September 03, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

HAITI

A Country Named Despair

In July, the president of Haiti was assassinated. In mid-August, an earthquake in the south killed more than 2,200 and left a million injured, homeless and destitute. Then came a hurricane.

And in between it all arrived an interim government so shaky that no one but the gangs seems to be in charge.

“We’re on our own,” said Michel Milord, a 66-year-old farmer, who told the New York Times he lost his wife and his house in the earthquake.

Haiti still hasn’t finished rebuilding from the last earthquake a decade ago or Hurricane Matthew in 2016 – the National Palace in the capital of Port-au-Prince is still a vacant lot, “a metaphor for a failed state felled by political corruption and nature’s inexorable pummeling.”

So wrote Francesca Momplaisir, a Haitian-born scholar and novelist of the fate of Haiti. She called the earthquake a disaster that just added insult to injury.

In the neighboring Dominican Republic, natural disasters such as hurricanes hit just as often. However, a combination of geography, poverty, political and social turmoil, gang violence, kidnappings and corruption means that Haiti is just always hit much harder.

“It is as if we are cursed,” Rev. Lucson Simeon told the Washington Post, just before officiating at yet another funeral for a quake victim, echoing a long-held sentiment in Haiti. “We just keep getting beaten down. I ask myself, how can this be?”

Weeks after the earthquake and hurricane, people are still seeking medical attention – the region has few doctors and only one surgeon. The hospitals were badly damaged. “We have…no hospitals to go to,” said 14-year-old Edmund Lobobouin, who told NPR that five of his relatives were injured in the quake.

Lobobouin came last week to get food from one of the few aid trucks that made it through to the region. One reason is the area lacks paved roads and some of the few are now blocked by mudslides and rocks. Meanwhile, gangs have hijacked aid trucks and even ambulances, forcing relief workers to transport supplies by helicopter, a tricky feat because of the mountainous terrain, reported NBC News.

Last week, one of the capital’s most powerful gangsters said his allied gangs had reached a truce and would help relief efforts, via a Facebook video. Meanwhile, crowds of desperate people continue to fight over food and supplies, sometimes looting aid convoys, France24 said.

For many, the quake brought back memories of the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 220,000 and devastated the country. But this time around, it’s even worse, locals say.

After President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7 with help from foreign mercenaries, an interim leader took over but didn’t fill the power vacuum. The country, however, lacks a head of state and lawmakers, Vox wrote. September’s elections have been postponed.

Meanwhile, some judges involved in investigating the killing have gone into hiding because of pressure to manipulate the investigation, the Washington Post wrote. Other key figures in the country have been arrested. Now, many Haitians say the authorities are using the investigation to crack down on political foes of the administration.

So what’s next? No one dares to think about the future because the disasters have stolen it, say residents. For example, it will take decades to rebuild schools and hospitals, power plants and electric grids, bridges and roads in the rural south. The water supplies are contaminated because of corpses upstream. And foreign aid often doesn’t filter down to these rural communities – too many hands in the capital have to take their slice first.

And as the Associated Press noted, scientists expect another earthquake – soon.

WANT TO KNOW

DENMARK

Not So Cozy

A landmark impeachment trial began Thursday against former Danish Immigration Minister Inger Stojberg over a 2016 order that attempted to separate couples seeking asylum, where one party was a minor, Euronews reported.

Prosecutors have charged Stojberg with unlawfully initiating the separation and for misleading parliamentary committees on four separate occasions about the matter.

A parliamentary-appointed committee had said earlier that separating couples in asylum centers was “clearly illegal” and that the former minister had been warned by her department.

Stojberg – considered an immigration hardliner and who served as Denmark’s immigration minister in a center-right government propped up by the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party between 2015 to 2019 – defended her actions as “the only political and humane thing” to do to combat forced child marriages. Twenty-three couples, including pregnant women and those with children, were separated.

During her tenure, Denmark adopted 100 new restrictions impacting immigrants including one that required newly arrived asylum seekers to hand over valuables to help pay for their stay in the country. The law has yet to be scrapped by the current Social Democratic government, which took over in 2019. This year, she resigned as deputy leader and dropped out of the Liberals party, the BBC reported. She retained her seat in parliament but could lose that and the right to run for election if found guilty.

Still, Stojberg, a divisive figure with strong nationalist, anti-elitist views, is a political heavyweight with a faithful following, the BBC noted.

The trial – the first impeachment in 26 years and only the second in a century – will determine whether Stojberg violated the European Convention of Human Rights. She could face an unspecified fine or a maximum jail sentence of two years.

VENEZUELA

The New Reality

Venezuela’s main opposition parties announced this week they will participate in the country’s regional and municipal polls in November, putting an end to a three-year boycott of elections organized by the government of President Nicolas Maduro, the Washington Post reported.

