The World Today for May 19, 2021

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Taxes, and Everything

At first, they took to the streets to protest against a tax plan they called unfair because it sought to make up for lost revenues during the pandemic on the backs of working people rather than the affluent.

Now protesters in Colombia are demanding an end to police violence and more economic help in the wake of the coronavirus battering the South American country’s economy.

Colombian security forces responding to the protests have cracked down, putting their training in a long civil war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels to use against their fellow citizens, the New York Times reported. Protesters described how police opened fire indiscriminately on crowds and attacked with shields and batons, the Washington Post wrote.

Colombia’s 140,000-strong police force comes under the defense rather than interior ministry. Forty-two people have died so far.

President Ivan Duque is trying to calm things down. “It is unjust to paint everyone who expresses themselves peacefully in the streets as a vandal or as a terrorist or as a criminal,” said Duque recently at a meeting with youth leaders in Bogotá, according to Agence France-Presse. “It is also unjust to generalize the behavior of all the members of the security forces.”

Duque was smart to reach out to youth luminaries. As the Americas Quarterly wrote, Colombian young people don’t feel as if they have any channels for their talents. The sense of languishing without opportunities was already widespread before the pandemic. Now, after a year of lockdowns, they feel as if the country must change or else their lives will be wasted.

But many of the protesters appeared skeptical about the president’s promises of change. “Our president ignores the complaints of the people and sends the military and police to kill us,” said Carolina, 26, a pediatrician in Bogotá whose last name was not provided in an interview with the Guardian.

Duque failed to prevent police brutality and public corruption, bungled the public health response to the coronavirus and allowed a peace deal with FARC rebels to “wither,” art teacher Ramiro Velasco told the BBC. Velasco felt as if Colombia was becoming “unviable.”

The country’s economic situation didn’t offer much evidence to contradict that assertion – it contracted seven percent last year, the Associated Press added. The poverty rate, meanwhile, increased more than six percentage points compared to the prior year, to more than 42.5 percent.

The protesters feel as if they must stand up or they’ll lose their country. And themselves.



Swinging Doors

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez vowed to “restore order” after about 6,000 migrants entered the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco this week amid rising diplomatic tensions between Spain and Morocco, Euronews reported.

Thousands of migrants entered Ceuta, a city of 85,000 people, Monday and Tuesday as authorities used tear gas and armored vehicles to dissuade them from entering the enclave.

Spanish officials said that all adult migrants who entered illegally will be expelled and that 2,700 have already been sent back across the border. The European Union, meanwhile, has urged Morocco to halt the “irregular departures” from its shores.

The influx comes amid ongoing diplomatic tensions between Spain and Morocco over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Morocco reacted angrily after it learned that the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, has received treatment at a hospital in Spain for Covid-19 since mid-April. The Polisario Front has been fighting for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco since the 1970s.

Moroccan officials denied that the migrants are a result of the disagreement.

However, analysts noted that witness accounts at the border showed that Moroccan police were not present to stop the migrants from entering, adding that Rabat is using migration as blackmail to pressure Spain and the EU on the Western Sahara issue.


Indentured Servitude

Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that certain provisions of the legislation to set up a powerful economic commission in a Chinese-built port city violate the constitution and undermine the power of parliament, the Associated Press reported.

The case is related to the $1.4 billion Colombo Port City project, part of China’s sweeping Belt and Road Initiative, which critics fear could become a virtual Chinese outpost or colony.

The court said that the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill could undercut the parliament’s exclusive lawmaking powers by empowering the proposed five-to-seven-member commission, appointed by the president, to set and enforce rules within the port city.

The judges noted that the provision will require approval from two-thirds of lawmakers and public approval through a referendum.

The verdict also underscored multiple problems, including sections exempting companies operating within the port city from various laws on the grounds that the businesses are strategically important.

Although the government is likely to muster a two-thirds majority in parliament, opposition parties fear that Sri Lanka would lose control of its own territory.

CHEC Port City Colombo, a unit of China Communications Construction Company, obtained the rights to use 62 hectares of marketable land on a 99-year lease from the Sri Lankan government.

China has provided billions of dollars in loans for various Sri Lankan projects over the past decade even as Sri Lanka’s debt burden has climbed dramatically. At the same time, the value of cumulative Chinese infrastructure investment in Sri Lanka is equivalent to 14 percent of the country’s GDP.


No Quarter

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko approved a law this week that will allow security forces to shoot at protesters, the latest move to rein in a protest movement sparked by last year’s presidential elections, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Tuesday.

The new law frees police from responsibility for injury inflicted on demonstrators by physical attacks, firearms and special equipment if in such cases the actions are deemed “legal.”

It is part of a broad legislative move in April to restrict civil rights and the free flow of information amid an ongoing crackdown against the country’s pro-democracy movement.

Months-long demonstrations gripped the east European nation following the August 2020 elections in which Lukashenko – who has been in power since 1994 – claimed victory.

Tens of thousands of protestors demanded his resignation and fresh elections but Lukashenko’s government responded by arresting thousands and forcing opposition leaders, including presidential contender Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, into exile.

Although protests have waned in recent months, Lukashenko has continued a harsh crackdown on activists and independent journalists.

On Tuesday, Belarusian financial police raided the offices of media outlets and, which have closely covered the violent crackdown.


Lava, Ash – and Pizza

Guatemala’s Pacaya Volcano has been keeping everyone nervous and on high alert since it began erupting in February, disrupting lives and routines.

But the ash and molten lava hasn’t deterred 34-year-old accountant David Garcia in his quest for the perfect pizza, Newsweek reported.

Garcia has turned the scalding, high-risk zone into his very own personal pizza oven: His makeshift kitchen, called Pacaya Pizza, is located near the volcano.

The pizza-maker begins by putting the dough and toppings on a metal plate that can withstand temperatures of up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Dressed in heat-resistant clothing, he puts the plate on the lava and lets it cook for 10 minutes.

Garcia’s business venture has been a hit among tourists, who come to see pizza cooked on lava that can reach temperatures above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Having a pizza cooked in the embers of a volcano is mind-blowing and unique in the whole world,” tourist Felipe Aldana told Agence France-Presse.

The daredevil chef explained that he first began to cook pizzas in 2013 and had to deal with a variety of hurdles and dangers.

“In a lava river, I have to make sure that the pizza doesn’t drift away, that the temperature doesn’t get too high … so it was difficult for me to learn the technique here so the pizza doesn’t burn,” said Garcia.

Here’s how his volcanic recipe comes to life.

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: 32,997,496 (+0.01%)
  2. India: 25,496,330 (+1.06%)
  3. Brazil: 15,732,836 (+0.48%)
  4. France: 5,959,593 (+0.29%)
  5. Turkey: 5,139,485 (+0.23%)
  6. Russia: 4,900,995 (+0.16%)
  7. UK: 4,466,220 (-0.05%)**
  8. Italy: 4,167,025 (+0.11%)
  9. Spain: 3,619,848 (+0.11%)
  10. Germany: 3,615,962 (+0.21%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

Clarification: In Tuesday’s DISCOVERY section, we said in our “Monkey See, Monkey Don’t” item that “The human genome diverged from the DNA of its close relatives about 10 million years ago…” We would like to clarify that by close relatives we mean the latest common ancestor between chimpanzees and humans that lived about 10 million years ago.

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