This Week in the World | 1.16.18
U.S. President Donald Trump faced harsh criticism last week after allegedly referring to Haiti, El Salvador and a number of African countries as “shithole” countries in a meeting with Democrats and Republicans about DACA, a U.S. program that grants temporary, renewable residency to the children of undocumented immigrants. President Trump then went on to ask why the U.S. couldn’t allow in more people from countries like Norway, instead of African countries, El Salvador and Haiti. Following the announcement in the fall that the U.S. would discontinue the DACA program, the U.S. Congress has been tasked with putting DACA into law, and with Democrats and Republicans bickering over the terms of the DACA bill, not much progress has been made, especially in light of President Trump’s contentious comments, which many see as evidence of a bias against non-white immigrants who would be affected by changes to the DACA program.
His comments were met with domestic and international condemnation, with both Democrats and Republicans, along with people around the world, calling his comments racist, xenophobic, and offensive. The President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, tweeted on Saturday: “We are certainly not a ‘shithole’ country. We will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful.” Also in response to Trump’s comments, on Monday, the country of South Africa issued a diplomatic protest, in which it tactically pointed out that it was Martin Luther King Day.
Republican Senators and Trump allies Tom Cotton and David Perdue issued statements saying that they do not recall hearing the President use the word ‘shithole’ in the meeting, while Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham both confirmed that Trump did indeed use the word ‘shithole.’
President Trump has denied using expletives during the meeting, tweeting on Friday: “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.” Trump has also pushed back against those who have labeled him a racist, saying during an interview on Sunday “I am the least racist person you have interviewed, that I can tell you.”
President Trump has been lambasted throughout his presidency over alleged racist tendencies, and on Sunday, the New York Times published an Op-Ed listing evidence of racist behavior both during Trump’s presidency and during his years in real estate. “Donald Trump is a racist. He talks about and treats people differently based on their race. He has done so for years, and he is still doing so,” write columnists David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick. (Alex Voisine)
On Friday, recently re-elected German Chancellor Angela Merkel came closer to forming a majority government, a seemingly Sisyphean task that has occupied Chancellor Merkel since the September 24 elections. In Germany, if an elected party does not win a majority in the elections, they must form coalitions with other parties to secure a majority. Since Merkel’s Christian Democrats Party (CDU) only won 32.5% of the vote, in order to remain in power, Merkel must secure enough support from other political parties to reach over 50%.
Following a nearly 24-hour negotiating session between Merkel’s Christian Democrats, its sister party the Christian Social Union, and the center-left Social Democrats, officials from the three parties issued a 28-page agreement documenting their plans for a coalition. Though each party’s representatives still have to vote to approve the agreement, the negotiating session on Friday is being largely hailed as a significant step towards creating a governing coalition in Germany, which is Europe’s largest economy and wields immense influence in the European Union.
The coalition comes as a surprise to many, considering the Social Democrats’ initial refusal to join forces with the Merkel following the September election. However, the rise of the far-right, nationalist and xenophobic Alternative for Germany party, which won 13% of the vote and landed itself seats in Germany’s parliament, acted as an impetus towards a coalition. The leader of the Social Democrats, Martin Schulz, said in a joint statement over the weekend that “in the end, there are always compromises one has to make,” acknowledging that Merkel’s Christian Democrats were the Social Democrats’ rivals until only recently.
Chancellor Merkel also issued a statement, in which she applauded the outcome of the negotiations and talked in more detail about the technicalities of the coalition agreement. (Alex Voisine)
U.S. President Donald Trump’s December decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, in effect naming Jerusalem the capital of Israel, was met with harsh criticism around the world, not least from representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Jerusalem has long been claimed by both Israel and Palestine. Palestine, which is a de jure sovereign state but doesn’t enjoy full statehood like Israel, sees Palestinian control over Jerusalem, specifically East Jerusalem, as integral to its plans to gain full statehood, in what is referred to as a “two-state solution.” Typically, United States presidents and leaders of other nations around the world have not declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Trump’s decision is a notable departure from long-standing international policy regarding Jerusalem.
On Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that Palestine will no longer work with the United States on Israel-Palestine negotiations, effectively shutting down communication with Washington. Given the United States’ historic involvement in Israel-Palestine negotiations, Abbas’ words are especially poignant, as is the fact that Abbas referred to Trump’s decision as a ‘crime.’
Though 90% of Palestinians oppose the decision to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, 70% of Palestinians believed that Abbas should step down, which is, ironically, due to the fact that Abbas originally expressed an interest in working with President Trump, whom Palestinians have long regarded as an enemy due to Trump’s proclaimed support for Israel. Abbas’ harsh criticisms of Trump’s decision may be a way to appeal to Palestinians frustrated with his original friendliness towards Donald Trump.
On Sunday, Abbas released another and perhaps more controversial statement, this time targeting Israel. Most notably, Abbas argued that Israel was a ‘colonial project’ orchestrated by Europe to serve European interests in the region and has nothing to do with Jerusalem or Jewish interests. He also accused Israel of ending the Oslo Accords, a historic 1993 peace agreement between Palestine and Israel. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin responded to Abbas’ comments, expressing severe discontent and accusing Abbas of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
In Sunday’s speech, Abbas spoke again about the United States, calling the moving of the embassy the “slap in the face of the century” and warning that Palestine will “slap back.” (Alex Voisine)
On Monday, the second-floor mezzanine of the Indonesian Stock Exchange collapsed, injuring 75 people. Police ruled out a bomb as the cause of the floor collapse, and it appears that it was caused by a weak building structure. Tito Sulistio, head of the Indonesian Stock Exchange, confirmed that there were no deaths on Metro TV on Monday, and all of the injured building occupants were brought to a local hospital.
The building, located in Indonesia’s capital city Jakarta, was targeted by Islamist militants in 2000, and many initially wondered if the collapse of the stock exchange floor was the result of another attack. Indonesia has faced several attacks by Islamist militants in the past few years, the most recent being in May 2017, when two suicide bombers killed three police officers and injured 10 civilians in East Jakarta.
The stock exchange assured investors that the floor collapse would not affect the business of the stock exchange, and resumed business in the afternoon as scheduled, after a midday break. The stock exchange has also offered to pay for the treatment of a group of university students who were standing on the mezzanine when it collapsed. (Alex Voisine)
On the anniversary of the ousting of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians across the country celebrated seven years since the dictator was removed during the Arab Spring. Despite the celebrations, protests were held throughout the country this week in response to tax hikes and other new economic policies instituted by the government with the new year. The country, though one of the few countries to emerge from the Arab Spring with a stable democracy, has been facing high unemployment–at 15% currently–and inflation. The austerity measures were an attempt to solve these issues but have caused an uproar throughout the country. Over 770 people were arrested in the capital city Tunis during the protests, most of whom were between the ages of 15 and 30.
The government has since promised revisions to help the poor families in Tunisia. They plan to increase the monthly aid allowance per family, as well as reassess retirement disbursements to ensure people are not being underpaid. The protesters do not appear to have been pacified by the government’s response. (Rachel Elliot)
Pope Francis, Chile, and Peru
On Monday, Pope Francis began his weeklong tour, which begins in Chile and will end in Peru. The pope said ahead of the trip that his focus would be on indigenous populations, environmental issues in the Amazon, and immigrants. Though the trip marks the pope’s sixth visit to Latin America, it will be a difficult one. Just a week before the pope’s arrival in Santiago, Several Roman Catholic churches were firebombed. In one of them, “The poor are dying,” was written on the wall. The attacks reflect the sentiments of Chileans towards the pope; the country is 45% Catholic, but rates Pope Francis lower than any other pontificate.
Both Chile and Peru will prove to be challenging for Pope Francis considering their current situations. In addition to the strained relationship with the Church, Chile is in the middle of shifting presidential power. The pope will be meeting with President Michelle Bachellet, but her successor, Sebastián Piñera, will take office soon after Francis departs.
