The Week in Review: October 29-November 4, 2022
North Korea launches a barrage of missiles, warring parties in Ethiopia reach a peace deal, and more
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This week, the North Korean military launched a barrage of missiles in response to a major joint exercise by the US and South Korean militaries. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front reached a peace agreement, largely on the former’s terms. Following a drone attack on its main Black Sea naval base, Russia pulled out – and abruptly rejoined – the Black Sea Grain Initiative. And Benjamin Netanyahu, buoyed by an injection of support from the Israeli far-right, reclaimed his mantle as Prime Minister.
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva narrowly defeated incumbent Jair Bolsonaro in a presidential runoff on Sunday, despite Bolsonaro’s eleventh-hour mobilization of the Federal Highway Police to impede access to polling sites in Lula-friendly parts of the country. Bolsonaro has not attempted to challenge his defeat. He dropped off the grid late Sunday until reappearing on Tuesday, when he refused to concede but also authorized the start of the constitutional transition process. His supporters, on the other hand, organized to blockade major highways across Brazil and demanded that the military step in and overturn the election throughout the week. Bolsonaro urged the protesters in a video message on Wednesday to cease both activities, and the roadblocks have subsequently lost steam. Lula’s running mate and transition coordinator, Geraldo Alckmin, arrived in Brasilia on Thursday to formally begin the transition process.
Amid local reports of atrocities committed by the Eritrean military in the latest Ethiopian offensive in Tigray, representatives of the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front agreed to end their two-year war on Wednesday. The agreement’s terms strongly favor the Ethiopian government and amount to an unofficial surrender by the TPLF; under the agreement, the TPLF must disarm within 30 days, while Ethiopian forces will occupy the Tigray regional capital as well as airports and other key facilities in the Tigray region. The agreement says nothing explicitly about the presence of Eritrean soldiers in northern Tigray or about the= Amhara regional forces occupying western Tigray, which could be a stumbling block for long-lasting peace. Lastly, throwing all of this up in the air, the TPLF on Friday accused Ethiopian forces of carrying out a drone strike and artillery bombardment on the Tigrayan city of Maychew the previous day—after the agreement had been signed.
Benjamin Netanyahu completed his political comeback this week, with his coalition winning 64 of the 120 seats in the Knesset in Tuesday’s election. His victory rests largely on a surge in support for the far-right Religious Zionist party, which will constitute the third-largest party in the new legislative session. There’s reason to think that Netanyahu’s newfound support from the Israeli far-right is ominous news for Palestine, although Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid have already presided over what’s likely to be the deadliest year on record for Palestinians in the West Bank, without Netanyahu’s help. Just last month, at least 29 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security personnel across the West Bank.
In a furious response to a major joint exercise by the US and South Korean militaries, the North Korean military launched nearly 30 missiles throughout Wednesday and Thursday, one of them possibly an intercontinental ballistic missile. Then on Friday, the North Korean military conducted some 180 flights near the Demilitarized Zone, prompting the South Korean military to quickly mobilize its own fighters in response. The US has since called for a public UN Security Council session to discuss North Korea, and is accusing Russia and China of providing diplomatic cover for North Korea on the Council.
The Ukrainian military apparently undertook a major drone attack on Russia’s main Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol on Saturday. Ukraine has not claimed credit for the attacks, but there’s little doubt it was their doing—possibly, according to Moscow at least, with assistance from the United Kingdom. The UK military has trained Ukrainian forces and has been supplying Ukraine with arms, though British officials deny playing any more direct role in the Sevastopol attack. Moscow has also, with minimal evidence, accused the UK of carrying out the attacks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines back in September.
Then on Monday, the Russian government announced that it would be suspending participation in the Black Sea Grain Initiative, its deal with Ukraine to permit food exports through the Black Sea. It quickly rejoined the Initiative on Wednesday, claiming it had received some sort of assurance from the Ukrainian government that it would not use the protected grain corridor to undertake attacks on Russian positions in southern Ukraine.
With Lula’s victory this week, several famous Brazilian footballers found themselves on the losing side of the presidential election: Ronaldinho, Neymar, and more have all previously voiced their support for the departing Jair Bolsonaro. It appears a strange marriage; many of these players grew up in desperately poor backgrounds, and Bolsonaro is not popular among Brazil’s poorest constituents.1
Brazil’s 2014 World Cup might help explain why, by calling attention to the Workers’ Party’s broader ‘left neoliberal’ project—of which the World Cup was a piece. Starting in 2007, when Lula first secured Brazil’s host status of the World Cup, he (and his successor, Dilma Rousseff) coddled the private sector while neglecting the interests of poor and working-class Brazilians. The preparations—building and renovating stadiums, developing urban mobility works and public safety, and ripening the nation for mass tourism—have been accurately characterized as a “massive redistribution of public resources to the private sector.” The 2014 World Cup’s total cost exceeded US$11 billion, nearly 80% of which was financed by federal and state revenues.
Massive budget overruns and wastefulness also raised eyebrows. Of the 12 venues in which teams played during the World Cup, five were pre-existing stadiums in regular use, while the rest were built from scratch at a cost of approximately US$3.5 billion, over triple the initially projected budget of less than $1 billion. Politically cozy Brazilian multinationals got the bulk of these construction contracts, thanks to a legal loophole that allowed the government to fulfill special demands in hiring services without a public tender process. FIFA got a taste of the PT’s market preferences too: any direct or indirect expenses incurred by FIFA for the 2014 World Cup were granted full federal tax exemptions, which between 2011 and 2015 amounted to $475 million.
Brazil’s poorest communities expressed their fury at their government’s priorities. One resident of a ‘flash camp’ in São Paulo said, “We don’t have hospitals, we don’t have schools. But we have stadiums.” Hundreds of thousands came out to protest the exorbitant spending going towards the World Cup, asking for ‘FIFA-standard’ healthcare, education, and transportation. Brazilian authorities deployed riot police to quell the protests. Meanwhile, the PT was busy carrying out a program of mass eviction of the lower classes in order to clear the way for stadium construction. It’s estimated that 250,000 people were forced to abandon their residences or evicted, only receiving only 20-40% of the value of their homes. Lula’s victory is Bolsonaro’s loss, and that’s certainly a good thing. But from a leftist perspective, the 2014 World Cup and its preparations are a blot on his party’s record.
Finally, it’s worth asking what the World Cup really stands for these days. In preparation for hosting the 2022 World Cup later this month, the Qatari government has already spent over $200 billion to build entire cities from scratch. Thousands of migrant workers have died since Qatar began World Cup construction, and thousands more migrant workers were abruptly evicted into homelessness just last week to get them out of the way for the main event. You and I will enjoy watching the World Cup from afar, but it is a gross spectacle of astronomical wealth and inequality that masks the violence the host country inflicts upon its most vulnerable. By the way, guess who’s joint hosting the 2026 World Cup?
One obvious explanation for this phenomenon would be the intersection of the players’ wealth—Lula accused Bolsonaro of personally giving Neymar a tax debt pardon—and Bolsonaro’s gospel of self-reliance, which might resonate with players who believe they’ve reached the top of the athletic world solely on their own merits.