The World Today for April 29, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

The War Without a Name

MEXICO

A Mexican drug gang recently left six severed heads on a car roof in order to intimidate rival dealers who might try to infringe on claimed turf in the southern Mexican town of Chilapa de Alvarez.

“In Chilapa selling crystal, kidnapping, extortion and stealing are strictly prohibited. This will happen to anyone who messes around,” read a sign the killers hung in a tree near the scene, reported Reuters. “Capital punishment is the sentence for all these crimes.”

Nearby, authorities recently discovered a clutch of hidden graves containing dozens of bodies as well as a secret camp where the severed heads of nine unlucky gangsters were found in a cooler. The hapless corpses likely belonged to the nearly 100,000 people who have disappeared in Mexico over the years as violence has worsened.

The situation is untenable. And as a result, criminal gang-related violence has displaced tens of thousands of Mexicans, wrote the Washington Post, where headline writers referred to the problem as “the war next door.” Homes riddled with bullets, drones and even land mines have become commonplace in this war.

Women have especially been affected, according to Aztec reports, a Colombia-based media startup. Amnesty International found last year that 10 women and girls are murdered on a daily basis in the Latin American country. The Guardian wrote about Mexican female filmmakers who were producing films that tackle the subject head-on in an attempt to jar their fellow citizens into stamping out the problem.

Tourists and foreigners aren’t immune to the bloodshed. Gunmen in rival drug cartels have opened fire on each other on the 81-mile-long Riviera Maya, including in Cancun and Tulum, the Wall Street Journal added. The homicide rate in the region is 37 killings per 100,000 residents or five times larger than the rate in the US.

These activities have spilled across the US border, where dangerous migration routes and immigration, in general, have become hot-button political topics. They have also fueled violence to the south in Colombia as Mexican gangs trade weapons for cocaine, Reuters noted.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, elected in 2018 and serving a six-year term, recently won a recall vote that he encouraged in order to cement his popular mandate, explained Al Jazeera. He has made little progress in tackling crime, however, said an analyst at the Brookings Institution. He recently closed an elite investigations unit that was cooperating with the US in combating the drug trade instead.

Historians will ask why more was not done. In the meantime, some civilians don’t have time to ask – they are too busy looking for sanctuary.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The End

DENMARK

Denmark became the first country in the world to halt its Covid-19 vaccination program, saying that virus infection rates are now under control, CNBC reported Thursday.

The country’s National Board of Health said that vaccination rates in the country are high and that the “epidemic has reversed.” The health authority noted that people will not be invited to get their shot from May 15 onward but added that individuals can still get vaccinated over the spring and summer if they choose.

Officials also urged high-risk people and unvaccinated pregnant women to get inoculated.

The decision comes as the pandemic situation around the world remains mixed: The United States and the European Union have opted to abandon most restrictions. Meanwhile, China is imposing new restrictions and lockdowns as the virus spreads in major cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing.

Denmark began its vaccination scheme at the end of 2020. Since then, nearly five million people have been vaccinated and more than 3.6 million have received a booster shot. Denmark has a population of about 5.8 million.

Despite the halt, health officials said that they will follow the situation closely in case new variants emerge. They are also preparing to restart vaccinations again if there is a need to immunize additional target groups before the fall.

Friends and Foes

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

The Central African Republic became the first African country and the second one in the world to adopt bitcoin as its legal currency this week, a move that has raised questions among observers and politicians because of its status as one of the globe’s poorest nations, Agence France-Presse reported.

Lawmakers unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that would make bitcoin legal tender and legalize the use of other cryptocurrencies. The bill also provides for tax-exempt status for cryptocurrency exchanges.

President Faustin-Archange Touadera signed the bill into law with officials saying the move will put CAR “on the map of the world’s boldest and most visionary countries.”

Opposition lawmakers, however, questioned the adoption and noted that it was aimed at undermining the use of the regional currency, the CFA franc. The CFA franc, a currency backed by France and pegged to the euro, is used by six other African countries.

Analysts also wondered if the move was related to CAR’s close ties with Russia, which has faced tough sanctions as a result of its invasion of Ukraine.

Following a rebel insurgency in 2020, Russia deployed paramilitary troops to aid CAR forces, which helped reclaim much of the rebel-held territory.

CAR now follows El Salvador, which adopted bitcoin in September despite warnings from economists and the International Monetary Fund over the risks, such as financial stability.

Even so, others recognize the usefulness of digital currencies as a flexible monetary tool.

