The World Today for May 19, 2022

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Guns and Crypto

EL SALVADOR

Crime and Bitcoin are the two most powerful forces in El Salvador. The question is whether those forces will be centripetal and bring people together or whether they will be centrifugal and pull the country apart.

In March, a record number of gang killings occurred in the Central American country. In response to the bloodshed and breakdown in public safety, President Nayib Bukele declared a state of emergency and suspended citizens’ constitutional rights and civil liberties. Police proceeded to arrest more than 30,000 people as of this week, according to Agence France-Presse.

Organized crime syndicates like MS-13 and Barrio 18 have grown extremely powerful in El Salvador ever since the US deported El Salvadoran gang members to the country in the 1990s, the Council on Foreign Relations noted.

As the New York Times explained, Bukele “has conceded that innocents are being swept up in the crackdown but insists they’re a small share of arrests.” Human Rights Watch and other activist groups, meanwhile, have been critical of the president’s plan, saying the state of emergency has led to serious abuses.

Lawmakers recently extended the initial 30-day period of the emergency for an additional 30 days. Other measures they’ve recently approved include longer prison sentences and trying children as young as 12 as adults.

As a result, thousands of family members and friends are now searching for loved ones who have become swept up in dragnets designed to curb rampant crime and violence, added the Washington Post. Crowds of mothers and wives now routinely congregate outside prisons in hopes of hearing information about their missing sons and husbands.

Critics call Bukele’s style of politics “punitive populism,” or making a show of cracking down on crime in order to satisfy voters who feel that tough measures are necessary if officials are to exert control over crime, the Associated Press wrote.

As he jails thousands, Bukele has also made a radical bet on his country’s future, adopting Bitcoin as legal tender inside the country alongside the US dollar. As CNBC recently reported, the country has more than $70 million in reserves in cryptocurrency.

Unfortunately, the bet has not been looking good. Bitcoin’s value has dropped 55 percent in value since its all-time high in November. El Salvador’s national reserves have declined by 28 percent as a result, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, the country is projected to default on its debt payments in January.

Bukele is pressing on, however. In fact, he envisages a gleaming city near a volcano on the Gulf of Fonseca in southeastern El Salvador, wrote El Pais. The new Bitcoin City, is to become a smart city, tax-free, and fully based on the use of…you guessed it…bitcoin.

He just needs to make sure the city is safe.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Here Come the Carrots

VENEZUELA

Venezuela’s government and opposition groups will restart stalled negotiations, an announcement made shortly after the United States said it would ease sanctions against the South American nation, NBC News reported.

On Tuesday, the Biden administration said it would provide minor sanction relief in exchange for continued dialogue between President Nicolas Maduro’s administration and the opposition.

The move would allow the Chevron Corporation operating in the country to discuss licensing conditions and future concessions with Venezuela’s state-owned oil business.

Still, US officials said that sanctions will remain in place for a group of Venezuelan entities and figures, including the country’s attorney general, the Associated Press added.

Maduro’s government and opposition leaders have been engaged in talks in Mexico to end Venezuela’s long-running political and humanitarian crisis, which has seen some six million people flee the country, according to BBC.

Maduro, however, halted the talks in October in response to the extradition of Alex Saab, a close ally of the Venezuelan leader accused of money laundering, to the US.

Meanwhile, the opposition’s main demand is a free and fair presidential election – the next election is scheduled in 2024.

The easing of sanctions follows the Biden administration’s decision this week to remove some restrictions on social, financial and professional contact with Cuba. It also comes two months after senior US officials met with Maduro in Venezuela in an effort to isolate Russia following the latter’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is one of Venezuela’s closest allies.

A Little Relief

SPAIN

Spain will allow women suffering from menstrual pains to take days off work, a proposed law that will make the country the first in Europe to entitle female workers to such leave, Sky News reported.

The Spanish government said the bill would give women who suffer from severe menstrual pain three days of optional medical leave a month. Two additional days will be permitted in exceptional cases.

The leave will be financed by the state, adding that the draft legislation would “end the stigma, shame and silence around periods.”

Some trade unions and analysts described the policy as long overdue but others cautioned against it. Some union groups worry that the measure could put off some employers from hiring women and hinder the latter’s access to the job market.

Even so, the Spanish regions of Catalonia and Castellon have offered menstrual leave to local government employees.

