Monthly Risk Spotlight: June 2024


Political Violence Increases Across Mexico
The general elections that took place in Mexico in early June are considered groundbreaking with the election of the nation’s first female president and first Jewish president, Claudia Sheinbaum. President elect Sheinbaum, a PhD academic,  scientist,  and former mayor of Mexico City, has vowed to pursue policies and lead a government that will bring about prosperity and security to the Mexican people. However, Sheinbaum’s historic victory has been significantly overshadowed by the high levels of politically-violent incidents that took place both leading up to, and after the election results were declared. Although past elections in Mexico have also seen violence, there is concern that the influence and activities that gangs and transnational criminal organizations (TCOs, ‘cartels’) employed during the run up to this latest election is indicative of the Mexican State’s challenges with asserting control over public safety and security issues.

The 2024 election was the largest in Mexican history, with the entire upper and lower chamber of congress running for election, as well as hundreds of local political positions, across all states. In addition to the large size of the election, the vast number of TCOs spread across Mexico has led to more intense competition between these groups to secure influence with or over local candidates. This desire to gather influence over local politicians is valuable, as these individuals will eventually dictate municipal and local level policing policies, as well as control local regulatory bodies. If a criminal organization’s preferred candidate wins the election, the group can potentially have the local police harass rival groups, or have control over lucrative government contracts that will flow into the coffers of allies and away from rival groups. Thus, there is a lot at stake for respective TCOs and local gangs if they do not have a political candidate in power that can turn the levers of influence to help further their own criminal activities.

Not all violence taking place in this election cycle is spread evenly throughout Mexico. Most violence has taken place in states such as Chiapas, which borders Guatemala and thus plays a major role in the transportation of illicit narcotics from Central America as it proceeds northward. Major coastal states have also seen a significant increase in violence, such as Veracruz and Guerrero, both of which are states that control the major Atlantic and Pacific ports of Mexico. By the end of the elections, on June 2, there were over 100 recorded political assassinations as well as numerous reports of attempted murders, attacks on family members, and attempted kidnappings of people running for office. Politically associated violence is only forecast to continue. Even after the conclusion of the elections, on June 3, the mayor of Cotija in Michoacan state was killed by a gunman as the mayor walked back home from the gym. The incident is but one amongst a host of other incidents that underscore the severity of politically motivated violence occurring across the country. The election may be over, but political violence, and the criminal entities that carry it out, is looking to become a standard feature of Mexican politics. Further related incidents can be expected to occur ahead of the scheduled presidential inauguration in October.


Surge in Racism Against Sub-Saharan Migrants and Black Tunisians
Increasing racism in Tunisia, particularly against sub-Saharan African migrants, has reportedly increased in recent months. This surge in hostility was underscored by Tunisian President Kais Saied’s speech in May 2024, where he firmly stated that Tunisia would not be a welcoming destination for irregular migrants. This rhetoric echoes earlier statements from February 2023, which linked irregular migration to a supposed criminal plan to alter Tunisia’s demographic composition. These declarations have prompted a series of punitive measures against migrants and black Tunisian. Such racist views and targeting by political leaders have often been condemned by international human rights organizations.

Saied’s government has conducted several operations targeting sub-Saharan migrants. These actions have involved security forces destroying migrant camps, arresting individuals, and expelling them to border areas with Algeria and Libya, often without due course, provisions, or personal belongings. For instance, in late April 2024, the spokesperson for the National Guard confirmed that removal operations aimed to ease the work of law enforcement agents. Migrants in areas like El-Amra (Sfax governorate) and near international organization headquarters in the capital, Tunis, have faced destruction of their makeshift homes and arrests, leaving many abandoned to their own accord. Such crackdowns have led to numerous incidents of violence and discrimination against migrants. On May 5, 2024, a group of sub-Saharan Africans in Sfax governorate was attacked with fireworks, highlighting the increasing hostility from locals. Similar aggression was reported in Sousse (Sousse governorate), where locals assisted police in arresting migrants. Personal accounts from migrants illustrate the pervasive and violent racism they continue to encounter.

The repercussions of Saied’s anti-migrant stance extend to black Tunisians, who make up over 10% of the population but face significant underrepresentation in politics and media. A notable incident involved Khalifa Chouchène, a prominent black journalist who faced a racist backlash after critiquing political opposition on his radio show. The National Union of Tunisian Journalists condemned the racist attacks against him, emphasizing the detrimental impact such discrimination has on public discourse and social cohesion.

