The World Today for March 29, 2018



The Devil is Green

It’s easy to be ambivalent about Panama.

The nation exists because Europeans and Americans wanted to build a shipping canal through the isthmus that separates the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. There are few better examples of late imperialism in the Western Hemisphere.

But the canal, of course, was a springboard to making Panama one of the most competitive economies in Latin America. The country expects growth of 5.6 percent this year, Reuters reported. Not shabby.

Then again – here the ambivalence becomes clearer – that dynamism has unfortunate side effects, to say the least.

“Panama has long served as a hub for money laundering in Latin America, serving criminal groups who inject dirty money into legitimate institutions, as well as corrupt elites attempting to hide their wealth,” wrote Victoria Dittmar in InSight Crime.

In addition to the illicit activities described in her article, Dittmar was referring to the Panama Papers scandal that broke two years ago when an unidentified tipster sent documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to news organizations that banded together to report the story around the world.

“As soon as we had received the first bunch of data, we saw that this was explosive because we saw that there were several heads of state mentioned in this document,” Frederik Obermaier, one of the German reporters who worked on the project, told WPLF in Kentucky.

Mossack Fonseca recently closed down after Panamanian authorities raided its offices to investigate its links to Odebrecht, a major engineering firm implicated in bribery scandals throughout Central and South America, the Guardian reported.

The recent experience of a Trump-branded hotel in Panama City is another example of the bizarre way business is conducted in Panama.

In early March – after court hearings, shouting and shoving matches in the lobby and other contretemps over claims by the building’s majority owner that US President Donald Trump’s company was mismanaging the property – a workman used a hammer and crowbar to pry off the president’s name from the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

Afterward, the owner, a 39-year-old Cypriot named Orestes Fintiklis, “strode to the lobby’s baby grand piano and played and sang ‘Accordeon,’ a popular Greek song about the fight against fascism,” the New York Times reported.

One can assume Fintiklis doesn’t agree with Trump’s politics.

On Tuesday, Trump’s company lost a bid to regain control of the hotel, when an arbitrator ruled that the eviction was wrong but declined to reverse the status quo. “The facts on the ground now militate against forcibly undoing the steps that have been taken,” arbitrator Joel Richler wrote, according to the Associated Press. Trump’s firm could still regain control, but Tuesday’s decision dashes hopes of a swift resolution, the agency said.

Around 50 miles from the gleaming towers of Panama City, meanwhile, residents of the port city of Colon staged riots recently in protest of plans to regenerate the city. They argued that the plans would price them out of their homes.

Observers say it’s sad when gobs of foreign investment lead not to happiness and prosperity but international scandals, fisticuffs among the rich and fears of homelessness among the poor.



Defense Strategy

Poland has inked a $4.75 billion deal for a US-made Patriot missile defense system in a move that’s sure to aggravate Moscow amid a flurry of expulsions of Russian diplomats worldwide.

Polish President Andrzej Duda said the “historic” deal gave Poland “state-of-the-art” defenses, following reports that Russia had permanently deployed nuclear-capable missile systems in its territory of Kaliningrad, which borders Poland, the BBC reported.

Poland has been steadily ramping up its defenses since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and Warsaw was among the numerous countries earlier this week that expelled Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

The deal comes amid claims that the Patriot missile system “is a lemon.” Based on an analysis of two earlier missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and a preliminary assessment of a March 25 strike in which the Saudis claimed to have shot down seven incoming missiles using the system, Jeffrey Lewis argues in Foreign Policy that “there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia has intercepted any Houthi missiles during the Yemen conflict.”


Loud and Clear

The Roman Catholic Church said Pope Francis would not apologize for the institution’s role in Canada’s “residential school system” for Indigenous children, which a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 described as a form of “cultural genocide.”

“The Holy Father is aware of the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he takes seriously,” the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in an open letter to Canada’s Indigenous people, according to the New York Times.

“After carefully considering the request and extensive dialogue with the Bishops of Canada, he felt that he could not personally respond.”

The Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches in Canada, which also operated residential schools, issued apologies in the 1990s, and former Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper apologized on behalf of the Canadian government.

In operation from 1883 to as late as 1998, the schools severely punished children for speaking Indigenous languages or following their cultural practices, and 3,201 students died while in the schools, often from mistreatment or neglect.


Defying Norms

Two Indian brothel owners were sentenced to life in prison in a landmark ruling for a country where fewer than two in five human trafficking cases ends in a conviction.

Pancho Singh and his wife Chhaya Devi, who ran the brothel in Gaya in the eastern state of Bihar, were convicted on charges of trafficking, rape and sexual abuse of children based on testimony by “brave survivors,” Reuters quoted Prosecutor Sunil Kumar as saying.

Unusually, four of nine girls who were rescued from the brothel during a police raid in 2015 testified against the brothel owners.

“In most cases, once the girls are rescued, they go home and never come back to testify,” Kumar said.

Many times, that’s because cases drag on for years, the legal system offers little or no financial or emotional support, and the cost of traveling to the trial from remote areas can be prohibitive.

In this instance, the court awarded compensation of 450,000 Indian rupees ($7,000) to each of the four victims who testified and 300,000 rupees ($4,600) to the other survivors.


Express Yourself

Deeply proud of their region and its culture, citizens of Germany’s smallest state, Saarland, have found a new way to spread that pride in the digital era: “Saarmojis.”

Offering their own take on the wildly popular emojis now standard on most smartphones, designers from the state of one million on Germany’s border with France and Luxembourg created nearly 400 emojis that represent the cuisine, culture and linguistic stylings of the region.

“We Saarländer are very closely tied to our home and proud of its unique features,” communications designer Zymryte Hoxhaj told reporters at an unveiling ceremony, Deutsche Welle reported.

The emojis are split into 12 categories covering various aspects of the state’s identity, from popular foods to pastimes. The state’s beloved Lyoner-Wurst, a bologna-style sausage, is even available in different variations to express particular moods.

German authorities reportedly invested $30,920 in the project and hope to expand the app’s development ­­by holding workshops where Saarländers can create their own Saarmojis and further promote the region.

The app can be downloaded for free on iTunes, as well as other places where apps are sold.

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