The World Today for February 01, 2019

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Bullets and Suitcases

Murders in El Salvador, one of the most dangerous countries in the world, declined by half between 2015 and 2018.

That’s the good news.

Still, in the first 20 days of this year, authorities recorded more than 200 homicides, a big spike compared to the recent trend.

What’s happening? Perhaps the killings are related to conflicts arising between police-led death squads and gangs as El Salvador moves closer to presidential elections slated for Feb. 3, suggested InSite Crime, a foundation that researches violence in Latin America.

A shift in the political landscape could explain why tensions are high.

Ineligible to run for re-election for a consecutive term, President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has an approval rating of around 26 percent, according to the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. His political party, the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, or FMLN, lost ground in legislative and local elections last year. The party’s presidential nominee is in third place in the polls.

The FMLN’s failure to curb crime is a key factor in the party’s dismal prospects. Around 2,700 Salvadorans have joined migrant caravans in hopes of finding a better life in the US, Reuters reported.

The ex-mayor of the capital of San Salvador, Nayib Bukele, a former FMLN member, is the front-runner in the race to succeed Sánchez Cerén. Bukele formed a new opposition party, the Grand Alliance for National Unity, after the FMLN kicked him out for only half-heartedly embracing socialism. Bukele has appealed to the urban middle class with a tight campaign using social media.

In second place is Carlos Calleja of the Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA, the traditional alternative to the FMLN.

The alliance has been tarred by probes that recently revealed widespread corruption in former ARENA administrations. Ex-President Antonio Saca, an ARENA leader who served from 2004 to 2009, confessed last summer to illegally misappropriating more than $300 million, for example, noted Global Americans, a news website run by Columbia University professor Christopher Sabatini.

It’s no wonder that voters are interested in change.

But Bukele, an entrepreneur, and Calleja, a supermarket chain owner, are two of the richest men in the country. They already are fixtures in a power structure that hasn’t helped Salvadorans much, argued the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, a left-wing US-based activist group with alleged ties to the FMLN.

It quoted an analysis by Hilary Goodfriend, a writer for the now-defunct news site Upside Down World, who wrote that Bukele and Calleja are both “capitalists who, no longer content behind the scenes, are elbowing out the middlemen and jockeying to take the reins themselves.”

Still, some say that when bullets are flying and an exodus of citizens is underway, at least someone is stepping forward.



Say No to War

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has his own version of “just say no.”

He declared the end of his country’s “war” on drugs Wednesday and said Mexico will no longer prioritize using the army to capture drug lords, as it has done since 2006, Agence France-Presse reported.

“No capos have been arrested, because that is not our main purpose,” the president said in response to a question about the number of kingpins arrested since he took office in December. “The main purpose of the government is to guarantee public safety… What we want is security, to reduce the daily number of homicides.”

Critics questioned the vow, however, noting that the army remains in the streets despite his campaign promises and that he has proposed a national guard that they say would institute another kind of militarization.

The military response to fighting the drug cartels has not ended the trade, of course, and many suggest that it has contributed to escalating violence by creating temporary power vacuums and fracturing the big gangs.


If You Build It, Will They Come?

Britain, France and Germany created a new company Thursday that will allow foreign companies to skirt US sanctions and do business with Iran, at least in theory.

Called Instex, for Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, it would create a kind of barter system to allow deals without direct financial transactions or using the dollar, the New York Times reported.

The announcement follows US warnings of stiff penalties if Europe tries to set up an alternative to the SWIFT system that facilitates international payments, but appears to offer a compromise workaround. It also comes on the heels of a US intelligence report that angered US President Donald Trump by arguing that Iran is actually complying with the terms of the nuclear pact Europe is trying to keep alive.

The move may be more important as a symbol of Europe’s desire to keep Iran onside than it is economically, however. While the idea was originally for Iran to barter gas and oil exports for European goods, most big European firms are too closely tied to the US to be interested.


A New Government, At Last

Lebanon formed a national unity government on Thursday, ending nine months of horse-trading between Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s Future Movement, Iran-backed Hezbollah and other factions.

Hariri said bold moves are needed to revitalize debt-burdened Lebanon’s economy, Reuters reported. That won’t be easy, if the nine months it took to form a government is any indication.

One of the world’s most indebted countries in proportion to its gross domestic product, Lebanon will need to take harsh measures to rein in spending, as returning Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil warned last month that the current economic crisis has “started to turn into a financial one”, the agency said.

Meanwhile, Hariri lost more than a third of the seats he previously controlled in the May elections, as Hezbollah and its allies won more than 70 out of 128 parliamentary seats. The new government will include most of Lebanon’s rival factions as a result, and Hezbollah wrangled the right to select the health minister – who controls the fourth-largest budget in the state apparatus, Al Jazeera said.


The Big Crash

The “giant impact hypothesis” theorizes that the Earth crashed with another planet during its early days, leading to the creation of the moon.

Now, scientists propose that the impact also helped create life on Earth, the Independent reported.

In a study published in Science Advances, the researchers say their simulations suggest that a planetary body with a sulfur-rich core transferred many elements to the Earth’s surface 4.4 billion years ago.

Among these were the elements carbon and nitrogen, which are found in living things, including humans.

Lead author Rajdeep Dasgupta said that scientists have had a hard time to determine how certain elements were introduced to our planet, but the study could shed some light.

“Ours is the first scenario that can explain the timing and delivery in a way that is consistent with all the geochemical evidence,” he told the Press Association.

He believes the new research can explain how life might form on other rocky planets similar to Earth.

“This study suggests that a rocky, Earth-like planet gets more chances to acquire life-essential elements if it forms and grows from giant impacts with planets that have sampled different building blocks, perhaps from different parts of a protoplanetary disk.”

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