January 13, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

MEXICO

Self-Help

President-Elect Joe Biden wants to step up anti-corruption efforts in Mexico.

It’s not clear that Mexican officials will accept the help, however.

Feelings between the two countries were at a nadir after Mexico pressured the US to drop trafficking charges against general and former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos after his arrest in Los Angeles, wrote the Louisville Courier Journal. American prosecutors claimed Cienfuegos was known in the underworld as “El Padrino,” or The Godfather, of the Latin American country’s drug cartels.

American authorities are still holding ex-Mexican security chief García Luna for allegedly accepting bribes from drug cartels. Corruption in Mexico runs deep. Criminal groups work hand in hand with government security officials to secure spyware for hacking mobile phones and other surveillance, for example.

“It’s a free-for-all,” an official told an investigative journalist whose quote was featured in the Guardian. “The police who have the technology would just sell it to the cartels.”

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a leftwing populist, has vowed to tackle corruption, ranking it before COVID-19 as a threat to the country in a recent speech covered by Prensa Latina, the Cuban state-run news agency. As the New York Times wrote, Obrador said he would clean up the government like a staircase,” or from the top down, in order to eliminate leaders and elites who were “a mafia of power.”

Interestingly, Obrador has called for investigations into the American agents who allegedly collaborated with Luna. He has also proposed restricting US drug agents’ activities in Mexico and stripping them of diplomatic immunity, meaning they could face criminal charges in Mexico if they participate in the corruption they are supposed to be rooting out.

The Brookings Institution described the proposal as dangerously backtracking on US-Mexican law enforcement efforts. Obrador views it as asserting his country’s sovereignty.

Writing in the Tampa Times, former US Drug Enforcement Agency agent and bestselling author Robert Mazur worried whether Obrador was appealing to Mexican nationalism because he didn’t want to go too high in the country’s power structure during his cleaning spree.

Obrador’s predecessor, former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, worked closely with Cienfuegos, who allegedly arranged a $100 million bribe to Nieto from El Chapo, the notorious drug dealer now in a supermax prison in Colorado, explained Mazur. Corruption is endemic, in other words.

Sometimes “cleaning house” might mean burning it down. Or, put another way, sometimes a revolution, not reform, is what is necessary.

WANT TO KNOW

IRELAND

The Hidden Ones

Some 9,000 children died in homes for unmarried mothers and their offspring run by Ireland’s Catholic Church from the 1920s to the 1990s, according to a government-commissioned report published Tuesday.

The 3,000-page report covered 18 so-called Mother and Baby Homes where tens of thousands of young pregnant women, including rape victims, were kept inside for decades, Al Jazeera reported.

The death toll amounts to about 15 percent of the children who entered the institutions, with no single explanation for such a high rate of mortality.

Relatives said that the babies in these homes were mistreated by the clergy because they were born out of wedlock, thus tarnishing Ireland’s devout Catholic image.

Government officials said the report made it clear that Ireland had “a stifling, oppressive and brutally misogynistic culture.” On Wednesday, Prime Minister Micheal Martin will issue a formal apology to the victims of the homes.

The report follows a five-year investigation by the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation and marks another dark chapter for the Catholic Church.

The church’s reputation has been tarnished in recent years by a series of tragedies, including abuse at workhouses and priests sexually abusing children.

INDIA

Taking Initiative

India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday indefinitely put on hold three controversial farm laws that have triggered mass protests from farmers who blocked major highways around the capital, the Voice of America reported.

Since November, tens of thousands of farmers have been sitting in the outskirts of New Delhi, calling on the government to repeal the legislation. In essence, the reform would allow farmers to sell their produce directly to traders and companies at market rates instead of selling to government-controlled wholesale markets at mandated minimum prices, the BBC explained.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said that the reforms will modernize the country’s agricultural system, but farmers remain convinced the changes will leave them at the mercy of big business and the vicissitudes of the market.

The court slammed the government’s failure to end the deadlock, while adding in its ruling that it will set up a committee to negotiate with the farmers.

Following the ruling, leaders of the protesting farmers said they would not negotiate with the court-appointed panel, claiming that all its members are “pro-government.”

Analysts noted that it’s unlikely that the new panel would resolve the impasse.

CUBA

Back on the List

Cuba condemned the United States earlier this week for placing it on the list of states accused of sponsoring terrorism, the latest move by President Donald Trump’s administration following four years of economic and diplomatic tensions with the island, the Miami Herald reported.

The Caribbean nation was accused of a range of malign behavior across the region, including aiding the regime of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro.

The designation is the latest in a series of actions by the Trump administration to dismantle the engagement policies of former President Barack Obama – who removed the Caribbean nation from the list in 2015.

The US has imposed sanctions on Cuban companies and government officials, including Raul Castro, Cuba’s former president and the brother of late dictator Fidel Castro.

Although the new measures don’t entail more economic sanctions, they could discourage foreign investment in the country.

The blacklisting comes during a difficult time for Cuba: Its economy contracted 11 percent in 2020, and the government is unable to pay international creditors due to a lack of liquidity.

DISCOVERIES

Pure Luck

The Earth has gone through various climatic and extinction cycles, including a cataclysmic asteroid impact, during its four-billion-year history.

These cycles have not been easy for living things, but despite these difficult periods, the world has remained a habitable place for organisms to evolve.

And a new study suggests that is partly because of pure luck, New Atlas reported.

In his study, researcher Toby Tyrrell used computer simulations to determine how our planet sustained life for such a long time and how luck played into it.

He modeled 100,000 randomly different worlds and simulated how their evolutionary paths – and their temperatures – were affected by climatic shifts over the course of three billion years.

The evolution of each planet was simulated 100 times, with each simulation involving random events inflicted upon the worlds.

The results were staggering: Only one planet out of 100,000 maintained habitability in all of its simulations, while the rest had a probability of being habitable rather than a certainty of it.

Tyrell explained that the results show that Earth’s ability to hold life wasn’t a simple inevitability, but rather that our planet “stayed suitable for life for so long due, at least in part, to luck.”

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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: 22,846,808 (+1.01%)
  2. India: 10,495,147 (+0.15%)
  3. Brazil: 8,195,637 (+0.79%)
  4. Russia: 3,434,934 (+0.66%)
  5. UK: 3,173,296 (+1.46%)
  6. France: 2,864,360 (+0.69%)
  7. Turkey: 2,346,285 (+0.42%)
  8. Italy: 2,303,263 (+0.62%)
  9. Spain: 2,137,220 (+1.20%)
  10. Germany: 1,968,326 (+1.31%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours