The World Today for June 18, 2019

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A Monumental Act of Mourning

Drug lords, death squads and government soldiers used to fight for control of western Colombia. Today, the Telegraph wrote, the lush region has become a magnet for birdwatchers.

But memories of the South American country’s violent days remain vivid. That’s especially true after Colombian lawmakers recently opened a debate over whether to censure their defense minister after his top commander, Gen. Nicacio Martínez Espinel, ordered troops to double the numbers of kills, captures or surrenders of guerrillas, paramilitary groups and criminals.

A New York Times investigation reported that the new orders sent “chills” down the spines of officers because they harked back to the days when security forces killed thousands of innocent civilians in the decades-long civil war between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the communist rebels who financed their campaign with illegal drug revenue.

General Martínez’s orders were seen as a sign of frustration within the military over a lack of progress in achieving peace since the government signed a peace deal with FARC in 2016.

Some former FARC leaders, like newly elected Congressman Seuxis Hernandez, who is wanted in the United States on drug charges, appear committed to the peace plan, the Associated Press reported. But FARC offshoots, drug cartel thugs and other paramilitary groups are still fighting the central government or have seized control of remote regions where FARC once ruled.

Adding to the controversy, Martínez held a top post in a brigade that is under investigation for at least 283 alleged extrajudicial executions between 2004 and 2006. These cases allegedly included killings of innocent civilians who were made to look like rebels in the “false positives” scandal, reported El País, a Spanish newspaper.

Human Rights Watch also linked Martínez to the brigade’s abuses. He counters that he only served in an administrative role.

More recently, InSight Crime, which follows corruption in Latin America, noted that a Colombian soldier murdered a demobilized FARC member in a reintegration camp established under the peace deal.

The fear is that the military has no interest in peace – a concern that was amplified recently when Colombia’s Senate promoted Martínez to a four-star general. To some, that suggested that Colombian leaders might share the military’s supposed misgivings about peace.

Martínez has tried to allay those fears, insisting that officers are trained to respect human rights and international humanitarian law, the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported. “We have no intention of returning to the ‘false positives,’” he said.

Recently, a Colombian artist produced an installation in the capital, Bogotá, called Quebrantos – or Shattered, a word that in Spanish also means sorrow or loss, Al Jazeera reported. In the work, folks used broken glass to spell out the names of community leaders who had been killed – often by criminal gangs, paramilitaries and dissident rebels fighting over territories once controlled by FARC – after they spoke out against illegal mining, deforestation or drug trafficking.

The artist says the glass, like life, is fragile and that once broken, it can’t be mended. It’s no different for communities. The collaborative installation, she added, is leading to reflection on why this is happening in the country.

But more importantly, it’s “a monumental act of mourning.”



A Trial, A Death

Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, died Monday after collapsing during his trial in a Cairo courtroom.

No cause of death has been released so far, the New York Times reported. But critics blamed inhumane treatment during his imprisonment for his failing health. The former president had been denied medicine for diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disease, and been held in solitary confinement for long periods, they claimed.

Morsi’s erstwhile political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, called it a case of “full-fledged murder,” according to Reuters, and urged Egyptians to gather for a mass funeral. Amnesty International urged Egypt to investigate the cause of the 67-year-old leader’s death, the agency reported separately. Specifically, the human rights watchdog called for an investigation into the medical treatment Morsi received.

In 2012, Morsi won Egypt’s first democratic presidential election following the Arab Spring uprising but he was removed from power a year later in a military takeover. He was facing trial for espionage, though he had been imprisoned on various other charges since 2013, the Times noted.


Back in Black

Three suicide bombers killed at least 30 people in the northeast Nigerian state of Borno on Sunday, marking the deadliest attack by Islamist militants in the country this year.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. But both Boko Haram and Islamic State have previously carried out terrorist attacks in Borno during a decade-long insurgency that has claimed more than 30,000 lives, Reuters reported.

“Yesterday (Sunday) around 8 p.m. it was reported that there was a very loud explosion in (the village of) Konduga. On reaching the scene of the incident we found there was a lot of casualties. In fact, the death toll was over 30 and the injured over 42,” an emergency service official told the news agency.

The three suicide bombers targeted a crowd gathered to watch a soccer game on a large screen, the agency said, noting that Boko Haram regards the sport as corrupting and un-Islamic.

In response, President Muhammadu Buhari called for security measures to be put in place at such open-air screenings around the country, according to a spokesman.


No Victory

Former First Lady Sandra Torres won the biggest share of votes in Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday but failed to win the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round run-off vote.

Torres won over 24 percent of all votes, easily outstripping her closest challenger, four-time presidential candidate Alejandro Giammattei, with 14 percent. But whichever of the two leaders wins the August run-off, the result will be a victory for the status quo, political analyst Phillip Chicola told the Washington Post.

That’s because the legitimacy of the vote itself was thrown into question by the exclusion of two of the top three candidates from the ballot. And also neither Torres nor Giammattei has expressed support for the highly successful United Nations-backed corruption mission that outgoing President Jimmy Morales announced he would send packing after it sought to get his immunity of office lifted so it could investigate allegations against him.

Notably, one of the two frontrunners removed from the ballot was former Chief Prosecutor Thelma Aldana, who led the anti-corruption crusade in tandem with the UN.


Siberian Spring

Much of the vast Siberia region of Asian Russia remains a predominantly frigid and uninhabitable place, with temperatures falling below minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit in January.

But by the end of the current century, warmer temperatures could turn it into a place brimming with condos, farms and summer attractions, Forbes Magazine reported.

Using computer models, a recent study predicted that greenhouse gases will raise temperatures in January – the coldest month – by nearly 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

While extreme areas will still remain cold, the less extreme spots might be five times more likely to support human habitation and grow crops.

“In a future warmer climate, food security in terms of crop distribution and production capability is likely to become more favorable for people to support settlements,” said lead author Elena Parfenova.

She added, however, that the lack of infrastructure still poses a problem for accessing the region. Another worry: Siberia’s permafrost houses dormant bacteria and viruses that have been locked in ice for thousands of years.

On the positive side, the study prompts reflection on how humans can migrate and adapt to changing climates – including finding new real estate markets.

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