Americas: Rousseff’s impeachment, unrest in Bolivia, Colombia’s Choco strikes
In Brazil, the Senate is scheduled to begin suspended President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment trial on 25 August. Should at least two-thirds of the 81 senators find her guilty of doctoring fiscal accounts to mask Brazil’s budget deficit Rousseff will be permanently removed from office and interim President Michel Temer will serve out her term until late 2018. Rousseff is expected to appear before the Senate on 29 August, and voting could begin immediately after. She is increasingly likely to lose the trial, which could end as soon as the end of August. Anti-government and impeachment-related unrest should be expected in the lead up to and after the trial across Brazil’s major cities.
In Colombia, the leaders of an indefinite general strike affecting the north-western Choco department since 17 August announced a ‘massive protest’ for 22 August, and reiterated that strike action will continue until the government addresses their demands. Negotiations to resolve grievances over state neglect are reportedly ongoing. The strike will likely continue to affect commercial activity and transport across Choco. Violent clashes were reported in the capital Quibdo on 18 August and further strike-related violence and disruption will remain likely at least until an agreement with government officials is reached.
In Bolivia, cooperative mineworkers decided to resume a recently lifted strike on 22 August to protest against legislative changes to Bolivia’s general cooperatives law. Mining cooperative federations Fencomin and Fedecomin are expected to erect roadblocks and hold demonstrations to reject Law 149 approved by President Evo Morales on 19 August and demand the release of 10 miners arrested amid violent clashes with the security forces on 12 August. Locations have not been detailed but disruptive and potentially violent unrest should be expected in Cochabamba, La Paz, Oruro, Potosi and Santa Cruz departments.
Asia-Pacific: international spats in the Philippines; terrorism in Thailand; mining in PNG
Growing disputes between the new president of the Philippines and parts of the international community are becoming a cause for concern. On 21 August the newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to quit the UN and form a new organisation with China after the body criticised alleged human-rights abuses committed during his crackdown on crime. Almost 2,000 suspected criminals have been killed by vigilantes and police officers since Duterte took office in June. Although Duterte’s threat was likely just one of his typical outbursts, human-rights disputes could increasingly start threatening the Philippines’ trade ties with the West during Duterte’s six-year rule.
In Thailand the ongoing investigation into the 11-12 August coordinated bombings in southern tourist towns will likely give a good indication about the likelihood of further attacks over the coming months. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, which killed four people and injured dozens. Police today claimed that many of the prime suspects are Muslim-Malays from the country’s far south, where there is an active separatist insurgency. Southern militants have been linked to several attacks outside their homeland but none as significant as the recent incidents. Confirmation of a far-southern link would represent a significant tactical shift in the separatists’ tactics.
Disputes over the sharing of resource wealth look set to drag on over the coming months in Papua New Guinea, where mining giant Rio Tinto recently renounced its stake in the island of Bougainville’s Panguna copper mine. Panguna was the world’s largest open-pit mine until civil war forced its abandonment in 1989. Rio Tinto split its share between the central and local authorities, but the central administration transferred its stake to Bougainville’s government, giving the locals a majority. Owning the mine could encourage Bougainville residents to back independence in a referendum scheduled for 2019.
Eurasia: military tensions set to continue as risk of Crimea escalation remains
Russian President Vladimir Putin convened the National Security Council during a trip to Russian-occupied Crimea, heightening concerns over recent military deployments to the de jure Ukrainian peninsula. Moscow and Kiev have exchanged accusations of provocations along the de facto border and there remains a high risk of further escalation. However, Putin spent most of his time in Crimea campaigning ahead of the September national elections, which some took as a sign Putin will merely use the tensions to drive up electoral support.
Moldova denounced recent Russian military activity in the de facto independent Transnistria region as ‘provocative and unacceptable’. Transnistria also borders Ukraine, which has claimed Russian military drills amount to invasion threats. The criticism came two days after Moldova’s prime minister issued a public plea for more assistance from the US, which may be forthcoming in the coming months, particularly after the US presidential elections.
Although tensions in Central Asia are far lower, they nonetheless again returned to the fore on 22 August when Kyrgyzstan’s Border Guard Service announced Uzbekistan closed the land border between the two countries. Relations between the two countries are tense and have occasionally resulted in troop deployments over other border disputes. Although no reason for the latest closure has been announced, Uzbekistan often employs stringent security measures in the run-up to its 1 September independence day. The measures will likely be loosened after the holiday.
