- Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez has been sworn in as the Governor of Puerto Rico.
- Vázquez is the third governor Puerto Rico has had this week, including former Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who stepped down amid a scandal involving leaked messages.
- Rosselló had originally appointed Pedro Pierluisi to be next in line for governor, but just days after he was sworn in, the Supreme Court ruled his appointment was unconstitutional.
- Vázquez, who was the third in line, is highly unpopular and had previously said she does not want the job. She has already been the subject of protests and backlash, and more are expected to come.
New Puerto Rican Governor Sworn In
Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez was sworn in as the Governor of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, marking the third governor that the island has had in less than a week.
Vázquez’s swearing-in comes after the Puerto Rican Supreme Court ruled that Pedro Pierluisi, who was sworn in as governor on Aug. 2 to replace Ricardo Rosselló, had come to power unconstitutionally.
Pierluisi had been appointed to secretary of state by then-Governor Rosselló, who stepped down from his position. Rosselló was pushed to resign following massive protests against him after hundreds of pages of messages were leaked revealing conversations between the then-governor and some of his top-ranking officials.
In the messages, the men used sexist and homophobic slurs and joked about people who died in Hurricane Maria.
Following Rosselló’s resignation, the next in the line of succession for the governorship was the secretary of state. However, Puerto Rico’s secretary of state has just resigned as well, as he also was involved in the message scandal.
Line of Succession Problems
The lack of a clear successor left Rosselló with two choices: either nominate a new secretary of state and hope that that person got approved by Puerto Rico’s House and Senate before he left office on Aug. 2, or simply continue down the line of succession.
The third in the line of succession was the Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez. However, a few days after Rosselló announced his resignation, Vázquez said in a tweet that she did not want to be the governor.
The next in line was the treasury secretary, but he could not be governor because he was 31, and Puerto Rico’s constitution mandates that the governor must be at least 35.
The fifth in the line of succession was the secretary of education, a career bureaucrat with very little political experience who had only been serving for a few months after the previous secretary of education was arrested for illegally directing $15.5 million in federal contracts to business friends.
Amid the political turmoil, Rosselló announced on July 30, three days before he was set to leave office, that he had nominated Pierluisi as secretary of state.
Pierluisi, a lawyer who previously served as Puerto Rico’s non-voting member in Congress and as their secretary of justice, was approved by Puerto Rico’s House, but not the island’s Senate.
Reportedly, the Senators were wary of Pierluisi because he had spent the last few years working for a Washington D.C.-based law firm that gave legal counsel to the federal oversight board that monitors Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy.
That board is largely disliked by Puerto Ricans because it has imposed strict austerity measures on them. As a result, the Senators were concerned he would still try to push the board’s agenda.
However, Rosselló still chose to swear-in Pierluisi, and the next day Puerto Rico’s Senate filed a lawsuit arguing that it was unconstitutional for someone in the line of succession who had not been confirmed by the Senate to step up as governor.
Pierluisi defended himself, citing a 2005 law that says a secretary of state does not need to be approved by both the House and Senate if they need to assume the position of governor in an emergency.
However, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a secretary of state had to be approved by both the House and Senate in order to step up as governor and that as a result, Pierluisi’s appointment was unconstitutional and he had to step down immediately.
After serving for a total of 120 hours, the shortest period of time any Puerto Rican governor has been in office, Pierluisi stepped down, and Vázquez was sworn in.
Speaking during a televised speech last night, Vázquez said that while she was not chosen by the people, she would try to create dialogue and build consensus.
“We will work together on all that unites us, and we will look for consensus where we disagree,” the new governor told the people of Puerto Rico. “I will remain focused on resuming the course for our people in an orderly and peaceful fashion.”
However, Vázquez’s future as the governor may be short-lived. Even after Vázquez had said she did not want the job, protestors took to the streets to oppose her possible appointment, and a hashtag calling for her to resign was reportedly shared Twitter more than 60,000 times.
After her swearing-in, a small group of protestors gathered in front of the governor’s mansion to call for her resignation and reportedly chanted, “There’ll be no peace as long as there’s impunity!”
Already, Puerto Rico is expecting a new wave of much larger protests calling for Vázquez to step down.
Vázquez, who has never held elected political office, is highly unpopular among Puerto Ricans for a number of reasons. At the very top level, many simply view her as an extension of Rosselló’s corrupt administration.
Critics have accused her of not being aggressive enough in launching corruption investigations into members of her own party during her tenure as secretary of justice.
She has also been criticized for not prioritizing gender violence cases while serving as the head of Puerto Rico’s women’s affairs office, as well as for making controversial statements about abuse victims and for not investigating a recent rise in violence against women in Puerto Rico.
