World roundup: October 5 2021
Stories from Afghanistan, Romania, Peru, and more
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THESE DAYS IN HISTORY
October 4, 1957: The Soviet Union successfully launches Sputnik 1, putting the first artificial satellite in orbit and terrifying a whole bunch of people in Washington DC.
October 4, 1993: The two-day Battle of Mogadishu, later memorialized in the book/film Black Hawk Down, ends. The battle began with a calamitous US/UN mission to capture a couple of aides to self-declared Somali President Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which went south very quickly when Somali fighters shot down a US Black Hawk helicopter (they later shot down a second). In the end 21 international soldiers were killed (19 of them US) and one captured, while at least 200 Somalis (both civilians and militants) were also killed.
October 5, 610: Heraclius (d. 641) becomes Byzantine Emperor after executing his predecessor, Phocas.
October 5, 1789: A group of women angry over high food prices and scarcity march from Paris to the royal residence at Versailles, attracting a crowd of supporters along the way. The “Women’s March on Versailles,” saw its goals morph along the way, from a simple demand for food to a broader call for the royal court to return to Paris, where it might be more immediately accountable to the public. Louis XVI eventually agreed to that demand, and the victory helped lend momentum to the budding revolutionary movement.
In today’s global news:
Worldometer is tracking COVID-19 cases and fatalities.
The New York Times is tracking global vaccine distribution.
According to The Associated Press, the massive “Pandora Papers” leak has led to “calls…for an end to the financial secrecy that has allowed many of the world’s richest and most powerful people to hide their wealth from tax collectors.” You may remember such calls from the “Panama Papers” leak in 2016, the “Paradise Papers” leak in 2017, the “FinCEN” leak of 2020…you get the idea. My point is I don’t see much reason to expect that this leak to have any more of an impact on “financial secrecy” than the others did. But I could be wrong.
One form of international tax evasion may be at risk, as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is reportedly set to announce later this week that 139 (give or take) countries have agreed to adopt a 15 percent global minimum corporate tax. This could help reduce the problem of tax havens, as countries that have used low corporate tax rates to attract businesses (Ireland, for example) would now be agreeing to raise those rates to comply with the global minimum. Countries are still debating related details like how to divvy up multinational firms’ tax burdens, and at any rate this minimum corporate tax wouldn’t have any effect on the use of shell companies to hide taxable revenue altogether, which is the behavior that’s suggested in the Pandora Papers documents.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that the fuss over shady banking and tax evasion is all for naught because civilization might not survive the century anyway. The largest survey of coral reefs ever undertaken has found that climate change helped kill off about 14 percent of the world’s corals from 2009 through 2018. I imagine it’s safe to assume that the last couple of years haven’t seen any improvement in that trend. It’s estimated that global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is probably unavoidable even if we kick our fossil fuel addiction tomorrow, will kill off between 70 and 90 percent of the world’s corals, with the die off getting worse the higher average temperatures get.
With relations between Syria and Jordan warming quickly in recent months, Al-Monitor’s Amberin Zaman reports on speculation that Turkey might also be ready to reengage with Bashar al-Assad’s previously shunned government:
Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is in the midst of mending ties with its regional betes noires, Egypt and the UAE. Will it do the same with Assad? The question is being posed with increasing frequency on prime-time political debate shows. The country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan “would do anything” so long as it serves to sustain his power, said Sefik Cirkin, a veteran nationalist politician who opposed the campaign to oust Assad.
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Cirkin's center-right Iyi Party have long advocated restoring ties with Damascus. Such calls are growing louder amid rising public resentment toward an estimated 3.7 million Syrian refugees residing in Turkey. Violent incidents targeting Syrians are on the rise. Soaring food prices and joblessness are feeding the hostility. The opposition is cynically exploiting the public mood to score points ahead of nationwide parliamentary and presidential elections that are scheduled to be held by 2023 at the latest.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who reportedly received an invitation from Assad to visit Damascus, claims he would send the Syrians back home within two years of taking office. Opinion polls consistently suggest that an overwhelming number of Turks want nothing more. “The majority believe that sitting down with Assad is the key to solving the problem, and more AKP supporters than not feel the same the way,” Nezih Onur Kuru, a political scientist and pollster at Istanbul’s Koc University, told Al-Monitor.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II isn’t the only Middle Eastern leader having to deny any wrongdoing after his name turned up in the Pandora Papers leak. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati also makes an appearance in the leak as the owner of a Panamanian shell company through which he’s purchased what I’m sure was some very nice property in Monaco.
It’s public knowledge that Mikati is extremely wealthy from his past business dealings and prior to his resumption of the PM office this year he’d been out of politics since 2014, so there may not be any illegality to this arrangement. To reiterate, the behavior outlined in the Pandora leak (offshore finance, shell companies, etc.) is not inherently illegal. But as with Abdullah, it’s likely Mikati would rather not have the Lebanese people—many of whom are enduring hours long blackouts each day and can’t find enough gasoline to fuel their cars—be reminded that their prime minister is on Forbes’ list of billionaires.
Amnesty International says it has evidence that Taliban fighters massacred a group of 13 Hazaras in Daykundi province on August 30. Nine of the 13 were surrendering Afghan soldiers but the other four were civilians, including a 17 year old girl.
After speaking with Afghans living in rural Wardak province, Washington Post reporter Sudarsan Raghavan reports on what it was like to experience the US occupation outside of Afghanistan’s major cities:
In Kabul and other Afghan cities, the United States will be remembered for enabling two decades of progress in women’s rights, an independent media and other freedoms. But in the nation’s hinterlands, the main battlegrounds of America’s longest war, Afghans view the United States primarily through the prism of conflict, brutality and death.
Here in Wardak province, 25 miles southwest of the capital, the U.S. military, the CIA and the ruthless Afghan militias they armed and trained fought the Taliban for years. Trapped in the crossfire were villagers and farmers. Many became casualties of U.S. counterterrorism operations, drone strikes and gun battles.
A visit to Sinzai and the surrounding Nerkh District offered a glimpse of life in a post-American rural Afghanistan, home to nearly three-quarters of the population, where peace has emerged after 20 years of war. The visit offered clues to how the Taliban will govern the country and helped explain how the militants were able to seize power across the nation so swiftly.
They were abetted by the harsh tactics of U.S. forces and their Afghan allies and by the corruption and ineffectiveness of the U.S.-backed Afghan government. Exacting any justice or compensation from the U.S. military or the government was elusive. So the killings of their relatives and the lack of accountability drove many villagers to support the Taliban.
Unknown gunmen killed three people in three separate shootings across Indian-controlled Kashmir on Tuesday, all of which authorities are characterizing as “terrorist incidents.” Two of the shootings took place in Srinagar, the regional capital, while the third took place in the Hajin region. Police believe Kashmiri separatists were responsible in each case.
Another major contender for the Philippine presidency formally entered the race on Tuesday, as Ferdinand Marcos registered for next year’s election. No, not the Ferdinand Marcos who ruled the country as a dictator from 1965 until 1986 (kids, ask your parents), but his son Ferdinand Jr., also known as “Bongbong.” He ran for the vice presidency in 2016 and lost, but polling suggests he could be the main challenger for current President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, should she decide to run. There’s some talk that the two of them could form an electoral alliance, with one (it’s unclear which) running for VP.
Polling suggests that new Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio may not get the honeymoon period he expected. After formally taking office on Monday, Kishida set October 31 as the date for Japan’s general election. That’s a bit earlier than necessary—by law the election could have been held as late as mid- to late-November—and Kishida was presumably hoping to capitalize on the momentum that a new government usually has upon taking office. But a survey by the newspaper Mainichi finds that only 49 percent of the Japanese public supports the new government with 40 percent opposed. Not exactly honeymoon levels. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party losing the election—though its margin of victory may be in question.
Libya’s two legislatures have reportedly decided to postpone the scheduled December 24 parliamentary election until late January. The Libyan House of Representatives, which has been based in the eastern city of Tobruk during the country’s civil war, passed an electoral law for the parliamentary vote on Monday, which would have cleared the way for it to take place in December as planned. But the legislature based in the western city of Tripoli, the High Council of State, rejected the law on Tuesday, arguing that the House exceeded its mandate by passing the measure unilaterally. The Tripoli council has also rejected a presidential electoral law previously passed by the HOR for the same reason, but at this point the presidential election is still set to take place on December 24.
I don’t want to sound alarmist, but Tunisian President Kais Saied, who keeps insisting he’s not a dictator even as he’s made himself the sole ruler of Tunisia, is starting to sound and act kind of like a dictator. Over the weekend, Saied’s security forces arrested a member of parliament and a television presenter after the two heavily criticized Saied on TV, going so far as to call him a “traitor.” Saied has arrested a few of his critics since seizing unilateral power in July, but not that many and most over old charges. Still, any arrest like this is potentially worrisome. On Monday, Saied released a video in which he said that 1.8 million of his supporters turned out to demonstrate publicly on Sunday, which is slightly at odds with media accounts that say around 8000 people demonstrated in Tunis and a few thousand more in other cities across the country. Donald Trump had the largest inaugural crowd ever, also. Then later on Monday Saied referred to his political opponents as “insects” in comments to reporters. That one probably speaks for itself.
Emmanuel Macron’s mouth is landing a bunch of his diplomats in hot water lately. The Malian Foreign Ministry summoned the French ambassador in Bamako on Tuesday over comments Macron made last week questioning the legitimacy of Mali’s ruling junta. The Malian and French governments are still doing a back and forth over Mali’s recruitment of Russia’s Wagner Group to participate in the fight against jihadist insurgents. Macron made his remarks in the context of that spat.
Chad’s new interim parliament, the 93 member “National Transition Council,” began its work on Tuesday by electing the speaker of Chad’s previous parliament, Haroun Kabadi, as its new speaker. The NTC is intended to bolster the Chadian junta’s pretense to civilian rule and to oversee the process of organizing a new election, something the junta has pledged to do by the end of next year.
