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Weekly News Digest for October 28th, 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

Chinese Leader Xi Jinping Re-Elected for Unprecedented Third Term

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has secured a historic third term in power as general secretary of China’s Communist Party (CCP), tipping the country’s governance back toward one-man rule after decades of power-sharing among its elite. This third term further signals an end to collective leadership and a return to absolutism, as once seen under Chairman Mao Zedong. During Jinping’s rise, the many similarities in their methods used to seize power have been brought to attention. Jinping’s strong up-down style, unification of the party leadership, and ousting of political rivals mirror that of Zedong’s past actions, leaving many to wonder if he will soon be regarded as a leader comparable to that of the former chairman.

The decision came during a week-long party congress where over 2,300 delegates came together to elect various leadership groups. Amid the election, the CCP also named a seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) which is to be led by Jinping and consist of his closest allies. Analysts point out that the CCP’s long-standing precedent of balancing factions within the party will be disrupted as a result of the tilted lineup of loyalty in favor of a single policy-making elite. Now 69 years old, Jinping has also surpassed the position’s informal retiring age of 68. Thus, this moment emphasizes the near total consolidation of power by Jinping.

With Jinping as China’s unchallenged leader for another five-year term and the foreseeable future, it is likely that the nation will continue its current trajectory of confrontation with the West. Additionally, Jinping’s growing influence may well directly bring him greater power in deciding upon other controversial topics in both domestic and foreign policy, such as strengthening state control over the economy or taking aggressive measures with Taiwan. While consolidating power in the PSC appears to be a strong move for Jinping, it is important to note that this action may also leave his rule vulnerable to failure given that government legitimacy is based upon performance.

Central America and the Caribbean

The United States Imposes New Sanctions Against Nicaragua

On Monday, United States President Joe Biden imposed new sanctions against Nicaragua in an attempt to hold Nicaragua's President, Daniel Ortega, accountable for his regime’s actions. Prior to the November elections in Nicaragua last year, incumbent President Daniel Ortega’s government ordered a crackdown on political opposition, silencing any dissenting civic leaders, including the Roman Catholic Church, and any critical media. President Ortega then went on to secure his fourth consecutive term as president after winning the elections that President Biden described as “a pantomime election that was neither free nor fair.” Ortega’s government has since faced continual backlash from human rights groups and international parties, most notably the U.S. The United States began issuing sanctions against Ortega’s government following their 2021 election, targeting any parties involved in the corrupt elections.

The sanctions announced on Monday particularly target Nicaragua’s mining and gold sectors. Gold was Nicaragua’s biggest export in 2021, and with the new limitations, the country’s economy is expected to take a sharp downturn. President Biden also issued Presidential Proclamation 10309, which suspends entry into the United States for any individuals who benefit from Ortega’s policies that undermine democratic institutions in Nicaragua. The proclamation resulted in visa restrictions on over 500 of President Ortega’s key supporters and their family members. “The Ortega-Murillo regime’s continued attacks on democratic actors and members of civil society and unjust detention of political prisoners demonstrate that the regime feels it is not bound by the rule of law,” said U.S. Treasury official Brian E. Nelson after the newest round of sanctions against Nicaragua were announced. U.S. officials hope that the latest sanctions will undermine Ortega’s regime and prohibit him from continuing to silence dissenters and weaken democratic institutions.

Haitian Journalist Survives Assassination Attempt

Roberson Alphonse, a prominent Haitian journalist, was on his way to work at the newspaper Le Nouvelliste last week when assailants fired upon his car. Alphonse’s car was left with over ten bullet holes, and he has undergone two operations so far. While Alphonse is expected to recover, the assassination attempt highlights the danger facing journalists in the tumultuous country. This strike is just the latest incident in a string of attacks on journalists in Haiti in the past few months. On Tuesday, Haitian authorities found the body of another journalist, Gary Tess, who had been missing for several days. Tess hosted a political talk show in the southern city of Les Cayes, where the security of journalists had been a concern of the local government. The attack on Tess came over a month after the bodies of two other journalists were identified. Tayson Latigue and Frantzsen Charles were reporting in a slum controlled by gangs when they were fatally shot and their bodies were set on fire.

Journalists in Haiti have been the target of warring gangs in Haiti that have become more powerful since the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse last July. The Inter-American Press Association, based in Miami, Florida, said this year has been one of the most violent years for the press since their record-keeping began in 1987. Media officials and journalists have been targeted for years in Haiti. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), press freedom has deteriorated greatly in Haiti due to government corruption and increasing gang influence in the country. Gang violence in Haiti has continued to increase in the last month as gangs have blocked Haiti’s main fuel port, the Varreux terminal in protest of the government’s decision to eliminate fuel subsidies, causing prices to rise. The attack on Alphonse comes only two weeks after Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry appealed to international partners for help in combating the rising violence and civil unrest in the country. The United Nations Security Council finally approved sanctions against Haitian gang leaders and those who finance them last Friday in hopes of helping the humanitarian crisis which has erupted in Haiti after months of violence and civil insurrection.


