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Focus This Week in the World

This Week in the World | 04.11.18

The Editors April 16, 2018

Syria

By: Alex Voisine

Photo Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

On Saturday, the Syrian-American Medical Society reported over 500 admissions of patients suffering from what appears to have been the effects of a chemical attack by the Syrian government. Those brought to local hospitals had difficulty breathing, bluish skin, foaming mouths, burns on their corneas, and “the admission of a chlorine-like odor,” according to the BBC. This type of physiological reaction is typical of chemical attacks, though it is unclear if it was a chlorine attack or if nerve agents were used; typically, attacks involving nerve agents engender a much stronger international response, and both the Trump and Obama administrations have been less reactive to chlorine attacks in the past.

However, Saturday’s attack, chlorine or not, was met with strong international condemnation, not least due to the fact that an estimated 40-60 people died in the attacks, which took place in the rebel-held town of Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta region of Syria, close to Damascus. Douma is an especially important region because it is the last rebel-held region in Syria, with the Assad regime having effectively eradicated all other rebel-held zones in the country. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been the most outspoken critics of Saturday’s attack, but their condemnation of the attack has been met with skepticism by the Russians, who support the Assad regime. In fact, the Russians have claimed that the attack was staged, and part of a larger effort to undermine Russian influence in Syria. They also claimed on Monday that no chemical weapons were used.

The UN Security council held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss how they will handle the alleged chemical attacks. An investigation has been launched in the meantime, which will yield the results that will ultimately determine how strongly the international community reacts. In the United States, Donald Trump referred to the attacks as “atrocious” saying “we cannot allow atrocities like that.” Though no plan has been announced, the last time the Syrian government used chemical weapons (specifically nerve agents), the U.S. government reacted by bombing the facilities where the weapons were allegedly produced.

Brazil

By Alice Hakvaag

Photo Credit: Victor Moriyami, Getty

Last Saturday, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva handed himself over to authorities, who arrested him on corruption charges. Currently there are hundreds of supporters camping outside of the jail he is residing in, vowing not to move until he is released. The Supreme Court voted to arrest him with a vote of 5-4, meaning only one person has to change their minds to have him released so that he can appeal his conviction out of prison. Lula has said that his imprisonment was “politically motivated.”

Lula has served two presidential terms in the past, was the first leftist leftist leader to become president, and had exceptionally high ratings when he retired after his second term. He started as a trade union activist in 1969. In 1980 he helped form the Workers’ Party, a coalition of trade unions, church activists, and intellectuals that formed the first socialist political party in Brazil’s history. Upon winning the presidential election in 2002, he drastically increased the minimum wage and put billions of dollars in social programs. Critics have said he has not done enough to combat poor education, which is a key component in economic inequality, but his work has earned him high praise among the poor. He was succeeded by Dilma Rousseff, who was later impeached on corruption charges. She also accused congress of a “parliamentary coup” and that her impeachment was politically motivated, though she had a much lower approval rate of 10% than Lula currently has.

At the time of his arrest, Lula was the front-runner in Brazil’s upcoming presidential election in October. Even after the corruption charges were announced, 36% of voters said they’d vote for him over the far-right candidate, who only had 18%. The current leader of the Workers’ Party, Gleisi Hoffman, supported him, saying he was a “political prisoner.” She hoped the Supreme Court would revisit their decision, and if they did, he could be released as early as Thursday.

United States

By: Alex Voisine

Photo Credit: Equal Justice Initiative via CNN

On April 26, the Equal Justice Initiative will open the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. The museums, which are located in what was once the heart of the slave-holding South, namely Montgomery, Alabama, seek to commemorate the lives of the more than 4,000 black men, women and children who were victims of lynching, between the years of 1877-1950.

The Equal Justice Initiative was founded by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and activist who directed the construction of the museums and conducted intensive research into the lives of lynching victims. Stevenson hopes to not only educate visitors about the massive scale of lynching, but also draw a parallel between slavery in the past and slavery in its present forms, specifically in the form of the mass incarceration of black men and women. Stevenson also hopes to honor the lives of the victims of lynching, many of whom have never been included in public records, and the vast majority of whom were lynched for the most minor of incidents, such as bumping into a white person or, in one case, telling a group of schoolchildren to stop throwing rocks at people.

“I hope it will be sobering but ultimately, inspiring,” Stevenson said, in an interview with CNN. “I hope people will feel like they’ve been deceived a little by the history they’ve been taught and that they need to recover from that. Truth and reconciliation work is always hard. It’s challenging, but if we have the courage to tell the truth and to hear the truth, things happen.”

Mexico

By Rachel Elliott

Photo Credit: Loren Elliott AFP via New York Times

Last week, President Trump tweeted about the need for more border control in light of a “caravan” of migrants coming from Central and South America through Mexico, some intending to try to enter the U.S. as asylum-seekers. While caravans traveling in this way are not a new phenomenon, the one that Trump was referring to marked one of the biggest, at around 1,200 people. The group was largely Hondurans trying to escape political unrest and poverty. Most people in these caravans opt to travel in big groups to avoid widespread violence, rape, kidnapping, and mugging that small groups often face when migrating by themselves or with smugglers.

