Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was facing calls to step down this week after a second cabinet member quit over a corruption scandal. “I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations,” Treasury Board President Jane Philpott said in her resignation. Philpott left in solidarity with Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney general who resigned last month, alleging that she had been improperly pressured to drop the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, an engineering firm facing bribery charges. Trudeau is standing firm, saying his staff tried to protect a key Canadian jobs provider while respecting the rule of law. “Canadians expect us to do those two things at the same time,” he said.
Anger over lawsuits
Cuban officials expressed outrage this week after the U.S. declared it would let Cuban-Americans sue Cuban companies that use property confiscated from their families during the island’s 1959 revolution. A section of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act provides for such lawsuits, but every president since the law went into effect has suspended that portion out of fears it could create havoc in the U.S. court system with a flood of legal claims. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo partially lifted the suspension this week, in what many see as punishment for Cuba’s continuing support for the authoritarian regime of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez called the U.S. action “hostile and irresponsible.”
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó arrived back in Caracas to a hero’s welcome this week, defying threats of arrest from President Nicolás Maduro. “We’re stronger than ever,” Guaidó told a crowd of thousands of flag-waving supporters. The opposition head—recognized as acting president by 50 countries—had left Venezuela 10 days earlier to meet with regional allies and to oversee an attempt to deliver humanitarian aid from Colombia that was unsuccessful. Fearing authorities might try to arrest Guaidó on his return, diplomats from the U.S., Spain, and other countries met him at a Caracas airport and accompanied him to the rally. Maduro, meanwhile, told the people to enjoy Carnival this week, even though most Venezuelans are now poor and hungry.
Buhari win contested
Defeated Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar is challenging Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election last month in a chaotic vote marred by delay. The incumbent took 56 percent of the vote to Abubakar’s 41 percent. The vote had been scheduled for a week earlier, but election officials canceled it just hours before polls opened, saying ballot boxes and papers were not in place. Urban voters who had traveled to their home villages to vote were told to return the following week, and many did not do so. Turnout was less than 33 percent, the lowest in Nigeria’s 20-year history as a democracy. This week, after Abubakar brought his legal challenge, authorities arrested his finance chairman—who is also his son-in-law—and his lawyer on money-laundering charges. Abubakar’s spokesman called the arrests an intimidation attempt.
WWII archives to open
Saying the Catholic Church “is not afraid of history,” Pope Francis announced this week that he would allow historians access to the records of Pope Pius XII, who was pontiff from 1939 to 1958. Jewish groups have long accused Pius of tolerating the rise of Nazi Germany and of doing little to protect Jews during the Holocaust. Francis says Pius did what he could behind the scenes, engaging in “hidden but active diplomacy.” Papal records usually aren’t open to researchers until 70 years after the end of a pontificate, but historians have been pushing for access to Pius’ records while Holocaust survivors are still alive. There are an estimated 16 million documents in Pius’ archive, including papal decrees, encyclicals, and diplomatic correspondence.
Military welcomed in government
Brazilians are largely happy with the eight former generals that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has appointed to his 22-member cabinet. During last year’s election campaign, opponents warned that Bolsonaro’s plan to appoint officers as ministry heads would send Brazil back to its days as a military dictatorship. But 53 percent of Brazilians now say that having the generals in government is good for the country, while just over 14 percent describe their role as bad. Bolsonaro’s civilian ministers have turned out to be far more extremist than the generals, with one threatening war on Venezuela and another opposing the teaching of evolution in schools. “There’s no doubt that the military has better judgment than the president,” said opposition Socialist Party lawmaker Alessandro Molon.
Bounty for bin Laden son
Saudi Arabia revoked the citizenship of Hamza bin Laden, the 30-year-old son of former al-Qaida leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, after the U.S. State Department offered $1 million for information on his whereabouts. Letters found in Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound after he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs during a 2011 raid revealed that he had been grooming Hamza—who had been moved to a safe house in Peshawar—to take over al-Qaida. Hamza has released audio and video messages calling on Muslims to attack the West, and was named a “specially designated global terrorist” by the U.S. in 2017. He has reportedly married the daughter of Mohamed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, but officials don’t know whether Hamza is now living in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or elsewhere.
Netanyahu to be indicted
Just weeks before Israel’s elections, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he intends to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with corruption in three cases. The most serious charge is bribery, in a case in which Netanyahu allegedly arranged for the Bezeq telecoms company to get lucrative perks in exchange for favorable media coverage. He is also to be charged with fraud and breach of trust in two other cases, one involving the acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of champagne and cigars from a Hollywood producer. Netanyahu called the investigations a “witch hunt” and said Mandelblit, whom he appointed, had caved to “inhuman pressure” from “the media and the left wing.” Previous prime ministers facing charges, including Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert, stepped down; Netanyahu says he will remain in office and run in the April 9 election.
New rocket tests?
North Korea began rebuilding a long-range rocket test site shortly before or just after denuclearization talks between President Trump and dictator Kim Jong Un ended without an agreement, new satellite images have revealed. Kim’s regime started to dismantle the Sohae site—which has been used for satellite launches employing intercontinental ballistic missile technology—soon after the first round of talks between Trump and Kim last June. But satellite images obtained by the U.S. defense think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies show the North is now reconstructing the facility, indicating a new rocket test could be in the works. Pyongyang’s actions at Sohae are “deliberate and purposeful,” said CSIS, and reveal Kim’s “plans to demonstrate resolve in the face of U.S. rejection.”
WWF poaching war
Chitwan National Park, Nepal
The conservation charity WWF, or World Wildlife Fund, has been accused of funding, equipping, and working with paramilitary forces who torture and kill suspected poachers in national parks around the world. In a detailed exposé released this week based on more than 100 interviews and thousands of documents, BuzzFeedNews.com said it found evidence that WWF-linked guards have waterboarded, whipped, and sexually assaulted indigenous people and other villagers near parks in Nepal and Cameroon. Numerous civilians have also allegedly been killed. BuzzFeedNews.com said WWF acted as a kind of “global spymaster,” arming guards with assault rifles and paying villagers to act as informants. WWF said it has hired an international law firm to review the allegations and was “committed to taking swift action.”
U.S. alliance in doubt
The Philippines is considering modifying its 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S. out of fear that America could draw it into a war with China. The U.S. has been conducting frequent military patrols in the South China Sea to keep sea lanes open as Beijing attempts to assert its sovereignty over the entire region. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said this week that those patrols make the U.S. “more likely to be involved in a shooting war.” And because of the treaty, the Philippines would have to come to the U.S.’s aid. Lorenzana also said that while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently assured him that the U.S. would defend Philippine sovereignty, the U.S. failed to stand up for the Philippines when China annexed nearby islands.
Saudi Arabia has been holding a Harvard-educated American doctor, Walid Fitaihi, in prison since 2017, and according to his lawyer subjecting him to electric shocks and severe beatings. Fitaihi, a dual U.S. and Saudi citizen, returned to Saudi Arabia in 2006 to start a hospital. He was one of roughly 200 prominent Saudis rounded up and initially held prisoner at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton in 2017 during a crackdown by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against potential rivals. Fitaihi’s lawyer says he fears for his client’s life and that Fitaihi “can’t hold out much longer.” The U.S. State Department said it takes “all allegations of abuse and torture extremely seriously.” ■