🌍 A surprise election result rocks Argentina

Plus: Is piracy getting worse in the Singapore Strait? 

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Hi there Intriguer. We missed international cat day last week (we’re so sorry) but we hope you’ll forgive us after we tell you about a CIA program to rig up cats with tiny microphones for spying; it ended up a huge failure because the felines wouldn’t obey commands.

📢 PSA: We’ll take a short break next week (21-25 August) but we’ll be back in your inboxes the week after (28 August)!

Today’s briefing is a 5 min read:

  • 🇦🇷 A political earthquake in Argentina?

  • 🏴‍☠️ Is piracy getting worse in the Singapore Strait?

  • Plus: Devastating fires in Hawaii, how the papers are covering the Quad’s military exercises, and how to make mosquito-repellent roast potatoes.

⏱️ Around the world in sixty seconds

  1. 🇨🇳 China: Authorities arrested a 52-year-old worker from a military industrial group on Friday (11 August) on suspicion he was spying for the CIA. China reformed its anti-espionage laws last month to broaden what Beijing defines as spying.

  2. 🇨🇾 Cyprus: The UN refugee agency criticised Cyprus on Friday after the island nation deported 109 Syrian asylum-seekers to Lebanon, allegedly without due process. Cyprus has defended the decision on grounds that the asylum claims were illegitimate.

  3. 🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia: Riyadh appointed its first ever ambassador to the Palestinians over the weekend, describing it as a sign of solidarity. US and Saudi officials continue to explore a deal for Saudi Arabia to recognise Israel in exchange for US defence guarantees and support for a civilian nuclear programme.

  4. 🇻🇺 Vanuatu: Prime Minister Kalsakau’s government boycotted a no-confidence vote last Thursday (August 10) as he faces criticism his signing of a security pact with Australia compromises the island nation’s “neutral” status. The vote, which reportedly had the numbers to oust Kalsakau last week, is now scheduled for this week.

  5. 🇨🇷 Costa Rica: A new cargo ferry linking Costa Rica and El Salvador opened last week (August 10). The sea route cuts travel time between the countries from up to five days down to 16 hours by bypassing Nicaragua and Honduras.

🇦🇷 Argentina | Politics

Left-leaning Sergio Massa, libertarian Javier Milei, and right-leaning Patricia Bullrich

A primary rocks Argentina’s presidential race

Argentines headed to the polls yesterday (Sunday) to pick candidates for October’s presidential election. The shock result saw firebrand third-party candidate Javier Milei trump the country’s two main parties.

Argentina’s electoral system is a little different:

  • 🧑‍🤝‍🧑 More than 20 candidates competed in yesterday’s open primary

  • 🚧 Each needed to win 1.5% of the vote to qualify for October, and

  • 📜 Voting is compulsory for most adults (even in an open primary).

Most candidates never clear the initial 1.5% bar, so the focus has centred on:

  • Patricia Bullrich (67): a former security minister from the right-leaning and pro-business opposition

  • Sergio Massa (51): the left-leaning government’s current economy minister presiding over a crisis that’s left 40% of folks in poverty, and

  • Javier Milei (52): a libertarian economist, congressman, and brash third-party figure riding a wave of major party discontent.

So what happened? With 90% of the vote counted:

  1. Milei (the wildcard) is on top with 30.5%

  2. Bullrich’s pro-business opposition bloc got 28% combined, and

  3. Voters delivered a rebuke to Massa’s ruling Peronists, who won 27%.

Intrigue's take: We’ve been tracking Milei for a while now: he’s performed well in polling, has electrified parts of Argentina’s weary electorate, and has injected unorthodox policies (plus tremendous sideburns) into the race.

But most only expected him to win 20-25% of the vote. So with a thumping win and unusual platform (‘dollarizing’ the economy, abolishing entire ministries), we may now see spooked investors sell Argentine assets globally.

Then as the general election approaches in October, there’ll be pressure on Milei to paint a clearer picture of how he’ll address Argentina’s problems if he wins. Given the sheer scale of those problems (116% inflation, negative reserves, a likely recession), there are no easy fixes.

Also worth noting:

  • Turnout was relatively low for Argentina (below 70%).

  • The race has largely focused on domestic rather than foreign policy.

  • Current President Alberto Fernández opted not to seek re-election.

  • Argentina has one of the world’s highest cryptocurrency adoption rates, as savers seek to hedge against inflation and devaluation.

📰 How newspapers covered…

This weekend’s joint naval exercises between India, Japan, the United States and Australia

Tokyo, Japan

“India, Japan, U.S., Australia hold first Malabar naval exercise off Australia”

New York, US

“Malabar exercise brings India to the Pacific – along with Aussie F-35s, P-8s”

Beijing, China

“Quad collective maritime defense an illusion in the 21st century”

Today’s newsletter is supported by: atlas.co

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🏴‍☠️ Singapore | Defence & security

Is piracy rising in the Singapore Strait?

Three cargo ships were robbed in the Singapore Strait last week, according to a regional security body. The Strait is a prime target for two reasons:

  1. Proximity to land: It’s just 5km wide at its narrowest point, making it easy for pirates to disappear after an attack, and

  2. Traffic: The Strait is one of the busiest waterways on Earth, with more than 100,000 ships passing through annually.

Numerically, piracy seems to be getting worse there, with 38 incidents in the first half of this year, compared to 27 for the same period last year.

But qualitatively, the situation looks a bit more stable: most pirates have been unarmed, 95% didn’t harm the crew, and nearly half left empty-handed.

Intrigue’s take: So… what’s going on?

It seems this is less about hardened pirates, and more about locals in Malaysia and Indonesia struggling to make ends meet. Their economies are still in recovery mode, fishing hauls are down, and so random items from passing ships offer a way to earn some cash on the black market.

Also worth noting:

  • Most incidents in the Singapore Strait this year have happened between 10pm and 5am, and during a darker moon phase.

  • From the 38 incidents during the first half of this year, authorities have made one arrest.

Extra Intrigue

Your weekly roundup of the world’s more surprising headlines.

🗳️ Poll time!

If you had to choose an historical figure to lead your country today, who would it be and why?

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📸 Photo of the day

The town of Lahaina in Western Maui was destroyed by wildfires last week. Credits: Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images

Wildfires ripped through the Hawaiian island of Maui last week, killing at least 93 people and destroying the historic town of Lahaina. Fast-moving winds and dry weather contributed to the spread of the deadliest blazes in modern US history.

Thursday’s poll: What do you think is the most pressing policy to protect the Amazon?

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🌳 Replant native trees (9%)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🔫 Drive out criminal organisations (illegal mining, logging etc) (56%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Empower indigenous communities (10%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🛢️ Ban new oil and mineral operations (8%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🌎 More global efforts to curb end demand (14%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (4%)

Your two cents:

  •  E: “One word: jobs. Illegal deforestation is simply because people don't have better employment opportunities.”

  • ✍️ K.M: “Protect the existing forested areas - it's so much more efficient and effective to protect existing trees than to try and replant new ones. But that means addressing the underlying drivers of deforestation (several of which are listed above).”

  • ✍️ D.T: “This is the classic 'wicked problem'. It's an all of the above type situation and also a global tragedy of the commons problem that would require a global solution […]”

✍️ Corrections corner

Following Friday’s piece on the assassination of Fernando Villavicencio, our sincere thanks to Diego for pointing out that Abdón Calderón Muñoz was an earlier presidential candidate assassinated in Ecuador back in 1978.

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