Mexican cartel violence, Notre Dame up in flames and Justin Trudeau blackface scandal: World in review 2019

From attempts to topple a Latin American socialist leader to the destruction of one of the world’s most visited cathedrals to the massive months-long protests ongoing in Hong Kong, here are some of the events from around the world that captured headlines this year. So much happened with the ongoing Brexit saga and the rise and fall of ISIS, that they required their own end-of-year reviews.

Political turmoil in Venezuela

The South American country of Venezuela was thrust into political turmoil in January when Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition-held National Assembly, proclaimed himself interim president of Venezuela in an attempt to overthrow socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.

The United States and dozens of other nations were quick to throw their support behind the charismatic 36-year-old Guaido, who promised fresh presidential elections and a government of the people. He seemed different from the string of past opposition leaders who had challenged Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, over 20 years of increasingly authoritarian socialist rule.

However, despite months of violent marches and a 10 percent approval rate, Maduro’s firm grip on Venezuela has proven more resilient than expected. The military stayed loyal and people are no longer answering the opposition leader’s call to protest.

The Trump administration has continued to pile economic and travel sanctions onto members of Maduro’s inner circle, but so far with little effect.

Still, Guaido insists his domestic and international support will only grow. The National Assembly must decide next month whether to extend Guaido’s tenure as its leader.

Mosque shooting brings New Zealand together

Two consecutive terrorist shootings in mosques during Friday prayer rocked Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put it.

The gunman, later identified as 28-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, opened fire at the Al Noor Mosque in Riccarton and began shooting worshipers. Between 300 and 500 people were believed to have been inside the mosque at the time of the shooting. He spent about six minutes at the mosque before driving away – passing police vehicles responding to the shooting at Al Noor – en route to the Linwood Islamic Centre.

At the center, about 3 miles east from the mosque, the gunman, who livestreamed the first 17 minutes of the attack on Facebook, was unable to find the entrance and began shooting people outside and through a window. He was arrested 21 minutes after the first emergency call.

In this Saturday, March 16, 2019 photo, Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the Christchurch mosque shootings, appears in the Christchurch District Court, in Christchurch, New Zealand.

In this Saturday, March 16, 2019 photo, Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the Christchurch mosque shootings, appears in the Christchurch District Court, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (AP)

The two attacks killed 51 people and injured 40. Tarrant pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 attempted murders, and engaging in a terrorist attack. His trial is expected to start in June 2020.

In light of the attack, a ban on military-style weapons was strongly backed by lawmakers in a historic 119-1 vote after the attacks. More than 50,000 guns were handed in as part of a six-month buyback program. Police figures indicate the government paid out more than $66 million to compensate owners during the buyback.

Notre Dame Cathedral burns

A fire broke out beneath the roof of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on April 15. Thick black smoke rising from the roof quickly turned to flames shooting out of the spire.

More than 400 firefighters engaged the structure, while another 100 people quickly formed a human chain to move precious objects to safety. The spire of the cathedral collapsed roughly two hours after the blaze began. The fire spread to the wooden framework inside the north tower, which supported eight very large bells. Had the bells fallen, it is thought the damage could have knocked down the towers — and with them, the entire cathedral.

The 12th-century cathedral was under renovation at the time of the fire. Some 50,000 tubes of scaffolding crisscrossed the back of the edifice, and some were damaged. An investigation by the Paris prosecutor said there was no evidence of a deliberate act. A short-circuit might have caused the fire.

In this combination of photos, flames and smoke rise as the spire on the Notre Dame Cathedral collapses during a fire in Paris, on April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Diana Ayanna)

In this combination of photos, flames and smoke rise as the spire on the Notre Dame Cathedral collapses during a fire in Paris, on April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Diana Ayanna)

Restoration and reconstruction efforts remain underway, but the cathedral’s rector Monsignor Patrick Chauvet told reporters on Christmas Eve that the French landmark is so fragile that there’s a “50 percent chance” the structure might not be saved.

The scaffolding needs to be removed — without causing further damage in the cleanup efforts. Chauvet estimated that it would easily take more than three years for the cathedral to be safe enough for people to re-enter and that the full restoration will take longer.

Rubble and the cross inside the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, Wednesday May 15, 2019 in Paris. French Culture Minister Franck Riester says that one month after a fire engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral, the edifice is still being made safe enough for restoration to begin.

Rubble and the cross inside the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, Wednesday May 15, 2019 in Paris. French Culture Minister Franck Riester says that one month after a fire engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral, the edifice is still being made safe enough for restoration to begin. (Pool via AP)

An international fundraising campaign has raised more than $1 billion in pledged donations. French President Emmanuel Macron has said he wants it rebuilt by 2024, when Paris will host the Olympics, but experts have said the time frame is unrealistic.

American tourists’ deaths in the Dominican Republic

The weeks leading up to summer saw the deaths of American tourists in the Dominican Republic claiming the headlines of news outlets around the world.

