The World Today for July 26, 2021

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Patria y vida

Food shortages and price spikes were the initial motivations for the anti-government demonstrations now rocking Cuba. Gross national product declined a whopping 11 percent in the past year as the tourism industry plunged due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But now many observers believe the protests – the largest in decades – have morphed into the most significant challenge to the island’s communist regime in generations. It’s not just that there’s less money in circulation. Many Cubans no longer trust how their planned economy functions.

“The state says it has no resources,” Lillian Guerra, a Cuban history professor at the University of Florida, told National Public Radio. “Yet it’s investing and has been investing those resources in building and continuing to build hotels and tourist facilities with its own money. Cubans are fed up with that.”

A popular slogan during street marches is “Patria y vida” – homeland and life – a play on the motto “Patria o muerte,” or “homeland or death,” CNN reported.

The context for the shift in attitudes is obvious. Fidel Castro, who founded the Cuban revolution, died in 2016. His brother, Raul, who took over after his death, is 90 years old. Current Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, meanwhile, simply doesn’t command the same fear and respect. “He’s no Fidel,” said a Cuban explaining the nature of the protests in the Washington Post.

Writing in an op-ed in the New York Times, Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban journalist and activist, argued that young Cubans today have no connection to Castro’s rebellion in the 1950s. They see a country where the government cracks down on freedom of expression, caters to foreign tourists and investors rather than its own people and mismanages the economy, including a slow rollout of Cuban-made vaccines.

Other changes are afoot. Afro-Cubans are at the forefront of the demonstrations. The Catholic Church has publicly appealed to officials to listen rather than demonize activists, Reuters added. Regardless, the marches turned violent with police clashing with protesters, shops being looted, and other damage. It is unclear how many have been injured or arrested. Even so, the government made some concessions to protesters such as loosening rules on food and drug imports and admitting some responsibility for the situation.

American leaders are figuring out how to respond. As the New York Post explained, conservatives have blasted leftists for calling for an end to the US embargo on the island. President Joseph Biden has stepped up staffing at the US embassy and reviewed rules governing remittances to make sure ordinary Cubans rather than officials receive money from abroad. He also rolled out new sanctions against a top Cuban military official and a special police unit Thursday for the crackdown on protesters, warning of more to come, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The editorial board at the Financial Times, meanwhile, urged the US and other nations to stay out of Cuba’s business given how American meddling in the past hasn’t helped much. A Bloomberg opinion piece suggested that the US could open Cuba’s tightly controlled Internet to help the protests, however.

Many regimes from Europe to the Middle East have fallen over the past 30 years. Some believe it might be Cuba’s time.



Welcome, Overstayed

Opposition politician Fiame Naomi Mata’afa became Samoa’s first female prime minister over the weekend after an appeals court ruled in her favor and ended a months-long political crisis that had gripped the Pacific nation, NPR reported.

The court ruled that Mata’afa’s FAST party was the winner of the tight April general elections, which pit the female leader against long-serving Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP).

The election originally ended in a 25-25 tie in the 51-seat legislature, with one independent candidate. However, the election commission – citing gender quotas – declared an additional female HRPP candidate as elected, giving Malielegaoi’s party a slim majority.

However, a deadlock ensued when the independent lawmaker joined FAST, prompting the country’s Supreme Court to intervene.

In May, the top court invalidated the commission’s move and gave FAST a 26-25 majority even as Malielegaoi refused to step down.

He later locked the parliament’s doors to Mata’afa and her supporters, prompting the latter to hold an informal swearing-in ceremony.

The appeals court also found the Mata’afa’s swearing-in legitimate.

Analysts said the ruling effectively closes any legal avenues for Malielegaoi, who has ruled Samoa for nearly 23 years.

On Monday, he agreed to concede following pressure from other Pacific nations to honor the court’s verdict, reported Reuters.


Plucking Thorns

Hundreds of Guatemalans protested in front of the country’s presidential palace over the weekend against the dismissal of a renowned anti-corruption crusader, a move that also sparked global outcry, Reuters reported.

On Friday, Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras removed Juan Francisco Sandoval, the head of the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI). Sandoval fled the country Saturday, which Guatemala’s human rights ombudsman described as a decision “to safeguard his life.”

Sandoval said that he would fight the “illegal dismissal” and accused Porras of asking his agency to consult her on any case that involved the government.

The government rejected his accusations.

His ouster marks another challenge in the fight against corruption in the Central American nation.

The FECI was originally created by the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which was ousted from Guatemala in 2019.

In April, Guatemalan lawmakers also refused to appoint another anti-corruption watchdog, Magistrate Gloria Porras, to the nation’s highest court.

The dismissal also underscores challenges the US government faces in the fight against graft in Central America – it says corruption and impunity are drivers for migration from Guatemala.


The Haves and Have-nots

France’s upper house of parliament partially approved a bill that would require mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for certain professions and access to cultural and leisure venues in spite of ongoing mass protests against the proposed restrictions, Politico reported Sunday.

Lawmakers approved the draft law but introduced changes that would exempt minors and exclude restaurants and café terraces from requiring the new “passe sanitaire.” They also want the rules postponed by a month to September.

The legislation now needs final approval from the lower house of parliament.

The vote came as more than 160,000 people protested across France against the proposed rules, calling them a “sanitary dictatorship” and saying they violate individual liberty.

The country has been gripped by demonstrations over pandemic restrictions, which have attracted large crowds despite the summer vacation. In response, officials have offered some concessions including lowering fines for noncompliance and changing rules for shopping malls in a bid to curb the unrest.

Debates and protests over vaccine passes have also become prevalent across other European countries as they fight against rising infections.

In Germany, the topic has remained particularly divisive: Chancellor Angela Merkel is proposing rules that would limit the movement of unvaccinated people, for example barring them from restaurants, movie theaters and other venues.

Opposition politicians have criticized the proposals.

Last week, Italy introduced a “green pass” proof-of-vaccination system to grant access to certain leisure activities and restaurant dining.


High History

An obscure part of history is humanity’s tumultuous relationship with cannabis sativa.

Many botanists believe the infamous plant was originally domesticated in Central Asia but a new genetic study has traced its origin to East Asia, the New York Times reported.

Researcher Luca Fumagalli and his colleagues genetically sequenced more than 80 samples of seeds and leaves from across the globe. The samples included strains that had been used for fiber production and for its mind-altering properties.

In their findings, the team wrote that cannabis sativa has “a single domestication origin” in East Asia, most likely northwestern China. They noted that prehistoric humans grew the plant some 12,000 years ago mainly as a multipurpose crop for the production of fiber and medicinal uses. The ancient people started using the crop for recreational purposes about 4,000 years ago as cannabis began to spread into Europe and the Middle East, they added.

The authors underscored that their conclusions were also reinforced by pottery and other archeological evidence from the early Neolithic period discovered in present-day China, Japan and Taiwan.

However, other researchers questioned the findings since archaeological evidence has only shown consistent use of cannabis as beginning about 7,500 years ago.

The study also acknowledged that there are “large gaps” in knowledge about its domestication history, mainly because the plant remains illegal in many parts of the globe.

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: 34,443,826 (+0.04%)
  2. India: 31,411,262 (+0.13%)
  3. Brazil: 19,688,633 (+0.09%)
  4. France: 6,056,388 (+0.25%)
  5. Russia: 6,049,215 (+0.39%)
  6. UK: 5,723,399 (+0.51%)
  7. Turkey: 5,601,608 (+0.25%)
  8. Argentina: 4,846,615 (+0.16%)
  9. Colombia: 4,727,846 (+0.17%)
  10. Italy: 4,317,415 (+0.11%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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