Tunisia’s history of anti-black prejudice further exacerbates current racial tensions. Despite abolishing slavery in 1846, descendants of enslaved people often carry surnames denoting their ancestry, facing persistent stigma and inequality. There are some organizations that work to combat racism, stressing that denial and lack of accountability for the region’s slavery history fuel ongoing discrimination. These organizations have also continually come under the government’s scanner and are routinely harassed or pressured to discontinue their work.

The increasing racism in Tunisia, particularly against sub-Saharan migrants, reflects a broader issue of systemic discrimination against black individuals and highlights a growing risk to travelers of African descent. There is a risk that travelers of African descent could be mistaken for a sub-Saharan migrant and be targeted by local Tunisians or the police. President Saied’s hardline stance has not only led to harsh measures against migrants but also legitimized broader racial prejudices. Despite efforts by activists and organizations to address these issues, the country continues to struggle with its legacy of slavery and the extensive racism that stems from it.


How Nations are Combatting Overtourism in the Asia-Pacific
Overtourism, the phenomenon where a destination experiences excessive tourist traffic, has become a pressing issue in the Asia-Pacific region. As travel interest surges post-pandemic, many popular destinations are grappling with the consequences of too many visitors, which strains local infrastructure, disrupts communities, and harms the environment.

In Japan, authorities are attempting to manage the influx by redirecting visitors away from Tokyo and towards rural areas. The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) is targeting “light repeaters”—those who have visited Japan more than twice—with campaigns designed to lure them to less-visited regions like Tohoku and Okinawa. By working with online travel agencies and engaging influencers, Japan aims to spread the benefits of tourism more evenly. However, the recent installation of a screen in Fujikwaguchiko constructed to block a popular photo spot of Mount Fuji highlights the struggle to balance tourist satisfaction with local residents’ quality of life. The screen was erected in response to complaints about tourists jaywalking and littering, underscoring problems with overtourism.

Vietnam has also faced significant challenges with overtourism, particularly in places like Ha Long Bay and Hoi An, which have seen a dramatic increase in the number of tour operators, leading to accidents and environmental degradation. In Hoi An, the surge in visitors has resulted in crowded and commercialized areas, detracting from its previous charm and historical significance. Similarly, Sihanoukville (Preah Sihanouk province) in Cambodia has suffered from rapid urban development and environmental neglect, prompting visitors to now skip the coastal city.

Thailand, one of Southeast Asia’s tourism powerhouses, has also been proactive in addressing overtourism. The Thai government temporarily closed Maya Bay to allow the ecosystem to recover from the damage caused by excessive tourist activity. However, other areas like Koh Samui and Phuket continue to struggle with large tourist numbers, pollution, and safety issues. Despite these efforts, popular destinations like Bali in Indonesia are still grappling with the consequences of overtourism. Kuta Beach, once a serene coastal area, is now plagued with pollution and overcrowding, making it less appealing to visitors seeking pristine environments.

The future of travel trends in the region will likely be shaped by how well countries can manage the balance between attracting tourists and preserving their environments and communities. With many regions still recovering from COVID-19’s impact on tourism, there is a significant opportunity for destinations to implement sustainable practices that prevent the negative effects of overtourism. Many countries are proposing the levy of tourist-taxes to ensure that resources are available to maintain destinations. The region, with its rich cultural and natural attractions, will need to learn from past mistakes and develop further innovative strategies for visitor management, waste disposal, and environmental sustainability.

Overall, while overtourism presents significant challenges, it also offers an opportunity for destinations to rethink their tourism strategies and promote more sustainable travel. As the Asia-Pacific region navigates this delicate balancing act, the trends will likely reflect a growing awareness of the need for responsible tourism practices and a greater emphasis on preserving the unique qualities that make these destinations appealing in the first place.


Attempted Coup Involving Foreign Nationals Underscores Instability
On May 19, an attempted coup occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The failed coup attempt underscores ongoing instability in the DRC, as well as the risk of increased anti-foreign sentiments around foreign nationals’ involvement in the latest coup. The incident occurred when assailants breached the Palais de la National, a government building in the center of the capital Kinshasa, which houses the office of the DRC President, Felix Tshiskedi. Assailants in army uniforms also targeted the residence of Vital Kamerhe, the former chief of staff to President Tshisekedi. All together there were 50 suspects involved in the planning and execution of the attempted coup, three of which are reportedly United States (U.S.) citizens and one naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom (U.K.); all were subsequently arrested by local security forces. Foreign citizens’ involvement in such unrest increases the risk of negative sentiments towards travelers, amplifying the risk of harassment and detention.

