September 28, 2020

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NEED TO KNOW

MEXICO

Evil, and Shame

Lucía vowed to never give up, determined to find the remains of her son, who disappeared in 2013 in Veracruz, Mexico, vanishing like so many Mexicans over the past six years.

This mother, however, is now a founding member of Colectivo Solecito, a group of people searching for loved ones who lie in clandestine graves, explained openDemocracy.

Her son is one of the 73,000 Mexicans who have disappeared without explanation since an epidemic of these incidents started 14 years ago, the Washington Post reported. Hundreds of Americans are among the missing.

“Evil is a strong word, but nothing milder seems commensurate with the colossal weight of the suffering of these families, who cannot escape the excruciating psychological torture that comes from not knowing where their missing loved ones are,” wrote Human Rights Watch.

The crisis echoes the Cold War era of disappearances under American-supported rightwing governments in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and other countries. But their rate has picked up under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftwing leader who took office in 2018 pledging a host of reforms, including an end to the disappearances.

Still, lawlessness remains a major reason why Mexicans still opt to migrate north to the US. “A continuing wave of assassinations, disappearances, enforced disappearances and internal displacements…shows how criminal violence has morphed into local armed conflicts of which civilians are the main victims,” the New Humanitarian wrote, citing a report by the International Crisis Group.

Mexicans like Lucía are forming activist groups because they feel as if the government has lost the capacity or the will to help, Foreign Policy magazine noted. Murders that have been investigated tend to illustrate collusion between security forces – from the military to federal to local law enforcement – and organized crime.

In one famous incident, 43 students disappeared from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in Iguala, Guerrero, in 2014. Mexican investigators have some leads in the case but officials suspected of being involved have yet to be apprehended, Reuters wrote.

Still, there is new hope: On Saturday, the government issued 25 arrest warrants for members of the military and federal police force in relation to the abduction and disappearance of the students, Al Jazeera reported. The highest-ranking official wanted in the case is Tomas Zeron, who at the time of the abduction was the head of the federal investigation agency. He is being sought on charges of torture and covering up forced disappearances.

The loved ones of those students might be the rare examples of those getting closure – and justice.

For example, Amnesty International detailed a case where Mexican soldiers in pursuit of gangsters shot and killed prisoners of those gangsters. In cases like these, no one is ever punished. Meanwhile, families receive little or no notice of the deaths and must investigate themselves.

Obrador has proposed inviting the United Nations into Mexico to help with the investigations, the Associated Press reported. But it’s not clear if they will help much, or can.

WANT TO KNOW

LEBANON

Musical Chairs

Lebanon’s Prime Minister-Designate Mustapha Adib resigned over the weekend, a move that derails the French-led initiative to end the political impasse in the crisis-hit nation, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Adib’s resignation came after Lebanese politicians failed to reach a consensus over which party will control which ministries. Meanwhile, a dispute lingers over proposed government reforms that followed a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron last month.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun is now asking lawmakers to choose a new leader. Meanwhile, Lebanon is sinking deeper into an economic crisis and grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

The nation’s currency has lost more than 80 percent of its value against the dollar since last year and inflation is rising steeply. The country is in severe need of international aid but France and other nations have refused to provide assistance before serious reforms are made, the Associated Press reported.

At the same time, the failure to form a government comes one month after a huge explosion rocked the capital and killed nearly 200 people.

Lebanon has been grappling with unrest and protests since October 2019, which have resulted in the collapse of two governments since then.

SWITZERLAND

No Wall, Please

Swiss voters soundly rejected a referendum that would have terminated an accord with the European Union on the free movement of people in a vote that resembled the Brexit referendum in 2016, the Guardian reported.

Near-final results on Sunday showed that nearly 62 percent of the voters rejected the proposal pushed by the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which is also the largest party in parliament.

Non-nationals comprise roughly a quarter of Switzerland’s 8.6 million inhabitants and the SVP believes the country should control the number of foreigners allowed to settle in Switzerland. The proposal was opposed by the government, business leaders and parliamentarians, who argued that ending the free movement agreement could severely impact Switzerland’s economy.

Switzerland – a non-EU member – has signed more than 120 bilateral treaties with the bloc since 2002: These regulate trade, transport and research among other issues. If the free movement principle would have been terminated, it would have automatically canceled all bilateral agreements under a so-called “guillotine clause.”

The SVP has tried before to limit free movement between Switzerland and the bloc: In 2014, it narrowly won a referendum to implement immigration quotas. However, the initiative was watered down, allowing a degree of flexibility for cantons in some sectors but also crucially imposing no fixed limits on EU immigration.

ISRAEL

We’re Not Gonna Take It

Thousands of Israelis protested in Jerusalem and other cities Saturday demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and defying a second nationwide lockdown imposed this month to combat the coronavirus pandemic, Al Jazeera reported.

The demonstrations come one day after the government continued to tighten restrictions – including limiting international travel and attending indoor prayers – in an attempt to lower the world’s highest coronavirus infection rate per capita.

Netanyahu also attempted to limit protest gatherings to groups of 20 but the proposal was rejected by lawmakers.

Demonstrators have accused the government of attempting to use the lockdown to quash protests, according to Reuters. Netanyahu has been facing protests for 14 weeks in a dispute over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic as well as an upcoming corruption trial: He has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, charges he denies.

Israel has currently more than 229,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 1,400 deaths as of Sunday.

DISCOVERIES

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Decades of research on great white sharks have been unable to determine how and where the apex predator copulates – until now.

That’s thanks to New Zealand fisherman Dick Ledgerwood, who gave a detailed account of the sharks’ peculiar mating ritual that he witnessed 23 years ago near Otago Peninsula, in New Zealand, the Guardian reported.

Ledgerwood told marine biologist Steve Crawford that he and his crewmate were piloting their boat when they noticed a frothing commotion in the shallow waters near Sawyer’s Bay. Upon close inspection, the fisherman explained that the sharks were bound closely together and “were just revolving round and round, very, very slowly.”

“(They stayed) in one spot. Rolling and rolling and rolling,” he said.

Ledgerwood couldn’t make sense of it for more than two decades, but Crawford explained what happened: The male shark used claspers to internally fertilize a female and the couple were doing a type of “dance” while reproducing – the rolling that the fisherman witnessed.

Shark researcher Clinton Duffy, who was not involved in the interview, said that great whites are extremely elusive and prefer hidden places to reproduce. Crawford, meanwhile, described the account as “vital” to understanding the shark species, which remains hunted despite having protected status.

He hopes that the account can aid conservation efforts and help provide optimal habitats for the sharks to mate without any interference.

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: 7,115,338 (+0.52%)
  2. India: 6,074,702 (+1.37%)
  3. Brazil: 4,732,309 (+0.30%)
  4. Russia: 1,146,273 (+0.68%)
  5. Colombia: 813,056 (+0.87%)
  6. Peru: 800,142 (+0.70%)
  7. Mexico: 730,317 (+0.53%)
  8. Spain: 716,481 (+0.00%)**
  9. Argentina: 711,325 (+1.26%)
  10. South Africa: 670,766 (+0.19%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country