Weekly News Digest for January 27th, 2023 Compiled by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Trinity Gates, Sara Anis Ali, Zoe Shepherd, Hayes Orr, and Shekina Shindano
Edited by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Sara Anis Ali, and Riley Mied
Asia and the Pacific
North Korea Orders Lockdown in Pyongyang Due to ‘Respiratory Illness’
Reports by South Korea's NK News, which monitors activity in North Korea, indicate that authorities in the capital city of Pyongyang have ordered a five-day lockdown amid rising cases of an unidentified respiratory illness. In an official notice issued by the government, residents were required to stay in their homes until the end of Sunday and agree to temperature checks four times a day, results of which are to be reported by phone to a hospital. Though COVID-19 was not mentioned in the announcement, the notice did state that “a special anti-epidemic period has been established,” while further citing an increase in winter cases of recurrent flu and other respiratory diseases. Reports also indicate that as a result, city residents appear to be “panic-buying food in large quantities” in anticipation of the imposition of stricter measures. However, it remains unclear whether the lockdown covers areas outside Pyongyang.
North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 outbreak last year, but with limited testing abilities, they were unable to confirm the number of cases. Instead, the regime reported daily numbers of patients with fever, with a count that rose to 4.77 million, out of a population of nearly 25 million, but such cases of fever have not been reported since July 29th, 2022. By August, the nation declared “victory” over the virus. Despite this, state media continues to report on anti-pandemic measures put in place to battle respiratory illnesses, including the flu, but has yet to report on the current lockdown order.
Central America and the Caribbean
Sons of Former Panamanian President Return Home After U.S. Jail Sentence
Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares and Ricardo Martinelli Linares, the sons of ex-President Ricardo Martinelli, returned home to Panama on Wednesday. In May 2022, the brothers received a sentence to serve time in Brooklyn, New York. Luis and Ricardo admitted to accepting bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht while their father was president from 2009 to 2014. In 2016, Odebrecht pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering charges. According to court documents, Odebrecht’s scheme involved the payment of over $700 million in bribes across Latin America to ensure contract deals in the region. Police originally arrested Luis and Ricardo in June 2020 when they pleaded guilty to money-laundering charges, but the brothers escaped shortly after agreeing to cooperate with the U.S. Justice Department. The brothers fled to the Bahamas by boat in an attempt to return to Panama, but were arrested in Guatemala when their plane was forced to make a temporary stop. Luis and Ricardo were held in Guatemala for 23 months before being extradited back to the United States to be charged in a U.S. District Court in May 2022.
While the brothers are finally able to return home, their case is far from over. The Panamanian state attorney’s office has called over 36 people to trial concerning the money-laundering charges. Luis and Ricardo will stand trial, along with their father, Ricardo Martinelli, and Martinelli’s successor, Juan Carlos Varela, who served as President of Panama from 2014 to 2019. Panama’s government is not the only entity taking steps to hold those involved in the Odebrecht scandal accountable. On Wednesday, the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, announced the ineligibility of Ricardo Martinelli to enter the U.S. because of his involvement in the widespread corruption. Ricardo Martinelli has maintained his innocence throughout his son’s trials, and he claims the accusations and charges are an attack on his planned presidential campaign in 2024.
Germany Agrees to Send Tanks to Ukraine After Much Debate
Early this Wednesday, Germany announced it would send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine after surmounting pleas and pressure from its allies, namely the U.S. and Poland. The U.S. followed in the footsteps of Germany and pledged to send their own tanks, the M1 Abrams, showing unity among allied forces in supporting Ukraine in the war against Russia. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine called this announcement a key moment and turning point for Ukraine in the war. However, it should be noted that it could take months for the German tanks to arrive in Ukraine, and up to a year for U.S. tanks to make it to the warfront.
This decision came after months of back and forth within Germany and hesitancy to insert heavy weaponry in Eastern Europe, something that has not happened since Nazi aggression in World War 2. Germany also maintained the need for unity from the U.S. for them to pledge the tanks, feeling the U.S. would not get domestic support and follow through on previous pledges and leave Germany open to more security threats. Germany’s foreign policy agenda in recent months has also been focused on maintaining their own national security policy and foreign affairs, which is now placing importance on trade.
U.K. Labour Party Sets out Foreign Policy Priorities
Earlier this week, the United Kingdom Labour Party released its foreign policy agenda as they lead in opinion polls against the Conservatives and eye next year’s national election. Namely, the Labour Party addressed Brexit and said they would not rejoin the European Union but aim to repair damage done by Brexit and reconnect with Europe. This includes boosting trade and a U.K.-EU security pact. Another major priority is diplomacy, referencing rifts with the U.S. and other strained relationships that came with the protocol fiasco in the wake of Brexit. A complete audit of Chinese relations, a commitment to the distribution of development aid, and the creation of a State Threats Cell to identify and tackle hostile actors were also outlined in this agenda.
Middle East and North Africa
Israel Conducts Raid in Jenin Refugee Camp
On Thursday, Israeli forces conducted a daytime military operation in a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. Israel led the operation in hopes of catching terrorists they believed were hiding in the area. The Israeli military stated that the raid was necessary to capture terrorists who coordinated attacks on Israeli police. However, the Palestinian Authority points to the deaths and damage the raid brought.
The raid resulted in the deaths of nine Palestinians, and twenty others were wounded. While the Israeli forces claim they killed only militants and terrorists, some individuals were, in fact, bystanders, such as one elderly woman named Magda Obaid. The raid angered many Palestinians, including the health workers who stated that paramedics struggled to reach the scene. Furthermore, Palestinian officials claimed that the military fired off tear gas at the pediatric ward of a hospital, causing children to choke.
