The World Today for September 05, 2017



Comedians, Corruption and Rainbows

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales had a problem – namely one pesky anti-corruption official. He created a solution: Kick the nuisance out.

In doing so, he created a bigger problem. Now, he is being accused of a “vendetta” against the head of Guatemala’s International Commission against Impunity, reported Reuters.

“I think it’s fair to say this is a constitutional crisis of the gravest proportions,” Wilson Center expert Eric Olson told the New York Times. “The train is veering off the tracks, and it’s not clear who will stop it.”

The story started two years ago when Ivan Velasquez, who directs the United Nations-affiliated anti-corruption commission, helped Morales win office by probing his political opponents. But late last month the president tried to expel Velasquez from the Central American country, triggering a conflict.

That’s because Velasquez had recently called for a corruption investigation into the president. Authorities also arrested Morales’ son and brother in January on corruption charges.

People took to the streets against the expulsion. A cabinet minister quit in protest, and the foreign minister was fired for refusing to expel Velasquez. The courts issued a stop order against it. Morales rescinded. “The rule of law should always prevail,” the president wrote on Facebook.

The uprising was a welcome change that reflects new hope in the region.

“One adjective often used to describe corruption in Latin America is ‘chronic.’ Or, even worse, ‘entrenched,’” wrote the Christian Science Monitor in an editorial. “Such a fatalistic narrative, however, has been challenged in recent days by the people of Guatemala.”

Now advocates of good government are hoping the crisis ends with the Guatemalan judiciary strengthened.

“The court’s ruling must prevail and Morales must abide by it,” wrote former Guatemalan judge Claudia Escobar and National Endowment for Democracy researcher Eshe Hill in the Washington Post. “This is exactly the sort of crisis that tests the effectiveness of democratic institutions and the need for balance of power.”

The trial against brother Samuel and son Jose Manuel, meanwhile, has begun. They’re charged with tax fraud. Samuel also faces money-laundering charges. Both deny the allegations, according to ABC. The proceedings are likely to produce high drama in the coming weeks.

Morales is a former television comedian, a political outsider who promised clean government. Now his hardline tactics against Velasquez could backfire on him politically. Guatemalans have lived through decades of corrupt leaders. They know the tactics.

“You commit crimes and you blow up one of those who is investigating,” a former Morales supporter told the New York Times. “Wherever you look, this is unacceptable. Jimmy has to resign.”

It’s doubtful Morales will step down.

But his turnaround in the face of popular opposition and acknowledgement of the separation of powers might be the best precedent he will ever set in his administration.

In Guatemala, that’s a rainbow after the deluge.

[siteshare]Comedians, Corruption and Rainbows[/siteshare]



Doubling Down

Facing criticism for not punishing Volkswagen severely enough for fudging its emissions data, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to double federal funding for helping local governments fight air pollution in the lead-up to elections Sept. 24.

Seen as a climate warrior for her moves to shutter nuclear plants and promote green energy, Merkel has disappointed supporters by going soft on diesel emissions, the New York Times reported.

Along with Volkswagen, which has paid tens of billions of dollars in the United States for cheating on emissions tests, Germany automakers Daimler and BMW have been criticized for producing diesel vehicles that pollute more than rules allow.

Meanwhile, various German cities are working toward a ban on diesel engines – which would be disastrous for German carmakers that have promoted diesel as a bridge to a future of electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles.

At a meeting with the mayors of 30 German cities plagued by pollution on Monday, Merkel said she opposes “general driving bans for any kind of motor or type of car.”

[siteshare]Doubling Down[/siteshare]


Cat Got Your Tongue?

While Myanmar’s army faces accusations of ethnic cleansing, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed the world with her failure to speak out against the treatment of the Rohingya.

Some 90,000 Rohingya have flooded into Bangladesh over the past 10 days as fighting intensified in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, Agence France-Presse reported.

On Monday, fellow Nobel winner Malala Yousafzai joined various Muslim countries across the region to condemn the violence. “Over the last several years I have repeatedly condemned this tragic and shameful treatment,” Yousafzai said in a statement published on Twitter. “I am still waiting for my fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do the same.”

Ground reports from Bangladesh evoke memories of Rwanda and Bosnia. But so far the international response has been limited to criticism like that leveled by Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan Monday.

Meanwhile, last month India’s ministry of home affairs sent a letter to all state governments asking them to identify and deport all illegal immigrants – including Rohingya refugees.

[siteshare]Cat Got Your Tongue?[/siteshare]


Freshly Inked

Colombia inked a formal cease-fire agreement with its last remaining major rebel group, making further progress in the long walk toward a permanent peace deal.

Talks have been underway with the National Liberation Army, or ELN, since February, the Associated Press reported.

Under the deal, the rebels will suspend attacks on infrastructure, kidnappings and recruitment of minors. For its part the government will protect social leaders from reprisal and develop a program to rehabilitate rebel fighters.

The deal with the much smaller group comes in the lead-up to a visit to Colombia from Pope Francis, who is fulfilling a promise to visit the war-torn country contingent on a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

FARC has turned over its weapons and aims to compete in elections next year. But negotiations with ELN have been slower since exploratory talks began more than three years ago.

[siteshare]Freshly Inked[/siteshare]


Going Out with Flare

Just about anything nowadays can be personalized: cellphone cases, cars, screensavers – you name it.

But a group of people in New Zealand is taking personalization to the next level.

At the Rotorua Coffin Club, members prepare for their departure from this world by designing their own coffins.

They start with a basic frame, which can cost as little as $200, the BBC reports. Then they let their imaginations run wild, adorning their caskets with everything from animal prints and pictures of their favorite celebrities, to mementoes from loved ones.

Members of the coffin club feel empowered by designing their own final resting places. But it serves a functional purpose, too.

“Many families get financially crippled from funeral expenses. The thing is about that, you cannot personalize it,” said club member Jan, a former funeral director.

She chose a sassy zebra print for her coffin: “When people see this, they’re going to say, hey that’s so Jan,” she said.

Founder Kate Williams says the club helps to shatter taboos society has come to associate with death.

“It’s just taking all the mystique out of death and dying,” she said. “It’s being normal.”

[siteshare] Going Out with Flare[/siteshare]

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