The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 7

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, March 13th, 2023

Good morning everyone,

It's been another week of international headlines, as several regions face tense domestic unrest and several more face continued fighting. In Israel, historic protests continue to rock the nation as even the military begins to strike against the proposed judicial reform, marking an early defeat for Netanyahu's new coalition government. France sees continued protests against its pension reform as worries continue to grow over the state of the European economy. China continues to foster relations in the Middle East and Africa while angering its neighbors in Asia. North Korea continues its recent spout of launching missiles into the ocean, as the South and Japan monitor the situation with unease. In Latin America, cartels and crime continue to run rampant as governments struggle to keep up, while in Africa, the United Nations struggles to keep a grip on several peacekeeping missions as rebel groups resist ceasefires and jihadists attack civilians.

Per usual, it's just another day at the office. Let's see what's going on:- Joshua Paulo, Sebastien Gray, & the Atlas team


Sunday, March 5th, 2023: Amidst already rising tensions between the United States and its southern neighbor, Mexico, four American citizens were abducted by members of the Gulf Cartel, leaving two dead and two rescued. On March 3rd, four American citizens, Eric James Williams, Zindell Brown, Latavia "Tay" McGee, and Shaeed Woodard, drove into Matamoros, Mexico, from a border crossing in Brownsville, Texas. "Shortly after crossing into Mexico, unidentified gunmen fired upon the passengers in the vehicle" and then put the four Americans in another car and fled, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said. It appears two of the passengers were fatally wounded in the shooting, with all four being taken captive. 33-year-old Arely Pablo, a Mexican citizen, was also killed by a stray bullet during the kidnapping.

Investigators say that the kidnapping was likely accidental, with the Americans being mistaken for a rival group of Haitian smugglers. Upon the discovery of this mistake, the cartel members sought medical attention for the Americans, two of whom, Brown and Woodard, did not survive and were discovered dead at the same location as the two survivors. Following the incident, the Gulf Cartel claimed responsibility, turning over five members of the group who were found tied up near a pickup truck with a handwritten note placed on the windshield of the truck explaining the details of the mistake. The Attorney General's Office of Tamaulipas announced aggravated kidnapping and murder charges for the five individuals on March 10th, with a sixth being arrested for being the lookout for the group.

The five alleged cartel members are seen lying on the ground with their hands tied in front of a truck in a photo provided by a source close to the investigation. (ABC News)

Following the recovery of the victims, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, "Attacks on U.S. citizens are unacceptable, no matter where, under what circumstances they occur. We're going to work closely with the Mexican government to ensure that justice is done in this case."

The incident comes amid fiery rhetoric between U.S. officials and the Mexican President, mostly over security issues and border control measures. Recently, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has begun a campaign to influence Mexican-Americans to vote against Republican legislators who would see increased pressure on Mexico for what many Republicans are calling "terrorist" cartels. The president is also facing criticism at home for allegedly attempting to undermine the Mexican democratic process. Meanwhile, the United States State Department has issued a "Do Not Travel" advisory for Mexico as the spring break season nears, much to the rejection of Mexican officials. The State Department wrote, "The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico, as travel by U.S. government employees to certain areas is prohibited or restricted. In many states, local emergency services are limited outside the state capital or major cities."


March 9th, 2023 - After several days of very large and violent protests, Georgia’s government has dropped the "Foreign Agents" bill. The bill would have required any organization in Georgia that receives more than 20% of its funding to register as a "foreign agent." The bill bore similarities to similar laws enacted in Russia, resulting in the protests also doubling as anti-Russia and pro-EU movements. Many protestors pointed to the Russian bills being used for what they called authoritarian abuses and said the Georgian bill could be used to restrict freedom of the press, among other things. When announcing the abandonment of the bill, the Georgian Dream Party specifically mentioned reducing "confrontation" as the reason for it being dropped.

A photo of the protests in Georgia. The general anti-Russia theme saw many Ukrainian flags flown. (Photo from Vano Shlamov / AFP - Getty Images)

March 9th, 2023 - Six people, including an unborn child, were killed and eight others wounded in Hamburg, Germany, after a shooting took place in a Jehovah’s Witness center. The shooter, "Philipp K", is a former congregation member who was said to have left the church on bad terms last year. Philipp did not have a criminal record and legally owned the handgun he used in the attack, which had up-to-date permits. He committed suicide with his handgun before authorities were able to arrive on scene.

March 11th, 2023 - Despite 52 consecutive days of widespread protests and strikes, the French Senate, in a 195–112 vote, has adopted the widely unpopular bill that would raise the nation's retirement age from 62 to 64. The bill is now to be sent to a committee of 7 senators and 7 lower house lawmakers in order to reach a compromise on the vision of the bill that the Senate and the Lower House agree on. The committee meeting is set for the 15th, and should they reach a compromise, the bill will head to a final vote in the senate and the lower house. The purpose of this potential law is to stabilize the French pension system as the life expectancy of French citizens grows and the European economy remains turbulent. President Macron has refused to meet with union leaders on the matter, who have led widespread strikes throughout several major cities, bringing many industries to a halt, such as garbage collection and public transportation.

Middle East

March 11, 2023 - Israel has experienced potentially the largest ever protest in the nation's history as approximately 500,000 people, 5% of Israel’s population, gathered in the streets throughout various cities to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned judicial reforms. The protest is part of a larger wave of unrest that has been going on for 10 consecutive weeks with no sign of fatigue. 200,000 gathered together in the capital city of Tel Aviv, which has consistently maintained the highest amount of protestors. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reforms would see the Supreme Court's powers reduced, which many view as an attempt for him to secure power over the judicial branch.