More recently, she came under fire for refusing to investigate trailers full of unused hurricane supplies that were found abandoned in fields a year after the hurricane, despite the fact that leaked messages revealed that she had discussed looking into it with the governors chief of staff before declining to do so.
Additionally, last year, Vázquez was suspended as justice secretary for a brief period after she was accused of intervening in a case involving her daughter who was the alleged victim of a burglary, though she was later cleared by a judge and resumed her post.
On top of everything, Vázquez has made it quite evident she does not want to be the governor.
On Wednesday, Puerto Rico’s El Nuevo Día newspaper reported that sources told the publication that Vázquez plans to resign after nominating Jenniffer González, the islands current non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Patriotism Pop” in India Encourages Hindus to Claim Kashmir
- A new genre of music called “patriotism pop” has been rapidly spreading on YouTube and TikTok in India.
- The genre has recently evolved into music videos about Indians settling in Kashmir by buying land and marrying Kashmiri women following India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomous status.
- Critics have argued that the music promotes a dangerous form of nationalism and patriotism.
- Meanwhile, Kashmiris have been unable to address the rise of the new videos as they are still under a security lockdown and communications blackout.
A growing genre of music in India called “patriotism pop” is increasingly being shared on social media more and more.
According to the Associated Press, which published a detailed article about the music Wednesday, patriotism pop is a type of popular music that features songs about Hindu nationalism and expresses support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
These songs and the videos that accompany them have become massively popular on YouTube and TikTok. YouTube has around 250 million users in India, while TikTok has about 150 million. As a result, patriotism pop songs have gotten millions of hits on those platforms.
Earlier songs in the genre were limited to the rise of Hindus in India, defeating Pakistan, and flying the Indian flag in every household.
However, according to AP, the genre expanded after India revoked Kashmir’s special autonomous status on Aug. 5.
For decades, the contested region that both India and Pakistan claim control over had its own constitution and many of its own laws.
Now, India’s central government has exerted near-total authority over Kashmir by revoking the constitutional provision, known as Article 370, that had outlined Kashmir’s autonomy since India’s Independence from Britain in 1947.
Modi’s government also said it would allow Indians to buy property in Kashmir, something only Kashmiris had been allowed to do.
Just hours after India’s announcement, patriotism pop music videos about Indians settling in Kashmir by buying land and marrying Kashmiri women began circulating.
One video, titled “Article 370,” now has more than 1.6 million views on YouTube.
The video is largely composed of cuts between the Indian flag and speeches made by Modi.
At one point, the singer thanks Modi and his government for removing Article 370. The video then cuts to the map of Kashmir and includes words that loosely translate to how Pakistan has lost to India.
The music video was produced by a self-identified Indian nationalist named Nitesh Singh Nirmal, who also collaborated on another song about a man who is looking for a Kashmiri bride.
“I am doing service for the nation,” Nirmal told AP. “People dance to these songs.”
Critics of the songs have argued that the idea of marrying Kashmiri women in order to settle in the region is problematic.
Speaking to AP, political anthropologist Ather Zia said that the songs are a “culmination of a toxic misogynistic nationalist thinking.”
“The Indian media — from news to entertainment — has left no stone unturned in portraying Kashmiri women in the racist trope of ‘coveted fair-skinned ones’ (and) at the same time being helpless and needing saving from their own men — all this while demonizing Kashmiri men,” she added.
Lockdown Continues in Kashmir
Meanwhile, Kashmiris have been unable to respond to these new videos as the entire region has been cut off from the internet since Aug. 5.
Along with cutting off communications, India also sent tens of thousands of military forces to Kashmir to basically put the city on lockdown by enforcing an almost constant curfew and patrolling the streets.
The people of Kashmir responded by launching a series of ongoing protests.
Indian officials have said that while they plan on keeping the internet cut off, they have begun to ease some of the restrictions in the region. However, it remains unclear how much is really being done, as most of the reporting comes from state-sponsored media in India.
Regardless, many Kashmiris are wary about any claims made by the government, especially after Indian officials said they had arrested more than 4,000 people since the crackdown began, including some high-profile political figures.
Those arrests are notable not only because of the sheer magnitude but also because India has a law that allows authorities to put someone in prison for up to two years without any specific charge or a trial.
There has also been some violence in parts of the region. On Wednesday, Indian authorities reported that two people were killed during a shoot-out between the police and Kashmiri rebels, marking the first reported clash involving gun violence in India-controlled Kashmir.
Meanwhile, clashes along the Line of Control that divides India-controlled Kashmir and Pakistan-controlled Kasmir have increased in the last few weeks.
