Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Irene Villora discuss a migrant caravan in Mexico City, plus more on Hong Kong’s legislative election, Islamic countries meeting to discuss Afghanistan, a presidential election runoff in Chile and Russia’s Putin holding a media conference.
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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Imana Gunawan, Sophie Perryer, Joe Veyera, David Wyllie and Irene Villora. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Note: With the holiday and the New Year coming up, the podcast will be off for a couple weeks. Our next podcast will be out January 6th. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Twitter where we’ll still be posting breaking news.
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Read the full episode description and transcript on Factal's blog.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:
Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.
Today is December 16th.
In this week’s forecast we’ve got Hong Kong’s legislative election, Islamic countries meeting to discuss Afghanistan, a presidential election runoff in Chile, Russia’s Putin holding a media conference and a look at the migrant caravan in Mexico City.
You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.
Hong Kong legislative election
Information compiled by Imana Gunawan
JIMMY: Hong Kong is set to hold a legislative election on Sunday – its first since the Chinese government ordered sweeping changes to its electoral system.
In September, China’s overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system gave national security bodies power over who can run for office by blocking opposition candidates China deems “disloyal.”
Among the most significant changes is the reduction of directly elected seats in the legislature.
Now, less than a quarter of the legislative seats will be directly elected by voters, down from half prior to the overhaul.
Forty of the body’s 90 seats will now be chosen by an election committee, a pro-establishment body that also selects Hong Kong’s leader.
Now, opposition groups, including Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, have mostly sat out the race, with many prominent democrats either detained, in exile or resigned from politics.
Observers widely predict a low turnout for the poll.
Of course, the sweeping electoral changes are among many examples of China’s increasing control over Hong Kong, hampering what was once a relatively open political and free speech landscape.
Since the controversial national security law came into effect, authorities have waged an intense crackdown on the opposition, including charging 47 pro-democracy figures with subversion under the law.
Islamic countries to meet on Afghanistan crisis
Information compiled by Sophie Perryer
JIMMY: Pakistan will host a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Sunday to discuss Afghanistan’s worsening humanitarian situation.
Conflict, insecurity, drought and the coronavirus pandemic have engendered a deep humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where more than half the population was in need of aid even prior to the Taliban takeover in August.
The country is currently facing the worst drought in 27 years. And according to the United Nations, nearly 23 million people will be at crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity by March.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister previously raised concerns that insecurity in Afghanistan could lead to further conflict or even trigger a refugee crisis impacting neighboring nations.
Now, Sunday’s gathering in Islamabad will include foreign ministers of 57 OIC member states, along with representatives from the European Union, United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia.
A Taliban delegation will also attend and is expected to ask the OIC for recognition as Afghanistan’s government. And that’s something the international community has resisted so far due to concerns over the group’s human rights record and seizure of power.
Finally, global economic sanctions and U.S. freezing of Afghan central bank assets are also on the agenda, as some countries say these restrictions are hindering the humanitarian response.
Chilean presidential run-off
Information compiled by Joe Veyera
JIMMY: On Sunday, voters in Chile will cast their ballots in the country’s presidential election runoff. They’ll be choosing between far-right lawmaker Jose Antonio Kast and leftist Gabriel Boric.
The two outsider candidates emerged from the first-round of voting in November.
Kast took first-place in the race to succeed incumbent President Sebastián Piñera with just under 28 percent of the vote. Boric was close behind at 26 percent.
Polling shows a tight race, with Boric holding a narrow advantage.
Meanwhile, the candidate running under President Piñera's coalition, Sebastián Sichel, finished a distant fourth, suggesting voters are dissatisfied with the country's current leadership.
A combination of center-left, far-left and green parties earned a narrow majority in the coinciding Chamber of Deputies elections, while the Senate is almost evenly split.
Now, the two candidates have charted deeply different paths for the country, with Kast campaigning on tax cuts and border security and Boric calling for tax hikes on the wealthy and scrapping a highly-criticized pension system.
The winner will also be tasked with shepherding the country through a national plebiscite next year to approve language for a new constitution.
Kast is expected to campaign for a rejection of the rewrite, while Boric plans to push for approval.
Putin’s annual media conference
Information compiled by David Wyllie
JIMMY: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is expected to hold his annual news conference in Moscow next Thursday, where he’ll take questions from reporters.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in Russia, and the spread of the omicron variant, the audience will be limited to 500 people, which will likely be a mix of Russian domestic journalists and reporters from international outlets.
Putin is known for his carefully stage-managed media appearances, often designed to make him look like the unassailable head of state – and this forum will be no different.
In previous years it has featured him sitting at a desk while hundreds of journalists bid for attention by holding signs, with some resorting to waving stuffed toys to catch his gaze.
And though it may appear as a free and fair exchange, Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index ranks Russia as 150th out of 180 countries, with journalists facing an atmosphere of "draconian laws, website-blocking, Internet cuts and leading news outlets reined in or throttled out of existence.”
Now, subjects likely to come up include the continued detainment and treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, fears surrounding a possible Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, hybrid warfare in the form of a migrant crisis, corruption allegations against Russia’s elite, and whether Putin has any intention of stepping back from the office of president.
