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Haitian Prime Minister Jack Lafontant Resigns Following Violent Protests

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Haiti’s Prime Minister, Jack Lafontant, has resigned from his post following widespread protests against proposed fuel price rises. The Prime Minister is the second highest official in Haiti, only falling under current President Moïse who took office in March 2017.  Haiti has had a significant number of changes to its Prime Minister, having had 21 since 1988. The unrest broke out after Lafontant announced there would be significant price hikes on fuel, proposing to raise them by 38% for gasoline and 47% for diesel respectively. The fuel hikes were recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and were said to be needed for Haiti to be able to balance its budget. The proposed plan was for fuel subsidies to be scrapped in return for more assistance for Haiti by the IMF. When the price hikes were announced, plans for how the money would be spent on social services and compensating the poor and working classes were bizarrely not mentioned, further exacerbating the anger from the public.  The IMF says it is still expecting Haiti to lower fuel subsidies, but instead in a gradual manner and plans to create a revised reform plan in order to do so.

In response to the price hikes, protests began on July 6thand continued over the course of four days, with protestors burning cars, looting shops and lead to the closing off much of the country due to road blocks. Despite Lafontant cancelling the proposed price hikes, protests continues demanding his resignation and for President Moïse to cancel the price hikes permanently. A general strike then begun across the nation which ultimately shut down most of the country, with many Haitians refusing to go to work due to the dangers of being outside during the violent unrest. There have reportedly been seven deaths due to the violence. Journalists report seeing two people having been shot, however it is unclear who fired the shots. A former political candidate’s security guard also died in the violence, having been beaten to death after firing shots into the air at a roadblock in order to disperse protestors in attempts to pass through. The unrest caused a number of embassies to close, with the US embassy in Haiti having requested additional US Marines and State Department security personnel for protection. Airlines were also forced to suspended flights to Haiti amid the chaos, but were eventually restarted on July 10th.

Lafontant was summoned on July 14thto appear inform of the Chamber of Deputies for a vote of confidence, but instead used the opportunity to deliver his resignation speech. In the speech, Lafontant attacked the National Police of Haiti (PNH), and placed the blame on them for the events during riots. With Haiti’s army having been abolished in the 1990’s, the underpaid police were the only ones available to attempt to enforce order and were, unsurprisingly, unable to do so. The matter was made worse by the fact the police were given no prior warning of the announcement to increase fuel prices and were therefore utterly unprepared to deal with the unrest the announcement caused. There are conflicting reports as to when exactly Lafontant tendered his resignation. Whilst he himself claimed to have given his resignation to President Moïse prior to the parliamentary meeting. Other’s however speculate that he was forced to resign during the break in the meeting due to his abrupt change in demeanour upon his return. The unrest is estimated to have caused damages of 2% to Haiti’s GPD.

The unrest has been about much more than increasing fuel prices, but instead about issues of government corruption and anger towards foreign involvement in the Caribbean nation in general. For example, President Moïse was previously under investigation for money laundering prior to his inauguration in February 2017. The investigation was terminated after Moïse fired the head of the anti-corruption agency leading the inquiry. President Moïse is yet to announce who will be replacing Lafontant as the country’s Prime Minister almost two weeks after his resignation, with the country still waiting for a replacement.

Maritime Border Issues in the East and South China Seas

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There is a saying, good fences make good neighbours. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to build fences on water and the neighbours of the littoral states of the East and South China Seas are definitely not the best neighbours. There are at least eight countries in the region stretching from Japan and the Korean Peninsula to the North to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia to the South, with countries in between like China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei. These countries have several economic and other interests which are overlapping each other, which indicates they hopefully have the intention to settle their disputes through negotiations. The Seas are rich in hydrocarbons and natural gas and have also become the busiest maritime routes in the last fifty years, supplying the raw material demand of China, Singapore and Japan and transporting the manufactured goods of factories of China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam.

