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Weekly News Digest for November 18th, 2022

Compiled by Aalia Garrett, Niamh Dempsey, Trinity Gates, Sara Anis Ali, Zoe Shepherd, Riley Mied, Shekina Shindano

Edited by Stephanie Cannon and Austin Myhre


Asia and the Pacific

Myanmar Junta to Free Thousands of Prisoners in Mass Amnesty

In order to commemorate Myanmar’s National Victory Day, 5,774 individuals are set to be released from detention in a mass prisoner release. State media has reported that foreign nationals as well as 712 political prisoners are among those included in the release. Notably, a former United Kingdom ambassador, a Japanese filmmaker, and an Australian advisor to Myanmar’s previous civilian leader are within those that have been released. Ex-diplomat Vicky Bowman and journalist Toru Kubota were both arrested earlier this year, while economist Sean Turnell was jailed shortly after the 2021 coup. It has been confirmed that all three individuals have safely departed Myanmar since their deportation, though it remains unclear whether or not other foreign nationals have been released.

Since the military seized power in a coup in early 2021, it has detained thousands of individuals on account of suspected opposition. The militant power grab ignited mass protests across the country, which subsequently evolved into a brutal armed resistance against the military’s rule. Throughout the conflict, the government harshly suppressed dissidents, and its actions have drawn condemnation at an international level, largely in regard to a host of human rights violations like political imprisonment and extrajudicial killings. Analysts argue that the recent prisoner releases by the Myanmar military may be in response to building pressures from other Southeast Asian heads of government, as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) recently called for measurable progress by the government on the ‘Five Point Consensus.’ This plan calls for an immediate end to violence in the country; dialogue among all parties; the appointment of a special envoy; humanitarian assistance by ASEAN; and the special envoy’s visit to Myanmar to meet with all parties. Should Myanmar fail to meet these standards, it risks being barred entirely from the bloc’s meetings.


Central America and the Caribbean

Haiti’s Cholera Crisis Worsens as Fuel Blockade Lifts

On Thursday, Haiti’s cholera outbreak continued to worsen, with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) reporting more than 700 confirmed cholera cases in the country. The United Nations has appealed for $150 million USD to help battle the spread of cholera in Haiti as the country continues to face both a political and economic meltdown. Haiti’s main fuel port, the Verreux Terminal, has been under the control of a coalition of Haitian gangs, called the G9, since mid-September. The Verreux Terminal is Haiti’s largest fuel port, and the obstruction of fuel distribution has impacted the delivery of healthcare and access to necessities like clean water and food. Many hospitals in Haiti have been forced to reduce capacity or suspend service entirely due to the nationwide fuel shortages.

Last week, Haitian police loyal to the government finally broke up the blockade of the Verreux Terminal. The leader of the G9 gang coalition, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, subsequently announced that fuel trucks could now approach the Terminal without fearing for their safety. However, experts warn that the situation could worsen rapidly now that Haiti’s two-month fuel blockade is over and gas stations are reopening. During the fuel blockade, many Haitians remained at home due to the lack of access to fuel for transportation. Now, in the week since the blockade ended, the number of suspected cholera cases in Haiti has increased by 33 percent as Haitians have largely returned to everyday public life. Cholera has been recorded in eight of Haiti’s 10 provinces, and with at least 155 deaths in Haiti since the cholera outbreak began in early October, the death toll is only expected to rise.


Caribbean and Latin American Immigrants Drive Up Illegal Border Crossings

On Tuesday, United States border patrol officials announced that immigrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela have contributed greatly to the growing number of migrants who have been stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border. Historically, citizens of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have made up the bulk of migrants at the southern U.S. border. However, U.S. authorities processed more than 520,000 migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela in October, a number that eclipsed other nationalities arriving at the border. Acting Commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Troy Miller commented on the increase of migrants from these countries, “Encounters of Cuban and Nicaraguan asylum seekers fleeing their authoritarian regimes continues to be at a historic high. This reflects the challenge that is gripping the hemisphere, as displaced populations flee authoritarianism, corruption, violence, and poverty.”

