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Factal Forecast: Deadly fire engulfs Iranian prison, Colombian and Venezuelan parliaments meet, and U.S. student loan debt relief plan starts

Two people shake hands at a border.

Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

At least eight people were killed and 60 more injured in a fire at Iran’s notorious Evin Prison last week. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Agnese Boffano discuss the connection to the country’s ongoing protests and how the blaze is fueling concerns for political prisoners.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of Oct. 21-28
A Look Ahead

Oct. 21 – Colombian and Venezuelan parliaments meet  

Representatives from Colombia’s and Venezuela’s parliaments will meet Friday after the border between the two countries reopened. 

What’s happened so far 
The land border between Colombia and Venezuela reopened Sept. 26 after seven years of closure. The reopening came shortly after Colombia’s new left-wing President Gustavo Petro took office, and was part of an effort to normalize diplomatic and economic relations between the countries. Friday’s meeting, which will be held in the Villa Rosario town of Colombia’s Norte de Santander, will be the first of five bilateral gatherings to address issues related to the border territory and its reopening.

The impact 
Some 90 Colombian and Venezuelan representatives are expected to meet to address issues like the flow of exports and imports, the reactivation of the economy along border towns, the environmental impact of the reopening and the presence of armed groups along the nearly 1,360 miles of frontier territory. Officials from both countries have shown interest in holding popular consultations with border communities in the near future to develop measures that increase security guarantees and improve the standard of living in the area.

Oct. 21 – Pakistan likely to exit FATF ‘gray list’ 

After more than four years, the Financial Action Task Force is expected to remove Pakistan from its “increased monitoring list” during a two-day plenary session that ends Friday

What’s happened so far 
The international watchdog identified Pakistan in June 2018 as having “strategic deficiencies” in combating money laundering and terror financing. In June 2022, the country was found to have substantially completed a pair of action plans totaling 34 items, while a 15-member delegation visited Pakistan in late August and early September to conduct an on-site review of their efforts. 

The impact 
The removal of Pakistan from the gray list is expected to “significantly” improve both foreign direct investment and export levels in the country, according to analysts. The designation has also made it harder for the government to receive financial aid from the likes of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, among others.

Oct. 22 – China’s Communist Party National Congress wraps up  

China’s 20th Communist Party Congress will come to an end Saturday, with President Xi Jinping poised to serve a third five-year term.

What’s happened so far 
In a two-hour speech Sunday, Xi laid out the Communist Party’s agenda for the country over the next five years. The speech touted China’s battle against coronavirus through its “zero-Covid” policy and its role in taking control of the situation in Hong Kong, which saw anti-government protests in 2019. Xi also expressed that China will never renounce the right to use force when it comes to Taiwan but will strive for a peaceful resolution.  

The impact 
The week-long session comes as the country faces an economic toll from its coronavirus response and increasingly tense relations with the United States and the West over Taiwan. Despite this, the session’s theme appeared to be one of continuity, not change, as exemplified by Xi’s anticipated third term.

Oct. 23 – U.S. government could begin student loan relief 

Sunday marks the first day that the Biden administration could begin its student loan debt cancellation.

What’s happened so far 
Applications opened earlier this week for those eligible for debt cancellation under President Joe Biden’s plan, which offers up to $20,000 in relief for lower-income earners. More than eight million people have already applied for relief, Biden said, despite Republican efforts to stymie the relief program. 

The impact 
While the Education Department holds $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, it is estimated that Biden’s relief plan will directly benefit 95 percent of the approximately 37 million borrowers. With the coronavirus-induced pause in student loan payments set to expire in January, many are looking for the Biden administration to extend relief.

Oct. 23 – Slovenia elections  

People across Slovenia will cast their votes to elect the next president Sunday, just a month before local elections and three potential referendums.

What’s happened so far 
This weekend’s vote will feature eight candidates after a last minute entry by E.U. lawmaker Milan Brglez. The elections come just months after a general election in which populist Prime Minister Janez Jansa lost to the environmentalist Freedom Movement party’s Robert Golob. Incumbent President Borut Pahor cannot run due to term limits.

The impact 
Polls suggest no candidate will secure more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, with independent candidate Nataša Pirc Musar, supported by the Pirate Party and the European Greens, and former Foreign Minister Anže Logar, supported by the Democrats, expected to proceed to the second round on Nov. 13. Brglez, supported by the Freedom Movement, could also secure his place in the runoff.

Oct. 24 – French president visits with Pope Francis

French President Emmanuel Macron will travel to Rome and meet with Pope Francis on Monday as part of a three-day inter-religious peace conference organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio.

What’s happened so far 
The summit, part of a yearly series and known this year as “The Cry for Peace,” will feature speeches by France’s Macron and his Italian counterpart President Sergio Mattarella. Macron will also meet privately with Pope Francis at a lunchtime audience in the Vatican on Monday.

The impact 
The ongoing war in Ukraine is likely to feature in remarks by key speakers including Macron, with the Holy See recently taking a harsher tone and describing Russia’s unprovoked invasion as “senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious” after complaints that Pope Francis had not been critical enough.

Oct. 24 – UN economic session for Latin America and Caribbean 

Argentina will host the 39th plenary session for the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), starting Monday

What’s happened so far 
The geopolitical, economic and financial landscape has changed drastically since the ECLAC virtually met in October 2020. Since 2020, Latin America’s economies have had a difficult time recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, and studies show that economic growth will begin decelerating significantly. ECLAC will present a new position paper delving into Latin America’s development and sustainability, while also addressing inflation and low growth. Representatives from approximately 60 states will join in Buenos Aires’s Kirchner Cultural Center for two days. 