Unfulfilled Requirements

HUNGARY

The European Union moved to punish Hungary for breaking bloc rules, a push that would allow the bloc to withhold millions in EU funds to the country, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The European Commission’s move marks the latest escalation between Hungary and the bloc, amid years-long disputes over rule-of-law violations, inadequate anti-corruption measures, restrictions on press freedoms and violations of LGBTQ+ rights.

The mechanism used to punish Hungary was established in 2020 alongside the approval of a nearly $791 billion coronavirus recovery fund. It would empower the EU to bar nations from receiving funds if Brussels can demonstrate that their lack of an independent judiciary or inadequate anti-corruption institutions mean the bloc’s funds could be misused.

Hungary and Poland – which have also drawn the ire of the EU – rejected the tool and challenged it at the European Court of Justice. The court, however, rejected that case in February.

Meanwhile, Hungary has accused the EU of using the instrument to blackmail countries and force them to bend to the bloc on certain issues involving immigration and social values.

Commission officials said that they had enough proof of violations of financial management standards to win any Hungarian appeal. But any decision to block funds will take months and will depend on the support of a supermajority of EU states – meaning backing from at least 55 percent of EU countries representing more than 65 percent of the bloc’s population.

Currently, EU officials have already halted more than $7 billion in coronavirus recovery funds for Hungary but it had not attempted to block regular annual budget funds from being paid out.

The decision comes as recent divisions have opened up in the EU over imposing further sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Hungary has voiced opposition against imposing levies on Russian energy.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • The US is collaborating with its allies to redirect some natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria in response to Russia’s threat to cut off the flow of gas to those nations, the New York Times reported. The economic consequence of Europe’s reliance on Russian energy suppliers has been a constant Western worry since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began. However, one of Germany’s biggest energy firms will buy Russian gas by paying in euros which will then be converted into rubles, meeting a Kremlin demand for all transactions to be made in the Russian currency, according to the BBC. Critics say the payment system will undermine international sanctions against Moscow.
  • Satellite imagery showed that Russia deployed trained dolphins near the entrance to a key Black Sea port, ostensibly to shield a naval facility from prospective Ukrainian strikes, NBC News wrote. Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden asked Congress to fund a new $33 billion Ukraine aid package Thursday, NBC News added separately.
  • Canada’s parliament declared Russia’s military actions in Ukraine a “genocide,” the latest nation to accuse the Kremlin of war crimes in the former Soviet republic, the Hill noted. At the same time, US diplomats told the United Nations that there was “credible information” that a Russian military unit in Ukraine’s Donetsk area “executed Ukrainians who were seeking to surrender, rather than take them into custody,” Axios added.
  • According to recent a Microsoft Corporation research, at least six hacker organizations linked to the Russian government have launched hundreds of cyberattacks in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February, including dozens aimed at destroying computer systems, the Wall Street Journal wrote.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

Homeward Bound

Scientists found that individuals can better navigate environments that are topologically similar to where they grew up, Science Alert reported.

In their paper, researchers collected data from almost 400,000 people from 38 countries who had played the videogame Sea Hero Quest, a wayfinding game that also contributes to research on dementia.

They then combined the data with a novel metric – known as “street network entropy” (SNE) – to measure the user’s spatial navigational ability. The team explained that the SNE measures the complexity of a city’s layout, which they used to determine the complexity of the biggest cities in the 38 countries.

They reported in their findings that cities that were more like a grid – such as Chicago – had lower SNEs while higher ones were mostly seen in organic sprawls such as Prague in the Czech Republic.

They also noted that participants raised in low SNE cities performed better in videogames with regular layouts but not in less organized environments. However, those who grew up outside urban areas or in high SNE zones showed “better performance at more entropic video game levels.”

“This confirms the impact of the environment on human cognition on a global scale and highlights the importance of urban design on human cognition and brain function,” the authors wrote.

Still, they acknowledged that there could be many mechanisms at play when people are developing their navigational skills.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 512,469,869

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,231,583

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,335,307,493

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

  1. US: 81,251,631 (+0.08%)
  2. India: 43,072,176 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,418,920 (+0.07%)
  4. France: 28,733,434 (+0.21%)
  5. Germany: 24,710,769 (+0.41%)
  6. UK: 22,201,340 (+0.07%)
  7. Russia: 17,902,334 (+0.04%)
  8. South Korea: 17,194,616 (+0.63%)
  9. Italy: 16,349,788 (+0.43%)
  10. Turkey: 15,028,397 (+0.02%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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