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The Graphic Truth: By land or by sea — migrants head for Spain

Last week, some 400 migrants arrived on Spain's Canary Islands in a 24-hour period after making the perilous journey by boat from Africa. Up until October, migrant arrivals to the Canary Islands had surged 44 percent compared to the same period last year. While COVID-related economic crises have surely contributed to the uptick in desperate people trying to start over in the EU, this wave of migration — mainly from Morocco and Algeria — predates the pandemic, and even the 2015 refugee crisis. We take a look at the number of people who have sought refuge in peninsular Spain and the Canary Islands since 2015.

What We’re Watching: Thai monarchy ruling, weed vs coke in Colombia, Moroccan olive twig

Don't mess with the Thai king. A Thai court has ruled that calls by three youth protest leaders to reform the monarchy are an unconstitutional attempt to overthrow the country's political system. Although the verdict is symbolic and won't carry a jail term, it paves the way for the activists to be tried for treason, which is punishable by death. But it's also a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the ruling is a clear warning shot to the youth-led protest movement that last year shocked Thailand by for the first time openly questioning the role of the king, a taboo subject until then. On the other, actually executing protest leaders could turn them into martyrs, driving more of their followers into the streets to face off against government forces. Regardless, the controversial notion of curbing the king's powers is now at the very center of Thai politics: it's the inevitable future for millennials and zoomers, a third-rail issue for mainstream political parties, and a non-starter for the all-powerful Rama X himself.

Can medical weed bring down the high of Colombia's cocaine industry? After decades of trying to stamp out a coca industry that has fueled violence and conflict, the Colombian government is looking to cannabis for help. President Iván Duque wants to boost the cultivation of medical marijuana as a more lucrative, eco-friendly, and less socially-damaging substitute crop for Colombian farmers. Duque, a strong opponent of decriminalizing drugs, made clear that the strategy would apply only to growing cannabis for medical rather than recreational use. He also continues to advocate aerial spraying as a means of eradicating coca crops, despite questions about the effectiveness and environmental impact of this approach. Coca cultivation in Colombia has reached record highs in recent years, as drug cartels have benefited from the poor implementation of Colombia's historic 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels, taking over drug-producing areas of the country that those militants once controlled.

An olive twig from Morocco to Algeria. Tensions between Morocco and Algeria have flared recently, over Algiers' support for separatists in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that Morocco considers its own territory. For half a century now, the militants of the Polisario Front have been waging a struggle for independent control over the region, a resource-rich swath of land blessed with plentiful fisheries that lies along a critical trade route for Morocco. Algeria has long backed the rebels as a way to needle Morocco. Earlier this year, Western Sahara figured prominently in a dispute between Morocco and Spain over migration flows to Europe. But in August, Algeria cut ties with Rabat over the issue, and last week accused Moroccan forces of killing three Algerian civilians in the area. Against that backdrop, Morocco now says it wants to "turn the page" on tensions with Algeria. But it also says that its demand for sovereignty over Western Sahara — only recognized by the US — is "legitimate" and non-negotiable. That's not quite an olive branch, but we'll call it a twig and see how this plays out.

Morocco makes a play for Western Sahara

Morocco and Spain have spent the past two weeks at loggerheads over Madrid allowing the leader of the independence movement for Western Sahara, a former Spanish territory claimed by Morocco, to get medical treatment for COVID in a Spanish hospital. Polisario Front chief Brahim Ghali has now left the country, but the Moroccans are still furious.

Indeed, Rabat's initial response was to open its border gates to allow a deluge of thousands of migrants to overwhelm the Spanish border in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast. Although that crisis ended in a matter of days, the wider issue that caused it in the first place remains unresolved.

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What We’re Watching: Morocco-Spain border crisis, Belarus police can target protesters, no beef from Argentina

Morocco punishes Spain with... migrants: Spain has sent in the army to help defend the border in Ceuta, a tiny Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast, after more than 8,000 migrants crossed over in just two days. Spanish border guards say that Morocco facilitated the migrants' departure, most of whom are Moroccan nationals, to punish Madrid for meddling in Morocco's internal affairs over Western Sahara. Last month, Madrid allowed the leader of the pro-independence Polisario Front to seek treatment for COVID in a Spanish hospital, infuriating Rabat, which claims the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara as part of its territory. The Moroccans, for their part, deny involvement in the mass exodus, and on Wednesday closed the border. However, that seems questionable given that Morocco has traditionally overreacted to any hint of Spanish support for Western Saharan independence. But Spain won't want to rock the boat too much because it needs Morocco's help to stop African migrants flooding into Ceuta and Melilla, the other Spanish enclave in Morocco. If the spat is not resolved soon, the European Union may have to step in to mediate because once the migrants are on EU soil, they are free to travel to other EU countries.

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Quick Take: Trump's foreign policy legacy - the wins

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi everybody. It is the last day of the Trump administration. Most of you, probably pretty pleased about that. A majority of Americans, though not a large majority, but certainly a majority of people around the world. And given that that's a good half of the folks that follow what we do at GZERO, that counts to a majority. And look, I ought to be clear, when we talk about the Trump administration and their foreign policy legacy, "America First" was not intended to be popular outside of the United States. So, it's not surprising that most people are happy to see the back of this president. But I thought what I would do would be to go back four years after say, what are the successes? Is there anything that Trump has actually done, the Trump administration has done that we think is better off in terms of foreign policy for the United States and in some cases for the world than it would have been if he hadn't been there? And I actually came up with a list. So, I thought I'd give it to you.

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What We're Watching: EU braces for no-deal Brexit, Trump's U-turn on Western Sahara, Lebanese PM charged over Beirut blast

Is the EU playing it safe or prolonging the agony? With Brexit talks still deadlocked in the 11th hour (and in the 11th month, at that) the European Union is taking no chances. Brussels on Thursday unveiled an emergency plan that aims to keep UK-EU trade and travel moving even in the event of the dreaded "no deal" scenario in which there's no agreement at all governing nearly $1 trillion in cross-Channel annual trade. The EU's contingency plan would require UK consent, and cover travel by air and road, shipping, and fishing for six months. Talks between London and Brussels are still stuck on a few key points — including regulatory rules and fishing rights — and technically the two sides need to reach a deal in the next few days or the clock runs out. But does the EU's plan, which would provide cover into early next year, now undercut the urgency of reaching a deal? Having a safety net is obviously a smart idea, but listen, Boris and Ursula, we can't take any more of this. We really, really can't.

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