This Week in the World | 10.02.17
A New Era For Angola
Joao Lourenco, former defense minister of Angola, became the first new president of the country in 38 years. He took over power from Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, who hand-picked him to be his successor, and has ruled Angola since 1979, after it’s independence from Portugal in 1975. Angola’s ruling political party, the People’s Movement For The Liberation of Angola (MPLA), headed by Jose Santos, won the elections with 61% of the vote in August. Concerns of unfair media coverage and suppression of opposition voters marring the election ballots led to opposition parties boycotting the inauguration.
Ex-president Santos refers to himself as the “President emeritus,” a title he gave himself. This allows him and his close relatives to be immune from prosecution. Angola’s economy is highly influenced by the dos Santos family. For instance, Isabel dos Santos, The head of Angola’s state-owned oil company is the daughter of the ex-president. Angolan journalist and activist, Rafael Marques De Morais, referred to the actions of the ex-president as a privatization of the state in favor of his family. “It’s all about having the country’s resources at their disposal, [and] there is no care for what happens to the people, “ he said. While many Angolans are happy to have new president, there are still some who are question the new change.
Lorenco would be constitutionally limited to serving two five-year terms. The new president has promised to combat corruption and implement employment opportunities, poverty alleviation, promotion of opportunities, and business policies. Many hope that this is a new era for Angola, but there are fears that there would be no significant change.
North Korean Crisis
By Jessica Matthews Ilogho
The highly-publicized North Korean stand-off has become a global crisis that threatens to escalate into a nuclear war. Isolated from the global community, the Communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea developed into a dictatorship, with its leaders claiming that nuclear weapons are its only defense against an outside world that seeks to destroy it.
Earlier this month, North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. This bomb is more powerful than an atomic bomb, and can be miniaturized and loaded onto a long-range missile. The US is the main adversary of North Korea, but South Korea and Japan have rockets aimed at them. Sanctions implemented by the United Nations had little effect, and attempts to negotiate aid-for-disarmament deals have failed. The US responded by saying its patience is “not unlimited” and it was ready to respond with military force.
Though this crisis has been brewing for years, it is now at a new level. North Korea has gotten increasingly provocative, threatening the US pacific territory of Guam. The US is now within reach of a strike thanks to the development of inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that can allegedly reach most parts of the United States. Additionally, heated rhetoric between the two countries have experts alarmed.
At a speech to the UN, Donald Trump threatened to annihilate North Korea. He said the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, “is on a suicide mission”, and this led Kim to release a statement vowing to “tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.” (Dotard, a rarely used word in the English language, means an old person who is weak or senile).
During a trip to China, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the US has “lines of communications to Pyongyang,” North Korea’s capital city, and that they were “not in a dark situation.” There are reasons to believe that the US and North Korea have been engaged in quiet discussions for months, with “diplomatic contact… occurring regularly” between the US envoy for North Korea policy and “a senior North Korean diplomat at the country’s UN mission” Associated Press reported. Donald Trump responded to Tillerson’s diplomatic endeavors in a series of tweets, saying: “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…” and “Being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.” His tweets were meant with immediate bipartisan criticism.
To learn more about the North Korean Crisis, you can attend The Inaugural International Affairs Lecture Series on Tension on The Korean Peninsula, at Temple University, featuring guest speakers Evan Osnos, investigative reporter and staff writer at The New Yorker, and In-Bum Chun, former deputy chief of staff, combined forces command, Republic of Korea. This event will take place on Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017 from 3:30-5:30 p.m in Room 200 AB at Howard Gittis Student Center 1755 N. 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122. Seating starts at 3:15 p.m.
On September 20, 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that has left the island in dire straits. It was the fifth strongest storm to ever hit Puerto Rico, and its immediate effects were devastating. According to FEMA, 42% of Puerto Ricans are without water. The hurricane was especially devastating because it hit Puerto Rico soon after Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm that left 1 million people without power. In fact, when Hurricane Maria hit, an estimated 60,000 people were still without power as a result of damage from Hurricane Irma. The latest hurricane magnified the impacts of Irma, and experts are estimating that it will take 4-6 months to restore electricity to the whole island. This means that many schools, hospitals, government buildings, water treatment centers, and community health centers will either have to close or rely on generators, at least until power begins to slowly be restored. As of Sunday October 1, only 5% of the island has power. 51 of Puerto Rico’s 69 hospitals are running in some capacity, 36% of the population has cell phone service, 8,800 people remain in a total of 139 shelters, and eleven regional food distribution stations have been opened, according to a CNN report. Secretary of Education Julia Kelliher said on Sunday that some schools might not resume classes until October 16th. But, with scarce supplies of food and fuel, many Puerto Ricans are facing immediate and life-threatening conditions.