Nearly 80,000 migrants were expelled from the U.S. in October under the asylum ban known as Title 42. Title 42 was implemented by former U.S. President Donald Trump in March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration claimed the ban was necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and since its enactment there have been more than 2.4 million expulsions under Title 42. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ordered an immediate end to the asylum rule, calling the ban “arbitrary and capricious.” Also on Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden and the Department of Homeland Security requested a five-week hold on the ruling to prepare for the transition to pre-Trump asylum regulations. The end of Title 42 could restore access to asylum for millions of immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America.


Europe

Explosion in Poland

On Tuesday, a missile killed two people within Polish territory along the Ukraine-Poland border. It occurred in the town of Przewodow around four miles from the Ukrainian border. The missile has been identified by Poland and NATO as coming from Ukrainian forces in a retaliation effort to a wave of Russian attacks and has been deemed as an accident by both the Ukrainian and Polish governments and NATO members. The incident caused concern among many NATO members and other European states, prompting an emergency meeting in Brussels among ambassadors in a U.S.-led military alliance effort to address mounting concerns since Poland is a NATO member.


Further investigation of the missile landing site will take place this week by the U.S and Polish governments, and the President of Ukraine has asked for Ukrainian experts to be permitted to examine the site as well. This event has prompted more calls to support Ukraine and provide materials as the war with Russia continues and also to provide support to Poland which has been a major state providing airfare channels and funneling supplies and aid into Ukraine throughout this year.


Middle East and North Africa

Israel and Turkey’s Relations

Under the tenure of Israel’s previous prime minister, Yair Lapid, the country began to renew ties with Turkey, marking an important turn in relations between the two nations. The return of the former Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, however, leaves the future of these relations uncertain. During Netanyahu’s term both nations remained on hostile terms because of Turkey’s support for Hamas, a Palestianian nationalist organization that actively fights against Israel and maintains control over the Gaza Strip. Turkey backed the military organization both militarily and politically, while Netanyahu has conducted bombing campaigns in Gaza to target and eradicate the group.

Yet under its continued trend of normalization with Middle Eastern nations, Lapid reached out to Turkey to try and strengthen relations with the country. While initially it seemed as if the reelection of Netanyhu would negatively impact the progress between the countries, Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan, reached out to the nation to pledge to continue to strengthen relations between the countries. It remains unclear whether the two nations will address their differentiated stance on Hamas and control over the Gaza Strip. All that is known is that Turkey is actively trying to maintain good relations with Israel.


Explosion in Turkey

After a fatal bomb blast in Turkey, Turkish police launched an investigation into the attack, vowing to punish all affiliated with the action. The bomb blast took place in a popular shopping center in Istanbul, claiming the lives of six individuals and harming nearly eighty-one others. The government claims the Kurdistan Workers Party (PPK) orchestrated the attack. The government arrested an Syrian woman who left the site seconds before the bomb detonated. The woman stated she was trained by Kurdish militants in Syria, but the PPK vehemently denies its involvement in the act.

The PPK is a Kurdish group focused on trying to gain autonomy in south-east Turkey, and while the organization does not deny engaging in violent actions, it states that they would never target civilians to achieve their goals. The group is recognized as a terrorist organization by the EU, United States, and Turkey, but outside of assigning blame to the organization, Turkey has yet to find further evidence or take action regarding the recent bombing. The country does plan to launch an investigation to find all people complicit in the attack and take severe action against them.


North America

Mexicans Protest a Threat to Democracy

Thousands of Mexicans across the country protested a proposed overhaul of the electoral system. This decision led by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador risks the undermining of Mexico's democracy. The proposed bill would strip the National Electoral Institute, also called the INE, of its autonomy before the 2024 elections which would favor the ruling Morena party. President López Obrador is a populist nationalist who took office in 2018. His proposal of this bill aims to establish true democracy and lower the costs of elections. In doing this, he would cut the amount of public money transferred to political parties and reduce the number of lower house lawmakers and senators. If this bill is successfully passed, it will replace the INE with a new electoral institute with board members elected by a popular vote from a list of candidates chosen by the President, Congress, and Supreme Court. Judges of Mexico’s electoral court that certifies elections would also be chosen by a popular vote. The proposal also calls for elimination of state electoral authorities.


