Sudan: While Peace Deal is Signed, Women Fight for Representation

Women were an integral part of protests that led to the ouster of Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and in demonstrations after his downfall. But many leaders now say they feel they have been locked out of political agreements and do not expect to be named to any positions in the regional council. In Khartoum, Esha Sarai and Naba Mohiedeen speak with female politicians and feminists who are pushing for more representation.
 

Trump Administration Under Renewed Fire From Environmentalists

The Trump administration is under renewed fire from environmentalists following its move earlier this week to weaken the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, more than two dozen states and cities as well as a coalition of health and environmental groups are suing the administration over its rollback of the Clean Power Plan, one of President Barack Obama’s signature regulations to reduce the nation’s carbon emissions. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has more.

US Says Taiwan Defense Spending To Rise with China Threat

America’s top representative in Taiwan said Thursday that Washington expects the island to continue increasing its defense spending as Chinese security threats to the U.S. ally continue to grow.
 
W. Brent Christensen said the U.S. had “not only observed Taiwan’s enthusiasm to pursue necessary platforms to ensure its self-defense, but also its evolving tenacity to develop its own indigenous defense industry.”

That was a nod to President Tsai Ing-wen’s drive to develop domestic training jets, submarines and other weapons technology, supplementing arms bought from the U.S.

“These investments by Taiwan are commendable, as is Taiwan’s ongoing commitment to increase the defense budget annually to ensure that Taiwan’s spending is sufficient to provide for its own self-defense needs,” Christensen said in a speech. “And we anticipate that these figures will continue to grow commensurate with the threats Taiwan faces.”
 
Christensen is the director of the American Institute in Taiwan, which has served as the de facto U.S. Embassy in Taiwan since formal diplomatic relations were cut in 1979.
 
While China and Taiwan split during a civil war in 1949, Beijing still considers Taiwan Chinese territory and has increased its threats to annex the self-governing democracy by force if necessary.
 
Despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, U.S. law requires Washington to ensure Taiwan has the means to defend itself.
 
Since 2008, U.S. administrations have notified Congress of more than $24 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan, including in the past two months the sale of 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles, valued at $2.2 billion dollars, Christensen said.
 
The Trump administration alone has notified Congress of $4.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, he said.
 
China has responded furiously to all such sales and recently announced it would impose sanctions on any U.S. enterprises involved in such deals, saying they undermine China’s sovereignty and national security.

Tsai has adamantly rejected Chinese pressure to reunite Taiwan and China under the “one-country, two-systems” framework that governs Hong Kong. She and many Taiwanese have said that the people of the island stand with the young people of Hong Kong who are fighting for democratic freedoms in ongoing protests.

Tsai, who says she will seek a second four-year term next year, has said Taiwan was also stepping-up training as it prepared to transition to an all-volunteer force and has raised the defense budget for three consecutive years.
 
China’s spending on the People’s Liberation Army rose to 1.2 trillion yuan ($178 billion) this year, making it the second-largest defense budget behind the United States.

Beijing has cut contacts with Tsai’s government over Tsai’s refusal to endorse its claim that Taiwan is a part of China and sought to increase its international isolation by reducing its number of diplomatic allies to just 17.

It has also stepped up efforts at military intimidation, holding military exercises across the Taiwan Strait and circling the island with bombers and fighters in what are officially termed training missions.

France Honors Allied Veterans of World War II Landings

French President Emmanuel Macron is celebrating U.S. and African veterans as well as French resistance fighters who took part in crucial but often-overlooked World War II landings on the Riviera.
 
At a ceremony Thursday in the southern town of Saint-Raphael marking 75 years since the operation to wrest southern France from Nazi control, Macron said, “your commitment is our heritage against darkness and ignorance.”
 

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, talks with Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara during a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the WWII Allied landings in Provence, in Saint-Raphael, southern France, Aug. 15, 2019.

He urged French mayors to name streets after African soldiers from then-French colonies brought in to fight. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara and Guinea President Alpha Conde also took part in the ceremony.
 
Starting Aug. 15, 1944, some 350,000 U.S. and French troops landed on the Mediterranean coast for Operation Dragoon, which was intended to coincide with the D-Day invasion in Normandy in June but was delayed due to a lack of resources.

 

 

New Puerto Rico Governor Finally Overcoming Challenges

Puerto Rico’s new governor finally appeared to be overcoming some of the challenges to her authority on Wednesday following weeks of political turmoil on the U.S. territory, with key members of the majority New Progressive Party expressing support.

That may allow Gov. Wanda Vazquez, who has never held elected office, to turn her attention to the territory’s lagging efforts to recover from 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria as well as grinding economic slump and debt crisis that has led to demands for austerity from a federal board overseeing its finances.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, who had been seen as her chief challenger, issued a statement on Facebook Wednesday backing her and saying he’d only been looking for a replacement because he thought Wanda Vazquez didn’t want the governor’s job — though his efforts had continued well after she said she did.

“It’s up to all of us to work for Puerto Rico,” he said. “The governor will have our collaboration, and I have expressed that personally.”

Rivera Schatz had suggested the post go to the island’s congressional representative, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. But Gonzalez too issued a statement of support for Vazquez on Tuesday.

Under the territory’s constitution, the governorship fell to Justice Secretary Vazquez on Aug. 7 because Gov. Ricardo Rossello resigned after intensive public protests and his attempt to name a last-minute successor were knocked down by the territory’s Supreme Court.

The topsy-turvy events at least briefly divided the party, with several legislators saying last week they wanted Gonzalez to become governor.

Members of her party from across the island have since been falling in line to declare support and Vazquez so far has been spared the massive protests that drove Rossello from power due to outrage over government corruption, economic malaise and the leak of embarrassing conversations involving the governor and top aides.

 

Ugandan Online Publishers Criticize Registration as Political Control

Ugandan social media influencers and news organizations are critical of a new requirement announced last week that all commercial online publishers must register with the government. They see the rule as a step toward limiting freedom of speech and the press.

However, Uganda’s Communication Commission says the publishers have to be watched to ensure they are posting appropriate content.

Bettina Tumuhaise, known online as the Proud Farmer, posts videos promoting farming and giving farmers advice on how to improve their incomes.

Tumuhaise has 17,000 followers — a small number in a country of 43 million people. But because she is doing well enough to make money off the posts, officials say online publishers like her must register so their content can be observed and regulated.

Tuhumaise says she would rather be taxed than monitored.

“If I am posting and am getting 300 per post, that, I get. And I’m sure you know this is what I am getting. Tell me, ‘Give me 1%,’  and I’ll give it to you. But don’t come hiding under registration, when in actual sense, you have your ways. You have something else that you’re trying to promote,” she said.

Uganda’s Communications Commission says too much online content contains misinformation that can incite the public. Forcing those with influence to register — even those already licensed — will make them mindful of what they post, says UCC spokesman Ibrahim Bbossa. 

“These are people who are online radios, online televisions, online publishers,” Bbossa said.  “But we are also saying that we have equally people who will be using online platforms, like blogs, like Facebook — still for commercial purposes, and they earn money from it. And they actually disseminate information to wide audiences. The content they put out there is of importance, so we say they should register.”

But bloggers like Rosebell Kagumire note that Uganda already has laws to regulate online communication, and says the registration requirement is worrying.

“We see these undertones are very political. And very, really, rooted in the fact that Uganda is a very young country, and the person who is seeking to stay in power longer is older. And the population which is going to vote will be much younger for the first time, and they are on the internet, and they are visibly anti the status quo,” Kagumire said.

FILE – A protester is arrested by police during a demonstration to protest a controversial tax on the use of social media, Kampala, Uganda, July 11, 2018.

Questions remain

Uganda last year instituted a social media tax that many online publishers saw as a government effort to curb free speech. 

Nation Media Group editor Charles Bichachi says expanding the registration raises some concerns about press freedom, but is still in line with the law. 

“UCC is testing out how much it can go, in terms of holding the media. And I think as media, we need to be able to fight back, but within the law,” he said.

