The World Today for August 23, 2018

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No Time For Snoozing

Newly elected Colombian President Ivan Duque, sworn in earlier this month, is unlikely to catch a break as a freshman president, wrote Mac Margolis in Bloomberg Opinion. There’s just too much going on in this pivotal South American nation to hit the snooze button.

For one, the hard-won peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) still hasn’t hit its stride two years after ratification.

There were high hopes for the deal, which won Duque’s predecessor, President Juan Manuel Santos, the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 and ended over 50 years of warfare with the far-left paramilitary group.

It has yielded some results, such as the disarmament of the FARC rebels. FARC’s political wing also saw 10 politicians seated in Congress last month per the agreement – despite having received only 1 percent of the vote in March’s congressional elections, Deutsche Welle reported.

But in many respects, the peace deal has only made things worse for Colombia’s most vulnerable, Bloomberg reported.

After FARC rebels abandoned the isolated rural towns they’d extorted for decades, they were soon replaced with what a Bloomberg reporter called “a cacophony of drug-trafficking mafias, each charging farmers so much protection money that coffee, cattle and even cocaine are barely profitable.”

Key tenets of the peace deal, such as the replacement of coca crops with less seedy ones, have gone largely unimplemented. New rebel groups have taken advantage, ratcheting up output.

That’s led to extreme deforestation – a 46 percent increase since the peace deal was signed – to make way for illicit farmland. Subsequently, extreme violence against land activists trying to stop the process is also on the rise, the Huffington Post wrote. Journalists, as well as other human rights activists, have also been caught in the crossfire.

Even provisions directly dealing with FARC have been slow-moving, wrote ­­Vanda Felbab-Brown for the Brookings Institution. The literacy, vocational training and psychological support promised to former soldiers are severely lacking. Most rebels receive just a monthly stipend of $220, and that’s slated to end in August 2019.

These disappointments are among the reasons why more than 1,000 former FARC rebels have once again taken up arms, Bristow wrote.

Duque, a vehement opponent of the deal since its inception, has vowed to roll back provisions unpalatable to his right-wing base, such as amnesty for some FARC rebels, Al Jazeera reported.

But even such politically advantageous moves will be a long time coming, as the new president confronts another challenge: the torrent of refugees pouring in from troubled neighbor Venezuela, wrote the Hill. Already, Duque has proposed diverting some $300 million earmarked for peace implementation to helping with the refugee crisis instead.

Then add the pressure Duque’s under from the likes of President Donald Trump to halt the increase in drug trafficking out of Colombia using any means possible – a feeder program to the migrant issue in the US.

Whoever said freshman year was a breeze has another think coming.



Unkind Equality

Further weakening Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s credentials as a reformer, Saudi Arabia is reportedly seeking the death penalty for a female rights activist – in what is believed to be a first for the country’s notoriously harsh justice system.

Human Rights Watch said Israa al-Ghomgham and four male activists working on behalf of Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ite minority were recently tried by a terrorism tribunal on charges that included “participating in protests” in the restive Qatif region, the BBC reported.

The watchdog group warned that the decision to seek the death penalty for al-Ghomgham set “a dangerous precedent for other women activists currently behind bars.” The right to be beheaded is not the sort of equality the campaigners had in mind, of course. But that’s how most executions are carried out in Saudi Arabia, NBC News noted.

In this case, al-Ghomgham is not charged with perpetrating any violent act – just with crimes related to encouraging the mass protests that have taken place in Qatif since 2011.


The Deflection Game

Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday defended Myanmar’s crackdown in Rakhine state, which caused more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh in what the United Nations has called an example of “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

Speaking in Singapore, Suu Kyi said, “We, who are living through the transition in Myanmar, view it differently than those who observe it from the outside and who will remain untouched by its outcome,” continuing her refusal to condemn the violence or name the Rohingya specifically, Al Jazeera reported.

She also declined to give a timeline for the repatriation of the refugees who fled the country – whom many members of Myanmar’s majority Buddhist ethnicity believe were Bengalis who migrated to the country illegally during the British rule in the subcontinent. Instead, she seemed to put the blame for the slow progress on Bangladesh, saying, “It’s very difficult for us to put a timeframe on it by ourselves unilaterally, because we have to work with Bangladesh in order to do that.”


Desperation and Battery Acid

More than 100 African migrants scrambled over a border fence and forced their way into the Spanish territory of Ceuta Wednesday in the second such altercation in a month.

Seven police officers sustained mild injuries as some of the migrants threw battery acid and quicklime to deter those seeking to prevent them from crossing the border, the UK’s Telegraph newspaper reported, citing Agence France-Presse.

An unknown number of migrants also sustained injuries.

Such attempts are relatively common, but they have spiked in recent days. More than 600 migrants managed to cross into Spain illegally on July 26, in the largest run on the border since February 2017.

The Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa. They’ve attracted some 3,100 migrants since the beginning of 2018, joining more than 25,000 others who have arrived in Spain by sea.

On Wednesday, some of those who made it across the border waved Spanish or European Union flags as they moved to a temporary migrant accommodation center.


A Milky Way Mystery

Once upon a time, the Milky Way had a sibling called M32p. But two billion years ago, the galaxy disappeared.

Now scientists think they may have found the perp: A neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, ate it, they say, CNN reported.

“It was shocking to realize that the Milky Way had a large sibling, and we never knew about it,” said professor Eric Bell, a co-author of a new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Apparently, galaxies are quite competitive.

And Andromeda, being a large galaxy, has a huge appetite. It’s believed to have consumed hundreds of nearby galaxies. M32p was just one of its many victims.

Researchers say they discovered the phenomenon after analyzing several clues, including a ghostly halo of stars around Andromeda and the remains of M32p.

The research was similar to finding a “muddy footprint” that helped the scientists determine which galaxies were the origins of the stars in the faint halo.

Like man and beast – and even hermit crabs – it seems that even stars in our sky are competitive.

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