The World Today for July 09, 2018

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Magic Man

To call it a landslide would be an understatement.

After two previous failed presidential bids, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, dominated Mexico’s July 1 elections, securing 53 percent of the vote, according to the National Electoral Institute which certified the vote Sunday.

Not only that but his five-year-old political party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), now controls both houses of Congress and at least five governorships.

Post-victory, AMLO faces a laundry list of challenges to bring campaign promises to fruition – ones that will not only impact Mexico’s future, but also that of the entire region.

The question on everybody’s mind is Mexico’s relationship with the United States, particularly regarding immigration and renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), wrote the Hill.

Lopez Obrador was an opponent of NAFTA back in the 1990s when it went into effect, and some worry that his hard-left ideology will influence the tenor of negotiations.

“We’re very concerned about having a situation like Venezuela just south of the border,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the Hill.

But others say Lopez Obrador is a pragmatist and will work to save the deal without compromising Mexico’s standing on the global stage, wrote Jonah Shepp for New York magazine. After all, three-quarters of Mexico’s exports are to the US, though only about half that total is covered by NAFTA, Bloomberg reported.

On the immigration front, AMLO is under pressure to halt the flow of migrants from Central and South America through Mexico toward the US, wrote Vox. Tough border controls and family separation at the American border have placed Lopez Obrador in an adversarial position with US President Donald Trump over the issue.

Instead of bending to the Trump administration, Lopez Obrador has said he’ll turn inward to fight corruption, rampant violence and migration, and invest heavily in local infrastructure and social programs.

He says he’ll be able to do so without busting the budget by trimming government salaries and recovering money lost to corruption, but details of those plans remain unclear, Vanda Felbab-Brown wrote for the Brookings Institution.

There are signs, however, that AMLO isn’t just another fast-talking populist.

On Friday, he announced a plan for negotiating peace in the nation’s drug war, including amnesty or reduced jail time for foot soldiers who admit guilt and reparations for some victims, Reuters reported. AMLO hopes the plan will help provide paths to employment for youth caught up in the drug trade, stemming violence and migration in the process.

He reportedly also had a cordial phone call with President Trump after the election, and said he’s determined not to rock the boat: “We are not going to get into fights,” he told Mexico’s Televisa TV network, according to Vox.

With his broad electoral mandate, AMLO will have some flexibility to experiment with policies and his relationships with other leaders, and “might still prove to be a transformational figure,” Leon Krauze wrote for the Washington Post.

But, he added, “the question persists: Where will Mexico turn next if its new president fails to work his magic?”



Pompeo and Circumstance

Upon leaving Pyongyang, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo received a clear message that it will take more than dotting a few i’s to get Kim Jong-un to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program – the ballyhooed meeting with President Donald Trump notwithstanding.

While Pompeo described the visit as “productive,” North Korean state media immediately published a statement saying America’s “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” risked squandering the progress made in Singapore, Bloomberg reported.

The statement went on to criticize the US side for failing to discuss provisions for a “peace regime” on the Korean peninsula, meaning guarantees of protection from invasion that might include rolling back America’s nuclear umbrella or pulling back its troops in South Korea.

In Tokyo on Sunday, Pompeo – who was under pressure to show some progress after reports had indicated that Kim had expanded his nuclear weapons production before the Singapore summit – said the North was more cooperative behind closed doors.


Lula Lemon

Federal judge Rogerio Favreto on Sunday ordered the immediate release of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is currently behind bars but has appealed his 12-year prison sentence for money laundering and corruption. But then two more judges and the federal court’s president stepped in to ensure the once-popular ex-president stays in jail.

Favreto made the initial ruling after Lula’s Workers’ Party filed a request for his release on Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported. But Sergio Moro, the federal judge who oversaw Lula’s trial, then federal Judge Joao Pedro Gebran Neto, the rapporteur on the case, and finally the federal court’s president, Carlos Eduardo Thompson Flores, opposed the order.

Despite being imprisoned for the last three months, Lula is ahead in the polls for October’s presidential election. By law, his conviction appears to make him ineligible to run. But the Workers’ Party has nevertheless said it will register him as a candidate in August, after which the electoral court will have until Sept. 17 to rule on whether to allow him to contest.


Hug It Out

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed started his groundbreaking visit to Eritrea by wrapping Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in a hug on the tarmac – a dramatic emblem of the burgeoning thaw in tensions between the two countries.

It’s the first time in two decades that the leaders of the two countries met and follows Abiy’s surprise decision last month to accept the terms of a peace deal signed in the year 2000. It prompted a flood of emotion in the Eritrean capital of Asmara, NPR reported.

The decades-long conflict has killed tens of thousands of people.

With the visit, a direct international telephone connection was restored between the two countries for the first time in 20 years, another confidence-building measure following Abiy’s announcement that Ethiopian Airlines would resume flights to Eritrea.

Already moving to liberalize a repressive regime at home, reconciliation with Abiy could encourage similar progress next door by removing Isaias’ excuse for maintaining “a permanent state of military readiness,” said University of London scholar Martin Plaut.


A Planet Is Born

Around a distant star, a new planet is being born – and technology has finally allowed scientists to witness the event.

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany were able to snap images of the emerging planet using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, the Verge reported.

The new planet, designated PSD 70b, has a mass several times greater than Jupiter’s and is forming inside a large gas cloud surrounding a young star located 370 light years from Earth.

“For some time it was suspected that planets might be forming in this disk,” lead study author Miriam Keppler told the Verge. “Now we have the evidence that there’s at least one.”

In their study, the researchers used an instrument called a coronagraph, which blocks a star’s light in order to better observe surrounding celestial bodies. Doing so, they witnessed the planet’s formation and observed that it’s positioned roughly the same distance from its star as Uranus is from the sun.

In the past, images of other forming planets have been taken, but their authenticity has been debated because it’s normally unclear whether a planet or some other feature of a star is being observed.

Click here to see images of the newborn planet.

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