The impact 
Latin America’s countries undoubtedly suffer from a global downturn exacerbated by the Ukraine-Russia conflict. The region is expected to grow 3.5 percent in 2022, far off previous expectations, as high inflation paired with an energy crisis have led to nationwide strikes and, in some cases, heightened violence. Small changes in pricing in Latin America affect the population disproportionately and ECLAC’s plan addressing those concerns will be of note to see what kind of deflationary measures can be taken. 

Oct. 26 – Israeli president visits White House  

U.S. President Joe Biden will host Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House on Wednesday for Herzog’s first official visit since taking office in 2021.

What’s happened so far 
Biden and Herzog last met in Jerusalem in July 2021, where both expressed their “ironclad” commitment to bilateral relations. At Wednesday’s summit, the duo are due to discuss similar issues, including regional security. 

The impact 
Although Herzog’s role is largely ceremonial, he will play a key role in Israel’s elections on Nov. 1 in facilitating the formation of a coalition government if no single party wins a majority. The United States is said to be concerned about the inclusion of extreme right-wing groups in any new government, something which Biden may underscore to Herzog in their meeting.

What Else Matters

In the background are numerous riot police. The foreground features a loan male throwing a rock. There is tear gas and cars between them.
Protesters face off against security forces on Keshavarz Boulevard in Tehran, Iran, on Sept. 20. (Photo: Darafsh / Wikimedia Commons)

Iran prison fire

At least eight people have been confirmed killed and dozens of others injured in a massive fire at Iran’s notorious Evin prison in Tehran over the weekend. Iranian authorities claim the fire was due to a premeditated jailbreak, with outlets aligned with Iran’s intelligence agencies reporting, and then quickly denying, that the sounds of explosions were due to detainees stepping on landmines. Tehran’s prosecutor said the fire began at the section of the prison housing “thugs,” with Iranian rights groups believing it took place at the facility’s seventh ward, which is estimated to house up to 1,400 prisoners.

Watch for: The timing of the fire sparked speculation that it might have been connected to the ongoing wave of nationwide anti-government protests that began five weeks ago over the death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody. More than 200 protesters are believed to have died from the recent violence, according to human rights organizations. Several NGOs and governments have expressed concerns of human rights abuses before and during the fire, with several political prisoners remaining incommunicado since then. Despite these groups calling for an independent investigation into the cause of the fire, a probe is unlikely to take place as Iranian forces continue to crackdown on any anti-government sentiments.

French fuel strikes

About 25 percent of French gas stations are currently short on fuel due to a three-week strike of oil workers that has closed four of the country’s seven refineries. The situation is particularly bad in Paris, where half of gas stations have no supply. Employees of the gas megacorporation TotalEnergies, represented by the influential ​​Confédération Générale du Travail union, continue to push for a 10 percent raise and a share of 2022’s historic oil profits. TotalEnergies was able to reach a deal for a 7 percent raise with two other unions. The strikes also initially included workers from an Exxon refinery, but some of these employees have been controversially forced back to work by the French government.

Watch for: At first glance, France seems to be handling the inflation crisis well and their nuclear infrastructure seems like a blessing during a historic energy crisis in the E.U. The French government, however, has shown a willingness to requisition a small number of fuel workers, and officials have alluded to further actions. Even if all workers were to start working again tomorrow, it could take two weeks for French gas supply to rebound. The strikes inspired labor actions in other sectors, like trucking and railways. An estimated 70,000 people protested inflation and stagnant wages in Paris alone Tuesday. If President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition does not act, some fear the unrest could lead to another Gilets Jaunes movement.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

Oct. 21-28 

Oct. 21

  • EU leaders meet in Brussels
  • Pakistan likely to exit FATF greylist
  • Colombian and Venezuelan parliaments meet 

Oct. 23

  • Slovenia presidential elections
  • First day U.S. government could start discharging student loan debt

Oct. 24

  • Taiwan hosts the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy’s World Movement for Democracy summit
  • French President Macron meets with Pope Francis in Rome
  • UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean 39th session 

Oct. 25

  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen host a conference on post-war reconstruction of Ukraine 
  • EU energy ministers meet in Luxembourg

Oct. 26

  • Bank of Canada rate decision
  • Israeli president visits White House
  • Foreign ministers from South Korea, U.S. and Japan to meet in Tokyo

Oct. 27

  • European Central Bank meeting

Oct. 28

  • MLB World Series begins
  • Court-issued deadline for Elon Musk to finish deal with Twitter
  • Russia central bank meeting

Oct. 29-Nov. 4 

Oct. 30

  • Brazil presidential election runoff
  • EU Informal meeting of trade ministers

Oct. 31

  • Trial of 21 defendants of deadly 2018 fire in Mati, Greece
  • South Korean, U.S. militaries start large-scale joint drills

Nov. 1

  • General election in Israel
  • Denmark general election

Nov. 3

  • Pope Francis visits Bahrain 
  • G7 foreign ministers to meet in Munster, Germany
  • German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visits South Korea

Nov. 4

  • Russia’s Unity Day

Nov. 5-11 

Nov. 6

  • COP27 in Egypt
  • UK to reverse payroll tax rise

Nov. 7

  • Eurogroup meeting

Nov. 8

  • U.S. midterm elections

Nov. 11

  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to visit India

Nov. 12-18 

Nov. 13

  • Lebanon holds parliament session to elect new head of state

Nov. 17 

  •     Dutch verdict in flight MH17 trial

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Top photo: A member of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights shakes hands with a police officer on the Colombia-Venezuela border at the Simón Bolívar International Bridge in September 2015. (Photo: Daniel Cima / Inter-American Commission of Human Rights)

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