The growing economic power of China and its maritime presence is met with growing assertiveness from neighbours like Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. The three main disputed regions are the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, the Paracel Islands and the Spratley Islands.

The Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands are causing tension between Japan and China. They are located north of the island of Taiwan, between China and Japan. They are composed of five uninhabited islets, three of them purchased by Japan from a private owner in 2012. The surrounding waters are rich in fish and almost certainly have huge deposits of oil and gas deep down.

The Paracels are off the coast of Vietnam and to the south of the island Hainan, belonging to China. The islands have been occupied by French Indochina in 1932 and 1974 and recently China have built an airfield and a harbour on the islands. The area is estimated to be a great fishing area and the sea ground is full of natural resources.

The Spratley Islands consist of more than a hundred reefs and islets on a 3.1 square miles territory, east from the Philippine island of Palawan. The territory is rich in fishing grounds and oil and gas deposits. The islands are claimed by China, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Several of the islands are occupied by the claimants.

The resources and the fishing grounds are not the only reason these islets, rocks and reefs are disputed. Having sovereignty over these grounds would mean that the maritime traffic of the area can be controlled and monitored by the owner of the islands. According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) littoral states can consider a 12 nautical mile (little more than 22kms) zone from their shores their territorial waters, but regarding the resource rich area, the 200 nautical miles (more than 370kms) Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) makes these waters even more enticing. The EEZ gives rights to the littoral state to explore and use resources below the surface.

Due to the fact that there are thousands of ships crossing the contested waters, a multilateral framework is more than necessary. Although all of the littoral states have agreed upon multilateral risk reduction and confidence-building measures in the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, none have implemented its trust-building proposals or adhered to its provisions. Sadly, China prefers to settle its border issues bilaterally, yet it does not mean it will keep itself to the stand of a court. In July 2016 a tribunal ruled in favour of the Philippines in a dispute which was dismissed by China saying it had no binding force.

The constantly increasing military spending of the littoral states is not a sign of the parties planning to settle their disputes around the negotiating table, yet their long-term interests would dictate the countries to find a peaceful solution for their conflicts.

Mexico Election Analysis

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Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leader of the Movement for National Regeneration Party, has won Mexico’s July 1stpresidential elections with a landslide victory after securing 53% of the vote. The 64 year old better known by his nickname ‘Amlo’ will take office from December 1st2018 until 2023. This is not Amlo’s first attempt at gaining the presidency, after narrowly losing the race in both 2006 and 2012.His election success is likely to signify a change to the geo-security landscape of Mexico and is highly likely to have an impact on areas such as corruption, the war on drugs and cartel violence, and relationships with Mexico’s neighbours.


Much of Amlo’s campaign leading up to the elections on July 1stfocused on the issue of widespread corruption in the Latin American nation.According to a 2017 report by anti-corruption pressure group Transparency International, 51% of Mexicans surveyed said they have had to in the past pay a bribe to access public services, with this being the highest rate recorded in Latin America. One of Amlo’s key slogans throughout his campaign was ‘There can be no rich government for poor people’ and has regularly blamed the previous regime in the country for the overwhelming issue of corruption, particularly within the country’s government. Amlo was quoted during his campaign as saying “Corruption is not a cultural phenomenon, it’s the result of a regime in decline”. He also said that no-one who was guilty of corruption would be spared, “even brothers-in-arms”. Analysis into corruption in the country has found that many politicians in the recent past have had their campaigns funded by drug traffickers, meaning often these criminals are granted protection by those in power in exchange for the campaign funding they have received. Despite taking a firm position on his desire to deal with government level corruption within the country, he has given little information or inclination on exactly howhe plans on addressing the issue aside from saying he will be leading by example. One of the few proposals he has put forward on the matter is to revise any oil contracts that has been awarded by the previous administration to companies in order to check them for signs of corruption. He went on to say that any contracts that are found to show signs of anomalies will be addressed by Congress in due course. If Amlo is able to follow through on his promises made during his election campaign, there could be a significant reduction in the amount of government level corruption within the country.

