Small Countries, Big Stories: Cambodia and Honduras

Often the biggest international stories are reflected in the world’s smaller countries. This week we peer into two little mirrors…


Honduras: Violence flared in Honduras as both candidates in last week’s presidential election claimed victory following a mid-vote shutdown of the electoral commissions systems. The opposition candidate, popular TV host Salvador Nasralla, accuses the US-backed incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernandez, of rigging the vote. A curfew is in place and a recount is underway.

Washington has a security problem: Hernandez is DC’s main man in Central America these days — the US has given him millions to bolster security in one of the Western Hemisphere’s most violent countries, in part to stop the flow of drugs and people northward to the US.

Democracy has a tech problem: Contested election outcomes are nothing new (remember hanging chads?) but as technology plays a greater role in elections, we can’t help but wonder if the legitimacy of votes will suffer as a result. Loosely speaking, democracy has both a hardware problem and a software problem.

The hardware problem: are electoral systems hackable? And even if they aren’t, will people perceive them to be in ways that undermine electoral outcomes even if they aren’t fraudulent?

The software problem: democracy depends on trust and good information. Fake news and poorly informed voters are certainly not new. But social media vastly expands the velocity, reach, and impact of fake news: even if you can’t hack a vote count, can you effectively hack a voter? In an atmosphere of growing polarization, people are increasingly likely to regard their fellow citizens’ choices as illegitimate.

Cambodia: Strongman Hun Sen, who has ruled for more than 30 years, recently cracked down on the country’s growing opposition party, which he accused of plotting a US-backed coup. The US, which has funneled aid to Cambodia to support a now-dubious transition to democracy, threatened to cut some funding as a result. Sen, unfazed, said he’d rather Uncle Sam get out entirely. One reason he is so comfortable bucking the US is that China now dwarfs the West in providing aid and investment to Cambodia.

The bigger story: China has been mobilizing massive resources to make new, and often authoritarian, friends in the region, and Beijing attaches far fewer political or human rights conditions to its money, and Washington’s uncertain commitment to the region opens more room for China to expand its influence. The soft power geography of Asia is steadily tilting towards Beijing.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

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January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

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A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

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