Europe: rocky road ahead for Spain; German, Italian and French leaders to discuss EU future
In Spain, Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced he will hold a confidence vote in a minority government he will lead. The vote will likely be held on 31 August. Rajoy stated he secured support from the centrist Ciudadanos party, although it has indicated it will not formally join the government. However, even with Ciudadanos’ support in a confidence vote the government would be short of a majority. The centre-left Socialists released a statement vowing to vote against a new Rajoy-led government, raising concerns a third election since December 2015 may be called.
The leaders of Italy, France and Germany are due to meet in Italy this week in their third tripartite summit since the 23 June ‘Brexit’ vote, with the discussion to focus on Italian and French demands the EU use the aftermath to pursue tighter integration on security and political measures. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is also expected to push for Italy to be granted additional leniency in its 2017 budget and in its support for the country’s increasingly stressed banking sector.
MENA: intensified fighting in Syria; further success against IS in Libya; new cabinet in Tunisia
In Syria, the Kurdish counter-offensive against Syrian government forces in Hassakah will continue to gain pace. The Syrian government appears to have reneged on its unofficial agreement to work with Kurdish forces in north and eastern Syria in order to counteract anti-Assad opposition forces and Islamic State, however the risk of accidentally engaging with America given the presence of US special forces in Hassakah training Kurdish fighters may be too great. Tensions are likely to spill over into Qamishli under joint control of government and Kurdish fighters. It may impact the neighbouring Turkish town of Nusaybin.
The offensive against Islamic State in Sirte against Islamic State (IS) will continue in Libya, and will continue to slowly gain ground. The largely Misratan coalition of militias fighting the group has successfully retaken several key positions in the last week, and this will be aided by ongoing US airstrikes. The NOC was able to remove the remaining crude oil from Zueitina port to Zawiya, safely away from the potential confrontation between Khalifah Haftar’s forces and the coalition that opposes him which includes the Misratan militias, however the risk of a confrontation between the two sides, further fuelling the civil war, increases.
The selection of a new cabinet in Tunisia is promising for prime minister-designate Youssef Chahed. The provisional cabinet will pass it’s necessary parliamentary approval relatively smoothly. Much has been made of the inclusion of women, such as giving the Ministry of Finance to a female former international development secretary of state, and other minority groups in Tunisian politics, including politicians linked to key unions. Despite this, the same challenges remain that irked its forebear. Unless the government is able to deliver an improved economy, with greater stability and improved employment prospects, the country’s youth will not give the new government the time of day.
Sub-Saharan Africa: peace talks in Nigeria, Sudan and Mozambique
Representatives from the Nigerian militant group, Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), reported that they were ready for a ceasefire and a dialogue with the government. The NDA have conducted a wave of attacks on oil facilities across the region over 2016, driving oil output to record lows. The group wish to see more oil revenue trickle down to the Niger Delta, as poverty and unemployment levels remain high. However, any ceasefire is expected to be difficult to enforce owing to the factionalised nature of militants operating in the region, and the loose control of militant chiefs over youths. Sporadic attacks cannot be ruled out during talks over a ceasefire agreement.
On 18 August, the chief negotiator from Mozambique’s opposition party RENAMO announced that the government and former RENAMO rebels had reached an initial agreement, which would pave the way for ‘lasting peace’. Under the deal, RENAMO-appointed governors would take power in six of Mozambique’s eleven provinces, and both sides agreed on legislation paving the way for greater decentralisation. However, only a few hours later, hopes that the longstanding conflict between RENAMO and the FRELIMO government dissipated after the chief government negotiator contested RENAMO’s account of the agreement. The confusion raises fears of escalating violence, further worsening the country’s economic outlook.
In Sudan there is a high risk of an escalation in fighting in Darfur and the Two Areas – South Kordofan and Blue Nile – after peace talks between opposition groups and the government collapsed less than a week after they begun. Both sides traded accusations over their failure. The opposition claimed the government’s continued refusal to concede to demands over humanitarian access are the main stumbling block, with opposition parties demanding some assistance be delivered directly from Ethiopia. This would prevent the government from manipulating aid, but Khartoum argued it would raise the risk of weapons or illicit goods being delivered alongside aid. Talks are set to resume in September, but fighting is likely to intensify in the meantime as the government seeks to strengthen its negotiating position.