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Weekly News Digest for January 26th



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

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


Asia and the Pacific 

US Puts Pressure on China to Curb Houthi Red Sea Attacks

The U.S. has asked China to use its influence to help mitigate Houthi attacks. In response to the Israeli attacks in Gaza, Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, began targeting commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea they claimed had an affiliation with Israel. American calls for intervention in the Red Sea come as the country and its allies have responded to at least 33 Houthi attacks with military force. The situation prompted a diplomatic push on Beijing, with senior U.S. officials engaging in discussions with their Chinese counterparts over the past three months. U.S. officials aim to get China, which exerts immense economic power in the region, to convey a warning to Iran about inflaming tensions in the Red Sea and the broader Middle East. 


China’s response, however, has been nuanced. While the Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement calling for an end to “disturbance to civilian ships” in the Red Sea, it also urged “relevant parties to avoid adding fuel to the fire.” This apparent criticism is directed towards the U.S. and the United Kingdom, who conducted strikes against the Houthi rebels in retaliation to the attacks on shipping vessels.


Simultaneously, China expressed a desire to play a mediating role, potentially through the established Pakistan-China-Iran trilateral consultation on counterterrorism and security. This move aligns with China’s growing assertiveness in global diplomacy under President Xi Jinping. It also reflects China’s concern for the safety of its state-owned companies and nationals, particularly those involved in projects like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in the troubled Balochistan province. 


China has a large role in the Red Sea and Middle East as tensions rise. The coming days will likely see intensified efforts from both the U.S. and China, as well as potential mediation attempts involving Pakistan and Iran. As the U.S. seeks collaboration, and as China pursues its own course, the broader geopolitical landscape comes into play, underscoring the intricate relationships and interests at stake. 



Central America and the Caribbean

Newly Inaugurated Guatemalan President is a Win for Democracy

Last Monday, Bernardo Arévalo was sworn in as Guatemala’s President after hours of delay due to political challenges to derail the transfer of power. His inauguration is a victory for pro-democracy and anti-corruption supporters in the country and beyond. Arévalo has a background as a progressive academic, and when he entered the political scene he vowed to protect Guatemalan indigenous communities and champion social justice. In his first statement as President, Arévalo said “It fills me with deep honor to assume this lofty responsibility, showing that our democracy has the necessary strength to resist and that through unity and trust, we can change the political panorama in Guatemala.” 


Arévalo’s election has wide support throughout the world from countries who hope to see democracy prevail in Central America’s most populous country. The Honduran and Chilean presidents attended Arévalo's inauguration, as well as a United States delegation led by Samantha Power. The U.S. is working with Guatemala to stem the flow of migrants moving toward the U.S. border. Unlike his predecessor, Arévalo pledges to treat migrants with “dignity, respect, and compassion.” The U.S. is working with the Guatemalan government to create more effective legal labor pathways, such as temporary work visas. This supports the U.S. policy Central America Forward, which aims to develop local investment infrastructure in the region. 


Arévalo faces many challenges in office. His inauguration was delayed due to infighting within Congress and uncertainty from the Supreme Court. Last year, Arévalo’s opponents in Congress passed a budget that would drastically limit his spending capabilities on key issues like education and healthcare. Guatemala’s current attorney general, Consuelo Porras, is one of the fiercest opponents of Arévalo and his party. She attempted to strip the vice-president of legal immunity, suspend Arévalo’s party, and even encourage a January 6th-like riot during his inauguration. After a Supreme Court decision forcing Arévalo’s party’s congress members to stand as independents, his power in the legislature is minimal. Arévalo's tenure as president will be a test for the state of democracy within the country.


Europe

Elon Musk Visits Auschwitz In Response to Antisemitic Messages on X

Last November, Elon Musk sparked an internet outcry when he responded to a user on X, formerly Twitter, who had accused Jewish individuals of hating white people, to which he commented, “You have said the actual truth.” Though the billionaire later apologized for the response, Musk has also faced accusations from the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish civil rights organization, including others for allowing antisemitic messages on the platform. Furthermore, major brands such as Disney and IBM have ceased advertising on X in response to the liberal advocacy group Media Matters claiming that their ads were appearing alongside pro-Nazi and white nationalist content. Musk has repeatedly defended his decisions as the owner of the social media app since acquiring X in 2022. In the past, Musk stated that X is “a place where freedom of speech flourishes” since the open exchange of ideas helps amend hatred despite the various accusations of antisemitism on the platform.


Following accusations of antisemitism, Musk visited the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz earlier this week, which the European Jewish Association (EJA) organized to address the rise in antisemitism following the start of the war in Gaza. Along with his 3-year-old son, the billionaire was joined by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin, and Holocaust survivor Gidon Lev. Musk laid a wreath at the wall of death and took part in a memorial ceremony. After the visit, Musk spoke at an EJA conference on antisemitism in the nearby city of Krakow, Poland, claiming that he was “Jewish by association” and “aspirationally Jewish.” However, Musk added that he was “naive” about antisemitism since “two-thirds” of his friends are Jewish, and as a result, he has had little contact with antisemitism in his personal life. The Auschwitz memorial ceremony and EJA conference that Musk attended both took place several days before Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th



Middle East and North Africa

Airstrikes in Yemen Following Houthi Attacks on Vessels

On Tuesday, the U.S. and U.K. began a series of airstrikes in Yemen, targeting Houthi military bases in the north of the country. In recent months, the Houthis have attacked ships in the Red Sea, pledging solidarity with the Palestinian people, who “have faced an assiduous Israeli siege.” The Houthis have specifically attacked ships of “any nationality” that are bound for Israel, recently even attacking two American ships providing arms for Israel.