Somali authorities are accusing the internationally unrecognized government of the breakaway Somaliland region of forcibly evicting hundreds of Somali people from the “border” town of Las Anod over the weekend. Officials in the Somaliland government say they were responding to an unspecified “security threat.” Those displaced from Las Anod were already displaced by conflict in southern Somalia and they don’t seem to have been given much warning before Sunday’s expulsion. Tensions between Somalia and Somaliland run high as a rule, what with the whole attempted secession and all, and an incident like this could raise them still further.
The Ukrainian government sanctioned 95 Ukrainian and Russian nationals on Tuesday over last month’s Russian parliamentary election. It’s not that Ukraine objects to Russian elections in general, but it does object to people in Crimea voting in those elections, since that reinforces Moscow’s generally unrecognized annexation of the peninsula back in 2014. More sanctions may be forthcoming with respect to voting held in Russian separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine.
The Romanian parliament on Tuesday ousted Prime Minister Florin Cîțu and his cabinet in a no-confidence vote. Cîțu’s premiership has been on borrowed time since one of his coalition partners, the USR PLUS party, quit last month. He’d tried to hold on at the head of a minority government but Tuesday’s vote does not come as a huge surprise. As far as what happens now, the likeliest possibility would seem to be a restoration of Cîțu’s former coalition, including USR PLUS, but without Cîțu himself. USR PLUS leaders have said they’re amenable to rejoining the government under a different PM, and President Klaus Iohannis could tap another member of Cîțu’s Liberal Party for the job. There is an outside chance of a snap election, but at this point the key actors seem intent on negotiating a new coalition arrangement.
Last week a third of French boats applying to fish in Jersey’s waters were turned down by the island’s government. The previous week the UK government provided only 12 of 47 French vessels with permits for its coastal waters. The UK and Jersey authorities have said the vessels that had been turned down had failed to provide evidence of operating in the relevant waters.
[French European Union Affairs Minister Clément] Beaune said France “would not stand for it.” He said: “Enough already, we have an agreement negotiated by France, by Michel Barnier, and it should be applied 100%. It isn’t being. In the next few days – and I talked to my European counterparts on this subject yesterday – we will take measures at the European level or nationally to apply pressure on the United Kingdom.”
He added: “We defend our interests. We do it nicely, and diplomatically, but when that doesn’t work we take measures. The Channel Islands, the UK, are dependent on us for their energy supply. They think they can live on their own and badmouth Europe as well. And because it doesn’t work, they indulge in one-upmanship, and in an aggressive way.”
This is probably an idle threat, because the UK’s access to the European power grid is governed by an EU-wide agreement and the French government can’t unilaterally violate it without causing a scandal in Brussels. More likely is that the French government will try to take Jersey and/or the UK to arbitration over the licenses, or possibly suspend some of its bilateral agreements with the UK.
The Peruvian government says it’s cut a deal with the owners of its large Las Bambas mine, which supplies about 2 percent of the world’s copper, and leaders of the nearby Chumbivilcas community. Members of that community have been periodically protesting the mine for several years and forced it to shut down last month after blockading the main roadway to and from the facility. They’ve argued fthat the mine doesn’t benefit the local economy and that its owners, the Chinese firm MMG, haven’t compensated the community for the mine’s many impositions. Peruvian President Pedro Castillo made redistributing a greater share of mining revenues a cornerstone of his campaign, so this dispute is an early test for his administration. He arranged a temporary end to the roadblock last week but this new agreement, which obliges MMG to hire more local workers for infrastructure and logistical jobs, may forestall future demonstrations—at least for a little while.
Elsewhere, indigenous protesters in Peru’s Loreto region have reportedly seized control of a pipeline station belonging to the state oil company, Petroperu. Like the Chumbivilcas protesters they’re also demanding more equitable treatment.
So far all of the scandals or potential scandals emerging from the Pandora Papers leak have involved prominent individuals outside of the United States. But as the Institute for Policy Studies’ Chuck Collins explains for The Nation, in at least one sense the leak was very much about domestic financial shenanigans:
In the coming weeks, we will learn more about the 130 global billionaires with ownership entities in secrecy jurisdictions (100 with total assets worth more than $600 billion in 2021). US citizens are so far underrepresented in these leaks, largely because of where the wealth service providers were located. No US wealth-advisory firms were part of the leaks. Nonetheless, more than 700 companies revealed in the Pandora Papers have ties to real human owners in the US.
The big news for rest of the world is how the United States has become a major tax haven and global destination for illicit wealth. Earlier leaks, such as the Panama and Paradise papers, reinforced the misperception that most of these financial shell games take place “offshore,” in secrecy jurisdictions and tax havens in small countries with weak banking laws.
The Pandora leaks demonstrate that states like South Dakota and Delaware are rivaling Caribbean nations and European protectorates as leading secrecy jurisdictions (a topic The Nation has covered). The Pandora disclosures found that US states with the most active trusts were South Dakota (81), holding at least $367 billion in assets, Florida (37), Delaware (35), Texas (24), and Nevada (14). Trusts appear to be catering to mostly non-US citizens.