There have been reports that gunfire has been exchanged multiple times, though India and Pakistan have given conflicting reports about the number of fatalities.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times)\
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Criticized for Inaction Over Amazon Forest Fires
- Social media users are using #PrayforAmazonia to bring attention to fires in the Amazon forest that have been burning for three weeks.
- Many blame Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro for failing to take action to address the issue, while some argue that his pro-deforestation policies are what lead to the fires in the first place.
- Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has massively ramped up deforestation of the Amazon by rolling back protections and increasing access for agriculture and mining.
#PrayforAmazonia Trends on Twitter
Twitter users are criticizing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his failure to stop a series of forest fires that have been tearing through the Amazon forest for the last three weeks
On Tuesday morning, “Amazon rainforest” and “#PrayforAmazonia” trended on Twitter. “Amazon rainforest is burning… And Bolsonaro is deliberately doing nothing,” one user wrote.
“This is the Brazilian environmental policy under president Bolsonaro,” another user wrote above pictures of fires. “The Amazon Rainforest’s burning for about 3 weeks and nothing’s been done.”
Other people noted the Amazon has been burning for weeks but that they were just learning about it now.
Some also pointed out the lack of media coverage on the fires.
Amazon Rainforest Fires
Currently, there are numerous fires in multiple states that are basically burning down the Amazon rainforest totally unchecked.
Last week, NASA released satellite images of a massive smoke layer covering a huge part of the forest. One NASA researcher told reporters that the smoke layer spanned about 1.2 million square miles, which is about one-third of the United States.
The smoke has continued to spread, endangering the health of people and animals living in the area, according to local reports. The air quality has gotten so bad in some areas, that about two weeks ago, the state of Amazonas declared a state of emergency.
On Monday, people in São Paulo, which is on the other side of the country from the Amazon, shared pictures of the sky turning black in the middle of the afternoon, which multiple scientists have attributed to the smoke from the fires.
Cause of the Fires
Numerous experts have said that the fires are caused by humans and there are several pieces of evidence to back that up.
First, the Amazon rainforest is comparatively fire-resistant because it is so wet and humid. While there are often fires this time of year, they are usually caused by extreme droughts.
Despite the fact that fire outbreaks rose by 70% this year compared to 2018, there have not been any extreme weather events that would cause this amount of fires.
Second, fire is actually used in the Amazon as an agricultural technique to clear land for planting crops. The technique, called “slash and burn,” is also one of the major methods used in the Amazon for illegal deforestation.
Since Bolsonaro took office in January, deforestation has rapidly increased.
According to satellite data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the Amazon increased by around 245% in July 2019 compared to July 2018.
According to The Guardian, that’s the same as destroying three football fields worth of forest every minute.
Despite the fact that the data came from satellite images, Bolsonaro has described it as “fake news.” After the INPE reported those numbers, Bolsonaro fired the head of that agency.
“The numbers, as I understand it, were released with the objective of harming the name of Brazil and its government,” Bolsonaro told reporters earlier this month.
As many have pointed out, Bolsonaro campaigned on opening up the Amazon to resource extraction. Since taking office, he has made it a key component of his economic policy.
Until Bolsonaro’s election, protecting the Amazon has been at the core of Brazilian environmental policy for the last two decades.
With the help of powerful lobbyists, he has rolled back environmental protections and ratcheted up access to mining and agriculture by clearing huge sections of forest.
Many of the areas that Bolsonaro has opened up to agriculture and mining are protected indigenous lands, which the president has said are too big for the number of people who live there.
According to BBC, more than 800,000 indigenous people live in 450 demarcated territories which cover about 12% of land across the country. Most of those territories are in the Amazon region, and some are entirely isolated.
This strategy has endangered both the indigenous populations and the forest itself, especially as it is widely believed among experts and scientists that protecting indigenous lands is one of the best strategies to conserve forests.
This is especially important for the Amazon because the Amazon basin is absolutely critical to stabilizing the global climate.
The entire basin spans about three million square miles and includes 40% of the world’s tropical forests, 20% of its freshwater, and produces 20% of the air we breathe, according to a report by Foreign Policy.
It also has many keystone ecosystems which are crucial to global biodiversity. The importance of the Amazon cannot be understated.
Around 60% of the Amazon forest is in Brazil, a country where a number of top officials in the government do not even believe climate change is real.
Those officials are convinced any criticisms of Bolsonaro’s policies as harmful to the environment are propagated by civil society groups and foreign governments who are trying to sabotage the administration.
Bolsonaro, for his part, has largely expressed disinterest in the environment.
When asked by a reporter last week about whether Brazil can grow more food and protect the environment at the same time, Bolsonaro responded, “It’s enough to eat a little less. You talk about environmental pollution. It’s enough to poop every other day. That will be better for the whole world.”
