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Weekly News Digest for February 9th, 2024


Compiled by Sara Anis Ali, Grey Cohen, Alex Hsu, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Ryan Simons, and Tobyn Smith

Edited by Sara Anis Ali, Hayes Orr, Quinn Phillips, Meagan McColloch, Niamh Dempsey


Asia and the Pacific 

U.S. Approves Drones and Missiles Sale to India

The U.S. State Department has approved the sale of drones, missiles, and other pieces of military equipment worth nearly $4 billion to India. The sale includes 31 armed MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones, 170 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles, 310 laser small-diameter bombs, communications and surveillance equipment, and a precision glide bomb. The U.S. had announced the transaction during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in June 2023. However, the agreement was put on hold after U.S. prosecutors charged an Indian national for the attempted assassination of a U.S. citizen. Congress lifted the hold after the U.S. government agreed to launch a full investigation into the assassination. 


The deal adds attack drones to India’s arsenal and expands India’s ability to project power in the Asia-Pacific region. It also serves to decrease India’s decades-long dependency on Russian military equipment, while displaying the U.S.’s commitment to deepening ties with India. For decades, Russia has been India’s source of military equipment, with Russian-made weapons comprising over 60% of India’s military hardware. The deal with the U.S. will certainly raise concerns in the Kremlin, leaving India needing to reaffirm strong relations with Russia, as India continues to import gas from the nation


The U.S.’s continued courting of India is an integral part of the U.S.’s grand strategy in the Indo-Pacific. Developing the U.S.-India defense partnership is a goal shared by both the former Trump administration and the current Biden administration. They hope to use India as a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region and have shown their eagerness to look past India’s alarming human rights issues to achieve that goal. The recent deal cements this fact, opening doors for increasing arms exports from the US to India.


Central America and the Caribbean

Guatemala Reasserts Need for Diplomatic Ties With Taiwan 

The Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs reasserted its intention to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan despite pressure from Beijing. The Guatemalan government has previously stated it would seek closer trade ties with China, which claims Taiwan as a province. However, this week the Ministry voiced that Guatemala will continue acknowledging Taiwan as an independent nation. In a statement given on Wednesday, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Ramiro Martinez said, "We are going to continue working with Taiwan at the levels we have been doing." 


Over the last ten years, China has unseated the United States as the largest trade partner for South America. China has invested billions into numerous regional projects using its state-owned companies to build infrastructure. China has seen great success through its Belt and Road Initiative in Latin America, devouring its soy, corn, and copper. 

Despite this recent affirmation of support for Taiwan, Guatemala cannot ignore the benefits of Chinese investment in the country. Martinez remarked in an interview on Monday that, “we cannot ignore the weight and power China represents.” Martinez added that Guatemala is seeking to develop trade relations with China, which may result in the creation of an office of trade interests. 


This diplomatic reaffirmation comes as several countries within South America have been shifting their diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in recent years. China has been increasing its economic influence in Latin America, with many Central American countries like Honduras and Panama switching loyalties from Taiwan to China.


Europe

Europe’s Battle with AI

Last Friday, the European Union approved the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act. This act places extensive regulatory pressures on AI firms to ensure they meet privacy and transparency regulations. However, skepticism from leading member states like Germany and France may hinder its long-term success. Notably, French President Emmanual Macron expressed concerns that the new law would impede French AI start-ups. These conflicting perspectives present a risk to the longevity of such an Act as there are clear disagreements in the foundations of the policy. 


The European Parliament is due to vote on the Artificial Intelligence Act in April, presenting another hurdle towards it. With European Parliament elections coming up in June, it is unknown how representatives from the European member states will position themselves on the issue. If approved, the Act will mark the first law regulating the development of AI. The details of the Act pertain to a ‘risk-based’ approach in which AI systems would be in a tiered system of risk to the European Union’s values and rights. The European Union is looking to be a trendsetter hoping that other countries and supranational organizations follow their path. This latest development, for example, could help influence the United States to accelerate the creation of its highly anticipated AI Bill of Rights. 


Middle East and North Africa

Israel Expands Assault Into Rafah

On February 8th, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Israeli military was advancing its attacks into Rafah to target Hamas militants. Israel accused Hamas of hiding among civilians within school shelters and hospitals, thus Israel plans to increase its bombing campaign in Rafah to further target possible Hamas fighters.


These attacks on Rafah follow Israel’s launch of airstrikes in Khan Younis, another densely populated city in the southern Gaza Strip, where a tank ground invasion followed the aerial attacks. According to Nasser Hospital’s surgical director, a single night of bombardment in Khan Younis led to the death of over fifty civilians and over a hundred other civilians wounded. 


Similar to Khan Younis, area bombing and airstrikes campaigns come at an extremely high cost for the 1.5 million displaced Palestinian civilians. The city was once home to only 280,000 inhabitants. However, following the attacks in northern portions of Gaza, the city now hosts over half of the population of Gaza, many of whom are living in tent camps. As plans for a ground invasion of Rafah continue, many Palestinian residents are growing concerned as attacks have indiscriminately attacked civilians of all ages and left many areas uninhabitable. Many Palestinians moved to Rafah to escape the airstrikes in the north, but now they find themselves amid an even larger humanitarian crisis. The attacks in Rafah will leave residents scrambling to find food as much of the aid and imports typically entered through the Rafah Border Crossing. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres reported, “People are dying not only from bombs and bullets, but from lack of food and clean water.”