Though Putin often sits through tough questions, this year’s coronavirus resurgence means that there was no open accreditation for the event, and individual journalists have been invited to attend by the Kremlin, which may lead to fewer flashpoints.
Mexico City migrants
Information compiled by Irene Villora
JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on a migrant caravan in Mexico City. For more on that I recently spoke with Factal Editor Irene Villora.
JIMMY: Hello, Irene.
IRENE: Hello, Jimmy.
JIMMY: Hey, thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. Hoping you can bring us up to speed on the situation near Mexico City. Looks like a few hundred migrants clashed with police recently. Can you tell us more about that? You know, what's going on?
IRENE: Yeah, so on Sunday, a caravan of about 300 migrants reached Mexico City after more than a month walking across the country. Basically, the clashes erupted in a segment of the road connecting Puebla and Mexico City and according to local authorities, the police used force to respond to provocations of some members of the caravan. However, migrants and witnesses report that the officers were trying to actively prevent people from reaching the capitol. In the end, the police withdrew and the migrants were able to reach their destination, but the clashes left at least 17 people injured, including migrants and officers. Now the migrants are finally staying at a camp in Mexico City before deciding on the next step of their journey.
JIMMY: Do we know where these migrants are coming from? You know, for that matter, do we know what prompted them to flee their homes?
IRENE: Yeah, so mainly the people who are part of these caravans are migrants from Central American countries. They come from countries like Guatemala or Honduras. But there's also an important presence of Caribbean migrants in the country at the moment. It is estimated that apart from this caravan in Mexico City, there's also more than 30,000 migrants in different parts of the country right now. These people are fleeing really tough situations in their countries of origin. Not only do they face extreme poverty, but also they have come from countries where violence is really prevalent. And they face both institutionalized violence, common delinquency and gang violence. In some cases, there's even political dissidents and activists that are prosecuted back home that have as a last resort joined these caravans to try to cross to safer countries.
JIMMY: You know, what kind of conditions are these folks having to contend with? I have to imagine it's a pretty harrowing journey.
IRENE: Well, they are exposed to all sorts of things really, starting with natural elements. So some of them walk for months across, like, roads, forest, deserts, under conditions of constant rain, extreme temperature changes, other dangers like wild animals. As you know, the Central American geography is very rich. Often they walk for weeks without consuming any food or barely any water. And on top of that, they are carrying their own possessions and often small children. Apart from this, they face constant violence, both from gangs and human smuggling networks. There's a lot of reports of kidnappings and also abuses from the military police in many of the checkpoints they have to go through. The migrants have consistently reported being robbed, being beaten. Only last week, we saw on Thursday, a truck that was trying to smuggle migrants overturn in Chiapas and 55 people died in that accident. I have to say as well, the treatment from the authorities doesn't seem to be much better. Many migrants have denounced that the conditions in which they are treated are really deplorable. We've also seen very recent reports that Mexico is carrying out repatriations in the middle of the night without coordinating with the countries of origin, which is quite irregular. But sadly, it doesn't even end there. The conditions in the camps in which the migrants are staying, like the one they are staying in now in Mexico City, are not really the best. So they are very crowded camps. They usually have to sleep on the floor, only with the belongings they were carrying with them, or maybe they are provided with some mattresses and blankets but not much more. And it's not really the best situation taking into account that we are in the midst of a very contagious pandemic.
JIMMY: Do we know where the migrants are headed to?
IRENE: Yeah, so some of these migrants will likely try to move up north to the US border. Some others will choose to be repatriated if they see that the chances of being legalized are quite slim. But also, more migrants now are pursuing regularization in Mexico rather than risking making the whole way to the US. This has also been promoted after the Biden administration brought back a program called “[Remain] in Mexico.” This program basically forces migrants to remain in Mexico while the US authorities process the migration application. So many don't really see the point in trying to reach the North American border because there's only other difficulties now.
JIMMY: Well, what do you think comes next here? Anything folks should be watching for?
IRENE: Yeah, I think it's very important to keep an eye on the consequences of the “[Remain] in Mexico” program. As I said, it has been reintroduced very recently so we don't really know how much people are going to be persuaded by it. We don't know, also, if it's going to alter the migration flows in the continent. Maybe we will see an increase of people deciding to stay, maybe we'll see more measures by the Mexican government. We should definitely keep an eye on how Mexico is going to handle the situation. There is many questions that are in the air right now. Like, how are they going to accommodate all these people? Are they going to make it easy for migrants to stay? Are they going to carry out mass repatriations? We don't really know. And sadly, as the situation continues, we can only expect further incidents related to the migrants' safety and more and more people trying to flee their countries of origin because the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the situation of all of the countries that these people were already coming from.
JIMMY: That's a good point. I guess time will tell but, you know, until then, thank you for the insight, Irene. Appreciate it.
IRENE: Thanks, Jimmy.
JIMMY: Take care
JIMMY: One final note for you, with the holiday and the New Year coming up, the podcast will be off for a couple weeks. So our next podcast will be out January 6th.
In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Twitter where we’ll still be posting breaking news.
Now, today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Imana Gunawan, Sophie Perryer, Joe Veyera and David Wyllie. Our interview featured editor Irene Villora and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.
Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed.
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