Prime Minister Theresa May won the support of her cabinet this week for a draft agreement reached by her team and EU negotiators on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union. To avoid border checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland—an EU member—the pact keeps the U.K. in the EU customs union for at least a year. Critics on both left and right say it’s a worse deal than the U.K. has now as a full EU member, because Britain will be subject to EU rules but with no say in crafting those rules. “It’s vassal state stuff,” said Boris Johnson, who quit as foreign minister last summer over May’s proposed Brexit plan. If the plan is approved by other EU leaders, it will go to Britain’s Parliament, where passage is not assured. If no deal is passed by March 29, borders and customs checks will go into effect overnight, causing chaos.
Ex–prime minister flees
Sentenced to two years in prison for corruption earlier this year, former Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski lost his final appeal last week and was supposed to report to prison. Instead, he absconded to Hungary, where he’s asking Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a friend, for asylum. Gruevski led Macedonia from 2006 to 2016, during which time the country was akin to a mafia state. He is facing three other corruption trials, including one involving a major wiretapping scandal, which could bring him a much longer sentence. “I have received countless threats on my life,” Gruevski said in a Facebook post announcing his asylum request. Macedonia has filed an international arrest warrant for him.
AMLO kills airport
Thousands of people marched in Mexico City this week to protest President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s decision to halt work on a partially built new airport for the Mexican capital. López Obrador, who takes office on Dec. 1, killed the project after 70 percent of respondents voted against it last month in an unofficial referendum—but critics pointed out that fewer than 2 percent of voters took part and that the vote was organized by López Obrador’s party, with most voting stations placed in areas where he is popular. The incoming president has said the new $13 billion airport is too expensive. Mexico City’s current airport is surrounded by urban sprawl and has no room to expand; its intended replacement, designed by famed British architect Norman Foster, is already one-third completed.
Losing the forests
Staggering deforestation in Haiti could soon cause a mass extinction of wildlife, according to a new study. U.S. researchers found that Haiti has lost 99 percent of its primary forest cover since 1988 to logging, agricultural production, and disasters. Of the island’s 50 mountains, only eight now have any primary forest, compared with 43 two decades ago. Haiti’s tropical forests are home to armadillos, macaws, sloths, and panthers, as well as species unique to the country, such as Mozart’s frog. Researchers say that by 2035, no primary forest will remain. Secondary growth can replace the original forests but would support a mere fraction of the biodiversity.
Multiple members of Britain’s House of Lords—Parliament’s upper chamber—have extensive financial links to Russia, and some have lobbied on behalf of the Kremlin, according to an investigation by The Times. To name a few: Lord Barker, a Conservative, is chairman of En+, a Russian energy company owned by oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and he lobbied Washington to exempt the firm from sanctions. Labor member Lord Truscott is chairman of a Russian equity fund and once nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize. Lord Skidelsky, an independent, is a director of Russneft, a Russian oil-refining company, and has spoken against Russian sanctions. Conservative lawmaker Bob Seely has called for a law requiring transparency, saying “Peers lobbying in private in support of a self-proclaimed adversarial power looks dreadful.”
Generals in charge
Brazil’s far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro is packing his cabinet with retired generals. Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has named Fernando Azevedo e Silva, a retired four-star general and former army chief of staff, as defense minister. His vice president, Antônio Hamilton Mourão, and his national security adviser, Augusto Heleno, are also retired generals. Bolsonaro, who takes office on Jan. 1, has spoken admiringly of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, but the military told Brazilians not to worry. “The armed forces follow the democratic constitution,” said Gen. Eduardo Dias da Costa Villas Bôas, commandant of the Brazilian army. “Brazil will not turn into a fascist country.”
Newly leaked evidence strongly implicates Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last month. Several people familiar with an audio recording of the killing collected by Turkish intelligence told The New York Times that a member of the kill team made a call to Saudi Arabia and instructed someone to “tell your boss” the operation was successful. Prince Mohammed is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, and experts on the kingdom say no significant political attack—such as an assassination—could happen without his approval. “A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get,” said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution.
Defense minister quits
Noted hawk Avigdor Lieberman quit as Israeli defense minister this week to register his opposition to a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (See Best Columns: International.) Lieberman took his right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party out of the governing coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a bare majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. The defection means that Netanyahu is likely to call elections before his term ends next year. In the meantime, he is acting as defense minister in addition to being foreign minister, health minister, and prime minister, a concentration of power unprecedented in Israeli politics. Hamas hailed Lieberman’s resignation as a win. The militant group’s spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the tumult showed that Hamas had succeeded in “creating a political shake-up in the occupation.”
Jaghori district, Afghanistan
In a devastating blow to the Afghan military’s morale, the Taliban this week routed a company of 50 Afghan special forces—elite troops trained by the U.S.—killing more than 30 of them as well as at least 50 police and militiamen in other attacks. The troops had been airlifted to Jaghori, the country’s safest rural district and a haven for the persecuted Hazara Shiite minority, to stop a Taliban assault. “This is genocide,” said local militia commander Nazer Hussein. “If [officials] don’t do something soon, the whole district will be in the Taliban’s hands.” Only about 55 percent of Afghanistan’s districts are under government control.
Nuclear buildup continues
North Korea has not stopped work on its nuclear weapons program, researchers revealed this week, despite President Trump’s claims that he has neutralized the atomic threat from Pyongyang. While the regime has been touting its partial dismantling of one nuclear site as a great concession to U.S. demands, it has secretly continued to operate and expand up to 20 other bases housing mobile missile launchers. It also continues to produce the fissile material used in nuclear warheads—the North is believed to have about 50. The revelations, in a new report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, contradict President Trump’s assertion last week that “the missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped.” Trump tweeted that the report was “Just more Fake News.”
Imelda Marcos convicted
After nearly three decades of trial postponements, former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos was sentenced this week to at least 42 years in prison for corruption. The charges stem from her time as Manila governor in the 1970s, when she illegally funneled $200 million to Swiss bank accounts. Marcos, 89, a current member of Congress, will remain in office while appealing her conviction and will likely avoid prison altogether. The wife of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled from 1965 to 1986, Marcos was known for her extravagance. When protesters toppled her husband’s regime and stormed the palace, they found 2,700 pairs of designer shoes. The couple fled to Hawaii in 1986; Marcos returned in 1991 after her husband’s death.
Suu Kyi censured
At a regional summit in Singapore this week, Vice President Mike Pence strongly criticized Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi for her Buddhist-majority country’s ethnic cleansing of minority Rohingya Muslims. “The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse,” Pence said. He also condemned Myanmar’s arrest of two Reuters journalists who had exposed the atrocities. “People have different points of view,” Suu Kyi responded. A former dissident imprisoned by Myanmar’s military for advocating democracy, Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. This week Amnesty International said it was stripping her of its Ambassador of Conscience Award, bestowed in 2009. ■