Rishi Sunak Becomes the New British Prime Minister

Earlier this week, the Conservative party voted to make former Chancellor Rishi Sunak the Prime Minister of the U.K. Sunak took over leadership of the government just six weeks after his predecessor, Liz Truss, took office earlier this year. He faces looming economic and political crises that will put a strain on his administration as he begins his tenure. In his first week in office, Sunak has already repealed a fracking ban put in place by Truss and set a timeline to address economic concerns. On Thursday he announced the government's intentions to unveil a new economic plan in early November. Sunak is the first person of color and the first Hindu to lead Britain. He is also the youngest Prime Minister in 200 years, and he is one of the richest Prime Ministers to hold office, with an estimated family wealth of nearly $846 million.

Growing Concerns Over Energy Crisis in Europe

Due to the war in Ukraine, Russia has reduced the flow of natural gas supply to the entirety of Europe. This decision has increased concerns and raised prices across Europe as winter approaches. Many states are focusing on firewood as a source of heat where possible. As people stock up on firewood, there have been reports of increased costs, thefts, and scams. There have also been concerns raised by officials over deforestation, illegal collection of fallen trees, health hazards, and pollution as many people resort to using firewood in the face of much more expensive energy options.

There has also been rising geopolitical tensions between Germany and France in the face of the energy crisis, especially after the Chancellor of Germany announced plans to visit China in the coming months to discuss infrastructure and energy investments between the two states. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron has advised against allowing China to invest in infrastructure and ports that will allow more influence within Europe. Germany has also opposed proposals from the European Commission to reduce high energy bills, including a tool to cap natural-gas prices which could soften the rising cost of living and energy costs across Europe.

Middle East and North Africa

Egypt’s Economic Crisis

Since the war in Ukraine began, many regions of the world have witnessed significant spikes in wheat and oil prices, impacting many of the middle and lower class citizens. In Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, the increasing costs of these necessities has severely impacted the Egyptian working class. Economic turmoil prompted Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly to seek IMF loans to help bail out the government and to stabilize the Egyptian market to bring back investors.

Within hours of the announcement, the value of the Egyptian pound plummeted by more than 16 percent. The devaluation of the pound severely harms Egyptian citizens' purchasing power but proves as one of the only moves to bring back investors to a nation suffering from inflated prices and diminishing tourism revenue.

While economists argue that Egypt needs far more money to stay afloat, many business analysts point out that Egypt has had a poor track record with economic reform, and many of its private sector industries have shrunk in previous years. Since the Arab Spring in 2011, the nation has struggled to expand its economy, and while austerity measures were intended to help shrink the nation’s deficit, poor policy execution only further shrunk the nation’s economy. The aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and the continuing effects of the ongoing war in Ukraine have further worsened the economic turmoil.

The current agreement with the IMF seeks to encourage Egypt to invest more in privatization while continuing to hike interest rates in a bid to curb inflation. If the nation follows through with the organization's directives, they are guaranteed to receive a far more impactful bailout which could further prompt investment and stability in the nation.

Repatriation of Syrian Refugees

Since the Syrian Civil War, Lebanon has become a haven for Syrian refugees, hosting nearly 1.2 million refugees at its peak. Yet as time went on, conditions within the refugee camps continued to worsen, largely because of Lebanon’s economic crisis. The current economic situation prompted the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, to use the nation’s General Security Agency to encourage and facilitate the voluntary movement of Syrian refugees.

Both the United Nations and Amnesty International did not support the repatriation decision, mentioning that Syria remained an unstable nation with numerous flare-ups of violence. Furthermore, the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees said that while it could not support the actions of the General Security Agency, it would focus on helping refugees to make an informed decision on whether or not to return home.

Many human rights organizations fear that nations like Turkey and Lebanon would force Syrians to lie about their willingness to return, potentially even subjecting them to violence if they refused to comply. Since the passing of the repatriation decision, Lebanon has sent nearly 700 Syrian families back to Syria, and Lebanon is ready to continue implementing the policy.

