Political Roundup

In Our Headlines…

On April 20, 2019, the FBI arrested the leader of a right-wing armed group that stops undocumented migrants entering the United States from Mexico via New Mexico. Officials charged Larry Mitchell Hopkins, leader of the United Constitutional Patriots who often went by the alias of Johnny Horton Jr., on a federal complaint of the possession of ammunition and firearms by a felon. The arrest came two days after the ACLU denounced his group’s illegal detention of migrants and the Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, ordered an investigation. A spokesman for the group, Jim Benvie, stated that the group was not worried about the arrest and that it was a result of political pressure from Governor Lujan Grisham. The group consists of half a dozen individuals that aid the U.S. Border Patrol with the unprecedented amount of Central American families crossing the border. They assisted in detaining over 5,600 migrants in the last two months, acting as armed vigilantes, according to a statement by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (Reuters, “FBI arrests leader of armed group stopping migrants in New Mexico,” 04.20.2019).

A federal judge ruled that the Department of the Interior illegally lifted an Obama-era rule on coal mining on public lands, delivering a blow to the Trump administration’s promotion of coal industries. Judge Brian Morris stated that the replacement 2017 policy did not account for adequate studies of mining’s environmental effects, as the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 mandates. Judge Morris will decide in the coming months whether the Obama mining ban will be reinstated. More than 40 percent of the coal produced in the United States, the burning of which is a leading contributor to global warming, comes from federal land. Attorney for Earthjustice Jenny Harbine argued against the Trump administration, stating that “[The Department of the Interior will] have to do a better job of legally and scientifically justifying this” if they hope to continue leasing public land for coal mining (The New York Times, “Judge Delivers Major Setback to Trump Policy to Increase Coal Mining on Federal Land,” 04.19.2019).

Prior to the release of the Mueller Report, President Donald Trump took Attorney General William Barr’s summary to the Congressional Oversight and Reform Committees as a sign of total exoneration. Now, even in its redacted form, the report essentially states that the negligence of Trump’s children and the misdemeanors present in his own actions, though not enough to warrant arrest, were far from exonerated. The report indicates that Trump essentially welcomed the Russian infiltration of the DNC’s emails and of social media sites to influence the election in return for ending sanctions against Moscow upon his election. Trump often tries to discredit the veracity of the now-defunct Mueller investigation and its findings, once stating in private that it would bring “the end of my presidency.” Now that there is a Democratic majority in the House, members of Congress have resumed their calls for the impeachment of Donald Trump ahead of the 2020 elections (The Boston Globe, “Trump still faces political danger after Mueller report,” 04.20.2019).

Around the World…

After the overthrow of long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s people demand that the remnants of Bashir’s regime be forced out of the government. Thousands of protestors gathered outside an army headquarters in Khartoum in demand of a new, civilian council. The candidates for such a council were supposed to be announced by April 20, but the military council that replaced Bashir on April 21, 2019, refused to accede and said that it would consider a joint council between civilians and the military. Protesters threatened to escalate their defiance if the public’s wishes aren’t met. A senior member of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which spearheaded the campaign to remove Bashir, stated that it would move ahead to protest the creation of a new council through elections. The change in Sudan’s ruling class began with protests in December after the economy tanked and subsidies were cut under Bashir, who had been in power for nearly 30 years (BBC, “Sudan crisis: Protesters cut ties with military council,” 04.21.2019).

In Ukraine, former comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won in a landslide election against incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. Zelenskiy, who portrayed a fictional president on a popular TV show and won 73 percent of the vote, promised to root out corruption and end the war in the Russian-bordered Donbass region. Poroshenko attempted to bolster his position as a strongman that would lead Ukraine to victory against Russian aggression. He received just 25 percent of the vote. Europe has seen a trend in electing anti-establishment figures, but Zelenskiy, who has no previous political experience, is a rare left-centrist who favors membership in the EU and in NATO as well as an increase in taxes on businesses (Reuters, “Comedian Zelenskiy wins Ukrainian presidential race by landslide: exit poll,” 04.20.2019).

Eight bombings across a series of three churches, four hotels and one housing complex in Sri Lanka on Easter killed at least 207 people and wounded around 450 others, according to Sri Lankan Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene. The targets of the attacks were Christians in Sri Lanka and tourists at luxury hotels, and 13 suspects who planned the attack with suicide bombers have been apprehended by officials. The attacks indicate a larger struggle between the country’s Sinhala Buddhist majority, who make up 70.2 percent of the population, and the minority Tamil Tigers. A 26-year civil war previously embroiled the country, ending only in 2009. This was the deadliest attack in Sri Lanka since the civil war’s end.

Among the deceased were Christians attending Easter services and 36 foreign nationals from Britain, Denmark, Portugal, India, Turkey and the Netherlands. Leaders around the world, including Pope Francis, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump condemned the attacks. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, where 50 Muslims were killed during Friday prayers last month, also denounced the attacks (BBC, “Sri Lanka attacks: Country under curfew after bomb attacks kill 200,” 04.21.2019).

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