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France wakes up to hung parliament after legislative elections  NPU file Photo

Violating borders

Borders have always been contentious issues, their shake-up notably considerable at the end of the colonial era of the mid 20th century. While some of these uneasy and often artificial lines are still up for dispute, much of the planet has settled on the current geopolitical drawings and mosaic. Much but not all. If anything there is a new trend in defying current borders just as there is one defying any perceived world order. Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago shocked Europe even more than it had a decade before when Moscow had moved on the Crimea and troubled Georgia. This is making the current conflict a reminder of the message a Russian win would convey to the world, about impunity and its consequences. Not surprisingly a Russian ally has had its own idea of annexation, raising the issue of a border unsettled since the end of the 19th century in South America. In early December Venezuela's refe-rendum on a possible takeover of territory belonging to neighboring Guyana was certainly reminiscent of the illegal plebiscites held in Eastern Ukraine before the Russian army formally moved in. In dispute are territories which have been claimed by Venezuela ever since an international arbitral tribunal awarded the area to Britain in 1899, which then ruled Guyana. While Caracas contested this repeatedly, before and after Guyana acquired independence, it became particularly aggressive when oil was discovered off the shore of the 160,000-sq-km region known as Essequibo. While Venezuela polled its citizens on whether they supported the country's claim, which most of them supposedly did, it did not include any of the 120,000 citizens of the region itself, which Caracas says can now claim Venezuelan citizenship. Regardless, Guyana considered the move an attempt at illegal annexation, vowing to be vigilant and bolster defences while seeking the support of the US and Caribbean leaders. The US said Guyana had its full support and held joint military exercises to make that point. Observers say the move may have more to do with internal politics, as the opposition is gaining some traction in Venezuela, than actual geopolitics. Another, still very British, territory is the subject of renewed dispute by a Latin American government. Buenos Aires has under the new presidency of libertarian leader Javier Milei objected to the visit to the Falklands of the British Under-Secretary for the Americas, the Caribbean, and Overseas Territories, reiterating that the "recovery of the full exercise of sovereignty" over the islands is enshrined in its Constitution, four decades after Margaret Thatcher sent troops to oust Argentinian soldiers who had staged an attack. This heralds a new period of tensions between the two governments a short time after Milei's second round shock electoral win. But sometimes land takeovers, or their attempt, are not even necessary to conjure violation of international borders. These are also under siege in more subtle ways. Accusations India sponsored extraterritorial assassinations at the end of 2023, after the death of a Sikh separatist in Canada and following an alleged foiled plot in the US, and Israel's decision to target Hamas leaders no matter where they may be in the world after the October 7 attacks, further put to the test international law against such actions. If anything such acts have been growing in recent years after the assassination of a US journalist in Turkiye as Ankara pursued an active policy against Kurdish separatists and supporters of cleric Fethullah Gülen, accused of orchestrating an attempted coup, beyond its borders, and other regimes such as Russia and North Korea targeted perceived enemies of the state overseas. Perhaps the rise of the internet age, marked by boundless transactions and transnational electronic threats, have weakened the case for existing borders, their defense separating supporters of the present world order from those who would upset it. At the end of the year Britain was denouncing years of cyber attacks and hacking by Russia, which stands accused, along with China, of interference in the West. But the defense of hard land borders is something some countries are taking rather seriously as 2023 comes to an end, from a Finland eager to avoid an influx of migrants from neighboring Russia to an America seeing the masses flocking to its southern border, an issue heating up in the US presidential campaign. Simple lines have become chasms in various parts of the world, separating Gaza from Israel or Spanish Melilla from Morocco, zones with already well established walls, while others are erected between Turkiye and Greece to prevent the passage of asylum seekers, and further east on the Belarussian border. The global refugee crisis, sending 100 million on the move, have even tightened European borders which once prided themselves in their openness. Of the 27 Schengen countries nearly a third have put up temporary barriers and Austria is refusing further expansion of the group. Borders do matter, but can they all be defended. And some ask, at what cost.

Freedom under attack

As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, the defenders urge supporters and suppliers not to abandon them, reiterating their struggle is the free world's, and democracy's battle against the darkness of authori-tarianism. Sadly, in a year of continuing war in Eastern Europe and conflict in the Middle East, an increasing share of the world is living under some form of authoritarianism according to both Freedom House and this year' Economist Democracy Index. For the latter, this means just under 40%, while barely 45% of the planet lives under some form of democracy, and this includes only 7.8% of some 167 surveyed countries that are full democracies. The last year has brought the global democracy index further down, in fact to its lowest level since it was created in 2006, "suggesting authori-tarian regimes are becoming more entrenched and hybrid regimes are struggling to democratise." The biggest damage, by this account, has been in the Middle East and North Africa, with the flare-ups in Sudan and Gaza, certainly, but also in the Caribbean and Latin America, in regions consumed by internal wars of sorts with gangs and criminality. This ensured El Salvador's increasingly autocratic leadership a sure win in this year's elections, with others looking to emulate Bukele's strong-armed formula to tame drug gangs. The punishing method, criticized by human rights groups, has certainly dipped the level of violence in what was one of the world's most terrifying countries, but not without weakening further the state of democracy there. "His total control of government institutions means that opposition parties have little chance of challenging his re-election," the Economist Intelligence Unit's report notes. "Political reforms passed in June to reduce the number of seats in the Legislative Assembly and the number of municipalities will further constrain the chances of opposition parties to gain power," while media freedoms come under attack. The Freedom House report downgraded Ecuador from free to partly free due to the rising gang-related violence. In that annual report political rights and civil liberties were down in 52 countries and only 21 countries improved their situation. But as co-author Yana Gorokhovskaia notes: "Even if you look at it region by region, usually we are able to say that one is an outlier, but every single region registered a decline. The deterioration is pretty widespread." The report denounced efforts by incumbents "to control electoral competition, hinder their political opponents or prevent them from taking power" in countries including Cambodia, Turkey and Zimbabwe and -- unsuccessfully -- in Guatemala and Poland." There were however some bright spots as Thailand went from not free to partly free after relatively competitive elections, even if the regime prevented a young progressive whose party won the most seats from becoming prime minister. "This isn't, I would say, a full-scale victory for democracy or freedom and Thailand," nuanced Gorokhovskaia. The biggest improvement? Tiny Fiji after 2022 elections which ousted longtime ruler Frank Bainimarama, who had taken over in a coup in 2006. Since then Freedom House has noted marked progress including reduced censorship and laws to improve women's participation.

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Dry cities

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It's been another year of record hot temperatures and another punishing one may be in the forecast. Certainly Canadian authorities are already gearing up for what could be a summer wildfire season not unlike last year's devastating months of blazes, some of which were never fully extinguished and kept burning over the winter. Some Canadian communities have in fact already been under evacuation alerts due to wildfires. All this as the planet is struggling with water shortages the UN says are threatening half the world's population, many of them in major cities. And this drive to quench the thirst of those dehydrated millions is having another consequence on communities. Bogota, one of the world's highest cities, has started rationing water as reservoirs fell to critical levels. The capital and surrounding towns have been divided into nine zones that face rotating 24 hour water cuts as the country struggles with a drought made more severe by the year's El Nino weather phenomenon. Mayor Carlos Fernando Galán pleaded the millions under the rotating cuts to embrace “a behavioral change that is sustainable over time and guarantees that water is enough for everyone,” citing the dwindling water levels in the reservoirs supplying the city. Cities from Bengaluru, India to Cape Town have faced water restrictions over the years and struggle with supplying their residents with water, but Bogota's situation is particularly tricky due to its reliance on rainwater, tells CNN Armando Sarmiento of Bogota University. “Most cities around the world depend on aquifers for their water supplies. Bogota is different in that almost all our supply comes from surface waters like reservoirs, which are more susceptible to rain patterns,” he says. In Togo water shortages in parts of the country have made them a major electoral campaign issue, but these don't just happen in the global south either or developing countries for that matter. In North America Mexico has been facing the same emergency, leaving some neighborhoods dry for weeks at a time, and even Hawaii is said of being on the verge of catastrophe as it faces its own water crisis. As it heads to the polls this year Mexico's capital isn't only dealing with low reservoirs but leaking infrastructures, leaving its 22 million citizens struggling with often empty taps. Meanwhile in the US state where “water is life” locals are fearing a catastrophe after years of reduced rains and continued chemical leaks into water sources, especially on the island of Oahu. "We are in a water crisis, that has to be made very clear," says Wayne Tanaka, director of Sierra Club of Hawaii. "We may come to a point where we have to decide … who gets water and who doesn't." And tourism isn't helping either, the industry's needs squeezing available freshwater, not easily found despite the insular environment. Like Bogota, the island depends on rainfall, which has been in freefall as of late in some parts. "Hawaii is getting drier and drier, particularly since the 1980s," climatologist Pao-Shin Chu tells CBS. "...The consecutive dry days become longer and longer. That's very clear." And there are in fact a number of US cities facing water shortages, even if they have not all resorted to rotating cuts yet. They include San Antonio, San Diego and Las Vegas, where lavish pubic fountain displays come at a high cost. In Canada the Alberta city of Lethbridge is among a number of communities in the region to seek reductions in water usage as the province gears up for a potential drought. For now residents are being asked to curb their consumption voluntarily. Over-seas more alarming droughts-stricken urban areas include Delhi, Tokyo and Beijing, according to Seametrics, and the latter is among a number of Chinese cities facing another emergency, that of the sinking city, in part due to constant pumping of groundwater to quench the thirst of the masses on the surface amid frenzied development. The ironic consequence of this sinking is that, with rising water levels coastal cities face the possibility of catastrophic flooding in their future. An exaggeration? Excessive pumping of groundwater was a major contributor to the sinking of Indonesia's capital of over 10 million, exposing it further to surrounding waters. The accelerated sinking, while the Java Sea rises, would leave over a third of Jakarta submerged by 2050.As a result the government is moving the capital to a newly-built community in Borneo, which sadly, may cause further environmental damage to the massive island north of Java known for its rare species and ecosystems. Nusantara is expected to be inaugurated next year though it will take years to finalize. Its sprawling 256,000-hectares would mean mass deforestation in East Kalimantan province, which is home to Borneo's famed orangutans, leopards and other wildlife. But that is another tragic environmental story altogether.

Gusts of change

Change seems afoot amid the world's top Western democracies. As Britain switched leadership with the collapse of the conservative party this week, its Canadian counterpart looked to make major gains in the yet to be called parliamentary elec-tions. Likewise France's government seemed poised for a shake-up after the first round of snap polls gave the far-right Rassemblement National 33% of the votes, causing others to band in opposition, as it threatened to put in place the first hard right French government in the post-war era.

 

In the land of the leader of the free world meanwhile, tightening polls after the conviction of the Republican nominee once again gave Donald Trump a more comfortable lead after a disastrous debate for the incumbent. So under-whelming was Joe Biden's performance in fact, that long-time supporters called for him to make way for another Democratic candidate, four months before election night.

 

The last few weeks haven't been kind to the 81-year-old who looked every day the part for the first debate of the presidential election. His son had recently been convicted on federal gun charges, a fact that did not fail to come up, and while Biden was quick to snap back that the only convicted felon he could see was "the man I'm looking at" during the debate, his raspy voice and lack of energy left casual observers and experts alike agreeing the night had been a disaster despite an opponent refusing to say clearly he would recognise electoral defeat and making a litany of inaccurate claims, some more preposterous than the others.

 

The difference being that in doing so the former president looked not a year older, or less of a fabulist, than when he stepped out of the White House. In an election where voters indicated their dislike for both of these choices, and the preference of none of the above wasn't an option, the night's performance failed to reassure Americans Biden was indeed fit for a job he would occupy into his mid-80s. Major publications such as the Economist and New York Times called for Biden to end his bid. Even insiders of the government in Canada were privately expressing concerns about the performance of their ally.

 

But these friends were having their own troubles. Justin Trudeau's party lost a riding that had been Liberal for decades in a byelection catastrophe which has also raised calls for him not to run again in the next federal election. While this may be more than a year away, some observers say the trouble the ruling party is in is such it would make little difference to change leaders. Soon after the byelection, former cabinet minister Catherine McKenna stated "The Prime Minister has a legacy to be proud of but it's time for new ideas, new energy and a new leader." A sitting Liberal MP later echoed that sentiment.

