that belongs to the Afghan people to use as reparations, despite the Afghan people having no involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
The other $3.5 billion will address the humanitarian needs in Afghanistan, where millions are currently on the brink of starvation due to economic collapse. However, the U.S. is awaiting a judicial decision to transfer assets to a third-party trust fund for humanitarian purposes, which will take several months. According to David Miliband, the President of the International Rescue Committee, the conditions placed on aid to Afghanistan to prevent the Taliban from accessing it will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. Further, experts warn that the starvation crisis could kill more Afghans than in the past two decades of war.