Watchlist: Leadership Challenge in Venezuela

Week of January 28th, 2019

Juan Guaido (center) pictured in January 2019. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Macron Critiques Human Rights Abuses on Egypt Trip

In his first trip to the country since taking office in 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron embarked on a three-day visit to Egypt in order to solidify a number of economic and development deals between the two nations. During a joint press conference, Macron broke his silence on the matter of human rights abuses in Egypt; the President cited concerns with an increased number of civilians and dissenters being jailed. He stated his belief that the human rights abuses would undermine the political and economic stability of Egypt, even going as far as to say that the current state of human rights under Egyptian President Sisi is worse than that of the Mubarak regime. Previously, Macron had come under criticism from rights groups and activists, including Amnesty International, for France's increasing weapons sales to Egypt, in light of the concerns about the Sisi government’s crackdown on dissent. However, Macron had previously dismissed such critiques, by stating his belief in respecting Egypt’s sovereignty. France is currently the one of the largest suppliers of arms to Egypt. SELIN LEVI


ISIL Claims Responsibility for Cathedral Attack in the Philippines

Crisis struck the Philippines on Sunday, January 27th, as a bombing occurred at a Roman Catholic cathedral on the Philippine island of Jolo, with at least 15 casualties and over 100 civilians wounded. The first of the dual explosions struck inside the cathedral, with a second bomb later targeting soldiers who had come into the area in aid of the victims. While it has yet to provide evidence for its claim, ISIL has taken responsibility for the attack. The targeted cathedral is located within the Mindanao region, a Muslim-majority autonomous region within the Philippines. Just days before, the region had held a referendum on a plan backed by separatists to establish the region as autonomous. While the referendum was ratified after gaining support from the majority of the population, the town of Jolo did not vote in favor of the initiative. Sunday’s bombing also comes in the wake of a string of terror attacks on the region earlier in the year, with some carried out by Islamist insurgent group Abu Sayyaf. The group had previously been responsible for a car bomb attack on a military checkpoint which took place in the region in July of 2018. SELIN LEVI


Juan Guaido Challenges Venezuela's Maduro

A month ago, almost no Venezuelans could have told you who Juan Guaido was. Now, he’s a household name. On January 23rd, Guaido was sworn in by the national assembly as the President of Venezuela and has been recognized by many Western powers, including the United States and Canada. Other EU nations, like France and the Germany, have taken a more cautious approach by issuing separate ultimatums to Nicolás Maduro, the acting President, to hold a snap election. If Maduro ignores their request, the nations promised they would join the United States in backing Guaido. Despite the West’s escalating denunciations of the Maduro regime, regional powers like Mexico and Cuba have declared their intention to defend it.

Maduro has held his position as acting President of Venezuela since his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, passed away in 2013. Chavez enjoyed widespread popular support amongst Venezuelans for his populist social programs, which were funded by the state’s vast oil revenues. But shortly before his death, oil prices began to fluctuate, which led to one of Latin America’s worst economic disasters in modern history. Maduro’s support has been tarnished by his handling of the crisis. Since taking power, Maduro has doubled down on Chavez’s socialist economic policies—price controls and state distribution of goods and services—to catastrophic ends. An estimated 90% of Venezuelans have been under-eating since food shortages hit the shelves of state- controlled supermarkets. Lining up for hours on end to get groceries has become the norm in most Venezuelan cities, and many poorer citizens have resorted to looting or searching through garbage to survive.

This is the crisis that led hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, including Juan Guaido, to protest in the streets and demand an end to Maduro’s corrupt regime. Before being sworn in as Venezuela’s de jure President, Guaido was injured when he participated in the 2017 mass demonstrations which left over a hundred dead. In a rally this January, Guaido held his arm toward the crowd, revealing a deep scar running across his wrists. “You see!” he yelled. “This! This is the sign of oppression!” A roar of cheers came from the crowd. Guaido, holding still during the commotion, seemed to hit a nerve. Like Guiado, the protestors had felt the effects Maduro military suppression first hand. With their new President to guide them, they have a new hope in seeing it end. Whether Maduro escalates his power struggle- he still controls the military-remains to be seen. But the people have spoken, and they want him out. LUKE JACOBS


Greece Ratifies “North Macedonia” Name Change Agreement

On Friday, Greece successfully ratified an agreement it signed in June with Macedonia requiring the former Yugoslav republic to change its name to “The Republic of North Macedonia”. In exchange, Macedonia will finally be allowed to apply to join the European Union and NATO. Such moves had previously been vetoed by Greece out of bitterness towards what many Greeks view as an attempt to claim their history and culture. A northern Greek region shares the name Macedonia, and Greek nationalists have argued that only they should be allowed to use it, believing that they possess the only legitimate territorial claim on the ancient kingdom of Macedon. Despite the deal’s ratification, Greeks still harbor hostility towards legitimizing their neighboring country’s name. Roughly 70% of the Greek public opposes the agreement and only 153 out of 300 members of parliament voted to accept it- just three more than the minimum needed. 60,000 protesters expressed their frustrations in Athens on Sunday, frustrations which could influence the political landscape of Greece in its elections this year. DANIEL EVANS

Middle East

UN Rights Envoy Arrives in Istanbul to Investigate Khashoggi Murder

The much-publicized pursuit of the parties responsible for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October of 2018 continues, as a UN envoy has arrived in Istanbul to carry out an ongoing investigation. The envoy’s visit comes in the wake of Turkish calls for a continued international investigation into the events which conspired inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd. The UN investigation is currently led by UN Special Rapporteur on Executions, Agnes Callamard, who will be working closely with Turkish officials; the rapporteur is scheduled to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as well as Istanbul’s Chief Prosecutor later in the week. The UN rapporteur has also reached out to the Riyadh government, particularly to gain access to the Saudi consulate for the purposes of the investigation, but has not received a response. US intelligence agencies, as well as Turkish officials, believe that it was Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, who was a vocal government critic and had been living in self-imposed exile in the United States. However, the Saudi government has denied this conclusion and has continued their own investigation into the killing. Currently 11 suspects have been narrowed down by the Saudi government, with 5 facing the death penalty. SELIN LEVI

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