 

In France, Trudeau ally Emmanuel Macron was successful preventing the far right from winning a majority but lost precious seats. While the battle is for the prime ministership and not the presidency, some fear the new National assembly could make coexistence difficult for Macron. In the UK meanwhile, Rishi Sunak's ousting as short lived prime minister hardly came as a surprise after a campaign where voters made plain the Tories had run their course in Great Britain after 14 years in power marked by scandals and Brexit.

 

While a weakening of the centre can be held responsible for some of the upheaval in these countries, so is the inevitable swing of the political pendulum after years of the same parties holding power. In all these cases the changes and likely changes had important ramifications in terms of policies, but nowhere was this more alarming than in Washington as some feared a new Trump presidency would diminish support to Ukraine and NATO, among other significant foreign policy changes.

 

The day after the debate Biden was back on the campaign trail vowing to continue the fight. "Folks, I might not walk as easily or talk as smoothly as I used to. I might not debate as well as I used to. But what I do know is how to tell the truth," he told a North Carolina crowd. "And I know what millions of Americans know. When you get knocked down you get back up." But this did not quiet the critics fearing the incumbent's chances in the fall, already challenging in the past, were now simply marked for failure regardless of this opponent's judicial distrac-tions.

 

Looking on are rival powers, from China to Russia and Iran, hardly concerned about polling of any sort and hoping the changes in Western democracies play in their favour to alter the balance of power. Biden and Trudeau vowed to stay on despite facing pressure to step down, both citing their need to confront the world's challenges to freedom. But their political wager looked as shaky as Macron's, days before second round voting in France.

​AFTER THE EURO VOTE

It was largely expected populist and far-right parties would fare well in Europe's recent elections, though the results were not as alarming as some feared, but few anticipated the response of France's Emmanuel Macron when his country's results gave nearly a third of the vote to the far-right.

 

The French president promptly dissolved parliament and announced snap parliamentary elections right before the Olympics, daring electors to trust extremists at the national level and urging citizens to unite against them. Not everyone is convinced he will win his bet but large crowds demonstrated against the rise of the far right  and super stars such as Kylian Mbappé warned against "extremes".

 

Rarely had continental elections had such an impact on domestic politics and the gamble seemed to suit up and coming right wing politician Jordan Bardella, president of the Rassemblement National and protégé of Marine Le Pen, just fine. The far-right made gains in other countries including Italy, Austria and Germany, but despite his party's setback at the polls, Chancellor Olaf Scholz refrained from calling an election. European Commis-sion chief Ursula von der Leyen, whose centrist alliance maintained the majority overall, still found reason to celebrate and vowed to erect a "barrier" to extremism after the June 9 vote.

 

She quickly started to work on the creation of a new coalition of centrists and allies as the success of right-wing parties could make it harder for legislation to be passed and the continent to come together on contentious issues such as Ukraine. Far right leaders including the Netherlands' Geert Wilders, Italy's Mattheo Salvini and Le Pen meanwhile were holding their own meetings to unite the continent's "center right", even though they are considered quite removed from the center. The far right itself is in fact divided.

 

While Le Pen and Italy's Giorgia Meloni found reasons to celebrate, the latter is also close to van der Leyen and hesitant to support a more radical group of parties in the European parliament. Far right parties are also divided over the war in Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky is worried radical parties are more likely to be pro-Russian and  expressed his concern about the eventual dwindling of support in Europe and elsewhere, but he for now could at least count on the help of G7 summit host Meloni, who has repeated her support for Ukraine and signed on with others to the $50 billion loan Ukraine will receive, drawing on interest from frozen Russian assets.

 

Not all has been rosy for radical parties, as they failed to gain as many seats as they would have wanted overall. Among them  in fact Viktor Orban's party lost a few in the new European parliament. While his Fidesz still won the most votes, the center-right party of Peter Magyar, a former Orban disciple, got just under a third of the vote, making him a domestic challenger in future elections. “This is the beginning of the end,”

 

Magyar told crowds on election night. That may be so for Hungary, but political observers note the hard right in general has been making steady gains for the last decades in the West, notably among the founding EU members, requiring repeated calls for other parties to unite, as France is once again called to do.

BRISE SOUVERAINISTE

La montée  du Parti québécois dans les sondages a fait ressurgir dans le discours politique la notion de référendum et de souvenaineté, même si l'appui de la cause indépendantiste n'atteint pas le niveau de celui d'un parti en bonne posture pour mettre fin au règne de la CAQ au pouvoir.

 

Le chef du PQ, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, qui hésitait pourtant sur la question dans le passé, gonflé par les sondages, promet désormais un référendum dès un premier mandat. Un référendum présenté comme celui de la dernière chance dans une province qui évolue, et s'éloigne de cette cause démographiquement chaque année. Un choix, selon Plamondon, entre le statu-quo et une éventuelle "disparition" et l'indépen-dance, accusant le gouvernement fédéral d'empiéter dans les compétences de la  province.

 

Mais la notion de sécession a des échos ailleurs sur le continent, dans l'ouest canadien, notamment, en Alberta, mais également aux Etats-Unis, de l'Oregon en Louisiane en passant par le Texas, où certains caressent depuis quelque temps des rêves de "Texit". Car si la notion de "république" de Californie est aussi symbolique que celle du conch (conque) à la pointe de la Floride, elle fait l'objet de projets dans un Lone Star State riche, peuplé, et de plus en plus disjoncté avec ces côtes américaines dites "libérales" dans le sens américain du terme.

 

La plupart du temps l'initiative dite sécessionniste est celle de régions républicaines cherchant à se distinguer, voire se séparer, de zones progressistes, un peu comme l'Alberta au Canada. Il s'agit notamment de parties de l'Oregon, un état côtier plutôt progressiste, qui se sentiraient plus à l'aise de rejoindre un Idaho voisin plus rural et conservateur. Le genre de redéfinition géographique si critiqué au niveau des cartes électorales.

 

Dans cet état du nord-ouest 13 comtés républicains seraient partants pour rejoindre un "grand Idaho" plus proche de leur coeur politique et idéologique. Au coeur du pays des poches démocrates peuvent bien exister, et elles peuvent à leur tour provoquer le rejet de coins plus conservateurs. C'est le cas du comté de Weld au Colorado qui rêverait de s'attacher au Wyoming voisin. Des fois ces rêves de séparation sont plus locaux et municipaux, c'est le cas de Lost Creek auTexas, qui n'aimerait rien de mieux que de se dissocier de cette Austin obstinément progressiste, une anomalie dans cet état de cowboys.

 

Plus à l'est, le quartier prospère de Buckhead se sent parfois mal à l'aise au sein de la métropole de la Géorgie. Un vote prévoyant une dissociation s'est soldé par un échec l'an dernier, car une telle déchirure aurait, craint-on, signé l'arrêt de mort économique de la capitale de l'état. Rêves utopiques pour certains, comme celui de la séparation du Texas, d'autres se sont pourtant réalisés, comme en Louisiane, où St. George, banlieue prospère de la capitale, est devenue incorporée, brisant son lien avec Bâton Rouge.

 

Entre sécession de l'union et découpage municipal, un autre projet, encore une fois plutôt utopique, est caressé par ses concepteurs. Celui d'un nouvel état tout simplement, entre l'Oregon et la Californie, états démocrates. Cette poche conservatrice du nom de Jefferson, inspiré par le président du même nom, est une idée qui remonte au 19e siècle, et qui comme tant d'autres a peu de chance de devenir réalité.

AGE OF INTERFERENCE

It wasn't just an anti-missile shield Europe considered to shore up its defenses in the face of aggression, but an anti-interference one as well as it headed to the polls amid reports of influence campaigns by foreign states. To French prime minister Gabriel Attal such Russian interference should in fact be considered "our Third world war."

 

The charge came after a number of incidents, among them the laying of coffins at the foot of the Eiffel tower and the arrest of a man suspected of trying to set off explosives, which Paris said was all part of a campaign to destabilize the country for its supports of Ukraine. Moscow has denied the accusations. But meanwhile European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has been touting a "European democracy shield" in the aftermath of a scandal revealing a Russian organisation spent millions of euros in some 48 European countries and beyond funding propaganda.

 

When it comes to interference campaigns Russia is hardly the only suspect, nor is Europe the only target. Other Western democracies are dealing with the same modern-day scourge, sometimes even pointing the finger at close allies, as they prepared for elections and looked back at previous ones. And in some cases it goes well beyond that. In the more serious cases,

 

intimidation at home or abroad extended to politicians and well, and sometimes the latter were even accused of aiding and abetting in such influence campaigns. In Canada in fact a recent intelligence report recently concluded members of Parliament were facilitating foreign interference for personal gains. Oddly this came months after some MPs were told they had been the target of foreign interference and intimidation, as an inquiry focused on the topic ahead of parliamentary elections expected any time between now and next year.

 

The latest bombshell accusations were leaving the country in a state of upheaval as the government refused to name MPs accused of sharing sensitive information with foreign governments, notably China and India. The report refers to "members of Parliament who worked to influence their colleagues on India's behalf and proactively provided confidential information to Indian officials," but doesn't name names, sparking calls for more details by those seeking to root out "traitors". This added layers of controversy months after Delhi was accused of interfering in the most violent way possible, by allegedly sponsoring the assassination of a Sikh critic on Canadian soil.

 

Needless to say any sign of foreign interference was of great concern to a neighbor which shares sensitive intelligence data at a time of war abroad and struggles with its own cases of interference. Israel, which depends on Washington as its war in Gaza plunges it further into global isolation, has secretly been targeting American lawmakers with an influence campaign on the conflict according to one recent report.

 

This emerged as the US was already deep into its study of foreign influence campaigns, some going back years. In Canada as well similar reports of foreign interference had emerged in the past, and critics say the government has downplayed them. In 2010 the head of CSIS said the spy agency believed a number of municipal and provincial politicians were "under at least the general influence of a foreign government."

 

The government has since introduced foreign-interference legislation but the nature of recent allegations question whether parliamentarians in Ottawa are able or willing to investigate their own. At least one former Liberal, now independent, Toronto-area MP, Han Dong, has been singled out in the past by allegations he willingly participated in Chinese interference efforts which may have helped him secure his seat in 2019, something he has denied.

 

Last fall another Ontario MP, Michael Chong, himself targeted by an alleged Chinese foreign interference campaign, told a bipartisan US committee in Washington "foreign interference is a serious national-security threat to Canada. It threatens our economy, our long-term prosperity, our social cohesion, our Parliament and our elections." He described being the subject of intimidation after he started speaking out against using Huawei technology and Beijing's treatment of Uyghurs. He later learned Chinese officials were collecting information on his relatives in China and was himself threatened on social media.

 

The Canadian government says it's not its role to release the name of parliamentarians and says authorities have all the information needed to act on it, though some of the intelligence may not be able to sustain the burden of proof. Justin Trudeau recently said he had "concerns" about some findings in the report, noting there were a number of conclusions the government didn't "entirely align with". Political parties however may decide to act on such reports on their own. But influence campaigns can backfire.

 

Canada said it raised its concerns with the Jewish state after Israeli media reported on a "co-ordinated" and "Islamophobic" misinformation campaign by a  private firm on behalf of the Israeli government to sway opinion in the US and Canada. A former Israeli diplomat considered such campaigns, targeting close allies to shore up support at times of criticism about high casualties in Gaza, a high-risk operation. It constitutes an "inappropriate interference in the internal politics of our most important ally," said Michael Oren on allegations the US was targeted, adding it "causes strategic damage to the State of Israel in wartime."

 

Meanwhile rights groups were concerned about the new foreign interference law passed in Canada, saying the fast-tracked legislation could threaten Canada's charter rights and suggesting that cure may be as bad as the disease.

SENORA PRESIDENTE

The country is reeling from cartel violence and streams of asylum seekers pushing their way north, yet the ruling party easily scored another electoral win in this year's Mexican presidential elections, and even made history in the process.

 

A woman rose to the presidency for the first time when all the votes were counted, and it wasn't even close. In fact the top two finishers, the candidate of the ruling National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party and her challenger were women, ending well ahead of the rest of the electoral pack as the country of 128 million headed to the polls.

