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Weekly News Digest for November 17th, 2023


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

Edited by Sara Anis Ali, Hayes Orr, Quinn Philips, Zoe Shepherd, Niamh Dempsey


Asia and the Pacific

Biden Hosts International Leaders at APEC Summit

San Francisco officials cleared the streets this week as leaders made their way to the city for the 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. It marks the third time the United States has hosted the meeting, and it is the first time that President Biden attended in person. Over 20 leaders from East Asia, Southeast Asia, Oceania, and Latin America attended to talk trade, investment, technological cooperation, and sustainable development, among others.


However, the focus of this week's attention was on Chinese President Xi Jinping and his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden. On Wednesday, Mr. Biden hosted Mr. Xi at Filoli, a century-old mansion south of San Francisco. There, they held a four hour long discussion before sharing a lunch with top advisors and strolling the grounds of the luxury estate. They discussed fentanyl, technology, U.S. export restrictions, Iran, China’s nuclear arsenal, and briefly about China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea.


The meeting brought about two agreements regarding China’s clampdown on fentanyl trafficking and the restarting of military-to-military communications. President Biden called the second in-person meeting between the two leaders since the pandemic “most constructive and productive.” Yet, many topics were left on the table and avenues for collaboration between the two powers seemed to narrow compared to past summits where the two agreed to cooperate on issues like North Korea and climate change. There were no concrete agreements for any of the other issues, while other topics such as Taiwan’s upcoming election and China’s financing of Russia were not adequately addressed.


However, there were also more wholesome moments during the summit. Later that night, President Xi announced the possible continuation of China’s famous “panda diplomacy” by hinting at sending more pandas to U.S. zoos as a show of goodwill. President Xi also invited a group of farmers from Iowa to dinner on Friday; these farmers housed Mr. Xi during his time in Iowa 40 years ago when he was studying agriculture abroad as a local party official.


Central America and the Caribbean

Updates on Kenyan Security Force Deployment

The Kenyan Parliament approved the United Nations’ plan to send 1,000 police officers to Haiti in defiance of the Kenyan Supreme Court’s block on the deployment order. This mission was organized by the United States and Ecuador in an effort to quell worsening gang activity in Haiti. Haiti is considered a collapsed state, with no ability to govern its citizens. Kenya had volunteered to send officers to combat the gang violence until the order was put under review by the Kenyan Supreme Court. The court has yet to rule on the matter, however, the Kenyan Parliament voted to approve the order on Thursday. This has sparked controversy concerning the legality of voting on an issue before a decision by the court. Leaders of the ruling party and opposition leaders will have to grapple with the constitutionality of their efforts and the international community is waiting to see how these issues will be resolved.


Nonbinary Politician Found Dead in Mexico

Jesús Ociel Baena, Mexico’s first openly nonbinary person to assume a judicial position, was found dead in their home along with their partner on Monday. They were a leading figure in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in Mexico, being one of the first people to have issued a passport identifying them as nonbinary. Authorities released a statement saying they did not find evidence of a third person at the crime scene, indicating they believe it to have been a suicide or crime of passion. Thousands marched in Mexico's capital on Tuesday demanding a more thorough investigation. Baena regularly received death threats and their supporters believe it is evidence of the growing violence against advocates fighting for LGBTO+ rights. Many believe this is simply another occurrence of Mexican officials overlooking the suffering of historically victimized communities.


Europe

Declares a State of Emergency Ahead of Suspected Volcanic Eruption

Since late October, thousands of earthquakes have been recorded in the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwestern Iceland. The recent increase in seismic activity has led authorities to issue a state of emergency, as experts predict that there is a “significant likelihood of a volcanic eruption” in the near future. Last Saturday, residents of Grindavik, a small fishing town of 3,000 people, were forced to evacuate after Iceland’s Meteorological Office detected a nine-mile river of magma stretching underneath the town. Images from the town show massive holes and cracks separating roads. Similarly, the popular geothermal spa, the Blue Lagoon, temporarily closed due to disruptions caused by a series of earthquakes and as a precaution against a possible eruption. Although the intensity of the seismic activity has declined slightly within the past several days, authorities continue to warn of a possible eruption, as there is still notable seismic activity. As of Wednesday, Icelandic meteorologists detected 800 earthquakes that have occurred since late Tuesday evening. Sulfur dioxide was detected from these quakes, indicating that magma is near the ground surface, which suggests that the volcano may erupt in the coming days.


