A woman holds a poster of Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing with his face crossed out during a protest, organised by Chin Refugee Committee, against the military coup in Myanmar, in New Delhi, India, on Feb. 5, 2021. | Photo Credit: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Feb 8: Jeff Bezos to Step Down as Amazon CEO, Myanmar’s Military Topples Aung San Suu Kyi’s Government, Brazil’s Anti-corruption Efforts Dismantled

North America:

  • In a letter to his 1.3 million employees, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced that in the third quarter of 2021, he will be stepping down as the CEO to transition to the role of executive chairman of the company’s board. Current Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy, who has been with the company for 24 years, will take over the CEO spot. Bezos launched Amazon in 1994 with his ex-wife and built it into one of the most successful companies, now worth US$1.7 trillion (S$2.26 trillion).
  • In a report by Politico last Monday (Feb 1), Robinhood’s CEO Vlad Tenev is expected to testify before the House Financial Services Committee on February 18 about his company’s role in the GameStop saga. While not formally announced, the news came after a tumultuous week where Robinhood stopped its customers from buying GameStop’s stocks, drawing widespread criticism. 
  • US President Joe Biden signed three executive actions last Tuesday (Feb 2) that sought to reunite migrant families split up by a Trump-era policy, where his orders will set up an inter-agency task force and review former President Trump’s immigration policies.
  • Former US President Donald Trump will not be testifying or submitting a written statement in the upcoming impeachment trial, in a statement released last Thursday (Feb 4). Spokesperson Jason Miller for former President Trump said that Trump “will not testify in an unconstitutional proceeding”. The trial is slated to begin on Tuesday (Feb 9) and is expected to last around a week.
  • The US Senate confirmed Pete Buttigieg’s appointment as transportation secretary, where he will take over the Transportation Department of 55,000 employees and a budget of tens of billions of dollars. Buttigieg, 39, is the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and also the first openly gay person to be confirmed to a Cabinet post. Buttigieg is set to play a central role in US President Biden’s US$2 trillion (S$2.66 trillion) climate and infrastructure plan.
  • 25 US philanthropic organisations and corporations launched the California Black Freedom Fund last Thursday (Feb 4), a US$100 million (S$133 million), five-year initiative that aims to provide resources to black-led organisations, in a bid to eradicate systemic and institutional racism. The 25 funders of this initiative include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs and JPMorgan Chase.
  • US President Joe Biden announced last Thursday (Feb 4) the United States was ending military aid for the Saudi war in Yemen, nearly six years after Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies launched a military intervention against the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The ending of US support for the offensive will not affect any US operations against the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) group, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.
  • The US Senate passed a massive US$1.3 trillion (S$1.73 trillion) Covid-19 relief package last Friday (Feb 5). The vote came without any support from the Republicans, leading to a tie of 50 votes from each side, ending with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris casting the final vote as the Chair of the House. The American Rescue Plan was proposed last month by US President Joe Biden, where it aims to mount a national vaccination program, provide US$1,400 (S$1,863) stimulus checks, safely reopen schools and financially support small businesses and struggling communities.
  • The US and Russia have extended the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which was set to expire this week, for five more years. It is the sole arms control treaty between Washington and Moscow after former President Trump withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The New START limits the nuclear arsenals of Washington and Moscow.

South America:

  • One of the biggest ever anti-corruption investigations in history, Brazil’s “Operation Car Wash”, which placed hundreds of Brazil’s most prominent politicians including former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and businessmen behind bars, has been disbanded. The nationwide probe that spread around Latin America resulted in almost 300 guilty verdicts, was terminated last Wednesday (Feb 3) with several of its investigators seconded to another federal anti-organised crime task force. This has led to political backlash against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose family and inner circle was facing multiple graft investigations.
  • Brazil’s prosecutor-general has opened a preliminary investigation into its President Jair Bolsonaro and health minister Eduardo Pazuello in regards to the government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak in Manaus City. Manaus City has been devastated by a second wave of Covid-19 cases, with the city’s hospitals running out of oxygen in January and patients dying from asphyxiation. The probe investigates the Government’s negligence as reports disclosed that the federal health ministry was warned of the looming oxygen shortages nearly a week before the crisis struck the city of Manaus.
  • The Brazilian mining corporation Vale SA agreed last Thursday (Feb 4) to pay US$7.03 billion (S$9.38 billion) in compensation to the state of Minas Gerais for the collapse of its dam two years ago that killed 270 people, polluted rivers and destroyed the surrounding landscape. The settlement is the biggest in Brazilian legal history, described as “historic and with global repercussions”, where it will compensate the state for the socioeconomic and environmental damage caused by the bursting of the dam.
  • The COVAX global vaccine sharing scheme is expected to deliver 35.3 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to 36 Caribbean and Latin American states from mid-February to the end of June, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional office. Of the 36 nations, Brazil has been forecasted as the country to receive the largest allocation of immunization doses, securing almost 10.7 million doses of the vaccine.
  • The first round of the 2021 Ecuadorian presidential general election was held last Sunday (Feb 7), where incumbent president Lenín Moreno did not seek re-election. It came at a time of widespread discontent over the country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, amidst an economic recession and several corruption scandals. The frontrunners are Andres Arauz, an economist and former central bank director who is with the new Democratic Center party, and Guillermo Lasso, a former banker now with the right-wing Creating Opportunities (CREO) party.