 

Former Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, 61, defeated Xochitl Galvez, who leads an eclectic alliance of alliance of opposition parties, with 58% of the vote. "I will not disappoint you," promised Sheinbaum after the results were in. Same party, but new gains for women in Mexican politics notes Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, of George Mason University.

 

"It's a huge change. A woman president will be an inspiration for women in every single sector of the economy, politics, society and culture." But not everyone is so sure the result heralds  a big step for women's rights, citing  Sheinbaum's own differeces with the feminist movement as mayor.

 

And any history-making threatened to be over-shadowed by the unprecedented electoral violence which has claimed the lives of dozens of candidates, one of them killed just hours before the voting got underway, while countless others have been threatened in the course of the electoral year, and even kidnapped.

 

Around 30 candidates were murdered and dozens faced intimidation  in the course of the three-month campaign, which in its late stages was marked by the death of nine people when a campaign stage collapsed. Organizers had to shelve plans for some 170 polling places in regions such as Chiapas and Michoacan due to security concerns as gangs orchestrated their own campaigns of local influence, something national commentators refer to as narcopolitics.

 

"The ominous spread of organized crime and flourishing cartels is the most daunting problem Sheinbaum will need to confront," told AFP Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank. Not far behind will be dealing with a US neighbor bound to be more demanding if the recently convicted Donald Trump is re-elected in the fall, even if Mexico's relative success handling migrants has recently brought down the number of migrants at the US border. "If he returns to the White House, Trump is expected to double down on his hardline stance on immigration, trade and drugs -- very sensitive issues crucial to the bilateral relationship," Shifter said.

 

But Mexico itself is a regular source of migrants and cheap labour in the US, a fact not unrelated to the country's struggle with inequality and high youth unemployment. While her win was expected, the size of the victory came as a surprise to many, an indication of the huge popularity of the outgoing Lopez Obrador, who could not run again for re-election this year.

BIENTÔT LE CHANGEMENT?

Le tout-puissant Congrès national africain a-t-il entendu, voire, compris les électeurs? Trente ans après l'élection historique de Nelson Mandela, un vent de changement semble souffler dans la savane sud-africaine, même s'il n'est pas encore suffisamment fort pour détrôner le seul parti qui dirige le pays depuis la fin du règime d'apartheid. Sur fond de chômage, de violence et de lutte contre la corruption, le parti du président Cyril Ramaphosa a obtenu près de 40% des résultats, un plancher depuis 1994 qui coûte à l'ANC sa majorité et l'oblige à aller récolter l'appui ailleurs pour former un gouvernement.

 

Un besoin d'ouverture qui lui fera sans doute un grand bien mais qui entre temps annonce une période d'incertitude dans ce pays volatile. Est-on à l'aube d'une alternance finalement après ces décennies de domination de l'ANC? Ce premier partage du pouvoir se doit à nombre de facteurs selon Dan O’Meara, professeur à l’Université du Québec à Montréal: "L'Afrique du Sud est dans une crise monumentale à tous égards, dit-il. Trente ans de pouvoir de l'ANC n'ont rien changé, sauf pour une minorité de deux à trois millions de Noirs qui, grâce à leurs liens avec l'ANC, vivent dans le luxe absolu. À part cela, rien ne fonctionne."

 

Manque d'eau, coupures de courant, et surtout une inégalité socio-économique où les 10 % des plus fortunés détiennent plus de 80 % des richesses, en faisant un des pays les plus inégaux au monde, provoquant la violence des démunis, pour ne citer que quelques exemples.

 

Egalement au banc des accusés une corruption qui a atteint des sommets depuis la présidence de Jacob Zuma de 2009 à 2018, année durant laquelle il a été forcé à démissionner dans la honte. La corruption c'est l'usure du pouvoir dans un pays dirigé par un parti pratiquement unique depuis des décennies. 

 

"Ce que nous avons vu est que les électeurs sont insatisfaits avec l'histoire récente de l'ANC, résume Melanie Verwoerd, une ancienne députée appartenant au parti. En particulier pendant les années Zuma et celles qui ont suivi." On assiste alors depuis "à une arrogance généralisée et une perte de connection avec l'électeur moyen." Ramaphosa avait pourtant promis "une nouvelle aube", qui ne s'est de toute évidence pas concrétisée. Zuma entre temps s'est présenté sous une nouvelle bannière cette fois, récoltant 14%.

 

"La manière de sauver l'Afrique du sud c'est en brisant la majorité de L'ANC et c'est ce que nous avons fait," estime John Steenhuisen, de l'Alliance démocratique, arrivée deuxième avec 21%.  Pendant ce temps le chômage fait des ravages atteignant près de 33%, un chiffre qui grimpe à 46 % chez les jeunes.

 

"Il doit y avoir un peu de changement dans le pays, selon Jess, qui à 19 ans votait pour la première fois. Les gens ont besoin d'avoir des débouchés. Il y en a pour les coins riches mais les moins fortunés sont oubliés, ajoute-t-elle. Si on ne les aide pas il n'y a pas d'avenir. One ne peut pas abandonner les gens. Pour les jeunes les emplois sont très rares et plusieurs préfèrent aller à l'étranger y trouver du travail."

 

Faisant la queue pour aller voter à Johannesbourg, Tlhakiso se disait à son tour préoccupée par "le crime, les questions économiques... (et) tout est si cher, on arrive mal à se payer quoi que ce soit." Et pourtant, il se peut que le résultat annonce quelquechose de prometteur pour cette jeune démocratie, cette dernière atteint même une certaine maturité. "On avait besoin de changement et ce n'est jamais bon d'avoir un parti si dominant," explique Verwoerd.

BOOSTING DEFENCES

Ukraine is no longer just calling younger reservists to serve but prisoners as well and Sweden, a new NATO member, is boosting defence spending, while countries from Poland to Lithuania try to beef up their ranks so close to the enemy's borders. Russia's recent battlefield successes, all the while recent exercises involved the use of tactical nuclear weapons, have put Europe on alert, and some would say on a war footing, as the French president refused to walk back statements NATO may one day have to send troops to Ukraine.

 

A million Ukrainians have stepped up to serve after recent changes to conscription laws, and some 4,500 Ukrainian conscripts have agreed to sign contracts under a new parole law as parliament passed a bill that would allow some categories of prisoners, though certainly not those serving for the worst offences, to be conscripted. The country which is short of everything from ammu-nitions to able-bodied fighters, has been changing its conscription laws, recently agreeing to lower the age of those serving from 27 to 25, an unpopular but necessary measure. Its allies are also beefing up their defences as Russia prolongs its offensive well into a third year, undeterred by sanctions which have sought to choke its military, especially countries closest to the front lines.

 

Among them the Baltic state of Lithuania conducted the largest military exercise in modern Lithuanian history, involving  not only the military but also local governments, charitable organizations and even the Catholic Church. The country has launched a quarter billion euro program to ensure preparedness by designating thousands of air-raid shelters and promoting efforts to make sure citizens are ready for anything by securing a stockpile of supplies.

 

“I feel we are on the edge of changing times,” Darius Domarkas, of the ministry of the interior told the Globe & Mail. “We don’t know what’s coming.” Poland, which has been a key ally of Ukraine, says it wants to create the strongest army in Europe over the next decade, working on its recruitment strategy short of bringing back compulsory military service and launching a multimillion dollar program to build bomb shelters, just in case. “War is no longer a concept from the past,” its Prime Minister Donald Tusk said recently. “We have to get used to the fact that a new era has begun: the prewar era.”

 

Germany meanwhile, which has considerably boosted defence spending, is looking into reintroducing conscription for all 18-year-olds, possibly including women, a move intended to send “a strong signal” to both allies and rivals. Berlin is seeking to boost the size of its armed forces from some 180,000 to more than 200,000. Germany ended conscription in 2011 and well before that France did the same in 1996, another country possibly looking to reintroduce it. New NATO member Sweden reintroduced it in 2018, more recently broadening its "total defence service" to include up to 100,000 men and women eventually.

 

While other NATO newbie Finland never ended conscription Latvia reintroduced it in January while Estonia has always maintained a form of conscription since the break up of the USSR but recently expanded its scope, as Sweden has done. "Some form of conscription does still exist today in most European countries," notes Rod Thornton of King's College. "But as the implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine come to be better understood, introducing or extending conscription is increasingly being discussed in European NATO states."

 

As the UK's election campaign got underway, the ruling and lagging Conservative Party said it would introduce mandatory national service for 18-year-olds if it won the July 4th election. "Britain today faces a future that is more dangerous and more divided. There's no doubt that our democratic values are under threat," said PM Rishi Sunak. "That is why we will introduce a bold new model of national service for 18-year-olds."

 

Is the same idea bound to spread overseas? The new Scandinavian NATO members and Baltic states are particularly motivated to up defenses due to their proximity with Russia, which recently floated the idea of revising the territorial boundaries in the Baltic. Lithuania called a circulated draft proposal of Russia's defense ministry to update the coordinates agreed to in 1985 an "obvious escalation" that had to be met with an "appropriately firm response".

 

Provocation has been Moscow's modus operandi, recently reiterating it would not hesitate to strike British targets if the UK's weapons were used by Ukraine to strike into Russia. Then again Washington has permitted Ukraine to do so with US weapons. In addition European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is backing a request from Poland's and Greece's Prime ministers to create an EU-funded air defense shield. "The current fragmented landscape is simply not up to today's needs and requirements," argued  Tusk and Kyriakos Mitsotakis in a letter addressed to her. "Europe will be safe as long as the skies over it are safe," they added, stressing the need for a continental air defense system to protect Europe's airspace. A new tool in a new, tense environment.

DOUSING THE FLAMES

Smouldering businesses and cars, soldiers at the airport and barricades watched over by armed men while residents under a state of emergency remained hidden indoors or formed community watches as hoodlums roamed. This isn't Haiti or Sudan but the largest city on an island belonging to a major power, albeit a distant one.

 

This week France sent hundreds of gendarmes and security forces thouands of miles away to bring calm to the restive Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia, in a state of upheaval after French lawmakers started toying with electoral reform. Half a dozen people were killed and hundreds injured when those opposing a reform allowing more residents of the overseas territory the right to vote lit buildings and cars on fire and confronted overwhelmed police forces despite the appeal for calm of local leaders, including members of the separatist parties.

 

At the height of the crisis some even voiced concern the overseas territory of 270,000 would return to the state of civil war which tore it apart in the 1980s, before a peace accord in 1998 opened the door to granting more powers to the distant islands. Three referendums on separation followed, all resulting in a refusal to break from France, although  the last one in 2021, during the pandemic, was boycotted by separatists who asked for a delay due to  covid-19, which ravaged the Native Kanak community.

 

Over the years immigration has reduced the share of the population of the Kanaks, now numbering some 111,000, fearful of losing voting power. Nearly a third of this population lives below the poverty line, feeding the troubles. For years the right to vote had been limited to well-established residents, barring those who had moved to New Caledonia more recently, a reality Paris considered out of date and in need of reform.

 

But opponents are particularly outraged France had not reached out to the territory before introducing legislation, and failed to bring up this constitutional reform when president Emmanuel Macron visited last year. The troubles resulted in hundreds of incarcerations and many decimated businesses as well as the shut down of the capital's airport. While Paris called for talks between the archipelago's parties this week's violence left them in no mood to sit down as the island awaited the arrival of forces from both France and nearby Tahiti.

 

A few areas of the capital remained volatile after some of the worst violence abated. Officials are particularly concerned the island is awash with arms, some 100,000 in all, making the tensions potentially explosive. The government blamed hoodlums for the troubles but also accused Azerbaijan, at odds with Paris over Armenia, for forging ties with local separatists, and shut down Tiktok, a platform often used by protesters planning trouble, a decision which was met with much criticism.

 

The incidents are further impoverishing a territory struggling with an economic slowdown, early estimates placing damage in the area of 200 million euros.  Residents were struggling to obtain supplies after the destruction of a number of busineses and supply networks.

LES CAMPUS EN ÉBULLITION

Un certain air des années 60 balaie cette manifestation universelle contre la guerre à Gaza, du moins son côté à la fois gauchiste et anti-guerre. A-t-elle fait pression sur  Washington, qui menace dorénavant de freiner ses livraisons en armement?

