The World Today for October 01, 2018

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Heads in the Sand

New laser maps of Guatemala show a lost, ancient civilization sprawling yet hidden under the jungle canopy. But indigenous peoples and cultures have disappeared more recently, too.

A tribunal of judges ruled last week that during Guatemala’s brutal civil war, which officially ended in 1996, the country’s military committed genocide and crimes against humanity that devastated indigenous communities.

“Inhuman acts were committed against the civilian population,” Judge Maria Eugenia Castellanos told Al Jazeera. “We are moved.”

Even so, the judges exonerated ex-intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez of all charges.

The court’s decision reflected the ostrich-like manner that Guatemalan leaders employ when encountering uncomfortable facts: They put their heads in the sand.

As the British edition of The Week explained, between the 1960s and early 1990s, the Guatemalan military basically waged war against its own citizens, mostly rural Mayan communities, killing an estimated 200,000.

Besides the deaths themselves and the impact on families and communities, “The killing of so many Mayans ‘badly damaged their transmission of oral history and traditional knowledge,’ with ramifications into the present day,” wrote the magazine.

It’s hard to believe the killing went on for decades without Rodriguez’s knowledge and approval, said Judge Sara Yoc, the lone dissenter in the court’s ruling.

But Guatemalan leaders don’t want to hear about it.

They barred officials with a United Nations-backed anti-corruption group, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) from entering the country and attempted to shut the agency down, Reuters reported.

Rights activists said CICIG was crucial in keeping cartel drug dealers and other elements from seizing control of the Guatemalan state.

But President Jimmy Morales said the investigative body itself was “a threat to peace in Guatemala.”

“The CICIG has created a system of terror, a system wherein those who think differently are persecuted,” Morales said in a speech to the UN General Assembly recently.

The peril posed by a team of international investigators apparently isn’t the only threat that alarms Guatemalan leaders these days.

Lawmakers recently blocked Swedish dark metal band Marduk from entering the country because the band’s music was allegedly “satanic,” the Associated Press reported.

Novelist and journalist Francisco Goldman argued in the New York Times that US President Donald Trump has empowered Morales by not speaking up about his civil-rights abuses and corruption.

“President Morales, a former television comedian, is widely regarded as corrupt,” wrote Goldman. “His government is backed by a so-called juntita of retrograde military officers and a bloc in the Guatemalan Congress derisively known as ‘el pacto de corruptos.’”

Thousands of years ago, the people in this region built cities and streets: In the laser mapping project, archaeologists believe they have found more than 60,000 structures in an overgrown network of ancient cities, and 60 miles of roads and canals, as well as large maize farms and defensive fortifications.

But that civilization crumbled rapidly and is now gone. How much time will pass until the modern Guatemalan state goes the same way?



Keeping It Real

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is officially dead. But its replacement will also be a trilateral pact involving the US, Canada and Mexico, thanks to an eleventh-hour deal.

Just hours before a midnight deadline, the US and Canada agreed Sunday on a pact that would allow US farmers greater access to Canada’s dairy market and address concerns about potential US auto tariffs, CNN reported. The new pact will be called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump had threatened to leave Canada out and form a bilateral agreement with Mexico. But several US lawmakers had said they would not support a deal that excluded America’s northern neighbor.

With Canada acceding, the new deal will now go to the US Congress for a 60-day review, during which legislators can suggest changes to the agreement. That gives Trump just enough time to push it through before Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto leaves office on December 1.


Failing the Test

With the death toll from an earthquake and tsunami crossing 800 people in Indonesia over the weekend and expected to climb sharply, the early warning system set up after the 2004 tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands across the archipelago has failed its first major test.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, told reporters Sunday that none of the tsunami buoys used to detect the dangerous waves has been functional since 2012, due to a funding crisis, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the meteorological and geophysics agency BMKG has drawn flak for prematurely lifting the tsunami warning it issued following a 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Friday – though the wave appears to have hit while the warning was still in effect.

Indonesian authorities were on Monday still scrambling to ferry aid and rescue equipment to the island of Sulawesi, where 832 people have been confirmed dead. Most of the confirmed deaths were in Palu, a city of 380,000 people. But authorities fear the toll could climb into the thousands when other regions are accounted for, Reuters said.


The Name Game

Macedonia’s prime minister said Sunday he’ll push ahead with a parliamentary vote to change the country’s name and resolve a decades-old spat with Greece, even though too few voters turned out for a weekend referendum on the issue to be valid.

Part of a deal reached in June to convince Greece to drop its opposition to Macedonia joining NATO or the European Union, the proposal would change the official name of the country from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia. But the non-binding referendum on the subject failed to meet the threshold of 50 percent voter turnout, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has thrown his weight behind the measure, while President Gjorge Ivanov urged voters to boycott the referendum, calling the name change “historical suicide”.

Though turnout was too low to make it official, the voters who did cast ballots overwhelmingly supported the name change, Reuters said, noting that 90 percent of voters had backed the measure after nearly two-thirds of polling stations had reported their results.

Greece, which has a province of its own called Macedonia, objects to the name saying it represents a claim on its territory.


Party Cephalopods

Octopuses aren’t the most social of cephalopods. In fact, it’s truly rare to find a species of these intelligent marine animals that doesn’t mind mingling with its kin.

Neuroscientist Gül Dölen wanted to see if the party drug MDMA – also known as Molly or ecstasy – which reduces fear and inhibitions in humans, would turn the introverted invertebrates into social butterflies.

It did, with amusing results.

Dölen and her team experimented on several octopuses, putting a subject octopus in the center of a three-chambered tank with a novel object, such as a Star Wars figurine, on one side and another octopus on the other side – protected under an overturned orchid pot in case a brawl ensued.

After they laced the water with low doses of ecstasy, octopuses of both sexes started spending more time in the chamber with the other octopus and even hugged the orchid pot in a non-threatening embrace.

The team discovered a similarity in the molecular messaging systems that control social behavior of both humans and the cephalopods.

“Even though octopuses look like they come from outer space, they’re actually not that different from us,” Dölen told the New York Times.

The scientists hope that the marine animal will serve as a model in future studies on the effects of Molly in treating PTSD and how brains developed social behaviors.

As for the test subjects, Dölen concluded that once they sobered up, the mollusks “acted completely normal – for an octopus.”

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