Possibilities for a ceasefire remain uncertain, as Israel rejected Hamas’ most recent proposal involving a four-and-a-half-month truce plan. The proposition posited that Hamas would release all its Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of imprisoned Palestinians by Israeli forces. Hamas’ proposal also calls for a permanent cessation of hostilities. Netanyahu rejected the claim indicating Israel sought an “absolute victory” over Hamas, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken believes the proposal creates opportunities for future deals. New negotiations involving Egypt and Qatar are also occurring, but the attacks in Gaza will keep the Palestinian people in a situation of insecurity and danger.


North America

Bipartisan Deal Tying Immigration and Ukraine Aid Fails in the Senate

Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked a bipartisan immigration bill, which tied foreign aid for Ukraine to new border policies. Negotiations over the bill were in the works for months as several Republicans refused to pass Ukraine aid without stipulations for domestic border security. However, after former president Trump voiced his strong opposition to the bill, Republicans withdrew their support from the deal they initially demanded. The proposed bill would have been the first major immigration bill to be passed since 1990.   


Both parties have acknowledged the need for immigration reform as American cities struggle under the weight of a failing immigration system. More than 800,000 people applied for asylum in the U.S. in 2023, a 63% increase from the previous year. Despite a backlog of cases numbering over 2 million, there are fewer than 1,500 judges and asylum officers available to hear asylum cases. The proposed bill included strict border enforcement measures aimed at managing the crisis. One measure gives the President the authority to deport migrants without allowing them to submit applications for asylum if the number of daily border crossings exceeds 4,000 over seven days. The bill would implement new standards for those claiming asylum, requiring them to prove there is a “reasonable possibility” for their case to be approved, rather than a “significant possibility.” Those waiting on their hearings would have an easier time getting work permits within the U.S., and there would be an increase in the issuance of green cards and employment-based visas. One provision also streamlined the asylum process for Afghan refugees who supported the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Notably absent from the bill were reforms addressing the root causes of the immigration crisis or any measures to address the backlog of current asylum applications. 


The failure of this bill shocked many as it included steep concessions from Democrats over contested policy issues. Despite the inclusion of many GOP requests, Republican Senators and Representatives alike revoked their support for the bill at the last minute. Many opposed the bill before the language was released, including House Majority Leader Mike Johnson who said the bill was “dead on arrival.” Experts believe this change of heart came at the behest of former President Trump, who plans to use the issue of immigration as a key point in his presidential campaign. Without border negotiations on the table, Congress is now faced with multiple decisions regarding legislation on foreign aid for Ukraine and Israel.


South America

Brazilian Authorities Accuse Bolsonaro’s Allies of Planning Coup 

On Thursday, Brazilian federal police released a series of accusations against former President Jair Bolsonaro and his political allies. In their report, Brazilian authorities allege that Bolsonaro’s allies, with his knowledge, plotted a coup meant to keep the former president in power in the event he lost the 2022 presidential election. Though Bolsonaro lost the election, he never issued the decree that would initiate the supposed coup. 


A 134-page court order contained allegations of wrongdoing leveled against former President Bolsonaro and his aides. The court order also authorized a federal police operation that targeted about two dozen of Bolsonaro’s political allies, including Brazil’s former defense minister, former national security adviser, former justice minister, and former head of the Navy. Additionally, Police issued arrest warrants for four people, including two army officers and two of Mr. Bolsonaro’s former top aides. Documents included in the court order detail the police’s claim that the alleged plotters had prepared to issue claims of voter fraud “in order to enable and legitimize a military intervention.” Other documents contained police claims that Felipe Martins, a special adviser to Bolsonaro, presented the former president with a draft decree ahead of the election that ordered the arrest of two Supreme Court justices, including the official presiding over the election body meant to oversee the election.


As part of the ongoing investigation, police arrived at the former president’s beach house in Rio De Janeiro to confiscate his passport. In response, Bolsonaro stated, “I left the government more than a year ago, and I'm still suffering relentless persecution." The former president has already been ruled ineligible to run for office until 2030. However, although police did not search Bolsonaro’s home as part of Thursday’s operation, he could still be facing arrest and criminal prosecution. 


Sub-Saharan Africa

Senegal Election Postponed to December

The citizens of Senegal were expected to head to the polls on February 25th to fulfill their civic duty and choose the successor to current President Macky Sall in what would be the country’s first election without a running incumbent. These expectations were suddenly thrust astray when President Sall took to national television on Saturday to announce a postponement of the elections, citing electoral issues. While Sall did not specify a new date for the country’s elections in his televised briefing, the Senegalese parliament convened on February 5th to arrange when elections would be held. Amidst clashes between protestors and state security forces outside the doors of parliament, 105 of Senegal’s 165 legislators voted to push the election date to December 15th, a much further date than the initially proposed date of August 15th. The parliamentary debate sparked heartened censors by opposition lawmakers, who attempted to disrupt the vote before they were arrested.


The postponement is a development in an election cycle already beset with questionably democratic government actions. In 2023, opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was arrested on defamation charges, charges he claims are politically motivated. To disrupt his presidential ambitions further, the Constitutional Council of Senegal rejected his application for candidacy in the election, claiming that his application was incomplete. Before determining his ineligibility to run, Sonko was seen as the main opposition to the ruling party.


The Senegalese government’s recent actions have raised concerns of democratic backsliding in a country routinely hailed for its robust democracy in a region with a turbulent history of civilian rule. Senegalese citizens and civil society groups have expressed discontent with the government’s move, a sentiment echoed by outside actors such as the African Union and the United States. As Senegal and the world await a time of unrest as the elections approach, the authoritarianization of several nearby West African countries continues to paint a worrying picture for the region.


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