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This Week in the World | 01.30.2018

Alexander Voisine January 30, 2018

Davos, Switzerland

Photo Credit: Denis Balibouse, Reuters, via NBC News

World leaders, politicians, and leaders of the business world gathered last week in Davos, Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum, an event that is largely seen as a global vindication of free trade and international exchange. This year, Davos’ big players were China, France, India, and the United States, who all delivered strong messages affirming the importance of free trade and denouncing isolationism.

China: China’s massive initiative to expand its network of trading partners, known as the One Belt One Road Initiative, took center stage at Davos. China engaged in talks with Brazilian President Michel Temer, in an apparent effort to enhance China’s influence in Latin America. Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi praised Chinese development in Pakistan, and Joe Kaser, the German CEO of Siemens International, referred to the One Belt One Road Initiative as “the new W.T.O.” China also announced a new trade route that would traverse the melting Arctic ice cap and would like Europe to China.

France: French President Emmanuel Macron argued for a more united Europe, citing concerns over anti-globalization backlash in both France and the EU. Long praised by the business community for his pro-business agenda, Macron proposed a 10-year plan that would transform the European Union into a “natural economic, social, green, scientific and political power.” His message was received well by business leaders concerned with the rise of nativist populism and anti-EU sentiments.

India: Pro-business Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi cited what he referred to as a “worrying trend” of anti-globalization, and called for global action on the issues of climate change and technology. India, which suffers from intense and often unbearable levels of air pollution, has recently become an advocate for green energy investments. Modi’s pro-business address at Davos and emphasis on new multilateral and bilateral deals was good news to global investors looking to capitalize on India’s impressive growth rate, which remains one of the highest in the world and is estimated to continue on an upward trend.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi | Photo Credit: Reuters via Dhaka Tribune

United States: Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s isolationist campaign and his “America First” approach to the global economy, his presence at Davos was largely seen as positive, and he surprised attendees by delivering a pro-trade message. His warm welcome was due largely in part to the United States’ booming economy following the election of President Trump, characterized by a vigorously-performing stock market and higher wage growth. President Trump also exercised a notable degree of poise, and even apologized to British Prime Minister Theresa May for retweeting an anti-Muslim video from a far-right British group. In his address, Trump said to the audience: “America first does not mean America alone. When the United States grows, so does the world.”

#MeToo: A panel of female executives discussed sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as inclusion, diversity, and gender equality. Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the IMF, tweeted: “This all-women panel shows that even without testosterone we can produce positive solutions for the world.” Panelists and women in general at Davos spoke about closing the gender pay gap, increasing the diversity of applicant pools for job hiring, and creating societies that reduce gender inequities. Mary Flanagan, a professor at Dartmouth College, said: “Let’s not forget that women grow up as little girls in a particular framework. The inequities start early, and they’re subtle.”

Ireland

The Irish government announced this week that it will conduct a vote in May, in the form of a referendum, to determine whether or not it will reform the country’s strict ban on abortions. In Ireland, abortions are illegal even for women who have been raped. The law, which was passed in 1983, has been challenged recently by members of both Irish political parties. In fact, just last year, a cross-party coalition that included a citizens assembly recommended that the law be reformed.

Polls have suggested that a majority of voters would support changes to the law, but Ireland still remains a very religious country. However, Ireland has become increasingly more liberal since 1983 when the law was passed, so despite its historic reputation as a conservative and deeply religious nation, it appears that the referendum will herald in a new approach in Ireland to abortion.

Even though polls are showing a win for reform, many Irish are still opposed to a total loosening of the ban. In fact, in an Irish Times Poll, only 25% of Irish support abortion being made legal under all circumstances. Leo Varadkar, the Prime Minister of Ireland who came out as gay during Ireland’s campaign to legalize same-sex marriage, opposed abortion earlier in his career. However, his support for the referendum shows a willingness to loosen the laws and it is widely believed that he supports moderate reforms. Though it’s unlikely that Ireland will support abortion being made legal under all circumstances, it’s clear that Ireland is ready to update its controversially strict approach to abortion.

France

Photo Credit: Getty Images via BBC

After weeks of rain, the Seine in Paris has flooded the city and surrounding area. Nearly 1,500 people have evacuated their homes in response and a similar amount have lost power. At its peak, the flood levels reached nearly 20 feet. Popular tourist attractions have been affected as well. The Louvre was forced to close a lower level that houses Islamic art and the famous “Bateaux Mouches” tourist boats are out of service. The last time the city faced this kind of flooding was 2016.

Several metro and train lines have closed, but the city has prepared for the Seine’s overflow since the much worse floods of 1910 and 1982. The deputy mayor told CNN, “Two floodings of the Seine river in less than two years — we have to change, we have to change the way we build this city…We have to understand that climatic change is not a word, it’s a reality.”

