- Japan imposed a state of emergency ahead of the Tokyo Games
- Indonesia reeled as fully-vaccinated doctors perished from Covid-19
- Miami officials conceded "near zero" hope for condo collapse survivors
- Trump's Big Tech lawsuits obscured another goal: fundraising
- The US hastened its Afghan retreat as the Taliban advanced
- Brazil's strongman Bolsonaro threatened to cancel the 2022 election
- The poor old MV Ever Given finally left the Suez Canal
- Doctors inspected the papal entrails in Rome
- North American heatwave "virtually impossible" without climate change
- Climate change will place 8 billion at risk of malaria and dengue
This week we delve into a stunning week in Haiti. Already laid low by natural and human-made disasters, the Caribbean nation is now grappling with a truly shocking attack. A political crisis is sure to ensue.
Port of the dead prince
At 1am on Wednesday morning an armed team from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) surrounded the presidential compound in the hills above the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Footage taken from nearby depicts the hallmarks of a DEA raid : spotlights illuminating the target building, an authoritative American-accented agent instructing the president's security detail to lay down their weapons. The audible warning, "this is an operation, this is an operation, DEA" is heard as the bewildered guards were disarmed and led away. What could the DEA want with the president of Haiti? Another Manuel Noriega who overplayed his hand?
It was, of course, no DEA raid. Within hours, police swarmed the compound to find President Jovenel Moïse dead. The attackers had shot him at least a dozen times and gouged his left eye out. The first lady, Martine Moïse, miraculously survived multiple bullet wounds – their children were luckily unharmed. As dawn broke over the capital, so did chaos. A manhunt for the attackers ended in a bloody shootout . Many of the assassins – clearly trained mercenaries – were killed and only a handful captured. Some were taken into custody, a mix of Haitians, Colombians, and two Americans. Haiti's insecurity has been laid bare: hated or not, it is an extraordinary thing to so brazenly and brutally off a president.
We're left with a mystery: who had him killed?
A Carribean tragedy
Jovenel Moïse came to power in the middle of a disastrous decade in Haiti . A powerful earthquake had shattered Port-au-Prince in 2010 and killed 2% of the entire Haitian population. Then billions of dollars in reconstruction aid was squandered. That was followed by a near-decade-long cholera epidemic – mostly attributable to the arrival of United Nations peacekeepers. In 2016, the category-5 Hurricane Matthew levelled 200,000 homes in Haiti and sparked yet another humanitarian emergency. And then the coronavirus pandemic arrived. It was among these tragedies that Moïse rose. He was an unlikely, tragic figure. A modestly successful entrepreneur in farming, the future president made his name as a banana exporter. In the western hemisphere's poorest country, this is no mean feat. But the trajectory of his life was altered forever after meeting President Michel Martelly in 2014.
Moïse quickly gained the confidence of the president, who at the time was suffering from abject approval ratings amid persistent claims of corruption. The friendship blossomed: Moïse was first an advisor, and then – when Martelly's attempts to cling to power through vote tampering failed – hand-picked to be his successor. The self-made 'Neg Bannan Nan' ('the Banana Man') struck a quiet figure but won a great deal of support from Haiti's rural poor. Even so, in the delayed election of 2016 Moïse just scraped through. Fewer than a fifth of the country's eligible voters turned up that day. This dubious mandate was further blackened by credible allegations of graft (hundreds of thousands of dollars made their way from a national development fund to Moïse's company).
He never looked back from there: taking his lead from the ignominious Duvalier's of last century . Moïse reintroduced a national army and created a new intelligence service stacked with allies. The president turned dictator degraded both the judiciary and legislature. By the turn of 2020 the political process had ground to a halt over a dispute about the timing of the next presidential election. Moïse ruled from the grey area with increasingly unpopular decrees: parliament was sidelined, and every elected mayor in the country dismissed. Violence and kidnappings soared in Port-au-Prince. Mass protests rose and all the president could do was dig himself in further.
Dual claims and Wilson's legacy
Now, Moïse is dead, and his country is no better off. A political vacuum has opened up in his wake. The interim prime minister Claude Joseph (who decried the loss of a "statesman") has seized the reins and announced a vaguely defined state of emergency. He is not the only head of government. Just two days before he was assassinated, Moïse had officially tapped Ariel Henry to be the next prime minister – he was due to take up the role next week. What happens in the coming weeks could spin Haiti further into woe. Given the parlous state of Haiti's institutions there are few officials left with the standing to help guide the country back out of the mire.
Despite the former US president's distasteful description of Haiti as a "shithole country" it remains firmly within Washington's sphere of influence. That two of the assailants are US citizens will have sent shivers through the State Department. The Biden administration is watching carefully – will it act? The last time a Haitian president was killed (Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam in 1915) Woodrow Wilson seized the opportunity to expand his influence in the Caribbean and promptly occupied the country.
A market correction
There are 9,210,000 job vacancies in the United States right now – if you haven't quit your job there is a growing likelihood that you will soon. One of the curious repercussions of Covid-19 is that lockdowns have left you with a great deal more time on your hands. Cushioned by coronavirus relief and unemployment insurance, Americans have, for the first time in a generation, had the breathing room to step back and reassess. Are you being paid enough? Do you have the security and flexibility to live a full life? Are the conditions at your workplace acceptable? The answer, as month after month of record job vacancies shows, is no. According to multiple studies, between 25% and 40% of Americans are considering leaving their job this year.
Here's an example of why: wages have barely grown in more than three decades for millions upon millions of Americans working in the hospitality industry. The federal minimum wage is still – still! – just $7.25 an hour. The coronavirus pandemic has shattered the illusion that despite these second-rate conditions, things were about as good as they were ever going to be. Recent research showed that half of the surveyed hospitality workers would not return to their old jobs under any circumstances and a third are considering leaving the industry entirely. That leaves an estimated 2.2m low-paid jobs which will not be filled anytime soon. The only way out is higher pay and better working conditions – but that's a tall ask for an industry that operates on the slimmest of slim margins.
