This Week in the World | 3.11.18
- North Korea
By Rachel Elliott
Last week, President Trump revealed that the he would meet with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un in May to discuss denuclearization. The meeting will mark the first time any sitting American president has met with a North Korean leader in person. Chung Eui-yong, security advisor to the South Korean president, gave the announcement in front of the White House after informing the president of the North’s invitation to meet face-to-face. North Korea has yet to respond to the acceptance. Analysts have theorized as to why North Korea, after months at odds with the U.S., would now offer up the chance for denuclearization. One one hand, the summit could provide them with more time to improve their nuclear program. On the other, the meeting could result in relief for the North from the U.S.’s heavy sanctions.
South Korea has hailed the announcement as a diplomatic success. The country has been living in fear since their Northern counterpart initiated missile tests last year. This meeting could lead to peace on the Korean peninsula. This also serves as an opportunity for South Korea to be at the negotiation table, seeing as they appear to be facilitating the process. Shortly after the announcement, South Korean officials headed to China and Japan to discuss the news.
- United Kingdom
By Rachel Elliott
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned by a nerve agent last week. He and his daughter were found on a park bench in Salisbury, incoherent, and are currently in critical condition at a local hospital. Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the attack, a claim that the Kremlin vehemently denied. Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov called the accusations “nonsense,” and claimed that the U.K. had not provided them with sufficient evidence to prove their indictment. The U.K. has received international support since the news broke last week. President Trump agreed that Russia must answer for the attack immediately and (now former) U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson harshly criticized Russia for the attack, as well as for other attacks in the past. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also condemned the attack and any potential role Russia played in it. NATO called the attack alarming and reiterated its condemnation of chemical weapons. Germany and France have stated their support for the the U.K. and are mutually concerned about what they believe to be a pattern of aggressive behavior from Moscow.
By: Alex Voisine
The notoriously unstable political situation in Ecuador took a turn for the worse last week when the president of the Asamblea Nacional de Ecuador, Jose Serrano, was dismissed following a lengthy corruption investigation and the release of an audio recording in which Serrano contacted the former Auditor General Carlos Polit. Polit is living in exile in the United States but is being investigated in Ecuador for corruption and bribery, due to his role in the Odebrecht scandal. Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company, admitted to illegally bribing a number of politicians in various Latin American countries, including Ecuador, in order to secure contracts. In fact, the ex-vice president of Ecuador, Jorge Glas, was sentenced to six years in prison for accepting bribes from Odebrecht, indicating Ecuador’s commitment to prosecuting and sentencing politicians who were involved in the Odebrecht bribes in Ecuador. The audio recording implicated Serrano in Polit’s investigation, making him appear to have been involved in Polit’s alleged acts of corruption and bribery and casting him in a very suspicious light.
103 of the 137 members that make up the Asamblea Nacional, Ecuador’s legislative branch, voted to remove Jose Serrano in a hearing on Friday that lasted more than four hours in the capital city of Quito. Protests broke out in Quito before the hearing on Thursday of last week, with hundreds of Ecuadorians marching in the streets and calling for the resignation of Serrano as well as other politicians accused of corruption and bribery. Responding to his order of dismissal, Serrano declared the hearing “unconstitutional” and claimed that he had nothing to do with Carlos Polit’s alleged involvement in the Odebrecht bribes, and had contacted Polit simply to acquire more information about his investigation. “The appearance of audio – whose origin is still unknown – was meant to weaken democracy and curb the investigations that the country demands,” said Serrano in a statement after the hearing. Serrano also accused the Attorney General, who was in charge of Serrano’s investigation and released the audio recording, of attempting to “destabilize the nation.”
In Ecuador, the dismissal of Serrano is being hailed as a vindication of Ecuadorian voters’ efforts to hold their leaders accountable, but has left one of the highest positions in Ecuador up for grabs. Elections for the new president of the Asamblea Nacional will be held within the next few weeks, and with ongoing political turmoil, a number of politicians wrapped up in the Odebrecht scandal, and a frustrated voter base, it is sure to be a chaotic few weeks in Ecuador.
By: Alex Voisine
A recent uptick in bombings in war-torn Syria, specifically in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, has been condemned worldwide, and a partial ceasefire that was passed in February has been largely ineffective. In an effort to end the violence in Eastern Ghouta, the United States is asking the UN Security Council to pass a 30-day complete ceasefire. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that if the ceasefire was not passed, the United States would be “prepared to act if it must,” meaning if would consider unilaterally bombing air or weapons bases controlled by the Syrian government.
Eastern Ghouta, which is currently held by rebels that are supported by the United States and other Western countries, was one of the first regions of Syria to outwardly protest the presidency of Bashar al-Assad. For that reason, it has been a target of government-led attacks since 2011. The recent bombing in Eastern Ghouta is part of an effort to combat terrorism, according to the Syrian government and its allies, namely Russia and Iran. There are indeed confirmed terrorist groups based in Eastern Ghouta, but the vast majority of its residents are civilians, and the bombing has prevented humanitarian aid from entering Eastern Ghouta.
Though the ceasefire would effectively end the bombing campaign in Eastern Ghouta, it may be difficult to pass, given Russia’s historic loyalty to the government of Bashar al-Assad. Because Russia is a member of the Security Council with veto power, and because the ceasefire would need to be approved unanimously, it is unclear if it will be passed. However, the Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia expressed concern over the potential for the United States to bomb Syrian government forces, which may compel it to agree to the ceasefire.
