In Other News – Honduras elects first female president as greater region swings left, Belarus threatens to retaliate after new round of sanctions, & More – 12/3/2021

December 3, 2021

Honduras elects first female president as greater region swings left. This week, Xiomara Castro claimed victory in the Honduran Presidential Elections, ending the 12-year rule of the conservative party and becoming the nation’s first female president. From 2006-2009, Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, served as the President of Honduras before he was ousted in a military-backed coup. Based on the political repression and violence that transpired during the 2017 presidential runoff, many feared that a new opposition-party victory would result in political turmoil, but the transition appears peaceful thus far. Castro is inheriting a deeply impoverished nation, where natural disasters and effects of the pandemic have further pushed nearly three quarters of the population beneath the poverty line. She’s promised to decrease corruption and improve the economy, and to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing− although the latest reporting indicates she might be reversing her stance on this.

The political shift left, however, is not unique to Honduras, and in the greater region Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru have all seen the return of leftist rule over the past two years. In Brazil as well, the latest polls indicate that rightwing leader Bolsonaro is likely to be unseated next year by former leftist leader Lula da Silva. Notably, even Chile, which in recent years has been a beacon of moderate political entity in a heated region, is showing signs of political polarization− current polls indicate that Chilean leftist presidential candidate Gabriel Boric is in the lead against conservative Jose Antonio Kast as the second round of elections approach on December 19. Seemingly, there is now a region-wide decline in moderate, centrist candidates. On a recent trip to Latin America, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized the need for regional leaders to uphold democratic processes and prevent interference by China and Russia. But to what extent the new wildcard and leftist leaders will seek to embrace, or counter, US influence remains to be seen.

Belarus threatens to retaliate after new round of sanctions. Lukashenko, the authoritarian leader of Belarus and close Putin ally, has been perpetuating human right abuses that reach beyond national borders and he’s currently involved in a devastating migrant crisis. This week, Lukashenko’s also been making headlines through numerous provocative statements and threats, including that he’d be willing to hold nuclear weapons for Putin amid tensions between Russia and NATO, and that annexed Crimea legally belongs to Russia. On Wednesday, Lukashenko also stated that he’s willing to prevent energy transit from Russia to the EU if Poland shuts its borders. On Thursday, the US, Canada, UK, and EU issued a new round of sanctions on Belarusian entities and individuals in protest of human rights abuses, but on Friday Lukashenko hit back that he’s preparing retaliatory countermeasures, promising a tough and asymmetric response. The latest round of sanctions, reportedly designed to place restrictions on those responsible for the worst anti-democratic acts in Belarus, comes at a time of increased tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Police in 20 countries collaborate to tackle transnational, cyber-enabled financial crime on a global scale. According to a new Interpol report, from June-September police in 20 countries worked together on Operation Haechi-II, the second operation in a three-year project supported by the Republic of Korea that involved Interpol member countries on every continent. Operation Haechi-II, which focused on crimes like online romance scams, illicit gambling, and investment fraud, resulted in over 1000 arrests as well as the closure of 2,350 bank accounts worldwide; over $27 million was seized. Operation Haechi-II, which highlights the transnational nature of cyber financial crime, also identified 10 new ways that criminals attract suspects, like a malware-laden app branded like the popular Netflix show Squid Game. According to the Interpol Secretary General, the Operation has demonstrated that the uptick in online financial crime caused by the Covid-19 pandemic shows little sign of waning, and with the Omicron variant already impacting the global market, criminal exploitation is likely to continue.