While authorities can easily track whether Uganda’s media outlets have registered, it’s not yet clear how well they will trace individuals, like bloggers, and what enforcement will be used to ensure compliance. 

LA Opera to Investigate Sexual Misconduct Accusations Against Placido Domingo

The Los Angeles Opera said on Tuesday it will investigate accusations of sexual misconduct against Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, who described the claims as inaccurate.

The Los Angeles Opera, where Domingo is general director, was responding to accusations made by eight singers, a dancer and others in the classical music world in a report by the Associated Press.

The news agency reported allegations by the women of inappropriate behavior. The Associated Press said it also had spoken to almost three dozen other musicians, voice teachers and backstage staff who said they had witnessed what the report described as “sexually tinged” behavior by Domingo dating back three decades in various cities.

“LA Opera will engage outside counsel to investigate the concerning allegations about Placido Domingo,” the opera house said in a statement. The LA Opera is “committed to doing everything we can to foster a professional and collaborative environment where all our employees and artists feel equally comfortable, valued and respected.”

FILE – People listen to Spanish tenor Placido Domingo during a gala concert, dedicated to the upcoming World Cup, in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, June 13, 2018.

Domingo, in a statement distributed by his publicist Nancy Seltzer, called the accusations “deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.”

“Still, it is painful to hear that I may have upset anyone or made them feel uncomfortable — no matter how long ago and despite my best intentions,” Domingo’s statement said. “I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual.”

Future performances

The Philadelphia Orchestra Association said on Tuesday it had withdrawn an invitation to Domingo to appear as part of its opening night on Sept. 18.

The Metropolitan Opera in New York, where Domingo is due to perform in “Macbeth” next month and “Madama Butterfly” in November, said in a statement that it took accusations of sexual harassment and abuse of power seriously but would await the results of the LA Opera investigation “before making any final decisions about Mr Domingo’s future at the Met.”

Domingo, 78, is one of the most famous opera singers and directors in the world and the LA Opera described him on Tuesday as a “dynamic force” there for more than 30 years. He was one of the “Three Tenors,” along with Jose Carreras and the late Luciano Pavarotti, who brought opera to a wider audience with concerts around the world in the 1990s.

Changing standards

In the statement released by his publicist, Domingo added that while he would not intentionally harm, offend or embarrass anyone, “I recognize that the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past.”

Hundreds of women have publicly accused powerful men in business, politics, the news media, sports and entertainment of sexual harassment and abuse since October 2017, fueled by the #MeToo social movement.

Concern Over Macri Future Hits Argentina Markets Again, Peso Down 4%

Argentina’s peso closed weaker again on Tuesday following a second day of market turmoil triggered by opposition candidate Alberto Fernandez’s landslide victory in a primary election that dealt a severe blow to President Mauricio Macri’s re-election chances.

The peso closed 4.29% lower at 55.9 per U.S. dollar after touching 59 to the dollar earlier. The currency had hit an all-time low on Monday of 65 to the dollar, a drop of 30%, on fears that a Fernandez government could take Argentina back to interventionist economic policies.

The central bank has sold a total $255 million of its own reserves since Monday in an effort to help steady the currency.

“The market thinks Fernandez will likely default and impose capital controls and renegotiate with the IMF. In a nutshell, the market thinks Fernandez is the return of populism,” said Claudio Irigoyen of Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML).

Fernandez, who has former President Cristina Fernandez as his running mate, pulled off a stunning upset in the primary with a wider-than-expected 15-point lead over Macri, a free market proponent.

A woman walks past a currency exchange board in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug. 12, 2019.

Monday’s crash in the peso unnerved global equities investors, with markets already jittery over the Sino-U.S. trade war and protests in Hong Kong.

“Yes, Argentina is a small economy. However, the last thing global markets want to see is another market-friendly government fall to populism and/or geopolitics,” said Rabobank strategist Michael Every.

Blame Game

In an interview Monday, Fernandez said he was willing to collaborate with the current government after his primary triumph on Sunday sent the peso, stocks and bonds reeling.