Afghanistan

Photo Credit: Rahmat Guhl/Associated Press via NY Times

In the past week, terrorists have committed four major attacks in Afghanistan. The surge in violence began with a suicide bombing in Jalalabad claimed by ISIS at a Save the Children event. On the 20th, militants attacked a hotel in Kabul, killing 22 people. On Saturday, over 100 people were killed and twice as many were wounded after an ambulance exploded in the capital. The two attacks were claimed by the Taliban. Militants also attacked Monday at a military base just outside Kabul, killing 15 military cadets. The Islamic State claimed responsibility.

So why has there been such as sharp increase in violence, especially around the capital? Both the U.S. and Afghanistan believe it is the result of dwindling militant power in the countryside. However, the Taliban has rejected this assertion, insisting that the attacks are a message to President Trump and U.S. allies. The U.S. and Afghanistan have also restated their belief that Pakistan is harboring the Taliban. Pakistan denied the allegations and condemned the bombings. The attacks have put added pressure on Afghani President Ashraf Ghani, who is already facing a dissatisfied population, power struggles from regional leaders, and calls for increased focus on security.

Honduras

Photo Credit: Jorge Cabrera/Reuters via Wall Street Journal

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández was sworn in Saturday despite widespread protests. His second term will begin in the shadow of controversy from his previous term; Hernández’s government has been violently trying to suppress protests of the November vote. The election was riddled with inconsistencies such as suspension of ballot counting and the lifting of a constitutional ban on presidential re-election. The opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, joined in the protests last weekend. During the voting, Nasralla had been significantly ahead in the polls, only to lose by 50,000 votes.

Hernández’s supporters believe he is modernizing the country and has reduced homicide rates. However, many fear he is becoming too authoritarian and corrupt, placing his allies in top political positions (including the Supreme Court that overturned the re-election ban).

The international community has its eyes on the seemingly escalating situation in Honduras. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN Commissioner for Human Rights in Honduras have condemned the violence used to break up protests. The EU and the Organization of American States have recorded the many irregularities during the election. The U.S. has recognized Hernández’s victory in the election, but joined the EU in its concerns about electoral inconsistencies.  

Iran

By Alice Hakvaag

Photo accessed via BBC

Late last December, the Iranian government arrested a protester who took off her headscarf and held it up on a stick. Her lawyer, and a former political prisoner herself, Nasrin Sotoudeh said she had been released after several days only to be arrested again. Starting January 17th, the hashtag #whereisshe has been trending, since her name is not known to the public. She is believed to be around 31 years old, and the mother of a toddler.

This week, Sotoudeh said she had seen an official report that said the woman had been released. No charges had been filed, but Sotoudeh did warn that the government could create a legal case against her, since removing a headscarf is a punishable offense in Iran.

The incident where the protester took off her headscarf was photographed during a protest involving the White Wednesday campaign, which is a social movement that encourages Iranian women to wear white in protest of the strict dress code. The image of the activist holding up her white headscarf quickly became an image of unrest in Iran from December through January, with her hashtag #wherisshe being shared over 28,000 times. The Iranian government has made no comment.

Colombia

By Alice Hakvaag

Photo Credit: Ronald Zak/AP via NPR

The Colombian government announced that they were pausing peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) on Monday. Last November the government had successfully signed a revised peace agreement, but after a weekend of terrorist attacks they have suspended communication.

The ELN is the country’s second largest terrorist group after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Inspired by Cuba’s revolution, the ELN subscribes to a Marxist-Leninist philosophy and believes that all riches earned through Colombia’s oil industry should be shared among citizens, instead of exported to other rich countries. With about 1,500 active fighters, most are supported by sympathizers that help them at a local level.

After decades of fighting, the Colombian government agreed to start peace talks with the group in March, 2016. Talks stalled for two years due to the resolving of a hostage situation, but meetings were taking place, with hope for a permanent peace agreement before the next presidential election, May 2018. After the ELN took claim for one of the three terrorist attacks, however, that deadline might not be reached. Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said there was a “lack of coherence on part of the ELN between it’s words and actions.”

United States

By Alice Hakvaag

Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images via Talking Points Memo

Andrew McCabe, the FBI’s Deputy Director, stepped down on Tuesday, over a month before his official retirement date. McCabe had been acting as director of the FBI after Trump fired James Comey last May, and became deputy director when Christopher Wray was confirmed to be the new director last August. This news comes a week after it was reported that Trump had said that he wanted McCabe out. He is quoted as having complained that McCabe’s wife received donations from “Clinton puppets.” The White House said in Monday’s press briefing that McCabe’s resignation was not a decision “made by the White House.”

Trump and McCabe have never seemed to see eye to eye. On Twitter, Trump would post about his wife’s campaign funders, and in private once asked McCabe who he voted for in the presidential election. He also asked why Comey was allowed to use an FBI plane shortly after he was fired, and on the same phone call asked if his wife knows “how it feels to be a loser,” due to her losing a senate race. Christopher Wray, the current FBI director, apparently had also been considering moving McCabe to a different position.

McCabe was already planning on retiring in March, since he would then be eligible for his pension. He’s currently on leave until then.