On Thursday, Brazilian Supreme Court Judge Teori Zavascki, who was in charge of overseeing the corruption investigation against state-run oil giant Petrobras, died in a plane crash off the coast of Partay where he was vacationing. Prosecutors involved in the case previously stated that politicians were handsomely bribed to award government contracts to private companies while overcharging Petrobras. The plane crash comes as Zavascki was set to analyze the plea bargains of 77 Odebrecht executives, a construction firm that has admitted to paying over $1 billion in bribes to obtain contracts.
Last Friday, President Obama ended a 20-year policy that allows Cubans to apply for citizenship in the United States without applying for a visa. Commonly known as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, the law permits migrants with “at least one dry foot” on U.S. soil to become permanent residents after a year within the country. The Cuban government sees the policy as largely responsible for the country’s brain drain and encouraging migrants to risk their lives travelling to the Florida border. Meanwhile, many Latino communities view the law as unfairly favoring Cuban immigrants as opposed to other migrants.
Last week, Mexicans took to the streets to riot, loot, and blockade streets to protest the government’s January 1st announcement they would raise maximum oil prices by 20%. The move is the first of many steps to deregulate Mexico’s energy sector. Dependent on gasoline imports, policymakers expect the decrease in subsidies will attract foreign investment and increase competition against the state-controlled oil company, Pemex. But it appeared the government was unprepared for the widespread contempt.
The failed coup in Turkey last July has resulted in the purges of thousands of public officials. Government representatives are rumored to be investigating suspects’ links to Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Muslim cleric who is said to have sparked the uprising. The crackdown has proven excessive in many sectors of society, leading to the suspension of due process and repression of political opposition in the military, legal system, and police force. Yet the worst-off victim of the crackdown by far has been education.
Since the purge began, the government has closed fifteen universities and 1,000 secondary schools, dismissed 27,000 Ministry of Education staff , suspended 4,255 academics and nearly 10,000 teachers, and asked 1,577 University Deans to resign. The government claims these are security measures designed to safeguard against enemies of the state. Yet the extent of the suspensions and the liberal beliefs of the targeted academics instead demonstrate an attempt by President Erdogan to reform Turkey’s secular education system based on his religious vision. Such actions only confirm Western fears that the purge is an effort to repress political opposition rather than ensure national security.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Saturday his government submitted a bill that would overhaul the Constitution to consolidate executive powers under the office of the President, a controversial move many are calling a referendum on Erdogan’s leadership itself. The bill includes provisions allowing the president to run his own cabinet and widely govern by decree. Current polls and parliamentary makeup suggest the AKP and opposition MHP have enough seats to pass the law, although wavering party loyalty could defeat the initiative.
This Sunday, Austrians headed to the polls to finally decide the presidency after the far-right Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) Norbert Hofer objected to initial voting procedures. Mr. Hofer lost by 31,000 votes in a narrow 50/50 margin last May, until Austria’s highest court backed the party and allowed for a delayed new vote. He again faced 72-year-old former economics professor and Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen.
On Sunday, French citizens headed to the polls to select the new Republican Presidential Candidate in a primary runoff, the winner of which is set to take on far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen in April. After Francois Fillon won last week’s primary, barring former President Nicolas Sarkozy from the race, polls show he is set to win again. His socially conservative platform, including anti-abortion, anti gay marriage, and restrictive immigration proposals, stand in contrast to centrist opponent Alain Juppe, who denies the need for such “brutal” laws.
Reformist Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called a Constitutional Referendum scheduled for Dec 4, set to expedite the notoriously slow and gridlocked Italian legislative process. Renzi affirms the reforms will expedite change and create a more active government better prepared to tackle Italy’s main problems: economic stagnation, youth unemployment, widespread corruption, and the migrant crisis. Critics suspect the referendum will increase the powers of the Prime Minister, as well as limit the influence of Italian voters. However, it is not the referendum itself, but the man who proposed it, that Italians are likely to vote on.
Last Sunday, Spain’s Socialist leaders reversed their 10 month long efforts to block conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s reelection when they informed their representatives to abstain from a Parliamentary vote considering his candidacy. These abstentions deprive the larger opposition of having enough votes to impede his reelection. If the vote failed to support Rajoy, a third, December election would have been called to elect an entirely new government, meaning a new Prime Minister and all new members of parliament. Socialist leaders stated the fear of losing more seats primarily motivated their surrender.
On October 13th Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for a consultation on a second Scottish independence referendum bill. The consultation marks the first step in the long process of allowing the referendum to go to a vote. But irrespective of whether the country succeeds in its second attempt to pursue independence from the United Kingdom, it faces extensive negotiations with the United Kingdom (UK) in light of its decision to exit the European Union (EU).