The War On Drugs & Cartel Violence

The War on Drugs began in December 2006 by former President Felipe Calderon against the cartels and drug-related violence in the country. There are a number of reports that suggest Amlo is considering a radical new approach of amnesty in regards to the War on Drugs, and has suggested he will push for a law allowing non-violent criminals who have been involved in drug related incidents to walk free. This approach, which is being coined as the ‘pacification strategy’ would aim to reintegrate low level criminals who have been/ are employed by drug cartels. The number of individuals who would fall into this category is estimated to be around 600,000. Mexico currently has a deficit of 200,000 police officers. Amlo has suggested that he wishes to increase their pay in order to entice people to sign up, allowing for the removal of the military from the streets. This approach however has faced a lot of criticism, with some suggesting this will make the situation with drug cartels worse by creating a power vacuum in these areas. If this vacuum does occur, it is likely that levels of cartel violence will rise, the polar opposite of what Amlo is trying to achieve. Amlo has also stressed the need to dismantle organised crime rather than just arresting the drug kingpins if the situation in Mexico is to ever improve.  Under former President Enrique Peña Nieto, high-profile cartel bosses were arrested but the vacuum left by these arrests seemed to inflame turf wars and cause even greater levels of cartel violence. Mexico experienced its most violent year in record in 2017, with three quarters of these incidents being related to organised crime. As of January 2018, 230,000 people have been murdered and more than 28,000 reported as disappeared, alongside hundreds of thousands of people being displaced due to the violence. Neither the National Action Party (PAN) nor the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who have both been in power for the duration of the War on Drugs, have been able to get Cartel violence under control. In his victory speech, Amlo blamed corruption for the violence in Mexico. However, except for his plan to meet daily at 06:00 with his public security cabinet, he has given little detail about how he aims to tackle the endemic violence in Mexico.

Neighbour Relations

Almo having won the election may results in a change in Mexico’s relationship’s with its neighbours, in particular the United States. Throughout the election campaign, Amlo had been the most critical candidate of US President Donald Trump citing that if he was to gain the Presidency he would make Trump ‘see reason’ and ‘put him in his place’. Since being elected however, Amlo has struck a much more conciliatory note, saying he would pursue a relationship of friendship and cooperation with the US. Given the US involvement on the War on Drugs, the US appears to be wary of the potential softening of Mexico’s security policies that are being considered by Amlo. If the radical new approach of amnesty is adopted by Amlo, it is possible this will exacerbate already somewhat tense relations between Mexico and the US given Trumps current ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on immigration amongst other incidents. Not only are US law enforcement agencies in close cooperation with Mexican forces to combat crime and drugs trafficking, but they are also a key trading partner for Mexico. Relationships regarding trade have the possibility of becoming strained given both Trump and Amlo have openly expressed they are sceptical of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Given that the US is Mexico’s second-most-important market for soybeans, corn, wheat and rice exports, this scepticism by both countries leaders could mean bad news for US farmers who grow these crops in particular. However, given that 81% of Mexican exports headed to the US in 2017, it appears it is in both countries interests to make their relationship work from at least a trade standpoint.

It is not only Mexico’s relationship with its Northern neighbour that has the potential to change under the new President, but relations with its neighbours to the South.  Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Center Mexico Institute in Washington D.C. has said Amlo must turn south to its Guatemalan neighbour to strengthen its bond with them in light of the potential difficulties the Trump-Amlo relationship may face. By doing so, it will lead to a reduction in Mexico’s dependency on the US should issues in their relationship transpire. There are also suggestions that Amlo will and should strengthen Mexico’s ties with South American economic blocs such as MERCOSUR once again so Mexico is less reliant on the US. MERCOSUR’s full members include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Should Amlo begin to turn to his southern neighbours and begin the process of strengthening ties, this may suggest that Amlo plans to reduce the Mexican dependency on the US in pursuit of bettering Mexico’s ties to the south.

