The World Today for February 20, 2020

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The Politics of Impunity

Since 2013, US officials have deported 138 people to El Salvador who were later killed in their crime-ridden Central American country, according to a recent Human Right Watch report.

Writing in the Conversation, Emerson College political scientist Mneesha Gellman claimed the deaths violated international asylum laws to protect migrants. Those treaties and conventions were adopted after World War II to avoid a repeat of the Holocaust, she wrote.

Perhaps some El Salvadorans in the US illegally should be sent home, however. A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement press release stated that at least some El Salvadorans deported from the US are violent gang members.

Whether or not asylum seekers should be deported is a debate that won’t be settled anytime soon. There is no question, however, that El Salvador is dangerous and unstable.

Gangs and organized crime syndicates have extended their tentacles throughout El Salvador. This book review in the left-wing news magazine Jacobin provides some background on the issue, including the role of the US in stoking the problem.

Heavily armed El Salvadoran troops marched into parliament earlier this month in a literal show of force as lawmakers considered approving a $109 million loan to buy uniforms, surveillance tech, vehicles, and a helicopter, National Public Radio reported. The loan was part of President Nayib Bukele’s plan to crack down on gangs and organized crime. Bukele won office last year on a campaign to restore public order.

Lawmakers blasted the army’s display as an attempted coup. “We cannot respond to the executive branch with a gun to our head,” National Assembly President Mario Ponce told the BBC.

But many El Salvadorans appear to support Bukele, who enjoyed an approval rating of around 90 percent in December, reported Al Jazeera. A crowd gathered outside the legislature in a show of support for the president. A drop in violent crime was one reason those citizens backed him, the Washington Post wrote in an editorial.

But experts were less forgiving. They viewed the military intervention as a crisis for democracy in a country where democracy has rarely held sway.

“The danger is that this could be a slippery slope,” said Frank Mora, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University, in an interview with Americas Quarterly. “If democracies can’t deliver and do the reforms that are necessary, one could plausibly expect the militaries to play a larger role.”

Mora is right. If politicians can’t deal with criminals operating with impunity, someone else will have to do so.



The Old Colossus

The United Kingdom unveiled a new points-based system for migrants on Wednesday, part of the country’s plan to overhaul its immigration policy following its exit from the European Union, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The new system is similar to the ones in Australia and Canada. Starting next year, it will end the free movement of migrants from the 27-member countries of the EU and curb the number of low-skilled workers allowed into the UK.

All migrants will be rated on a number of factors, including their English proficiency and if they earn over $33,000 – a reduction from the existing $38,870.

Several British companies expressed concern about the new system and warned that the restrictions on EU migrants could hurt industries including the construction, hospitality and food and drink sectors.

It remains unclear if the new measures will lower overall migration to Britain, since the new rules lower the minimum salary requirements and do not place any caps on the number of skilled visas that can be issued.


No Chance for Peace

Peace negotiations between Libya’s warring factions stalled earlier this week, when the UN-backed government withdrew from the talks following several rocket attacks on the capital by the forces of renegade commander Khalifa Hifter, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

The peace talks were aimed at ending the conflict in the oil-rich North African country, which has been splintered into two administrations, each backed by different nations, following the ousting of autocrat Muammar Gaddafi.

Hifter’s forces, which control eastern Libya and several key oil fields and export terminals, have been trying to capture Tripoli since last April.

Diplomats, including United Nations Libya envoy Ghassan Salame, have been urging both parties to restart their negotiations.

The recent attack is the latest violation of a fragile truce that came into effect in January.

Last month, at a summit in Berlin world leaders agreed not to interfere in the conflict and to enforce an arms embargo.

The flow of weapons still continues, however, prompting foreign ministers from the European Union to launch a naval mission to stop weapons shipments into Libya.



Several Indonesian lawmakers on Wednesday expressed support for a new “Family Resilience” Bill that would outlaw surrogacy and require members of the LGBT community to seek treatment in government-sanctioned rehabilitation centers, Reuters reported.

The proposed bill sets a maximum penalty of seven years in prison for surrogacy and defines homosexuality, incest and sadomasochism as “sexual deviations.”

The draft law is aimed at fostering “family-based development” and is seen as a sign of increasing conservatism and hostility towards the LGBT community in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Many people have criticized the proposed legislation on social media, while Amnesty International called it a “patriarchal bill” that will hinder the progress toward gender equality and women’s rights.

The draft was included in the parliament’s priority list for the 2020 – 2024 period, but proponents have yet to discuss it with the government’s related ministries.

Parties supporting President Joko Widodo control more than half of parliament, so any bill would likely need government approval to gain traction.


Smart Eaters

Cuttlefish love shrimp, and if they know they will be having shrimp for dinner, they will eat fewer crabs for lunch, according to a recent study.

Scientists discovered that the cephalopod’s food preference and ability to prioritize its meals is a sign of “complex cognitive abilities,” Sky News reported.

Researcher Pauline Billard and her team tested 29 young European common cuttlefish to establish whether they preferred shrimp over crab.

The team said that the cuttlefish ate less crab during the day when they knew that researchers would feed them shrimp for dinner.

But when the scientists fed them other foods in the evening, the young cephalopods reverted back to eating more crabs during lunchtime.

“This is a very complex behavior and is only possible because they have a sophisticated brain,” said Billard.

The authors explained that the cuttlefish’s large central nervous system helps them remember and alter their behavior.

Co-author Nicola Clayton added that the cephalopods’ ability to adapt faster could also provide “a valuable insight into the evolutionary origins of such complex cognitive ability.”

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