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Weekly News Digest for November 3rd, 2023

Updated: Nov 18, 2023


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, Zoe Shepherd, Niamh Dempsey

Asia and the Pacific

China, U.S. to Hold Nuclear Arms-Control Talks

Next week, China and the United States are set to discuss nuclear arms control, marking the first time these talks have occurred since the Obama administration. The talks come amid de-escalating tensions between the two nations. In the past few weeks, China and the U.S. have engaged in increased high-level bilateral communication and exchange, including California Governor Gavin Newsom’s visit to China and meeting with President Xi Jinping and Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Washington D.C. Beijing and Washington hope that next week's talks will show resolve on both sides for improving ties before President Biden and President Xi meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit later in the month.


The nuclear talks, which focus on arms control and nonproliferation, come at a time when China’s nuclear arsenal has advanced rapidly, with the number of nuclear warheads expected to grow from approximately 500 this year to more than 1,000 by 2030. For comparison, the U.S. has around 3,700 warheads. The U.S. hopes the renewed conservation will ensure a continued line of communication and cooperation in regards to nuclear weapons Washington also aims to avoid a three-way nuclear arms race between Russia, China, and itself.


Next week’s talks symbolize the slow rapprochement between the two powers – a culmination of months of diplomatic back and forth. A fruitful meeting will serve as the stepping stone for Xi and Biden’s summit and US-China relations as a whole.


Central America and the Caribbean

Panama Canal to Further Decrease Number of Daily Allotted Ships

Worsening drought levels in Panama have forced the country to reduce the daily number of ships crossing the Panama Canal. The canal can manage at most 38 ships a day, however, due to a decrease in water levels in Gatún Lake, authorities reduced those numbers to 31 in July 2023. Just this week, Panama announced they would continue to lower the number of ships permitted a day to 25, with a goal of 18 ships a day by next February. The Panama Canal manages 5 percent of the world’s seaborne trade. This reduction policy will add an almost 3-day wait time to cargo ships and increase shipping costs, which will largely fall on the consumer. Alternative options for shipping companies range from sailing around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America, moving goods on railways, or paying half a million to book a spot in line at the Canal. However, a change in shipping methods will increase air pollution emitted by container ships, worsening the effects of climate change that led to the drought in the first place.


Climate change is the main driver of Panama’s drought. The Panama Canal gets its water supply from rainfall into Gatún Lake. Rainfall into this lake hit an all-time low this year, resulting in a 41 percent decrease in precipitation since 1950. While Panama’s economy is also heavily reliant on the 4 billion brought in by the canal, Gatún Lake is the source of drinking water for almost half of the country. Authorities have had to balance the need to conserve water for their citizens and the economic impacts of decreasing the daily number of ships.


The drought is attributed to the El Niño climate event which has made Panama’s wet season hotter and drier than usual. Despite this weather pattern being a natural event, it is occurring more frequently, and at greater temperatures. Historical records on Panama’s rainfall levels have been documented for over a century due to interest in developing the canal. Experts have therefore been able to show the effect of climate change on Gatún Lake as a sustained shift, rather than a natural fluctuation. Panama will have to grapple in the upcoming months with water preservation and the economic strain of reducing their canal operations.


Europe

Hundreds of Thousands Protest Across Europe in Support of Palestine

Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied across Europe to demonstrate their support for Palestine as the Israeli military continues operations in the Gaza Strip. One of the largest marches occurred in London, with crowds demanding British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to call for a ceasefire. Instead, Sunak’s government has endorsed humanitarian pauses to allow aid to reach the people of Gaza. One of the London protesters, Camille Revuelta, argued that the demonstrations were “not about Hamas,” instead stating, “This is about protecting Palestinian lives.” In France, in response to President Macron voicing solidarity with Israel, several hundred pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered in the streets of Paris, chanting “Israel murderer” and “Macron accomplice.” Similar protests also occurred in the streets of Berlin, Copenhagen, Rome, Stockholm, and Vienna.


