The World This Week 11/14

Europe and Central Asia

More is coming out about last week’s “Paradise Papers” leak as deeper investigations are underway. Among the names of those implicated in the leak are large corporations like Twitter/Facebook, Apple, and Nike, as well as private investors. Several of the latter include high-ranking British politicians but the largest names of all are that of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles who had a portfolio with the offshores firm Brighthouse. It is important to note that not all were attempting to avoid taxation and that many of these practices are indeed currently legal. The exposure that the story has garnered due to the large names involved has integral in provoking discussion about what laws need to be put in place to make offshore tax evasion more difficult to obtain.

Controversy has also erupted in over potential Russian interference in Europe. In a recent speech, Theresa May publicly warned Putin and Russia against continuing “the path” they are on, alluding to interfering with elections, spreading fake news, and in general attempts to “sow discord in the West.” She also cited their annexation of Crimea, attacks on Ukraine, and failure to respect national airspace of other countries. May also stated her country’s willingness to use force to defend their interests if Russia continues to refuse to “play by the rules.”

This very public message from Theresa May to Putin comes at around the same time that Spain has also taken a stand against Russian interference. Spain’s foreign minister, Alfonso Dastis, was the first to identify intelligence of Russia meddling in the European Union and the EU’s counter-propaganda team has since recognized an upsurge in fake news surrounding the Catalonia independence debate. It appears that much of it is coming from the  “Kremlin-backed news agency Sputnik” and has been attempting to make comparisons between Ukraine and Catalonia and to spark increased discord in the region. In response to these findings, Spain has also made a statement that the public not only knows about these Russian attempts to provoke trouble but that they will actively fight against it.

Latin America and the Caribbean 

Volkswagen will be investing $650 million in a car plant in Argentina. In a move that was announced by CEO Herbert Diess, the German automobile company plans to invest heavily in the Buenos Aires town of Pacheco, where it will begin production of a new model in 2020.

“We plan to invest around $650 million. With that we will guarantee the future of the plant and the jobs in Pacheco,” Diess told the event’s attendees.  Volkswagen’s investment is predicted to create 2,500 jobs in the Argentine town. According to Diess, Volkswagen plans to use the investment as the foundation for production of its new sport-utility vehicle. The Argentine President, Mauricio Macri, expressed great pride that Volkswagen had chosen Argentina as the recipient of such a large investment saying, “It makes me very proud every time people decide to count on us.” This investment decision comes after Argentina has already enjoyed an economic surge as a result of record breaking car sales this year.

 Venezuela is primed to hold a debt restructuring meeting as fear that the nation will default increases. Venezuela currently suffers from around $150 billion in debts, but President Nicolas Maduro has insisted that Venezuela will never default. “Our strategy is to renegotiate and refinance all the debt,” Maduro told the public during his weekly television speech. The South American country currently owes China $28 billion and Russia $8 billion, but insists that negotiations are “moving along perfectly.” According to Maduro, Vice President, Tareck El Aissami and Economy Minister, Simon Zerpa, will meet with creditors today (11/13) to discuss potential debt restructuring options. U.S. and European sanctions have already hindered Venezuela. The Trump administration has cited undermining democracy and violating human rights as the primary reason for the several sanctions it has imposed this year. The EU has devised a plan to implement measures “gradually and flexible manner,” that can be “expanded by targeting those involved in the non-respect of democratic principles or the rule of law and the violation of human rights.”

Colombian officials have seized more than 12 tons of cocaine from four banana plantations near the north of the country. The discovery marks the single largest cocaine seizure in the country’s history, according to President Juan Manuel Santos. The cocaine, valued at $360 million, is suspected to belong to the Gulf Clan, a powerful drug trafficking gang in the area. The bust was a part of “Operation Agamemnon II,” the Colombian project responsible for the seizure of some 362 tons of cocaine this year. National Police Director General Jorge Nieto called the bust a “historic seizure in the fight against organized crime.” The seizure comes at a time when the U.S. has expressed some concern over increased coca cultivation in the area.

The Middle East and North Africa

Sunday evening a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit Iran and Iraq. The earthquake, one of the strongest to hit the region in years, affected areas in Iran more heavily. In total, around 6,000 people were injured and a reported 349 were killed. The earthquake has left many without shelter; the Iranian Red Crescent estimates that 70,000 people need emergency shelter.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has stated that he remains in Saudi Arabia willing and is not under detention as many in Lebanon have speculated. Hariri resigned last week in a televised broadcast from Saudi Arabia, blaming Iran and Hezbollah for his resignation. He stated that he would return to Lebanon soon.

