The World Today for January 25, 2018



One and Done

In any other country, Paraguay’s president, Horacio Cartes, would probably be basking in popularity and skating toward re-election. But that’s not the case in this booming country, whose seven million people suffered under a brutal dictatorship from 1954 to 1989.

Cartes delivered economic growth of more than 3 percent a year over the past four years – when other Latin American countries were plunging into bankruptcy. But when a group of senators in April sought to ram through constitutional changes that would allow him to run for a second term, thousands took to the streets to protest. And the presidential primary held in December suggests their anger hasn’t entirely cooled.

Senator Mario Abdo Benitez trounced the ex-finance minister whom Cartes had handpicked as his successor to win the nomination from the ruling Colorado Party on Dec. 17, Reuters reported. The news agency called the election result a “sharp rebuke” to the otherwise successful president. Adding insult to injury: Abdo is the son of former dictator Alfredo Stroessner’s private secretary.

“The arrogant establishment has been defeated today and forever. … We all have scars but are urging unity for the Colorados and later, Paraguay,” Abdo told his supporters following the vote.

The Colorado Party has governed Paraguay for nearly 70 years, including during Stroessner’s 1954-1989 dictatorship, with a brief interruption when leftist Fernando Lugo was elected in 2008 and impeached in 2012. So Abdo is likely to win the presidency in April when he faces lawyer Efrain Alegre, who won the opposition Liberal Party’s nomination.

That’s a stunning change in a year’s time. In April 2017, Cartes looked likely to square off against Lugo amid moves to end the constitutional rule limiting presidents to a single term.

But their backers’ efforts to amend the constitution in the senate rather than through a constituent assembly enraged many citizens, the Economist reported. Thousands took to the streets, police killed a 25-year-old protester named Rodrigo Quintana, and the rule change was scuttled, despite its proponents’ argument that Paraguay is the only country in Latin America that does not allow second terms and needs to modernize its constitution.

The snafu could boost Alegre’s chances, of course. But a bigger concern is whether the interruption in the relative stability that Paraguay has enjoyed under Cartes was just a blip or a signal of greater problems to come.

In part due to the president’s low-tax policy, Paraguay has enjoyed one of the fastest economic growth rates in Latin America. Its economy grew around 4 percent last year, and FocusEconomics’ LatinFocus panel projects 3.8-percent GDP growth each year in 2018 and in 2019. Stratfor also credits Cartes’ business-friendly policies for stimulating a small but robust manufacturing sector.

For the former soft-drink and tobacco executive, that may mean history will look upon him fondly. But for Paraguay’s presidents, the rule remains “one and done.”



Acting Up

India will this week endeavor to add some meaning to its “Act East” policy of engaging its Southeast Asian neighbors as a bulwark against China.

On Thursday, the leaders of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will meet in India to discuss maritime security amid concerns about China’s expansion in the region, Reuters reported.

While everybody is seemingly united in supporting freedom of navigation, Southeast Asian countries embroiled in territorial disputes with China would like to see India – which boasts a powerful navy – take a greater role in regional affairs.

India is simultaneously keen to do that and wary of the consequences of getting caught up in the disputes over the South China Sea. Naval leaders will on Thursday discuss holding exercises near the Malacca Straits between Malaysia and Singapore, one of the busiest routes for international shipping, Reuters said.

On Friday, Modi has invited the ASEAN leaders to join him for India’s Republic Day celebration, which features a parade displaying its military hardware.


Busted But Unbowed

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva remained defiant after an appeals court upheld his conviction on corruption charges, making it even more unlikely that he will be able to make another run at the nation’s top office.

“I want them to tell me what crime I committed,” the Associated Press quoted Lula as telling supporters after the verdict. “I have been convicted again for a freaking apartment that is not mine.”

All three judges voted to reject the appeal, which related to charges that he accepted a beachfront apartment from a construction firm in exchange for government contracts, Bloomberg reported. They also boosted his sentence to 12 years from nine and a half.

Lula’s Workers’ Party said it would still register Lula as its candidate for president. By law, the conviction bars him from contesting, but he has several more avenues to appeal.

Popular for the social programs he adopted during his two terms in office during the commodities boom, Lula leads opinion polls. He has vowed to undo current President Michel Temer’s market-friendly reforms.


Rough Justice

The United Nations Libya mission expressed concern about “brutal and outrageous summary executions” in Benghazi after pictures emerged that appeared to show at least nine prisoners being shot dead.

Noting that the gunman shown in the pictures looks to be special forces commander Mahmoud al-Werfalli, who is already wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of carrying out similar executions, the UN called for Libya to hand him over to international authorities, Reuters reported.

The backdrop for the pictures appears to be Benghazi’s Bayaat al-Radwan mosque, where a twin car bombing left at least 35 people dead on Tuesday.

Chaos has gripped Libya since the ouster and killing of Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Since 2014, rival governments and parliaments based in the western and eastern regions have been battling for control, each backed by different militias and tribes.

The ICC has so far failed to bring any Libyans to The Hague for trial for war crimes, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported in November.


Flipping the Switch

The e-mobility revolution is supercharging a centuries-old means of transportation.

French startup Pragma Industries recently became the first company to produce hydrogen-fueled bicycles, Reuters reported.

“Many others have made hydrogen-bike prototypes, but we are the first to move to series production,” said Pragma founder and CEO Pierre Forte.

The new bike will be able to traverse 62 miles on a two-liter tank of hydrogen, similar to the range of traditional e-bikes. The upside to hydrogen, however, is that a refill takes only a few minutes, compared to hours for charging their electric counterparts.

But with a price tag of over $9,000 per bike and over $36,000 for a single charging station, these futuristic two-wheelers are more suited to corporate or municipal buyers, as well as bike rental operators and delivery services.

Of the 100 bikes Pragma produced last year, it sold 60 to a handful of French municipalities. Production is slated to increase to 150 bikes this year.

“In the next two to three years we want to enter the consumer market and massively increase the scale of our operations,” said Forte.

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