Bolivian President Evo Morales launched his campaign for a fourth term with a massive rally May 18 in the Chapare region where he began his career as a peasant leader a generation ago. But the country's political opposition charges that Morales is defying a 2016 referendum, in which voters rejected a fourth consecutive term. The referendum results were later overturned by the Plurinational Constitutional Court—sparking a wave of protest. (Al Jazeera, Reuters, May 18) The campaign begins amid controversy surrounding accusations that opposition lawmakers have sent a letter to US President Donald Trump jointly calling for his "intervention" against Morales' re-election.
The International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion Feb. 26 outlining the legal consequences of separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965. The UK and Mauritius, by virtue of the Lancaster House agreement, detached the Chagos Archipelago form Mauritius and established the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The British subsequently allowed the United States to establish a military base on the island Diego Garcia, with many inhabitants forcibly removed, and those who left voluntarily prevented from returning. The ICJ opinion, which is nonbinding, says the UK did not lawfully decolonize the islands through the Lancaster House agreement. The court urged the UK to end its continued administration over Chagos Archipelago: "[T]he United Kingdom has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible." The opinion states that "all Member States must cooperate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius."
The International Court of Justice ruled (PDF) on Oct. 1 that landlocked Bolivia cannot force neighboring Chile to grant it access to a portion of its Pacific coast. "The Court is unable to conclude, on the basis of the material submitted to it, that Chile has the obligation to negotiate with Bolivia in order to reach an agreement granting Bolivia a fully sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean," reads the judgement. Chile and Bolivia have long contested access to the Pacific. Bolivia controlled a portion of coast until 1904, when Chile successfully annexed the territory. The day has since been commemorated each year by lamenting Bolivians, and the nation has attempted to renegotiate coastal access for over 100 years.
The government of the island nation of Mauritius presented its claim Sept. 3 to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the British government forced the transfer of the Chagos Islands as a condition of independence in 1965. The UK leased the island of Diego Garcia within the Chagos archipelago to the US in 1966, which was used to build a military base that required the forced removal of around 1,500 people. The population has yet to be allowed to return home. The former prime minister of Mauritius and current parliamentarian Anerood Jugnauth told the ICJ, “The choice we were faced with was no choice at all: it was independence with detachment [of the Chagos archipelago] or no independence with detachment anyway.” The location of the Chagos Islands in the central Indian Ocean is seen as geopolitically strategic for policing the Persian Gulf. In 2016 the US lease for the base was extended until 2036.
Following peace talks hosted by Eritrea, the government of Ethiopia announced a peace deal with the Oromo Liberation Front rebels Aug. 7. The deal guarantees rebel leaders the right to participate in Ethiopia's political process in exchange for laying down arms. The OLF has long been backed by Eritrea, and the pact comes one month after a formal end was declared to the two-decade state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with Ethiopia ceding its claim to the contested border town of Badme. This points to a softening of positions under Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. The Badme deal was also said to have been quietly brokered by the United Arab Emirates, which has emerged as politically isolated Eritrea's most significant foreign patron, part of an apparent design to encircle Yemen.
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
In what the New York Times somewhat hyperbolically calls a "clash," US Border Patrol vessels have over the past two weeks stopped at least 10 Canadian fishing boats near Machias Seal Island between Maine and New Brunswick. Canada has responded by beefing up its Coast Guard patrols in what is being termed a "disputed gray zone" between the two countries' territories. "There is no illegal immigration going on there," a bewildered Canadian fisherman told the Times. "It seems silly." Most observers see it as related to the current bitter trade dispute between Washington and Ottawa. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says the US Border Patrol has stopped over 20 Canadian vessels so far this year in "contested waters" in the Bay of Fundy, and "has no intention of stopping." The so-called Grey Zone consists of some 700 square kilometers of lucrative lobster waters where the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine, although few actually live in it. Machias Seal Island is a migratory bird sanctuary maintained by the government of Canada, but is otherwise uninhabited.
A new report published by the US-based Project 2049 Institute says that it is "a matter of time" before the People’s Republic of China launches a "short, sharp war" to take the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea—claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands, but currently controlled by Japan. The report is entitled "White Warships and Little Blue Men" (PDF)—a reference to China's Coast Guard and Maritime Militia, both of which have seen a dramatic build-up in the past decade, along with the rapid modernization and expansion of the naval forces of the People's Liberation Army. We are not sure we share the assessment that the conflict will be "limited yet decisive," in the paraphrase of Epoch Times...