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Weekly News Digest for October 20th, 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 Hosts World Leaders for Belt and Road Forum

On October 17th and 18th, Chinese leader Xi Jinping hosted representatives from over 130 countries in Beijing for the third Belt and Road Forum. The forum marks the 10-year anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is the first BRI forum meeting since the pandemic.

As the cornerstone of his foreign policy, President Xi launched the BRI which serves as a global infrastructure and economic development project. The ambitious project seeks to connect China to the world through infrastructure projects on land and sea. Over the past 10 years, the BRI has built an array of roads, railways, ports, and other vital infrastructure in countries around the world, especially in the Global South. These projects have shown success in boosting economic growth; in Kenya, the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway boosted job growth and import/export figures. However, the project has received criticism, especially from the West, which has accused the BRI of debt trapping and violating workers’ rights.

For the past few days, Beijing has erupted with diplomatic activity. More than 20 heads of state, mainly hailing from Southeast and South Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, attended the event. Xi touted the BRI’s successes, held bilateral meetings, and signed $97.2 billion worth of cooperation projects. China’s president also took the opportunity to make a statement against the West’s attempts at “unilateral sanctions, economic coercion, decoupling, and supply chain disruption.” As the BRI enters its second decade, it faces many challenges that will be sure to test China’s resolve. It will be up to Xi to guide his project to its desired goals.

Central America and the Caribbean

U.N. Report Reveals Extent of Gang Control Over Haiti

On Wednesday, the United Nations published a comprehensive report detailing how due to an absent central government, Haitian gangs have infiltrated Haitian society to the point that they have even taken over the administration of essential services including schools and medical clinics. According to the report, “gangs are getting stronger, richer, better armed, and more autonomous.” The gangs are also blamed for carrying out indiscriminate killings and hundreds of kidnappings, demanding ransoms as high as $500,000 for foreigners and prominent figures. Using the proceeds from their criminal enterprises, the gangs are able to purchase weapons smuggled into Haiti from other countries despite what the report called an "ineffectual" U.N. arms embargo. Despite the threat posed by organized crime, the report noted that Haiti’s national police force remains “grossly understaffed” as well as “ill-equipped and ill-trained”.

The 156-page report also lists information aimed at helping the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council decide who in Haitian society should be singled out for sanctions, including asset freezing and travel restrictions. It cites several influential Haitians, including former President Michel Martelly, former Senate President Youri Latortue, and powerful businessman Reynold Deeb as among those who are affiliated with local gangs. In response, the Security Council unanimously agreed to extend sanctions targeting individuals and groups threatening peace and security in Haiti. However, the body did not designate any new individuals to be subjected to sanctions.

On October 2, the Security Council ratified a resolution authorizing member states to “form and deploy a Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission to Haiti to help re-establish security in the country and build conditions conducive to holding free and fair elections.” The latest sanctions resolution is the latest in a series of resolutions passed by the U.N. Security Council since July. The first renewed the mandate of the U.N. political office in Port-au-Prince, the second came earlier this month and authorized the deployment of a Multinational Security Support mission, led by Kenya, to assist police in putting down gangs. At a time when urgent action is required to ensure Haiti’s stability and prevent further humanitarian crises, it is unclear whether the new report will motivate an adequate response from the international community.


Deadly Shooting in Brussels Raises Concerns Over Migrant Return Policy

A Tunisian gunman shot and killed two Swedish football fans on Monday just as a football match between Belgium and Sweden was about to start. The attack prompted the King Baudouin Stadium, where the football match was being held, to be put on lockdown while a manhunt ensued in Brussels. The attacker remained at large overnight until the following morning when the suspect, identified as 45-year-old Abdesalem Lassoued, was shot and killed in a cafe. In a video posted on social media, Abdesalem claimed responsibility for the attack and stated that he was a member of the Islamic State militant group. The attack in Brussels came days after a teacher was fatally stabbed at a French high school in what is being investigated as a terrorist attack.

In response to the shooting, concerns have been raised over the European Union’s deportation policy. The 45-year-old Tunisian arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2011 and then moved to Sweden before claiming asylum in Belgium. In 2020, Abdesalem lost his case and was ordered to leave the country. In a news briefing on Tuesday, Belgian Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne said that Abdesalem was known to police and suspected of offenses including human trafficking and illegal residence. The EU has long blamed low rates of returns on the unwillingness of countries of origin, such as Tunisia, to take people back. Out of 420,000 return decisions issued by EU member states, only 77,000 were implemented. Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said that Europe’s open-border Schengen zone would not survive unless the EU’s external borders receive better protection from unwanted immigration.

EU migration ministers have scheduled a meeting on Thursday in Brussels to discuss the plans for implementing a new migration pact. The European Commission stated that a new migration pact would help prevent situations, such as the one in Brussels, by allowing swifter deportation of foreigners designated as a security threat. The new pact has been provisionally agreed upon by most EU members, with officials hoping for a deal to put the pact into effect later this year.

Middle East and North Africa

Confusion Following Attack on Gazan Hospital

In the two weeks following Hamas’ rocket attack on Israel, attacks on Gaza residents have intensified. Israeli officials gave Gazans 24 hours to evacuate to the south of the city before beginning their siege on Hamas. The evacuations left a large number of Palestinians with nowhere to go and many took shelter within the Ahli Arab Hospital, which was then bombed later in the week.