The proposal is part of a package that will be debated in the Spanish parliament in advance of approval. The package also includes an expansion of abortion rights by eliminating the requirement that 16 and 17-year-olds acquire parental approval before terminating a pregnancy.

Worldwide, menstrual leave is offered in very few countries. Those who make it available include Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Zambia, and Indonesia.

No More Commuting

SOMALIA

Somalia’s newly elected president welcomed a decision by the United States to send special forces to the Horn of Africa country again, amid fears that the al-Shabab terrorist group has grown even more powerful recently, the Voice of America reported.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration said it would deploy almost 500 troops to Somalia as part of what officials describe as a persistent presence.

For years, US forces have been conducting counterterrorism operations with Somalian soldiers but that ended in 2020 when former President Donald Trump ordered the withdrawal of about 750 US troops from the country. The previous administration had US soldiers fly to Somalia for periodic engagements.

Some US and Somalian officials lamented that the “commute” disrupted counterterrorism operations and caused al-Shabab to swell in numbers. Intelligence analysts warned that the al Qaeda-linked terrorist group now has as many as 12,000 fighters and can raise as much as $10 million in revenue per month.

Somalian President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud hailed the reversal and said the US remained “a reliable partner in our quest (for) stability and fight against terrorism.”

Details of the deployment have yet to be ironed out but newly deployed troops are expected to assist Somalia’s elite counterterrorism forces, the Danab Brigade.

Even so, the unit has continued to struggle against the militants even before the US withdrawal.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • A Russian soldier accused of murdering an unarmed Ukrainian has pleaded guilty in Ukraine’s first war crimes trial, Politico reported. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old soldier, is accused of murdering a 62-year-old civilian in Ukraine’s northern Sumy area. When the court in Kyiv asked for his plea, he said “fully” guilty. Prosecutors allege Shishimarin was ordered to shoot the civilian in order to prevent him from informing Ukrainian forces about the Russians’ whereabouts. He could face life in prison if convicted.
  • The Russian government has begun the process of withdrawing from a number of international organizations, including the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization, Politico added separately. Parliament Deputy Speaker Pyotr Tolstoy said lawmakers are revising “international obligations, treaties that today bring no benefit but instead directly harm our country.”
  • Russia expelled dozens of diplomats from Spain, France and Italy on Wednesday in retaliation for the expulsion of Russian diplomats from European countries as part of a unified effort against Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine, Agence France-Presse wrote.
  • Google’s Russian office has filed for bankruptcy due to its failure to pay a $100 million fine for hosting illegal material, as Russia continues to put pressure on big tech following its invasion of Ukraine, the Moscow Times noted. Meanwhile, US officials said that Chinese technology exports to Russia dropped in March, a sign of Beijing’s wariness about violating the trade prohibitions, according to the Washington Post.

DISCOVERIES

Small Porpoises, Big Efforts

The dolphin-like vaquita porpoises are the rarest sea mammals in the world, numbering about 10 in the wild.

Found only in Mexico’s Gulf of California, their minuscule numbers have sparked fears that the creature is on the brink of extinction. It has been labeled the world’s most endangered creature.

Or is it?

A recent genetic study found that there is still hope for the vaquita, even though their salvation requires dedicated human efforts, according to the BBC.

Scientists studied DNA samples of the marine creatures caught between 1985 to 2017 and used a computer algorithm to determine how their population could change over the next five decades.

They found that the vaquita was not “genetically compromised” as previously believed and could bounce back from near extinction.

“They have a very high chance of making it over the next 50 years if they receive complete protection,” said co-author Jacqueline Robinson.

Robinson warned that human activity could be the animal’s ultimate demise.

Her team explained that vaquitas are accidentally caught in large, weighted nets – known as gillnets – used by fishing communities.

Removing gillnets from their habitats could help but past efforts to impose fishing regulations have resulted in tensions between conservationists, locals and governments.

“It really comes down to our choices and actions in terms of giving the vaquita the best chance at surviving,” Robinson added.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 525,382,214

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,283,587

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,425,320,991

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

  1. US: 82,951,379 (+0.27%)
  2. India: 43,129,563 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,701,900 (+0.00%)**
  4. France: 29,489,304 (+0.22%)
  5. Germany: 25,949,175 (+0.23%)
  6. UK: 24,330,442 (+0.003%)
  7. Russia: 18,007,169 (+0.03%)
  8. South Korea: 17,889,849 (+0.16%)
  9. Italy: 17,147,477 (+0.18%)
  10. Turkey: 15,058,627 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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