Election Period in the Middle East

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The Middle East has been in an election atmosphere for the past two months with Lebanon starting first followed by Iraq and Turkey. The election results however seem to have caused tensions and concern across the countries and analysts trying to interpret the results and their meanings regarding the future.

While last month’s elections in Lebanon were peaceful, the election results were a victory for Hezbollah which the U.S. State Department lists as a terrorist organization. Hezbollah now represents 14 seats in the cabinet and as analysts have stated, it now forms a resistance government, further presenting its militias and becoming more appealing to the public. Nevertheless, weeks later a cabinet is yet to be formed as recent efforts exerted by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri have failed to make a breakthrough in the government formation process. The delay in the cabinet formation process is mainly due to the representation of Christians amid conflicting demands by the LF from one side and the FPM and President Aoun from another side. The LF wants the seat of the deputy Prime Minister, whereas the president says it is his right to appoint him and some other ministers in order to monitor the cabinet’s work. Also, Bassil, who is Aoun’s son-in-law, wants the FPM to retain the strongest Christian representation in the new cabinet by strongly rejecting demands by the LF to be represented by more than three ministerial portfolios.  Aoun last week toughened his position on the LF’s demand for key ministerial posts in the new government, by declaring it is his constitutional right to choose the deputy prime minister and some other ministers in order to monitor the Cabinet’s performance. The statement was also perceived to be a message to Hariri, who supposedly supported the LF’s push for wide representation in Cabinet.Cabinet formation efforts are likely to be delayed further with the absence of Hariri, who is set to leave Beirut on a vacation with his family this week. The political uncertainty in Lebanon is another challenge the country has to face along the Syrian war and its economic crisis which seems to keep exacerbating despite the international support.

On the other hand, Iraq had its elections in a tense atmosphere over security reasons as clashes and multiple suicide bombings took place in different ballot boxes across the country with another attack only yesterday in Kirkuk- wounding 19 people. The election results indicate deep divisions within Iraqi politics. The results delivered a victory to the “Saʾirun” (“on the march”) pre-election alliance. This grouping represents an alignment between the “Sadrist Movement,” led by Shiʿi cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, and the “al-Nasr” party (the “Victory Alliance”), spearheaded by incumbent Prime Minister and Western ally, Haydar al-ʿAbadi. Yet, the Sadr camp is also known for its anti-American stance. Sadr and his militia, originally known as the Mahdi Army, battled U.S. army forces in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.  However, in recent weeks, reports of electoral fraud, unprecedented in post 2003 Iraq, have cast a shadow over the results. Due to the change from manual to digital vote counting in this year’s election, there are suspicions of fraud throughout the country. The newly appointed panel of judges in charge of the election commission announced it would only manually recount votes in the areas where there were fraud allegations. Ballot boxes from these areas will be transferred to Baghdad, and the recount will be held under United Nations supervision at a time and place that has yet to be determined. The scope of the recount is still unclear and the specific areas that will have their ballots recounted have not been named. The outgoing parliament, whose term constitutionally expired at the end of June, but no new leadership has been confirmed. Yesterday it was announced that the manual recount of the national election votes is to begin today, Tuesday. Only suspect ballots flagged in formal complaints or official reports on fraud will be recounted, a spokesman for the panel of judges conducting the recount said. The manual recount will be conducted in the presence of representatives from the United Nations, foreign embassies and political parties; as well as local and international observers, members of the media, and the Ministries of Defense and the Interior. The uncertainty surrounding the final results has leaft Iraq in a state of limbo whilst lapses in security in disputed areas could lead to a swift fall should an attack occur according to officials.

