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Forecast: Mexico sees uptick in cartel violence, heat wave scorches U.S., and Spain goes to the polls

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez delivers an address in front of the flags of Brazil, Spain and the EU

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.

Recent cartel attacks in central and southern Mexico have left multiple people dead and a population rattled. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Jeff Landset discuss how the latest violence has the government searching for political solutions while some experts argue Mexico is evolving into a narco-state.

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

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Week of July 21-28
A Look Ahead

July 20 – Heat wave continues across U.S.  

Triple-digit temperatures are forecast for wide swaths of the southern United States on Thursday, as a lengthy heat wave drags on.

What’s happened so far 
More than 100 million people across an area stretching from California to Florida were under heat alerts on Wednesday, with relief for the southeast from northern Texas and Oklahoma to the lower Mississippi Valley expected this weekend. As Phoenix nears three straight weeks of daytime highs of at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit, the city set another inauspicious mark Wednesday with all-time record warm low of 97, while El Paso, Texas, has now exceeded 100 every day for more than a month.   

The impact 
At least a dozen deaths in Texas and another in Louisiana late last month were attributed to heat-related causes, while fears linger that unplanned power outages could have devastating impacts on public health. Extreme heat can also cause significant issues for air travel, with several passengers treated for heat-related issues after their flight Monday from Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas was stuck on the tarmac for several hours, before being forced to return to the terminal. 

July 21 – Sri Lankan president visits India

Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe will travel to India on an official two-day visit starting Friday, following an invitation from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

What’s happened so far 
Earlier this month, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra visited Sri Lanka ahead of Wickremesinghe’s visit, his first official trip to India after being appointed president last year. His appointment followed the ouster of Gotabaya Rajapaksa after months of anti-government protests.

The impact 
The trip highlights longstanding ties between the two countries, which are celebrating the 75th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship. Last month, the IMF said Sri Lanka’s economy showed signs of improvement after a drop in foreign exchange reserves led to a severe financial crisis last year. At the time, India helped the country with dedicated credit lines for certain essential items, including fuel.

July 23 – General elections in Spain 

Spain will vote in the country’s snap elections Sunday, which analysts say could swing power to the populist right after five years under a left-wing government.

What’s happened so far 
Incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called for snap elections in May after the right-wing Partido Popular (PP), led by Alberto Núnez Feijo, won the most seats in seven regional legislatures, defeating the incumbent Socialist Party (PSOE). To win, a party needs to receive more than half of the 350 seats in the lower house of Parliament. The latest polls show a narrow victory for PP, but neither the conservative-right nor the incumbent center-left are set to win enough votes to gain an outright majority.

The impact 
If no party reaches an outright majority, either a coalition will need to be formed or there will be a second vote. Likely coalition partners include PSOE and the socialist Sumar Party, and PP and the ultra-right-wing VOX party. Led by founder Santiago Abascal, VOX has denied climate change and been strongly against immigration. PP and VOX have also criticized the left-wing government’s new transgender laws and Sánchez’s pardoning of pro-independence Catalan leaders. The election will take place in the heat of summer, with record-high temperatures and many citizens on vacation.

July 23 – Protest against electoral court and judiciary in Guatemala

Social organizations in Guatemala have called a march Sunday to protest the country’s judiciary and electoral body amid the ongoing presidential elections. 

What’s happened so far 
Organizers called the march to protest recent decisions by the Electoral Supreme Court and the judiciary to review June’s electoral results due to fraud claims by conservative parties. They will also protest an attempt by the country’s top prosecutor to suspend Bernardo Arevalo, of the progressive Movimiento Semilla party, who is set to face moderate-conservative Sandra Torres in the Aug. 20 runoff after unexpectedly winning in the election’s first round. The Constitutional Court has issued a provisional decision blocking Arevalo’s suspension, and the Supreme Electoral Court said the invalidation of candidates falls outside the prosecutor’s jurisdiction.

The impact 
The protest follows a 17-day delay in validating the first round’s results that cut into the time the two presidential candidates had to prepare for the second round. Progressive sectors of Guatemala labeled the prosecutor’s move a “coup attempt” following criticism by the international community and the United Nations. The United States has urged institutions to respect the will of Guatemalans and expressed concern over the democratic standards in the country.

July 23 – Cambodia elections  

Cambodia is set to vote Sunday in an election criticized as undemocratic and a sham, with incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen expected to extend his time in office by five years.

What’s happened so far 
Cambodia’s main opposition and sole credible challenger, the Candlelight Party, was barred from running in May and recently lost an appeal of the election commission’s decision to not register it. The decision, which cannot be appealed, has set up an unopposed contest for Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for more than 38 years. Enforcing his hold on power in the nominally democratic state is his son, Army Gen. Hun Manet, who is expected to replace him after this coming vote.

The impact 
Eligible voters told Al Jazeera they feared repercussions if they did not turn up to vote for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. Hun Sen recently threatened opposition figures with violence during a speech broadcast on Facebook, leading to fears of a new crackdown. The country’s parliament has amended a law to bar anyone who boycotts Sunday’s vote from standing in future elections, further limiting opposition candidates.

July 24 – Macron in the South Pacific

Starting Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron is set to visit the South Pacific states of New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, with his appearances in the latter two nations marking the first time a French president has visited non-French islands in the region. 

