The World Today for October 05, 2017



One Comedian, Zero Laughs

In 2015, actor and comedian Jimmy Morales won the Guatemalan presidency in a landslide with 67 percent of the vote.

His status as a political outsider fueled his cruise to victory after then-President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti, were arrested on suspicion of taking millions in bribes from businesses hoping to avoid customs charges.

Morales promised voters an end to the political corruption and entrenched organized crime that had plagued the country since the end of its decades-long civil war in 1996.

Instead, all he’s delivered is déjà vu. But this time around, political corruption could beget constitutional crisis and international instability.

Voters have come to see Morales for his political and ethical ineptitudes, the Economist reports.

Ivan Velasquez, head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a publicly trusted, UN-backed commission that’s been investigating corruption in the country for more than a decade, has sought to strip Morales of his presidential immunity on allegations that he failed to disclose some $800,000 in misappropriated campaign funds.

In response to the call, Morales declared Velasquez a persona non grata last month and sought to banish him from the country. The nation’s Constitutional Court overturned the declaration and gave Congress the go-ahead to vote on lifting the president’s immunity. But multiple attempts have fallen flat on the voting floor, Reuters reports. Even so, the number of legislators supporting such an action is rising, Bloomberg reported Monday.

Still, if Morales goes down, so do those standing beside him, writes Al Jazeera. More than 100 former cabinet members are facing trial on graft charges, along with over 50 high-profile legislators, bankers and business owners. Even Morales’ brother and son are accused of fraud and embezzlement.

While corrupt political elites circle the wagons to protect their own, the nation’s voters and civil society are outraged. Thousands took to the streets in Guatemala City late last month to protest the political establishment. Many fear that, backed into a corner, Morales could stage an overthrow of the judicial order.

“There’s a huge risk that Morales and his close circle of old military guard could order a state of siege to try to stop the justice process,” Anabella Sibrian, director of the NGO International Platform against Impunity, told the Guardian.

Should that happen, international oversight that’s been in place for over a decade vis a vis CICIG could be done away with. That would jeopardize a form of nation building at arm’s length favored by the international community, possibly destabilizing the region, writes Charles T. Call, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.

“The momentum gained by this initial experiment in a constructive international mission against injustice may be dealt a blow that reverberates,” he wrote.



The King’s Speech

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont attacked Spain’s King Felipe VI for “deliberately ignoring millions of Catalans” and warned Catalonia would declare independence “at the end of this week or the beginning of next.”

In a televised address late Wednesday, Puigdemont accused the king of adopting the Spanish government’s position in his own televised speech on Tuesday, the BBC reported. King Felipe called Sunday’s Catalan referendum illegal and undemocratic.

The Spanish government said Puigdemont must abandon such illegal efforts before negotiations can begin and claimed his speech showed he was “out of touch with reality.”

The Catalan government went on to say there will be an extraordinary meeting of parliament on Monday to discuss the outcome of the referendum. Catalan officials say nearly 90 percent of voters expressed support for independence, though the final results have not been released and turnout was estimated at 42 percent.

On Wednesday, Spain’s highest court summoned the chief of the Catalan police to answer accusations of sedition, or provoking a rebellion against the state, CNN reported. If Catalonia formally declares independence Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could invoke emergency powers to take control of the Catalan government.


Let’s Unmake a Deal

As US President Donald Trump deliberates over the future of the US-Iran nuclear deal, Tehran has reportedly jailed a member of the Iranian team of negotiators that helped to forge it in 2015.

The negotiator has been sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of espionage, the Associated Press cited Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency as saying. Though the agency did not mention him by name, the only negotiator known to be facing criminal charges is dual Iranian-Canadian national Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani, AP noted.

If his sentencing is confirmed, Esfahani would be only the latest in a string of dual nationals to have been arrested, detained or imprisoned in Iran, which does not recognize dual citizenship.

Other recent detainees include a Chinese-American student sentenced to 10 years for allegedly “infiltrating” the country, and a British-Iranian woman sentenced to 5 years for allegedly plotting the “soft toppling” of the government. Iranian-American Robin Shahini was released on bail last year after staging a hunger strike while serving an 18-year prison sentence for “collaboration with a hostile government.”


From Riyadh, with Love

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz is making a pathbreaking visit to Russia to try to convince President Vladimir Putin to extend an agreement curbing oil supplies.

As significant as this first visit could be for global oil prices, it’s arguably more important as a signal of the changing geopolitics of the Middle East, as the longstanding US ally is now openly shifting its strategic direction in response to Putin’s military intervention in Syria, Bloomberg reported.

Russia’s military gamble in Syria has increased its influence in Middle East affairs. But Russian and Saudi interests are also converging due to low oil prices. Thanks in part to the output pact between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers that King Salman seeks to extend, oil prices have risen as high as $57 a barrel from $46 last November.

That means King Salman “won’t demand the impossible” in pressuring Russia to rein in its ally Iran in Syria or Yemen, the agency quoted an expert who advises the Kremlin on the Middle East as saying.


Thawing a Cold Case

An all-star investigative team is thawing out one of the most compelling cold cases of World War Two.

In 1944, after two years of hiding from the Nazis in a secret annex in Amsterdam, 14-year-old Anne Frank and her family were captured and shipped to concentration camps where all but the family’s patriarch perished.

The tragic fate of Frank and her family is well known: Her diary has sold over 30 million copies since its debut. But it’s still a mystery who exactly betrayed their location to the Nazis.

Enter Dutch filmmaker Thijs Bayens and journalist Pieter Van Twisk. The duo hopes to unravel the mystery by Aug. 4, 2019, the 75th anniversary of the family’s arrest.

To do so, they’ve assembled a team of historians, psychological profilers and even ex-FBI agent Vince Pankoke, who once investigated Colombian drug cartels, the Guardian reports.

Actors will reenact the day the family was captured to try and drum up new clues, while analysts process massive amounts of data about the Nazis and their informants using artificial intelligence algorithms.

“We are not trying to point fingers or prosecute. I am just trying to solve the last case of my career,” said Pankoke. “There is no statute of limitation on the truth.”

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