 

Entamée aux Etats-Unis aux premières heures des représailles l'automne dernier sur des campus américains réactionnaires, elle a pris une nouvelle ampleur avec l'établissement et le démantèlement de camps pro-Palestiniens au printemps, à temps pour les cérémonies des promotions de 2024, qui n'ont pas été épargnées. Les premières interventions policières sur les campus de New York à la Californie en passant par le Texas, menant à des centaines de détentions, ont engendré de nouveaux mouvements ailleurs aux Etats-Unis, puis dans le monde.

 

Au Canada et en Europe, les campements et occupations de bâtiments se sont multipliés, alors que les rues du Moyen-orient redoublaient de colère. Au coeur du débat nord-américain, les liens financiers entre l'état hébreu et les facultés, sur fond d'appel au cessez-le-feu. Fort bien, un sain débat a bien sa place au sein de ces institutions d'enseignement supérieur, mais s'agit-il d'un véritable débat ou d'une litanie de propos, dont certains dérangent et dépassent les bornes?

 

"Intifada! Intifada!" chantent des manifestants sur le campus de l'université McGill à 11 heures du soir près d'une pancarte déclarant que le campement a l'aval d'une première nation livrant un "combat semblable contre l'oppresseur". Mais d'autres, selon les détracteurs, prononceraient des propos antisémites derrière ces clôtures érigées par les manifestants, ce qui provoque un avertissement de l'administration et les condamnations de parlemen-taires locaux, jusqu'au premier ministre.

 

Les cours de justice au Québec trancheront cependant, rejetant des demandes d'injonction pour obtenir le démantèlement du campement, en faisant une affaire à régler hors des tribunaux. Animé de manifestants des universités du centre-ville, le campement de McGill regroupe aussi des participants de l'UQAM et de Concordia, campus réaction-naire quand on se souvient des manifestations qui avaient annulé un discours de Benjamin Netanyahu au tournant du siècle. En effet la cause, comme l'homme, n'en est pas à ses premières heures.

 

Mais seule McGill a l'espace urbain permettant un campement d'envergure dans le centre de la métropole. L'administration souhaite le départ de ces étudiants venant d'ailleurs et de manifestants à temps plein qui ne font pas parti du corps universitaire. Puis comme au sein de manifestations de tout genre, les causes preuvent prêter à confusion. "On est ici parce que... commence une étudiante interviewée à l'université Columbia de New York, avant le démantlement de son campement. Pourquoi est-on là déjà?" demande-t-elle à une amie à ses côtés.

 

Suivent des interventions policières, parfois musclées, aux Etats-Unis, et même en France, puis dans l'ouest canadien alors que le mouvement gagne de l'ampleur de la Grande-Bretagne puis jusqu'en Australie. Parallèle avec les manifestations anti-Vietnam côté américain? Les jeunes impliqués ne risquent pourtant pas d'être envoyés au front, en cette époque où la notion de conscription n'existe presque plus mais fait objet d'un rappel en Europe.

 

Pourtant certains rapprochements sont évidents, note l'historien  Ralph Young de l'université Temple: "Ce qui est similaire, c'est qu’il s’agit, dans les deux cas, d’une question morale, dit-il. Les manifestants de 1968 n'étaient pas seulement de jeunes hommes en âge de servir. C’étaient aussi des gens qui trouvaient que le pays était impliqué dans quelquechose qu’ils considéraient comme moralement répréhensible. Ils partagent cette passion avec les jeunes étudiants d’aujour-d’hui."

 

Ce qui est étonnant est la portée internationale de ce mouvement, qui ne se limite pas aux Etats-Unis mais s'étend ailleurs, un peu comme le mouvement écologiste ou celui de Metoo. Robert Cohen de l'université de New York y voit un autre parallèle: "Les étudiants qui manifestent actuellement veulent que les universités se dissocient des entreprises liées à Israël. On peut faire un lien avec le mouvement anti-apartheid des années 1980, qui a réussi à isoler l’Afrique du Sud sur la scène internationale, dit-il. La différence, c'est qu'il n'y avait pas beaucoup de sympathie pour le régime de l’apartheid. Ce n'est pas le cas pour l'État d'Israël, qui bénéficie de beaucoup de soutien."

 

Mais ce soutien est-il en train de faiblir? Le conflit d'ailleurs déchire de nombreux pays qui appuient l'état hébreu et son droit de se défendre, tout en regrettant la virulence de la riposte israélienne. En Amérique du nord, les manifestations ont un impact sur la politique à moins d'un an des élections, notamment sur les partis cherchant à être ré-élus. Puis la réflexion à Washington en matière de livraison d'armement, entamée dans d'autres capitales, montre que l'appui même là n'est pas sans limite. La patience des universités le sera-t-elle?

LA GUERRE OUBLIÉE

Au coeur des décombres, entre les bélligérants, la famine sévit après des mois d'un conflit encore sans issue. On penserait à Gaza, et voilà tout le problème, car plus d'un an après le début des éclats le Soudan a pris des allures de grand conflit oublié, laissant un monde préoccupé par deux autres guerres plutôt indifférent.

 

Ce Soudan déjà éclaté en deux parties dont on a semble-t-il oublié les horreurs au Darfour, une crise qui à l'époque avait bien mobilisé un défilé de condamnations. Or c'est bien la sur cette terre si aride que la plus grande famine de la planête pourrait sévir, et peut-être même un génocide.

 

La catastrophe peut se résumer par le seul camp de réfugié de Zamzam, au Darfour, où périt un enfant chaque deux heures. Le conflit, qui a déplacé plus de 8 millions de personnes, a notamment chassé les agriculteurs de leurs terres, menaçant la population toute entière. Au Darfour, région synonyme de massacre et de misère où vit un quart de la population soudanaise, « il y a 78 % de nourriture en moins comparé à l’année dernière», alerte Eddie Rowe, directeur du Programme alimentaire mondial (PAM) au Soudan.

 

Human Rights Watch parle même de génocide au Soudan, dénonçant  «une campagne systématique visant à se débarrasser, y compris par le meurtre, des habitants de l’ethnie massalit». Le pays de 48 millions d'habitants reste proie aux violences qui ont débuté il y a plus d'un an, en avril 2023, lorsque les paramilitaires des Forces de soutien rapide (FSR) s'en sont pris à l’armée du général Abdel Fattah al-Burhane. Dans la région d’al-Jazira les combats ont ravagé quelques 250 000 hectares, réduisant la récolte nationale de 800 000 tonnes de blé de 70%.

 

Pourtant une conférence à Paris le mois dernier n'a pu réunir que la moitié des quatre milliards d'euros de promesse d'aide réclamée par l'ONU, alors que le Congrès américain débloquait des milliards pour venir en aide à d'autres pays sous pression, de l'Ukraine à Taiwan.

 

"Ce soutien... va permettre de répondre aux besoins les plus urgents dans les secteurs de la sécurité alimentaire et nutritionnels, de la santé, de l'eau, de l'assainissement, de l'éducation, de la protection des plus vulnérables," avait déclaré le president Emmanuel Macron. Or les axes utilisés par le PAM lors des dernières semaines pour fournir une aide alimentaire d'urgence à plus de 300 000 personnes dans le Nord, l'Ouest et le Centre du Darfour sont dorénavant fermés par le conflit, aggravant la crise alimentaire qui menace 18 millions de malnutrition.

 

A Paris quatorze pays ont également adopté une déclaration commune appelant "les acteurs étrangers" à "cesser d'apporter un soutien armé ou du materiel aux parties du conflit." On y évoque de probables "crimes de guerre" et "crimes contre l'humanité". Certains craignent d'ailleurs une nouvelle désintegration du pays et une véritable destabilisation d'une Corne de l'Afrique. "Au-delà du financement, il faut mettre de la pression pour qu'il y ait un cessez-le-feu immédiat parce que si l'on continue comme ça, dans un an, le Soudan risque de se désintégrer", a alerté le chef de la diplomatie tchadienne Mahamat Saleh Annadif.

 

Plus d'un an après le début du conflit Jean Stowell de Médecins sans frontières dénonce "un vide humanitaire extrêmement inquiétant", tandis que d'autres exigent des sanctions contre les bélligérants qui bloquent la réponse humanitaire qui peut exister.

THE ELECTORAL MARATHON

Running the world's largest election is no small feat. India is taking six weeks, not to campaign, but to allow its 969 million electors to exercise their democratic right. You would think with that many people and possibly as many points of view there would be a plethora of political parties vying for power, an there are, but only a few are really in the race, supported by an alliance, and only one seems able to muster a majority.

 

India's opposition is fractured and despite a rare show of unity early on by a dozen opponents calling on voters to "save democracy", the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is unlikely to be dislodged ten years into Narendra Modi's prime ministership. And this lead may be giving him an aura of invicibility, and with it, a focus on his base that may be leaving millions of his citizens behind.

 

Less than a week into the voting marathon of the world's most populous country the incumbent wasted no time sparking controversy, uttering what the opposition denounced as a hate speech, for referring to Muslims as "infiltrators" during a campaign stop. It isn't the first time Modi has fanned the flames of Hindu nationalism and left members of minori-ties increasingly insecure. In time some who have been able to afford it, notably in the Sikh community, have even been driven  to immigrate, deploring a central government increasingly looking after its own.

 

The statement wasn't a slip, Modi has repeatedly targeted minorities and even accused the rival Congress party of plotting to confiscate the jewellery of Hindu women so they could be given to poorer Muslim families, a reference to a former Congress leader who pleaded for redistribution of wealth. As the latest electoral stage got underway, a petition gathering over 17,000 signatures addressed to the electoral commission asked for measures be taken against Modi for uttering hatred.

 

"For those following Indian elections in the last decade those comments come as no surprise," notes Georgetown professor Irfan Nooruddin. "He has often successfully used hateful discourse targeting Muslims to mobilise his electoral base." Modi's campaign utterances stand in stark contrast which speeches he gives on foreign visits, lauding India as diverse and the world's largest democracy. India is being courted heavily as the world witnesses the emergence of a Chinese superpower, while an old one, Russia, asserts itself militarily.

 

This can result in leaving the West looking the other way on sensitive internal matters, Noorudding says. "Westerners have made the choice of looking the other way to avoid seeing this rhetoric and all that's happened in India during the last decade," including the weakening of institutions and pressure on the free press. But Sometimes it's been difficult to do so, especially after Delhi was accused in the US and Canada of ordering the assassination of foreign, often separatist, critics it brands as terrorists.

 

According to observers such daring actions play well to domestic audiences, especially during a campaign, and allow Modi to project the image of the defender of the nation. The term terrorist is increasingly being used to target critics, and this sort of inflammatory vernacular is slipping into the ranks of the citizenry, often aimed at minorities.

 

Muslims say they are increasingly  disparaged or discriminated against, and this is reflected in a report by the India Hate Lab which documented 668 hate speech events targeting Muslims in 2023, noting an uptick as the year went on, as the election neared, especially in BJP-ruled states. "Muslims have become second-class citizens, an invisible minority in their own country," told the BBC author Ziya Us Salam.

 

Modi denies minorities are being mistreated in India. In a country of 1.4 billion "you cannot generalise one or two incidents," insists BJP spokesperson Syed Zafar Islam. "If someone portrays it as something targeted against Muslims, they are wrong." The opposition is instilling fear in minorities to gather support and weaken Modi, Islam says. While the parties traded barbs a few weeks in, voting participation was slipping, possibly due to unseasonably hot temperatures, in a political climate that is just as torrid.

PRIX A L'ENTRÉE

Menacées par l'érosion, prises d'assaut par les touristes chaque été, les îles de la Madeleine dans le Golfe du St Laurent ont décidé, comme beaucoup de lieux prisés par les visiteurs à travers le monde, de passer à l'acte et mettre en place des mesures pour limiter l'accès à leurs trésors en période de forte affluence.

 

Mais la réaction a été vive et plutôt désagréable, forçant la municipalité d'à peine 12,000 âmes de justifier son acte... et de limiter les commentaires sur ses pages des médias sociaux. En effet certains visiteurs n'y ont vu que du feu lorsque les îles ont imposé un système de "passe des îles" entre mai et octobre avec code QR de 30$ pour financer le maintien des lieux et autres coûts associés aux visites, nombreuses pendant la période estivale. 

