Protesters in the US gather to show support for the people in Cuba who have taken to the streets to protest. | Photo Credit: Joe Raedle via Getty Images

July 19: Protests erupt in Communist Cuba, Indonesia becomes new COVID-19 epicentre, New Zealand’s PM Ardern holds APEC meeting with world leaders

North America

  • Democrats are mobilizing on the question of the right to vote. While several electoral reforms have been passed by conservative states, elected Democrats still hope to halt these measures, which they see as a “threat to democracy”.
  • The United States’ (US) National Center for Health Statistics reported a 30 per cent increase in overdoses in 2020 as compared to 2019. Authorities have remarked that it is part of a trend of the “continued spread of the synthetic opioid fentanyl in the illegal narcotic supply” (July 14).
  • Biden’s administration warns Haitians and Cubans to not seek refuge in the US amidst political unrest in Haiti with the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, and Cuba with the protests against the communist government. Despite US President Joe Biden’s support for the Cuban protest against their country’s communist regime, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warns “if you take to the sea, you will not come to the United States”.
  • Canada’s former Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, has been charged with obstruction of justice in an ongoing sex scandal on Tuesday (July 15). No details regarding the allegations have been offered by the Canadian Forces investigative arm except that the offence occurred in February. According to Michel Drapeau, an ex-Canadian Military Officer, Vance is the first defense staff leader to face criminal charges and sees the event with “great dismay and with sorrow”.

South America

  • The Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon dioxide than it absorbs. Scientists warned that this event may be a warning sign that climate change is reaching a tipping point. A study shows that the Earth’s warmer temperatures and frequent occurrence of fire and deforestation have exacerbated the Amazon’s initial ability to absorb carbon. As one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, this event is set to disrupt the global environment with its impacts stretching beyond South America.
  • Despite the risk of harsh punishment, anti-government protests have swept Cuba as thousands march in the capital state of Havana demanding food, COVID-19 vaccines and better living conditions. The protests also come amid Cuba’s worst economic crisis in decades and an upsurge in COVID-19 cases. 
  • Brazil’s Bolsonaro is hospitalised in Sao Paulo after suffering from persistent hiccups. A stabbing incident in 2018 that almost cost his life led to complications in need of hospital treatment. Although his health since then has been a constant subject of media speculation, the hospital where Bolsonaro has been since Wednesday (July 14) says that he is set to be discharged soon with Bolsonaro commenting that “[he] can’t wait to get back to work”. 
  • Venezuelan opposition leader, Freddy Guevara is arrested for terrorism and treason. The Venezuelan government detained the leader in the capital state of Caracas over accusations of relations to extremist groups and foreign governments. His arrest was live-streamed on social media with the leader apologising for his family’s suffering. 
  • Ecuador Abortion laws disproportionately affect indigenous and ethnic minority women, putting their health and lives at risk. Abortion is illegal in the predominantly Catholic nation. Women face penalties of up to 2 years in prison while doctors can face up to three years if caught performing abortion procedures. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), women from a disadvantaged background are disproportionately at risk for life-threatening complications, especially women of indigenous or Afro-Ecuadorian descent. Ximena Casas, a woman’s rights researcher at HRW states that criminalisation has “exacerbated inequalities and discrimination” and “Ecuador should remove all criminal penalties for consensual abortion”. 

Asia Pacific

  • Indonesia becomes the new epicentre of the COVID-19 virus as it sees a surge of COVID-19 infections, reaching an all-time high of 56,757 infections on Thursday (July 15), surpassing India and Brazil for the highest number of new cases. As the Delta variant takes its toll on the nation, medical facilities are overwhelmed and hundreds struggle to receive treatment. 
  • New Zealand’s PM Ardern calls APEC meeting with world leaders on Wednesday (July 16). Leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group were in virtual attendance, together with US President Joe Biden, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. The meeting discussed actions pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery, resulting in a collective pledge to accelerate the vaccination regime.
  • At least 30 were killed in India landslides as several locations in Mumbai have been struck by floods due to heavy downpours resulting in the collapse of multiple houses. 11 cases of house structures collapsing have been reported in the last 24 hours as of writing (July 18). Furthermore, officials have stated that forced relocation may become necessary as heavy rainfall persists. As Nawab Malik, a state cabinet minister stated “We’ll take the decision to shift the people who are living in a dangerous situation to permanent settlements immediately”. India’s PM Narendra Modi has offered his condolences to the victims through a tweet on Twitter. 
  • Thai police respond to over a thousand protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets as they protest against Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and his government’s handling of the pandemic. This wave of anger has erupted as a result of the country’s recent rise in COVID-19 cases which the government has failed to curb. Issues such as slow vaccine roll-out have been criticised as only less than five per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. The protest also marks the first anniversary of the ‘Free Youth’ pro-democracy group which called for the government’s resignation (July 18). 
  • As of Sunday, July 18, two Olympic Athletes tested positive for COVID-19 in Tokyo Olympic Village after being in close proximity with a team colleague. This raises fears of a possible cluster just days before the Olympics opening ceremony. Masa Takaya, Tokyo’s 2020 spokesman stated that the cases “were from the same country and sport” and are currently “isolated in their rooms”. He has also added that the testing has been offered to the rest of the team. The Olympic Village is set to house 6,700 athletes and officials.

