The World Today for February 12, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

CENTRAL AMERICA

A Land of Waiting

Wearing his red and white “Make Tijuana Great Again” hat, Mayor Juan Manuel Gastélum recently described Central American migrants as “pot smokers, bums and bad people,” according to Fox News.

He has refused to apologize for his incendiary remarks and has appealed a Mexican court ruling barring him from making more derogatory comments about migrants, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The “Trump of Tijuana,” as Slate called him, has made his stance on the thousands of migrants who have stopped in his city on their way to the United States a major plank in his re-election bid.

The subject is probably a better talking point on the campaign trail than the 2,009 homicides that San Diego’s local NBC affiliate said occurred in the border town last year, an increase from around 1,650 in 2017.

In a sense, the migrants’ presence has stimulated crime and corruption in Mexico, USA Today reported. Turned away at the border, they desperately scrounge up around $5,000 per person to pay smugglers to bring them into the US illegally while avoiding criminal gangs who might kidnap and ransom them.

The American policy of “Remain in Mexico” – currently applied only at the San Ysidro border crossing between Tijuana and San Diego – sends Central American asylum seekers back to the Mexican city to stay as authorities decide their applications. The policy, officially called the Migration Protection Protocols, could make the crisis south of the border worse as more people arrive, Al Jazeera argued.

The problem is already ballooning in Piedras Negras, a Mexican town across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas. Customs and Border Protection officials can only process 20 people a day from Piedras Negras, NBC News reported. A total of 1,800 asylum seekers are sleeping in a shelter as they await processing.

Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber recently visited the shelter. He and others were readying for any potential breakdowns in public safety, in case the migrants in the shelter grow restive.

Last month, signaling a commitment to migrants’ rights, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered humanitarian visas to citizens from crime-ridden Central American countries like El Salvador and Honduras, allowing them to travel and work around Mexico.

A caravan of 12,000 Central Americans set out for Mexico soon after the open-door policy was announced. The government responded by shuttering the program, noted United Press International.

Now, many migrants feel as if the US and Mexico are “playing with their lives,” wrote PRI.

While some migrants are confused or shocked over the new and sometimes-flip-flopping policies, most understand they will be waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

“We obviously would rather be in the United States and waiting, but if we have to wait, we will,” a Salvadoran named Juli, 24, told PRI. “The gangs threatened us, and all five of us living in the house left within a day. What’s our alternative?”

WANT TO KNOW

AFGHANISTAN

The Waiting Game

In a surprise visit, acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan met with Afghan leaders in Kabul Monday, failing to resolve the will-he-won’t-he confusion over President Donald Trump’s earlier suggestion the US might withdraw as many as half the 14,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported.

“I think the presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability, and that any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner,” Shanahan said.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Defense Ministry said Monday Shanahan promised the US wouldn’t desert Afghanistan’s security forces, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Another round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban is slated to begin later this month in Qatar, and is expected to include a timeline for US troop withdrawal, along with a ceasefire, the newspaper said.

Last month, the two sides reached a framework agreement calling for the withdrawal of foreign forces and guarantees that Afghanistan won’t become a staging ground for Islamist militant groups.

In recent months, the US has launched more airstrikes and special operations raids than anytime since 2014 amid a simultaneous diplomatic push to end the so-called “forever war.”

VENEZUELA

Delivering the Goods

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido said Monday his supporters had delivered the first humanitarian aid to the public after the government of President Nicolas Maduro had acted to block such shipments.

Tweeting a picture of himself surrounded by vitamins and nutritional supplements, Guaido said his team had delivered the first cargo of humanitarian aid “on a small scale,” Reuters reported.

By now, the US and many other nations have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful leader. But Maduro is still clinging to power and claims the aid shipments are part of a US strategy to undermine and overthrow him.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that sources close to Maduro said his aides are drawing up contingency plans for him to flee the country if it becomes necessary. Cuba, Russia and Turkey are among the more obvious possible destinations. But Mexico, too, has come up, the agency said.

Welcoming him could be more problematic for some than for others, however. Were he to go to Cuba, for instance, that could give Washington an excuse to push ahead measures targeting Havana for encouraging state-sponsored terrorism.

CHINA

My Way or the Huawei

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stopped just short of issuing an ultimatum to countries buying systems from Chinese networking giant Huawei Technology Co., saying that such purchases might prompt the US to restrict their purchases of American equipment.

“If that equipment is co-located where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them,” Pompeo told reporters in Budapest on Monday, according to Bloomberg.

Though Huawei is a privately owned firm, Washington is convinced that its owner’s close relationship to the Chinese Communist Party makes using its telecommunications equipment a security risk, especially in light of the alleged theft of a huge treasure trove of technology and trade secrets by Chinese hackers over a dozen years.

Huawei has sought to make Hungary a key foothold in Europe, Bloomberg said, while the US is now pushing back and urging Budapest and other European governments to select American firms like Cisco Systems instead.

DISCOVERIES

The (Less) Blue Pacific

Climate change could affect the color of oceans.

In a recent study, scientists predicted that in less than a hundred years, some of the Earth’s oceans would become bluer, while others would become greener, Weather.com reported.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a simulation model to observe how phytoplankton would grow and interact as global temperatures rise.

Phytoplankton are microorganisms that contain chlorophyll, a pigment that absorbs the blue part of the light spectrum and reflects the green. Consequently, areas with more phytoplankton look greener, compared to others.

The science team noted that regions in the subtropics will get a more bluish hue in the future, due to warmer waters having fewer nutrients to feed the microorganisms.

The opposite will happen in the cooler regions, where warming oceans will allow phytoplankton populations to thrive due to the rise in nutrients.

Lead author Stephanie Dutkiewicz warned, however, that the color shift is bad news for underwater ecosystems, since the tiny organisms play a big role in the food chain.

“Different types of phytoplankton absorb light differently, and if climate change shifts one community of phytoplankton to another, that will also change the types of food webs they can support,” she said.

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