At the dawn of 2020, Kensington Chelsea and Westminster Today is looking back at some of the seminal events that defined the previous year. 2019 was a fittingly tumultuous capstone on an intensely dramatic decade. Political tumult exploded across the globe mirrored by natural disasters and the deepening climate crisis. If those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, let’s enter the new 20s with clear eyes.
January 10: Venezuela enters a constitutional crisis as Juan Guaidó and the National Assembly declare incumbent President Nicolás Maduro “illegitimate” and start the process of attempting to remove him. By January 23rd thousands of people protest in favour of disputed interim President Juan Guaidó. Several people are killed, and President Maduro severs diplomatic ties with the United States. On April 30 Guaidó leads an attempted coup against Maduro which is met by failure. Whilst Guaidó is recognised as interim president by 57 countries by support for him has dropped from 61% to 42% as of November.
January 28: The U.S. Justice Department charges Chinese tech firm Huawei with multiple counts of fraud, raising U.S., China tensions. The subsequent US blacklist of Huawei leads to American pressure on the British Government to not to involve Huawei in Britain’s 5G telecommunications networks.
February 1: U.S. President Donald Trump confirms that the U.S. will leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, citing Russian non-compliance. The next day, Russia follows suit with suspension of its obligations to the treaty.
February 27–28: The 2019 North Korea/United States summit is held in Hanoi, Vietnam. It is the second summit between United States President Donald Trump and the North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un. The talks stall and the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo reports that North Korea executed nuclear envoy Kim Hyok-chol and four other diplomats in March after the failure. The newspaper also reports that Kim Yong-chol, a top aide to Kim Jong-un, was sentenced to hard labour during the purge.
March 15: 51 people are killed and 50 others injured in terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand: Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre, both of which were the target of shootings by Australia-born Brenton Harrison Tarrant. It is the deadliest mass shooting and terrorist attack in New Zealand history and described by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”. Subsequently, Facebook announced they had disabled 1.5 million videos of the gunman’s rampage.
March 24th: A four-page summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report into U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign is published by the U.S. Attorney General William Barr. It concludes that there was no collusion with Russia, which was the basis of the investigation, but on the issue of obstruction of justice states: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
April 11: WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange is arrested after seven years in Ecuador’s embassy in London.
April 15: During Holy Week, a major fire engulfs Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, resulting in the roof and main spire collapsing.
May 6: In its first report since 2005, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warns that biodiversity loss is “accelerating”, with over a million species now threatened with extinction; the decline of the natural living world is “unprecedented” and largely a result of human actions, according to the report.
May 12: May 2019 Gulf of Oman incident: Four commercial ships, including two Saudi Aramco oil tankers, are damaged near the port of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman.The United Arab Emirates claims the incident was a “sabotage attack”, while an early United States assessment reportedly blames Iran for the attack. The incident occurs during a time of regional tensions between the U.S. and Iran, with the U.S. just weeks prior deploying strategic bombers, a carrier strike group and other military assets to the Persian Gulf following intelligence reports of an alleged plot by Iran to attack U.S. forces in the region.
June 7th: British Prime Minister Theresa May resigns as leader of the conservative party over her inability to deliver Brexit.
June 9th: Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests: Over 1 million people in Hong Kong protest against proposed legislation regarding extradition to China. It is the largest protest in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover. The situation continues to intensify, leading the Hong Kong government announcing that it will indefinitely suspend the controversial extradition bill on June 15th. Still protests continue, this time calling for the total withdrawal of the bill and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam. The stalemate continues and on September 4th Lam announces the official withdrawal of the controversial Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill 2019. Far from calming down however, October 1st sees a protestor shot in the chest with a live round of ammunition and critically injured and on the first Hong Kong government ban wearing face masks in public. By November 17th Police are use tear gas and water cannons against protesters, with no end in sight to the crisis.
July 6th: Paedophile, billionaire, potential blackmailer and alleged financier Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested on trafficking charges. Jailed at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, on July 23rd he was found unconscious in his jail cell with marks on his neck. He was placed on suicide watch, only to be taken out after six days. On August 10th he was found unresponsive in his jail cell, which was ruled an apparent suicide. Due to a variety of factors on the night of his death including the removal of his cellmate without a replacement, the falling asleep of two guards who were meant to check on him, and the malfunction of two cameras in front of his cell, there was widespread public skepticism as to his suicide and theories on whether he had actually been killed to prevent his testimony.
July 24: Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after defeating Jeremy Hunt in a leadership contest, succeeding Theresa May.
August 5th: Revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir: India revokes the part of its constitution that gives Indian-administered Kashmir special status in an unprecedented move.
August 21: Amazon rain forest wildfires: Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reports fires burning in the Amazon rainforest at a record rate, with more than 36,000 in the year to date, while smoke reaches São Paulo more than 1,700 miles (2,700 km) away.
September 10: The Parliament of the United Kingdom is prorogued amid unprecedented protests from opposition MPs, who hold up signs in the House of Commons and refuse to back the shutdown.
September 24: One of the largest and oldest travel firms, Thomas Cook, goes bankrupt as last-minute rescue negotiations fail, stranding 600,000 tourists worldwide.
October: Turkish offensive into north-eastern Syria: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey announces a military invasion of north-eastern Syria, targeting the SDF and other Kurdish militias.
October 20: Bolivian president Evo Morales defeated his nearest rival by 10%, but after multiple allegations of irregularities the Organization of American States said it had found “clear manipulations” of Bolivia’s voting system; Morales called for a new election, however the military and police called for Morales resignation on November 10, which he acceded to, before leaving the country and accepting political asylum in Mexico on November 12. Following his resignation and the resignation of other senior MAS politicians, some of whom citing fears for the safety of their families, Jeanine Áñez declared herself interim president and formed an interim government. Protests have continued, and several human right organisations expressed concerns over the excess use of force by the new government which resulted in at least 14 deaths along with several attacks on the indigenous population.
November 21: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
November 13: Public impeachment hearings against U.S. President Donald Trump begin in the House of Representatives.
December 2: Typhoon Kammuri hits the Philippines, causing the evacuation of 200,000 people, but without reports of injuries or serious damage.
December 12: United Kingdom general election, for all 650 seats in the House of Commons.