Not only were there foreign nationals involved, but the coup at large was reportedly organized by former DRC politician, Christian Malanga. Malanga was exiled from the DRC and fled to the U.S. in 1998 as a political refugee. It is unclear if he subsequently gained U.S. citizenship. In his exile, Malanga utilized social media to threaten an overthrow of the DRC government in 2017 and called himself the ‘President of New Zaire’, Zaire being the former name of the DRC. Malanga was killed by Congolese forces in Kinshasa after resisting arrest in the direct aftermath of the attempted coup. His son, Marcel Malanga, was among the foreign nationals arrested.

The U.S. response to the attempted coup followed legal guidelines as the U.S. ambassador to the DRC, Lucy Tamlyn, stated that all cooperation with the DRC authorities and law will be extended. The involvement of U.S. citizens in such criminal acts was condemned, even as the ambassador accorded that any U.S. citizens involved will be held accountable by the laws of the DRC. U.S. citizen detainments overseas often prompt a news cycle, which occurred following the coup after video footage emerged of one U.S. citizen being hit with the butt of a rifle and repeatedly struck in the head by Congolese security forces. The family of the concerned U.S. national indicated that they have yet to hear from him since his arrest in the DRC, and the U.S. Consulate have not been granted access to see him. The family members divulged that their son was initially hired only as a security personnel for Christian Malanga, as he was traveling with, and friends with, Malanga’s son.

The DRC continues to face instability from within its own governmental entities, including pervasive conflict in the eastern parts of the country and varied socio-economic issues. In December 2023, current President Tshisekedi won re-election for a second term, which prompted major unrest in the leadup to the election period with approximately 20 people killed. The current government actions and societal grievances maintain a continual threat to the DRC and the latest incident has only served to increase the risk levels of travel and operations in the country.


Foreign Agent Laws in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan
Throughout the month of May, large political demonstrations have taken place in Georgia, as the government considered enacting a controversial “foreign agents” law. The law was enacted in early June and will require non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media groups with 20% or more funding from foreign sources to register as foreign agents. Critics claim this law is a threat to the freedom of speech and could jeopardize the country’s attempt to be a member of the European Union (E.U.). Large protests, with many turning violent, were a common occurrence throughout the month of May.

On May 14, the day Georgian Parliament passed the law, large and violent political demonstrations took place nationwide. In the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, protesters attempted to enter the Parliament building while others clashed with police. Four days later, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed the law. Despite this, parliament overrode the presidential veto and passed the bill for a second time.

Both the United States (U.S) and E.U. nations have expressed concern regarding this law. On May 24, the U.S. announced that some members of Georgia’s parliament would face visa bans and other sanctions. Additionally, many E.U. nations’ foreign ministers have stated the law does not align with European values and that the bill will most likely halt Georgia’s ascension to the E.U. Political polling consistently shows that more than 70% of the Georgian population supports joining the E.U.

There are broad implications for organizations operating in Georgia once the bill becomes law. As mentioned previously, all NGOs and other organizations will be required to register as foreign agents if they receive 20% or more of their funding from abroad. Being labeled a foreign agent exposes organizations to new financial reporting requirements. Additionally, organizations registered as a foreign agent are required to declare that they are working in the interest of the foreign donor, which opens them up to scrutiny by local authorities, or worse, having their operations curtailed or stopped.

Similar legislation was also passed in Kyrgyzstan this year. In April 2024, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov signed a foreign agents bill into law. Like the bill in Georgia, the bill requires organizations that receive any funding from abroad to register as a foreign agent. Since the bill became law, NGOs operating in Kyrgyzstan have faced increased scrutiny and persecution from the government. Currently in Kyrgyzstan, NGOs and media organizations are subject to random inspections from law enforcement. Additionally, the government has reportedly attacked NGOs and media organizations for being representatives of a foreign government. Following the law’s passage, several NGOs and journalists have shut down their operations entirely.

The implementation of Georgia’s foreign agents’ law will likely lead to considerable disruptions across the country. Political demonstrations are expected to persist, especially if tensions between Georgia and the E.U. worsen. Reflecting on the situation in Kyrgyzstan, where similar legislation has led to increased scrutiny and persecution of NGOs, Georgia may face comparable challenges. The penalties for failing to register as a foreign agent could be severe, making it crucial for organizations receiving foreign funding to anticipate and mitigate potential disruptions. As the law takes effect, the landscape for NGOs and media groups in Georgia will become increasingly difficult, underscoring the need for strategic planning and adaptation.


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