Europe

  • Death toll exceeds 180 in Europe floods as heavy rainfall triggered Germany’s worst flooding in decades on Wednesday (July 14). Many people have been reported missing since. Roads, houses and farmlands have been devastated and rescuers are expecting the death toll to be much larger as they search for the missing people. As of Sunday (July 18), the floods have moved into neighbouring Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has since visited the western German village of Schuld, one of the hardest-hit in the flooding and pledges to provide financial aid for the victims.
  • British Health Minister Sajid Javid tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday (July 17) but claims that he only has mild symptoms and is fully vaccinated against the disease. This comes amid Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to re-open the country despite a new wave of COVID-19 infections resulting from the Delta variant. As of writing (July 18), two-thirds of the United Kingdom’s adult population have been fully vaccinated. 
  • A wave of social media hate stormed the Internet after three English football players Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka missed penalty kicks in the Euro 2020 final. The team lost 3-2 to Italy and were afterwards met with angry England fans and a surge in online racial abuse. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William have since condemned the online acts with Prince William stating that he was “sickened” by the remarks. The Football Association also said that it was “appalled” by the online treatment of the players.
  • The Eiffel tower opened and welcomed tourists on Friday (July 16) after being closed for nearly nine months during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reopening came days after France’s President Emmanual Macron released new measures in preventing a new wave of infections. All visitors over the age of 18 will have to be fully vaccinated, wear a mask and receive a negative test to visit the Eiffel Tower. The number of daily visitors will also be limited.
  • An estimated 100,000 people marched on Saturday (July 17) to protest against the French government’s plans to enforce vaccines on health workers. President Emmanuel Macron has announced that “health passes” would be required to enter certain public venues like cinemas and restaurants and that the measures were implemented to ward off a rise in infections. Protesters claim that the measures were an infringement of their rights and their freedom of choice. Despite the demonstrations, a poll revealed that 60 per cent of French citizens are in support of the new measures. 

Middle East

  • Turkey marks the fifth anniversary of a failed military coup. While all the light remains to be shed on the precise circumstances of the coup attempt in Turkey, the political power is emphasising the commemorations as a key moment in the country’s recent history, whose opposition press draws a rather gloomy record.
  • On Monday (July 12), a fire ravaged a hospital reserved for COVID-19 patients in Nassiriya, killing nearly 100 people. This is the second such event in months having killed more than 80 people in a similar event in April. The tragic event has fueled the discredit of the political class in the run-up to the country’s October elections.
  • The Iranian authorities unveiled on Monday (July 12) an official and Islamic dating mobile application, which aims to promote marriage and boost the birth rate. According to Iran’s cyberspace police chief, Colonel Ali Mohammad Rajabi, the application is the only state-sanctioned dating platform in the Islamic region as other similar platforms remain illegal.
  • Saad Hariri’s renunciation on Thursday (July 15) to form a ministerial cabinet, awaited by the Lebanese and the international community, plunges Lebanon a little further into the unknown. The country, hit by an unprecedented crisis, appears to be in free fall.
  • Amid unrest and an economic crisis in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for his fourth term on Saturday (July 17). According to organisers, the inauguration took place with an audience of 600 people, including ministers, businessmen, academics and journalists. In his speech, he outlined plans to focus on liberation for areas that are beyond government control, boosting the economy and standard of living. As of writing (July 18), around 80 per cent of Syrians live in poverty and 12.4 million people lack access to food staples.

Africa

  • Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, did not show up for a COVID-19 test on Friday, July 16, one week before the Olympics. The organizers have since decided on strict containment of all participants.
  • South African authorities investigate a coastal chemical spill in Durban (July 17). The coastal chemical spill may have been caused by a warehouse fire as a result of protests that erupted across the country in the past week. However, other sources are being investigated as the spill has affected marine and bird species and coastal regions around the area.
  • Senegal’s President Macky Sall announced on Friday (July 16) that the government may impose a state of emergency and close its borders as the country faces a record number of daily COVID-19 infections for the third time within the same week. As of Friday (July 16), the country’s health ministry has reported 738 new cases. Senegal also faces a shortage of vaccines to facilitate the third wave.
  • The Security Council was asked by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to authorise more troops for Mali’s peacekeeping mission. This comes as a response to the recent surge in Islamist militant violence. The proposed increase consists of 2,069 soldiers and police officers tasked to take on the mission known as MINUSMA. Guterres has also stated that the increase in troops is necessary to respond to Islamist militants who have expanded into Mali and its neighbouring countries.
  • Millions of Nigerians face a possible famine as the pandemic takes its toll on the economy. Basic necessities like food staples have risen by 30 per cent or more since the beginning of the pandemic. Food prices account for 70 per cent of the rise in inflation and according to the World Bank, around 18 per cent of Nigerian households have one adult that does not eat for an entire day — a steep rise from the six per cent prior to the pandemic.
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