Brexit roils Parliament
For the first time in history, a British government has been found in contempt of Parliament. The legislature last month demanded that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government turn over all the legal advice it received on her proposed agreement on withdrawal from the EU. This week, the government offered only a summary of U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s analysis, saying releasing the full document would be “contrary to the public interest.” Parliament disagreed, in a historic rebuke to the prime minister. Cox’s conclusions, now published, are likely to upset pro-Brexit MPs: He says that May’s deal will keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs union for many years, effectively splitting it from the rest of the U.K., which will leave the trading bloc. Northern Irish parliamentarians, whose votes are vital to May’s government, will not accept such an outcome, so her Brexit deal may be doomed.
Migrant camp shut
The city of Tijuana shuttered a migrant camp close to the U.S. border this week and moved its 6,000 occupants some 10 miles south, because the sports complex housing them had become overcrowded, flooded, and unhygienic. Health experts said respiratory diseases, chicken pox, and lice were rampant at the shelter, which was a temporary home for many of the Central Americans who recently trekked to the U.S. border in a caravan. They are being relocated to a former concert venue that will be run by the federal government and is further from the border. In one of his first acts since taking office this week, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed a pact with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to create jobs in Central America, which they hope will help stop residents from fleeing north.
Justice for activist
A Honduran court ruled last week that a dam company ordered the 2016 murder of renowned environmental activist Berta Cáceres. The campaigner, 44, was shot dead in her home for leading the fight against a hydroelectric project on the Gualcarque River, which the indigenous Lenca people consider sacred. The court found seven men guilty of her murder, including the four hitmen and two officials from Desa, the firm building the dam. Company president David Castillo, a U.S.-trained former military intelligence officer, is accused of ordering the assassination and will be tried separately. “We demand that the masterminds behind the murder be brought to justice,” said Olivia Zuniga, Cáceres’ eldest daughter.
Maduro wants gold
The Venezuelan opposition is begging the Bank of England not to give President Nicolás Maduro the 14 tons of Venezuelan bullion—worth $550 million—sitting in its vaults, saying the leftist strongman will either steal it or use it to finance a crackdown on dissent. With Venezuelan oil production at half its 2015 level, thanks to mismanagement and sanctions, Maduro has turned to gold to finance his government—even encouraging dangerous wildcat mining in the Orinoco region. Two opposition leaders in exile, Julio Borges and Carlos Vecchio, wrote the bank this week to warn that releasing Venezuela’s gold to Maduro would breach the BoE’s legal obligations to prevent money laundering and corruption.
Pompeo vs. multilateralism
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the United Nations, the EU, the World Trade Organization, and nearly every other major international body for trade or diplomacy in a forceful speech this week at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels. “International bodies must help facilitate cooperation that bolsters the security and values of the free world,” Pompeo said, “or they must be reformed or eliminated.” He cited treaty breaches by Iran, Russia, and China as evidence that multilateral pacts were not working. Pompeo did, however, praise NATO, an alliance President Trump has often criticized. European officials in attendance were appalled, and Pompeo was heckled twice.
Vox supporters celebrate.
In a shock to Spain, voters in Andalusia gave the far-right Vox party 12 seats in the southern region’s legislature this week. There are 109 seats total, but since no major party took a majority, the dozen new members from the anti-immigrant, anti-Islam Vox can play the role of coalition kingmakers. The party could well join the regional government—which would be the first time since the death in 1975 of dictator Francisco Franco that the far right held power in any Spanish region. The election result is a huge setback for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose Socialist party has dominated Andalusian politics for decades. Andalusia has an unemployment rate of about 25 percent, compared with a national rate of 15 percent.
Beloved British nature documentarian David Attenborough issued a dire warning for the planet this week at the United Nations’ annual climate-change conference. “We are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change,” Attenborough said. “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” Attenborough, 92, was once a climate skeptic but said the scientific evidence is now overwhelming. Some 30,000 people, including world leaders and business executives, met in Katowice to discuss how to achieve the emissions-reduction goals agreed on in Paris in 2015. The U.S. pulled out of the Paris climate agreement last year and sent only a small delegation to Poland.
President is not a clone: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has finally denied a widespread rumor that he had died and been replaced by a Sudanese body double. “I can assure you all that this is the real me,” he said this week in Poland at the U.N. climate conference. “Later this month, I will celebrate my 76th birthday. And I’m still going strong!” The president was in London for much of 2017 receiving medical treatment—one visit to the U.K. lasted three months—but Buhari never told Nigerians about the nature of his illness. The rumors that he had died and been replaced by a doppelgänger named Jubril went viral in October, when campaigning began for the 2019 presidential election, with “before and after” photos circulating on social media.
Gene editor vanishes
The Chinese scientist who claimed to have successfully created the world’s first genetically engineered babies has gone missing. He Jiankui gave a presentation in Hong Kong last week on his controversial experiment but hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Chinese media reported that He had been brought back to his hometown of Shenzhen and was under house arrest. His former college, the Shenzhen-based Southern University of Science and Technology, which knew nothing of his controversial work, said it could not comment on his possible detention. He claims to have altered the embryonic genes of twin girls to make them resistant to HIV. Other scientists say that based on the slides shown at He’s Hong Kong press conference, he likely has not protected the girls from future HIV infection and may have left them with debilitating gene mutations.
A Philippine court sentenced three police officers to 40 years in prison each last week for the 2017 murder of a 17-year-old boy, the first such convictions for killings explicitly encouraged by President Rodrigo Duterte as part of his war on drugs. Nearly 5,000 people are thought to have been murdered by the police, and many more by unofficial militias, since Duterte came to office in 2016 telling citizens and police to “go ahead and kill” drug users and dealers. Officers routinely claim their victims pulled guns and resisted arrest. But in the slaying of teenager Kian Lloyd delos Santos, surveillance camera footage and forensic evidence proved they were lying. Human rights activists aren’t celebrating the convictions yet: Duterte has promised to pardon any officer convicted of murder during the crackdown.
Qatar announced this week that it is pulling out of OPEC, becoming the first Middle Eastern country to leave the oil cartel since its 1960 founding. The tiny nation of Qatar is one of OPEC’s smallest oil producers but is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, and it says it wants the freedom to raise its output of both oil and gas. But the decision is also a political slap at Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, which has led other Arab nations in a boycott of Qatar since June 2017. Saudi Arabia has been trying to turn Qatar away from Iran, but Qatar has good relations with the Shiite theocracy, with whom it shares ownership of the world’s largest gas field.
Accused of bribery
Netanyahu corruption case
Israeli police recommended this week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be charged with bribery and fraud, the third time this year they have suggested he face prosecution for alleged corruption. In the latest case, Netanyahu is accused of giving regulatory perks to Bezeq, Israel’s largest national telecommunications provider, in exchange for favorable news coverage for himself on Bezeq’s news website, Walla. Police say he “intervened in a blatant and ongoing manner, and sometimes even daily,” to place flattering articles. In the two other cases, Netanyahu is accused of accepting lavish gifts in exchange for tax exemptions, and of proposing an illicit deal to secure favorable media coverage. He denies any wrongdoing. The attorney general must now decide whether to indict Netanyahu. ■