Congressional elections in Colombia on Sunday indicated a deeply divided voter base, possibly signalling a rightward political shift in the upcoming presidential election, which will take place in May. In the Congressional elections, right wing parties in Colombia gained seats in the Congress while centrists lost seats. Juan Manuel Santos, the current president of Colombia and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his work orchestrating a peace deal with FARC, a left-wing guerrilla group, leads the centrist faction of Colombian politics, so the decline in support for centrists in Congress may very well indicate a concomitant decline in support for Santos when he runs in May for the presidency. However, despite a slight decline, the three main right wing parties in Colombia only gained 40% of the seats in Congress, preventing them from securing a congressional majority –centrist and leftist parties continue to hold a majority in Colombia.
- United States, Florida
By Alice Hakvaag
Three weeks after the deadly Parkland High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Governor Rick Scott signed into effect a gun control law placing a three day waiting period on all gun sales, as well as a ban on bump stocks. While it does not ban the use of semi-automatic rifles, it does raise the age for legally buying guns in Florida, and it also sets aside money to train and arm school teachers. Finally, it allows law enforcement to more easily confiscate weapons and ammunition from people who are more likely to engage in violent behavior.
Governor Scott, an NRA member himself, said that while some members of the NRA might disagree with the new laws, others would not. The NRA, in response, has launched a lawsuit against the state of Florida, saying the law is unconstitutional. The main complaint seems to be the age limit, which has been raised from 18 to 21, with exceptions for 18-20 year old police officers and security workers. The NRA points to the 2nd and 14th amendments, saying that legal adults have the right to bear arms and that the law breaks the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause. Chris Cox, a spokesman for the NRA, said that the bill “punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual.… Females between the ages of 18 and 21 pose a relatively slight risk of perpetrating a school shooting.”
Parkland survivors were present when Governor Scott signed the bill, and it’s being seen as a testament to the effectiveness of the gun control movement and the speed at which laws can change. What’s also notable about this bill is that it was passed in a Republican-controlled senate where the NRA holds a lot of influence. Governor Scott said that the law was “an example to the entire country that government can, and has, moved fast.”
- United States
By Rachel Elliott
The 90th annual Academy Awards took place on March 4th in Los Angeles. This year’s ceremony was marked by calls for diversity and inclusion by best actress winner Francis McDormand, as well as Ashley Judd, Salma Hayek and Annabella Sciorra, who have all come forward with allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Winners included Guillermo del Toro for his film, “The Shape of Water” and Jordan Peele for his screenplay of “Get Out.”
By Alice Hakvaag
Slovakia saw some of the biggest protests since the fall of Communism last weekend after the death of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee sparked outrage. The crowd called for Prime Minister Robert Fico’s resignation and an end of government corruption. Kuciak had been investigating political corruption at the time he was killed. His unfinished article, which detailed how the Italian Mafia had influence in Slovakia’s government, was published by several news sites in February.
The couple were found shot, once each, in their home mid-February, and it marks the first intentional killing of a journalist in Slovakia’s history. Kuciak detailed in his article how Italian businessmen with connections to organized crime settled in Eastern Slovakia and began embezzling funds from the EU that were meant for the poorer region. He then said that these businessmen had connections in the government, with some serving in close contact with the prime minister. Two people named Maria Troskova and Viliam Jasan have since stepped down from their positions. Prime Minister Fico himself has not addressed the corruption claims, instead offering 1 million Euros for information about the killings.
Many say that this is the last chance to convince the public that Slovakia is not a Mafia-run state. President Andrej Kiska himself called for a reelection for all elected officials to rebuild public trust. Marek Madaric, the Minister of Culture, has already stepped down, saying it was his duty as the minister during the shooting. Matus Kostolny, an editor in chief at the Dennik N newspaper, said that, “it’s the last chance to persuade people that Slovakia is not a country where a journalist can be killed because of his work…. Where politicians can be part of corruption scandals, and nothing happens, they stay in government.”
By Alice Hakvaag
The BBC is making a unique plea to the UN, asking them for help in stopping Iran from harassing Iranian staff that go to London and harassing their families at home. They claim that workers face intimidation, denials of visas, and arrests of family members. Last October, a BBC journalist could not visit his ill father due to a fear of being arrested were he to fly to Iran to be at the hospital. The father died a week after the journalist was informed of his condition, and he was not able to attend memorial services. This story is similar to 30 other cases where staff have lost family members and have not been able to go home.
About a quarter of Iranians watch the BBC, which covers entertainment and news. After the 2009 elections, protesters took to the streets complaining about voter fraud, and the Iranian government quickly blamed the unrest on Western influences, like the BBC. BBC Persian journalists are labeled as foreign spies by the Iranian government, which leads to problems for their families back at home. Family members could be brought into questioning or even kidnapped from their homes and held in prison for days as leverage against the journalists abroad. Journalists report threatening phone calls, telling them to stop working for the BBC, with the callers saying they know where their families live.
London anti-terrorism police and the BBC are working to change the situation. When a staff member receives a threat against them or their family, protection is arranged for them, either in London or back in Iran. The BBC says that they are appealing to the UN because the Iranian government has been unresponsive. UN Secretary General Antonio Gueterres has voiced his support, telling Iran to stop legal action against “independent journalism, whether affiliated with the BBC or not.”