Despite the ardent show of support for Palestine from thousands of Europeans, many European governments have cracked down on pro-Palestinian protests. With the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, France has granted local authorities the power to block protests on a case-by-case basis, citing a rise in anti-Semitic acts and the failure of pro-Palestinian protests to condemn Hamas. Before the protests, the London Metropolitan Police warned that “anyone with a flag in support of Hamas or any other proscribed terrorist organization will be arrested,” and subsequently arrested 15 people. In Vienna, police banned a pro-Palestinian protest just hours before its scheduled start, as organizers used the “from the River to Sea” slogan in online invitations. In Berlin, officials have rejected most pro-Palestinian protests this past month, including the most recent “Peace in the Middle East” demonstration supposed to take place on Sunday. Police claimed the planned demonstration posed a danger of “seditious, antisemitic exclamations, glorification of violence, conveying a willingness to use violence and thereby intimidation, as well as violent activities.” Similarly, in Hamburg, Germany, authorities have imposed a blanket ban on pro-Palestinian protests.


As pro-Palestinian protests continue across Europe, the conflict is testing some of the Western world’s most fundamental tenets including the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly. Alarms have been raised by several human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, due to the restrictions that have been placed on pro-Palestinian protests across the continent. Benjamin Ward, Deputy Director of the Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia divisions, says such restrictions should be imposed only when they are “prescribed by law, necessary for a legitimate purpose and proportionate.” As signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights, most European countries are obligated to protect free speech and freedom of assembly.


Middle East and North Africa

Rafah Border Crisis Intensifies

As a consequence of the Israel-Hamas conflict, many Gazans are struggling due to a lack of “food, water, electricity, and fuel”. Many of the goods Gazans rely on are shipped into the region, however, since the conflict began four weeks ago, scarcity runs rampant.


Gaza only has three border crossings: Beit Hanoun, Karem Abu Salem, and the Rafah border. Israel closed off its shared border at the Beit Hanoun and Karem Abu Salem borders at the beginning of the conflict, leaving only the Rafah border near Egypt as a possible source of evacuation and aid for Gazans. However, aid leaving Egypt was constrained because Israel prohibited the shipment of fuel, citing that it might enable Hamas to continue its attacks on Israeli citizens. This decision was met with criticism from the United Nations as Gaza hospitals continue to run out of fuel to run generators and water pumps.


Given the rapidly deteriorating health crisis in the region, Qatar helped broker an agreement with Egypt, Israel, and Hamas to allow for the evacuation of sick and injured people as well as many dual nationals and foreign passport holders. While the move may have offered some respite to ill and injured Palestinians, a large number of Palestinians remain stuck at the border. Since Israel ordered the evacuation several weeks ago, many foreign passport holders have migrated toward the Rafah border, waiting for the day crossings would be permitted. However, the evacuation negotiation only allowed for 400 people to cross the border, leaving many Palestinian nationals stranded at the border.


North America

​​The UAW’s Successful Strike

After six weeks of crippling strikes that affected three major automakers including Ford, General Motors (GM), and Stellantis, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) union has reached a tentative agreement with automakers. The UAW successfully negotiated similar deals with all three automakers, marking an end to the lengthy strike that has disrupted the “Big 3 Detroit” automakers. These agreements encompass a 25% pay increase over the next 4.5 years for all workers, along with provisions for a cost-of-living adjustment. While Ford's council has already approved the tentative contract, councils for Stellantis and GM are yet to decide whether to send the agreements to their members for consideration. Once this step is taken, the agreements will need to be ratified by a majority of union members, allowing striking workers to gradually return to work during the ratification process.


This development also holds political significance, as U.S. President Joe Biden supported the striking workers and played a role in pressuring the big automakers into offering generous concessions. However, UAW President Shawn Fain is shifting his focus towards non-unionized factories in the South, including those owned by Tesla, Hyundai, and Toyota, posing a test for whether President Biden's support can truly lead to the expansion of organized labor as he has promised.


