What We're Watching: Haiti & Greece protests, Venezuela on film, Afghan women's prisons

Haiti's protests – After decades of dictatorship and then chaotic democracy, about 60 percent of Haiti's 11 million people still live in poverty today. Why? For the thousands of protesters who've raised their voices for the past several months, President Jovenal Moise and those around him have stolen billions of dollars that should have been spent on Haiti's economic development. Moise, who maintains he's stolen nothing, blames government dysfunction and says the opposition has made it impossible to hold elections that would seat a new parliament. In response, he proposes a new constitution, to be ratified by popular referendum, that would give the president expanded powers to sweep aside gridlock. Protests have become violent, more than 40 people have been killed, and Amnesty International accuses security forces of "excessive force." Something's got to give, but as Haiti has proven again and again over the decades, that's not the same as saying that progress will be made.


Greek Island clashes intensify – More than 60 people on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios have been injured in violent clashes over the Greek government's plan to build new migration centers there. The Greek islands have long been the gateway to Europe for migrants fleeing Africa and the Middle East via the nearby Turkish coast. But many residents there argue that their communities are already under-resourced and overcrowded as a result of the influx. In Lesbos, for example, 19,000 migrants are currently housed in squalid conditions in a camp originally designated to hold fewer than 3,000. Locals say asylum seekers should be sent to mainland Greece. Despite ongoing talks, Athens says it's moving ahead with the plan, even as the violence extends into a third day.

A stunning short film about the Venezuela protests – In the spring of 2017, Venezuelan cinematographer Braulio Jatar was studying film in New York City when massive anti-government protests erupted in his home country. He took his camera and went to Caracas to document the unrest, embedding himself with a team of medics who treated the wounded on all sides. His award-winning 9-minute film, Where Chaos Reigns, takes an unflinching, beautifully shot – and decidedly apolitical – look at the protests from right on the frontlines.

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Afghan women in prison – Afghanistan has long been one of the most dangerous places on earth to be a woman. Perpetrators of violence against women enjoy a culture of impunity, and police are notorious for forcing women – who have no financial autonomy – to return home to their abusive husbands. And so for some Afghan women the only way they could escape these marriages and protect their children was to murder their husbands. In this compelling photo essay, the New York Times chronicles the experiences of women who killed their spouses and found sanctuary at Herat Women's Prison in western Afghanistan. The photos, and the women's stories, are mesmerizing.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

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North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

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As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

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