- Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.
In 2019, long-simmering geopolitical conflicts returned to the fore, migration crises swelled in the Americas, and human rights abuses raised alarm in countries around the world. CFR collects its most relevant maps on the past year’s biggest global developments.
Crackdown in Kashmir
A February attack on Indian paramilitary forces in Kashmir aggravated the long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan. India responded with air strikes in Pakistani territory, which led to the downing of an Indian fighter jet and the capture of its pilot as the countries’ forces exchanged fire in and around the contested Himalayan region. In August, New Delhi revoked the constitutional autonomy of India-controlled Kashmir and launched a security crackdown in the region.
Crisis in Venezuela
Five years into an unprecedented political and humanitarian crisis, more than 3.3 million Venezuelans fled the country by mid-2019 to escape hyperinflation, severe food and medicine shortages, political chaos, and soaring crime. Those who have left account for nearly 10 percent of Venezuela’s population, and many have gone to nearby countries including Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, which have struggled to cope with the influx of refugees.
In March, Cyclone Idai swept through southern Africa, hitting Mozambique particularly hard and highlighting the vulnerability of the entire region to the more frequent and intense storms expected due to climate change. Idai and its aftermath killed more than a thousand people, displaced hundreds of thousands of others, and caused a surge of cholera cases. While emergency aid arrived from the African Union, China, the United States, and others in the following months, the United Nations warned that donor pledges were still significantly underfunded.
Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings
A string of coordinated suicide bombings at churches and hotels across Sri Lanka killed more than three hundred people on April 21, Easter Sunday. Officials blamed two previously obscure Islamist extremist groups, though the self-proclaimed Islamic State took credit for the attacks. Then President Maithripala Sirisena’s government was widely criticized for its handling of intelligence reports that warned of terrorist plots in the months beforehand.
A Persian Gulf Flash Point
A string of attacks on oil tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz in May and June ramped up tensions between the United States and Iran. Tehran had previously threatened to close the waterway, through which nearly one-fifth of the world’s crude oil travels, after Washington intensified sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in April. The United States blamed Iran for the attacks and deployed additional military forces to the region to protect shipping.
Alarm Over Xinjiang
The extent of China’s mass detention system in its western Xinjiang region became clearer in 2019. Experts estimate that one to two million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been detained in hundreds of camps, which many governments and human rights groups condemn for harsh conditions, family separation, and lack of due process. Beijing says the crackdown is part of an effort to counter religious and political extremism, and maintains that the camps are “vocational training centers.”
Ebola Outbreak in the DRC
An outbreak of the Ebola virus in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo that started in 2018 grew rapidly in the months that followed, becoming the second-largest Ebola outbreak ever by mid-2019. By the end of the year, more than 2,200 people had died, and health officials continued to warn that insecurity in the war-wracked region was impeding response efforts and aid distribution.
Fleeing the Northern Triangle
More than half a million people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras fled north in the first eight months of 2019, double the annual total in prior years. Many of them are seeking asylum from brutal violence, entrenched corruption, and grinding poverty in their home countries. President Donald J. Trump’s administration has taken extraordinary measures to try to curb the inflow of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border including by signing agreements with some countries to force migrants to seek asylum there first.
Korean Peninsula Diplomacy
President Trump’s direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un failed to find common ground on rolling back Pyongyang’s nuclear program in 2019, despite a February summit in Hanoi and the first-ever visit of a sitting U.S. president to North Korea in June. Kim, who commands the world’s fourth-largest conventional military, resumed ballistic missile testing at sites across the country. Trump, meanwhile, raised tensions with ally South Korea by demanding that Seoul increase its payments to help U.S. forces defend the Korean Peninsula.
A U.S. Reversal on the West Bank
In a break with decades of U.S. policy, and much of the rest of the world, the Trump administration announced in November that the United States will no longer consider Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to be in violation of international law. The move was the latest in a series aligning the White House more closely with Israeli positions, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Renewed Diplomacy in Ukraine
The leaders of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine met in Paris in December with the hope of restarting negotiations to end the war in eastern Ukraine, which has killed an estimated thirteen thousand people and internally displaced another 1.5 million. The conflict has largely reached a stalemate, more than five years after Russian forces annexed Crimea and began backing separatist fighters in the eastern regions.