February 12, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

CHILE

Contest of Our Time

Free marketeers have long considered Chile a darling among South American countries due to its reputation as conservative, pro-business and stable.

But recently one of the country’s best-known exports has been a feminist protest song called “The Rapist Is You,” the Guardian reported. The song is a critique of patriarchy. It also is a sign of how many Chileans don’t like where their country is going.

At least 27 people have died in protests that erupted in Chile in October, Al Jazeera wrote. The civil unrest was triggered by a hike in metro fare costs. But the demonstrations now target President Sebastian Pinera, a billionaire whom many Chileans view as a symbol of the economic inequality that has marked the country in recent years.

Students have disrupted the Chilean version of SAT tests, saying the college-entrance exams are unfair because wealthier students perform better, Time wrote. A victim of sexual abuse who courageously went public against the Catholic Church in Chile is launching a new political party, called Dignity, to fight against inequality and rising costs, Reuters reported.

Despite Chile’s pro-business image, corruption is widespread. Solid evidence suggested that lawmakers received bribes to enact a fishery law that gave monopoly rights to politically connected elites, for example. Yet the law passed, enriching the rich. Such corruption costs Chileans around $5 billion a year in uncollected taxes and other lost revenues, according to Pro-Market, a blog produced by the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Pinera has taken action. He halted the metro fare hikes, raised pensions, hired and fired cabinet members, launched health care reforms and agreed to schedule an April referendum on whether or not to rewrite the country’s constitution, a document adopted in 1980 when a military junta ran the country.

The protests continue, however. People appear to want more than tweaked government policies.

“One of the main challenges, inequality, won’t be solved with simply approving a new constitution,” said Pablo Villoch, who teaches business at Chilean universities, in an interview with the Washington Post. “But I think this is a historic opportunity to get closer to a system that is more socially cohesive.”

Chile’s travails are common throughout the world, argued writer Ariel Dorfman in a New York Times op-ed. Impatient, frustrated and tech-savvy folks, often young folks, are challenging a political, social and economic system that appears slanted in favor of the rich who, absent protests, have few incentives to give up their power.

In Chile and elsewhere, this contest doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. But it might turn out to be one.

WANT TO KNOW

PHILIPPINES

Reevaluating Our Partnership

Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte terminated a two-decade troop rotation pact with the United States on Tuesday, in a move that could complicate the US military presence in Asia-Pacific as China’s ambitions rise, Reuters reported.

The president’s spokesman said that the revocation of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States (VFA) was a result of US actions that “bordered on assaulting our sovereignty and disrespecting our judicial system.”

The VFA sets out the rules under which US soldiers can operate in the country. It is one of three governing defense pacts that establish an “ironclad” relationship between the US and the Philippines.

Several Philippine senators attempted to block Duterte’s move last week, arguing that all three pacts have helped deter Chinese militarization and improved the condition of the army.

Duterte, who favors closer ties with China and Russia, claims that the pacts mostly benefit the US troops and have done nothing to prevent China from building islands in the South China Sea.

IRELAND

Fragmented Chamber

Ireland’s leftwing Sinn Fein party will start negotiating with other parties to form a coalition government, following breakthrough results in Ireland’s snap elections over the weekend, the Guardian reported.

Sinn Fein received the highest number of “first-preference” votes and doubled its share from the 2016 elections, after harnessing voter anger at homelessness, high rents and fraying public services. But the fragmented election results could lead to a hung parliament since no party is close to the number of seats needed for a majority in the 160-seat chamber.

With 37 seats, Sinn Fein fell far short of the target. Coalition talks are set with the Greens, Social Democrats and other potential partners, but few expect a deal that yields the 80 seats needed to form the government.

The centrist Fianna Fail and the ruling Fine Gael party of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar – which have taken turns running Ireland for decades – won 38 and 35 seats, respectively.

Both initially ruled out a coalition with Sinn Fein, due to the party’s leftwing tax policies and connections with the militant Provisional Irish Republican Army.

However, after the election results, Fianna Fail expressed interest in exploring a possible coalition with Sinn Fein if it fails to cobble together a government with smaller parties.

SUDAN

He’s Yours

A member of the transitional body governing Sudan said Tuesday that the country agreed to hand over various officials to the International Court of Justice (ICC), including ousted President Omar al-Bashir who’s wanted for war crimes in Darfur, the Associated Press reported.

Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a member of Sudan’s transitional Sovereign Council, said that the government reached an agreement with rebel groups in Darfur to hand over several officials, but did not mention al-Bashir by name.

It remains unclear when the transfer will happen, and the decision could face a backlash from Islamists in the country as well as from within Sudan’s military – from which al-Bashir emerged.

The former autocrat was ousted following mass protests last year, and currently is serving a jail sentence in Sudan on charges of corruption and killing protesters.

Al-Bashir is wanted by The Hague-based court for crimes against humanity and genocide related to the Darfur conflict in 2003, which killed up to 300,000 people and displaced 2.7 million.

Despite the ICC issuing international arrest warrants against him, al-Bashir was never arrested while visiting leaders around the world.

DISCOVERIES

Uneventful Life

Sloths have the reputation of being very lazy creatures, but a recent study found that a species of salamander takes sluggishness to a whole new level.

Scientists discovered that the olm – a blind amphibian that lives in underwater caves in southern Europe – is so slow that it may move a total of only 30 feet in a decade, the Independent reported. One individual olm only bothered to move once in over seven years.

Researchers monitored the movements of olms living in aquatic caves in Bosnia and Herzegovina for over eight years. The creatures rarely even budged.

The team noted that olms are highly resistant to starvation, can live over 100 years and have no predators. They tend to move only in order to mate – which they do on average around once every 12.5 years.

“They are hanging around, doing almost nothing,” lead author Gergely Balazs told New Scientist.

The authors pointed out that this is the first time the species has been studied in its natural habitat, and hope that the study can help track human impacts on aquatic cave ecosystems.