Following the raid, the Palestinian Authority decided to suspend ties with Israel in a joint effort to combat terrorism. Although the Palestinian Authority previously suspended this tie, with the influence of the U.S., they have reinstated their deal. The Palestinian authorities have since called for the International Criminal Court to consider the recent events. They hope it will prompt the UN and human rights organizations to step in and stop the encroachment on Palestinian land and to ensure the protection and stability of those areas.
All of these events take place before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit Israel and help broker peace deals between Israel and Palestine.
Gun Violence Runs Rampid Across the U.S. After the Deadliest Shooting of 2023
The first weeks of 2023 brought high levels of gun violence, with at least 69 deaths from mass shootings across the United States. As of January, the Gun Violence Archive recorded 40 mass shootings. So far, the deadliest shooting took place this past weekend in Monterey Park, California, leaving 11 dead and 9 wounded. Police are calling this the deadliest shooting in Los Angeles County’s history. The predominantly Asian American community was celebrating the Lunar New Year in the dance hall when the shooting broke out. Later on Saturday, the gunman attempted a second attack in neighboring Alhambra, but a dance hall employee disarmed him. On Sunday morning, the gunman was found dead by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his white van after a day-long police manhunt. Police suspect the gunman went to the dance studio to target specific people. Police are theorizing he was motivated by jealousy or relationship issues. Just days after this tragedy, another mass shooting occurred at Half Moon Bay Farms in Northern California, with a 66 year old gunman killing 7 people. Even after these deadly shootings in California, it is unlikely Congress will pass a bipartisan consensus to enact any additional gun control measures because of the split opinion on gun control between the two parties.
$2 Billion Suit Over ‘Cutural Genocide’ in Residential Schools Settled
Canada settled a $2 billion class action suit, brought by 325 First Nations over ‘cultural genocide’ in residential schools sanctioned by the government. If the new settlement is approved by court, it would resolve a class action suit from 2012 where 325 First Nations were seeking compensation for the erosion of their cultures and languages.
From the 19th century until 1990, thousands of Indigenous students at 130 different residential schools were forbidden, sometimes through coercive violence, from practicing their ancestral languages and traditions. Sometimes, Indigenous children were taken by their families and forced to attend these residential schools mostly run by churches. In 2021, Canadians were shocked to find evidence of unmarked graves containing the remains of 215 former students on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Similar searches at other residential schools found possible burial sites as well. The unmarked graves are believed to be students who died at the schools due to disease, malnutrition, neglect, accidents, fires, and violence.
If this agreement is approved, it will be the fifth major legal settlement related to the schools since a 2006 agreement provided compensation to former students and established a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This commission examined the educational system, heard testimony from former students, and issued a long list of recommendations. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to fully implement these recommendations. The previous settlements had left out reparations for the damage to language, culture, and heritage. One of the parties involved in the lawsuit, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, says it will be challenging to restore their languages and culture and this settlement will give the nations the resources to start the process. The agreement states that the settlement will be put into a trust fund by the government that Indigenous communities can use for educational, cultural and language programs. It can also be used to develop projects to support former students and help them in rediscovering their heritage. The Federal Court of Canada is scheduled to hold a hearing in late February, where the settlement is expected to be approved.
Argentina and Brazil Discuss Creation of Shared Currency
As part of his economic agenda, the recently-elected President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) traveled to Buenos Aires to meet with Argentine President Alberto Fernández. The two leaders will discuss the creation of a shared currency, which has tentatively been named “sur” (south). Leaders from both countries are optimistic that a shared currency could boost regional trade and reduce their reliance on the U.S. dollar.
This move is widely considered to be a first step in Brazil’s post-Bolsonaro foreign policy realignment. In a recent statement, Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira said that Lula intends to “rebuild bridges” between Brazil and other Latin and South American states. Brazil’s return to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) further affirms Brazil’s interest in bolstering relations with neighboring states. Former President Bolsonaro repeatedly criticized the CELAC organization for its leftist sentiments before spearheading the country’s initial exit in 2019.
Despite the optimistic discussion, economists are doubtful that the countries will implement a shared currency. Even though Argentina is Brazil’s most lucrative trade partner, the country grapples with one of the world’s highest inflation rates. As economist Mohamed A. El-Erian stated, “Neither country has the initial conditions to make this succeed and attract others.” His analysis represents the opinion of most experts who also believe that the summit’s main motivation may have been political and not entirely economic.
Zambia’s Debt Reconstruction Plan
On Monday, United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen traveled to Lusaka, Zambia to discuss reconstruction of the nation's debt with government officials. This trip came following an announcement by Joe Biden that over $15 billion dollars would be invested in U.S-Africa trade, investment deals, and partnerships. The goal of this initiative is to strengthen U.S.-Zambia relations. With Zambia’s external debt totaling up to $17 billion dollars, Zambian Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane emphasized that solving Zambia’s debt issue was a top priority for the country. Yellen pointed out that this debt was taking a toll on the country’s economy and relationship with China. Zambia owes approximately $6 billion to China alone which has led to intensified relations between the two states.
Yellen shared with reporters that Zambia should aim to focus on addressing corruption and creating an economic environment that would encourage investment and trade in order to alleviate the country’s stressed economy. The Chinese Embassy in Zambia expressed that the biggest contribution the U.S can make in the debt restructuring process is to, “act on responsible monetary policies.” Yellen also stated that the United States will continue to monitor Zambia’s progress on its debt restructuring project alongside China.