Peru has been in a tumultuous state since the pardoning of former president Fujimori, who was serving a sentence for human rights abuses. The pardon has further divided the country. Despite the multifaceted challenges ahead of his visit, the pope’s schedule includes meeting the Mapuche, the indigenous group of Chile, visiting a women’s prison, and stopping by Puerto Maldonado, a town ravaged by the gold mining trade. (Rachel Elliot)
Last week, the European Union formally heard Bulgaria’s requests for more inclusion in the EU bureaucracy. Among these demands by Prime Minister Boyko Borisov were entrance into the rotating ministerial councils, permission to use the Euro as currency, and admittance into the Schengen free-travel zone. He argued that Bulgaria has served as a border between the EU and Turkey and that the country had followed the protocol for inclusion by fixing the currency with the euro. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker endorsed Bulgaria: “Your place is in Europe and your place is in Schengen and your place is in the euro…We will work for that. The Commission will be by Bulgaria’s side” (Reuters).
The embrace of Bulgaria in the EU has done little to calm protests in the country itself. The country is known to be the poorest and most corrupt in the EU. The prime minister has faced accusations of limiting press freedom. (Rachel Elliot)
This week, Romania lost its second Prime Minister in seven months. Prime Minister Mihai Tudose resigned after his political party, The Social Democrats, decided to withdraw all support. Tudose had lost favor after a rocky time as Prime Minister; he had been plagued by a history of corruption scandals. He also began arguing with the President of The Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea.
Tudose said he was “leaving with his head high.”
Romania’s government has struggled with corruption at all levels. The former Prime Minister, Sorin Grindeanu, was ousted by The Social Democrats after failing to deliver on campaign promises. The party also faced mass protests when they introduced a bill that would protect many lawmakers from basic corruption charges. After the ten-day protests last January, the party decided to take “a new approach,” and Grindeanu was replaced by Tudose the following June.
The Social Democrats still have a public image problem. The president himself, Liviu Dragnea, while wanting to run for president, was stopped from doing so in 2015 after being convicted of ballot-rigging. He is considered to be “the power behind the throne,” as he was the main force behind Grindeanu’s vote of no-confidence, as well as withdrawing party support from Tudose.
The EU warned Romania that attempts to fix corruption problems were being halted by politicians and the press. The protests succeeded in stopping the law that would cover for corrupt politicians, but laws in the smaller courts were still passed.
Deputy Prime Minister Paul Stanescu will take over for Tudose while Tudose goes through the resignation process. (Alice Hakvaag)
Hisham al-Omeisy, a vocal dissenter to the war in Yemen, was released from prison on Monday. He had been held for five months without any charge, and was not allowed to contact a lawyer or his family. al-Omeisy uses Twitter in both English and Arabic to express political opinions, as well as report news from inside the country. When he suddenly stopped tweeting on August 14th, multiple news outlets that relied on him for information took notice. Yemen’s constitution mandates that anyone taken into custody must be taken into court and charged with a crime within 24 hours. Human Rights Watch also confirmed that he had not been able to contact anyone.
In areas that are occupied by Houthi rebels, there have been crackdowns on dissenters. This often involves illegal detention and the disappearances of journalists, political opponents, and activists like al-Omeisy. Human Rights Watch has 66 such cases documented, though organizations within Yemen say the number could be much higher.
An unconfirmed report says that the Houthi Supreme Political Council’s president ordered that he be freed. Hisham al-Omeisy was reunited with his family Monday night. Fellow activist Rabyaah Althaibani says he is in “good health and high spirits.” (Alice Hakvaag)
Earlier this week, Turkey denounced U.S plans to create a border security force in an area mainly populated by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The reason for this is that the SDF includes many members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which is considered an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy from Turkey for thirty years. The Turkish president Reccep Tayip Erdogan said that the United States was creating a “terror army” that would then be stationed right along the Turkish-Syrian border. Erdogan has long opposed Kurdish autonomy in the region.
Syria also disagreed with the plan, saying it was a direct attack on their nation’s sovereignty. The foreign ministry was quoted as saying it is a “destructive policy … and impedes any solution to the crises.” Russia, an ally of Syria, said that the well-armed group could break up “a large territory” along the border.
The border security force is being put in place as part of a plan to stifle movement from the Islamic State within Syria. A coalition on the topic said that this would in turn help the Syrian government “establish effective local, representative governance and reclaim their land.” The SDF have long been fighting against the Islamic State, steadily driving them eastward. The goal is to have 30,000 recruits involved, with half coming from the SDF. There are currently 230 trainees being trained currently in the inaugural class. (Alice Hakvaag)