This particular caravan was organized by the nonprofit organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras, or People without Borders, to help the migrants understand their rights and stay safe in their efforts to immigrate. The organization has been facilitating these caravans for the past several years and holds workshops for migrants to understand their legal rights and visa requirements. Despite President Trump’s tweets, the director of Pueblo Sin Fronteras asserted that only 10 to 15 percent of the migrants in the caravan even intended to seek asylum at the U.S. border. (Seeking asylum is a legal form of immigration under U.S. and international law. Essentially, if someone arrives at the border looking for asylum, the government must allow them to prove they qualify, rather than treating them as illegal immigrants. The traditional method requires immigration officers to catch-and-release, or take them into custody, register them, and then send them back to Mexico.)

In response to both Trump’s urging and the media pressure, the Mexican government released information about how they had disbanded the caravan by offering eligible migrants humanitarian visas and temporary transit passes to apply for legal stay in the U.S. The Mexican Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry reported 400 migrants already deported and confirmed the aforementioned legal protections to “appropriate” situations. According to the Mexican government, these processes were underway in the week before Trump’s tweets.

However, President Trump did not back down from his idea that the large caravan was closing in on the U.S. and opted to send National Guard troops to the border. The Department of Defense authorized 4,000 troops to be sent, but so far, states–if they have sent any Guardsmen–have sent only a fraction of that. They have begun gathering in Texas and Arizona.  Additionally, the National Guard will not be armed and cannot actually interact with immigrants as stated in Secretary Mattis’ order of authorization. Trump is not the first president to send National Guard troops to the border; George W. Bush and Barack Obama both authorized similar missions, though their numbers were much lower. Under the previous presidents, the National Guard was put into place to assist the processing of immigrants and building of infrastructure. It remains to be seen what President Trump hopes to accomplish by this.

United States

By Alice Hakvaag

Photo Credit: Leah Millis, Reuters

Tuesday marked the start of the two-day testimony of Mark Zuckerberg before 44 members of congress. He answered questions for 5 hours, with each congress member getting around five minutes each to speak. In the weeks since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Zuckerberg has been facing tough questions about data privacy as well as influencing political views through the 2016 election. A statement from Zuckerberg released before the testimony says that Facebook will be taking steps to create easier and tougher security controls, and that any app that collected data will be investigated. He also admitted that they were “slow to spot” Russian influencers on the site.

The catalyst for this hearing was the breaking news that Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm, had gained access to the personal data of millions of Facebook users without the user’s consent. Cambridge Analytica has been connected to multiple political campaigns around the world, from Donald Trump’s campaign in the United States to the presidential races in Nigeria. By using a quiz app that allowed access to personal information as well as the person’s friends information. Zuckerberg’s main defense is that while Facebook allowed for this kind of collection in 2014, they did not allow for the data collected to be shared with others. Where Zuckerberg might run into trouble is how Facebook didn’t immediately tell users of the breach when they found out, instead trying to hide it until a newspaper broke the story.

At the hearing, Zuckerberg focused on community and freedom of speech. Both Senator Cory Booker and Senator Ted Cruz asked about the monitoring or censoring of more left-leaning and right-leaning groups. Cruz made the point that many posts flagged as “unsafe to the community” were political in nature, and Zuckerberg agreed that it was “a fair concern.” He assured the congressmen that Facebook has no bias in reviewing reported posts. Senator John Kennedy bluntly said that “Your user agreement sucks” and that the current agreement doesn’t “inform users about their rights.” He challenged Zuckerberg to spend his time helping new legislation, instead of spending millions to fight it.

Nigeria

By: Alex Voisine

Photo Credit: Stefan Heunis/AFP via NYTimes

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced Monday that he will run again in the upcoming 2019 presidential elections, despite concerns about his health and leadership abilities. President Buhari, who is 75 years old, has faced many challenges during his presidency, battling both personal health problems that forced him to spend nearly four months in the United Kingdom last year, and a Boko Haram insurgency that abducted 110 girls in northeast Nigeria last February. Critics, some of whom have called on Buhari to resign, point to his ineffectiveness in combating Boko Haram, as well as his questionable health and his inability to ease tensions between herders and farmers.

Despite criticism and calls for resignation, under Buhari’s presidency, Nigeria has become one of the World Bank’s top 10 countries “making economic overhauls,” and has reduced what was once a rampant corruption problem. Supporters of Buhari argue that he needs more time to develop his policy approaches to Boko Haram and the economy.

So far, only one other high-profile candidate has announced plans to run in 2019; Atiku Abubakar, a 71-year-old businessman and former vice president. Though Atiku is more popular with younger Nigerians, Buhari still enjoys widespread support in the north.

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