The World Today for December 26, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

ARGENTINA

All’s Fair…

It’s a tossup as to whether Argentine leaders are cleaning house or tearing it down.

Earlier this month, a judge in the troubled South American country indicted ex-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and members of her erstwhile administration on charges of treason and called for her arrest.

The New York Times described the development as a “political earthquake.”

Kirchner said the charges were baseless. Since she is a recently elected senator, she enjoys immunity from prosecution. That includes other allegations of money laundering, the Telegraph noted.

But the judge has appealed to Congress to strip her of that protection so he can expose her role in a cover-up related to an Iranian plot in which Hezbollah blew up a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, killing 84 and injuring hundreds.

Kirchner allegedly whitewashed Iran’s role in the bombing because she needed Tehran’s financial help to ease the impact of Argentina’s economic slump (which stemmed in part from court fights with American hedge funds after the country defaulted on its debt in 2001).

The subterfuge became a crisis in 2015 when crusading prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his apartment, a bullet in his head, on the night before he was scheduled to lay out Kirchner’s role in the scheme in testimony to lawmakers.

Kirchner’s former foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, who was among those charged with treason, defended himself in a recent op-ed in the New York Times.

The investigation into the attack was bungled, said Timerman, who suggested the judge was a political opponent of Kirchner who had purposely slowed the bombing probe in the past to protect his allies who were the real culprits. Timerman also rejected accusations that he met with Iran’s foreign minister in Syria and that he asked Interpol to drop so-called “red notices,” or international arrest warrants, on Iranian suspects.

Interpol has corroborated his claims, according to Reuters. Human Rights Watch has blasted the judge’s moves.

The case is likely to wind through the courts, possibly as elections in the coming years rejigger the political landscape and alter the power balances that appear to be driving the case.

In the meantime, current Argentine President Mauricio Macri – who defeated Kirchner’s handpicked successor in 2015 – is pushing forward with his agenda to kickstart the economy. Most recently, the BBC reported, he pushed pension reforms through Congress that will shrink benefits, and include raising the age of retirement. Feeling ripped off, people protested in the streets.

Everyone is battling for what they think is fair. Whoever wins will determine what that means.

WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

Election Matchmakers

In professional boxing, matchmakers strive to negotiate compelling fights, while managers try to protect the champ from dangerous opponents. In Russia, it’s not clear which role the Central Election Commission is playing.

This week, the commission refused to register main opposition leader Alexei Navalny as a candidate in the 2018 presidential elections, confirming warnings that he wouldn’t be allowed to contest against President Vladimir Putin because of a criminal conviction, Bloomberg reported.

Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and outspoken critic of the Russian president, has characterized the case as a politically motivated effort to keep him off the ballot, and the European Court of Human Rights said his conviction was illegal. But he was re-tried and found guilty of embezzling from a state-owned timber company and given a five-year suspended sentence in February.

Thousands of Navalny’s supporters staged protests in more than a dozen cities around Russia Sunday against the commission’s ruling, and Navalny posted a video on Twitter in which he called for a boycott of the vote and pledged to monitor the election for violations.

PERU

Christmas Pardon

Peru President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pardoned 79-year-old former President Alberto Fujimori as the South American nation prepared to sit down to their Christmas feasts – clearing him of corruption and human rights-related convictions less than halfway into a 25-year jail sentence.

Having failed to win a pardon from two previous presidents, Fujimori convinced Kuczynski to grant him one amid a political rivalry between two of Fujimori’s children, Keiko and Kenji, Reuters reported. The decision stunned ordinary citizens.

In the 1990s, Fujimori revived the economy and crushed two violent leftist insurgencies. But he was forced out in a corruption scandal and later imprisoned for human rights abuses, the New York Times noted. Still, his son and daughter remain important players in Peruvian politics.

Not long ago, Kuczynski narrowly avoided impeachment by the Congress after Fujimori’s son split from his elder daughter – who leads Peru’s main opposition party – and his faction abstained from the impeachment vote.

LIBERIA

Ready to Score

Former soccer star George Weah looks set to become president as Liberians go to the polls Tuesday for the final round of the West African country’s presidential election.

Having already run the first round, Weah now faces the country’s vice president, Joseph Boakai, in the battle to replace incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who can’t run again because of term limits.

Though Weah lost to Sirleaf in his first two runs for the presidency, his promises to fight corruption and bring change have resonated more strongly with voters this round, Bloomberg quoted Ben Payton, head of Africa research at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, as saying.

Promises of change notwithstanding, Weah has chosen a familiar name for his running mate: Jewel Taylor, the ex-wife of warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor – who remains popular despite his notorious use of child soldiers in the civil war he unleashed in 1989. The former strongman is now serving a 50-year prison term imposed by a special United Nations Court.

DISCOVERIES

The Christmas Shrub

The poinsettia might best be known as a holiday flower, decorating our homes and offices during the Christmas period. But in Mexico, from where it hails, it’s just another shrub.

Even so, it has been associated with Christmas in Mexico since the 16th century, where it’s called the “flor de nochebuena,” (Christmas Eve flower), the Chicago Tribune reported.

Meanwhile, in Spain, it is known as Flor de Pascua or Pascua, meaning the Easter flower, while Hungarians call it Santa Claus’ Flower.

The plant, whose English name comes from a 19th century physician and diplomat, Joel Poinsett, became part of the American Christmas tradition in the 1920s. California grower, Paul Ecke, introduced the poinsettia to the public as a potted plant, thanks to technology developed at the time which allowed the plant to grow outside of its native Mexico.

Some clever marketing decades later made the plant ubiquitous during the holiday season. The Ecke family, which had a virtual monopoly on poinsettia production, created a buzz by showering television networks with free poinsettias from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and getting them on “The Tonight Show” and Bob Hope’s holiday specials.

In the ensuing years, the plant has even earned a distinction. Dec. 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

Meanwhile, it’s a smart plant, a survivor. Though most believe the appealing red “petals” constitute a flower, they’re actually the plant’s leaves.

“The actual bloom consists of tiny yellow flowers,” said Todd Jacobson, head of horticulture at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

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