But while there is movement on an individual level to demand more from employers (and oneself), this moment of flux could also be used to press broader gains. How about working four-day weeks for five-days pay ? The world's largest trial of the scheme in Iceland saw 1% of the entire population work a 35-36 hour week with no reduction in pay. Well-being went up. Productivity went up. There's no excuse to not at least try this model.
Is it coming or going?
England and Italy. The Three Lions and gli Azzuri . The final two teams in the Euro 2020 will meet on Sunday evening in the pressure-cooker of Wembley Stadium. The delayed UEFA European Championship has delivered a mouth-watering clash (and not a Spanish, French, or German flag in sight!) For England, it is a tantalising tale of yearning – the chance for their first international trophy since 1966. For manager Gareth Southgate, it is story of personal redemption: he was one of several players whose missed penalties against Germany saw England crash out of Euro 1996 at the penultimate stage. Some English fans have long memories. Others less so: success has dulled the criticism from some senior Conservative MPs who only recently slammed English players as "woke" for taking the knee in a sign of anti-racism solidarity.
England have a lot going for them. Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane are in ominous form. They are playing at home. The mood is heady – the anthem "Three Lions (Football's Coming Home)" echoes like a war cry through pubs everywhere. After defeating Denmark 2-1 the streets were mobbed with jubilant fans. The weight of expectation is palpable. Pop group Atomic Kitten got in on the action too, shoehorning some libidinous references to Gareth Southgate into their turn-of-the-century hit 'Whole Again'. It doesn't really make sense but it does encapsulate the feverish thrall that has descended over England.
Which is not to say that Italians aren't every bit as fanatical about gli Azzuri as the English, they just express it differently. Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Chiesa, and Ciro Immobile all loom large in Savoy blue and may as well have been canonised. Azzuri fans were in a fit of wild gesticulation this week after La Gazzetta dello Sport published speculation about favouritism in the tournament. The number one sport newspaper in the country lent its imprimatur to a conspiracy theory that UEFA has given England a free ride (see: an arguably soft penalty against Denmark) as quid pro quo for helping blow up the renegade Super League. All this just proves the eternal rule that it is impossible to fully support one's favourite sport team without slipping the binds of sanity. Enjoy the match.
The worst of times
French heavy metal
The entire French population may be contaminated with high levels of heavy metals. A study released this week showed that 97%-100% of its participants were contaminated with a number of toxic substances. 3,600 people aged between 6 and 74 were tested for levels of 27 heavy metals, including copper, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. The difference in percentage depends upon which substance was measured. 97% had high levels of some, 100% had high levels of others. We pumped oceans full of heavy metals, now it's entering us through the fish we eat.
A crackdown in Tibet
China has been accused of detaining 20 Tibetan monks without any evidence of wrongdoing. In 2019, authorities raided the Tengdro monastery and arrested 20 of its monks. The move was sparked by the discovery that several had donated to Nepal’s earthquake relief, or sent messages abroad. Following this, one committed suicide, and four were sentenced to up to 20 years in jail. The rest were freed after being forced to pledge not to carry out further ‘political acts’.
The best of times
Researchers have created the world’s thinnest piece of technology: a two-atom-thick device used to store information. The device can switch between binary states in less than a microsecond thanks to its hexagonal structure. Not only that, but its density means the process is incredibly energy efficient. The breakthrough means we can speed up information processing, as well as improve energy storage and conversion. Just don't drop it - you'll never be able to pick it up off the ground.
An HIV initiative
Six African nations started distributing the world’s first generic pediatric HIV treatment this week. The drug is available thanks to a collaboration between global health agency UNITAID and the Clinton Health Access Initiative. Their partnership means the WHO-approved medicine is now significantly more affordable for those in poorer countries. A year’s worth of treatment costs just $120. And while it may be only 100,000 doses to six countries now, the project can easily be scaled up or implemented elsewhere.
"You cannot ever say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler. You just can't."
– Former presidential chief of staff John Kelly gave some helpful tips to his boss during a 2018 trip to Europe to commemorate the centenary of the First World War's close . The startling phrase was delivered – according to Michael Bender's book on the Trump White House – after the 45th President surmised that the Fuhrer "did a lot of good things".
- The US Department of Defence has scrapped a $10b technology contract with Microsoft after a brawl with Amazon. The Trump-era Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (JEDI) program would, over a decade, gather all branches of the military under a single cloud computing system bolstered with artificial intelligence. Amazon, one of the spurned bidders, sent its lobbyists and lawyers into battle to prise the mammoth contract and its riches from Microsoft. It worked. Rather than face a prolonged court battle the Pentagon has now split the contract up to give everyone a bite.
- Amazon's stock price jumped 4.7% on news of the successful offensive against Microsoft. This sent the net worth of Jeff Bezos up to a new height of $211b. Not bad for someone who just stepped back from his day job.
"Holy cow: Three-eyed Welsh calf saved from slaughter to be worshipped as a god" – The Telegraph .
The special mention
This big Japanese electronic cat , obviously.
A few choice long-reads
- Elon Musk was the darling of China until he wasn't. How did Tesla's standing fall so precipitously in the eyes of Beijing? Businessweek with a superb read.
- American democracy is backsliding. It echoes across the whole planet. Larry Diamond pens a fantastic piece for Foreign Affairs on a world without American democracy.
- Nextdoor is about connecting with neighbours. Do you really want to do that? A cracker from the Financial Times.
Tom Wharton @trwinwriting