The World Today for August 30, 2019

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Rats, Sewage and Humming Economies

Free marketers have long championed the economic success of Chile.

The South American country’s neo-liberal reforms in the 1980s and 1990s – cutting public benefits, lowering taxes – arguably set the stage for a renaissance that helped reduce poverty from 26 percent to less than 8 percent between 2000 and 2015, according to the World Bank.

But social upheaval has followed the slowdown of Chile’s export-oriented economy in the past year, especially as trade instability between China and the United States has suppressed the price of copper, a crucial local commodity, reported Al Jazeera. The worst drought in decades isn’t helping, added the Associated Press.

Around 80,000 teachers went on strike for seven weeks this summer, calling for structural changes in a system they said was not working anymore. Chilean law technically doesn’t cover education as a public right, leaving it instead to the private sector through a voucher system that hurts the poorest students, the left-wing magazine Jacobin explained. The teachers ended their strike in July but said they would keep fighting for reforms.

Students are also angry. Even at the elite National Institute in the capital of Santiago, the all-boy alma mater of numerous ex-presidents, students have staged protests against “rat infestations, blocked bathrooms with sewage leaking, cold showers, broken windows, leaking roofs and bullying teachers,” the BBC reported.

Confidence in the political system cratered in 2015, when the oldest son of then-President Michelle Bachelet was implicated in an insider trading and influence-peddling scandal, wrote Americas Quarterly. Bachelet responded by supporting major reforms to campaign finance and other rules governing elected officials.

Such improvements rarely quiet others seeking justice, however.

President Sebastián Piñera, a 69-year-old billionaire, assumed office 18 months ago. Since then, his critics say he has done little to address the many complaints of Chilean citizens about how their country operates. Piñera’s approval rating is now around 34 percent.

Meanwhile, relatives of around 1,100 people who disappeared during the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, for example, have been crying out for more information about their loved ones to no avail. Bachelet launched an investigation that is expected to yield results in two years. Many feel that Piñera isn’t doing anything to speed things up, the Guardian wrote.

Piñera also faces the uncomfortable task of overseeing prosecutions of accused sexual abusers within the Catholic church, Crux reported, including allegations against his uncle, Archbishop Bernardino Piñera.

In the current climate, reported Bloomberg, two young communist women lawmakers have proposed cutting the official workweek from 45 to 40 hours. Critics said the proposal would undermine productivity. The lawmakers, Camila Vallejo, 31, and Karol Cariola, 32, argued it would improve quality of life.

Economic indicators are important. They offer little, however, to those seeking justice and equality.



Back to the Front?

Two former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) commanders said they are taking up arms again following what they criticized as a failure of the state to honor its peace deal commitments after the election of President Ivan Duque.

“When we signed the accord in Havana we did so with the conviction that it was possible to change the life of the most humble and dispossessed,” said the leader known by the alias Iván Márquez in a video posted online, the Associated Press reported. “But the state hasn’t fulfilled its most important obligations, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons,” added the rebel commander, whose real name is Luciano Marin.

Former President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to Colombia’s 50-year war with the left-wing guerillas. But the pact was too forgiving for much of the electorate and Duque won office largely on promises to revise it — though he has so far failed to do so. Meanwhile, hundreds of former rebels and human rights activists have been murdered.


Welcome Back

Germany will make it easier for people who fled the country due to persecution by the Nazis to have their citizenship restored beginning Friday, according to the interior ministry.

The move will also apply to the descendants of those emigrants, some of whom initiated a campaign for such a measure after their citizenship requests were rejected despite existing constitutional guarantees, Reuters reported.

The Brexit decision sparked a sudden increase in applications from the descendants of people who fled from Germany to Britain between 1933 and 1945, the agency noted.

“With the legal decrees which come into force tomorrow, we will create a swift ruling that is immediately valid for these people to get German citizenship,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in a statement.

The new rules will loosen some of the restrictions that have limited rights meant to be guaranteed by Article 116 (2) of Germany’s Basic Law. For example, it will allow people with a German mother and foreign father to have their citizenship restored, if they were born before April 1953.


The Proverbial Gift Horse

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cautioned African leaders against burdening their countries with too much debt at a development conference in Japan on Thursday – an implicit reference to China’s big infrastructure projects on the continent.

Abe said Tokyo is promoting “quality” infrastructure exports and investments, supported by Japan’s government-backed institutions at the latest round of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), according to Agence France-Presse.

“If partner countries are deeply in debt, it interferes with everyone’s efforts to enter the market,” he said.

Abe is working to boost Japan’s presence in Africa to take advantage of growth opportunities there. However, Japanese businesses remain wary of financial and security risks, while China has already built a massive presence despite criticism for importing Chinese workers, ignoring human rights and environmental concerns, and burdening countries with unsupportable debts.

Last year, for instance, China announced $60 billion in development funding for Africa, twice as much as Japan pledged at the last TICAD meeting in 2016.


Taking a Stroll

Turns out that people don’t need a gym membership to prolong their lives.

In a recent study, researchers stated that activities like a simple walk in the park, gentle gardening or washing dishes are enough to help stave off early death in older people, the Guardian reported.

Professor Ulf Ekelund and his team reviewed data from eight other studies consisting of more than 36,000 participants with an average age of 63. Participants had been monitored on average about six years.

Results revealed that sitting for long periods per day can increase the risks of heart disease and other conditions, but that all could be alleviated with some physical activity – regardless of whether it’s light or vigorous.

Scientists noted that older people who did about 258 minutes of light activity per day were at 40 percent lower risk of death than those who managed only 200 minutes, and the percentage increased the longer they remained on the move.

“This study reinforces the important message that getting the least active people to do even just a little bit more physical activity can have important public health benefits,” said Gavin Sandercock of the University of Essex, who was not involved in the study.

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