 

Un certain vent de mécontentement se lève contre les afflux touristiques de manière générale dans plusieurs régions, de Barcelone aux îles Canaries, site de manifestations récentes de citoyens éprouvés par les hordes de touristes, malgré les retombées économiques.

 

Par conséquent certains lieux ont décidé d'imposer des frais d'entrée, notamment Venise qui exige une somme de 5 euros aux visiteurs à partir de cette année. D'autres le font depuis plus longtemps, du Bhoutan aux îles de Pâques puis à Londres, pour y limiter la circulation dans le centre, mesure qu'imite New York cette année. Ceci dans un environnement inflationniste généralisé.

 

Mais les îles de la Madeleine, qui pourraient pénaliser les visiteurs non munis de code à raison de 1000$, vont trop loin d'insurge une Québécoise, comme d'autres, outrée de devoir débourser pour visiter sa propre province. "Jamais au grand jamais, j'accepterais de me plier au dictat d'un code QR pour visiter ma région, nous ne sommes pas des bêtes de foire, encore moins des esclaves, proteste Yolaine Lebrasseur sur la page Facebook de la municipalité. J'ai honte de mon Québec, même les plus belles villes du monde ne vont jamais aussi loin. À boycotter. C pas le 30$ qui m'écoeure... C le code QR pour entrer chez toi !!!! Je passe mon tour !!!!"

 

D'autres ont été plus directs, forçant la municipalité à limiter les commentaires sur sa page Facebook. "Malgré l'appel au calme et au respect publié hier sur cette page, force est de constater que la nature de certains propos demeure inacceptable et que des commentaires inappropriés persistent".

 

Autant dire que les mesures du genre ne sont pas accueillies favorablement partout. Des résidents de la Sérénissime se sont eux-même prononcés contre le nouveau tarif à l'entrée, faisant remarquer que la cité des Doges prenait alors des allures de Disneyland tandis que les nombreux problèmes n'en étaient pas réglés pour autant entre les canaux de la lagune italienne.

TRYING TO KEEP LID ON VIOLENCE

Over six months into the crisis in the Middle East have fears of a wider war become a reality after Iran fired over 300 drones, cruise and other missiles towards Israel in retaliation for the destruction of its compound in Damascus? Israel's response was key, Tehran considering itself satisfied it had avenged the killing of its two generals.

 

Israel on the other hand considered the matter far from over after this, the first attack from Iranian soil, despite its allies' insistence it should consider the lack of damage "a win" and hold fire. Indeed Israeli, British, French, Jordanian and American forces were able to target most of the projectiles as they made their way over the region's airspace towards Israel, while the Iron Dome got many of the rest, leaving just a few to bypass defenses causing minor damage and one injury.

 

The counter measures had proven so effective they drew global praise and envious remarks from Ukraine, also being supported by Western allies in its struggle against a threatening foreign power. On the same day Israel also faced simultaneous fire from Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Yemen while Iranian forces attacked an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Strait of Hormuz.

 

The United States had been warning about the imminence of an Iranian attack, in its latest display of intelligence capabilities, but its stern message to Tehran it should not carry on with such an act went unheeded. Washington, it soon turned out, would also be ignored by embattled prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, determined to defend and avenge the homeland at all cost. Or at least send such a message.

 

Israel's Western allies had rallied behind the Jewish state days after they had balked at continued military assistance in view of the country's destruction of Gaza in its ongoing response to the October 7 terror attacks, showing the relationship is not without its strains.

 

The US had moved more military assets to the region ahead of the Iranian attack and the UK said it would send more fighter jets to defend Israel as the attack was unfolding. But London also demanded Israel provide more aid to Gaza, keeping the festering conflict in the spotlight, all the while it and other Western allies faced criticism for arming the Jewish state.

 

Despite its limited damage overall, the Iranian attack was significant in that it was the first time the regime directly targeted Israel despite decades of tensions, notably over the development of Tehran's nuclear programme. While Iran said the attack was in retaliation for the Damascus strike, embattled prime minister Netanyahu said his forces would respond in kind, heralding a possible new cycle of violence.

But when Israel did strike it was with a missile strike on a base in central Iran away from population centres. It did not seem Tehran would be ready to engage in a new round of open warfare. Still the tit for tat was enough to send oil prices skyrocketing.

 

In the meantime the West is hitting back Iran with new sanctions, in particular against its thriving drone industry. But Iran, like other countries such as Russia, has been able to circumvent sanctions, notably those facing its petroleum sector. Meanwhile this weekend US lawmakers finally passed a long delayed bill providing billions in military aid for both Ukraine and Israel.

VOISINS ENVIEUX

Après la crainte sénégalaise puis la réaffirmation de son exception, les citoyens des pays voisins d'Afrique de l'ouest critiquent chez eux la lenteur de la transition après les coups d'états, dénonçant l'emprise des militaires souvent sur un fond d'insécurité. Cette prise de courage n'a pas toujours eu les effets espérés.

 

Alors que l'impatience monte et que les partis politiques et la société civile en Guinée et au Mali faisaient appel au retour à l'ordre constitutionnel après les récents coups d'état, le Tchad et le Togo débutaient enfin leur campagne électorale après un nouveau délai, semant le doute au sein de l'opposition. Si le scénario n'est pas sans rappeler celui de Dakar plus tôt cette année autant se souvenir qu'on n'en est pas au premier report du scrutin. Même cri de coeur des opposants dans un Burkina Faso en pleine tourmente.

 

Une attaque revendiquée par le Jnim (groupe islamiste), faisait 73 victimes au début du mois. Le gouvernement de transition, comme d'autres également issu d'un coup d'état, annonça du coup le prolongement de la mobilisation générale des citoyens de 18 ans et plus afin de «poursuivre la lutte contre le terrorisme».  Mais la société civile s'organise à Ouaga afin de prévoir le retour des civils à la tête du pays de 22 millions d'habitants. Le Front pour la Défense de la République veut engager la transition civile et préparer les prochaines élections, denonçant la "répression" d'une "tyrannie sans nom" ainsi que les civils tués et les enlèvements depuis la prise de pouvoir des militaires en 2022.

 

Au Mali où insécurité va de pair avec la crise humanitaire, la junte a répondu aux appels de l'opposition avec la suspension des activités des partis et associations politiques "pour des raisons d'ordre public". Elle a également interdit la couverture médiatique de ces partis. Ceci des semaines après ce qui devait être la fin de la période de transition de la junte au pouvoir.

 

Plus de 80 partis politiques avaient fait appel à la tenue d'élections et à la fin de la période de transition militaire qui a suivi deux coups d'états en autant d'années. Un décret présidentiel avait fixé au 28 mars l'échéancier mais aucune date électorale n'est encore prévue, la présidentielle ayant été reportée sine die. Les organisations proches du pouvoir estiment que la "mission" des autorités n'est pas encore terminée.

 

Des douzaines de partis politiques dénoncent un "vide juridique et institutionnel" au pays, exigeant l'organisation d'élections "dans les meilleurs délais". Les opposants redoutent l'indépendance de la cour constitutionnelle qui doit doit trancher sur ce débat capital. En Guinée en même temps, les partis politiques exigeaient un retour à l'ordre constitutionnel avant la fin de l'année, un échéancier initialement prévu dont on craint le report là aussi.

 

Selon Abdoulaye Oumou Sow, porte-parole du Front national pour la défense de la Constitution, rien n’empêche les autorités de la transition d’organiser des élections, et l'opposition menace de ne plus reconnaitre le pouvoir transitionnel si ses revendications sont ignorées.  «Si on s’en tenait à l’accord de la Cédéao, c’est sûr qu’à partir de ce mois de mars, on aurait déjà une Constitution, on aurait déjà des élus à la base, notamment, les élections communales et communautaires se seraient déjà déroulées, dit-il. Mais malheureusement, comme la junte n’a pas de volonté, elle n’a rien fait pour mettre en œuvre le chronogramme de la Cédéao.»

 

Par conséquent l'opposition a proposé une révision constitutionnelle soumise à référendum, ajoutant: «rien ne peut empêcher qu’on parte maintenant aux élections, sauf la mauvaise volonté de la junte qui veut, de manière dilatoire, confisquer le pouvoir. » Même cri de l'opposition au Togo, où l'opposant Jean-Pierre Fabre condamnait le report des législatives et régionales, dont la campagne commence tout juste, de "pure provocation". L'opposition dénonce, autre terme familier, un "coup d'état constitutionnel" avec l'adop-tion surprise et controversée de la nouvelle Constitution.

 

Le ministre de la fonction publique se défend: « Il est nécessaire d’établir les principes de fonctionnement de la nouvelle législature avant qu’elle ne soit mise en place ». Mais là comme ailleurs dans la région, on est à bout de patience. Car pour l'opposition, la nouvelle Constitution laisse à désirer et cache une intention bien claire: «Personne n'est dupe, déclare l'opposant Jean-Pierre Fabre, accusant le président de vouloir échapper aux limites de mandat et d'ignorer l'opinion de la population.

 

Le Togo est devenu le champ d'expérimentation d'une poignée d'affairistes africains.» Pendant ce temps le président et chef de la junte tchadien Mahamat Idriss Déby tentait de se faire rassurant à propos de la limite de deux mandats successifs: "Je vais respecter la constitution", dit-il. Mais l'opposition dénonce la position moins que neutre de l'armée. Là également, beaucoup semble se jouer dans les casernes.

AFFORDABLE THREATS FOM ABOVE

They menacingly crisscross Eastern European and Middle Eastern skies, and far beyond. Increasingly the weapon of choice for low budgeted forces from Yemen to Ukraine, drones have been multiplying over the battlefields of the planet.

 

So Myanmar's military junta need not have been so surprised when they showed up over the capital Nya Pyi Taw this month as the insurgents of the government in exile launched a coordinated attack in its ongoing war against the regime that once welcomed and later removed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. In terms of military operation it had limited success, it was certainly less effective than previous attacks along the country's borders with India and China which extended the group's territorial claims over large swaths of the country.

 

The exiled national unity government claims it controls 60% of the 676,000 sq. kilometre nation of 54 million. But the victimless aerial attack on the airport and military installations allowed it, like Ukraine's armed forces or Yemen's Houthi's, to extend its reach and hit targets further away, amid a period of anxiety for the regime. And the anti-coup forces had a reason to rejoice days later after capturing another key town on the eastern border with Thailand.

 

Troops surrendered in the town of Myawaddy, a strategic location where most of Myanmar's overland trade with Thailand takes place. The junta's war, ongoing since Suu Kyi was removed from the government in 2021, has forced authorities to enforce manda-tory conscription, including not only young able bodied men but women as well, amid reports of high levels of defection. Joining the anti-coup forces is an embattled group which has been fighting for self-rule since the country's independence in 1948, the Karen National Union. It has helped train fighters from all over the country.

 

Drones are now adding a new dimension to the conflict, but other high-tech tools are also taking over the battlefront. In the war in Ukraine artificial intelligence is increasingly being used to avoid Russian jamming, which seeks to prevent drone attacks, but also to help find targets, collecting all sorts of data including social media postings and other less publicly available information. The strike of a humanitarian convoy in Gaza however, which the Israeli military admitted had been an error, was also reportedly the result of AI searches for targets, bringing to light the imperfections and risks involved.

 

Drones themselves are not always ideal tools of the battlefield. According to the Wall St. Journal many US-manufactured drones sent to Ukraine malfunc-tioned due to glitches or were countered by Russian jamming, making Kyiv consider an alternative supplier: China.

 

The alternative is also cheaper, making it an option for one-way missions where drones are used as explosive-strapped kamizakes in a conflict that is decimating huge stockpiles of the device. China may in fact be feeding both sides of the conflict with its technology and more affordable prices. In multiple areas of the country, Myanmar has become a war of drones, notes analyst David Scott Mathieson.

