The World Today for October 08, 2018

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Truth, Lies and Death Squads

Around 200 killers, thieves and prostitutes holed up in a church in Nicaragua recently until brave citizens banded together to bring them to justice.

Or at least that’s what police loyal to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega wanted 20-year-old Dania Valeska Alemán Sandoval to say when they put a gun to her head and compelled her to “testify” about the incident that resulted in two of her friends dying.

Sandoval told the Daily Beast that her so-called confession was actually fake news. In truth, she said, she and the others in the church were unarmed students who oppose Ortega’s increasingly violent regime.

“I say those things because I was threatened,” she said. “Before they took me to record the video I was beaten, I was tortured psychologically, there were a lot of obscene comments and among them there were also comments about how they were going to kill me.”

Plenty of Americans remember the days when the US opposed Ortega, who first came to power in 1979, because of his leftist policies.

But, as the Colombian newspaper El Espectador explained – via the English-language news website Worldcrunch – many people in Latin America celebrated Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front’s rise to power after overthrowing the brutal regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza.

Now, however, Ortega has become the head of a government where black-hooded Sandinista death squads roam the countryside terrorizing or killing anyone resisting Ortega’s rule or criticizing his government’s dismal human-rights history, Public Radio International reported.

“Nicaragua is living an Orwellian nightmare,” the PRI report said, describing the paramilitary gangs swarming into villages as “like hordes of invading Huns.”

Ortega has denied responsibility for the violence, blaming it on a “satanic sect” that he says is part of a US-backed conspiracy.

The government crackdown started in April when anger over public pensions reforms merged with complaints about environmental damage in the Central American country, Hilary Francis of Northumbria University wrote in the Conversation. Ortega’s heavy-handed response to those movements – police and paramilitaries have killed more than 300 people – then helped spark full-fledged civic unrest and calls for democracy and justice.

Ortega doubled-down.

“In the past few weeks we have seen a new wave of oppression, a witch hunt, accusing people of terrorism,” one activist told the Guardian. “Every day there are detentions and disappearances.”

Bianca Jagger, a Nicaraguan human-rights advocate and ex-wife of Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, told Sky News that Ortega has even forbidden doctors to treat wounded protesters.

The US is considering sanctions against the regime but Ortega is defiant, saying he’s protecting the revolution that’s empowering workers and the least fortunate.

He didn’t explain how killing young people fits into this supposed utopia.



Us and Them

Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro won the first round of Brazil’s presidential election Sunday but  narrowly failed to win by a large enough margin to avoid a run-off against Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad later this month.

With almost all the votes counted, Bolsonaro had won 46 percent against Haddad’s 29, the BBC reported. Under Brazil’s rules, an election goes to a second-round run-off between the two top finishers if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the tally. The run-off will take place Oct. 28.

Bolsonaro’s margin of victory was considerably larger than poll forecasts, which expected the leftist and far-right candidates to emerge almost even. Meanwhile, Bolsonaro claimed he would have won outright if not for unspecified “problems” with the country’s electronic voting machines.

Though many people find his sexist and homophobic remarks offensive, Bolsonaro’s opposition to abortion and tough stance on law and order appealed to evangelicals and others worried about the country’s widespread violence. Haddad now faces an uphill battle to win votes cast for various other center-left and leftwing candidates before the second round.


Divided We Stand

Milorad Dodik, a Serbian nationalist with close ties to Russia, claimed victory Sunday in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three-way presidential election.

Dodik declared “a clear-cut victory” in the race for the Serbian seat in the three-member presidency Sunday though only 44 percent of the votes had been counted, the New York Times reported. An election official confirmed he was in the lead at that point.

In an electoral system designed as part of the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war in 1995, representatives of each of the country’s three ethnic groups (Croat, Serb and Bosniak Muslim) share the presidency, rotating as chairman every eight months.

Dodik has long campaigned on the platform that his Serbian region should break away from Bosnia, and could therefore exacerbate ethnic tensions and slow the country’s efforts to join the European Union, the Times said.

On the other hand, Croat incumbent Dragan Covic, who also wants to split up the country, conceded defeat to a moderate rival, Zeljko Komsic. Sefik Dzaferovic of the main Muslim party, the SDA, appeared poised to win the Bosniak Muslim seat.


The More Things Change…

America’s relationship with India has changed dramatically since the heyday of the Non-aligned Movement during the Cold War, when Washington viewed avowedly neutral New Delhi as the de facto ally of Moscow.

But when it comes to some key issues, India continues to set limits on the ballyhooed “strategic partnership” with the US, as illustrated by a $5 billion arms deal Prime Minister Narendra Modi inked with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday. The linchpin: A purchase of Russia’s S-400 Triumf missile defense system that Washington warned could attract US sanctions, India’s Mint newspaper reported.

Though Russia has long been India’s biggest arms supplier, the deal was the latest in a series of Russian challenges to US dominance in the defense industry, CNN noted. And for India, the purchase may well be useful in sending another message: It comes as New Delhi confirmed it will buy nine million barrels of Iranian oil in November – in defiance of US sanctions that come into effect Nov. 4.


Moonwalking and Dolphins

Flipper, the dolphin in the eponymous television series of the 1960s and 1990s, used to do a form of “moonwalking” on water using its tail.

Real-life dolphins can actually pull it off. Even so, scientists have discovered that the move might be a passing fad for the mammals, Live Science reported.

While in captivity in southern Australia, Billie the dolphin learned the ability – also known as tail walking – by imitating other captive dolphins.

After her release, she quickly spread the trick to other Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in the wild.

For several years, scientists recorded that Billie and others in her pod would tail walk in the ocean, especially in the presence of other animals but the researchers couldn’t pinpoint the cause of the “highly energetic display.”

They also noticed that after Billie and the dolphins that learned from her died, the younger generation stopped doing the stunt. The scientists concluded in their study that the behavior might have been a short trend, since there have been few additional reports of tail walking in this species.

Researchers elaborated that dolphins usually learn skills from each other and even pass them down to younger generations, but these behaviors usually focus on survival strategies.

Come to think of it, moonwalking has fizzled out among humans, too.

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