November 19, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

Eyes Wide Open

CHILE

Fabiola Campillai was walking to work in 2019 when Chilean security forces fired a tear gas canister at her, striking her face, blinding her permanently and damaging her brain. At the time, civil unrest was rising in Chile over social inequity. As the Guardian explained, there were no protests around her at the time of the shooting, however. The soldier who fired the canister was investigated and faces serious punishment.

Campillai, now, is running for a seat in the Chilean Senate at a time when the South American country’s politics are heating up significantly. In addition to presidential and legislative elections on Nov. 21, the lower house of the country’s Congress recently impeached President Sebastian Piñera. (The Senate this week voted against impeachment). The president can’t run for reelection when his term ends on March 11 under Chilean law anyway.

Still, the stink of the allegations lingers and plays into Chile’s future.

The charges alleged that Piñera used his office to create favorable conditions for a family mining business, National Public Radio reported. The revelation originated from the Pandora Papers, a global investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. One of the richest people in Chile, Piñera was among the first heads of state to face removal from office due to the investigation.

The president’s lawyer called the impeachment “a blow to our national institutions that can leave wounds for the next and future governments,” noted the Washington Post. Piñera has maintained that the facts of the case are not as the Pandora Papers would suggest. Instead, as Merco Press wrote, he believed the impeachment was an election maneuver.

The presidential race, meanwhile, remains a tossup. Conservative José Antonio Kast has surged in the polls recently, Bloomberg reported, noting that investors and financial markets were signaling confidence in Kast. Some polls indicate that he could beat ex-student leader Gabriel Boric if a runoff vote on Dec. 9 is necessary.

Boric has proposed hiking taxes on the ultra-wealthy, replacing private pensions with a public version, and repatriating indigenous lands to their original inhabitants, Jacobin magazine wrote. The civic-minded view of Chilean citizenship that his supporters might espouse is on display in this Al Jazeera story about efforts to stop discarded clothes and other waste from polluting the Atacama desert.

In May, Chileans elected a constitutional convention to revise the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship-era document that is the current law of the land, Reuters reported. Left candidates won more than 75 percent of the convention’s seats, suggesting Boric’s ethos might exert more influence over the country whether or not he wins the presidency this month.

That’s because voters, fatigued by the pandemic and Chile’s elite, want serious change. This time around, it looks like they might get it.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Damned If You Do…

GREECE

A trial against 24 aid workers who helped migrants and refugees attempting to come to Greece opened briefly on Thursday in a case that human rights advocates call “farcical” and “politically motivated,” Reuters reported.

The defendants are affiliated with the Emergency Response Center International (ERCI) a nonprofit search-and-rescue group that operated on Lesbos island from 2016 to 2018. At the time, the island was on the frontlines of Europe’s refugee crisis that saw more than one million people arrive from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in 2015 alone.

The aid workers now face charges of forgery and the unlawful use of radio frequencies and could face up to eight years in prison if found guilty. Some defendants are also facing other felony charges including people smuggling, espionage and money laundering, which can carry prison sentences of up to 25 years.

They deny the charges.

The defendants also include Syrian refugee Sarah Mardini, the sister of Olympic swimmer Yusra Mardini. Both sisters made headlines in 2015 after they dragged their boat filled with refugees to safety when the engine failed and saved the lives of 19 other passengers.

Mardini has been barred from entering Greece and is currently in Germany, where she was granted asylum. She is not able to attend the trial.

Human rights organizations have criticized the charges as “absurd,” while a report from the European Union called the trial “the largest case of criminalization of solidarity in Europe.”

Meanwhile, the hearing was suspended soon after it began on Thursday because the judge ruled that the court was not competent to hear the case. The trial will now move to an appeals court, according to the BBC.

Choking on Air

INDIA

Air pollution remained high in the Indian capital of New Delhi on Thursday, even as authorities imposed a series of emergency measures to reduce smog following pressure from the county’s top court, the New York Times reported.

During the winter period, New Delhi’s air quality drops due to the smog caused by industrial and vehicular emissions coupled with smoke from crop-burning after the harvest. Scientists and health officials have warned that the toxic smog can lead to brain damage, respiratory problems and premature death.