Asia Pacific:

  • Myanmar first hit headlines last Monday (Feb 1), when the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, seized control and deposed the democratically elected party – the National League for Democracy (NLD), drawing international condemnation. The military coup d’état led to the end of civilian rule and the imposition of military rule, with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and several party members detained and deposed. The Tatmadaw declared a year-long state of emergency and declared power vested in Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services, Min Aung Hlaing. Additionally, a nationwide Internet blackout imposed by the Junta to suppress dissent further fueled the nationwide protest, with tens of thousands rallying against the coup in Yangon last Sunday (Feb 7) for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Each night since the coup, residents in the main cities have been showing their dissent by banging pots and honking car horns.
  • South Korea unveiled a 48.5 trillion won (S$58 billion) plan to build the world’s largest offshore wind power plant by 2030, as part of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s Green New Deal efforts to foster an environmentally friendly recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. President Moon attended a signing ceremony in the south-western coastal town of Sinan for the plant, which will have a maximum capacity of 8.2 gigawatts (GW). The project is expected to provide up to 5,600 jobs and help achieve a goal to boost the country’s wind power capacity. The envisaged 8.2 GW amounts to the energy produced by six nuclear reactors, or the effects of planting 71 million pine trees, officials said.
  • Sean Turnell, an Australian economic advisor to the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, is the first known arrest of a foreign national in regards to the February 1st military coup d’état. He relayed his arrest in a message last Saturday (Feb 6) to Reuters and was subsequently uncontactable. 
  • As many as 150 people were feared dead after a Himalayan glacier broke and crashed a hydroelectric dam last Sunday (Feb 7) at Raini Chak Lata village in the Chamoli district in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India. A witness reported a wall of dust, rock and water as an avalanche roared down the Dhauli Ganga river valley located more than 500 km (310 miles) north of New Delhi. India’s air force was ready to help with rescue operations, the government said, while Home Minister Amit Shah said disaster-response teams were being airlifted in to help with relief and rescue.
  • The Philippines Department of Finance (DOF) announced its aims last Sunday (Feb 7) to raise US$23.71 billion (S$31.62 billion) from external forces to bridge a planned budget deficit and fund priority projects this year. A total of US$8.06 billion (S$10.75 billion) of this year’s amount will be for budget support purposes, while the balance of US$15.65 billion (S$20.87 billion) will be for project financing, the DOF said in a statement. The amount is 39 per cent higher than the US$17.01 billion (S$22.69 billion) the government raised from external sources last year for key infrastructure projects and for helping bridge a wider budget deficit due to state spending on COVID-19 response measures.
  • The ongoing protests by farmers in India have slipped into the international domain. Despite the fact that internet access has been cut from protestors, global figures including Swedish climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg and superstar Rihanna are now backing the protesting farmers. The protests were sparked two months ago against new laws that were said to put farmers at a disadvantage. Reform laws will allow big retailers to buy directly from growers, meaning that guaranteed prices for crops will no longer stand and make farmers more vulnerable to big businesses. 

Europe

  • Denmark announced last Friday (Feb 5) that it will be building the world’s first energy island. The island will serve as a hub for 200 giant offshore wind turbines and will be at least as big as 18 football pitches with plans to make it triple that size. The artificial island will supply electricity to Danes and other countries’ electricity grids. Danish politicians coming from parties across the spectrum have also given their support for the plan. Under Denmark’s Climate Act, the country has committed to an ambitious 70 per cent reduction in 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and to becoming CO2 neutral by 2050. 
  • For over a month students and teachers at Turkey’s Bogazici University have been protesting against the appointment of Melih Bulu, a failed ruling party candidate, as the new head of the university. Appointed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, demonstrators saw this as an undemocratic move due to political ties. Tensions escalated over the last week when the government seized an artwork that showed Islam’s most holy site — the Kaaba — juxtaposed with LGBT flags. The reputable university known for its liberalism, inclusivity and tolerance was alarmed at the crackdown on academic freedom. Supporters of the government, however, are saying that this was a move taken to fight elitism in higher education.
  • Moscow ordered the expulsion of three European diplomats, one each from the German, Polish and Swedish delegations to Russia last Saturday (Feb 6). The state accused them of participating in protests in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, did not deny his participation in protests, they were extremely upset by the expulsion plans. Poland and Germany also responded to the expulsion by calling it “unjustified” and “erroneous”. Despite this, some member states are still keen to cooperate with Russia on certain fronts despite years of souring relations and confrontation. 
  • Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison last Wednesday (Feb 3). The judge agreed with prosecutors that Mr Navalny had violated the terms of a suspended sentence for fraud he received in 2014 by not immediately returning to Russia from Germany after recovering from nerve agent poisoning last autumn. Mr Navalny is a Russian opposition leader, politician, lawyer, and anti-corruption activist who has rallied against Mr Putin’s regime, making him the biggest political threat to the Kremlin. Mr Navalny argued he was unable to attend mandatory judicial meetings as he was incapacitated and criticized the court as a tool of political oppression. 
  • Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, faced criticisms from her home country, Germany, as they continually probe why a vaccine invented by a German company is being rolled out successfully in the UK and the US, but not quickly enough in Europe. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was first approved in the UK and then the EU. As the criticisms started mounting, President Ursula apologised for the slow rollout of the vaccine in Europe last Saturday (Feb 6). 
  • In response to Italy’s coalition government collapsing, Mr Draghi was summoned by President Sergio Mattarella to form a government of national unity to marshal pandemic recovery plans or risk the country heading towards snap elections last Wednesday (Feb 3). He must now convince enough of the country’s political parties to back him in a project that will shape Italy’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Five Star Movement figures have already stated that they will not back him and polls are showing that Mr Draghi will not be able to command the majority he needs to govern. Matteo Salvini, former deputy prime minister of Italy seemed to be open to supporting Mr Draghi although many say he has no choice due to internal party issues. Mario Draghi was the former European Central Bank president and fought an economic crisis that threatened to tear apart the eurozone many years ago. 
  • Denmark is to launch a coronavirus passport by the end of this month to help business travel, while Sweden will demand a negative test result from visiting foreigners as both countries are currently facing a second wave of the pandemic. The coronavirus passport will be launched by the end of February and will be able to show if someone has been vaccinated. The plan is for travellers to have access to the passports on their mobile phones to show that they have taken the vaccine and whether a person has been tested positive for antibodies. 

Middle East

  • Lokman Slim was shot dead last Thursday (Feb 4). Slim was a publisher and activist who documented the country’s violent past and a very prominent critic of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. He was born into a Shia Muslim family and was active in Lebanon’s October 2019 mass protest movement that denounced the paramilitary and political party Hizbollah. Described as a pro-democracy activist, Slim had been receiving death threats since late 2019 and believed he was Hezbollah’s next target. Slim’s killing raised fears in the civil polity of a return to targeted killings. Lebanon was once seen as a stable country in the Middle East but is now suffering from an economic crisis, political turmoil and the pandemic. 
  • Following mass vaccinations, Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions in Israel are falling steeply among vaccinated age groups, showing the world that the vaccines are working. The country has been in lockdown for more than a month and while this move may have contributed to the decline in cases, data showed that older citizens who have received the jab fell by a much larger percent when compared to the younger counterparts who were later to vaccinate. This spurred the country to have the world’s fastest vaccine rollout. Israel’s national-level figures are giving medical professionals a lot of hope and the country plans to slowly exit lockdown before the entire adult population has been offered the vaccine. 
  • Assadolah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat, was sentenced by a Belgian court last Thursday (Feb 4) to a jail sentence for 20 years over the conspiracy to attack a 2018 Iranian opposition rally addressed by Rudy Giuliani, lawyer to former US President Donald Trump. Assadi was then an official with the Iranian embassy in Vienna, before being arrested in Germany and transferred to and tried in Belgium. He was alleged to be carrying explosives for a flight bombing on route from Iran to Austria. The EU has since imposed sanctions on an alleged Iranian intelligence organisation and the Netherlands has also accused Tehran of the two killings of Dutch nationals. 
  • The International Criminal Court ruled that it had jurisdiction over the occupied Palestinian territories. This allows for a trial to be set whether Israel and the Islamist group, Hamas, committed war crimes during a bloody 2014 war. This ruling angered Israel as they longed to hold the Jewish state responsible for violations of international law over its 53-year-old occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The ruling will free Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian lawyer, to decide whether to continue her probe into the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and whether to charge Israeli officials or soldiers with war crimes. This comes as a diplomatic blow for Israel and could result in travel restrictions for Israeli officials. 
  • A Libyan interim unity government was chosen to replace the war-torn country’s rival administrations and oversee elections in December. Delegates at a UN-led forum voted for a three-member presidential council and a prime minister at the end of five days of talks in Geneva to lead the war-torn country to elections coming December. The outcome last Friday (Feb 5) was described as a historic moment as delegates were able to overcome their differences in the interests of the country and the Libyan people. However, the ceasefire remains tumultuous and it is not certain that the new government will be able to command control, disarm militias and prevent any foreign intervention that is fuelling both ends.  

Africa

  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will be the first woman and the first African to lead the World Trade Organisation (WTO). She is a Harvard-educated development economist and many said that she is the best fit to bring something new to the table while being willing to lead. Okonjo-Iweala spent 25 years at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the position of managing director. She also chaired the board of Gavi, which is helping to distribute coronavirus vaccines globally.
  • Tanzania’s government has been insisting that the country was free from Covid-19 and hence have no plans for vaccination. In the country, it has become extremely difficult to gauge the true extent of the spread and only a small number of people are officially allowed to talk about the pandemic. Several Tanzanian families have had members passed on who showed symptoms of the virus but have chosen not to speak out, fearing retribution from the government. While other countries are scrambling to mass vaccinate their population, Tanzania’s health minister demonstrated how to make a smoothie using ginger, onions, lemons and pepper. It is a drink, they said, that would help people prevent catching the coronavirus.
  • Ethiopia asked for debt relief in the past week making it the second African country to do so under a G20 programme. The program is aimed to help poor countries that are reeling under the economic impact of coronavirus. Ethiopia has always been seen as one of Africa’s most promising economies. The pandemic, however, has placed surmounting pressure on the country’s healthcare system and economy and is no exception from other developing nations struggling to keep up with their debt payments. The Ethiopian move will be an early test of the effectiveness of the G20 debt relief initiative, which requires borrowers, private creditors and official lenders to reach an agreement on their debt.
  • Somalia’s leaders failed to break a deadlock over the country’s elections, leaving no clear path to a vote just days before the government’s mandate expires. The country is supposed to choose a new president by Feb 8, but is looking very likely to miss the deadline after discussions between the central government and federal states collapsed last Friday (Feb 5). President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed told the press that his administration already made many compromises but a commitment was still unable to be formed. Somalia was plunged into chaos after the 1991 overthrow of president Siad Barre’s military regime and the central government remains weak, controlling only part of the national’s territory. 
  • Dominic Ongwen, a former militia leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), was convicted last Thursday (Feb 4) of 61 individual charges of murder, rape, sexual slavery, abduction and torture. The LRA was a violent cult which waged a bloody campaign of violence in Uganda and neighbouring countries from the mid-1980s until a few years ago. Experts say that the trial has been one of the most momentous in the ICC’s 18-year history, and the tribunal’s decision will have a significant impact on future prosecutions for crimes against humanity. 
  • Bobi Wine, the Ugandan opposition leader and presidential challenger, filed a petition against the Jan 14 poll results to nullify the victory of President Museveni. President Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986. Although he ended the tyranny of Idi Amin and Milton Obote, he has also now claimed a sixth five-year term, extending his rule to four decades. In response to oppositions, Museveni dismissed allegations of vote-rigging and called the election “the most cheating-free” since independence from Britain.
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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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