The attacks on the Red Sea have posed global economic problems, as many nations use the path to access the Suez Canal, where 30% of global container traffic and more than 1 million barrels of crude oil pass through every day. The attacks in the Red Sea prompted nations to take longer journeys past the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa, delaying trade deals and access to goods.


Because of the attacks on ships and the stalling of trade, the U.S. and U.K. deployed warplanes, ships, and submarines to conduct air strikes against Houthis. The airstrikes occurred near military bases at Yemen’s capital and other naval bases near the Red Sea. The escalation in attacks has increased the Houthis’ resolve and led to a vow to, “continue attacks on shipping'' to prevent arms and goods from reaching Israel. 


The Houthis’ decision to conduct these attacks on ships comes at a trade-off for Yemen. Now the U.S. aims to classify the Houthis as terrorists and limit the group’s ability to access foreign aid for its people and engage in trade opportunities. While the terrorist designation will be a devastating economic blow for the entire nation of Yemen, the Houthis stated they will not cease their operations. The Houthis refusal to concede will continue to pose challenges to international trade, showing that the consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be widespread and impactful to all regions of the world.  


North America

Republican Primary Reveals Weaknesses for Both Candidates

Former United States President Donald Trump clinched a significant victory over former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley in the New Hampshire Republican primary on Tuesday, January 23, with an 11% margin. This outcome dealt a blow to Haley's campaign, especially considering the substantial resources she had invested in the state. Despite this setback, Haley has vowed to persist in the race. However, skepticism remains due to the precedent set by similar situations, such as when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made comparable declarations before ultimately withdrawing from the race. After Trump's win in New Hampshire, his likelihood of securing the Republican nomination has significantly increased.


Initially anticipated to be a three-person contest, the New Hampshire race narrowed after DeSantis's departure, which notably favored Trump. DeSantis's endorsement of Trump and his criticisms of Haley further strengthened support for the former president. Haley's strategy to court independent and anti-Trump Republican voters, along with the support of the state's popular governor, Chris Sununu, still fell short against Trump's loyal base. Despite her efforts to connect with voters through brief speeches, Haley struggled to convey the authenticity and accessibility that New Hampshire voters sought. Trump's dominance among Republicans, winning three out of four votes, underscored the challenge Haley faces, especially as she moves forward to confront a more conservative base in South Carolina and beyond, where Trump has consistently led by substantial margins in polls.


Although Trump's strength in the primaries has been intimidating, his failure to garner the level of support expected of an incumbent-like candidate raises questions about his broader appeal. Nonetheless, his victory in New Hampshire solidifies his position as a frontrunner for the Republican nomination, posing significant obstacles for Haley only 10 months from election day. 


South America

Argentina’s Labor Unions Organize Nationwide Strike Against Milei Government 

On Wednesday, thousands of protestors in Buenos Aires gathered in front of Argentina’s Congress to oppose President Javier Milei’s plans to overhaul the national economy. The strikes, called by the country’s largest labor union, brought the capital to a standstill. Tens of thousands of Argentines from across the country participated in the strikes which shuttered schools, closed businesses, and grounded hundreds of flights. 


Upon winning Argentina’s runoff presidential election in November of 2023, Milei vowed to free Argentina from decades of “decadence and decline” by introducing a slate of libertarian economic reforms. These reforms included reduced government spending, deregulation, and the privatization of state-owned companies. Despite marketing the reforms as the only way to save Argentina from “economic hell,” monthly inflation hit 25.5% last month compared to 12.8% in November. Inflation figures in Argentina have continued to rise despite the closure of nine of the country’s eighteen government ministries and the elimination of 5,000 government jobs. Milei also officially devalued the Argentine peso by more than 50 percent. In doing so, the government exchange rate was brought much closer to the market’s measure of the currency. However, the move resulted in skyrocketing prices, causing consumer spending to drop significantly. 


The protests in Argentina have also occurred in response to the “omnibus bill” that Milei’s government is attempting to pass. The bill contains over five hundred articles and if passed, it would hand broad legislative powers to Milei’s executive branch for an “emergency” period of one year. 


With the introduction of these reforms, President Milei has delivered on his promise of delivering “shock therapy” to the Argentine state. This week’s protest reflects the population’s urgency and uncertainty, as many Argentines rely on some form of basic government assistance to make ends meet. According to national data, four in ten Argentines were already in poverty when Milei took office. With economists predicting a fall in consumer spending, Argentina could face a recession in the near future. 


Sub-Saharan Africa

Blinken Returns to Africa on a Four-Country Trip

From January 21st to January 26th, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to four African countries to reiterate America’s commitment to the continent and work on pursuing peace in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Blinken first touched down in the island nation of Cabo Verde, where he congratulated the country’s completion of two Millenium Challenge Corporation projects. From there, Blinken traveled to Côte d’Ivoire. While meeting with Ivorian officials, Blinken committed the U.S. to provide $45 million in security assistance to the West African country. The newly pledged funds will add to the almost $250 million in aid that the U.S. has provided to the region since 2022 to decrease the spread of militant groups and democratic backsliding.


Blinken’s next destination on his diplomatic voyage was Nigeria, where he met with recently elected president Bola Tinubu and other senior officials. The Nigerian and American officials discussed Nigeria’s security concerns, which include jihadist movements spreading across West Africa and heightened levels of banditry in Nigeria’s north. Blinken’s tour came to a close in Angola, where he praised the country for its progress on refurbishing and expanding a rail line connecting to the DRC, using funds provided by the U.S. Blinken also corresponded with Angolan President Joao Lorenco about Angola’s efforts to bring peace to DRC’s eastern region which has experienced a surge in armed group activity.



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