The Caribbean island’s safety came under scrutiny first when Tammy Lawrence-Daley of Delaware claimed she was assaulted by a hotel employee at the all-inclusive luxury resort Majestic Elegance in Punta Cana. Her claims were amplified as news came of the deaths of at least nine American tourists in various hotels from oddly similar circumstances – including one couple who died together inside their hotel room.

Autopsy results from Dominican authorities showed that all nine died of natural causes and the FBI provided technical assistance to authorities with toxicology reports for the Maryland couple who died at the Grand Bahia Principe La Romana.

Francisco Javier Garcia, the minister of tourism for the Dominican Republic, defended the island’s reputation and stressed its safety. He told Fox News in June that claims of so-called “mysterious” deaths were untrue and that the island had nothing to hide. At an event in September, Garcia touted the new safety measures put in place after the public relations nightmare erupted.

The U.S. State Department has discounted the idea of a surge of tourists' deaths, saying it had not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizens who died on the island.

Local government data shows that the Caribbean island welcomes more than 6.5 million overnight visitors from around the world in 2018.

Canadian prime minister’s blackface controversy

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was engulfed in controversy in September after images emerged over 24 hours showing him wearing blackface on three different occasions.

The first image, from a West Point Grey Academy school yearbook, showed the now 48-year-old Trudeau wearing dark makeup and a turban at an “Arabian Nights” party in 2001. The image was taken when Trudeau worked at a teacher and had not entered politics. After it was published, Trudeau said it was a “dumb thing to do.”

“It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do,” he said.

Hours later, another photo showed Trudeau wearing an afro wig and singing the Jamaican song “Day-O” during a talent show in the early 1990s at Jean Brebeuf High School. Trudeau admitted to wearing dark makeup in that photo as well.

However, a video obtained by Global News hours later showed Trudeau again covered in dark makeup with his hands in the air laughing, sticking out his tongue and making faces. His arms and legs were also covered in the makeup.

At the time, Trudeau blamed his privileged upbringing and that he had a “massive blindspot” when it came to racism.

“I should have understood that then, and I never should have done it,” he said.

The scandal did affect Trudeau’s poll numbers leading up to the 2019 elections in October: while his Liberal Party won the most seats, it lost 20 seats in the House of Commons. Nevertheless, it was enough to allow Trudeau to form a minority government and remain on for a second term.

Mexican cartel violence leads to American deaths

Violence at the hands of Mexico’s drug cartels surged in 2019 with several high-profile attacks highlighting the country’s rising murder rate and stroking the fears of citizens and travelers alike.

In February, a Mexican businesswoman was snatched by sicarios while picking up her child at a friend’s home. Her body was later found decapitated inside a black bag. The tragic death of Susana Carrera was just one of the dozens of kidnappings and murders reported in the first two months of the year.

The number of murders continued to surge and, in the first six months of 2019, Mexico saw a record number of killings with an average of 94 each day, local media reported.

However, it was the brazen daytime attacks by drug cartel gunmen that captured headlines across the country and the world.

In August, 19 bodies were found hanged and butchered in Michoacan, which police said was part of a gang turf war.

A charred truck that belongs to Michoacan state police sits on the side of the road after it was burned during an attack, as state police drive past in El Aguaje, Mexico, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. At least 13 police officers were killed and three others injured Monday in the ambush. (AP Photo/Armando Solis)

A charred truck that belongs to Michoacan state police sits on the side of the road after it was burned during an attack, as state police drive past in El Aguaje, Mexico, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. At least 13 police officers were killed and three others injured Monday in the ambush. (AP Photo/Armando Solis)

Just over two months later, 13 Mexican police officers were murdered by suspected cartel gunmen in a bloody ambush. This was followed by an embarrassing botched attempted capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s son, that saw eight people killed and more than 20 wounded after an intense gunfight.

However, it was the brutal ambush and murder of nine Americans – including six children – while traveling on via convoy in the northern state of Sonora in early November that shocked the world.

A burning bus, set alight by cartel gunmen to block a road, is pictured during clashes with federal forces following the detention of Ovidio Guzman, son of drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, Mexico October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jesus Bustamante - 

A burning bus, set alight by cartel gunmen to block a road, is pictured during clashes with federal forces following the detention of Ovidio Guzman, son of drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, Mexico October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jesus Bustamante - 

After the attack, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended his government’s position of “hugs, not bullets” when dealing with the violent actions of drug cartel gunmen.

In November, it was revealed that the homicide count in Mexico was on pace to reach its highest overall annual total. The new statistics, released by Mexico's Secretary General of National Public Safety, showed that there had been more than 29,414 homicides — up from 28,869 over the same period last year. Nearly 100 people were killed each day in Mexico.

Weeks after the attack, President Trump designated Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.

