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Weekly News Digest for October 6th, 2023

Updated: Oct 23, 2023


Compiled by Sara Anis Ali, 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

U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Chinese Entities Over Alleged Fentanyl Connections

On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department issued sanctions against 25 Chinese individuals and companies for their alleged involvement in the trafficking of fentanyl. This comes a day after the U.S. Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight Chinese companies and twelve executives relating to the manufacturing and supplying of precursor chemicals used for making synthetic opioids. U.S. officials cite the recent actions as part of the Biden administration’s latest efforts in their fight against the opioid crisis, the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history. So far, none of the defendants have been arrested and the Chinese government has not participated in the investigations.


The Justice Department claims that Chinese chemical manufacturing companies illegally shipped the narcotic-making chemicals to the U.S. and Mexico – accusing them of ties with the Mexican Sinaloa cartel and being the starting point for a drug network that involves the synthesizing of multi-thousand-kilogram quantities of fentanyl, methamphetamine, MDMA, and other illicit substances.


Since 2020, more than 100,000 deaths a year have been linked to opioids, making the opioid epidemic and alleged Chinese involvement a hot topic of debate. With moves like Tuesday’s, the Biden administration hopes to stem the tide of opioid flow and placate more hardline members of government, some of whom have called for U.S. military intervention against Mexican drug cartels. The new sanctions and indictments also send a strong message to Mexican authorities of the U.S.’s hard stance on this matter, with the actions coming a day before senior administration officials visit Mexico for meetings involving discussions of the narcotics trade.


Chinese authorities have strongly condemned Tuesday’s move, accusing the U.S. of scapegoating China in its battle against opioids. Both countries have attempted to collaborate on counter-narcotics actions, yet have failed to reach comprehensive agreements in the past. The latest actions further damaged this potential area of cooperation, with the Chinese embassy stating that sanctions “only add more obstacles” to U.S.-China cooperation.


Central America and the Caribbean

U.S. Officials Meet with Mexican President López Obrador

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken led a high-level delegation to Mexico City to discuss bilateral cooperation in addressing issues such as drug smuggling, human trafficking, and migration. During the meeting, Blinken implored Mexican authorities to help stop the flow of fentanyl into the United States. Despite claiming that he has “no doubt about Mexico’s commitment to working collaboratively,” it is unclear whether Secretary Blinken received a meaningful commitment from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during their closed-door meeting.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 106,000 Americans died of drug-involved overdoses in 2021. As this number continues to climb, Blinken branded the scourge of fentanyl deaths the “top of the agenda” in his meetings with Mexican officials. Despite promises of further cooperation, many Mexican officials are hesitant to accept what U.S. policymakers say is their share of the blame. Mexican Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection Rosa Icela Rodríguez insisted that Mexico was not a producer of the drug but merely a transit point, a stance that U.S. officials have denied. As diplomatic tensions persist, the future of U.S.-Mexico collaboration in combating the fentanyl crisis remains to be seen.


Europe

Pope Francis Suggests Blessings for Same-Sex Marriages

On Monday, the Vatican published a letter Pope Francis wrote to the cardinals, in which Francis suggested that same-sex unions could be blessed as long as such blessings did not overlap with the blessing of sacramental marriage. In response to the letter, five conservative cardinals challenged him to affirm that marriage is a union between man and woman, a statute that the Vatican upholds. This debate over same-sex marriage rights comes ahead of a meeting concerning the LGBTQ+ community’s place within the Catholic Church.


New Ways Ministry, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ Catholics, endorsed the pope’s letter. The organization argued that the letter “significantly advances” efforts to welcome Catholic LGBTQ+ members into the church. Notably, many Catholic priests across Europe have blessed same-sex unions without pushback from the Vatican. Francis DeBarnardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, described the pope’s letter as “an enormous advance towards fuller and more comprehensive equality” in the church.


The dissenting cardinals also requested that the pope reaffirm the church's teachings on women’s ordination, papal authority, and other issues. The cardinals include Cardinal Walter Brandmüeller of Germany, Cardinal Raymond Burke of the United States, Cardinal Juan Sandoval of Mexico, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, and Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong. The cardinals initially submitted a list of five questions to Francis, requesting that the pope affirm the belief of marriage being a union between a man and woman, but regrouped after the pope's initial response supported the idea of blessing same-sex marriages. The cardinals submitted the questions again with the request that Francis reply with yes or no, and when the pope did not respond to the reformulated questions, the cardinals decided to make the correspondence public.


Middle East and North Africa

Turkey Retaliates After Bomb Blast in Ankara

Following a bomb blast in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, Turkey began carrying out airstrikes in the northern region of Iraq. 20 Kurds, whom the government claims are members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), were killed in the attack. Shortly after the attack, which occurred outside two Turkish government buildings, the PKK claimed responsibility, stating that the act was retaliation for Turkey’s constant abuses toward and suppression of Kurdish people. Within hours, the Turkish defense force began air raids in Iraq's northern region, known as Kurdistan.


