2019 – The year that was
As we farewell 2019, it’s worth looking back on the past 12 months and the seemingly unending sequence of protests, crises and political upheavals that dominated the news.
Some of the most important events of the past year that will continue to influence our lives into 2020 are:
A Year of Protests
Hong Kong went up in flames after the government proposed an extradition bill that critics said violated the ‘one country, two systems’ pledge that governs the city’s relations with mainland China.
Also, across the globe schoolchildren took to the streets over climate change. Algerians took to the streets in February, eventually forcing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign.
In April, Sudanese protestors ousted President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. In October, a transit-fare-fare hike sent Chileans into the streets to protest about inequity, while a proposed tax in Lebanon on WhatsApp unleashed anger.
Demonstrations rocked Iraq as protestors challenged the country’s governing institutions. In November, the end of fuel subsidies sent Iranians, raising questions about the Iranian regime’s future. Protests also rocked Bolivia, India, Nicaragua and Russia.
Brexit upends British politics
The United Kingdom ended 2019 with clarity about Brexit, but it took a turbulent journey to get there. The year started with the country facing a March deadline for leaving the EU.
Then Prime Minister Theresa May chose that date but couldn’t persuade the House of Commons to approve the deal she struck with the EU. The main sticking point was the ‘backstop’ provision, which avoided creating a customs barrier in the middle of the Irish Sea but meant Britain would have to keep EU custom rules. May was forced to delay Brexit until October 31, and then resigned after the House of Commons voted down her deal three times.
Boris Johnson became prime minister on July 24. He struck a new deal that swapped the backstop for a customs barrier between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Forced to extend the withdrawal deadline to January 31, 2020, Mr Johnson called a snap election. The Conservatives won their biggest victory in more than three decades. On December 20, Parliament voted to exit the EU by January 31.
US Democrats began 2019 by pushing for President Trump’s impeachment. Despite the April release of the Mueller Report, which did not establish that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign but which explicitly declined to exonerate the president on obstruction-of-justice charges, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi refused to open an impeachment inquiry.
That changed when an anonymous whistle blower alleged that Trump “is using the power of his office” to pressure Ukraine into investigating Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and his son. On September 24,
On October 8, the White House announced it would not cooperate with what it said was the House’s “illegitimate proceedings.”
The House of Representatives voted on October 31 to hold public hearings, which opened in mid-November. On December 18, the House voted along party lines to approve two articles of impeachment.
Central American migrant exodus grows
The surge in asylum seekers at the US southern border has overwhelmed the US’ immigration system.
Many of the asylum-seekers are fleeing violence and grinding poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Others are fleeing violence, corruptions and poverty in Venezuela.
Under US law, anyone who reaches the US border and can show “credible fear” of persecution in their home country will be admitted into the United States while their asylum petition is reviewed.
In March, the Trump administration pushed El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to do more to keep migrants at home by freezing US aid.
It also pushed Latin American countries to sign ‘safe third country’ agreements requiring migrants to seek asylum in the countries they transit rather than in the United States.
Critics said that these countries lacked the resources to handle asylum claims.
Tension in the Persian Gulf
War in the Persian Gulf seemed imminent several times in 2019. In May, four commercial ships were attacked while anchored just outside the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes.
The US accused Iran over the attacks, a charge Iran denied. On June 6, Houthi rebels shot down a US drone in Yemen with help from Iran.
Two weeks later, Iran shot down a US drone it said had violated Iranian airspace, a charge the United States denied. In July, a US Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz destroyed an Iranian drone that had come within 1,000 yards of the vessel.
Then, in September drones struck two major Saudi oil refineries, temporarily knocking half the country’s oil production offline. Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, but the US and European powers said Iran was responsible. The United States announced it was sending 3,000 additional troops and several missile defence systems to the region to protect Saudi Arabia from Iranian aggression.
US-China trade war deepens
In February, President Donald Trump delayed imposing a new round of tariffs on Chinese goods in a bid to give negotiators time to strike a deal. In May, he concluded that the talks hadn’t progressed and imposed a new round of tariffs. In June, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed at the G-20 summit to push ahead with trade talks. In August, however, Trump announced he would place tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods effective from September 1.
Two weeks later, he partially back flipped, saying he would delay half those tariffs until December 15.
In August, China announced tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods.
Negotiators continued to meet, and reached tentative agreement on a “Phase 1” deal.
However, the agreement hasn’t settled the major differences between the two economic superpowers, suggesting that 2020 could be turbulent on the trade front.
The Amazon burns
Mounting evidence that the planet is warming still has not galvanized global action. For decades in Brazil, loggers and farmers have been clearing the Amazon rainforest and setting what’s left on fire in order to grow crops and graze cattle.
The 80,000 fires set in 2019 were the most in a decade. As the immensity of the fires became clear, critics blamed the policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for encouraging, the wanton destruction of the rainforest.
The year ended with scientists warning that deforestation in the Amazon had reached a point where it might become a savannah, which would “release billions of tons carbon into the atmosphere.”
Hindu nationalism on the rise in India
In May, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a stunning victory in India’s parliamentary elections, as his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased its majority amidst the highest voter turnout in Indian history.
The size of the victory saw Modi push an aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda.
In August, he rescinded the autonomy that Kashmir had enjoyed since independence and that was written into the Indian constitution.
The move was accompanied by a compulsory curfew and blackout, and the arrests of more than 5,000 people in the Muslim-majority region.
Modi said that the new policy would “boost economic development, fight corruption, and end gender caste and religious discrimination” in Kashmir.
His critics said he was really seeking the region’s “Hinduization.”
These complaints gained greater credence in December when the Indian Parliament passed a law creating a path to citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from elsewhere in South Asia. The consequences of India’s potential transformation from a secular state into a Hindu one will be a subject of debate into 2020.
Syrian War enters an end game
In 2019 the US ended its long time support for the Syrian Kurds prompting many around the world to ask whether it was a reliable partner.
From 2014 the US supported the Syrian Kurds to check the rising power of the Islamic State.
The alliance was key in taking back territory the Islamic State had gained; the Syrian Kurds lost 11,000 fighters in the effort.
However, in December 2018, President Trump he announced he was withdrawing US troops from Syria, a decision that prompted Secretary of Defence James Mattis to resign.
The decision was reversed but President Trump didn’t give up. In October, after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump announced the withdrawal of US Special Forces from northern Syria.
Some commentators called the move “a disaster in the making” and shortly after Turkey invaded Syria.