After the Houthi missile attack on Saudi Arabia, a blockade was imposed on Yemen. Since then, Saudi Arabia has opened some ports in Yemen. The UN has argued that this is not enough, and has pushed Saudi Arabia and its coalition to open other ports in order for UN humanitarian aid to reach the population. As the humanitarian crisis Yemen continues, the Saudi led coalition continues to fight the Houthi rebels.

This Friday, an oil pipeline exploded in Bahrain. The attack, which took place near a village called Buri, led to no injuries or deaths. Bahrain has blamed Iran for the attack, however Iran has denied the allegations.

Asia Pacific

The Trump Administration’s push to revive the “Quad plus” security dialogue could put many countries in the region in an awkward situation. New Zealand is a case in point. Under the previous national government, New Zealand’s pursued an independent foreign policy, maintaining security ties with the United States, while building economic links to China. The current government seeks to continue the TPP negotiations without the US. New Zealand’s middle role may lead to both countries and their partners leaning on the current government to take a stronger stance one way or the other.

President Trump told Asian nations eager for the US to stay committed to the region that he would no longer join multilateral deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership but would seek bilateral pacts, and only with countries that played by the rules and didn’t try to exploit the US. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the TPP, which includes Vietnam along with Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, left leaders looking for Trump to provide reassurance he’s still committed to Southeast Asia. It’s a region that consumes more than $100 billion in US exports each year and where the US conducts dozens of major military exercises. The remaining 11 countries in the TPP, from Japan to Canada, are trying to resurrect the pact without the US, however, there remains difficulties, with Canada saying it wants a good deal more than a fast one.

President Rodrigo Duterte sung a popular Filipino love song at a dinner in Manila for leaders from across Asia, explaining later that it was on the orders of President Trump. President Trump on Monday spoke of his “great relationship” with his Philippine counterpart, as the two sidestepped questions concerning human rights and focused instead on issues they already had broad agreements on. More than 3,900 Filipinos have been killed in a war on drugs that Duterte declared when he took office last year. His government says the police act in self defense, but critics say executions are taking place with no accountability. President Trump, who has been criticized at home for neglecting rights issues in dealings abroad, praised Duterte in May for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem”.

Sub Saharan Africa

In preparation for Somaliland’s elections November 13, the government made the decision to block social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. This was done out of a fear of the spread of fake news and its influence on elections.

Uber has a new class action lawsuit on its hands, and this one is coming from Lagos, Nigeria. The lawsuit is calling for reclassifying Uber drivers as employees, not independent contractors, so that they can be provided health insurance and a pension.

Raila Odinga, the opposition leader in Kenya who lost the recent election to President Uhuru Kenyatta, is calling for an economic boycott of companies that have aligned themselves with President Kenyatta’s government. This includes major telecoms like Safaricom, which controls the widely used money transfer service M-Pesa. This could be difficult to see through as nearly $28 billion moved through the system in 2015, which was equivalent to 44% of Kenya’s GDP.

South Asia

Hyderabad’s police have begun detaining homeless families after their commissioner this week issued an order banning begging for two months. Hyderabad, a southern Indian city, rounded beggers up and are holding them in jail to prepare for a visit by US president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.

Nepal will host a three-day South Asia Economic Summit to strengthen economic integration in the sub-region. The summit will be cover a range of issues, include, regional trade potentials, cooperation on power trade, collaborating for reducing disaster impacts, intellectual property relating to herbs, employment generation, trade facilitations, collaborate on climate change and international labor migration.

With rapid economic growth and aiming to become the 2nd largest economy, India’s capital city continues to be covered in a grey smog due to industrial pollutions. The capital city, New Delhi, saw PM 2.5 levels, a measure that is linked to high rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease.

On past Monday, militants crossed into Pakistan border from Afghanistan and killed a Pakistani officer and a soldier. The uneasy neighbors, both of which are US allies in the region, accused each other for causes of conflicts. Pakistan plan to build a fence at the northwest region of Bajur, and the disputed border contains 1,500 miles worth of territory.

Featured Image: Vladimir Putin by The Kremlin, Wikimedia Creative Commons 

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