Under Mexico’s current electoral system, a panel of experts evaluates candidates for electoral councilors and proposes a list to the lower house of Congress, which then makes appointments by a two-thirds majority. Electoral judges are proposed by the Supreme Court and appointed by the Senate. According to José Woldenberg, the former chief of Mexico’s electoral agency, this bill is designed so that President López Obrador and the Morena party will capture the electoral authorities. A vote in Congress is expected before the end of the year, but Morena doesn’t have the two thirds majority in Congress needed to pass the constitutional changes required to completely replace the INE. The López Obrador administration has already cut the budgets of the INE and other autonomous agencies. All of these potential changes are happening in a country that has dealt with electoral fraud and authoritarian regimes for much of its history. Protestors claim these proposed changes are a direct threat to the democracy of Mexicans as many admit that although the INE isn’t perfect, it has delivered more than 20 years of reliable elections, the longest democratic period in Mexico’s history.

Republican Party Gains Control of U.S. House of Representatives

With the Republicans gaining control of the House and the Democrats gaining control of the Senate, there will be a divided government in Washington beginning in January. The Republicans taking the House will likely take away the chances of any major legislation and create larger divisions between the two parties. President Joe Biden has downsized his agenda in the past to get bills through the Democratic majority Congress, but now both will have to contend with the House Republicans who plan to push their own agenda on Biden. This includes pressuring Biden to cut government spending and make policy changes to meet debt obligations. However, the extent of the Republicans' leverage will be limited due to their lacking performance in the midterms.


Legislation and bills that once saw bipartisan support will likely not make any progress. Republican leaders claim their plans include increasing border security, restricting abortion, encouraging higher pay for police, and reversing the Democrat’s plans to expand the Internal Revenue Service. They also plan to use their majority in the House to investigate the Biden administration and Biden’s family. With the Democrats’ slim majority win in the Senate due to their crucial victory in Nevada, the party will have a priority of confirming President Biden’s nominees for judges and positions in the executive branch. Currently, President Biden plans to run for a second term, and former President Trump also announced his run for the 2024 Presidency. Democrats will have a few weeks before the start of the new Congress in January to pass as many of the party’s priorities as possible. The top of their list is a government funding bill that must pass both chambers by December 16. With both parties splitting power in Congress, the future of U.S. legislation in the next congressional term is uncertain.


South America

Protests About Election Fraud Arise in Brazil

Two weeks after the Brazilian presidential election, thousands of Jair Bolsonaro supporters protested his loss outside a regional military facility in Rio de Janeiro. The protestors wore the colors of the Brazilian flag to march and ask the armed forces to intervene in what they consider an unfair or stolen election. There have been smaller protests in other cities like Sao Paulo, Brasilia, and Belo Horizonte. Although Bolsonaro did approve a transition of power, he never officially conceded the election. Since his loss, Bolsonaro has been silent. Bolsonaro supporters are reportedly taking this silence as a cue to challenge the results. However, the Defense Ministry has released a report concluding that there is no concrete evidence of election fraud. The protests represent another test to the strength of Brazil’s democracy since a peaceful transition of power is indicative of a consolidated democracy.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Peacekeeping Troops Withdraw from Mali

On Monday, the United Kingdom announced that it will withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Mali. This decision comes after the Malian government allowed Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to deploy on its territory. Mali hired 1,000 Wagner Group mercenaries to help fight ISIS jihadists, but rather than combat conflict, the presence of the Russian mercenaries has further destabilized the country. Mali’s partnership with Russian mercenaries undermines the peacekeeping mission because the Wagner Group is linked to mass human rights abuses in Mali.


Mali has been in an ongoing civil war since 2012 when rebel soldiers overthrew President Amadou Touré in a Coup d’État. Insurgents and extremist groups affiliated with al Qaeda and the Islamic State group continue to sow discord across Mali. To combat the conflict, 15,000 United Nations peacekeepers were stationed in Mali to support its transitional government but the U.K. will now be withdrawing 300 peacekeeping troops. Officials from the EU, UK, West Africa, and the UN are expected to meet and discuss future action in the region.


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