An Aerial view of Saturday’s protest (Photo from Reuters).

March 10th, 2023 - Iran and Saudi Arabia, two nations presently in a proxy war against each other, have signed an agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations after they were completely severed in 2016, with embassies set to be reopened within the next two months. Notably, the agreement was signed in Beijing as part of a Chinese effort to act as a mediator between the two nations. China’s greater effort to increase its influence within the Middle East has seen higher cooperation between Chinese businesses and several Middle Eastern nations, oftentimes at the expense of U.S. relations. According to Iran’s Secretary of Supreme National Security, the meeting and final agreement were made possible only after Iranian President Raisi visited China in February; he further stated that the talks were initiated by Chinese President Xi. Previous talks regarding the issue were held in Iraq and Oman in 2021 and 2022.

March 12th, 2023 - Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has claimed that Iran and the United States have reached a tentative agreement regarding a prisoner swap for U.S. nationals imprisoned in Iran. "Regarding the issue of prisoner swaps between Iran and the U.S., we have reached an agreement in the recent days, and if everything goes well on the U.S. side, I think we will witness a prisoner exchange in a short period", he said. However, the US State Department has denied these claims, saying "Claims by Iranian officials that we have reached a deal for the release of the U.S. citizens wrongfully held by Iran are false".


March 9th, 2023 - "Several large-scale operations were launched simultaneously as part of the reconquest of the national territory wanted by the President of the Transition. During the progress of our units, 11 of our fighters lost their lives on the field of honor. Four others who were injured were taken care of by health structures", a quote from a Burkina Faso Army release as they announced recent government offensives that "neutralized 112 terrorists". Notably, the government was able to regain control of Partiaga, a town plagued by jihadist attacks on civilians. Combat in Burkina Faso has intensified in recent months, with transitional President Captain Ibrahim Traoré stating his "intact determination" to fight and defeat the jihadists who control 40% of the country. President Capt. Ibrahim Traoré recently performed a successful coup against the former president, whom many claimed was not aggressive enough against jihadist attacks. Traoré also asked the French military to leave the nation.

March 7th & March 11th, 2023 - After yet another ceasefire between the M23 rebel group and the DRC government negotiated by Angola on March 7th quickly failed, Angola has announced they will be sending a military force to secure areas previously held by M23 as well as to protect ceasefire monitors. Angola has played a central role in attempted peace processes between the DRC, the rebels, and their alleged backers, Rwanda. The deployment, which joins that of the East Africa Community Reactionary Force, signals a change in policy in an increasingly large conflict. Already several nations have already sent their forces to intervene, which joins the long-standing UN mission, MONUSCO.

MONUSCO Peace Keepers on patrol in the DRC (Photo from MONUSCO/Michael Ali).

March 10th, 2023 - The UN is appealing for 178 million dollars in emergency humanitarian assistance amid drastically worsening conditions in the Horn of Africa, which faces a long-lasting and very harsh drought. Approximately 48 million people are facing "crisis" levels of food insecurity, and according to longtime WHO worker Liesbeth Aelbrecht who spoke to the media in Geneva, 130,000 of them are facing starvation, saying they are "literally looking death in the eyes". Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda are the seven nations suffering from severe drought and famine. To make things worse, several of the seven nations are facing various disease outbreaks at the same time.

The Americas

March 8th, 2023 - A Latam Airlines aircraft landed in Santiago, Chile, carrying 32.5 million USD in cash, which was to be transferred to armored trucks before being distributed to banks around the country. However, while still at the airport, the plane was attacked by a team of 10 men in armored vehicles in an attempt to steal the money. The men managed to bypass security measures and enter the runway, where a shootout between the robbers and security forces ensued, killing one robber and one Aviation Officer. The remaining robbers fled the scene and have not yet been caught, though police have identified two potential suspects.

Security standing guard around the plane after the attempted heist. (Photo from REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado)

March 9th, 2023 - Canada’s RCMP has begun an investigation into two Montréal area locations that are said to be "undeclared Chinese Police Service Stations". Human Rights NGO ‘Safeguard Defenders’ accuses China of operating such stations in order to "harass, threaten, intimidate, and force targets to return to China for persecution", while China denies connection to the stations, stating they are "service centers" for assisting Chinese nationals. The stations are believed to be among a larger network of 100 stations across 53 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

Asia and Oceania

March 11th to Present, 2023 - Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese landed in San Diego ahead of a meeting between himself, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and U.S. President Joe Biden. The meeting is to further discuss the AUKUS Treaty, which will see Australia supplied with nuclear-powered submarines as well as the ability to construct them. The meeting is to take place on the 13th, with the full effects of the meeting and the deal reached being announced the following day. The pact has seen condemnation from China, which has had increasingly strained relations with much of the west as both factions continue to increase their military capacity in opposition to each other. Australia will become the seventh nation in the world to have nuclear-powered submarines. The meeting is Prime Minister Sunak’s first visit to the US as PM.

Prime Minister Sunak and Prime Minister Albanese. (Photo from Getty Images)

March 12th, 2023 - North Korea, as reported by both them and South Korea, launched two cruise missiles from a submarine in the early hours of Sunday. "Strategic cruise missile underwater launch training was conducted at dawn on March 12. The submarine, 8.24 Hero Ship, which was mobilized for launch training, launched two strategic cruise missiles from the Gyeongpo Bay area in the East Sea of Korea. Through the launch drill, the reliability of the weapon system was confirmed, and the operational readiness for underwater ground attack of the submarine units, which is another important part of the DPRK’s nuclear deterrence, was inspected and judged. The launch training successfully achieved its purpose", said the North Korean state-owned Chosun Central News Agency.

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