Warning Signs Emerge from Maine’s Mass Shooting

Last Wednesday in Lewiston, Maine, a tragic incident occurred when 40-year-old Robert Card opened fire at a bowling alley and a local bar and grill, resulting in the loss of 18 lives. Following an extensive manhunt, authorities discovered the gunman dead two days later from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Troubling reports have now emerged, revealing that both the Army Reserve and a local Maine sheriff's department knew about the shooter’s worsening mental health.


Records indicate that both the Army Reserve unit in Saco, Maine, and the Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Department were informed about Mr. Card's increasing paranoia and threats to carry out a shooting. After a psychiatric hospital stay in July and escalated threats in mid-September, the sheriff's department's attempt to contact him yielded no success. The family was contacted and expressed their intention to try and confiscate his firearms. These warning signs raise significant concerns about the effectiveness of Maine's existing gun laws, including the "yellow flag” law, which permits police to seize guns from individuals with medical evaluations and judicial approval.

This tragic event marks the 36th mass killing in the United States this year, prompting discussions among Maine's state and federal representatives about the need for potential reforms to the state's gun laws.


South America

Bolivia Becomes First Latin American Country to Sever Ties with Israel over Gaza Conflict

On November 1, following the continued escalation of the war between Israel and Hamas, Deputy Foreign Minister of Bolivia, Freddy Mamani, announced that Bolivia would be cutting diplomatic ties with Israel in response to “the aggressive and disproportionate Israeli military offensive taking place in the Gaza Strip.” Other South American nations including Colombia and Chile have recalled their ambassadors in Israel while condemning the deaths of Palestinian civilians. All three nations have since called for a ceasefire, with the Bolivian and Chilean governments requesting the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. It is also worth noting that Minister Mamani’s diplomatic realignment was not the first time Bolivia has cut ties with Israel. In 2009, under the direction of former President Evo Morales, Bolivia severed diplomatic ties in protest against Israeli actions in Gaza.


In response to Wednesday’s announcement, the Israeli government accused Bolivia of “capitulation to terrorism and the ayatollah regime in Iran.” Bolivia’s foreign ministry downplayed the significance of the diplomatic slight by adding that “relations between the countries had been devoid of content anyway.” However, Hamas welcomed Bolivia’s announcement, saying that it holds the decision in “high esteem.”


Throughout recent decades, leftist governments in Latin America have shown sympathy for the Palestinian cause in contrast to the region’s right-wing governments, who tend to follow the lead of the United States in supporting Israel. In response to critical comments made by Colombia’s leftist president, Gustavo Petro, Israel announced that it would stop supplying weapons to the Colombian military, ending a partnership that has aided Colombia’s fight against drug traffickers and organized criminal groups. The ongoing conflict in Gaza has the potential to deepen the growing divide between South American countries and the United States, which has historically aimed to maintain its traditional position of dominance over the foreign policy of the region and keep it free of influences that could run contrary to its international agenda.


Sub-Saharan Africa

Kenya Eliminates Visa Restrictions For All African Countries

To an audience in the Republic of Congo, Kenyan President William Ruto announced that by the end of 2024, Kenya would eliminate visa restrictions for travelers from all African countries. With this change, Kenya will join the ranks of The Gambia, Benin, and Seychelles, as one of the few African countries to remove visa restrictions for intra-African travel. Just as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni did when he removed visa restrictions with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ruto cited the absurdity of having to face the same restrictions traveling within Africa as one faces when traveling to Europe.


This year has seen a marked shift in Kenya’s visa policy. In 2022, Kenya ranked 31 out of 54 African countries on an African Union-published report on intra-African visa openness. Leading up to this announcement on the removal of visa restrictions, Kenya removed visa restrictions with Angola, Eritrea, Comoros, and Senegal.


A large part of the African Union’s long-term development plan, Agenda 2063, is the expansion of intra-continental trade. To help spur this, the African Union announced the creation of an “African Union passport” in 2016, which would allow visa-free travel across the continent. So far, however, the passport is only available to government officials. While Africa is still a long way from achieving the dream of seamless travel across the continent, Kenya’s abolition of visa restrictions is a big step in the right direction.


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