 

"It appears that the fixed-wing drones are craft-manufactured, possibly from established kits or through 3D printing, which various resistance forces have been using for some time," he writes in the Asia Sentinel. Armed groups are assembling drones "by studying YouTube videos and sourcing online shopping options. These are then modified by young technicians from tech-savvy resistance fighters who have modified quadcopters, multi-rotor drones, and fixed-wing craft, attaching mortar rounds to bomb SAC bases, convoys, and personnel, and in a number of dramatic incidents also helicopters."

 

They may not have been inflicting mass damage or casualties, but are having an impact on already slipping morale in a conflict the regime has encountered numerous losses.

LE SOULAGEMENT

Après les émeutes et la rage, la liesse au Sénégal. Les incidents de l'hiver n'étaient-ils qu'une étape, fâcheuse mais nécessaire, de l'évolution de cette hésitante démocratie à saveur Yassa, qui aime se placer au bord du gouffre pour mieux se justifier?

 

Le lendemain de l'élection déjà le candidat du pouvoir, qui espérait au pire un second tour, avouait la défaite et félicitait l'opposant Bassirou Diomaye Faye pour sa victoire au premier tour (54%). Les partisans de ce dernier n'avaient pas attendu les résultats officiels pour manifester, avec joie cette fois, le sacre d'un personnage qui avait été en prison quelques jours plus tôt.

 

"En m'élisant président de la République, le peuple sénégalais a fait le choix de la rupture," déclara l'ancien inspecteur des finances publiques, protégé du populaire Ousmane Sonko, qu'il a nommé le chef de son gouvernement. Les deux rendaient récemment visite au président sortant tout sourires, comme si les derniers mois appartenaient déjà à un passé lointain digne d'un conte d'Amadou Koumba.

 

La victoire du candidat anti-système n'a évidemment pas plu à tout le monde, notamment les partisans de la continuité et du camp d'Amadou Ba, sous le choc. Dix-sept candidats en tout participaient à cette course - un vrai sprint en raison du calendrier écourté - à la présidence lors de ce scrutin finalement tenu un mois plus tard que prévu, mais au moment d'aller voter l'exercice s'est fait dans le calme et l'enthousiasme, des taux de participation importants étant enregistrés tandis que la paix régnait autour des bureaux de scrutin.

 

Selon l'analyste Babacar Ndiaye "Le Sénégal a  toujours été un phare de la démocratie" et l'élection aura perpétué cette tradition. "A chaque fois que nous ayons pu craindre des moments difficiles, au bord du précipice, le peuple a pu manifester son opinion dans les urnes." Le dur chapitre de l'hiver semblerait donc déjà derrière nous, alors qu'on craignait un coup d'état constitutionnel, le genre de langage qui a mieux sa place ailleurs en Afrique.

 

"C'est bien parti pour que cette page (de période de trouble) se tourne bien", s'accorde à dire à France24 l'analyste Christophe Bois-bouvier, prenant note de l'"attachement des Sénégalais au droit, à la loi... c'est cela qui a permis au conseil constitutionnel de prendre le dessus" sur la volonté de reporter l'élection à la fin de l'année.

 

A présent, les attentes sont importantes suite à l'assermentation cette semaine du plus jeune président de l'histoire du pays alors qu'il traverse une période de chômage élevé. Promettant de rester un allié «pour tout partenaire qui s’engagera, avec [le Sénégal], dans une coopération vertueuse, respectueuse et mutuellement productive » il s'en engagé à prioriser  la « baisse du coût de la vie », la « lutte contre la corruption » et la «réconciliation nationale ». Il devra le faire en forgeant des alliances car son parti n'a pas de majorité à l'assemblée.

 

IS MACRON WRONG ON TROOPS?

At a time NATO raises the Swedish flag at its headquarters in Brussels and closes its growing ranks to show a common front more than ever in the face of Russian aggression, did the French president go too far suggesting combat boots on the ground can't be excluded in the future if the invaders break through defense lines?

 

This did not fail to further enrage a Kremlin threatening to use strategic weapons if further NATO involvement follows, as Russian troops threatened to overcome Ukraine's Eastern defences. As leaks from German communications suggest foreign troops have already been aiding Ukrainians to train on their home soil, and as Canada and other countries hint sending troops for this sort of non-combat role may be future options, the West is dangerously coming close to a possible line in the sand on the Eastern front.

 

While Russia's actions have been catalysts for a strengthened Atlantic alliance, which added a 32nd member when traditionally neutral Sweden formally joined its ranks this month, NATO has faced a number of internal divisions among members, and this is but the latest as Emmanuel Macron refused to walk back his comments on possible ground involvement. Other NATO members distanced themselves from these suggestions, but they were not without echo.

 

Poland's foreign minister Radek Sikorski agreed the presence of NATO troops "is not unthinkable", deepening the debate among members at a crossroads at a time the continent is pressured to shore up defenses in case it must contend with an American partner less willing to support Ukraine after November's elections. In terms of lines in the sand they have been shifting steadily during the war.

 

NATO's fears sending battle tanks would trigger wider war gave way to similar thoughts about providing fighter jets and other heavy weaponry. Foreign troops on the ground are already a reality, according to the leaked German conference call which referred to the assistance of British and French personnel in Ukraine. Berlin resisted addings its troops by fear of bringing the conflict to a point of no return.

 

“The issue of sending European forces to help Ukraine was never one to be dismissed — it was always a possibility,” noted Phillips O'Brien a professor of strategic studies at Scotland's University of St. Andrews. “In fact it has become more of one as the USA has stepped back and withdrawn aid. Europe is now faced with a terrible dilemma — watching Ukraine potentially run out of ammunition, or stepping in and helping Ukraine more directly.”

 

Determined to support Kyiv, French lawmakers approved a security agreement with Ukraine last week. Paris didn't stop there. Soon after Moldova's Russian break-away enclave called for Russia's assistance, in a scenario not unlike the lead up to the invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Macron said France had the small West-leaning country's back, in a continuing act of defiance toward Russian aggression.

 

France signed a security agreement with Moldova whose break-away republic of Transnistria is home to some 1500 troops and a nationalist Russian minority implanted there by Josef Stalin, who had done the same in Crimea. A century after the Russian revolutionary took the helm of the great Soviet Union, the impact of his policies are very much in evidence today.

LE DRAME DE GAZA

Tôt ou tard il fallait s'attendre à ces scènes épouvantables d’innocents affamés écrasés par d'autres à Gaza qui ont depuis longtemps dépassé le point de désespoir pour se ruer sur la nourriture qu’on peut leur lancer ou leur larguer sur la tête en se sauvant, comme des bêtes, des prisonniers faméliques, ce qu'ils sont devenus après des mois de siège. Le voisin égyptien construit d'ailleurs un mur encore plus haut pour enclaver davantage un triste territoire coupé du reste du monde depuis des lunes malgré un accès, illusoir, à la mer.

 

L’offensive de Gaza qui n'en finit plus est allée trop loin, ça fait déjà des semaines qu’on le crie dans les rues du monde entier. La cour internationale parle même d'un risque de génocide. Après cette destruction systématique de Gaza com-ment espérer un bonvoisinage éventuel entre ces deux communautés déchirées? Comment vivre avec quelconque illusion de paix dans n’importe quel scénario d'avenir?

 

Trente mille morts plus tard on a presque oublié l’élément déclencheur, justificateur, si c’est bien le mot à employer. Voilà déjà des semaines que ni courant, ni aide ou eau suffisante, ne circule dans ce laboratoire de la misère humaine, plus un quartier ou une ville, mais bien un territoire entier devenu un camp de réfugié sans possibilité de refuge. Un dépotoir de débris contrôlé par des milices qu'on n'a plus la force de défier.

 

On n'est plus au bord de la famine, qui menacerait des centaines de milliers d'habitants, un quart de la population en tout, on y est déjà. Car les victimes, non des bombes, des tirs - bien que certains aient eu lieu lors d'une livraison de nourriture catastrophique et mortelle -, du manque de médicament ou de l'écroulement de ce qui peut rester d'infrastructure, mais de malnutrition, sont déjà comptées. Au moins une douzaine d'enfants, pourtant les premiers à devoir être nourris quand les parents passent leur tour, sont morts de faim à Gaza.

 

D'ailleurs alors que la mortalité infantile atteint son plus bas niveau dans le monde, plus d'enfants sont morts à Gaza depuis le début de la crise que pendant les quatre années antérieures. Cette semaine l'ONU affirmait que les restrictions à l'aide "pourraient constituer du crime de guerre". De son côté le secrétaire d'État américain Antony Blinken affirmait que "Selon la mesure la plus respectée en la matière, 100 % de la population de Gaza est dans une situation d'insécurité alimentaire grave. C'est la première fois qu'une population entière est ainsi classée".

 

Et quand cette misère cessera, si ce n'est pas avec la mort, ce sera sous un état de siège total, selon les plans du premier ministre israélien, qui s'attire dorénavant les reproches de ses propres alliés. Début mars, la vice-présidente américaine elle-même faisait appel au cessez-le-feu durant le ramadan, mais quelques semaines plus tard on l'attend toujours. Une frappe israélienne durant cette période importante du calendrier musulman fit encore une soixantaine de victimes, un drame presque devenu banal.

 

En attendant Washington multiplie les efforts, parachutant de l'aide humanitaire encore insuf-fisante et en quantité qui n'a rien à voir avec le passage d'un seul convoi humanitaire, et s'engage à construire un quai pour recevoir une aide future par la mer. Mais cela prendra des semaines à compléter. En attendant un pont maritime était en développement vers Chypre, pas pour y évacuer femmes et enfants, mais pour faire transiter l'aide humanitaire afin de retrouver une certaine humanité. Par ailleurs on levait la suspension du financement de l'Office controversé de secours et de travaux des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés de Palestine pour le Proche-Orient.

 

Mais rien pour changer cette souffrance continue à court et moyen terme, ou proposer quelque solution de sortie de crise. Car le premier ministre Netanyahou promet de poursuivre l'offensive à Rafah, lieu de refuge de centaines de milliers ayant été évincés ailleurs dans la bande, malgré les condamnations interna-tionales. Le président américain affirmait même que Bibi "fait plus de mal que de bien à Israël" alors que d'autres font appel à la tenue de nouvelles élections dans le pays hébreu.

 

Et même si l'offensive s'arrêtait maintenant, les conséquences de ces mois de bombardement feront des victimes pendant plusieurs années encore. "On estime que 45 000 bombes ont été larguées sur la bande de Gaza lors des trois premiers mois du conflit, résume Anne Héry de l'organisme Handicap International. Or, en se basant sur un taux d'échec se situant entre 9 et 14 %, il est possible que plusieurs milliers de bombes n'aient pas fonctionné comme prévu et qu'elles n'aient pas explosé à l'impact et se retrouvent disséminées dans les ruines et sur toutes les surfaces du territoire".

QUI POUR DIRIGER HAITI?

On n'avait pas tort de penser qu'Haïti était sans gouverne depuis quelques mois, mais ce n'est que la semaine dernière que le premier ministre a rendu sa démission après des semaines de pression de la part des gangs qui terrorisent cette bien torturée perle des Antilles.

 

A peine quelques jours en fait après la signature longuement attendue d'un accord sur l'envoi de policiers kenyans pour venir en aide à leurs collègues débordés, les évémenents en décidèrent autrement, et la mission qui devait ramener un semblant de paix était en suspens. Le premier ministre Ariel Henry annonçait son départ alors qu'un conseil présidentiel de transition se mettait à l'oeuvre afin de désigner un dirigeant intérimaire.

 

C'est un pacte entre les gangs qui dominent l'ile, unissant leurs forces afin de faire tomber le gouvernement, du moins ce qu'il en restait, qui a précipité la crise, suivi de l'attaque de l'aéroport - empêchant le retour du premier ministre de l'étranger - du port et de prisons,  causant la libération de centaines de détenus, semant davantage la zizanie à Hispaniola où on avait déclenché l'état d'urgence.   

 

Le secrétaire général de l'ONU Antonio Guterres a depuis fait appel à une "action urgente" de la part des états membres, mais difficile de voir comment la situation pouvait être plus urgente, l'attaque du port rendant la livraison de l'aide humanitaire presque impossible. "Si on ne peut pas avoir accès aux conteneurs Haïti va mourir de faim," estimait Laurent Uwumuremyi de l'organisme Mercy Corps. Les autorités américaines craignaient un effondrement du pouvoir imminent alors que les diplomates fuyaient le pays tandis qu'un pont aérien crucial était établi avec la République dominicaine avoisinnante.