In Turkey, the elections that took place last week and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won re-election with an outright majority in the first round, on 52.55% of the vote with 99% of ballots opened. His biggest challenger, Muharrem İnce, came second with 30.67% of the vote – an impressive challenge but not enough to force a second-round run-off.  While deadly clashes took place during the election tour, the result of the election have widely been accepted and Erdoğan is to have his inauguration next Monday, as it was announced yesterday. There were no large-scale allegations of fraud, but the elections took place in what Amnesty International described as a “climate of fear”. The country is still under a state of emergency in place since a coup attempt in July 2016, one of the presidential candidates is in prison and his party, the HDP, has been widely persecuted with hundreds of cadres and officials arrested in the last two years. The vast majority of the media are owned by allies of the president, transforming most news outlets into a loyalist press, and those who do criticise the government, like the oldest newspaper in the country, Cumhuriyet, are prosecuted on baseless allegations of abetting terrorism. Mr. Erdoğan is expected to receive more power in the decisions in the Parliament due to the constitutional changes approved last year- his opponents say the constitution means Mr Erdogan no longer presides over a government, but a regime. At the same time local media has reported that the state of emergency, first enacted in 2016, will not be extended next month. Nevertheless, it seems like the political and economic uncertainties looming over the Turkish markets for some time, have started clearing away. In fact, yesterday it was reported that the Turkish lira decoupled from its peers following the June 24 elections, appreciating nearly 2 percent against the U.S. dollar last week.

Analysts are expecting to say more and new changes in the Middle East especially in Turkey as the President has more power in the country than ever. At the same time, a cloud of uncertainty has surrounded the region, as Iraq and Lebanon are still battling for stability.

Avian Influenza “Bird Flu” picking up steam in Bulgaria

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Three outbreaks of Avian influenza, better known as the “Bird Flu” have been detected in Bulgaria this spring and early summer with a total seven reported cases since October 2017. Bird flu can be divided into two main groups: highly pathogenic (HPAI) and low pathogenic (LPAI).  HPAI spreads rapidly causing serious disease with high mortality (up to 100% within 48 hours) in most poultry species (except domestic waterfowl). LPAI is much milder and may easily go undetected. The virulence of HPAI has prompted countries such as Saudi Arabia to bar poultry imports from Bulgaria.

On  5 March an outbreak  of the highly pathogenic H5N8 bird flu virus was reported on a farm in the town of General Toshevo, located near the border with Romania,  in the northeastern district of Dobrich. A three-kilometer protection zone and a 10-km observation area around the livestock area were set up and a ban on the trade and movement of domestic, wild and other birds and trade in eggs, had been imposed.The national food safety agency reported that the outbreak would lead to the death of 140,000 birds.

On 27 May another outbreak was reported on a duck farm in the northeastern village of Stefanovo. It was unclear which strain of bird flu it was. Again, the national food safety agency established a three-kilometer protection zone around the farm and the movement of domestic, wild and other birds and has been banned within it, as has the sale of eggs and poultry. It was the second outbreak at this farm, with the last outbreak taking place in October 2017 and resulted in the culling of more than 10,000 ducks.

On 13 June another outbreak was reported on a farm in the village of Donchevo, in northeastern Bulgaria. A three-kilometer protection zone was established and the national food safety agency reported that all contaminated birds would be culled.

On 15 June the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Rumen Porozhanov held working meetings with the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency and the directors of the regional food safety directorates in order to discuss how to properly respond, and prepare to the recent and future outbreaks of the bird flu and African swine fever, which has been detected 160 km away from the Bulgarian border with Romania.

In 2018 HPAI outbreaks of subtype H5N8 have been detected in poultry in Bulgaria and Italy. HPAI H5N6 has been confirmed in poultry in the Netherlands and Germany and in captive birds in Sweden. In wild birds only the subtype HPAI H5N6 has been identified in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, the Slovak Republic and several wild bird cases throughout the southern part of the United Kingdom.

Although typically difficult to transmit to humans, it is possible for the bird flu to jump across species and does occur occasionally. The most widely known form of bird flu to do this was the H5N1 strain which had a mortality rate of about 60% among the human cases. It has also been reported on 15 June that another deadly form of the virus, H7N9, has been detected in China and has reportedly already killed 623 of the 1,625 peopleinfected.