See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Foreign Policy) (The New York Times)
China Ramps Up Propaganda Against Hong Kong Protests
- China is ramping up its propaganda campaign against the Hong Kong protests.
- These efforts include buying anti-protest ads on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are banned in China, as part of an effort to disperse misinformation to the international community.
- China has also moved thousands of troops to their border with Hong Kong to conduct public military exercises that many believe are meant to intimidate protestors in Hong Kong.
- On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong in one of the biggest peaceful marches seen in the city since the protests first began 11 weeks ago.
Mainland China has ratcheted up its efforts against the protestors in Hong Kong following several violent instances during protests at Hong Kong’s airport last week.
Last Monday, thousands of protestors flooded the Hong Kong airport, causing officials to cancel all flights. Limited flights resumed Tuesday and protestors began trying to block passengers from boarding planes.
The situation escalated after a group of demonstrators essentially held two men from mainland China hostage. The protestors reportedly believed one of the men was an undercover police officer, even though they had no confirmation of his identity or employment.
The other man who was seized by protestors has been confirmed as a journalist for the Chinese newspaper the Global Times. It was also reported that at one point, a group of demonstrators overwhelmed a police officer and beat him with his own baton.
These instances prompted police to violently crackdown on the protestors Tuesday night, using pepper spray and batons to disperse the demonstrators.
Flights resumed normally on Wednesday after airport authorities filed a court order to limit the protests.
Amid the protests at the airport, mainland China has significantly stepped up its misinformation and anti-protest propaganda campaign.
While China’s state media has always portrayed the Hong Kong protests in a negative light, they have recently increased their efforts to villainize the protestors.
In general, the Chinese media have portrayed the protestors as a small group of bad actors who engage in extremely violent demonstrations.
The official narrative in China is that the demonstrations have been planned and incited by foreign forces, including U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the CIA, who the Chinese government claim pay the protestors to engage in activities that are not supported by residents of Hong Kong.
That narrative obviously contrasts greatly with the fact that the protests are part of popular demonstration movement that at times has prompted two million people— nearly one-third of Hong Kong’s population— to take to the streets.
The Chinese media has also said the protestors in Hong Kong are calling for independence from China, which threatens the mainland’s sovereignty. However, as many have noted, none of the protestors’ demands include independence from China.
The Chinese media has also manipulated pictures and videos of protestors to make them seem more violent. In one recent example, a video showed a protester with a toy Airsoft weapon used in a paintball-like game that’s popular in Hong Kong.
The state-run newspaper the China Daily circulated that video, claiming it was evidence that the protesters had taken up arms and saying the toy was a grenade launcher used by the U.S. Army.
Over the weekend, it was reported that China’s largest state-run news agency, Xinhua News, bought ads on Facebook and Twitter to smear the protestors. Both Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, so the ads seem to be an attempt to influence the outside world to China’s favor.
One of the ads run on Facebook indicates that the violence from the protests is hurting Hong Kong’s economy, and goes on to say, “Calls are mounting for immediate actions to restore order.”
Another ad on Twitter also pushed the idea that everyone in Hong Kong wants “order,” claiming, “All walks of life in Hong Kong called for a brake to be put on the blatant violence and for order to be restored.”
Twitter addressed the misinformation campaign in a Twitter Safety blog post on Monday.
In the post, Twitter said they found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.”
According to the post, Twitter located 936 accounts “originating from within” China that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”
The post went on to say that Twitter had suspended all of the accounts for violating their platform manipulation policies, but also noted that those accounts were only the most active parts of the misinformation campaign, which they said consisted of around 200,000 accounts.
Propaganda is only one of the methods China is using to put pressure on Hong Kong.
Beijing has recently moved thousands of paramilitary troops to mainland China’s border with Hong Kong.
Those forces have since been seen running very public military exercises over the last week or so, and many experts have said it is a reminder to Hong Kong that the mainland has not ruled out the use of force.
The combination of the violence at the airport and the rising threat from mainland China caused many protest leaders worried that the actions taken by a few demonstrators would deter others from continuing to protest.
The opposite appeared to be true on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of protestors demonstrated in the rain for one of the biggest peaceful protests in weeks. Protest organizers estimated that around 1.7 million people came out, while the police claim the number is closer to 128,000.
Despite the fact that the authorities had not given the protestors permission for the march, it still remained peaceful.
Police presence was limited, and the officers who were present did not try to stop the protestors. The protestors themselves encouraged each other to avoid confrontations.
Sunday’s massive protest seemed to indicate that the people of Hong Kong are not backing down, even amid what many have described as unprecedented use of force by police and escalating threats from mainland China.