The World Today for May 24, 2018



The Way We Were

The Colombian government’s 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was supposed to help the South American country end a 52-year-long insurgency that claimed as many as 220,000 lives, and move beyond it.

Now it appears as if tensions over the peace accord could help deliver victory to right-wing presidential candidate Ivan Duque, who wants to reexamine the deal, potentially reigniting the FARC’s insurgency in the country’s remote interior.

“If the FARC read it in a certain way, we could see a lot of members, including mid-level commanders, going back to violence,” International Crisis Group senior analyst Kyle Johnson told NBC News.

With the support of 34 percent of the electorate, according to Reuters, Duque is now the front-runner in the race that begins May 27 to succeed President Juan Manuel Santos, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for the agreement but cannot serve another term due to term limits.

Duque is likely to wind up in a runoff against Gustavo Petro, a left-wing former Bogotá mayor who was a member of M-19, the second largest rebel movement in Colombia after FARC. Petro has the support of around 22.5 percent of voters.

As the Financial Times explained, Petro wants to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, redistribute land, make education free, and increase the government’s involvement in healthcare and banking.

It’s a vision that leftists in Venezuela and Cuba have also pursued with less-than-rosy results.

“He has all these lovely ideas, which would turn Colombia into some sort of beautiful Nordic idyll, but the truth is he would have to do it with the checkbook of a middle-income country,” University of the Andes economist Oskar Nupia said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Duque, meanwhile, has the luxury of criticizing a deal between the government and FARC that is full of holes.

Last month, authorities arrested a former FARC commander accused of conspiring to export tons of cocaine to the US. Notre Dame University’s Kroc Institute, which is monitoring the enforcement of the deal, recently issued a report finding that few of the peace pact’s more than 550 conditions are being followed. Many FARC fighters are also now saying they never agreed to the deal at all.

Other forces could also be conspiring against the agreement. Jacobin, a leftist online magazine, noted for example that many former Colombia military leaders who support Duque also face potential war-crimes prosecutions under the peace deal. That’s a reason to kill it, surely, from their point of view.

A perfect storm of competing interests could plunge Colombia back into turmoil. That’s even though few want to see a return to the way it was.



Under Fire

Opposition politicians in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu have accused the police of mass murder after they shot 10 people dead and wounded 80 others during violent protests against the expansion of a copper plant they say is polluting the environment.

Based in the port city of Thoothukudi, the smelter is operated by a local subsidiary of London-based Vedanta Resources and has repeatedly been shut down over pollution complaints, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

Though it was censured and fined for breaching environmental norms and operating without the consent of the state pollution board in 2013, Vedanta now plans to double its capacity. Residents and environmentalists, who say the plant is already polluting the air and damaging the local fisheries, have been protesting for the past three months against the scheme.

Just after rivals to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party scored a rare victory in neighboring Karnataka, Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi called the incident “a brutal example of state-sponsored terrorism”.

Though they have flip-flopped in the past, Tamil Nadu’s ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has recently aligned with the BJP, while the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has recently aligned with the Congress.


Need Me More

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday laid out conditions European leaders will have to meet to keep Iran from abandoning the nuclear deal as well, following the US withdrawal.

Khamenei called on European banks to safeguard trade with Iran, said European powers must protect Iranian oil sales from US sanctions meant to stymie them, and stipulated that Britain, France and Germany must pledge not to try to open negotiations on Iran’s ballistic missile program and on its regional activities, Reuters reported.

Neither program was covered under the 2015 nuclear agreement, but the US is now seeking to win additional concessions.

Khamenei warned that Iran would resume its enrichment of uranium if Europe fails to meet his conditions.

Separately, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Thursday that Berlin and Beijing both continued to back the nuclear agreement, following a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on a two-day visit to China.


Things Fall Apart

Talks to end South Sudan’s civil war broke up without yielding a peace deal on Wednesday in Ethiopia, threatening to prolong a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.

The eight-country Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) trade bloc has been attempting to revive a 2015 peace deal between factions led by President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, but it said in a statement that “several attempts to narrow the gaps between the positions of the parties” had failed, Reuters reported.

IGAD’s statement didn’t provide further details on the sticking points.

If a peace deal can’t be forged, the country could face a continuation of ethnically motivated violence, man-made famine and tit-for-tat human rights violations or perhaps a degeneration into “a state of permanent anarchy in which life is nastier, shorter, and even more brutish” than it is today, opined Luka Kuol, with the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University in Washington, DC.


Artful Dodgers

In Charles Dickens’ beloved Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger is a cunning pickpocket with some skillful tricks for duping 19th-century Londoners.

In real life, Moscow had its own master pickpockets in the 18th century who would steal from unsuspecting victims using a sharpened coin, Russia’s Vesti television news program reported, according to the BBC.

Russian archaeologists uncovered a peculiar coin with a flat, sharpened edge, which they posit was a tool used by skilled pickpockets in the 18th century.

Aptly named a “thieves’ coin,” the tool was used to cut open bags and coats from unsuspecting victims to gain access to their wallets.

And if caught red-handed, the thief could use the coin as a weapon to cut the victim’s hand or face, said Alexei Yemelyanov, head of Moscow’s Cultural Heritage Department.

The coin wasn’t the only find uncovered during a restoration project in Moscow’s city center. Archaeologists also discovered a 17th-century metal stamp used to forge counterfeit coins and an 18th-century thieves’ den – similar to the one depicted in Oliver Twist.

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