The primary results showed Fernandez, a former cabinet chief, was well placed to win October’s general election in the first round. He blamed Macri for the market turmoil.

“The dialogue is open, but I don’t want to lie to Argentines. What can I do? I’m just a candidate, my pen doesn’t sign decrees,” Fernandez said in an interview with Argentine TV channel Net TV broadcast on Monday.

“Markets react badly when they realize they were scammed,” Fernandez said earlier on Monday, adding that Argentina lives in a “fictitious economy” and that Macri’s government is not providing answers.

Presidential candidate Alberto Fernandez speaks during the primary elections, at a cultural center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug. 11, 2019.

Fernandez, regarded as a moderate within the Peronist movement, has said he would seek to “rework” Argentina’s $57-billion standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund if he won the general election. He has proposed an economic and social pact to combat inflation, which is running at 55%.

Macri, too, deflected responsibility for the financial volatility, saying at a press conference on Monday that the opposition should “self-criticize” its own policies in the wake of the market reaction.

Macri, a scion of one of Argentina’s wealthiest families, came to power in 2015 on promises to kick-start Latin America’s third-largest economy via a liberalization wave.

But the promised recovery has not materialized and Argentina is in recession.

Rising Risk

Argentine assets had not recorded the kind of simultaneous fall seen on Monday since the South American country’s 2001 economic crisis and debt default, Refinitiv data showed.

After an initial tentative move high on Tuesday morning, traders said the market turned and left dollar-denominated bonds down roughly 10 points down across the board, though volume was low.

Investors were still assessing the damage caused by Monday’s crash. Argentina’s country risk rose 164 basis points to 1,631, the highest since 2009.

Index provider MSCI said it has not yet considered reclassifying the recently upgraded Argentina stock index out of emerging markets despite the massive spike in volatility and decline in prices.

An electronic board shows currency exchange rates in Buenos Aires’ financial district, Argentina, Aug. 12, 2019.

“Accessibility of the market for foreign investors is the key factor here,” said Pavlo Taranenko, executive director of index research at MSCI.

As concerns rise about Argentina’s ability to meet its debt obligations, investors are looking closely at the government’s ability to roll over its short-term notes known as ‘Letes.”

“Markets will be sweating bullets each time one of these maturities come due,” Jeffries Fixed Income said in a note to investors.

The cost of insuring against an Argentine sovereign default jumped again on Tuesday, according to data from IHS Markit.

Markit’s calculations price the probability of a sovereign default within the next five years at more than 72%.

Analysts also predicted the peso’s fall would continue. BAML said it expects the exchange rate at 70.5 by end-2019 and 106.6 by end 2020.

Khmer Rouge Tribunal: Death Stops Defendant’s Appeal

The U.N.-assisted tribunal trying leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge on charges of genocide and other crimes affirmed Tuesday it will cease legal proceedings against Nuon Chea, the communist group’s No. 2 leader who died at age 93 on Aug. 4 while his conviction was under appeal. 
 
A statement by the tribunal’s Supreme Court Chamber cited Cambodian law and international criminal tribunal precedent as the basis for its ruling. It also acknowledged a request by Nuon Chea’s defense team to clarify how ending the appeal due to Nuon Chea’s death affects “the trial judgment and underlying convictions” — whether it leaves his conviction standing, or nullifies it.

Nuon Chea, the chief ideologue for the Khmer Rouge, was convicted in two separate trials of crimes against humanity, genocide and other offenses committed when the Khmer Rouge held power in the late 1970s. About 1.7 million people died from starvation, disease, overwork and executions under its rule. He was tried along with Khieu Samphan, the regime’s former head of state, who like him received life sentences in both trials. Cambodia does not have capital punishment.

FILE – Khieu Samphan, former Khmer Rouge head of state, is seen on screen at the court’s press center at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 16, 2018.

One of Nuon Chea’s lawyers, Australian Doreen Chen, said last week that her team believes that according to law, their late client “is presumed innocent until a final appeal judgment is delivered.”

