Johnson’s Brexit offer
With less than a month to go before Britain is scheduled to depart the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week offered a final proposal for a Brexit deal with the bloc. A key sticking point in Brexit is how to prevent a hard border with checkpoints between the U.K. province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, a situation that could rekindle sectarian violence on the island. Johnson’s offer would take Northern Ireland out of the European customs union but leave part of its economy aligned with EU regulations for four years. In a speech to the Conservative Party conference, Johnson claimed that there would be no customs checks at the Irish border and that goods trucks would instead be checked as needed “at traders’ premises or other points on the supply chain.” He warned that “if we fail to get an agreement because of what is essentially a technical discussion of the exact nature of future customs checks,” then Britain will exit the EU with no deal on Oct. 31. Reaction to the plan from outside Johnson’s Conservative Party was almost uniformly negative. Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the proposal was unacceptable, while Nicola Sturgeon—leader of the Scottish National Party—said it seemed “designed to fail.” EU officials speaking anonymously to various media outlets said the plan was unworkable, because it would require a customs border in Ireland, but they held out hope that Johnson might change the plan during talks ahead of an Oct. 17 EU summit. “What we are hearing is not encouraging,” said Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, “and would not be the basis for agreement.”
Safe for migrants?
Under U.S. pressure, Honduras signed an agreement last week that will let U.S. immigration officials send asylum seekers back to Honduras if they passed through the Central American country on their way north. The pact effectively designates Honduras as a “safe third country,” even though it has one of the world’s highest murder rates and drug gangs are forcing its people to flee. More than 250,000 Hondurans have crossed the U.S. border during the past 11 months. The U.S. has potential leverage against President Juan Orlando Hernández, who agreed to the deal. He is facing allegations of corruption and has been named as a co-conspirator in a U.S. drug-trafficking case against his brother, Juan Antonio Hernández.
President vs. Congress
Peru was in political crisis this week after President Martín Vizcarra dissolved Congress for failing to support his anti-corruption reforms—but lawmakers refused to go, then voted to suspend Vizcarra’s presidential powers and swear in Vice President Mercedes Aráoz. She in turn resigned, saying “the constitutional order in Peru is broken.” Vizcarra had taken action after lawmakers chose multiple people accused of corruption to serve on Peru’s top court. The court is about to decide whether to free Keiko Fujimori, an opposition party leader accused of corruption, from pretrial detention. Vizcarra has the support of the army as well as of thousands of people who took to the streets, shouting, “Get out, corrupt politicians!”
Meghan Markle sued the British tabloid Mail on Sunday this week, accusing the paper of unlawfully publishing excerpts from a private letter she wrote to her estranged father shortly after her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry. In the letter, Markle begged Thomas Markle to stop lying to the press about their relationship, saying he was breaking her heart into “a million pieces.” Her father gave the letter to the tabloid. In a written statement, Harry slammed the press for bullying his wife. “I lost my mother,” Harry said, “and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.” Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, died in 1997 after a car she was riding in crashed in a Paris tunnel while being pursued by paparazzi on motorcycles.
Praising the torturers
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro drew condemnation this week for praising the memoirs of a brutal dictatorship-era torturer. While meeting with students at the presidential palace, Bolsonaro accused one of the teenager’s teachers of being a leftist and said she should read The Suffocated Truth by Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra. In 2008, Ustra became the first military officer to be convicted for kidnap and torture during Brazil’s 1964–1985 junta. Victims of Ustra’s torture center said he personally beat them and hung people upside down by their legs for days. Ustra argued his innocence in his book, which Bolsonaro said contained “facts, not the blah blah blah of the Left.” The president last month told former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, whose father was tortured by the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet, that Chile would be Communist had Pinochet not acted forcefully.
Conservatives plus Greens?
The People’s Party of former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz won a decisive election victory this week, while its scandal-hit far-right former coalition partner slumped at the polls. Kurz’s conservative party won 37 percent of the vote, up nearly 6 percentage points since the last election in 2017, while the ultranationalist Freedom Party took 16 percent of the vote, down 10 percentage points. The two parties’ governing coalition collapsed in May after Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache was filmed promising public contracts in exchange for political support to a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch. Kurz must now form a new coalition. He has rejected an alliance with the center-left Social Democrats, who came second in the vote. That leaves the leftist Greens or the Freedom Party.
Veep’s supercar sale
Malabo, Equatorial Guinea
A collection of 25 luxury cars seized from Equatorial Guinea’s vice president as part of a Swiss corruption probe was sold at auction this week, netting $27 million to be donated to social programs in the West African nation. The sale was the result of a deal between Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue—son of dictator President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo—and Swiss prosecutors who had been investigating him for money laundering and misappropriation of public assets. During Obiang Sr.’s 40-year rule, his family is believed to have stolen much of the country’s oil and gas wealth. The younger Obiang has bought mansions in France and the U.S. and a museum’s worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia, including the singer’s famous crystal-studded glove. One of the cars sold at the Swiss auction was a 2014 white Lamborghini Veneno Roadster; only nine exist.
Laying off the booze
Russian alcohol consumption is down 43 percent since 2003, and the World Health Organization says that’s partly because of measures President Vladimir Putin has taken to curb heavy drinking. Putin, who has served as president or prime minister for 20 years, is a fitness buff and largely abstains from alcohol. Under his tenure, Russia has banned liquor store sales after 11 p.m., prohibited advertising of alcohol in almost all media, and raised the price of vodka and other spirits. At this point, Russians drink less than the French or Germans, and Russian male life expectancy has increased from 57 years in the early 1990s to 68 years in 2018. “Bars have become more civilized,” said Roman Pechnikov, a patron at a central Moscow watering hole, “and people do not drink until the end of the night.”
Talks and missiles
North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile this week, possibly from a submarine, just days before working-level nuclear negotiations with the U.S. were set to resume after a seven-month hiatus. The missile was fired from waters off the country’s east coast and flew for 280 miles before splashing into the Sea of Japan. It was the most powerful weapon North Korea has tested since President Trump held inconclusive denuclearization talks with dictator Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February. Up to now, Trump has downplayed the significance of the North’s short-range missile tests. But South Korean defense analyst Moon Seong Mook warned that a submarine-launched weapon poses a real threat to America, because North Korea could “covertly sail” a sub to the U.S. coast and target the mainland.
‘American spy’ to be executed
Iranian courts have sentenced one person to death, and three others to 10 years in prison, for spying for the U.S. and Britain. In July, Iran said its intelligence forces had arrested 17 Iranians suspected of working for the CIA and that some of them had been sentenced to death; it’s unclear whether any of the four convicted this week were among them. At the time, President Trump denied Iran’s claim that it had dismantled an elaborate U.S. espionage ring. Iran’s legal system is opaque and unjust. Defendants are routinely denied access to legal counsel, and trials for political or security offenses are generally held in secret. Iran hangs hundreds of people each year for offenses ranging from murder to drug trafficking to blasphemy.
Khashoggi murder fallout
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman denied ordering the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes this week, but said he takes “full responsibility” for the murder because “it happened on my watch.” He called the killing “a mistake.” U.S. intelligence concluded last year that Mohammed ordered the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. Saudi Arabia has charged 11 people in the slaying, but nobody has yet been convicted in the secret trial. A U.S. law firm has filed a petition at the International Criminal Court to have the crown prince investigated for crimes against humanity. Khashoggi, once close to the regime, became a fierce critic of Mohammed, calling him repressive and corrupt. ■