Puerto Rico is a United States territory, contrary to the beliefs of many mainland U.S. citizens. In fact, all Puerto Ricans are considered U.S. citizens right when they are born, and have been since 1917 when the Jones-Shafroth Act was passed. Puerto Ricans can apply for a U.S. passport, are free to migrate northward, can vote in presidential primaries, and can elect a Representative as a member of the House of Representatives (albeit a non-voting member). Despite Puerto Rico’s legal identity as part of the United States, there has been heavy criticism directed towards the United States for not sending enough aid and support to Puerto Rico. Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz has been one of the most outspoken critics, and in a series of videos this past weekend, has lambasted the Trump administration for failing to act. “We are dying here. And I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday, we are in trouble,” said Cruz in an emotional statement on Friday afternoon. Trump responded via Twitter, saying: “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get them help.”
Many critics are saying that the lack of a concerted effort to help Puerto Rico underscores a deeper trend of the rest of the United States ignoring Puerto Rico. Many feel that Puerto Rico, which is suffering from a large debt crisis and has had to dramatically slash expenditures as of late, isn’t receiving the respect it deserves as a US territory. Still, Trump’s recent comments are especially atypical, especially during a time of crisis. Though a surge of food, fuel, and relief workers is scheduled to arrive in Puerto Rico in the next couple of days, which has been praised by Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rossello, it is clear that there is a high degree of tension between the United States and Puerto Rico that is sure to persist in spite of relief efforts.
This Sunday, a decision to hold a referendum for independence in the Catalonia region of Spain descended into a maelstrom of chaos, violence, and animosity. Catalonia, a relatively prosperous and autonomous region in the northeast corner of Spain, has its own language (Catalan) and claims to have its own history and culture, separate from that of the rest of Spain. Though Catalonia still technically remains part of Spain, efforts to gain independence have been intermittently supported in Catalonia for the past 300 years. Pro-independence Catalans see the central government as tyrannical, siphoning off their wealth and denying them the right to make their own political decisions. Anti-independence Spaniards, along with many others in the European Union, see calls for independence in Catalonia as foolish and detrimental to the cohesion of Spain and the European Union. According to the New York Times, opinion polls indicate that about half of Catalans support independence. In 2014, the central government of Spain actually supported a referendum, though the referendum was non-binding. However, the referendum that was called for this Sunday was viewed by the central government as illegal and unconstitutional, which helped justify the heavy police response.
Leading up to the referendum, the Spanish central government disabled the Internet in some parts of Catalonia, detained officials, and warned of a serious police presence if the purportedly illegal referendum were to be held. All this was to no avail. The ballots opened on Sunday and the Spanish central government engaged in a violent crackdown, just as promised. Spanish police officers used rubber bullets and batons to try and subdue the crowds and keep Catalans from going to the polls. At one point, Spanish police officers broke down a door to a building where voting was taking place, then proceeded to drag voters away from the polls. Widely circulated videos have brought worldwide attention to Spain, and have undoubtedly added fuel to the already heated fire between Spain and Catalonia. During the riots, Catalan police officers and Spanish police officers were fighting each other, underscoring the tension between the two sides.
Despite the unrest, the Catalan government has claimed that 90% of those who voted chose independence. With the Spanish government denying the legality of the vote, it is difficult to say if the vote will have any standing. Though Catalans and left-wing Spaniards alike have called for Prime Minister of Spain Mariano Rajoy to step down, Rajoy has the ostensible support of the European Union, which does not want to see Catalonia separate from Spain. Regardless, it’s clear that the violence on the part of the Spanish police force will ultimately make Catalan separatists all the more emboldened in their efforts to fight for independence, in addition to deepening the already significant rift between Catalonia and Spain.
On Monday, September 25th, Kurds in Iraq overwhelmingly voted for independence, which has stoked fears from neighboring countries like Turkey that Kurds within their borders will also increase efforts for independence. The Kurds are an ethnic group that live in a mountainous region spanning the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Armenia. With an estimated population of 25-35 million, they share a common dialect, culture, and religion, with the majority identifying as Sunni Muslims. For years, Kurds have tried to establish their own state, called Kurdistan. Some countries have taken a more passive approach, with Iraq granting its Kurdish population a semi-autonomous region. Others, like Turkey, where Kurds make up 15-20% of the population, have taken a more active approach. In fact, in the 1920s and 1930s, Kurdish identity was denied in Turkey, their language was prohibited, and some were expelled. In 1978, Abdullah Ocalan launched the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which, amongst other things, called for an independent Kurdish state within the borders of Turkey. This has created ongoing tension between Kurds and the Turkish government.
The results of the recent referendum were not especially surprising for Iraqi Kurds, who have long supported autonomy; 93% of voters chose independence. The referendum was non-binding, and the federal government of Iraq has even gone so far as to deny its legality, but the very fact that the federal government originally agreed to support the referendum is indicative of a notable level of support for Kurdish independence.
Turkey’s President, Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, reacted angrily to the referendum, condemning Iraq’s decision to hold the referendum in the first place. Though Iraq’s Defense Ministry has already made plans to take control of the borders of the Kurdistan region, Turkey has refused to acknowledge the referendum, and instead has said that it will only deal with the Iraqi central government. “From now on, our relationships with the region will be conducted with the central government, Baghdad,” said President Tayyip Erdogan. “As Iran, Iraq and Turkey, we work to ensure the games being played in the region will fail.”