“Since the Supreme Court Chamber hasn’t issued the appeal judgment, he is now considered innocent and that trial judgment against him is effectively vacated. We have asked the Supreme Court Chamber to confirm this view and let us know what should happen next,” she said in an interview over the internet.

She also said they are seeking to have his appeal continue despite his death “so that there can be a final judgment and confirmation of the truth, not only for Nuon Chea but for the Cambodian people.”

The tribunal, which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, has convicted only one other defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who as head of the Khmer Rouge prison system ran the infamous Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh. Two other defendants died before their trials could be completed.

Khieu Samphan, 88, is the only surviving defendant and almost certainly will be the last one to face trial, due to the Cambodian government’s opposition to launching any more prosecutions.

Jay Inslee, 2020 Democrat Battling Trump’s Climate ‘Degradation’

Rarely has a candidate gone far in a US presidential race highlighting a singular issue, but Democrat Jay Inslee is aiming to buck that trend with his commitment to tackling climate change.

Unless he does something to dramatically change his trajectory — he has less than one percent support in polls — Inslee, currently the governor of Washington state, likely will be an also-ran in the crowded race to decide who challenges President Donald Trump in 2020.

But what he has already achieved makes his candidacy worthy: launching a Democratic policy debate on climate change and how to prevent environmental disaster over the coming decades.

Since entering the race in March, Inslee has repeatedly hit the panic button on climate, demanding the United States reverse course and take global warming and environmental protections far more seriously.

For Inslee and several other Democratic candidates, the science is clear: dramatic action over the next decade is needed to reduce carbon pollution, or irreparable harm will result.

“Unless we defeat the climate crisis, everything else we’ve worked on will be moot,” the square-jawed Inslee, 68, told voters at the Iowa State Fair.

Inslee is quick to highlight his economic accomplishments as governor. He has also savaged Trump as a “white supremacist” who is dividing Americans and is hurting farmers with his trade war with China. 

But “climate change is the big banana, and we’ve got to make sure we take care of it,” he told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of a recent Iowa Democratic dinner featuring 20 of the party’s presidential hopefuls. 

Trump, Inslee has stressed, has denied the climate crisis, ending important Obama-era regulations and pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord.

And on Monday, Trump rolled back key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, the popular law that helped save the bald eagle and grizzly bear.

“I’ll stand up against him on his weakest point, which is his environmental degradation,” Inslee said.

US voters have rarely considered climate change a top-priority presidential election issue, but that is changing. An April CNN poll labeled it as the single most important issue to Democratic primary voters, topping health care.

As a candidate, Inslee has introduced a sweeping and sophisticated climate mission, which popular liberal congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez praised as the “gold standard.”

It calls for zero carbon emissions across the economy within the next quarter century, including 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity and zero-emission new cars and buses by 2030.

The plan would require a staggering $9 trillion in investment and create eight million jobs. It would also likely encounter fierce resistance from the fossil fuel industry, and from many Republicans in Congress who oppose such drastic steps.

Clean energy economy

Inslee, who himself drives an electric car and wants to end the use of coal, has hammered away on the issue — most of his speaking time at the Democratic debates has addressed climate change. 

And that likely has inspired leading Democratic candidates to release their own ambitious climate plans.

Inslee insists he is a multi-faceted candidate who can beat Trump “like a $2 mule” in the election. 

He stood up to the president when he instituted a ban on arrivals from Muslim-majority countries, and blasted the administration’s family separations at the US-Mexico border as “the darkest moment” of Trump’s presidency.

He points to securing the largest teacher pay raise in the nation, expanding paid family leave and instituting what he says is the first public health option in the United States.

“If you do things to bring diversity to your community, to bring people together instead of intolerance, if you build a middle class instead of trickle down, just giving everything to the top one percent, if you take care of clean air and clean water, you have the biggest economic growth in America,” Inslee added. 

“That’s what we’ve done in the state of Washington.”  

And he explained climate change is not a singular issue, but one that affects health, national security, and the economy.

