The World Today for April 27, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Milk and Walls

It’s no exaggeration to say that relations between the US and Mexico have reached new low since November.

On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray floated the idea of an entry fee for Americans – a clear riposte to President Donald Trump’s call for a wall on the border. Videgaray a day before had called the wall “unfriendly” and “a hostile act.”

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto also continues to stress that Mexico will not pay for the wall’s construction, which some estimates say will exceed $21 billion.

Meanwhile, in the US, disagreements over the White House’s wall plans nearly brought about a government shutdown.

Interestingly, the new US administration seems to be having the opposite effect on Mexico’s relations with its other neighbors.

In fact, the wall might be pushing the countries of Latin America toward a new era of cooperation with one another.

Peña Nieto expressed high praise for his Central American counterparts last month at a conference in Costa Rica’s capital of San Jose.

Peña Nieto thanked them for “displays of solidarity and trust they have shown Mexico” while the country reassesses its relations with the US – still its most valuable trading partner by far.

Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis echoed Peña Nieto’s remarks. He noted that cooperation was essential if Mexico and the region are to address their many challenges, like migration and organized crime.

Violence in Mexico, for example, has recently reached highs not seen since 2011, when the country was in the midst of a gruesome cartel war. Honduras and others in the region have also grappled with widespread violence.

That’s not the only way the region appears to be coalescing.

Upcoming elections in Mexico, for example, could also see the country embark on a left-wing populist path à la Venezuela.

Polls for Mexico’s presidential elections in 2018 currently place populist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on par with established parties like Peña Nieto’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, noted Stratfor.

If elected, Lopez Obrador – an outspoken critic of both the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and neoliberalism – would be Mexico’s most left-wing president in decades.

He’s in the running largely because of the tide of anti-American sentiments in the country, the Nation added.

Mexico is already considering buying less milk from the US and more from New Zealand and Europe as its relations with the US deteriorate, Bloomberg reported.

That move could be mild compared to what Lopez Obrador has in mind: from curbing the free market in Mexico to upending security relationships with Washington – hardly goals the wall is supposed to achieve.

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 WANT TO KNOW

 You Quit? Not So Fast

Venezuela said Wednesday it will withdraw from the pro-democracy Organization of American States, which has been criticizing President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to undermine the separation of powers in Venezuela to seize more control for himself.

The New York Times quoted Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez as saying the beleaguered president had instructed her to sever Venezuela’s ties with the OAS because of its “intrusive, arbitrary, illegal, deviant and crude actions.”

The move comes as the government is struggling against massive street protests demanding new presidential elections, following Maduro’s failed effort to dissolve the opposition-controlled legislature. At least 26 people have died in these street actions, according to human rights groups.

Earlier, the OAS had warned that Venezuela’s membership might be suspended due to Maduro’s efforts to curb the country’s democratic institutions. On Wednesday, a spokesman for OAS chief Luis Almagro said under OAS rules Venezuela would have to wait two years and pay a debt of $8.7 million to withdraw.

Elsewhere, Paraguay’s Congress voted overwhelmingly to reject a constitutional amendment that would have allowed its president to seek a second term.

No Umbrella Group Here

There’s no regional pro-democracy group to criticize China’s moves to curtail democracy in Hong Kong, where police on Thursday arrested at least nine democracy activists in connection with anti-government protests last year.

The arrests came a day after prosecutors filed formal charges against disqualified legislators Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching in connection with their attempt to use their swearing-in ceremony last year as a platform to make statements in favor of independence from China, the Guardian reported.

Those arrested Thursday included Umbrella Movement pro-democracy activists Derek Lam and Ivan Lam of the Demosisto party, as well as the chairman and two members of the League of Social Democrats, two members of the Student Fight for Democracy group and the former chair of the Lingnan University student union.

Local experts and politicians speculated that the arrests may have come as part of a cleanup effort ahead of an expected visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in July or an attempt by outgoing chief executive Leung Chun-ying to ensure he remains influential beyond his term.

Credit and Responsibility

An Israeli air strike is likely behind the explosion on Thursday of an arms depot operated by the Lebanese Hezbollah group near Damascus airport in Syria – though Israel has yet to claim credit for the attack.

Al Jazeera cited local witnesses as saying that five strikes hit targets near the Damascus airport road about 15 miles from the capital early on Thursday.

Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV echoed the claim by Al Jazeera’s sources in Syria that the strikes were most likely launched by Israel. Israel has targeted sites in Syria on numerous occasions in the past to try to stop weapons shipments intended for Hezbollah.

“I can confirm that the incident in Syria corresponds completely with Israel’s policy to act to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah,” Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told Israeli Army Radio – though he declined to confirm responsibility for the strikes.

DISCOVERIES

Achilles’ Fakes

Freelancers have a new weapon to cajole delinquent clients into making timely payments.

For a small fee of $3, freelancers can pay to have a fake law firm mail their clients a warning letter threatening legal action if they don’t get paid.

The service, called “Williams&Harricks,” doesn’t actually enforce payment, Quartz reported. But co-founder Leif Abraham thinks that a threat issued by a third party sends a strong enough message.

“But there is an idea that there is a brand separate from you as a freelancer, that the letter you are sending is coming from a third party, so it doesn’t damage your relationship with the client,” said Abraham.

“Williams&Harricks” lets freelancers choose the tone of the letter, from a “friendly reminder” to a “breach of contract.” It also notifies freelancers when the letter has been delivered.

In an increasingly gig-based economy where many freelancers have to worry about being stiffed, “Williams&Harricks” gets points for innovation.

Of course, now the cat is out of the bag.

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