Iceland has a long history of volcanic activity, as most of the 130 volcanoes on the island are active. The country sits on two tectonic plates, which are divided by an undersea mountain chain that oozes magma. In 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruption caused the largest closure of European airspace since World War II due to an extensive ash cloud, but volcanologists say that the circumstances of this volcanic activity are quite different. The interaction of magma and ice is what made the Eyjafjallajokull eruption so explosive, which is not the case with recent volcanic activity. One of Iceland’s largest eruptions occurred in 1783, sparking a flood of lava that lasted for eight months and producing sulfur clouds that reached Europe, causing a 1.3C drop in temperatures across Europe for two years. Dr. Evgenia Ilyinskaya, an Icelandic geophysicist and co-director of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, claimed that earlier last week, it looked as though Iceland could see an eruption similar to the magnitude of the one from 1783. Yet, given the slight decline in seismic activity, Dr. Ilyinskaya believes that the eruption will be much smaller than previously thought.


Middle East and North Africa

UN Security Humanitarian Aid Resolution for Gaza

The UN Security Council, an organization that focuses on maintaining international peace and security, passed a resolution to extend “humanitarian pauses and corridors throughout the Gaza Strip”. This move, which marks the Security Council’s first intervention since the start of the Israel-Hamas War on October 7th, ensures a multiple-day pause to fighting to ensure aid and medical evaluations. The measure had 12 votes in favor, with Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom abstaining. No country voted against the measure, but Russia chose to not vote in favor because the measure didn’t call for a ceasefire, meanwhile, the U.S. and UK chose not to vote in favor because the resolution did not condemn Hamas.


The resolution, in its current form, does not specify the duration of the humanitarian pause, rather it calls for a “sufficient number of days”. The resolution also called for Hamas to engage in an immediate and unconditional release of hostages. While the act did show that the Security Council and the UN could coordinate action to help provide some support to Gazans, it has taken the body over a month to pass any resolution. The Council has had meetings on the crisis each week but because of various veto measures from the five core members: Russia, China, the U.S., France, and the UK, the Council was unable to pass any resolution. Finally, after weeks of disagreement, the body was able to come to agreement and pass a measure.


The measure sparks hope as the UN Security Council has the power to enforce its provisions, and despite Israel’s rejection of the resolution, the plan will still go into action, ensuring aid groups will be able to provide supplies to those in need without hindrance, and vital infrastructure repairs can be made.


North America

The Effects of the Israel-Hamas War Across U.S. College Campuses

The campus of Columbia University has become a focal point for protests and tension surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict. Last week, a demonstration unfolded as 400 students gathered, holding Palestinian flags and homemade signs. Taking turns at a microphone, protesters voiced their criticism of the Israel-Hamas war and denounced their school's decision to suspend two pro-Palestine student groups—Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace—until the semester's end. Columbia stated the reason for the suspension was due to their violation of university policy.

In response to the suspension, the banned student groups issued a joint statement on Instagram, accusing Columbia of "selective censorship" against pro-Palestinian voices and framing the decision as an "attack on free speech" diverting attention from Israel's actions against the Palestinian people.

On Wednesday night, the controversy deepened when approximately 200 faculty members participated in a walkout to express their opposition to the suspension of the two student groups. In reaction to the controversy, Columbia students established a new coalition named Columbia University Apartheid Divest. This coalition comprises 40 student organizations representing diverse racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, all calling for Columbia to sever ties with Israel.