“We know the biggest job creator right now is in clean energy,” he said.

Next Guatemala Leader Seeks Better US Migrant Deal, Hindered by Split Congress

Guatemala’s incoming president Alejandro Giammattei has vowed to seek better terms for his country from an unpopular migration deal agreed with Washington last month, but any room for maneuver is seen as likely to be hampered by weakness in the national Congress.

Preliminary results from Sunday’s election gave Giammattei, a conservative, a runoff victory with 58% of the vote, well ahead of his center-left opponent, former first lady Sandra Torres, on 42%.

Still, his Vamos Party won just 8% of the vote in June’s congressional election, giving it around a tenth of the seats in a legislature bristling with nearly 20 parties. The biggest bloc of seats will be controlled by his rival Torres.

Speaking a few hours before he was declared the winner, the 63-year-old Giammattei said he wanted to see what could be done to improve the accord that outgoing President Jimmy Morales made under pressure from his American counterpart Donald Trump that seeks to stem U.S.-bound migration from Central America.

Giammattei will not take office until January, by which time Guatemala may be under severe pressure from the deal, which effectively turns the country into a buffer zone by forcing migrants to apply for asylum there rather than in the United States.

“I hope that during this transition the doors will open to get more information so we can see what, from a diplomatic point of view, we can do to remove from this deal the things that are not right for us, or how we can come to an agreement with the United States,” Giammattei told Reuters in an interview.

Threatened with economic sanctions if he said no, Morales agreed in late July to make Guatemala a so-called safe third country for migrants, despite endemic poverty and violence that have led to a constant flow of people northward.

“It’s not right for the country,” Giammattei said of the deal. “If we don’t have the capacity to look after our own people, imagine what it will be like for foreigners.”

U.S. Department of Homeland Security acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales shake hands before a bilateral meeting in Guatemala City, Guatemala Aug. 1, 2019.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Giammattei on Monday, saying in a statement the United States looked forward to working with Guatemala on “the underlying conditions driving irregular migration,” without giving more details.

Asked about Giammattei’s comments, U.S. border patrol chief Carla Provost said in an interview with Fox News: “It certainly is a concern. We need both Mexico and Guatemala to continue doing what they’re doing,” referring to Mexico’s campaign to block migrants from crossing its border with the United States.

Concerns Growing

The safe third country agreement is deeply unpopular in Guatemala.

A poll published this month by Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre showed more than eight out of 10 rejected the idea of the country accepting foreign migrants seeking asylum.

It is unclear how much Giammattei will be able to do to change the deal, which would require Hondurans and Salvadorans to apply for asylum in Guatemala rather than the United States.

It also foresees granting U.S. visas to some Guatemalan workers.

The veteran bureaucrat has promised to erect an “investment wall” on the border with Mexico to curb migration. He has also proposed bringing back the death penalty.

Giammattei, who took Monday off after his landslide victory, inherits a country also struggling with a 60% poverty rate and one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere.

Adding to his challenges, Fitch Ratings said the divided political landscape will make it harder for the president to reverse declining tax collection that the agency cited in April when it revised Guatemala’s sovereign outlook to negative.

“The incoming administration will have limited support in an atomized Congress, raising the risks for continued political gridlock,” Fitch Director Carlos Morales said in a statement.

Weak governance and economic development are ongoing risks to the country’s rating, Fitch said.

Many Guatemalans are fed up with the political class after investigations by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a U.N. anti-corruption body, led to the arrest of then-President Otto Perez in 2015, and then threatened to unseat his successor Morales, a former television comedian.

Morales terminated the CICIG’s mandate from next month, and Giammattei’s failure to reverse that decision has stirred concerns about his commitment to fight corruption.

Adriana Beltran, director of citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a think tank, said the CICIG might just have a future “if Guatemalans take to the streets and there is enough pressure from within.”

But the Trump administration was unlikely to do much to complement such efforts, Beltran added.

“Their focus is how to pressure Giammattei to agree to the third country agreement,” she said. “Anti-corruption is not a priority for this (U.S.) administration.”