MS Risk Blog

UK PM Accuses EU of Seeking to Affect Result of British Election

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British Prime Minister Theresa May accused European politicians and officials last week of seeking to affect the outcome of the 8 June general election by issuing threats over Brexit.

Speaking in front of her Downing Street office after vising the Queen to mark the dissolution of parliament, which is the formal start of the election campaign, Mrs May disclosed that there were some in Brussels who did not want to see Brexit talks succeed. The statement comes after a German newspaper in late April gave a damning account of talks between the British Prime Minister and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, reporting that he had told Mrs May during a dinner at Downing Street that Brexit could not be a success.

In response to this, on 3 May, Mrs May disclosed that “in the last few days we have seen just how tough these talks are likely to be. Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press, the European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened, threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials,” adding that “all of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election.” Mrs May, whose Conservative Party have a double-digit lead in the polls, went on to say that reaching the best Brexit deal would be the overriding task for whoever wins the 8 June election. She called on voters to give her their backing to “fight for Britain,” noting that while Britain wanted to reach a deal with the European Union (EU), that view as not shared by everyone in Brussels, stating “the events of the last few days have shown that, whatever our wishes, and however reasonable the positions of Europe’s other leaders – there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed. Who do not want Britain to prosper.”

French Presidential Election: Macron Secures Win

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On Sunday, 7 May, Emmanuel Macron was elected French president with a business-friendly vision of European integration, defeating Marine Le Pen, who threatened to take the country out of the European Union (EU). Mr Macron’s win will also bring huge relief to European allies who had feared another populist upheaval, following Britain’s vote last year to leave the EU.

With virtually all votes counted, Mr Macron won 66 percent of the vote against just under 34 percent for Ms Le Pen – a gap wider than the 20 or so percentage points that pre-election surveys had suggested. However it was a record performance for the National Front (FN) party of Ms Le Pen, effectively underlying the scale of the divisions that Mr Macron now faces.

Mr Macon will officially be sworn into office on Sunday 14 May.

The Middle East’s Thriving Illegal Organ Trade

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“I exploit people, that’s what I do… Some of my clients would have died anyway.”

Trade in illegal organs is a booming business in Lebanon as desperate Syrian refugees resort to selling body parts to support themselves and their families, according to a report by the BBC. A trafficker who brokers deals from a coffee shop in Beirut, identified as Abu Jaafar, said while he knew his business was illegal, he saw it as helping people in need.

Since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, at least 1.5 million people have moved to Lebanon, where they make up around a quarter of the country’s population. Many have no legal right to work and families are forced to find other ways to pay for food, shelter and healthcare. According to a report published in June, some 70 percent of refugees in Lebanon are living below the poverty line.

“Those who are not registered as refuges are struggling,” Jaafar said, “what can they do? They are desperate and have no other means to survive but to sell their organs.” Jaafar said in the last three years he has arranged the sale of organs from some 30 refugees. “They usually ask for kidneys, yet I can still find and facilitate other organs,” he said. “They once asked me for an eye, and I was able to acquire a client willing to sell his eye.”

The Middle East is becoming a hotspot in international organ trade, where the influx of refugees desperate to earn money is providing a new market for brokers, shifting focus from China and the Philippines, according to the BBC report. Most refugees aren’t allowed to work under Lebanese law, and many families barely get by. Among the most desperate are Palestinians who were already considered refugees in Syria, and so are not eligible to be re-registered by the UN refugee agency when they arrive in Lebanon. They live in overcrowded camps and receive very little aid.

Across the Middle East there’s a shortage of organs for transplant, because of cultural and religious objections to organ donation. Most families prefer immediate burial.

A similar story came to light from Iraq in 2016.

According to a different BBC report, gangs in the country are offering up to $10,000 US for a kidney, and have been increasingly targeted the country’s poor. Almost a quarter of the country’s population live in abject poverty – according to World Bank statistics – and some destitute families are actively seeking out organ traders.

“The phenomenon is so widespread that authorities are not capable of fighting it,” Firas al-Bayati, a human rights lawyer, told the BBC. “I have personally dealt over the past three months with 12 people who were arrested for selling their kidneys. And poverty was the reason behind their acts.”