The announcement marks a clear departure from the opposition’s strategy that began in 2018 in an attempt to oust Maduro and delegitimize the elections. Since 2018, Maduro’s government has harassed and banned opposition candidates, while also trying to persuade them to participate in elections in an attempt to rebuild international legitimacy.

The move comes as both opposition groups and Maduro’s government have restarted a new round of talks aimed at breaking the ongoing political impasse. It also follows the loss of support, both in Venezuela and abroad, for opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president in 2019 citing the constitution.

Guaido is recognized as the country’s legitimate leader by the United States and more than 50 other countries but his support has been dwindling as attempts to replace Maduro have failed. The embattled opposition leader also lost control of the country’s Congress following last year’s elections, further diminishing his legitimacy.

Many opposition politicians added that the shift in strategy comes as pressure mounts from rank-and-file members to call for an end to the stalemate. Others called the decision a new reality in the South American nation.

“It’s not so much capitulation but a lack of options,” said analyst Russ Dallen. “They know they don’t have any choice, that they are negotiating from a position of weakness.”

Opposition groups acknowledged that it remains unclear how free and fair the upcoming elections will be.

Even so, they hope the move could be “useful” to lay the groundwork for future presidential and legislative elections, as well as relief for the hunger and healthcare crises that have gripped the country for years.

KASHMIR

A Quiet Burial

Indian authorities imposed a lockdown on the disputed region of Kashmir this week following the death of veteran separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani to prevent anti-India protests, Al Jazeera reported Thursday.

The central government deployed troops and set up checkpoints around Srinagar, where Geelani’s home is located. Officials have also shut down the internet and mobile networks in the Kashmir valley since Wednesday.

Geelani died at the age of 92. The prominent separatist leader had been under house arrest for more than a decade after leading multiple anti-India protests through his alliance, the Hurriyat Conference.

The political leader strongly opposed any dialogue with the central government and advocated for merging Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan.

His death and burial attracted some controversy: Geelani’s son claimed that authorities “snatched his body and forcibly buried him” in a quiet funeral under harsh restrictions. His family was only allowed to see Geelani’s grave on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, the recent lockdown echoed restrictions that were imposed on the Muslim-majority region in August 2019, when the Indian government revoked the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir and split it into two federally administered territories.

Kashmir has remained a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, both of which claim the region in full but rule only parts, according to CNN.

Last year, Geelani quit the Hurriyat Conference saying that the alliance had failed to stop India from tightening its grip on the region.

DISCOVERIES

Shark Virgins

A female smoothhound shark recently gave birth to a baby shark at an aquarium in Sardinia, Italy.

The odd thing was that the mother had spent 10 years living in a tank with another female, which means that her offspring was the product of a “virgin birth,” according to Business Insider.

The miraculous birth is astonishing but scientists explained that the birth of Ispera – which means “hope” in Sardinian – is not so uncommon.

Ispera’s birth is scientifically known as parthenogenesis, a rare phenomenon where an egg develops into an embryo without being fertilized by a sperm.

Researchers explained that at least 80 vertebrate species, including 15 shark species, can employ parthenogenesis to have “virgin births.”

However, the recent birth marks the first time that parthenogenesis has been recorded in smoothhound sharks.

Shark scientists noted that the phenomenon is usually the last resort for female sharks in the wild. This means that sharks kept in captivity and away from males – like Ispera’s mother – trigger parthenogenesis to reproduce.

Even so, there are certain caveats.

Parthenogenesis consists of two different types: Apoxomis and automixis. The first is a type of cloning while the second involves a slight shuffling of the mother’s genetic code to create an offspring similar to the mother – but not an exact copy.

Christine Dudgeon from the University of Queensland in Australia cautioned that the process was “a form of inbreeding” and that Ispera’s genetic diversity – and chances of survival – are greatly reduced.

Do You Know?

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 219,086,619

Total Deaths Worldwide: 4,541,779

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 5,385,802,672

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 39,549,299 (+0.39%)
  2. India: 32,903,289 (+0.14%)
  3. Brazil: 20,830,495 (+0.13%)
  4. UK: 6,894,915 (+0.55%)
  5. France: 6,882,305 (+0.21%)
  6. Russia: 6,857,243 (+0.27%)
  7. Turkey: 6,412,247 (+0.00%)
  8. Argentina: 5,195,601 (+0.09%)
  9. Iran: 5,055,512 (+0.60%)
  10. Colombia: 4,913,031 (+0.04%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

CORRECTION: In Thursday’s Covid-19 Global Update, we wrote that the total number of vaccinations worldwide was more than 50 billion. The current amount is above 5 billion. We apologize for the error.