What We're Watching: Ethiopia's opposition crackdown, Cuba's food crisis, US beefs up presence in Syria

People gather to protest against the treatment of Ethiopia's ethnic Oromo group, July 3, 2020

Ethiopian PM cracks down on opposition: Ethiopia's most prominent opposition leader, Jawar Mohammed, was one of 24 political opponents charged with a series of crimes in Ethiopia in recent days, including terrorism-related offenses. The charges relate to civil unrest that erupted this past summer in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, as well as the Oromia region that left at least 160 people dead. While ethnic tensions have intensified in the country in recent years, violence surged in late June after the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular singer and activist whose songs called for the liberation and empowerment of the Oromo, the country's largest ethnic group. Jawar Mohammed, a former ally of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, is a hero to many disaffected Oromo, and his jailing since July has raised concerns about an intensifying crackdown by the government. Critics say that while Abiy, who won a Nobel peace prize for making peace with neighboring Eritrea, has spearheaded ambitious political and economic reforms since coming to power in 2018, he has not done enough to alleviate ethnic violence and tensions in the fractious country.


Cuba faces food crisis: The island nation of Cuba fared well in the early months of the pandemic. A strong public health system and draconian quarantine measures — a police state helps with that — squelched the disease even as much richer nations struggled to contain its spread. Havana even sent its own doctors abroad to help more than a dozen other countries battle the virus. But the economic impact on the island since then has been devastating. Even before the pandemic, the country's badly mismanaged, state-dominated economy was suffering as the Trump administration tightened long-standing sanctions. Turmoil in Venezuela, meanwhile, led to a decrease in the shipments of cheap oil that the Maduro regime in Caracas sends its ideological pals in Havana. Now, a pandemic-driven collapse in tourism —the island's main source of hard currency — has left the government scrambling to amass enough dollars to purchase the food imports that meet two-thirds of the country's food needs. Cuba is facing its most acute economic crisis since the so-called "special period" of the 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's main patron, plunged the island into a harrowing decade of poverty.

US military beefs up Syria presence to counter... Russia? The Pentagon has announced that it will deploy about 100 additional US troops in Syria in order to "ensure the safety" of US-led forces there. The move comes just a few weeks after seven American soldiers were injured when their convoy was hit by a Russian vehicle (in an open field) in northeastern Syria. Although run-ins between troops from the two countries are not uncommon amid the chaos of the decade-long Syrian civil war, and the Pentagon did not cite Russia as the reason to boost the US military contingent in the country, a senior US official called out recent Russian misbehavior, saying it "got us into a dangerous situation" on the ground. President Trump — who controversially decided to withdraw US forces from northern Syria a year ago — has pledged to bring home US troops from "endless wars," but he also is fond of keeping US troops in Syria to protect oil fields, he says. The Pentagon, meanwhile, is still keen to assist Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State. All this comes as the White House has yet to respond to the allegations of Russian bounties to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. If the new deployment is indeed meant to send a signal to the Kremlin, we're watching to see what the response is.

That's Bank of America's new target in its Environmental Business Initiative in order to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Here's how it will drive innovation to address climate change.

On Tuesday, a major US intelligence report said the top threat to America right now is China. A day later, John Kerry, the Biden administration's "climate czar," got on a plane to... China.

Such is the drama of ties between the world's two largest economies these days.

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Should the Biden administration "reverse course on China" in the hope of establishing a friendlier relationship, as diplomat Kishore Mahbubani argues in a recent Financial Times op-ed? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Michael Hirson take out the Red Pen to explain why it's not that simple.

And today, we are talking about the United States and China. The relationship between the two most powerful nations in the world is the worst it's been since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Pundits and policymakers alike all around the world are trying to figure out how Washington and Beijing can at least stop the bleeding because a reset is nowhere in the cards.

That's the topic of the op-ed that we are looking at today. It's from the Financial Times, written by Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, and the title summarizes the key argument: "Biden should summon the courage to reverse course on China." Meaning, he should throw out the Trump era approach and open the door to more cooperation and kinder, gentler relations.

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More than a dozen COVID-19 vaccines have been fully approved or are currently in early use globally, and COVAX, the global initiative started last year by the World Health Organization and other partners, is pushing for equitable access to vaccines for all. But most of the half billion jabs given so far have gone to citizens of wealthy countries, with half going to the US and China alone. What's the problem with so-called vaccine nationalism? Ian Bremmer explains that besides the clear humanitarian concerns, the continued global spread of COVID increases the risk of new mutations and variants that can threaten the entire world, vaccinated or not.

Watch the episode: Vaccine nationalism could prolong the pandemic

Should wealthy individuals and nations shoulder more of the burden in addressing climate change? Pulitzer Prize-winning climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert argues that Big Tech leaders like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk should shift more of their focus to fighting for our own planet's survival, instead of space exploration. "We're doing as much as we can to make life difficult on planet Earth for ourselves. But there's virtually nothing we could do to make it as difficult as life on Mars, where there's, among other things, no oxygen." Kolbert, the author of Under a White Sky, discusses why it's so crucial for a few rich countries to bear most of the climate burden, since they're also the biggest emitters. Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting this Friday, April 16. Check local listings.

In recent days, Northern Ireland has seen some of its worst street violence in over a decade. The anger has subsided a bit this week, but post-Brexit fears leave many uncertain about their future in a deeply divided land with a long history of political violence between Irish republicans and UK unionists.

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Fighting climate change is about making the planet get less hot. The more quickly countries slow down their carbon emissions, the faster that'll happen. All the more important for the nations that pollute the most — but not all of them are on board. Although the majority, including China, are setting future targets to go Net Zero, India doesn't want to commit (yet) to when to stop burning fossil fuels to spur economic growth. We take a look at when the world's top polluting economies intend to go carbon-neutral, compared with their share of global emissions, of renewable energy as a source of electricity, and percentage of global coal consumption.

Peruvian runoff: Perú's presidential election is going to a runoff in June between two surprise and polarizing contenders, each of whom won less than 20 percent of votes in a highly fragmented first round. Pedro Castillo, a far-left union leader and teacher who benefited from a late surge in the polls, will battle rightwing populist Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the country's imprisoned former strongman. Castillo wants to rewrite the constitution to weaken the political influence of the country's business elite and maybe to allow the state to nationalize parts of the mining sector to pay for social programs for the poor. Fujimori wants to use mining revenues to create jobs by investing in infrastructure and healthcare. The runoff will probably be a national referendum on Fujimori, a divisive figure running for the top job for the third time. No Peruvian president has ever left office without facing corruption charges, but Fujimori already faces several — and she'll avoid jail time if she wins.

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