 

Accusé d'être derrière ces attaques, et d'innombrables autres atrocités, Jimmy 'Barbecue' Chérizier, chef du gang G9, avait averti que sans cette démission du premier ministre  le pays allait "tout droit vers une guerre civile qui conduira à un génocide". L'ancien policier de 46 ans sous le régime de sanctions de l'ONU se défend de répandre le chaos, accusant le pouvoir d'être responsable de l'écroulement de la nation.

 

"Ce sont les politiciens qui sont les vrais coupables. Les politiciens et oligarques corrompus ont apporté toutes les armes dans les quartiers populaires pour leur intérêt personnel mais pas pour le pays." Voilà donc depuis quelque temps qu'Haïti sombre dans le désordre perpétré par le mariage de gangs et partis politiques, notamment depuis l'assassinat du président en 2021, et l'enquête qui se poursuit sur cet événement sinistre malgré tout a porté d'étonnantes accusations, une d'elles contre la veuve du défunt chef d'état.

 

Henry à présent écarté, quel avenir pour ce triste pays? Washington exige une transition accélérée vers une autre gouvernance avec l'annonce prochaine d'élections. Car sur le terrain ce qu'il reste à sauver diminue peu à peu, notamment un système de santé «proche de l'effondrement», selon l'ONU, notant que «de nombreux établissements de santé sont fermés ou ont dû réduire drastiquement leurs opérations en raison d'une pénurie inquiétante de médicaments et de l'absence du personnel médical», évoquant également des pénuries de sang, d'équipements médicaux ou de lits pour traiter les blessés par balles.

THE PERILS OF LEADERSHIP

Less than two years into her mandate, Gatineau's first female mayor said she had had enough of the toxic environment, harassment, intimidation, and even death threats, and resigned. France Belisle wasn't alone a municipal organization noted as she bid her constituents goodbye, hundreds of other municipal leaders had done the same in previous months in Quebec.

 

Belisle herself said she regretted the "exodus" of officials, citing the resignation of the young mayor of the small community of Chapais and the temporary withdrawal of the mayor of another city, citing health reasons. These examples were all women, it turns out. And at a time all public officials face an increasing amount of threats and intimidation, women are often particularly targeted, it doesn't matter where they live.

 

In Mexico's presidential election front runner Claudia Sheinbaum says she was facing a flood of hate-filled messages after her phone number was leaked on social media.  "What they want to do is obvious, once again their attacks are as crude as they are harmless," she said. Just north, the campaign of US Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley sought secret service protection after receiving a number of threats. "It's not going to stop me from doing what I need to do," Haley said defiantly after a campaign event.

 

It hasn't been a year since New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern quit her post after a period where she received numerous hate-filled and misogynistic messages. "Politicians are human," she said at the time. In the US, an attack at the home of then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which injured her husband, and threats against Michigan's governor, are among a series of attacks, notably against elected women, to have marked the divisive and tense political atmosphere leading to this year's elections.

 

In Europe a 2021 Finnish study of incidents targeting elected officials found many were facing "an elevated threat of abusive messages", mostly women. At the same the Nordic country was headed by Sanna Marin, then the youngest prime minister in the world, who headed a cabinet led by women and formed a coalition with other leaders who were also all women. Many among them were targeted by misogynistic abuse attacking their values, ridiculing their decision-making and questioning their ability to lead, the study found.

 

Studies have shown this sort of intimidation has discouraged women from joining politics in the first place, and shortened their careers when they tried. This is widespread. A few years ago a survey of female parliamentarians by the Inter-Parliamentary Union across 39 countries found "44 percent of surveyed women reported having received threats of death, rape, assault, or abduction. One fifth said they had been subjected to sexual violence."

 

In Canada according to the Privy Council Office the number of threats against federal ministers increased during the first years of the pandemic (2020-2), including 55 death threats made against the prime minister and 14 against his deputy minister, Chrystia Freeland, both of whom were caught in video footage fleeing turbulent protesters in the last years.

 

Twenty-six ministers received at least one reported death threat over this period, for a total of 110 in the period in a political environment charged up by divisions over vaccines and other sensitive issues often distorted by conspiracy theories on gun control and diversity "fueling violent extremist propaganda and incitement to violence". MPs and Senators have been equipped with mobile panic buttons as a result.

APRÈS NAVALNY

Ebranlée par la nouvelle du décès soudain de son mari, Ioulia Navalnaïa n'a eu besoin que de quelques minutes pour choisir ses mots et s'adresser aux participants d'une conférence sur la sécurité à Munich où elle était de passage. Les responsables, et on sait bien de qui il s'agit, auraient des comptes à rendre, et pour ceci elle faisait appel à la communauté internationale pour lui prêter main forte.

 

Cette dernière, la mort d'Alexeï pas encore confirmée, s'est empressée de condamner son décès dans un pénitentier en Sibérie, car on connaissait depuis longtemps la faiblesse physique du bagnard le plus reconnu et le refus de lui porter toute aide médicale. Cette incarcération avait été une mise à mort, car on connait le sort réservé aux opposants du régime, qu'il soit question d'anciens espions, de mutins de la dernière heure ou d'opposants politiques. La liste s'est allongée depuis la mort de Alexander Litvinenko, empoisonné au polonium en 2006.

 

L'an dernier c'était au tour de Yevgeny Prigozhin, le patron de Wagner, proche de Poutine jusqu'à la mutinerie de ses mercenaires. L'écrasement mystérieux de l'aéronef le transportant était dans la tradition des morts étranges d'opposants du régime à travers les années, pas immédiatement après leurs actes contre le régime, mais quelque peu plus tard, à l'abri des regards.

 

Journalistes, politiciens, oligarques même ou anciens espions, les victimes sont nombreuses, certains ayant presque la chance de se retrouver derrière les barreaux, d'autres dans un lit d'hôpital, comme l'ancien agent double Sergei Skripal, qui survécut à un empoisonnement, comme Navalny avait pu le faire en 2015.

 

Malgré ce sort, c'est avec aplomb et le courage de son mari que Navalnaïa annonçait "poursuivre le combat" des opposants de Poutine, du moins ceux qu'il reste, quelques jours après le décès, mais au vu de sa sortie immédiate dans les premiers instants, cette décision pouvait paraître sans surprise. Car Moscou avait mis à mort un martyre dont le travail ne risquait pas d'être si tôt oublié.

 

Les critiques du régime, qu'elles en veulent au Kremlin pour l'envoi de leurs jeunes au front ou pour leur refuser le droit de parole, ou même de pleurer leurs morts sur la place publique, auraient une nouvelle incarnation de l'espoir aux heures sombres de Vladimir Poutine, alors qu'on faisait déjà le deuil de tout ce qui pouvait rester d'opposition en Russie. Les centaines incarcérées pour avoir osé poser des gerbes de fleur à la mémoire du défunt, ou pleuré les soldats envoyés au front en Ukraine, auraient une personne à suivre, un idéal à entretenir.

 

«Avec lui, (Poutine) a voulu tuer notre espoir, notre liberté, notre avenir, dit-elle alors, je poursuivrai l’œuvre d’Alexeï Navalny. Je continuerai pour notre pays, avec vous. Et je vous appelle tous à vous tenir près de moi, poursuit-elle. Ce n’est pas une honte de faire peu, c’est une honte de ne rien faire, c’est une honte de se laisser effrayer ». Et vaincre la peur c'est rassembler non seulement les amis d'Alexeï, ses supporters, ceux qu'il a pu inspirer, mais ceux qui en veulent à Poutine pour les sanctions, les fils au front et les frontières fermées.

 

En cette veille d'élection bidon, une opposition tente encore et toujours de se lever pour signaler sa présence. Navalnaïa aura-t-elle un impact de l'étranger cependant? Voilà qui reste à voir, car ces actes exigent le sacrifice ultime de rester fidèle à la nation. Navalny lui-même n'était-il pas rentré chez lui après sa récupération à l'étranger malgré tout? Mais un acte de courage, comme on sait à quoi elle s'expose déjà, peut en inspirer d'autres. Lui-même dans une prison russe, Ilia Iachine accuse Poutine de meurtre et compare son régime à une organisation mafieuse.

 

Les risques associés à ce genre de déclaration sont d'autant plus importants quand on est déjà sous les verroux. Et ils ne sont pas limités à la Russie de Poutine. Le voisin biélorusse n'est pas moins oppresseur et revanchard. Quelques jours après le décès de Navalny c'était au militant d'opposition biélorusse Igar Lednik de périr en prison où il purgeait une peine pour «diffamation» du président Alexandre Loukachenko.

 

Plus d'un millier de prisonniers politiques sont incarcérés chez celui que l'on a longtemps dénommé le dernier despote d'Europe, grand ami de Poutine. Si les méthodes de répression chez les deux voisins sont similaires, la réaction des opposants l'est aussi. L'activiste biélorusse Syarhei Tsikhanou-ski une fois en prison, c'est sa femme Sviatlanta Tsikhanou-skaïa qui a porté le flambeau de la résistance. A présent dirigeante des forces démocratiques bélarusses et cheffe de file du cabinet de transition unie, cette dernière était elle aussi à Munich le jour où on a appris le décès de Nalvalny et partagea ses condoléances avec Navalnaïa.

 

Comme elle, Tsikhanouskaïa s'était placée à l'avant plan après l'arrestation de son mari, obtenant un résultat étonnant lors de la présidentielle de 2020 avant de devoir s'exiler. Les deux pays passent aux urnes cette année pour un exercice futile. Mais Navalnaïa réussira-t-elle tout de même à inspirer l'opposition? "Son succès dépendra de sa capacité à développer un style politique unique, articuler sa vision et rassembler une équipe professionnelle," estime la politologue Tatiana Stanovaïa.

 

Alors que l'opposition semble dégonflée par la mort de Navalny, les efforts du régime d'enterrer sa dépouille dans le secret trahissait ses craintes. C'est à Moscou finalement que celui-ci fut inhumé, des milliers risquant la prison en lui rendant hommage . «Si nous cédons à la morosité et au désespoir, c'est exactement ce qu'ils veulent. Nous n'avons pas le droit de faire ça, nous le devons à nos camarades tombés», déclara Vladimir Kara-Mourza, un autre opposant emprisonné.

 

D'autres sont plus optimistes. "Malgré ses efforts, Poutine ne pourra pas tuer le merveilleux rêve d'Alexei," estimait Nadya Tolokonnikova, fondatrice du groupe rebelle Pussy Riot. Cette semaine alors que le Kremlin condamnait un autre opposant du régime, Navalnaïa lors d'un discours à Bruxelles, déclarait que pour battre Poutine il fallait innover, "cesser d'être ennuyant" avec une ennième sanction ou résolution, le ton plus dur et déterminé que jamais. "Vous ne faites pas affaire avec un politicien, dit-elle, mais avec un monstre sanglant." Aux obsèques de Navalny, des participants ne se gênaient plus de traiter Poutine d'assassin.

LATIN AMERICA'S CONTESTED BORDERS

It hasn't been easy trying to gather security forces for an eventual international operation to stabilize gang-infested Haiti. First the country that would lead the mission, Kenya, has hit a snag, and when the issue of sending troops came up in Belize's parliament some may have been surprised by the reaction of opposition leader Shyne Barrow, who asked: "You want to go to Haiti while at the Sarstoon (river border area) Guatemalan armed forces are undermining our soverei-gnty?"

 

The argument may have been a valid one considering the tiny Central American country's military is limited to about 2,000 personnel in uniform. But what it also did was raise a longstanding border dispute that festers between the two neighbors, not just since the country's independence in the 80s, but going much further back to the 19th century and British rule. Like the Venezuelan dispute with neighboring Guyana, the matter has since been raised and remains unsettled at the International Court of Justice, leaving things to be fiercely debated locally and politically exploited.

 

As a result cries are now rising in Belize about the lack of government will to tackle the dispute against the much larger neighbor of some 18 million (nearly 40 times its   population). As a result some have resorted to launching citizen patrols of the waterways mentioned by Barrow, which have since created enough of a stir as to send Belizean soldiers man a local outpost, but without bringing the issue any closer to being resolved.

