Five Things You May Have Missed in the US and Americas This Week

From Jair Bolsanaro’s success in the first round of the Brazilian presidential elections to the launch of the latest US counterterrorism strategy, here are five things you may have missed in the US and Americas this week.

A Saudi Arabian flag flies behind barbed wires at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on 12 October 2018. Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images.

(1) Khashoggi disappearance puts pressure on pro-Saudi figures in Trump administration.

Pressure has mounted on the United States to call on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to cooperate with investigations into the disappearance and alleged assassination by Saudi agents of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi last week. Since President Trump has taken office, close links have developed between the two countries and their respective administrations. Trump’s first foreign trip since taking office was to Saudi Arabia and a trip that the President reciprocated by hosting Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in March 2017. The president’s senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also maintains links to Mohammed bin Salman, advocating for a $110 billion weapons sale package from the US to Saudi Arabia.

On Wednesday, 22 US Senators signed a letter to President Trump triggering the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, requiring the president to investigate whether a foreign agent is guilty of human rights violations. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the French foreign ministry have both called on Saudi authorities to release information about their role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Khashoggi had reportedly been offered opportunities to return to Saudi Arabia by the government in Riyadh but had been suspicious of the offers and the US intelligence community has suggested that the crown prince was attempting to lure the journalist back to the country to detain him there.

Khashoggi’s disappearance highlights the risk journalists often place themselves in when holding power to account, particularly in autocratic or authoritarian states. If Khashoggi is confirmed dead, he will be the 1323rd known journalist to be killed as a result of their work since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Brazilian presidential candidates Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad. Photo: Miguel Schincariol, Daniel Ramalho/AFP/Getty Images.

(2) Bolsonaro leads first round of Brazilian elections — just short of majority to win outright.

Jair Bolsonaro, the controversial candidate for the Brazilian presidency, has triumphed in the first round of elections in the country. Bolsonaro, who has drawn criticism for his denigrating comments about women and homosexuals, achieved 46 per cent of the vote, just short of the 50 per cent needed to win the presidency outright. Fernando Haddad of the left-wing Workers’ Party came second with 29 per cent of the vote and will face Bolsonaro and his Social Liberal Party (PSL) in the second round of elections.

Bolsonaro has portrayed himself as a break from the Brazilian political establishment which has been mired in corruption allegations. He has also appeared tough on crime in a country with soaring crime rates and has also vowed to pull out of the Paris climate agreement and open indigenous reserves to mining.

Bolsonaro has said he will not participate in the pre-election debate with Haddad as he is recovering from a stab wound inflicted at a rally in early September. The final vote to determine the president will be on 28 October.

US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, speaks during a White House press conference in Washington DC. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images.

(3) US counterterrorism strategy released and targets Iran and ‘radical Islamist terrorism’.

US National Security Advisor, John Bolton, has revealed the long-awaited United States Counterterrorism Strategy at a White House press conference earlier this week and described the US’s counterterrorism effort as an ‘ideological war’ against a ‘radical Islamic threat’. The strategy itself refers to ‘radical Islamist terrorism’, with ISIS as the foremost threat, while also taking direct aim at Iran as ‘the most prominent state sponsor of terrorism’. Bolton has been a fierce critic of Iran and the strategy reflects his hard-line stance on the country.

The strategy promises action against US domestic terrorism from ‘racially motivated extremism, animal rights extremism, environmental extremism, sovereign citizen extremism, and militia extremism’.

The strategy aims to reduce the capability of terrorists to carry out attacks by targeting terrorist financing, preventing radicalization and recruitment, while preparing domestic infrastructure and services to protect against terrorism, including increased border security.

Counterterrorism specialist, Daniel Byman, welcomes the emphasis on multilateralism and the continued threat of ISIS, while The New York Times suggests the document does not offer as radical a departure from past policy as the Trump administration might try and present it. Former NSC counterterrorism advisor, Joshua Geltzer, argues that this strategy demonstrates the continued expertise and influence of civil servants, diplomats and service-members in policymaking that steers the document in a ‘generally mainstream’ direction.

An exterior view of the US Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, DC. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

(4) Suspected Chinese intelligence officer is extradited to the US and charged with espionage.

The US government has extradited and charged a suspected Chinese intelligence officer from Belgium to the US for alleged economic espionage. Yanjun Xu, who is accused of being a senior intelligence officer in China’s Ministry of State Security, was detained earlier this year in a sting operation in Belgium. Xu has been charged with four counts which date back as far as 2013 and include conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and stealing trade secrets from US aviation companies.

The US government has long accused China of conducting espionage and cyber-hacking to steal US intellectual property. This case represents a significant escalation in tension amidst the two powers who are also in the midst of a spiralling trade war. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that the charges again Xu are ‘pure fabrication’.

A man walks next to a school damaged by the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit the north of Haiti on 6 October 2018 in Gros Morne. Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images.

(5) Death toll rises to 17 after 5.9 magnitude earthquake hits Haiti.

The Haitian Directorate of Civil Protection (DPC) reported on Monday that the death toll from an earthquake that struck during the evening of Saturday 6 October has risen to 17. The DPC also reported that 427 persons have been injured and more than 7,000 homes have been either partially or totally destroyed. The Haitian government has urged that all individuals and organizations looking to provide aid go through the Haitian National Civil Protection Service — which is coordinating the relief effort.

This is the strongest earthquake to hit Haiti since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 that was estimated to have killed up to 300,000 people and severely damaged the country’s infrastructure. Due to economic struggles, construction of buildings in Haiti are rarely re-enforced to withstand the stress of earthquakes and hurricanes, which has led to significant safety issues.

By Marnie Adamson from the US and Americas Programme at Chatham House.