The World Today for March 03, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

MEXICO

The Interests That Bind

The United States’ tough immigration policies are causing ripple effects throughout Mexico and Central America.

The US often sends asylum seekers from El Salvador and Honduras to Guatemala, for example. Mexico also intercepts migrants trying to cross its southern border with Guatemala.

But Guatemalan officials are woefully unprepared to accept the newcomers, the American Civil Liberties Union says. Many of those migrants then hit the road again, hoping to get lucky and somehow cross through Mexico and into the US.

Some of those folks might have been among the hundreds of Hondurans who clashed recently with Mexican security forces, who deported them back to their home country.

Migrants who remain in Guatemala face other risks. A reporter for the New Humanitarian witnessed someone robbing an immigrant.

Those who make it to the US border face a dangerous zone where criminals exploit vulnerable migrants and American border patrol agents can employ deadly force, often tragically, as the BBC described in a story about the shooting of a 15-year-old boy.

Ironically, the chaos comes as Mexico and the US are cooperating more closely than ever on other cross-border issues.

Mexico is extraditing more criminals to the US, the New York Times reported. Mexican officials said the moves were designed to address the soaring crime rate in the Latin American country, where 34,500 murders occurred last year, a record since the government began tallying the statistic in the late 1990s. By contrast, around 16,300 homicides occurred in the US in 2018, where the population is more than twice as large, according to FBI numbers cited by the Mises Institute.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is cooperating with President Donald Trump for at least two reasons.

First, crime is a major problem in Mexico. Long soaring in the country’s northern regions, gang activity has now spread to the industrial heartland, where workers go to good jobs at auto factories and yoga practitioners sip chai at cafes in wealthy suburbs. Reporting from Irapuato in central Mexico, the Associated Press wrote about a family receiving pieces of a dismembered loved one in a box.

Lopez Obrador also can’t afford to alienate his counterpart north of the border for another key reason. When he assumed office in late 2018, he promised quick and dramatic economic growth. Instead, the economy is contracting, Bloomberg reported. Now is not the time for Mexico to lose business with a major trade partner.

Meanwhile, the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, recently said the US economy was in desperate need of legal immigrants, reported the Washington Post.

Perhaps there is room for a middle ground here where everyone benefits. Mexico seems to be hoping so.

WANT TO KNOW

ISRAEL

A Little Charm

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party claimed victory in Israel’s third parliamentary election in a year, with exit polls predicting it will become the legislature’s largest party even as it failed to win a majority, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

With 90 percent of the vote counted, Netanyahu’s Likud held 59 seats, two shy of a majority in the 120-member parliament. His chief rival, Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party, won 53 seats, while the Joint List won 15, a record for the Arab party.  Final results are expected late Tuesday.

Monday’s parliamentary elections are the third in less than a year, called after neither Netanyahu nor Gantz were able to form a governing coalition following the Sept. 17 election.

It was a similar situation in April.

Late Monday, the prime minster was jubilant in claiming a comeback. “They said it’s the end of the Netanyahu era but we turned it around,” Netanyahu told supporters.

However, Gantz said the elections could result in another deadlock.

If Netanyahu can’t win over two more supporters from another party to form a coalition, Israelis might have to start over with a fourth election, analysts say.

Meanwhile, a major roadblock is that Netanyahu has been indicted on fraud, breach of trust and bribery charges and his trial is scheduled to begin March 17.

No one is sure whether President Reuven Rivlin can legally invite Netanyahu to form a government as is customary. The Supreme Court avoided ruling on the matter in January but is expected to do so this time around.

NORTH KOREA

Back in the Saddle

North Korea launched two unidentified missiles off its eastern coast Monday, a move that marks the year anniversary of the no-deal Hanoi summit between Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, Bloomberg reported.

The projectiles were the first such provocations since Kim said on Dec. 31 he would no longer hold to a self-imposed freeze on major weapons tests.

South Korean officials said that the projectiles were similar to some short-range ballistic missiles fired last year, adding that they were conducted as part of several military drills over the weekend.

North Korea has been distracted recently, trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus within its borders, analysts said.

But now they believe that the recent “joint strike drill” is a sign that Kim is trying to ramp up pressure on Trump ahead of the US presidential elections.

Both leaders failed to achieve any progress after the talks in Vietnam, and last year Kim threatened to follow a “new path” if the US didn’t offer more concessions.

ARGENTINA

Tilting at Windmills

Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said he will soon send Congress a bill to legalize abortion, a move that could make the country the first major Latin American nation to fully permit the procedure, the Guardian reported.

Most Latin American countries with the exception of Cuba and Uruguay severely restrict abortion. Argentine authorities allow terminations only in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger.

A previous bill to legalize abortion was defeated in 2018 after a strong campaign by the country’s powerful Roman Catholic Church, Reuters reported.

The abortion bill is only part of Fernandez’ overall reform plan, which also targets the judiciary and the nation’s intelligence service, and seeks to fight poverty, which affects almost 40 percent of the population after years of stagflation.

His government also began renegotiating with the International Monetary Fund on Monday over the repayment terms of $100 billion of public debt, which it aims to finalize by the end of this month.

DISCOVERIES

Being the First

Scientists might have finally found the progenitor of land plants.

An international team of researchers recently discovered micro-fossils of ancient green algae that are possibly the oldest seaweed ever found, believed to have occupied the ocean floor about a billion years ago, Cosmos magazine reported.

The fossils were only two millimeters long and were found in an area that was once an ocean near the city of Dalian in the Liaoning Province of northern China, the scientists reported in their study.

The archaic seaweed had several features that are found in present-day algae such as multicellularity and root-like structures.

“A group of modern green seaweeds, known as siphonocladaleans, are particularly similar in shape and size to the fossils we found,” said co-author Shuhai Xiao.

The team suggested that the tiny algae lived in shallow water and filled an important role in the ocean environment before their land-based descendants took over.

The current hypothesis, Xiao explained, is that land plants evolved from aquatic green seaweeds. Over the course of history, they moved out of the water and adapted to dry land.

But not all scientists accept this theory. “Some scientists think that green plants started in rivers and lakes, and then conquered the ocean and land later,” Xiao said.

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