The situation at Columbia reflects a broader trend on college campuses across the United States, where the repercussions of the Israel-Hamas conflict are sparking protests, administrative actions, and debates about free speech and censorship. Some pro-Israel donors, seeking more forceful condemnation of Hamas and pro-Palestinian demonstrations, have exerted pressure on institutions. At New York University, three Jewish students filed a lawsuit against NYU, claiming that the university fostered a hostile environment that allowed anti-Semitism to persist without consequences. The lawsuit argues that NYU violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination. In response, NYU announced the creation of a Center for the Study of Antisemitism, focusing on the examination of this enduring form of hate.

Acts of hate have been observed on both sides of the conflict, causing widespread unease and fear among students. Incidents range from a University of Massachusetts student being arrested for allegedly assaulting a Jewish student and spitting on an Israeli flag during a demonstration, to an Arab Muslim student becoming the victim of a hate crime when hit by a car. These occurrences contribute to an atmosphere of tension and apprehension across the United States and college campuses.


South America

Dangerous Heat Wave Sweeps Brazil

On Tuesday morning, the heat index —a combination of temperature and humidity—in Rio de Janeiro reached a record 137 degrees Fahrenheit (58.5 Celsius). With the rise in sweltering temperatures, cities and towns across Brazil have seen nearly 3,000 red alerts. São Paulo registered a maximum high temperature of 99.9 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 Celsius) which weather agencies said was the highest for a November day in the city since 1943.


Although Brazilians are accustomed to tropical climates, heat of this intensity, especially a month before the official start of summer in the Southern Hemisphere, has many Brazilians concerned for the future. According to Núbia Beray, coordinator of Rio de Janeiro Federal University’s GeoClima laboratory “Brazilians have always seen sun, heat, and the beach as part of their identity… however, this is too much even for many of them.”


In response to the stifling heat, Brazilians have turned to fans, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers to cool down. However, the simultaneous running of millions of household appliances has caused a spike in energy consumption, putting pressure on Brazil’s energy infrastructure. To meet demand, national power operator ONS has activated additional thermoelectric plants whose operation would normally be reserved for the summer months.


According to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research, heat waves in the country have become seven times more frequent in the past seven decades. The year 2023 has been particularly devastating for Brazil’s natural environment. Wildfires continue to burn in the Pantanal biome, the world’s largest tropical wetlands spanning parts of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul states. The fires have ravaged an area of more than 947,000 hectares (about 3,600 square miles). Droughts have also plagued the Amazon rainforest this year harming the livelihood of remote communities that depend on the local waterways as a source of food and commerce. Brazil’s climate struggles place great strain on local resources. If the severity and frequency of natural disasters continue to increase, Brazil could suffer disastrous consequences.


Sub-Saharan Africa

UK-Rwanda Asylum Seeker Deal Declared Unlawful By British Court

In April 2022, a deal between the United Kingdom and Rwanda was announced which would allow for an unspecified number of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom to be sent to Rwanda. Rwanda has received upwards of $150 million for its role in processing the migrants, but analysts claim that Rwanda’s real motive in agreeing to the deal is boosting their soft power.


Boris Johnson’s administration initially arranged the plan, but current UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has been fighting to keep the deal afloat despite mounting legal challenges. In June 2022, the first flight of migrants to Rwanda was canceled by legal action before it could take off. This past Wednesday, Sunak faced more legal setbacks when the UK’s top court declared the deal “unlawful”. The UK’s court claims that Rwanda is not a safe country for migrants, and it fears that immigrants may face deportation back to their home country once they reach the East African country.


Both Rwanda and the UK’s Conservative Party have spoken out against the court’s decision. Rwanda took offense to being characterized as an unsafe location for asylum seekers and immigrants. The UK’s Conservative Party has insisted that the UK needs to find a solution to Britain’s growing illegal immigration issue. Sunak has already begun renegotiating the deal with Rwanda in hopes of overcoming the court’s decision. Still, legal analysts question if the changes will be enough to change the court’s opinion.


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