September 17, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

GUATEMALA

Highs and Lies

In the dead of night, small planes fly low over the tropical jungles, Mayan ruins, ranches and villages of Central America. Landing and taking off from makeshift airstrips, they can carry $100 million worth of cocaine.

For many years, they stuck to Mexico and Honduras. Lately, things have been changing. “Over the 50-year US drug war, one truth has prevailed: When one trafficking route closes, another emerges to take its place,” wrote the Washington Post.

That route now goes through Guatemala.

Late last year, leaders in the Latin American country admitted they were now a cocaine-producing nation, not just a corridor for trafficking, after discovering several coca plantations and processing facilities in the jungle, Reuters reported.

One cartel running the illicit drug trade is Los Pochos, according to InSight Crime. The group’s leader, Erick Salvador Súñiga Rodríguez, is the mayor of a small town near the Mexican border. Late last year, Rodríguez surrendered himself to American authorities and agreed to share info about cocaine trafficking.

Guatemala interdicted a record 17.8 tons of cocaine two years ago. Through July this year, they seized 6.5 tons, including one haul of two tons from a narco-jet. Officials believe they have detected at least 53 suspected drug flights in 2020 so far. This US Immigration and Customs Enforcement press release provides details on a massive drug cache seized from a flight.

Drugs lead to corruption, especially in impoverished countries. Drug smuggler Rodríguez, for example, had ties to former Guatemalan presidential candidate Sandra Torres Casanova, who is now in prison for soliciting illegal, drug-related campaign financing before the 2015 elections.

Meanwhile, American prosecutors recently charged former Economy Minister Acisclo Valladares Urruela, 44, with laundering drug money and bribing Guatemalan politicians, the BBC reported.

“Valladares Urruela regularly received backpacks, duffel bags, and briefcases full of dirty, untraceable cash that he knew came from drug trafficking and corruption and used it to bribe Guatemalan politicians,” federal prosecutors in south Florida said in a statement.

Urruela worked under President Jimmy Morales, a former television comedian who served between 2016 and mid-January. Reveal, a publication of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting, wrote that President Donald Trump squelched an international effort to probe Morales for the kind of illegal but lucrative relationship that Rodríguez and Casanova allegedly enjoyed.

In 1977, Eric Clapton described cocaine with a chorus that said “She don’t lie.” On the contrary, the drug destroys truth.

WANT TO KNOW

EUROPEAN UNION

A Green Lining

The European Union is proposing to accelerate its efforts to fight climate change by cutting its greenhouse emissions by at least 55 percent over the next decade, a 15 percent increase from the current target, Reuters reported.

On Wednesday, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the ambitious emission cuts could be funded by using green bonds, and said the effort could generate millions of jobs and aid Europe’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The new targets would put the EU “firmly on track” to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, she added.

The goal would require large investments in transport, heavy industry and energy: The EU chief said that 37 percent of the bloc’s 750 billion euro ($888.6 billion) coronavirus recovery package should be invested in projects to help industries decarbonize.

She added that 30 percent of this recovery package of grants and loans should be raised through green bonds.

The proposal is expected to face strong resistance from some EU nations that largely rely on coal, according to the BBC.

BARBADOS

Housecleaning

Barbados will remove British Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and become a republic by next year, the first time a country in the commonwealth has dropped the monarch in nearly three decades, CNN reported Wednesday.

Governor-General Sandra Mason said that it was time “to fully leave our colonial past behind.” She said that Barbados could become a republic as early as November 2021, when the country will celebrate its 55th anniversary of independence from the British empire.

A royal source told CNN that the ultimate decision belongs to the Caribbean nation, adding that the proposal was not new and had been “mooted and publicly talked” about many times.

The move could encourage other nations that recognize the queen as their head of state to officially become republics, especially as Britain’s colonial past has come under renewed scrutiny recently due to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of Britain and 15 other countries that were formerly under British rule, including Australia, Canada and Jamaica.

SPAIN

The Reckoning

Spain’s socialist government proposed a bill this week that would offer reparations to the victims of former dictator Francisco Franco and restrict public support for the fascist leader, Euronews reported.

The proposal would transform the Valley of the Fallen – a controversial mausoleum dedicated to the victims of the Spanish civil war – into a “civilian cemetery.” It would establish a national DNA bank that will allow the exhumation and reburial of the nearly 34,000 people buried there.

Between 1936 and 1939, hundreds of thousands died during the conflict that pitted Franco’s Nationalists against left-leaning Republicans and Communists supported by the Soviet Union.

More than 110,000 victims from the civil war and the regime remain unidentified.

Franco’s remains were also buried there until his body was exhumed last year and moved to a family tomb outside Madrid.

The proposed legislation also includes a plan to ban the Francisco Franco Foundation, which was founded after the dictator died.

Spain transitioned into a democracy following Franco’s death in 1975 but many say the country never confronted the atrocities committed during his regime.

DISCOVERIES

Deep Terror

The Otodus megalodon was the largest shark ever to terrorize Earth’s oceans around 3.6 million years ago before mysteriously going extinct.

Popular culture has given the giant fish a mythical status but the fact is, there’s not enough evidence to indicate the shark’s real size, Forbes reported. Scientists believed that the megalodon was closely related to the modern great white shark but previous studies found that their lineages diverged some 100 million years ago.

Skeletal evidence about the O. megalodon is scarce since their cartilaginous skeleton decays easily over time, leaving only their palm-sized teeth. Recently, a new team of researchers estimated the size of the prehistoric marine creature using the growth curves of five current-day sharks, including the great white and the mako shark species – which is the megalodon’s closest relative.

In their study, researchers noted that as modern sharks grow bigger, their body proportions don’t change, a shared trait likely found also in their extinct relative. Their results revealed that the sea monster reached a total length of nearly 53 feet with a head about 15.2 feet long.

The results fit well with previous research which believed the maximum size of the megalodon was around 50 feet.

Regardless, it’s a creature that puts “Jaws” to shame.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 6,630,892 (+0.37%)
  2. India: 5,118,253 (+1.95%)
  3. Brazil: 4,419,083 (+0.84%)
  4. Russia: 1,075,485 (+0.52%)
  5. Peru: 738,020 (0.00%)
  6. Colombia: 736,377 (+1.07%)
  7. Mexico: 680,931 (+0.66%)
  8. South Africa: 653,444 (+0.30%)
  9. Spain: 614,360 (+1.86%)
  10. Argentina: 589,012 (+2.02%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours