The World This Week 10/23

Latin America and the Caribbean 

Millions turned out to vote in crucial Argentinian mid-term elections. Turnout approached 80% of the 33 million registered voters in the country, marking a potential shift in the country’s political outlook. Currently, one third of the seats in the Senate are being contested along with half of those in the lower house of congress.

Large voter turnout has presented President Mauricio Macri with a unique opportunity to affect positive change in Argentina. President Macri was narrowly elected two years ago and has been largely stifled due to a lack of an outright governmental majority. A strong showing in the mid-term elections would afford President Macri the chance to complete his economic and institutional reforms.

Pablo Neruda – the famous Chilean poet and Nobel Laureate – did not die of cancer, as his death certificate indicated in 1973. There was speculation that Neruda was ordered to be killed by Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean general and political dictator of the 70s and 80s, but definitive proof never surfaced. As recently as 20011, Neruda’s driver, Manuel Araya, insisted that Neruda was actually poisoned by the secret service in an attempt to prevent him from leaving the country.

Chilean Judge, Mario Crroza, ordered the exhumation of Neruda’s body in February. Recent tests on Neruda’s remains confirmed that he did not die of cancer, but they have yet to reveal the true cause of his death. The Pablo Neruda Foundation has publicly stated that it “hope[s] that the investigation of Judge Carroza will help clarify the doubts that might exist regarding the poet’s death.”

Brazilian police arrest 108 people in a massive, anti-pedophilia operation. Suspects were arrested in 24 states and the nation’s capital, bringing to close a six-month investigation involving US and European immigration officials. Brazilian Justice Minister, Torquato Jardim, said the detainees were part of pornographic image sharing ring that operated through mobile phones and computers. The accused pedophiles accessed the images through the unmonitored dark web.

The arrests included former policemen, civil servants and people in charge of youth soccer clubs. Minister Jardim went on to say that the accused used “sophisticated techniques to evade police investigations,” and that they stored their illegal, criminal photos in the computers of people in other parts of the country, or even abroad without, often the owner’s knowledge. It is not yet clear if the pedophile ring operated exclusive in Brazil or was part of a larger, international criminal network.

Mauricio Macri by Santiago Trusso
Mauricio Macri by Santiago Trusso, Flickr Creative Commons.

Europe and Central Asia

More news has come out of Spain since the passage of the President’s Monday deadline last week for Catalonia to clarify its position of independence. After Catalonia’s President Puigdemont said the region had declared its independence, the Spanish Prime Minister came down hard on the semi-autonomous region by removing its leader, suspending its autonomy, and imposing direct rule. While this is within the government’s constitutional rights, the decision is being met with Catalan denunciations of it as a “coup” and “attack on democracy.” After President Puigdemont is removed, Spain will call another election of leaders in six months.

Perhaps taking note from Catalonia’s efforts, the Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy are now seeking a greater degree of autonomy from the Italian central government. In a recent, non-binding referendum, about 90% of the voters in the former area said “yes” to greater independence. Citing their regions’ combined wealth amounting to 30% of that of the whole country, their presidents contend that the Northern, more prosperous cities are tired of offsetting the financial problems of southern Italy. While it is not clear what tangible improvements they expect, the two regions have been sure to distance themselves from the Catalan movement with saying that they are not interested in becoming their own state.

Elections were held in the Czech Republic last weekend, which resulted in a victory of its anti-establishment party, the ANO. It carried 29.6% of the vote, almost three times as much as its nearest opponent, but is immediately facing difficulties in following-up with their win. Though the country’s leader has designated Andrej Babiš, the billionaire leader of the anti-establishment party, as the next Prime Minister it is amidst the controversy. He faces fraud charges and, with his populist party’s radical stances, opposition to the Eurozone and immigration, he will likely have difficulty finding an ally party to form a coalition government.

The Middle East and North Africa

This week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited both Saudi Arabia and Qatar in hopes to end the crisis between Qatar and the other Gulf states. Tillerson met with officials in both countries, however he is not optimistic on an end to the crisis. Instead, he stated, “I do not have a lot of expectations for it being resolved anytime soon.” Tillerson mainly put the blame on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, calling them unwilling to engage.

