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Forecast: Italy battles wildfires, Peru celebrates independence, and CAR votes in constitutional referendum

Dozens of people on a crowded street. There are few signs and many open mouths as people are screaming and/or shouting.

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. The Factal Forecast podcast is off this week.

Week of July 28-August 4
A Look Ahead

July 28 – 33rd Annual AUSMIN ministerial conference  

Top American officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, will travel to Brisbane, Australia, on Friday for the two-day AUSMIN conference, described by the Pentagon as “the premier defense policy dialogue for the U.S.-Australia Alliance.”

What’s happened so far 
Canberra’s desire to cultivate a closer defense relationship with Washington is readily apparent in its diplomatically controversial decision to cancel a submarine contract with France in favor of one with the United States. The summit coincides with the 13-nation Talisman Sabre 2023 military exercises, which the United States says are intended to show China the “core values” shared by the United States and its allies. At the same time, Australia has a keen interest in a stable and fruitful relationship with China, its largest trade partner, in spite of heavy misgivings with Beijing over human rights and other issues.

The impact 
Although no deliverables are expected out of the summit, as they are being delayed until Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s state visit to Washington later this year, the meeting is emblematic of the increasingly strained geopolitical environment in the Pacific region. As some nations in the region attempt to cast themselves as neutral, Australia’s size and importance will make it more difficult to remain impartial, putting it in a tenuous position between the United States, whom Australia describes as a “vital security ally and our closest global partner,” and the geographically closer, yet more mercurial, China.

July 28 – Peru’s Independence Day 

Peru will celebrate its declaration of independence on Friday, beginning a weekend of national holidays for the country, amid nationwide anti-government protests. 

What’s happened so far 
Social unrest broke out in Peru late last year after former President Pedro Castillo was ousted from office. More than 60 people died between December and March in violent clashes, with human rights groups accusing security forces of using excessive force. A new round of demonstrations began last week, with thousands protesters demanding accountability for the protest deaths and calling for the resignation of current President Dina Boluarte, who is under investigation by the public prosecutor’s office for alleged genocide and homicide.

The impact 
Major public events will take place in Peru on both July 28 and 29, including an annual military parade on Saturday. Unions representing thousands of workers have announced they will be demonstrating on July 27 and 28 across the country.

July 30 – CAR constitutional amendment vote 

The Central African Republic will vote Sunday in a referendum to approve a controversial new constitution that would remove term limits on the country’s presidency.

What’s happened so far 
President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who was first elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2020, floated the idea of a new constitution last year but was faced with opposition, including a decision by the country’s top court to annul a commission tasked with rewriting the document. Touadera removed the court’s top judge and replaced him, in an action branded as a “constitutional coup d’etat” before proceeding with the change. 

The impact 
If the proposed change passes, term limits will be abolished, allowing the incumbent president to run for a third term in 2025, which would be a first term under the new document. The attempt has been condemned as a blatant power grab and a backslide on democratic progress made since 2015. The country’s opposition has called on voters to reject the change, or abstain from the referendum altogether. The UN has urged authorities to work to prevent violence before and after the vote.

July 31 – Argentina IMF debt deadline

Cash-strapped Argentina owes the International Monetary Fund more than $2.5 billion by Monday, with an unclear plan on how to make that payment.

What’s happened so far 
Argentina’s foreign funds have reached a critically low level because of record-breaking droughts that cost the country billions of dollars in agriculture exports. The country is also dealing with some of the worst inflation in the world. The IMF now forecasts a year-end inflation rate will be 120 percent and the economy will contract 2.5 percent. Last month, the Argentine government took the unprecedented step of paying an IMF debt with Chinese yuan that had been earmarked for imports.

The impact 
Argentina could make Monday’s payment in yuan again. But for the broader view, the country needs help. Government officials are reportedly finalizing a deal to renegotiate the $44 billion IMF debt. This all comes just months before a presidential election. As the economy continues to sink in Argentina, voters may want to turn away from the status quo ruling coalition and embrace the conservative opposition.

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July 31 – Thailand observes added public holiday  

Most workers in Thailand will get an extra day off Monday, after the country’s government opted to stretch a series of several public holidays into an extended break.  

What’s happened so far 
With government holidays already set for Friday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the additional off-day creates an uninterrupted six-day weekend. However, the short notice means most hospitals will remain open for regularly scheduled appointments. 

The impact 
Officials hope the extended break will spur tourism — one of the key cogs of the country’s economy — and encourage domestic spending. Shares of various Thai hotel operators spiked on the heels of the announcement.

Aug. 2 – Pope Francis visits Portugal 

Pope Francis will arrive in Lisbon, Portugal, on Sunday for a week-long visit as part of the World Youth Day Lisbon event.

What’s happened so far 
Lisbon won the bid to host 2022’s World Youth Day, an event for young people organized by the Catholic Church, but it was forced to delay it by one year due to coronavirus. The pope will meet Portugal’s president and prime minister on the first day, before embarking on days of celebrations, including a mass at pilgrimage site Fatima on Saturday and the main event at a massive outdoor space built for the occasion by the Tejo riverbank in the capital.

