The World Today for August 02, 2016


A Spectacle of Catastrophe?

Rattled by impeachment and corruption scandals, a vicious recession and a public health emergency thanks to the Zika virus, Brazil would have had a memorable 2016 regardless of what’s coming next.

Yet those crises will take a back seat to the Summer Olympics when athletes from around the world finally descend on Rio de Janeiro Friday.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has claimed that his city is ready and that Brazil’s dismal economy won’t impact the games.

But in the final weeks leading up to Friday’s opening ceremony, a number of less-than-encouraging signs have suggested that Rio might not be as prepared as it would like.

A sudden rise in police killings in Rio this year has local residents in an uproar. Others note that local criminals continue to operate with impunity, calling attention to the severed body parts found washed up along the city’s famous beaches.

Corpses aren’t the only issue plaguing Rio’s coastline, either: The waters of Guanabara Bay are reportedly so contaminated that athletes who participated in test events there last year have fallen ill or been diagnosed with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterial infection.

Attempts to clean up the bay have only unleashed more scandals, including the still unsolved murder of Priscila de Goes Pereira, a 38-year-old government official who worked for the quasi-governmental agency managing the cleanup, known as the Bay of Guanabara Environmental Sanitation Program (PSAM).

Pereira may have been killed as a result of her taking a stance against corruption at PSAM, and a 10-month investigation into her death has still not produced a suspect, reported Bloomberg.

Delays have also beset preparations for the games. Some estimates even posit that the Rio Olympics are running 50 percent over budget, according to the Financial Times.

Rio’s chief inspector of labor conditions accused Olympic organizers of putting deadlines over workers’ safety after nearly a dozen construction workers died scrambling to complete these projects under increasingly tight time constraints.

Even local officials have expressed concern: The acting governor of Rio said last month that the games could prove to be a “big failure” thanks to the state of Rio’s own disastrous finances.

While it’s debatable whether Brazilian officials should shoulder all of the blame themselves – allegations of corruption dog the International Olympic Committee – the unfortunate truth is Brazil alone will shoulder these costs, both financial and otherwise, long after the Olympic torch has passed on.

The bad publicity resulting from the spotlight shown on Rio during the Games could even impact tourism in Brazil, say some pundits, even though more tourism was a major argument for hosting the games in the first place.


Is the Party Over?

Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) has won more than 60 percent of the vote in every election held in South Africa in the 22 years since the end of apartheid. But the storied political party faces likely defeat in several key municipal polls Wednesday, suggesting that the dismal performance of President Jacob Zuma may have done irreparable damage.

The ruling party could lose control of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth, and its share of the overall vote will probably slip to 54 percent from the 62 percent it won in national elections two years ago, Bloomberg reports.

Such a loss would likely add momentum to calls for Zuma to resign. With a dismal approval rate of just 21 percent, he’s already sparked outrage among voters for upgrading his private home with taxpayers’ money – then refusing to repay it. In March, South Africa’s top court ruled that treating the treasury like his renovation fund was a violation of the constitution.

A Requested Fight

American warplanes began bombing Libya, targeting camps run by the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the city of Sirte.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Monday that the US launched the strikes at the request of the Libyan Government of National Accord, known as the GNA. He added that the military action “does not have an end point at this particular moment in time,” according to NPR.

So far, American fighters have destroyed a tank and two IS vehicles the Pentagon says posed a threat to Libyan fighters trying to retake the city.

The militant group, battered in Syria and Iraq, has made Libya a prime location for a new caliphate, according to USA Today.

Never Too Late

When it comes to apologies, governments are notorious for hedging. But some are giving full credit to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen for telling it like it is.

On Monday, she expressed her “deepest apologies” to the country’s 30,000 indigenous Austronesian people for the government’s role in decades of racial discrimination, appropriation of native land and forced cultural assimilation, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The full mea culpa stretched to 4,000 words. But it was notable for not pulling any punches –

There were no vague “regrets” here.

Like the indigenous peoples of the United States and Australia, the first inhabitants of Taiwan were forced to relocate and abandon their languages and customs when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government fled to Taiwan from China in the 1940s. The destruction of their way of life led to a cycle of poverty and a loss of dignity with far-reaching effects.

Though earlier presidents had increased funding and social programs for the indigenous Taiwanese, they are still fighting for greater protections for their 14 surviving languages and a return of some of their ancestral lands.


Girl, Happy

A year ago, at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, 14-year-old Palestinian Reem Sahwil attended a town hall meeting in Rostock, Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The meeting was to be broadcast nationwide. Sahwil was a Palestinian living in the country on a temporary residence permit.

“It’s truly painful to watch other people enjoy life, if you yourself can’t do so,” Sahwil told Merkel on live television, describing the hardships of being a refugee. “I don’t know what my future will look like.”

The chancellor’s response was honest but tone-deaf: Germany couldn’t accept all the refugees who wanted to live in the country, she said.

Sahwil started to cry. The Iron Chancellor looked like a heartless ogre. Some Germans welcomed Merkel’s frankness. But heartless ogre is, um, bad optics for a politician.

Now, however, Sahwil is doing great, reported the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung recently. She’s received permanent residency through 2017 and otherwise has adjusted well to life in Germany. Recently, she met Merkel in private, too, and said there were no hard feelings.

“For me, Reem Sahwil is the personification of successful integration,” said Rostock Mayor Roland Merhling.

Sahwil still needs to jump through bureaucratic hoops to become a permanent resident of Germany, but now she has the time – and, via her notoriety, the leverage, one might argue – to do so.

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