Compass World: Chaos in Caracas
The United States Justice Department released charges against Huawei, a China-based telecommunications company which is the world's seventh largest technology corporation by revenue. The company has frequently faced scrutiny from foreign governments for conducting espionage operations on behalf of the People's Republic of China. The United States, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia have barred any Huawei equipment from being used in the building of its 5G telecommunications infrastructure. According to Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, the company has been indicted on 13 criminal counts, including intellectual property theft and lying to American banks about its relationship to an Iranian subsidiary. The announcement complicates an already tense relationship between the United States and China ahead of trade talks on January 30.
Latin America & the Caribbean
Chaos in Caracas
Venezuelan opposition leader and Speaker of Venezuela’s National Assembly Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela on January 23 in a speech to supporters protesting President Nicolás Maduro’s attempts to silence opposition in the wake of a multiyear economic and humanitarian crisis. The United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western countries recognized Guaidó as president, as did numerous Latin American nations, including Brazil, Peru, and Chile. The military currently stands by Maduro, who increased officers’ salaries and gave military leaders key government posts in recent days. The opposition is trying to get the military to quit supporting Mr. Maduro.
Electoral Protests in Honduras
Thousands of people protested on the first anniversary of President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s election on January 27. The opposition continues to accuse him of electoral fraud despite his repeated denials. Although Hernandez should have been term-limited at the time of his first election, the Supreme Court later lifted the restriction, contributing to anger against the president and his re-election. Protesters have clashed with riot police in the capital.
Flip Flop in Tokyo
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to have changed his stance on Japanese relations with North Korea after a policy speech he gave at the opening of the Japanese parliament. Unlike his 2018 speech, which called for “compelling” North Korea to cede to Japanese demands, this year, he spoke of doing his best to break the “mutual distrust” that exists between the two countries. North Korea has yet to show any sign of willingness to compromise with Japan, with its official news agency calling Japan “immoral and impudent” just this month.
Sino-Thai Arms Deal
Before an upcoming national election on March 24, the Thai government has opted to continue with arms deals it has made with China. The army is currently seeking to purchase a third batch of Chinese tanks. This has prompted criticism within the country from activists who hope for more transparency from the government; the opposition is calling the very legitimacy of the deals into question. Ever since a military junta took power in a coup in 2014, relations between Thailand and the United States have grown colder, and so Thai activists believe that the government may be turning to China so that it can take part in less transparent deals.
Middle East & Central Asia
Kazakhs Stan Going Green
Kazakhstan opened the largest solar power plant in Central Asia on January 28. Built in the city of Saran, the plant’s energy capacity is 100 megawatts. The project was a collaboration between officials in Astana, various European companies, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Given that 70 percent of Kazakhstan has more sunny than overcast days in a typical year, there is real potential for solar power development nationwide. Since 2013, nearly 50 projects have been implemented to modernize solar, wind, and hydroelectric power plants across the country.
Saudi Arabia on EU List
According to Reuters, the European Commission has included Saudi Arabia in a draft list of countries whose lax controls against terrorism financing and money laundering pose a threat to EU security. In the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s October murder by Saudi government agents at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, pressure has mounted on the royal family. The list currently has 16 countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Yemen, among others. Saudi officials did not return Reuters’ request for comment.
Eastern Europe & Russia
Former-President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych was found guilty of treason by a Ukrainian court over his efforts to suppress the Euromaidan protests in 2014. Yanukovych was overthrown as a result of the protests and has been in exile in Russia ever since. The court sentenced him to 13 years in a Ukrainian prison if he is detained. However, this is unlikely given Yanukovych’s close political ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin; Yanukovych currently lives in exile in Russia. The court also charged the former-president with asking Putin to send Russian soldiers into eastern Ukraine after he fled the country.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis met with Leonid Volkov, the chief of staff for Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny, on January 25. The two discussed Navalny’s fight against corruption in Russia, and Volkov warned Skvernelis against conflating Russian public opinion with Kremlin propaganda. Volkov is reportedly facing criminal liability in Russia for organizing protests. Lithuania, along with neighboring Estonia and Latvia, is both an EU and NATO member state and, consequently, finds itself exposed to Russian military and political provocation.
Tshisekedi Sworn In
The Democratic Republic of the Congo swore in a new president, Felix Tshisekedi, on January 24 despite an election riddled with fraud allegations. Former-President Joseph Kabila’s resignation after 18 years of rule marks the first peaceful transfer of power since the nation’s founding in 1960. Tshisekdi was not Kabila’s first choice, but his handpicked successor won so few votes that Kabila allowed Tshisekedi to win because he seemed more likely to cooperate with Kabila. Most independent observers believe the election’s true winner was the reform-minded Martin Fayulu, who lost an appeal for a recount.
Although initially skeptical, other countries in the region and beyond decided to recognize Tshisekdi’s victory in the name of stability. Many analysts believe neighboring countries accepted the outcome in order to avoid violence in the DRC that might spill over into their own countries. Another reason for this recognition is that there are numerous elections planned this year, and leaders fear losing their power if these elections fall to a recount.
Western Europe & Canada
Canadian Ambassador Fired
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired his ambassador to China, John McCallum, on January 26 in the wake of multiple controversial comments he made about the ongoing extradition case of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms firm Huawei. Calls for McCallum’s firing began after he told a group of Chinese-language journalists on January 22 that Meng would have a strong case to avoid extradition to the United States. Although he apologized on January 24, his comments to the Vancouver Sun’s Joanna Chiu the following day again courted controversy; McCallum said that it would be “great for Canada” if the U.S. dropped its extradition request entirely.
“Yellow Vests” Return to the Streets
Thousands of “yellow vest” protesters returned to the streets of Paris on January 26 in protest of French President Emmanuel Macron’s administration. Police clashed with protesters in cities across the country. The protests began in Paris in mid-November as a response to Macron’s economic policies but have grown into calls for Macron’s resignation. Macron, a former investment banker, is viewed by numerous protesters as out-of-touch with the financial hardships of the French people. Read previous coverage of the protests in the Caravel here.
Writing contributed by Ben Richmond and Benjamin Barth.