Earlier this week, India’s Supreme Court criticized city officials for their “don’t take any step” position and ordered a lockdown of the capital to tackle the emergency, the Associated Press reported.

City officials have implemented a series of measures, including halting construction activity and diesel generators. They also ordered the closure of schools and the shutdown of six power plants outside of New Delhi.

Even so, the situation has also prompted politicians to blame each other for the pollution: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration said that the capital – run by an opposition political party – has failed to enforce its own pollution-reduction policies. Delhi officials, meanwhile, accuse the government of failing to force farmers in nearby states to stop burning crops.

India’s air quality has been an issue for years, primarily due to the widespread use of fossil fuels, which has increased sharply after two decades of rapid economic growth. As a result, in 2020, India was home to 15 of the 20 cities with the most hazardous air globally, according to the Swiss air quality monitoring company IQAir.

Still, the government has stressed that the use of fossil fuels is necessary to lift millions out of poverty.

The Pariahs

NICARAGUA

Nicaragua blasted the Organization of American States this week after the regional forum passed a resolution condemning the country’s Nov. 7 general elections, even as the United States moved to ban Nicaraguan officials from entering the country, Al Jazeera reported.

Last week, the OAS passed a resolution saying the elections lacked “democratic legitimacy.” Before the elections, Nicaraguan authorities detained nearly 40 opposition figures, a move that assured victory for longtime President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, who is vice president.

On Tuesday, the Nicaraguan congress – controlled by Ortega supporters – denounced the resolution, saying that the organization violated the “principle of non-intervention in the internal matters of other states.” They then overwhelmingly voted in favor of a motion to reject the OAS charter, which initiates the formal process of leaving the organization.

The vote came as the United States moved to ban Ortega and many of his officials from entering the country. Washington called the elections a “sham” and announced new sanctions against Nicaraguan officials. Britain and Canada also imposed new sanctions against prominent Nicaraguans.

Ortega has previously denounced the US for trying to undermine the country’s electoral process. He also has accused some Western nations of being led by “fascists” and “Nazi parliamentarians.”

Analysts, meanwhile, remain skeptical whether the new sanctions and travel bans will have any effect on Ortega’s regime. They noted that previous moves by the US failed to deter Ortega.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

Ancient Global Warming

Antarctica is a frozen wasteland today but 75 million years ago, it was a forested area with lots of wildfires, a recent study found.

Scientists analyzed fossilized charcoal chunks found in Antarctica to determine whether it had experienced prehistoric wildfires – also known as paleofires, the New York Times reported.

There is a wealth of evidence about paleofires in the northern hemisphere but scholars have wondered for years whether the icy continent also burned during the Cretaceous period – an era marked with mass extinctions, as well as fluctuating amounts of oxygen and vegetation.

In their study, a research team used imaging software and scanning electron microscopy to analyze the fossilized charcoal. They discovered homogenized cells and a pitted pattern that showed that these fossils began as ancient plants.

Their analysis revealed that the plant in question was an Araucariaceae, an ancient family of conifers. This suggests that Antarctica was once a warm, forested area – that was also prone to wildfires.

“It’s really interesting for us because now we’re showing that not only the Northern Hemisphere was burning, but the Southern Hemisphere too,” said co-author André Jasper. “It was global.”

Jasper and his team have been seeking evidence of paleofires that burned between 60 million and 300 million years ago.

The key question remains as to whether these ancient wildfires had an effect on Earth. Understanding them could help researchers create models for periods of rapid ecological change and an uptick of fires – such as the ones happening now.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 256,121,417

Total Deaths Worldwide: 5,133,242

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 7,607,340,585

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

  1. US: 47,531,381 (+0.23%)
  2. India: 34,489,623 (+0.03%)
  3. Brazil: 21,989,962 (+0.06%)
  4. UK: 9,772,670 (+0.49%)
  5. Russia: 9,063,318 (+0.40%)
  6. Turkey: 8,505,190 (+0.26%)
  7. France: 7,453,941 (+0.27%)
  8. Iran: 6,063,775 (+0.10%)
  9. Argentina: 5,312,089 (+0.03%)
  10. Germany: 5,271,965 (+1.13%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours