The World Today for May 26, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

SOUTH AMERICA

Losing the Future

So many players on Argentina’s powerhouse soccer team River Plate were sick with Covid-19 that they needed to put midfielder Enzo Pérez into a game as a goalkeeper.

River Plate still defeated Independiente Santa Fe, a Colombian team, in the Copa Libertadores, the top soccer competition in South America, as the Washington Post reported. But the substitution has become an example of how the coronavirus has ravaged the continent.

Mass vaccination campaigns have helped stop the spread of Covid-19 in the US. Latin America, however, is still in a desperate battle against the virus.

Even in Venezuela, where few believe the authoritarian government’s health statistics, officials have admitted that fatal Covid-19 cases have increased 86 percent since early this year, the New York Times wrote.

Between December last year and March, mortality rates for Brazilians younger than 39 have doubled. For those in their 40s, mortality rates have quadrupled. For those in their 50s, they have tripled. In Peru, meanwhile, April was the deadliest month since the pandemic started, according to National Public Radio.

Numbers like those are why Latin America recently accounted for 35 percent of all coronavirus deaths in a single week even though the region is home to only 8 percent of the world’s population.

“This is tragic, and the consequences are dire for our families, our societies and our future,” Carissa F. Etienne, the Dominican director of the Pan American Health Organization, told the Guardian.

Chile has one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world. Now, the BBC reported, a surge has led to full intensive care wards and new lockdowns. Chileans must download special permits online to leave their homes twice a week for shopping, doctor’s visits and other essential services. The vaccination rollout was not coordinated with reopening the economy. At the same time, new variants struck that were more virulent than previous strains.

Poverty is partly to blame for the disaster. As the Miami Herald explained, only 10 percent of Latin Americans have received a vaccine. The poor especially have little recourse for finding the few jabs that might be available. Guyana’s former health minister described the challenge as a “vaccine apartheid.”

The US and Spain are exporting millions of vaccines to South America to help, Reuters reported.

But the New Statesman wondered if Covid-19 would mean another lost decade for Latin America. The virus is threatening to increase economic inequality and foment social unrest. This combination can lead to political instability that, in turn, shuts down the potential for reforms and economic growth that make people’s lives better.

This summer could determine the direction of the continent for a generation.

WANT TO KNOW

UNITED KINGDOM

Spooks and Snoops

The grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found that Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) violated the right to privacy through its bulk interception of online communications,  the Guardian reported Tuesday.

The case ends years of legal challenges by privacy rights activists against the GCHQ that began in 2013 following whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations over the interception and processing of private communications of millions at the spy agency.

The chamber – the ultimate court of the ECHR – found that the British agency’s bulk interception regime breached the right to freedom of expression and contained insufficient protections for confidential journalistic material.

However, judges said the decision to operate a bulk interception regime did not of itself violate the European convention on human rights. They added that the sharing of sensitive digital intelligence with foreign governments was not illegal.

The verdict was hailed by privacy rights groups as a “landmark victory.” The plaintiffs said the decision will allow advocates to challenge the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act (IPA).

Others, however, noted that more work needs to be done to protect privacy: Some of the 17 dissenting judges said that ruling did not go far enough.

MALI

Déjà Coup

Mali’s acting president and prime minister were arrested Monday by Malian soldiers after a cabinet reshuffle removed two members of the junta that overthrew the government in August, reported the Washington Post.

President Bah N’Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were detained and reportedly brought to an army base near the capital of Bamako, wrote the BBC. Their detentions have drawn criticism and raised fears of a second coup d’état in nine months.

The arrests came hours after the leaders announced a new 25-member administration that excluded former defense minister Sadio Camara and security minister Modibo Kone.

The African Union, West African bloc known as ECOWAS and other members of the international community that make up the monitoring body for Mali’s 18-month transition to a new government, released a joint statement saying that it “strongly condemn(ed) the attempted coup.”

The committee called for the immediate release of N’Daw and Ouane, adding that the “military elements detaining them will be held personally responsible for their security.”

An anonymous spokesman for the junta denied the arrests saying the officials could “move freely.” However, army tanks paralyzed traffic in Bamako hours after the officials announced the new cabinet.

Former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta resigned last year after a coup following months of protests that accused him of corruption, poor handling of an insurgency and questionable ties with France. Demonstrators demanded his removal.

Al-Qaeda and Islamic State fighters have waged a bloody war against the government and Western influence in the country since 2012. Last year was the West African nation’s deadliest on record with more than 2,800 casualties, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

N’Daw was previously a defense minister under Keïta and was to serve as president until the next elections in March 2022.

Discussions are now ongoing at the military base and an ECOWAS delegation is due to visit Bamako.

IRAN

Changing the Guard

Iranian officials barred two leading moderate candidates from running in next month’s presidential election, a move that could affect voter turnout and Iran’s foreign relations amid nuclear talks with Western powers, the Financial Times reported Tuesday.

The Guardian Council, Iran’s constitutional watchdog, approved seven presidential candidates, including hardline judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, the frontrunner for the presidency.

The council’s decision excluded both Es’haq Jahangiri, the reformist first vice-president and Ali Larijani, a former centrist parliamentary speaker and nuclear negotiator, who are more known to Iranians.

Other candidates include a mix of reformists and hardliners, some of which are expected to drop out in favor of Raisi.

President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, has urged Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to intervene in the decision.

The moderate Rouhani will step down after two terms in office but he and his reformist supporters have lost support amid an economy devastated by US sanctions and the region’s highest coronavirus death toll.

The council’s move comes as world powers are planning to open the fifth round of talks with Iran aimed at bringing the United States back into the landmark 2015 nuclear deal meant to prevent the country from obtaining an atomic bomb, the Associated Press reported.

DISCOVERIES

All Flowers Matter

Scientists working to save rare plants tend to focus more on pretty and flamboyant flowers instead of their simple-looking counterparts, discrimination that could have serious consequences for conservation, according to Cosmos magazine.

Lead author Martino Adamo and his colleagues made those findings in a new study that analyzed 280 research papers representing 113 plant species in Italy’s Southwestern Alps – a major biodiversity hotspot.

To their shock, they found that bright-colored plants with longer stems – making them easier to pick – usually piqued the interests of researchers while they ignored “those that were dingy, brown or inconspicuous.”

The team noted that particularly plants with a narrow range – or those listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature – weren’t important research drivers.

“More worrying was that scientists working to save rare plants showed a bias toward plants with attractive flowers, missing ‘dull colored’ species of equal or greater rarity,” said co-author Kingsley Dixon.

The authors cautioned that plants already get the back seat to animals in conservation research and say this lack of attention “can become a concern in conservation biology, where it is paramount to ensure a ‘level playing field’ in selecting conservation priorities.”

Equality among blooms is key, they added.

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: 33,166,509 (+0.07%)
  2. India: 27,157,795 (+0.78%)
  3. Brazil: 16,194,209 (+0.46%)
  4. France: 5,670,486 (+0.06%)
  5. Turkey: 5,203,385 (+0.18%)
  6. Russia: 4,960,174 (+0.16%)
  7. UK: 4,483,177 (+0.05%)
  8. Italy: 4,197,892 (+0.08%)
  9. Germany: 3,662,591 (+0.07%)
  10. Spain: 3,652,879 (+0.15%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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