August 24, 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Gunboat Justice

Relations between the United States and Latin America have been rocky for years.

Lately, however, they’ve taken a legalistic turn that while nonviolent, has continued the centuries-old trend of Americans prevailing against their neighbors to the south with an unsurprising backlash as a result.

Recently, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan blocked an Ecuadoran court’s $8.65 billion judgment against Chevron for polluting a remote region of the Amazonian rainforest in the country’s northeast between 1972 and 1990.

Chevron doesn’t dispute the allegations brought by 30,000 plaintiffs who claim their livestock and fields are tainted.

But, in addition to other arguments that relieved the oil company of liability, Chevron’s lawyers argued in federal court that an American lawyer for the villagers bribed the Ecuadoran judge and ghostwrote an environmental report that was key to the case.

US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said the justness of the Ecuadorans’ case was beside the point, the Associated Press reported. The letter of the law is what matters, he ruled.

“There is no ‘Robin Hood’ defense to illegal and wrongful conduct. And the defendants’ ‘this is the way it is done in Ecuador’ excuses – actually a remarkable insult to the people of Ecuador – do not help them,” Kaplan wrote in his decision.

Deepak Gupta, a lawyer who defended the American attorney accused of misconduct, was nonplussed.

“Never before has a US court allowed someone who lost a case in another country to come to the US to attack a foreign court’s damages award,” Gupta told the Associated Press. “The decision hands well-heeled corporations a template for avoiding legal accountability anywhere in the world. And it throws the entire international judgment enforcement framework out the window.”

No two trials are the same. But the Ecuadoran case contains shades of how American courts effectively blocked Argentina from accessing international credit markets until earlier this year, when the country finally settled with a group of investors who were holding out for bigger returns on debt that the country refused to pay 15 years ago.

Fortune described the case as “the legal equivalent of putting Argentina at the mercy of gunboat diplomacy” – referring to the practice, common during the age of imperialism, of dispatching militaries to enforce financial claims.

But, as every litigious American knows, a loss in court doesn’t necessarily spell the end of litigation.

In the court of public opinion, Ecuador has succeeded in sticking its thumb in the eye of the US by sheltering WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in its London embassy for four years despite pressure from the American, British and other governments to extradite him to Sweden to face questioning in a rape case. WikiLeaks routinely releases batches of emails and other correspondence to the embarrassment of American officials, like the latest exposure of the Democratic National Committee’s bias against ex-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

In a more concrete move, Ecuador is also suing Chevron in Argentina, Brazil and Canada in a bid to seize the company’s assets in those countries. One might assume an Argentine judge will be more open to punishing the American company.

WANT TO KNOW

Mysterious Wounds

Several Boko Haram commanders – and possibly the leader of the Nigerian-based Islamist insurgency, Abubakar Shekau – have been killed in an air strike, the Nigerian air force announced Tuesday.

The strike launched Friday targeted members of the terrorist organization in a village in the Sambisa forest, Boko Haram’s principal hideout for the past few years and the alleged location of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls, said an army spokesperson.

The spokesperson added that Shekau – who has been locked in a power struggle within Boko Haram since Islamic State announced the appointment of a new leader for the Nigerian insurgency – was believed to have been “fatally wounded” in the assault without providing further details.

The announcement of the strike comes as US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria to reaffirm US support of the Nigerian government’s fight against the extremists – although Kerry did not mention Shekau or the other supposedly killed commanders in his speech.

Pushing Back

Turkey launched a series of air strikes on Islamic State-held territory in neighboring Syria on Tuesday in retaliation for allegedly bombing a wedding ceremony last weekend, killing 54 people.

Turkish officials are holding Islamic State responsible for the bombing in Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey, although the militant group has not yet formally claimed credit for the attack on a wedding ceremony involving two Kurdish families.

The bombing in Gaziantep has further fueled concerns in Turkey over domestic security following last month’s failed military coup and a series of deadly terror attacks over the past year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Turkish government is simultaneously carrying out a military purge as a result of the coup amid these attacks while attempting to root out Islamic State from its positions near the Syria-Turkish border.

Parties and Raids

Pakistani paramilitary troops sealed off the headquarters of a prominent political party, the Muttahida Aqumi Movement (MQM), in Karachi Tuesday, a day after supporters of the party stormed the offices of a television channel and clashed with police, killing one person.

A number of local leaders and lawmakers from MQM were also arrested by paramilitary forces, known locally in Karachi as the Rangers, said officials.

Supporters of MQM, the secular political party of ethnic Mohajirs who fled to Pakistan from India during the 1947 partition, and which has long dominated local politics in the port city, frequently clash with police forces and political rivals.

MQM supporters raided three television stations Monday after the leader of MQM, Altaf Hussain, who lives in the UK in self-imposed exile, delivered a speech against the Pakistani government from his London home.

Other leaders from MQM sought to distance themselves from Hussain’s comments and the station raids, just as Karachi is set to swear in an imprisoned MQM leader, Waseem Akhtar, as mayor Wednesday.

DISCOVERIES

Mighty Adonis

With roots stretching back to antiquity, Greece has seen more than its share of Europe’s revolutions and empires.

And one observer in particular has witnessed over a millennium of European history: a little Bosnian pine tree in northern Greece, which has been named the oldest known tree living in Europe by scientists.

Dendrochronologists – scientists who date past events by studying tree rings – have calculated the age of this ancient pine, nicknamed “Adonis” by researchers, to be at least 1,075 years old.

“The tree we have stumbled across is a unique individual,” said Stockholm University graduate student Paul J. Krusic, who was part of the team that counted Adonis’s rings, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

“It cannot rely on a mother plant, or the ability to split or clone itself, to survive.”

The tiny Adonis creates one new trunk ring each year, making it relatively easy for scientists to determine its age until a certain point: Adonis’ trunk had more rings than scientists could count, meaning that the tiny pine is even older than 1,075 years, said Krusic.

Given its location in the cradle of western civilization – human settlements are only a few miles away from the site in the highlands of northern Greece – it’s a wonder that Adonis was left undisturbed by neighbors.

“So many things could have let to its demise,” said Krusic. “Fortunately, this forest has been basically untouched for over a thousand years.”