Under Iraqi law only relatives are allowed to donate organs their organs to one and other. The trafficking of organs is strictly prohibited, with penalties ranging from three years in prison to death.

In January 2017, it was revealed that IS has been recruiting foreign doctors to harvest the internal organs from their own dead fighters and living hostages, including children abducted from minority populations in Syria and Iraq. The organs are then sold on the black market in the worldwide human organ trafficking trade in order to fund their terror operations.

Threat Assessment on Venezuela

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Since the arrival of Hugo Chávez to power in 1998, and after 13 years of economic and political reorganization of the country according to his “Bolivarian Revolution”, Venezuela has widely depended on oil revenue, which represented the 93 percent of the country’s exports in 2008, and generated an income between $90 and $100 billion, which helped Chavez with its social projects and the large share of imports.

The global economic crisis hit Venezuela strongly due to the drop in oil prices, altering the Venezuelan trade balance. The economic difficulties Venezuela has been facing since then, with a 475 percent inflation and a 10 percent fall in its GDP for 2016, have led to the current situation of shortage of basic commodities for the population, and political and social crisis affecting the country.

Far from self-criticism, Nicolás Maduro accuses the opposition and citizens who demonstrate against its government of the situation and of being part of an international plot to overthrow him. This has led to the polarization of the Venezuelan society in two blocs, Chavez’s supporters or pro-government seeking to perpetuate the spirit of Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution”, and opposition groups, that blame the government of the disastrous economic situation and seek to dismiss Maduro.

The situation has become critical recently, since the opposition appears more united than ever and has received more support from the international community and the citizenship, which gave them the absolute majority in the National Assembly in the past elections, and tries to relieve Maduro from power. Maduro has responded authoritatively delaying regional elections and even dismantling the National Assembly’s powers. The opposition and the population, tired of the growing situation of poverty, take the streets constantly demanding the resignation of the president, who accuses them of coup and responds with brute force by the police, the army and even pro-government paramilitary armed groups, provoking clashes that have caused 28 dead in April.


The objective of this analysis is to glimpse the way in which the situation in Venezuela might evolve in the coming months. For that purpose, different scenarios will be generated using the cone of plausibility method according to the key indicators of the Venezuelan crisis, which are: economy, popular support and mobilization, military support, pro-government political forces unity, opposition unity and international influence.

Baseline scenario

Low oil prices are still devastating the Venezuelan economy, which is unable to provide commodities to the people, which demands, along with the opposition groups, the resignation of Nicolás Maduro for his handling of the crisis. The president, supported by the ruling party and the military, refuses to resign and accuses the opposition of coup attempt, which translates into strong repression of the demonstrations that causes casualties; meanwhile, the government is criticized by the international community, and tries to find an exit to the economic situation the country is facing.

Plausible Scenario 1

The discontent of the population, which starts to live in poverty conditions ever seen in Venezuela, has grown at an astonishing rate and has shown the little support Maduro has in the streets. Considering the popular discontent, the army begins to show itself increasingly neutral in the situation and, although it promises to maintain peace, it does not swear loyalty to the president. At the same time, members of the ruling party have created a current that seeks the internal overthrown of Maduro to save the image of the party for future elections.

Plausible Scenario 2

The implementation of negotiations between the government and the opposition, made the parties conforming the opposition to dissent around the demands they should ask the president. While some were clamouring for his resignation, others accepted other gestures such as the call for regional elections. The opposition’s division led to a demobilization of the population, which showed distrust to the parties asking only for the dismissal of Maduro at all costs. The social situation remains tense, but stable and contained, while the government has obtained more time to improve the economic situation at the expense of some regional governments that have fallen into the hands of opposition groups.

Plausible Scenario 3

The aggravated situation of poverty, because of a government that still does not know how to alleviate the economic crisis, has led to larger protests on the streets and has reduced popular support of president Nicolás Maduro. The president, who has the loyalty of the military and the ruling party, hardest repressed protests, increasing the number of dead to hundreds. Violent clashes and the refusal of the president to call for elections have led certain opposition groups and population to face the police and military by armed means. The government foresees an escalation of the situation after losing certain localities at the hand of such groups, which declared themselves free from central government’s control. The international community is already talking about civil war and the situation is being taken to the Security Council, with Venezuelan traditional allies, such as Russia, considering its neutrality on passing sanctions against the Caribbean country.