In the aftermath of the bombing of the medical facility, it became difficult to determine the responsible party. Hamas claimed the attack was due to an Israeli airstrike, pointing to Israel’s previous attack on the United Nations Relief Works Agency as proof of continued attacks against civilians. Israel maintains it did not target a hospital, stating that it has information showing Islamic Jihad had incidentally caused the attack after a rocket misfire. The Islamic Jihad dismissed their claim. Meanwhile, the U.S. backed Israel’s statement, saying they are “fairly confident” that the missile launch didn’t come from Israel. The U.S. also stated the analysis was preliminary and more information was to come.

The continued confusion only adds to a chaotic and dangerous situation for Gazans, who remain caught in the area, faced with limited options to leave the city. Israel told city residents that it had to evacuate the northern region but border closures have left many in Gaza feeling trapped. The tragic hospital bombing showcases the dire situation Gazans are in, as Hamas and Israel’s fight continues.

North America

The Controversy behind the Texas Migrant Busing Program

Over the past year and a half, Texas has been at the center of the migrant bussing program, sending over 50,000 migrants to Democratic cities across the United States, leading to shelter crises in many of these cities. Texas Governor Greg Abbott prompted this initiative in April 2022, when he sent newly arrived migrants to these sanctuary cities as a political statement. Governor Abbott kickstarted the program by bussing migrants to Washington to draw attention to what he saw as U.S. President Joe Biden's inaction on border security. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis followed suit, sending 48 migrants on a plane from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, a highly controversial stunt that used a budget intended to ship unauthorized migrants out of Florida.

In the months that followed these initial relocations, what began as an attempt to pressure President Biden into acting on border security has evolved into an organized migrant transportation system. This program has inadvertently relieved some of the pressure on smaller border cities, which were inundated with daily arrivals of new migrants, by redirecting them to larger cities like Chicago and Denver. In response to Governor Abbott's actions, some cities, like Denver, have taken matters into their own hands by purchasing bus tickets for thousands of migrants and sending them to other cities.

The busing program is one component of Governor Abbott's broader border security initiative, known as Operation Lone Star, which also involves the deployment of National Guard troops and state police to deter migrants from crossing the Rio Grande by arresting those who cross on private land. This more severe move to arrest migrants who enter private land was implemented because the original program failed to pressure the federal government to adopt stricter border security measures favored by Republicans. Governor Abbott’s proposal to make crossing the border from Mexico without authorization a state crime has been passed by the State Senate but has not yet been approved by the Texas House, leading immigration lawyers to argue that it violates the federal government's role in immigration policy. In response to the growing challenges posed by the influx of migrants, these sanctuary cities are now pleading with Texas officials for advanced warnings of buses arriving in their communities, as they are increasingly overwhelmed by the daily arrival of migrants by bus.

South America

U.S. Negotiates Venezuelan Sanction Relief in Return for Free and Fair Elections

The United States government reached an agreement with the Venezuelan government over sanction relief measures in return for internationally monitored presidential elections in 2024. Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro, who rose to power following a fraudulent 2018 election, has imposed widespread bans on political opposition leaders. The U.S. deal includes provisions for Maduro to lift restrictions on opposition party leaders along with a commitment to free and fair elections next year. In exchange, the U.S. will ease sanctions on the oil, gas, and gold sectors, and remove the ban on secondary trading for Venezuelan bonds.

The U.S. tightened restrictions on Venezuela in 2018 after declaring Maduro’s election illegitimate. The impact of these sanctions has largely fallen on Venezuela's lower class and exacerbated the country’s economic problems. Poor living conditions in Venezuela have stimulated the flow of immigrants to the U.S. border.

The U.S. reopening diplomatic conversations with Venezuela has the possibility of mitigating many of the U.S.’s current immigration issues, making it easier for the U.S. to send migrants back to Venezuela. Moreover, Venezuela holds one of the largest oil reserves in the world. Increases in U.S.- Venezuelan oil trading could provide relief to U.S. oil markets which have been depleted by the Russia-Ukraine war. However, experts believe that the incentive to return immigrants outweighs the Biden Administration's focus on regulating oil prices.

The international community is skeptical of Maduro's promise to hold free and fair elections. Venezuela expert Phil Gunson reflects that the Maduro government has a history of flaking on its agreements. However, the U.S. has stressed that they plan to hold the Venezuelan government accountable. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said the U.S. will closely follow the implementation of election rules. U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Brian E. Nelson stated the Treasury is prepared to revoke authorizations if Maduro fails to follow through with the deal. Now, the international community must wait to see the impact and durability of this deal.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Uganda and DRC Abolish Visa Restrictions

After meeting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) capital, Kinshasa, the governments of DRC and Uganda have bilaterally agreed to remove visa restrictions between the two countries. This move is a step in a series of initiatives led by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to reduce transportation restrictions across East Africa. It follows a similar agreement to abolish visa restrictions between Uganda and Kenya earlier this year, and the construction of a one-stop border post at Mpondwe, a high-traffic border crossing station between Uganda and DRC.

Over the past years, DRC has seen increased involvement in East African politics and economics. DRC was admitted to the East African Community trade bloc in March of 2022, adding access to the Atlantic Ocean to this economic community. Following the 2021 resurgence of the March 23rd Movement (M23), an armed rebellion with origins leading back to the First Congo War, East African countries mobilized a regional military force to intervene in Eastern DRC. While the military intervention has deepened regional interdependence, the instability in Eastern DRC has also dug a wedge between Rwanda and DRC. DRC has accused Rwanda of backing M23, and Rwanda has countered by claiming that DRC has supported the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group with ties to the Rwandan genocide. Despite political setbacks, including tensions between Uganda and Rwanda and Rwanda and DRC, East Africa’s future seems to hold deepened integration and increased economic prosperity.


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