 

In Latin America, this is yet another border dispute raising tempers without ever inching closer to a solution. Sending soldiers to defend the Belize border is hardly new, as the British did the same just under a century ago in what is arguably one of the oldest border feuds on the continent. With Belize's independence Guatemala's territorial claims were silenced somewhat for a time, it even eventually recognized Belize's independence in the 1990s, but by the end of the decade the dispute was again being raised, sending troops back at the border.

 

While the matter is now at the hands of international justice, long delays, as in the case of Guyana's Essequibo region further south, have left the dispute alive to fester. In fact Guatemala's government has suggested for years that the country's maps should include Belize. "Guatemalans have been brought up  to believe that part of their country was stolen by the British," tells the New York Times historian Victor Bulmer-Thomas.

 

For a small region the continent's umbilical cord has seen a number of territorial disputes over time. El Salvador and Honduras are two other countries which have sparred over their border, another fault-line of former British and Spanish colonial masters. This is further raising instability as the region reels with drug-related violence fueling an exodus of migrants heading north to the US border.

 

As for Haiti, it awaits the arrival of foreign security forces after a Nairobi tribunal halted the dispatching of 1000 Kenyan poilice officers in January. The crisis there surpasses any border issues elsewhere, having killed 5000 in 2023.

PLOUGHING THE ROADWAYS

Their heavy machinery has for months been rumbling across the European landscape - which throughout history has seen war and devastation - blockading cities, ports and other strategic installations. On one highway in France they came face to face with armored carriers. No the Russians haven't extended their march Westwards, at least not yet, but the farmers certainly have, and their patience is wearing thin.

 

Protesting everything from red tape and high inflation to unfair foreign imports and climate regulations, farmers have deployed tractors and other vehicles from Germany and Greece to Spain and France, where they held major choke points around Paris months before the city is to hold the Olympic Games. Not unfamiliar with massive bottlenecks and traffic jams, many motorists stoically affirmed their support for the protesters feeding them, as they sat in cars for hours sometimes just to get off blocked highways.

 

Not unlike the trucker protests of two years ago in Canada - with jammed city streets, honking and all - or the farmer protests in India, the protesters lit fires on public roadways waving flags, many saying they faced expenses, bureaucracy and other pressures that was making their livelihood difficult to sustain. The movement first rose in the East where Polish farmers protested Ukrainian imports, embarrassing a domestic government intent to support its war-wary neighbor by lowering tariffs, and has moved West to the land of everyday protest that is the modern day French republic, sweeping others from Belgium to Italy along the way.

 

The demonstrations did not leave the bureaucrats in Brussels unmoved as the EU’s executive commission soon announced plans to protect farmers from cheap exports from Ukraine among other measures. “It is important that we listen to them,” said Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. “They face gigantic challenges,” notably drastic upheavals linked to climate change. With the protesters venting against what they perceive as unfair competition from countries overseas, some have been putting trade deals on hold, France delaying a free trade deal with South American countries.

 

Last week the EU announced the withdrawal of a controversial law to reduce the use of pesticides. As is often the case France has seen some of the most virulent protests, security forces being mobilized around Paris after demonstrators hurled soup at the protective glass covering the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Near Toulouse there was tragedy at a roadblock when two farmers were killed by a speeding vehicle.

 

Dozens of farmers were arrested during some more violent protests. During one blockade against armed officers one beret-wearing protester lamented "I would be ashamed (to be in your shoes)... armed like that against farmers, shameful." At one point thousands of access points were blockaded across the country, shutting major highways and hampering commerce, hurting other businesses in the process.

 

Measures announced by the French government got some blockades to be removed, but in Greece and Spain meanwhile farmer's groups were only starting to mobilize to obtain more help from the government. “The millions of euros that the prime minister says he is giving us to cut down on production costs are a pittance,” lamented the Greek farmers’ federation leader Kostas Tzelas, unsatisfied by Athens' latest attempt to quell the protest. As calm returned to Paris, Rome stirred, as the great agrarian winter of discontent continued.

MON PAYS C'EST L'HIVER?

Détient-elle encore le record si elle est souvent fermée? Certes la plus grande patinoire au monde à Ottawa a été réouverte cette année après le fiasco de 2023 dû aux températures élevées, mais elle ne l'a guère été pour plus de quelques jours, semant à nouveau le doute alors que débutait le bal de neige dans la capitale nationale, sous la pluie, repoussant l'ouverture d'autres sites festifs. Le manque de neige a par ailleurs exigé l'utilisation de canons à neige, un outil à présent jugé indispensable sur les pentes de ski de la région.

 

Ailleurs, c'est le silence sur les patinoires extérieures des quartiers de plusieurs villes, où les volontaires qui peinent à refaire les surfaces perdent espoir. L'avenir est-il purement artificiel? Pendant ce temps dans le grand Nord, la mise à mort d'un jeune ours polaire maigrichon qui s'était aventuré à Iqaluit a rappelé la précarité de leur situation à l'heure des réchauffements climatiques qui affectent leur manière de s'alimenter, poussant la faune vers les centres peuplés pour survivre.

 

Au Yukon les températures plus élevées changeaient le tracé de l'annuelle Yukon Quest, en raison de risques associés à certains secteurs du parcours. De l'autre côté de l'Atlantique, le nord se remettait de nouvelles crues alors dans le sud la péninsule ibérique traversait une période de chaleur sans précédent. Barcelone et sa région ont même déclaré, en plein hiver, l'état d'urgence en raison de la sécheresse qui sévit pour une troisième année de suite, apportant des restrictions dans l'utilisation de l'eau des Catalans.

 

A Mexico le manque d'eau dans plusieurs secteurs de la capitale démesurée a entrainé des manifestations, après des années avec peu de précipitations jumelées à une expansion des constructions sur fond d'infrastructures désuètes. Plus vers le sud le Chili vit un enfer d'été austral marqué par des feux de forêt sans merci, causant plus de 100 décès dans la région côtière de Valparaiso. Inutile de rappeler que 2023 a établi de nouveaux records de chaleur sur cette planête en évolution climatique, et 2024 est bien mal parti: les climatologues prévoient un février de tous les records.

 

Plus de 140 pays en ont déjà  enregistré à mi-chemin du mois le plus court. Plus tôt pendant les fêtes des touristes à Québec qui s'étaient déplacés pour vivre un Noël blanc avaient même menacé la ville de poursuite pour le désolant spectacle d'un hiver retardé. On n'en est plus au premier, et ce ne sera pas le dernier. Les phénomènes climatiques ont d'autant plus été marqués par le passage d'El Nino, créant de nouveaux risques.

 

C'est le début d'année avec le moins de glace sur les grands lacs nord-américains en 50 ans et certains obervateurs craignent des vagues élevées et des inondations tandis que dans les prairies canadiennes le manque de neige au sol, une période siberienne ayant été suivie par des jours de plus de 15 degrés, laissant craindre une autre saison de sécheresse. L'ouest américain vit d'ailleurs, selon une étude universitaire, une sécheresse inégalée en 500 ans. On reconnait déjà ainsi en 2024 des airs de 2023. Mais certaines régions sont particulièrement frappées.

 

Selon Niki Ashton, députée manitobaine de Churchill, les routes de glace du nord sont impraticables en raison de la chaleur relative ces derniers temps, semant la détresse dans les communautés, notamment autochtones, qui en dépendent. "Nous avons eu des conditions météorologiques sans précédent au cours des deux derniers mois, dit-elle. La survie de milliers d'habitants de notre région dépend des routes de glace. En raison du temps chaud, certaines routes ne sont pas accessibles et certaines ne le seront pas durant toute la saison."

 

Elle fait appel à plus d'investissement dans les infrastructures et à plus de mesures d'adaptation envers les changements climatiques. Une demi-douzaine de communautés autochtones alimentées par ces chemins de glace ont déclaré l'état d'urgence en raison du manque de vivres et de carburant. Alors que le gouvernement fédéral dit travailler à mettre en état les routes de glace qu'il peut les communautés exigent des routes permanentes, une facture de 3 millions $ par kilomètre multipliés des milliers de fois.

 

Les communautés touchées "sont dans l'incapacité de faire venir du carburant et d'autres produits de première nécessité; les routes de glace dont elles dépendent ont fondu en raison du changement climatique, poursuit Ashton. Des milliers de personnes sont ainsi prises au dépourvu."

 

Souvent dans cette région la glace ne suffit plus pour tenir le poids des ours blancs. Dans ces conditions précaires, tout comme au Nunavik, l'espèce maigrit, change de comportement, tente d'aller ailleurs pour s'approvisionner, multipliant les contacts avec les populations locales, tenant les autorités locales en haleine. Une unité spéciale de la police est en place justement pour intervenir en cas d'intrusion.

 

Les ours peinent à se débrouiller alors que disparait de la banquise qui leur sert de table à diner, selon une étude de la US Geological survey. "Il y a une limite à la capacité de l'ours de s'adapter," résume Karyn Rode, l'étude montrant une population qui perd du poids à force de manquer de nourriture en raison du rallongement des périodes sans banquise. Plus au sud, en Alberta on prépare déjà une saison qui s'annonce difficile. Les signes? un automne et hiver secs et des températures plus élevées pendant la saison froide.

 

A l'autre bout du pays des pompiers font des gestes de désespoir, bloquant la rue face au parlement pour exiger la création d'une agence nationale de combat des feux. La période froide est déjà chaude sur plusieurs fronts. En Colombie-britannique pendant ce temps, des événements estivaux étaient soit avancés soit annulés en raison de la sécheresse prévue dans certaines régions, qui craignent une nouvelle année marquée par les feux de forêts. En on est toujours en février. "C'est ce que j'ai vu de plus proche d'une année sans hiver depuis que je suis dans le métier," déclarait récemment le climatologue de longue date David Phillips.

CAN SENEGAL AVOID THE SLIP?

While much of the West African region reeled from both failed and successful coups, Senegal could always be counted on as a more stable, fair arbiter, a model of democracy in a troubled part of the world. But the nation of 17 million has been slipping from its democratic pedestal in the run up to the latest presidential election, to the point opposition legislators say it is being swept by a constitutional coup.

 

Protesters clashed with police in major cities after Senegalese president Macky Sall postponed this month's scheduled presidential election hours before campaigning was to begin. Lawmakers then voted for a potential new date only after a chaotic session of the legislature which was marked by the removal of members of the opposition. Tensions in the streets reflected this sad state of affairs, clashes leading to three deaths.

 

The charge of constitutional coup is a significant one in a region of the continent which has been rattled by numerous coups over the years and is the culmination of months of rising tensions which have often spilled into the streets after the country's constitutional council denied a number of candidates the right to participate in the vote, notably the highly popular Ousmane Sonko and Karim Wade, son of a former president. Sall defended his action saying holding the vote in view of the council's decision risked tainting the election, fearing this may just increase tensions across the country.

 

But this didn't take long to become reality. Sall, who has served a maximum two mandates, vowed to begin "an open national dialogue... to create the conditions for a free, transparent and inclusive election in a peaceful and reconciled Senegal." But the decision made the state of the nation very far from that goal amid mass protests. Some opposition politicians said they would campaign regardless.

 

The postponement is historic in the country seen as a model of democracy in the region but comes after years of grumbling, notably by supporters of Sonko, who has faced court cases he says were part of a campaign to prevent his candidacy. "This is a precedent, a dangerous precedent," said opposition candidate Khalifa Sall, who called for a boycott. Another candidate, Anta Babacar Ngom was arrested in ensuing protests.

 

The US, France and other countries expressed concern, asking the president to soon determine a new date to hold elections. Also hoping Sall would put forward a new date is the much maligned ECOWAS regional organi-zation, already reeling from the loss of three member states which have seen recent coups, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, now making a rare appeal for calm in one of its more exemplary member states.

 

Last week the group held an emergency session, something it usually does under Senegal's stewardship. But the constitutional council's ruling this week that postponing the vote was unconstitutional put matters back into the president's corner as the leadership was looking to lower tensions by releasing some detained opponents. All may not be  lost yet, and all of Africa is watching.

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