North America and Canada
- Last Tuesday (Jan 28), US President Donald Trump announced a peace plan for the Middle East. The plan calls for a significantly reduced area for a proposed Palestinian state with no military, with Jerusalem under the complete control of Israel. The plan would not require Israel to give up the settlements but simply freeze their development. The plan was welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but was rejected by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
- Former National Security Advisor John Bolton provided evidence last week pertaining to Trump’s involvement in the administration’s dealing with Ukraine. Bolton allegedly claims, in an unpublished manuscript of an upcoming book, that the President personally told Bolton about the plan to withhold military aid to Ukraine until it launched an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. This directly contradicts Trump’s central defense that no first hand witnesses can confirm this strategy.
- Despite Republican Senators for Maine, Alaska, and Utah expressing interest in calling further witnesses such as John Bolton for the trial, the Senate motion failed by two votes. Only 49 senators, including Republicans Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, joined Democrats in favour of hearing more evidence. While agreeing that Trump has committed the main offence, several Republicans were unwilling to remove a president with just 10 months left. Closing arguments begin today (Feb 3), and a final vote is expected on Wednesday (Feb 5).
- Last Friday (Jan 30), US President Donald Trump added six countries to his list of nations facing stringent travel restrictions. These are Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, and Myanmar. All countries have substantial Muslim populations, and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are facing what some have called a genocide. The ban will take effect on Feb 22.
- The Trump administration is issuing a mandatory quarantine for US citizens who have visited Hubei province in the last 14 days and denying entry to foreign nationals who “pose a risk of transmitting” the virus in the US, administration officials said in declaring the coronavirus a public health emergency.
- Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Çhampagne pledged last Monday (Jan 27) to resume talks with Cuba in order to resolve the presidential crisis in Venezuela. Canada has been allied with the Juan Guaidó regime and recognises Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Cuba, however, has been accused by Guaidó of providing ideological and intelligence support for Nicolás Maduro, who also claims to be president.
- The Colombian government will allow Venezuelan migrants within its borders to legalise their presence with work permits. Migrants with formal job offers will be granted a Temporary Special Work Permit, known by its Spanish acronym as a PEPFF visa. About 1.6 million Venezuelans reside within Colombia, many of whom fled neighbouring Venezuela under the Maduro government and the subsequent presidential crisis.
- Environmental activist Homero Gómez González has been found dead in Michoacán, Mexico. Gómez disappeared two weeks ago, and his death has sparked outcry over the increasing violence against activists. A source from the state attorney’s office said that the cause of death had not been determined, but an initial review found no signs of torture.
- Last Monday (Jan 27), Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammatei offered his Salvadoran counterpart Nayib Bukele the opportunity to build and operate a port in Guatemalan waters to promote commerce in the Atlantic. Guatemala hopes to boost Central American integration, and develop a legal framework for such collaborations.
- The Chilean Chamber of Deputies unanimously approved a law known as the Gabriela Law, broadening the concept of femicide and increasing its penalties. The law was proposed after the murder of 17-year-old Gabriela Alcaíno and her mother by the girl’s ex-boyfriend in June 2018.
- Four civilians died over the past week as protests in Chile once again turned violent. Protests began last October over metro price hikes, which quickly turned into general protests over inequality and billionaire President Sebastian Piñera and his government.
- James Hamilton, a doctor and sexual abuse victim of the Catholic church in Chile, has announced plans to form a new political party, known as the Party for Dignity. He is the latest in a string of political aspirants, since protests began last October.
- Argentina has begun issuing food cards to low-income families in an attempt to fight malnutrition.
- As of last Sunday (Feb 2), there are 14,380 cases of the new coronavirus infection, and 304 deaths. So far, only one death has occurred outside of Mainland China, in the Philippines.
- Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the shutdown of major rail passenger links and limits on flights from mainland China last Tuesday (Jan 28), in an attempt to control the spread of the Coronavirus that has infected thousands in Asia. This follows the torching and destruction of an unused public housing estate that the government intended to use as a quarantine zone for infected individuals.
- As protests over the proposed National Register of Citizens and Citizenship Amendment Act continue, both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition have made speeches appealing to Indian icon Mahatma Gandhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has framed the laws as protecting and welcoming oppressed Hindus into India, while the opposition has pointed out that Gandhi sought protection for the Muslims.
- Last Tuesday (Jan 28), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared to military personnel that India is now capable of defeating Pakistan in 10 days. Both countries possess nuclear weapons, and have fought several wars since decolonisation. Tensions risked boiling over into war as recently as last February, with tit-for-tat airstrikes sparked by attacks on Indian troops in Kashmir.
- Indonesia has deported American Journalist Philip Jacobson over a visa violation. Jacobson was working for a website that reported on sensitive environmental issues in Southeast Asia. He had initially been detained after attending a hearing in Borneo involving the local parliament and the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago, Indonesia’s indigenous rights advocacy group.
- In a policy reversal, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced that English should and would be used to teach science and mathematics in schools. During the 1970s, Bahasa Melayu replaced English as the medium of instruction in order to create a national identity and facilitate national integration. Citing employment issues of those who studied mathematics and science in Bahasa Melayu, he argued that English should be promoted for these subjects because they were not indigenous to the people.
- The United Kingdom announced last Tuesday (Jan 28) that it would not deny Chinese tech company Huawei from providing technology for upcoming 5G telecommunication networks. This comes amidst the US lobbying for countries to ban Huawei over its ties with the Chinese government, threats of economic retaliation from Chinese representatives if they concede to Trump and a widening rift between the US and its European allies.
- The United Kingdom (UK) officially exited the European Union last Friday (Jan 31). The European Parliament voted unanimously last Thursday (Jan 30) for the UK to leave and subsequently removed British flags from European Union buildings. Negotiations will continue until December to decide the actual terms of Brexit.
- Russia reported its first coronavirus cases last Friday (Jan 31), and has restricted air travel with China. Chinese flights to Moscow will be rerouted to a separate terminal, and all flights to China except those by Aeroflot, the Russian national airline, will be halted.
- Russian civil rights activist Alyona Popova is taking the Russian government to court over the use of facial recognition technology in surveillance. Popova argues that facial recognition is deeply intrusive because it enables bulk monitoring and collection. It also opens room for the analysis of sensitive personal data without individualised reasonable suspicion. The government, on the other hand, has argued that it is a useful addition to fighting crime.
- Protesters marched in Tel Aviv last Saturday (Feb 1) against Trump’s proposed peace plan, claiming that it is a plan for annexation and apartheid rather than peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since cancelled a meeting where the annexation bid was slated to begin rolling. The plan has promised about 30 per cent of the West Bank as permanent Israeli territory and includes land that is of religious significance to Israel. While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the deal, he has not made clear any plan of action.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticised Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia for not speaking out against Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan. Erdogan has dismissed the proposal as a plan to steal Palestinian lands, and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
- With oil prices rapidly declining, Saudi Arabia opens talks with Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allied oil producers about moving their upcoming OPEC Plus policy meeting to early February from March. Iran is likely to oppose, and Russia is undecided.
- Lebanon’s new Labour Minister Lamia Yammine said last Thursday (30 Jan) that Lebanese citizens will have to take on low-skilled jobs traditionally filled by migrant workers to cope with the effects of the country’s worst economic crisis in a generation.
- Police have launched a manhunt for suspects after nine Lesotho nationals were stoned to death in Matholeville, Johannesburg, on Friday (31 Jan). The nine dead were allegedly illegal miners, as were the perpetrators.
- Zimbabwe has lifted a ban on imports of genetically modified corn for the first time in 12 years. Currently facing the worst drought in 40 years, it is amid an economic collapse with more than half the population in need of food aid. Historically, the country, like many African countries, has resisted the importation of genetically modified seeds so as not to be dependent on seed from multinational companies.
- The Democratic Republic of Congo has created a state monopoly for hand-mined cobalt in an attempt to exert more market control. Artisanal miners will have to sell to a new company, controlled by the state-owned Gecamines. According to an order by Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga and Mines Minister Willy Kitobo Samsoni, this measure is intended to allow the government to control the value chain of the artisanal industry, and the move is expected to control a quarter of all cobalt mined in the country.