The bombing and subsequent retaliatory actions followed a series of disputes between Turkey and the Kurdish people. The region of Kurdistan spreads into southeast Turkey, and for decades the Kurds have sought their independence. Movements for independence led to the formation of the PKK, which argues that Turkey continually sought to suppress Kurdish culture by banning Kurdish culture in majority Kurdish regions. The PKK was formed to protect the cultural and political rights of Kurds but soon began advocating for uprisings against the Turkish government. This escalation prompted Turkey to engage in numerous military operations, attempting to force the PKK out of its southeast region while also attacking and suppressing Kurdish politicians, journalists, and activists. More recently, Turkey has attacked Kurds far outside its borders, most notably attacking Syrian Kurds who had worked with the United States to fight ISIS prior to the US withdrawal in 2022.


While the PKK seeks to use its terrorist attack as a way to draw attention to Turkey’s abuses, the Turkish government used the act to remind outside nations of the security threat that the PKK poses, defending the state’s continued attacks against Kurdistan from international criticism. Currently, the European Union and the United States categorize the PKK as a terrorist organization, and even Sweden, which has long had a sizable Kurdish population, has begun cracking down on possible PKK members to appease Turkey.


North America

U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy Ousted

On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was voted to be removed as speaker, once again revealing the deep polarization in the United States Congress. This is the first time in U.S. history that the U.S. House has voted to remove its leader. With the speaker being the most important member of the legislative branch and third in line to the presidency, Congress is left in chaos. These tensions began in January when Kevin McCarthy won a hard-fought election to become speaker of the House and made a series of spending promises to far-right conservatives. In these negotiations, McCarthy promised to allow any single member who did not agree with his actions to raise a motion to vacate the seat. For months McCarthy had kept these promises to the far right, but as the U.S. was on the verge of defaulting on its debt at the beginning of the summer, McCarthy was faced with the need to make an opposing decision in the interest of the country. McCarthy made a deal with Democrat lawmakers to avoid the default, angering the far-right flank which felt McCarthy wasn’t standing up for fiscal responsibility, leading to an increasingly strained relationship between the two. Tensions came to a head this past weekend when the U.S. was on the verge of a government shutdown. Once again, McCarthy had the choice to either make a deal with Democrats to keep the government open or meet the demands of the hard-right conservatives. Kevin McCarthy chose to put a bill on the floor to keep the government open for the next month and a half, resulting in the far-right moving to remove him from the seat.

On Monday Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida brought a motion to oust McCarthy from the speakership, giving Congress 48 hours to vote on whether McCarthy would stay as the speaker or not. Democrat lawmakers discussed McCarthy’s position and believed they could get concessions from the Republican representative in exchange for their support. However, on Monday night, McCarthy informed the leader of the Democrats, Hakeem Jeffries, that he would not be making any deals with them. On Tuesday, during the highly anticipated roll call vote, every single Democrat stood and voted to oust McCarthy, while most of the Republican party voted for him to remain as speaker. However, eight Republicans voted with the 208 Democrats, ousting McCarthy with a 216-to-210 vote. An interim speaker, Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, is acting in place of McCarthy. As of now, a recess has been called and the future of the House is unknown.


South America

New York City Mayor Eric Adams Travels to Latin America

On Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams left the country, beginning a 4-day trip to Latin America, where he will visit Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia. Notably, Mayor Adams also plans to visit the Darién Gap, a treacherous portion of jungle between Central and South America, which many South American migrants must traverse on their journey to the United States. Mayor Adams spoke with local leaders to discourage local populations from seeking asylum in New York as the city continues to struggle to handle the massive surge in illegal migration. Over the past year, the city has received over 120,000 migrants. The upward trend in migration to New York shows no sign of slowing down with hundreds of migrants still arriving daily.


News of Mayor Adam’s trip comes just as the Biden administration announced that it will resume deporting Venezuelan migrants directly to Venezuela. Venezuelans make up a large share of border crossings, and for years, the U.S. has been unable to deport them due to hostile diplomatic relations with Venezuela. However, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas confirmed that the Biden administration successfully negotiated a deal with Venezuela to implement the change in policy, but did not confirm whether Venezuela was getting anything from the U.S. in return for this cooperation. Mounting political pressure to respond to the migrant crisis may compel the Biden administration to lift sanctions on Latin American countries like Cuba and Venezuela, signaling a potentially transformative period for U.S. immigration policy.


Sub-Saharan Africa

UN Approves Kenyan Intervention In Haiti

On Monday, the United Nations Security Council passed UNSC Resolution 2699, affirming the mandate for a Kenyan-led intervention into Haiti. Kenya plans to send 1,000 troops to the Caribbean nation, a much smaller force than in previous UN missions. Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, and Jamaica have pledged troops to the mission as well. The approval comes nearly one year after Haitian Prime Minister, Ariel Henri, requested international assistance to deal with the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the country.


On July 1, 2021, Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in his bedroom in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Since then, violent gangs have plagued Haiti, overrunning the country’s police force and instilling chaos through widespread killing and abductions. The UN has reported 3,000 homicides and 1,500 abductions between January and September, and an estimated 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of the insecurity.


Kenya’s former Foreign Affairs Minister, Alfred Mutua, has indicated that the multinational force could enter Haiti in as soon as two months, but some officials are wary of the intervention. They bring up the historical problems of interventions in Haiti, including claims of prolific sexual abuse by peacekeeping forces. Officials also point out issues of excessive force that have been demonstrated in Kenya’s domestic security apparatus. Still, there is confidence in the vetting and accountability procedures to ensure a lawful and organized intervention in the struggling nation.


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