The World Today for May 17, 2017


No to Silence

Mexican journalists demonstrated on Tuesday to remember the life and protest the murder of Javier Valdez, a crusading reporter and author who was pulled out of his car and shot 12 times on Monday in Sinaloa.

The journalists wrote “No to silence” on the main thoroughfare of Mexico City, an allusion to a phrase Valdez, 50, used to express his refusal to stop exposing the power of drug cartels in his country even after the gangs had issued numerous death threats against him over the years.

“I’ve had phone calls telling me to stop investigating certain murders or drug bosses,” Valdez said last month, according to the BBC. “I’ve had to suppress important information because they could have my family killed if I mention it.”

NBC reported that Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto called Javier’s assassination an outrageous crime. “I reiterate our commitment to freedom of expression and the press, fundamental for our democracy,” Pena Nieto tweeted.

But those words were in stark contrast to Valdez’s perspective before he died.

“The government couldn’t care less,” he said last month. “They do nothing to protect you. There have been many cases and this keeps happening.”

Mexico is the deadliest place in the world for reporters, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At least 40 have been killed since 1992 in retaliation for their work. Another 50 have died for unconfirmed reasons.

In March, gunmen killed one of Valdez’s colleagues, shooting her eight times in front of one of her children. They left a note: “For being a loudmouth.”

Last week, under pressure to confront the problem, Mexican authorities created a new prosecutor’s office to investigate crimes against freedom of expression and the media.

But appointing a new prosecutor is arguably like playing game of whack-a-mole when it comes to Mexico and public safety. Corruption is rife. Cartel money is ample. The rule of law is weak.

“As Mexico combats fears about rising crime, a soldier is caught on tape carrying out an execution,” read a headline in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month.

The Times noted that nearly 20,800 homicides were committed last year in the country, the most since 2012. The first two months of 2017 were the most violent since officials started tallying killings 20 years ago.

In regions where the government is fighting the drug trade aggressively, smaller gangs often elude capture, especially in impoverished villages in Guerrero where growing poppies to satisfy the growing demand for opioids in the United States is a lucrative profession.

“Bodies are discovered almost daily across the state, tossed by roads, some buried in mass graves,” wrote Reuters.

Valdez’s death was a tragedy. But journalists aren’t the only ones suffering.


Smoke without Fire

Syria denied US allegations that it carried out mass executions of prisoners and burned the bodies to cover up the scale of the killings.

Calling the claims “lies” and “fabrications” worthy of Hollywood, Syria’s foreign ministry accused Washington of concocting the story to justify the US intervention in the war-torn country, the Associated Press reported.

The State Department said Monday that Syrian authorities hang about 50 detainees per day at the Saydnaya military prison, a 45-minute drive north of Damascus. The Syrian foreign ministry called those claims “categorically false” – like the “broken record” accusations that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has dropped barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods and used banned chemical weapons.

Humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International had previously leveled similar accusations, but the State Department bolstered their claims with satellite photos that show construction consistent with a crematorium outside the prison.

The disputed claims come as US President Donald Trump is weighing America’s options in Syria and UN-sponsored peace talks predicated on the ouster of Assad lose ground to Russia-led negotiations that would allow him to hold onto power.

Persona Non Grata

US President Donald Trump may meet another international pariah before he gets the chance to make small talk with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir – who stands accused of genocide and other war crimes by the International Criminal Court – has been invited to a summit in Saudi Arabia alongside the US president, the New York Times reported.

The White House has yet to comment on the invitation, or what Trump’s reaction to it might be. In the past, the US has ostracized leaders who defy arrest warrants from the ICC, even though the US doesn’t recognize the authority of the court over its own citizens.

Indicted in 2009 and 2010 on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, Bashir has come to symbolize the ICC’s inability to bring rogue leaders to justice. So activists say any interaction between him and Trump “would send a terrible signal.”

Null and Void

Close on the heels of the impeachment and ouster of former President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil is now mulling whether to annul the 2014 election that brought her to power – in a case that could also unseat replacement President Michel Temer.

The head of the country’s top electoral court said Tuesday it would reopen the case on June 6, and potentially come to a verdict within the next year, according to Reuters. An annulment of the results would invalidate Temer’s election as vice president. However, Justice Gilmar Mendes said Temer might not necessarily be forced to step down, because he was not the head of the ticket.

Prosecutors allege that Rousseff’s Workers Party received millions in illegal campaign donations in association with the Petrobras bribery scandal. Executives from the Odebrecht construction group have also testified that they made 300 million reals ($97 million) in illegal donations to the campaign.

Ousted in connection to unrelated manipulation of government accounts to show her government in a better light, Rousseff has denied taking the illegal funds.


An Elusive Find

Sightings of the Albany adder – a small, venomous snake native to South Africa – are incredibly rare.

In fact, the elusive reptile – recognizable by its pointy eyebrows and brightly patterned body – hasn’t been spotted in nearly a decade, leaving many scientists to write off the poisonous creature as extinct, wrote National Geographic.

That’s why a team of reptile experts say they’ve found the discovery of a lifetime: four live and healthy Albany adders.

After a weeklong expedition overturning rocks and peering into bushes last November to find the long-lost snake, the team of herpetologists spotted a six-inch-long female adder crossing a road.

So far, scientists have kept secret the precise location where they found the adders to protect them from poachers and other intruders.

The species has never been observed on the black market, noted National Geographic. But given already existing threats – from urbanization-induced habitat loss to traffic accidents – better safe than sorry, it seems.

Check out some pictures of the Albany adder here.

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