The impact 
Preparations have been made for 1.5 million pilgrims traveling to Lisbon from all over the world. Some estimates suggest the government will spend around €40 million ($44 million) on the event, including the controversial stage worth $3.3 million where the main event will take place. While Portugal is expected to profit from the large number of visitors in the country, there are also concerns about the strain such an event will put on the city’s transport infrastructure as well as health and security systems. Thousands of army and police officers from all over the country have been called to the capital for the event, which many have criticized will leave the rest of the country with not enough security. Meanwhile, the country’s border security has also been strengthened.

Aug. 3 – Start of six-month ceasefire between ELN and Colombian government 

A bilateral ceasefire between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla (members’ link) will come into effect on Thursday.

What’s happened so far 
President Gustavo Petro signed on July 5 the decree that formalizes a six-month halt to hostilities between the Colombian army and fighters of the armed group in order to hold peace talks. The goal of the negotiations is to achieve a permanent ceasefire and the demobilization of ELN militants in the framework of the government’s “total peace” policy, which aims to extinguish two of the oldest guerrillas in Latin America and put an end to a decades-long internal conflict. The ceasefire will start after months of work, despite moves by the ELN that have jeopardized the process, like a recent armed strike in the Chocó region called off only one day before an important meeting between delegations in Cuba.

The impact 
Both parties signed a nine-point protocol on the conditions of the ceasefire in Havana, Cuba, on July 14, after an initial de-escalation period. The protocol defines issues like the role of guarantors and observers in the process, the model for participation of civil society actors in the peace process, and theoretical and logistic aspects of the negotiations. The fourth round of talks with members of both delegations will take place in Caracas, Venezuela, on Aug. 14. For the next six months, a group formed by members of the Colombian government, ELN, United Nations and the Catholic Church will monitor the ceasefire and will report on any possible violations.

What Else Matters

Dozens of people wearing hats to protect themselves from the sun march among a low hill. About 75% are carrying the flag of Israel.
Demonstrators marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on July 21 to protest Israel’s judicial overhaul plan. (Photo: Mussi Katz / Flickr)

Israel judicial reforms

On Monday, the Israeli Knesset passed the third and final reading of the first judicial overhaul being pushed by the right-wing coalition government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The law will prevent the Supreme Court from striking down cabinet decisions on the basis of their being too “unreasonable.” The new law’s supporters say the previous system was too subjective and appointed too much power to unelected judges over elected officials. Critics of the legislation, including the opposition led by former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, say the “reasonableness” is the only “safety check” the judiciary has to veto arbitrary laws pushed by the otherwise heavily centralized form of government. Palestinians, furthermore, argue the law will make it easier for the government to pursue far-right policies including settlement expansion into the occupied West Bank.

Watch for: Nationwide anti-government protests have now taken place for almost 30 consecutive weeks in Israel. The protests on Monday following the Knesset’s decision saw dozens of people arrested and more than 10 officers injured after demonstrators blocked roads and highways. Hundreds of IDF reservists, medical and teaching staff have also announced regular strikes in solidarity with the protests, with both demonstrations and strikes expected to continue past July 30 when the Knesset is set to break.

Italy wildfires 

Wildfires broke out on Italy’s Sicily on Monday, spreading to several areas including near the island’s two most populous cities, Palermo and Catania. On Tuesday, Italy declared a state of emergency for Sicily after the fires caused hundreds of people to evacuate, including at a hospital in Palermo, and prompted the city’s Borsellino Airport to come to a halt. At least one person died in San Martino delle Scale and two others in Cinisi after their homes were hit by the fires and disruption to roads reportedly prevented emergency services from reaching them in time. On Wednesday, firefighters said they responded to more than 700 wildfire incidents across the island.

Watch for: Italy is experiencing a historic heatwave this July, as temperatures in Sicily reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit at the beginning of the week. Although officials said the situation was improving gradually in Sicily, wildfires are already spreading across multiple southern regions, including near the Italian port city of Vieste in the country’s Foggia region, which prompted the evacuation of some 2,000 tourists from a hotel. The Italian government is set to introduce a state of emergency not exclusive to the wildfires impacting much of the south, as the north is currently experiencing another weather extreme from a severe storm that killed at least two people in the Lombardy region on Tuesday.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

July 28-Aug. 4 

July 28

  • AUSMIN talks in Brisbane
  • Peru Independence Day

July 30 

  • Referendum for new constitution in Central African Republic
  • Israeli Knesset’s “reasonableness” law session

July 31

  • Thailand adds public holiday

Aug. 2 

  • Pope Francis visits Portugal

Aug. 3

  • Start of six-month ceasefire between ELN and Colombian government

Aug. 5-11

Aug. 5

  • Pride in Montana

Aug. 9

  • Colombian taxi drivers’ strike over price of fuel

Aug. 10

  • Ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra plans return to Thailand 

Aug. 12-18 

Aug. 12

  • U.S. National Book Festival

Aug. 14

  • Trial date for Trump in Florida documents case

Aug. 18

  • Japan, United States, South Korea planning to hold summit

Aug. 19-25 

Aug. 20 

  • Guatemala election runoff
  • Ecuador elections

Aug. 23 

  • First debate for U.S. Republican presidential primary

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