What’s happened so far 
The Indo-Pacific contains more than 93 percent of France’s exclusive economic zone by virtue of its extensive French Polynesian territories, which includes New Caledonia. Between this and the region’s growing strategic importance as superpower competition between the United States and China intensifies, Macron’s administration has made engagement in the region outside of the Beijing-Washington context a cornerstone of its foreign policy, especially following a diplomatic row over Australia’s cancellation of a submarine deal with France in favor of closer ties with the United States.

The impact 
Macron’s office told AFP that he will advocate for a European “alternative” to fealty to Washington or Beijing during the visits, during which he is expected to sign new agreements — a point made more salient by his planned meeting with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape, who has cast his nation as a “neutral ground.” The visit could complicate relations between France and the United States. It could also precipitate greater French economic development in the region, as symbolized by a final investment decision expected at the end of this year on a nearly $15 billion project in Papua New Guinea by Paris-based TotalEnergies. 

July 27 – Biden to host Italian PM at White House  

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will visit U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

What’s happened so far 
The visit is Meloni’s first to the United States since becoming prime minister last year. The leaders are expected to discuss the war in Ukraine and transatlantic cooperation, according to the White House. Additional topics will include Italy’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, as well as efforts to stabilize migration flow through the Mediterranean from North Africa. 

The impact 
Italy became the first G7 country to join China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in 2019, though Meloni’s government is reportedly considering pulling out of the wide-ranging infrastructure development plan. Italian diplomats have said that a meeting with Biden would act as a precursor to any such decision. In the Mediterranean Sea, migrant deaths have reached the highest levels in years. European Union and Tunisian diplomats just struck a deal to provide development assistance in exchange for tightening migrant control, though Meloni said she will seek further assistance in this realm from the United States.

July 27 – Russia-Africa summit  

Delegates from 50 African nations will attend the second Russia-Africa summit beginning Thursday in St. Petersburg, as Russia seeks to shore up its budding relationships with the continent’s key powers.

What’s happened so far 
The first Russia-Africa summit took place in Sochi in 2019 and was co-hosted by President Vladimir Putin and the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. It’s not clear whether Putin will attend the second iteration. Organizers said the event is designed to expand cooperation between Russia and African nations in the business, cultural, and humanitarian spheres, as well as reinforce existing security ties established through the presence of Wagner group mercenaries in countries such as Mali and Sudan. 

The impact 
The summit takes place several days after Russia refused to renew the agreement allowing grain to pass from Ukraine through the Black Sea to African nations. As such, Russian officials will likely be seeking to reassure African leaders they are able to replace any shortfall in grain and not compound deepening hunger crises in nations such as Somalia and Nigeria.

What Else Matters

Four men are looking at a map of a portion of Greece impacted by wildfires. They appear to be in an ad hoc office inside a small building.
Authorities from across Greece mobilized Tuesday morning to fight the growing wildfires in Attica. (Photo: Greece Ministry of Climate Crisis & Civil Protection)

Greece fires 

Multiple wildfires spread rapidly this week in Greece’s Attica region, home to Athens, forcing evacuations to the south, north and west of the capital. The first major fire broke out Monday in the area of Kouvaras, south of Athens, and quickly spread, prompting the evacuation of multiple towns along the coast. Two more major wildfires followed a day later, with one erupting north of the capital in Dervenochoria before rapidly spreading south toward Athens. A second wildfire that began Tuesday spread west of Athens in the Loutraki area threatened a complex of refineries along the coast. 

Watch for: While the first wildfire in Kouvaras has since been brought under control without any active fronts, firefighting efforts continue for the two remaining major fires with other EU countries sending aid. Tinderbox conditions will also persist for the next few days, with heat wave temperatures that helped trigger the spate of serious wildfires forecasted to continue into the weekend with highs well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Though officials said Wednesday that the immediate threat to refinery infrastructure in Loutraki had been thwarted, residences remain in danger.

Recent cartel attacks in central and southern Mexico 

A recent wave of cartel violence has hit several parts of Mexico, shocking many of the residents who have become used to mass killings in the country. Earlier this month, on the the same day, pro-gang protests shut down the city of Chilpancingo in the state of Guerrero and a car bomb killed several police officers in the state of Jalisco. Cartels have also been accused of a drone attack in recent weeks. The uptick has put the spotlight back on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who campaigned on the slogan “Abrazos, no balazos,” which translates to “Hugs, not bullets.” He has attempted to cut down on violence by focusing on social programs so young people don’t turn to crime. In some places, however, cartels are stepping in and providing help where the government has not.

Watch for: Some experts warn Mexico is becoming more of a narco-state. As the cartels need to intimidate those in power, they are turning to more extreme methods, including roadside bombs. They are also in an arms race with other cartels. Criminals may continue such violence as long as there isn’t a political will to fight back.

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

July 21-28 

July 21

  • Sri Lanka president visits India

July 23 

  • Cambodia elections
  • Spain elections
  • Protest against electoral court and judiciary in Guatemala

July 24

  • French President Macron visits Vanuatu and New Caledonia

July 27

  • Russia-Africa summit
  • Biden to host Italian PM at White House

July 29-Aug. 4 

July 30 

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

Aug. 2 

  • Pope Francis visits Portugal

Aug. 3

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

Aug. 5-11 

July 30 

  • Referendum for new constitution in Central African Republic

Aug. 2 

  •     Pope Francis visits Portugal

Aug. 3

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

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

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Top photo: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called snap elections in May after his party was defeated in regional elections. (Photo: La Moncloa)

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