This Friday at least 50 Egyptian police officers were killed in an ambush in the Western desert. Police were targeting Hasm, a group known to target law enforcement in and around Cairo. While details on the group remain unclear, many experts believe Hasm is led by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, this was not the area in which Hasm normally operates, causing questions that the Islamic State was responsible for the ambush.

Iraqi forces took Kirkuk from the Kurdish Peshmerga forces on Saturday. The fighting caused an estimated 100,000 to flee Kirkuk. The successful operation by the Iraqi military leaves doubt on the likelihood of Kurdish independence.

East Asia and the Pacific

China has a serious debt problem. In June, the Institute of International Finance published data indicating that China’s debt-to-GDP ratio had reached 304 percent. In July, Moody’s downgraded its view of the Chinese banking system from stable to negative. In September, Standard & Poor’s downgraded China’s sovereign debt rating because China was not deleveraging as quickly as expected. Then in October, the International Monetary Fund released a report that identified China’s financial system as having “elevated financial stability risks,” the implications of which could be global. Recently, Zhou Xiaochuan, the governor of the People’s Bank of China, warned that the country might be on the verge of a bubble bursting.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition won in Sunday’s snap election, securing a two-thirds majority in the Lower House that raised Abe’s chances of achieving a historic third term and his longtime ambition of revising the pacifist Constitution. The Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition won 312 seats in the 465-member Lower House, power that would help it call a referendum on amending the U.S.-drafted constitution.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday described his vision of “new era” for China led by a stronger Communist Party, stressing the importance of wiping out corruption and curbing industrial overcapacity, income inequality, and pollution. “We must unwaveringly uphold and improve party leadership and make the party still stronger,” he stated. Xi has overseen a sweeping crackdown on civil society, locking up rights lawyers and dissidents, and tightening internet controls as he has sought to revitalize the Communist Party.

When North Korean hackers tried to steal $1 billion from the New York Federal Reserve last year, only a spelling error stopped them. For a country without widespread electricity and nicknamed the “Hermit Kingdom”, North Korea’s army of hackers is persistent and improving, according to American and British security officials. Hacking is an almost perfect weapon for an isolated DPRK because the country’s primitive infrastructure is far less vulnerable to cyber retaliation, and North Korean hackers operate outside the country anyway.

South Asia

Secretary Rex Tillerson calls for America’s increasing connectivity in South Asia, saying it is one of the world’s ‘least economically integrated region’. Secretary Tillerson’s address, “Define Our Relationship with India for the Next Century”,  with Center for Strategic and international Studies was hosted last Wednesday, followed by a $500 million infrastructure deal to meet growing transportation and electricity needs signed between the United State and NepalSecretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to South Asia, knocks China and courts India ahead of his trip, after his visits in the Middle East.

According to BMI Research, India, Bangladesh, and Neap are currently investing $78 billion to combat extreme rainfall and flooding. Extreme rainfall could cost South Asian cities up to $215 billion annually by 2030, climate change-resistant urban infrastructure projects are gaining political urgency among South Asian countries.

Past Friday, Pakistan expressed concerns over Indo-U.S. arm deals in the volatile region. The Indian Air Force proposed a $8 billion arm contract to buy 80-100 units of armed drones to the United States. “Pakistan does not want arm race in Asia”, said Farukh Amil, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN General.

The Future of the U.S. in the Human Rights Council
The Future of the US in the Human Rights Council by United States Mission Geneva, Flickr Creative Commons. 

Sub-Saharan Africa

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, arrived in Addis Ababa today for an Africa tour. As one of the first high ranking officials to visit the continent from the Trump administration, many are looking for clarity on which direction U.S. foreign policy is heading. After Ethiopia, she will travel to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to “deliver a strong message that their governments need to stop making the work of aid workers and peacekeepers more difficult.”

In an interesting, yet short lived, incident, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was appointed as goodwill ambassador by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, this move was quickly reversed after human rights groups expressed outrage and UN member states gave voice to their disappointment.

The Toronto-based company Barrick Gold negotiated a settlement with Tanzania after it levied a $190 billion charge against the company, mostly in back taxes and fines. The agreement has Barrick paying Tanzania $300 million, equally split economic benefits, and a 16% stake in the company. Barrick is the majority owner of Acacia Mining, a London-based company, which is Tanzania’s largest gold miner.

Featured Image: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud by Ninian Reid, Flickr Creative Commons

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