The World Today for November 30, 2018

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A Swamp to Drain

Corruption scandals linked to the Brazilian construction and engineering firm Odebrecht have caught up politicians throughout Latin America.

But the rot might be worst in Peru.

Former Peruvian President Alan García recently sought asylum in Uruguay, saying claims that he took bribes from Odebrecht between 2006 and 2011 were part of a political witch hunt, reported the BBC.

A court ruled that he can’t leave the country. But the Peruvian foreign ministry said it won’t stand in the way of Uruguay accepting him.

Peru’s current president, Martin Vizcarra, denied the witch hunt claims.

“Political persecution doesn’t exist in Peru. There’s full rule of law,” Vizcarra told Bloomberg, adding that he hoped his neighboring country’s president would help in the fight against crooked politicians. “Corruption doesn’t respect borders and therefore heads of state need to work together to fight it.”

That full rule is exposing the extent to which graft permeated the highest levels of government in Peru.

As the Financial Times explained, the last four presidents of Peru before Vizcarra are under investigation for malfeasance in connection with Odebrecht.

Opposition leader Keiko Fujimori is also in jail for allegedly taking cash from Odebrecht. She is the daughter of Alberto Fujimori, a former Peruvian president who is in jail for human rights abuses.

The judge who ordered Keiko Fujimori’s detention said he suspected she was operating a “de facto criminal organization” that laundered money via her political party, wrote Agence France-Presse.

She and the others insist they are innocent.

The younger Fujimori’s plight especially illustrates how prosecutors are growing bolder, the Guardian noted. She held a congressional majority and was gearing up to run for president, a job she almost won in 2016. But leaks and journalistic investigations linked her with corrupt judges and plots to disrupt investigators and shield corrupt officials in government.

The Odebrecht scandal is just one bit of muck in what appears to be a swampy political culture in Peru.

Police recently arrested 14 people, including the former head of the national police, suspected of running a human trafficking ring, the New York Times reported. The criminals allegedly preyed on poor pregnant women, offering them money for their babies and then selling the babies to the highest bidders.

Prosecutors also recently sought to arrest the president of the country’s soccer federation in connection with two murders, wrote the Associated Press.

With so many former leaders facing prison or exile, one can only hope someone competent will be left to run the place.



What About You?

The negative attention on Saudi Arabia could well turn out to be bad news for Iran.

On Thursday, the US Senate voted 63-37 to take forward a bipartisan motion to withdraw American support for the Saudi-backed coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Shortly thereafter, the Trump administration touted new evidence that Tehran is arming rebels there and in Afghanistan to warn of possible military action, Foreign Policy reported.

The timing of the revelation is suspect, the magazine noted.

“The Iranian threat is growing, and we are accumulating risk of escalation in the region if we fail to act,” said Brian Hook, the special representative for Iran and senior policy advisor to the secretary of state, as he unveiled what he said were pieces of Iranian weapons discovered in Yemen and Afghanistan.

While he said the focus is on diplomacy for now, Hook said the military option is “on the table,” according to the Hill.


Fighting the Power

A court in Honduras on Thursday convicted seven people of murdering a prominent campaigner for the rights of indigenous people in 2016.

Convicted of killing land rights campaigner Berta Caceres, who led opposition to the construction of the $50 million Agua Zarca dam that threatened to displace hundreds of indigenous Lenca, the seven men face up to 30 years in jail, Reuters reported.

Four of them could face longer sentences, as they were also convicted of attempting to kill Mexican activist Gustavo Castro, who was wounded but survived by playing dead until the gunmen left.

Though two employees of the DESA construction company behind the dam were among those convicted, DESA executive Roberto David Castillo is being tried separately for his alleged involvement. DESA has rejected accusations that it was responsible for Caceres’ murder.

2017 was the deadliest year on record for environmental activists worldwide, according to Global Witness. But such killings declined in Honduras, perhaps in favor of other kinds of repression, National Geographic reported.


Pardon Me?

Controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s vow to pardon any officers found guilty of murder as part of his brutal crackdown on the drug business faces its first test, following the conviction on Thursday of three police officers for the murder of a 17-year-old boy.

The first such convictions since Duterte’s crackdown began – resulting in police killings of an estimated 5,000 people – the guilty verdict resulted in sentences of 40 years behind bars for the three men, the New York Times reported.

Prosecutors said the officers killed Kian Loyd delos Santos after an informant incorrectly identified him as a drug dealer. Witnesses described the police leading him away and executing him. A neighborhood video camera had recorded the officers with the boy in custody shortly before he was found dead.

While the accused claimed that the death was the result of a shootout, forensic evidence indicated that delos Santos was shot while curled up in the fetal position.

Human Rights Watch hailed the verdict as “a triumph of justice and accountability.” But prosecutor Persida Acosta cautioned that the conviction of the three officers was not proof of more widespread extrajudicial killings.


The Dark Ages

People tend to look back with nostalgia, thinking yesterday was better than today.

But historians and scientists recently posited that one date in the past – AD 536 – was humanity’s worst year, CNN reported.

According to a study in the journal Antiquity, the team analyzed ice samples from the Swiss Alps and uncovered atmospheric pollutants deposited over the past 2,000 years.

They found that a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland in 536 caused a massive cloud of ash that engulfed the whole Northern Hemisphere in darkness and led to a drop in temperatures, resulting in crop failures and starvation.

More misery followed in 541 and 542, when plague hastened the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Study co-author Michael McCormick told Science Magazine that AD 536 was “the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year.”

The volcanic event led to Europe’s economic stagnation, plunging it into a Dark Age.

Luckily, however, scientists also found traces of lead particles in the samples, suggesting that silver smelting – which requires lead ore – helped revive the economy a century later.

“There is evidence of total economic transformation between 640 and 660,” co-author Christopher Loveluck told CNN.

Good times are always coming.

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