The World Today for November 03, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

HONDURAS

A Suicide Mission

When activists in Honduras speak up, it’s more than an act of bravery.

That’s because Honduran society is so corrupt that politicians, industry executives and the criminals lining their pockets have no fear of repercussions when they silence protestors by violent means, the Guardian reported.

Violence in Honduras has been widespread since the 1980’s amid various regime changes and regional conflicts. The country is notorious for having the world’s highest murder rate per capita, the BBC reported.

Still, since 2009, when the nation’s military overthrew the government of President Manuel Zelaya, violence has increased as successive rightwing regimes have sought to silence opposition to environmentally destructive mining and energy projects pivotal to the nation’s economic strategy.

According to a January report by UK-based watchdog Global Witness, Honduras has become the deadliest place on earth for environmental activism, with some 120 activists murdered since 2010, Voice of America reported.

The vast majority of cases are not prosecuted.

“Our investigations reveal how Honduras’ political and business elites are using corrupt and criminal means to cash in on the country’s natural wealth, and are enlisting the support of state forces to murder and terrorize the communities who dare to stand in their way,” said Global Witness’ Billy Kyte in the group’s report.

Even when high-profile cases – such as the brutal March 2016 murder of internationally acclaimed environmentalist Berta Caceres – draw global headlines and reveal highly organized assassination plots, attorneys and human rights advocates concede that justice will likely never be served.

The United States has historically propped up democratic governments in Honduras and has attempted to combat corruption in the country.

But with civil society crippled, the investigations often rely on high-level gang members and drug cartels ratting out the politicians they used to bribe into complacency, raising ethical issues.

Through recent cooperation with one drug lord responsible for 78 murders, the American authorities uncovered state-sponsored drug trafficking at the highest levels of the Honduran government, including the presidency, the New York Times reported.

But such insights only go so far: There still hasn’t been an official probe into ties between current President Juan Orlando Hernandez and criminal organizations, writes Jose Miguel Cruz, director of research at Florida International University, in the Conversation.

Meanwhile, a new law recently approved by the government brands protestors as criminals and threatens organizers with up to 20 years in prison, the Wire reported.

And even when activists manage to flee the country to the US, their fate is left up to the whim of a single judge. A recent Reuters investigation uncovered huge discrepancies in deportation rates based on region – even in asylum cases involving activists.

Civil society in Honduras is desperately needed. But the powers that be are winning the war against its members – at home and abroad.

WANT TO KNOW

SERBIA

A Seat at the Table

Serbia isn’t keen to choose sides in the rivalry between the US and Russia, even as it vies for membership in the European Union.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said Thursday his country will continue to balance relationships with the West, Russia and China, rejecting an earlier assertion by US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Brian Yee that Belgrade “cannot sit on two chairs at the same time,” Reuters reported.

“What we do not want is that someone pulls our own chair from under us,” the agency quoted Dacic as saying.

The EU is Serbia’s single largest trade partner and investor. But Russia controls its oil and gas supplies and has sought to boost military ties by donating six MiG-29 fighter jets to the Serbian military. Earlier this year, Germany backed Serbia to become the next country to join the EU – contingent on better relations with Kosovo – while Moscow has blocked Kosovo from joining the EU at Belgrade’s request.

VENEZUELA

Empty Coffers

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro called for a broad restructuring of its foreign debt on Thursday, further ramping up fears that a default may be imminent.

Maduro said Thursday that Venezuela will make a crucial $1.1 billion bond payment for its state energy firm, PDVSA, on Friday. But Maduro’s unilateral declaration of “a refinancing and restructuring of all foreign payments” was an acknowledgement that the country can’t keep servicing its debt given sanctions, low oil prices and other stresses, the Washington Post reported.

While those stresses are intended to force Maduro to back off moves that local protesters and the international community view as undermining democracy, a default could make things much worse before they get better.

Yesterday’s statement doesn’t necessarily mean that’s imminent, but “it suggests that he’s preparing the terrain for default for next year, when the country has $11 billion due in a year when there are also presidential elections,” said Asdrubal Oliveros of Caracas-based Ecoanalítica.

CUBA

Pointing Fingers

As the United Nations once again called for an end to the US embargo on his country, Cuba’s foreign minister accused Washington of “deliberately lying” in characterizing the mysterious health problems experienced by US staff as the result of some kind of attack.

At a press conference on Thursday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla blamed the US for politicizing the incident, ABC News reported. “I can categorically affirm that those that say there have been attacks … are deliberately lying,” the news channel quoted Parrilla as saying.

Parrilla didn’t deny that the 24 Americans in question had experienced mysterious health problems. But he said Cuba had not found any evidence that they resulted from an attack and would continue to investigate to “find the truth.”

Initial US speculation was that the symptoms – which included permanent hearing loss, loss of balance and dizziness, and cognitive issues – were caused by a sonic device. But despite four visits to Cuba by FBI investigators, they have yet to discover a device or any other technology that could be responsible.

DISCOVERIES

We Have Visitors

Astronomers were baffled last week when they noticed an interstellar object moving at high speeds through our solar system – the first time such an event has occurred.

Now they are racing to learn more about this strange visitor before it disappears.

Named A/2017 U1, it is likely an asteroid about a quarter of a mile long. It was first noticed by scientists Oct. 19 and was instantly flagged for its incredible speed – so fast that the Sun couldn’t catch it in its orbit, the New York Times reported.

That’s due to the asteroid’s very old hyperbolic orbit, which slings it past celestial bodies at speeds high enough to overpower their gravitational pull. That means that A/2017 U1 will eventually leave our solar system.

The asteroid came within about 15 million miles of Earth on Oct. 14, passing by at a speed of about 37 miles per second – more than three times the escape velocity of the New Horizons spacecraft.

But movie lovers should have no fear – neither aliens, nor an interstellar Armageddon is in the cards, NASA’s planetary defense officers say.

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