Violent demonstrations paralyzed cities — and countries

This year also saw people around the world flow onto the streets demanding greater rights, freedoms and change of power.

From Hong Kong to Iran, France and Chile, residents hit the streets for months in a row, paralyzing major cities, upending their economies and radicalizing legions of youths.

In French cities, the hundreds of so-called “Yellow Vest” protesters marched through the streets, demanding economic reforms from President Emmanuel Macron’s government. Week after week, frustrated demonstrators – some dressed in all black and covering their faces – clashed with police in violent encounters that wreaked havoc in cities across the country. Most recently, a general strike aimed at Macron’s plans to overhaul the country’s pension system shut down subways, trains and some of France’s most popular tourist destinations.

Hong Kong saw similar lengthy protests after a proposed extradition bill that would have included allowing prisoners to be sent to mainland China sparked widespread fears. The pro-democracy protests paralyzed the semi-autonomous Chinese city in June and they have barely calmed down since. Hong Kong officials proceeded with the bill for several months until it was officially withdrawn on Oct. 24.

However, the protests demanding greater democratic rights in Hong Kong show no sign of dissipating, following an overwhelming victory by anti-establishment candidates in elections for district representatives earlier in December.

In Latin America, Chile and Bolivia saw several weeks of violent clashes between police and protesters who were demanding a better quality of life and a change of power.

Chileans took to the streets, triggered by a government proposal to increase subway fares, and eventually encompassed grievances about pensions, education, health care, and other issues. The protests shook a nation noted for economic stability over the past decades, which has seen steadily declining poverty despite persistent high rates of inequality.

Men dressed as clowns, one dressed as the movie character “The Joker” flying a Mapuche indigenous flag, are sprayed by a police water cannon during an anti-government protest in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. Chile has been facing weeks of unrest, triggered by a relatively minor increase in subway fares. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Men dressed as clowns, one dressed as the movie character “The Joker” flying a Mapuche indigenous flag, are sprayed by a police water cannon during an anti-government protest in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. Chile has been facing weeks of unrest, triggered by a relatively minor increase in subway fares. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Protesters demanded better salaries and pensions, and more equal distribution of wealth. Since the protests began in October, at least 27 people have been killed.

Meanwhile, in Bolivia, demonstrations there were triggered after then-President Evo Morales proclaimed himself the winner of October’s presidential elections despite credible claims of electoral fraud. More than 32 people were killed in the clashes that saw Morales resign and flee the country after the opposition set up an interim government.

Morales fled to Mexico before settling down in Argentina, where he was granted political asylum. There he vowed to continue to fight for Bolivia and would campaign for the presidential candidate of his party in the next elections; however, Bolivian prosecutors issued an arrest warrant and accused him of sedition and terrorism.

The Middle East also saw its fair share of protests this year – most notably and recently in Iran, where a brutal crackdown from government forces may have killed upwards of 1,000 protesters, according to some reports. The vast majority were killed by security forces firing tear gas and live ammunition.

The anti-government protesters have flooded the streets for nearly three months to demand the overthrow of Iraq's entire political class. The mass uprisings prompted the resignation of former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in late November. The protesters accuse the government of corruption and mismanagement and have demanded an independent prime minister candidate.

Nuclear stalemate with North Korea

The icy relationship between the United States and North Korea appeared to thaw some at the beginning of the year after an apparently successful meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

However, the ongoing talks for the North to end its nuclear program stalled to a near standstill after two meetings between the two leaders this year – in Vietnam last February and again in June when Trump became the first U.S. president to set food into North Korea at the Demilitarized Zone.

While the get-togethers made for good photo ops, they were devoid of substantive progress in getting Kim to get rid of his nuclear weapons.

Since then, North Korea has conducted a slew of short-range missile launches and other weapons tests – which were ramped up in recent months as Washington didn’t accept Kim’s end-of-year ultimatum to ease U.S.-led sanctions on the North in return for partial disbarment steps.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, stand on the North Korean side of the border in the Demilitarized Zone, Sunday, June 30, 2019 in North Korea. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, stand on the North Korean side of the border in the Demilitarized Zone, Sunday, June 30, 2019 in North Korea. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Despite little to no progress in recent months, Stephen Biegun, the top U.S. envoy to North Korea, said the window for talks with the U.S. remains open.

As the year comes to an end, officials are now monitoring closely for any signs of a possible missile or nuclear test. Pyongyang had threatened to spring a "Christmas surprise" if the U.S. failed to meet Kim’s deadline for concessions to revive stalled nuclear talks. Any test flight of an intercontinental ballistic missile or substantial nuclear test would further derail the diplomatic negotiations Trump opened with Kim in 2018.

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Fox News' Elizabeth Llorente, Stephen Sorace, Melissa Leon, Nicole Darrah, Barnini Chakraborty, Vandana Rambaran, and Andrew O'Reilly and the Associated Press contributed to this report.