Mexico is upset over a Trump administration decision to send Mexicans who seek asylum in the U.S. to Guatemala instead. “It’s a decision that worries us and a decision that we cannot agree with,” said Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., Martha Bárcena. The U.S. signed a “safe third country” pact with Guatemala last year that will see Hondurans and Salvadorans who seek asylum in the U.S. settled there, even though the State Department considers it one of the world’s most dangerous countries. Now Guatemala will also host Mexican asylum seekers, many of whom fear they’ll be targeted by drug gangs. “Imagine if they send us there,” said Manuela Morales, 37, who has been waiting for months in a Mexican camp near the U.S. border for her asylum claim to be processed. “We’ll be killed directly.”
Counting the disappeared
More than 60,000 people have been forcibly disappeared and likely murdered in Mexico since the country ramped up its war on drug cartels in 2006, government officials announced this week. The grim figure is based on a review of data from state prosecutors and is 50 percent higher than the previous official estimate of 40,000 missing, given out in 2018. The “disappeared” toll is separate from the number of recorded homicides, which topped 31,000 last year alone. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office in 2018, has made identifying and finding the disappeared a priority.
After nearly a year of political limbo, Spain finally has a government. Caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez eked out parliamentary approval this week for a coalition between his center-left Socialist party and the far-left Unidas Podemos, with 167 lawmakers voting in favor and 165 against. Because of the key role played by separatist Basque and Catalan parties in the vote—their lawmakers abstained—Pablo Casado, leader of the center-right People’s Party, accused Sánchez of pandering to “terrorists and coup mongers.” The Socialists and Podemos will hold only 155 of the 350 seats in Parliament; it is Spain’s first coalition government since the return of democracy in the 1970s. Spain has been without a government since an indecisive election in April; another election in November also failed to produce a clear winner.
Who controls parliament?
Control of Venezuela’s only remaining democratically elected body, the all-but-powerless National Assembly, was in flux this week after supporters of authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro blocked opposition lawmakers from the chamber and voted in a new speaker to replace opposition leader Juan Guaidó. But Guaidó, recognized as Venezuela’s rightful interim president by the U.S. and most Western countries, forced his way into the legislature along with supporters. “This is proof of what’s possible if we’re firmly united and organized,” Guaidó said, adding that the election of Maduro ally Luis Parra as speaker was invalid because the chamber had lacked a quorum. The opposition leader’s attempt to unseat Maduro has sputtered out in recent months, and Venezuela remains in crisis, with shortages of food and medicine and runaway inflation.
Harry and Meghan quit
The British royal family reacted with surprise this week after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced they would be “stepping back” from their roles as senior royals. The couple said they would “work to become financially independent” and “carve out a progressive new role” in the monarchy. The couple plan to split their time between North America and the U.K. as they launch a charity. Harry complained last year that the British press had waged a “ruthless campaign” of harassment, much of it racist, against his biracial American wife. Buckingham Palace said that it understood the couple’s “desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through.”
Machu Picchu, Peru
Peru is asking tourists to quit buying bottled water to take on treks to Machu Picchu, because local authorities are struggling to cope with the 5 tons of trash dumped every day at the 15th-century Inca citadel. A nearby plant crushes 1 ton of plastic bottles a day into dense plastic blocks that can be hauled out of the mountaintop area on trains—there are no roads up to the protected site—but it can’t keep up with the waste. Two years ago, UNESCO threatened to withdraw World Heritage status from the site because so much litter was ending up in the rivers, contaminating the surroundings. Since then, authorities have begun installing bottle-filling stations and are urging tourists to carry reusable bottles.
Turkey enters fray
Turkey announced this week that it would send troops to Libya to support the country’s besieged United Nations–backed central government. The government has been losing ground to rebel forces led by Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who is supported by Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Hifter’s fighters this week swept into the strategic city of Sirte, reducing the government’s control to a strip of coastline around the capital, Tripoli. In a sign that Turkey and Russia may be seeking to divvy up the country, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly called for a cease-fire just days after Turkey’s announcement. Analysts suspect that Russia wants to create a naval base in eastern Libya, while Turkey wants to protect a maritime border deal it signed with the Tripoli government that aids its claims to offshore drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Americans killed by al-Shabab
Manda Bay, Kenya
A U.S. Army specialist and two American contractors were killed in a predawn raid on a military base in Kenya by al Qaida–linked terrorists this week. Some 200 American soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines, as well as about 100 Pentagon civilian employees and contractors, are stationed in Kenya to assist in the country’s battle against al-Shabab, a jihadist group based in neighboring Somalia. The militants also destroyed two U.S. helicopters, two small planes, and multiple vehicles. “Alongside our African and international partners, we will pursue those responsible for this attack,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, head of the U.S. Africa command. The U.S. carried out a record 63 drone strikes last year on al-Shabab sites in Somalia. This is the first time the group has attacked American forces in Kenya.
Soleimani funeral stampede
A funeral procession for slain Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in his hometown of Kerman turned deadly this week, after a stampede left at least 56 people dead and 214 injured. Hundreds of thousands of people chanting “Death to America” had poured into the streets to pay tribute to the Quds Force leader—a revered figure in Iran—who was killed by a U.S. drone strike last week. Witnesses wrote on social media that the street leading to the funeral was too narrow to handle the massive crowd and that side streets had been shut off, so those caught in the crush had nowhere to flee. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, wept and led prayers at the funeral; Soleimani was his close ally and seen as a future top contender for the country’s presidency.
Hindu mob attacks university
Shouting “Hail Lord Ram!”—a Hindu god—dozens of masked men stormed one of India’s most prestigious universities this week, beating male and female students and professors with rods and bricks and injuring at least 42 people. Police called to the scene did not intervene and allowed the attackers to leave without arrest. Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi has long been a bastion of left-wing, secularist politics, and many of those brutalized had vocally opposed a new citizenship law passed by the Hindu nationalist government that is widely seen as anti-Muslim. “The mob violence could not have been possible without the active connivance of the administration and deliberate inaction by Delhi police,” said the JNU teachers’ union.
Japanese fashion tycoon Yusaku Maezawa is giving away $9 million in $9,000 chunks to his Twitter followers to see if a windfall can increase happiness. The one-off payments of 1 million yen will go to the first 1,000 people who retweet his New Year’s message. “It’s a serious social experiment,” said Maezawa, the 44-year-old founder of online retailer Zozotown. He said he wants to spark a debate in Japan about whether to implement a universal basic income, which would guarantee a minimum monthly payment to every citizen, no strings attached. Maezawa, who is worth about $2 billion, paid an undisclosed amount of money last year to become the first private passenger to fly around the moon with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
A Ukrainian International Airlines plane bound for Kiev went down shortly after takeoff in Tehran this week, killing all 176 people aboard—including 63 Canadian passengers and 11 Ukrainians. The crash of the three-year-old Boeing 737-800 came just hours after Iran launched more than 20 ballistic missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq. Tehran said the plane had suffered engine failure, causing the pilots to lose control. But there was some speculation that the 737 might have been accidentally shot down by an Iranian air-defense missile. Aviation security expert Todd Curtis said that based on videos and photos of the crash site, it appeared as though the plane was coming apart before it hit the ground. “I didn’t see a large central crater,” he said.
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