North America

St. Louis Shooting Shows Recent Gun Laws in Action

On Monday, October 24, a 19-year-old killed a teacher and a 15-year-old in a shooting spree in a St. Louis high school. This shooting is one of 40 school shootings in the U.S. in the past year and comes five months after Congress passed the first significant gun control bill in 30 years. Reportedly, police were called to the shooter's home by his parents days before the attack. His parents were worried about him and wanted his AR-15 style rifle removed. A police statement reports the officers decided the teenager was lawfully permitted to own the weapon despite strong evidence of troubling behavior. However, the teenager had previous mental health issues, used prescription medication to treat mental health concerns, and stayed in a mental institution for a short time. It is reported police arranged for the rifle to be taken to a third party close to the family, but the same rifle was used days later in the St. Louis high school shooting.

This tragedy in St. Louis highlights the difficulties of red flag laws. These proactive laws permit police, family members, or doctors to petition in court to take away an individual’s firearms for up to a year if that individual is a threat to themselves or others. Under red flag laws, there is no required criminal record or history of mental illness to take away an individual’s firearms. The red flag laws were implemented under the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. This gun control bill includes tighter background checks on individuals ages 18-21 attempting to purchase firearms. The background checks involve a review of mental health and juvenile records from state and local law enforcement. There was also $15 billion in federal funding for improving mental health programs, upgrading school security, and funding to encourage states to implement red flag laws. The last part of this bill was closing the “boyfriend loophole” by prohibiting firearm sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners.

This bill failed to protect the victims of this St. Louis shooting as the firearm should have been removed completely from the shooter’s possession because of the red flag law. This is not to say these red flag laws are failing in general. Several studies from states with varying political spectrums like California and Florida cite this law as successfully working if correctly enforced.

U.S. Re-evaluates Relationship with Saudi Arabia

Earlier this month, leaders from Saudi Arabia joined Russia in leading a cartel of oil producers to cut production by two million barrels a day. This decision raises the prices of oil and in turn, helps Russia. On Wednesday, October 26, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken announced that the U.S. is re-evaluating its relationship with Saudi Arabia due to its decision to support Russia. This cut in oil production directly assists the war effort against Ukraine. Secretary Blinken states that the re-evaluation of this relationship is in consultation with members of Congress to ensure the relationship better reflects the United States’ own interests. Saudi Arabia is a part of OPEC plus, an intergovernmental organization that coordinates petroleum policies, with members making their oil decisions based on economic analysis. Secretary Blinken is aware of Saudi Arabia's gestures to help Ukraine. These gestures include supporting a recent United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of areas of Ukraine under Russian occupation. The capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, also plans to give $400 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The U.S. does not see these gestures as compensating for the decision to cut oil production.

South America

Brazil Restricts Rampant Online Disinformation Before Presidential Run Off Election

Ahead of Brazil’s presidential runoff election, a Brazilian Superior Electoral Court has banned “false or seriously decontextualized” social media content which would threaten the “integrity of the electoral process.” On October 19, the court banned paid, online electoral advertising two days before the election and one day after.

These prohibitory directives are in response to a surge of online misinformation targeting presidential candidates Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and incumbent Jair Bolsanaro. For instance, there are unsupported rumors that Bolsonaro is a cannibal and a pedophile. Similarly, da Silva is the subject of unfounded rumors that he plans to close churches. These misinformation campaigns are limited to civilian populations. Conservative channels on Youtube have 99 million views while liberal channels have 28 million views. Head of the Electoral Court, Alexandre de Moraes, justifies the court’s announcement as appropriate given the growth of disinformation in the country. Contrarily, Prosecutor General Augusto Aras has deemed the directives “prior censorship”. As such, he filed a motion asking the supreme court to reverse the ban as unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court did not overrule the Electoral Court. The runoff election between Bolsonaro and da Silva will be held on October 30.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Ebola Outbreak Spreads in Kampala, Uganda

This week, the number of confirmed Ebola cases in Kampala, Uganda, rose to 109, with 30 confirmed deaths. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his administration are now under fire for announcing only a three-week lockdown in the most affected regions of Uganda but allowing the capital city, Kampala, to remain open. According to top Ugandan health official, Dr. Ahmed Ogwell, the virus is “not getting out of control.” The director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, expressed concerns that “Ebola control in urban areas can be complex.” The Ebola virus spreading across Uganda is the Sudanese strain which has no proven vaccine. Uganda’s Ministry of Health will evaluate three potential vaccines for the Sudanese strain in the coming weeks. Two vaccines were developed by the United States and the other by Oxford University.

The current outbreak in Uganda raises concerns after the Zaire strain of Ebola found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was responsible for the largest Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which claimed 11,000 lives from December 2013 to 2016. Two years following that outbreak, the World Health Organization approved two vaccines to fight against the Zaire strain. COVID-19 had a significant socio-economic impact on Ugandan citizens, and economic activity reached a standstill. With no vaccine to fight against the Sudanese strain or adequate hospital facilities, the Ugandan government will have to develop strategies to address the outbreak while continuing to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.


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