Wildcard Scenario

Social protests rise and president Maduro’s immobility led a sector of the army to question its generals and prepared a coup that overthrew pro-government commands. Straightaway, they ousted Maduro from power and maintain the status quo in the streets because of the strong protests of Maduro supporters and pro-government paramilitary forces. New commanders of the army have instituted the state of emergency until further notice.

After 6 Years, US Troops End Search for Kony

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US Special Forces announced on 26 April that they will being pulling out of the Central African Republic (CAR), where they deployed in 2011 in a bid to hunt the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) warlord Joseph Kony. The move, which was first announced in March, will se US troops pulling out of the country’s eastern region, where they have been helping Ugandan forces track down rebels from the feared LRA.

During a telephone briefing in mid-April, General Thomas Waldhauser, head of the US military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM), disclosed that “the time has come to move forward because the organization itself is really in a survival mode.”

In 2010, the US passed a law to deploy around 100 Special Forces to work with regional armies in hunting down Kony. While it is withdrawing, despite the rebel leader remaining at large, Kony’s power has much diminished. His current whereabouts remain unknown but his forces have been hit by a constant stream of defections, deaths and surrenders of both foot-soldiers and commanders. Small LRA groups continue to carry out attacks, mostly on villages in the border regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), CAR, South Sudan and Sudan.

Joseph Kony

For the past three decades, rebel commander Kony has sowed terror across four African countries, evading capture by US and Ugandan soldiers. The former Catholic altar boy became one of Africa’s most notorious rebels at the head of his LRA, combining religious mysticism with an astute guerrilla mind and bloodthirsty ruthlessness.

A member of Uganda’s northern Acholi ethnic group, Kony attended primary school before taking up arms in and around 1987. He would follow in the footsteps of another rebel, Alice Auma Lakwena, a former prostitute who is believed to have been either his cousin or aunt. Lakwena, who died in exile in Kenya in early 2007, believed that she could channel the spirits of the dead. She also told her followers that the holy oil she gave them could stop bullets.

Kony has claimed that the Holy Spirit has issued orders to him on everything from military tactics to personal hygiene, terrifying his subordinates into obedience.

Kony’s insurgency claimed to be fighting to overthrow the Ugandan government and impose a regime based on the Bible’s Ten Commandments. He claims that it was launched to defend the Acholi people against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who seized power from northern military rulers at the head of a rebel army in 1986. The insurgency has killed more than 100,000 people and abducted 60,000 children who were forced to become sex slaves, soldiers and porters. Despite widespread northern resentment against President Museveni, Kony’s policy of abductions soon lost him the support of local groups, who suffered during the government’s brutal war against the LRA. While Kony, who is thought to be in his 50s, has said that he has not committed any atrocities, ex-LRA abductees say that they were forced to maim and kill friends, neighbours and relatives and participate in gruesome rites such as drinking their victims’ blood.

During the 1990s, the LRA conflict split into neighbouring countries after the Sudanese government in Khartoum began backing the group in retaliation for Uganda’s support of southern Sudanese rebels battling for independence. When Sudan signed a peace deal with the southern rebels in 2005, support for the LRA effectively dried up, after and after being force into the neighbouring DRC by the Ugandan army, Kony agreed to peace talks. In 2005, the self-proclaimed prophet, and four of his deputies, were the first people to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This move however impacted attempts to reach a peace agreement. Negotiations dragged on and, amidst mutual distrust and anxiety over the ICC warrant, Kony repeatedly failed to turn up to sign the deal. Since the 2005 indictment, only one commander, Dominic Ongwen, is currently on trial while the three others are believed to have been killed.

In late 2011, following growing pressure from US campaigners, President Barack Obama deployed US Special Forces troops to help regional armies track down Kony. While in March the following year, Kony surged to unexpected worldwide prominence as a result of a hugely popular Internet video, the Kony2012 film, which called for his capture, popular interest quickly waned and despite the increased pressure, after more than thirty years in the bush, Kony remain a master of evasion. He has ditched satellite telephones in favor of runners to communicate and has lived off wild roots and animals.