The World Today for May 27, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

Return of the Repressed

COLOMBIA

A Colombian rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) announced a 10-day, unilateral ceasefire with government forces to allow voters in the South American country to cast ballots for a new president on May 29.

As Al Jazeera reported, the ELN is the largest remaining insurgent force in Colombia since the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) agreed to a 2016 peace deal ending the worst of bloody civil conflicts that had consumed the country since the 1960s. This decision could reflect how the group doesn’t want to do anything to harm the candidacy of Gustavo Petro, the former leftist mayor of Bogota, the country’s capital city.

Petro is now the frontrunner in the polls, according to Reuters. Nearly 44 percent of voters support him, compared to 27 percent of voters who said they would cast ballots for his main rival, conservative Federico Gutierrez, the former mayor of Medellin. If neither candidate receives a majority of the vote, a runoff will be held on June 19. Colombia’s President Ivan Duque, who is in the conservative camp, is ineligible to run for reelection.

A Petro victory would be a remarkable feat, analysts say. It would “overcome the dark legacy of Colombia’s hard-right oligarchy and a shameful history of US intervention,” argued Jacobin magazine, alluding to the Marxist-Leninist roots of ELN and FARC, the US-backed crackdown on communist movements in Colombia and the drug trade that complicated the fighting.

He wants to shift Colombia away from oil and coal, hike taxes on the rich, restore diplomatic relations with Venezuela – where a socialist government stands in opposition to the US influence in the region – and revisit the war on drugs. His vice-presidential candidate is black, a rarity for a higher office in Colombia.

Voters have never been this open or had the opportunity to be this open to a leftwing candidate, wrote the Financial Times. One reason for the shift is that Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in Latin America, a situation that has prompted many citizens to wonder whether US-style capitalism can help the lower classes.

Gutierrez, meanwhile, is running on a law-and-order platform, hoping that his pledges to combat cocaine production and rampant street crime will resonate. “People are tired of being robbed, of killings for a cell phone, a bicycle or a watch,” he told the crowd during an event that Bloomberg covered. “The most important thing is to guarantee security.”

Other South American countries’ voters have opted for leftwing candidates recently. Colombia’s election will, at the very least, demonstrate how much perspectives have changed over the past few decades.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Dipping Point

CHINA

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang held a large nationwide teleconference this week with more than 100,000 local officials to bolster the country’s economy which has been deeply impacted by the government’s restrictive anti-Covid measures, CNBC reported Thursday.

Li told the officials during the “emergency meeting” that the economy was at a “critical point” and faces “grim challenges.” He said authorities must “work hard” to bring it back “to the normal track.”

He added that the economy had slowed that much only once, in 1990, over the past 40 years, the Washington Post said.

China has been trying to contain its worst coronavirus outbreak since early 2020 through its “zero Covid” policy: Under the policy, Chinese authorities have placed a number of cities under strict lockdowns that have forced consumers to stay at home and impacted assembly lines, causing a steep dip in production and sales for foreign companies.

China’s gross domestic product increased at 4.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, falling short of the official annual target of 5.5 percent. the New York Times noted. The youth unemployment rate also hit 18.2 percent, just as millions of Chinese university students are about to graduate.

While the number of new Covid cases in some regions has decreased, observers said that local authorities have been more cautious about lifting restrictions. This week, two more investment banks lowered their GDP forecasts for China, one to as low as three percent.

Analysts said that the scale of the meeting highlights the seriousness of the situation. They added that such direct communication would improve implementation policies but it’s unclear how effective the new measures will be.

Meanwhile, others have questioned why Li did not mention President Xi Jinping during his announcement, fueling speculation that there might be a conflict emerging between the two leaders over pandemic policy.

Xi has recently called on officials to double down on the “zero Covid” strategy.

Welcome, Justice

THE GAMBIA

The Gambia will prosecute former President Yahya Jammeh for a series of crimes committed during his decades-long regime, a decision that many human rights advocates and victims described as “unprecedented,” Al Jazeera reported Thursday.

The Gambian government said this week that it accepted all but two of the 265 recommendations made by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. The commission was set up to investigate alleged crimes, including murder, torture and rape, perpetrated during Jammeh’s rule between July 1994 and January 2017.

The commission’s report – which has been delayed twice – was based on years of witness testimonies. It recommended the prosecution of 70 alleged perpetrators, including Jammeh and former Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy.

Officials said they are now working on creating a prosecution strategy and would set up a special court located within The Gambia, with the option of holding proceedings in other countries.

Jammeh left The Gambia in early 2017 after losing the presidential elections to the current president, Adama Barrow, and following a six-week crisis that led to military intervention by other West African states.

He is currently living in exile in Equatorial Guinea, which has no extradition treaty with The Gambia.

The government’s decision took many survivors and their victims’ families by surprise, with some noting that the “level of acceptance of recommendations by the government is extraordinary.”

Still, others wondered whether Barrow will follow through.

The incumbent, re-elected in December, created a political partnership with Jammeh’s previous party last year and chose two known Jammeh supporters as speaker and deputy speaker of parliament.

The Littlest Ones

SENEGAL

A hospital fire in western Senegal killed 11 newborn babies this week, a tragedy that has prompted outrage over the country’s poor medical facilities, NBC News reported Thursday.

The fire took place in the neonatology department of the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh Hospital in the western town of Tivaouane. Authorities said the incident appeared to have been caused by an electrical short circuit. Health authorities have launched an investigation into the matter.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International and other politicians are calling for a full review of Senegal’s public health system, saying that such accidents have become commonplace, according to the Washington Post.

Last year, a similar fire killed four newborns at a hospital in the northern town of Linguère. Maternity care has also come under intense public scrutiny recently following the death of a woman in labor who was denied a Caesarian section.

Senegalese doctors have lamented the faulty equipment and shaky upkeep that exists in many facilities, noting that such tragedies lead to a loss of trust in the public health system when that trust determines how a country handles outbreaks or pandemics.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russia reduced interest rates on Thursday as the rising ruble, supported by high oil and gas profits, and government assistance, is relieving some of the strain on the country’s shaky economy, CNN reported. At an extraordinary meeting, the Russian central bank reduced interest rates from 14 percent to 11 percent, with future cuts possible. Rates were raised by as much as 20 percent in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, as the bank attempted to avoid a financial catastrophe caused by Western sanctions.
  • As Moscow increased its attacks in Ukraine’s east, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denounced suggestions that his country relinquish land to Russia in exchange for peace, comparing such proposals to attempts to placate Nazi Germany, according to the Wall Street Journal. Western officials are debating various scenarios leading to a cease-fire and mulling over what concessions such a deal would require.
  • The Kremlin blamed Western nations for a looming international food crisis caused by difficulties delivering Ukrainian grain to global markets, and demanded that the US and its allies end what it called unlawful sanctions, Reuters noted.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

Concealed Weapons

Most depictions of saber-tooth cats show the animals always displaying their big canine teeth. That wasn’t always the case, though, according to a new study.

Scientists found that at least one species of the extinct predator did not sport its sharp teeth in the open, the New York Times reported.

The paper focused on the Homotherium latidens species, an extinct large feline that emerged about four million years ago before dying out around 10,000 years ago.

Study author Mauricio Antón explained that it was one of the most common saber-tooth cats on the planet and the most powerful: It was the size of a lion and had three-inch-long, scimitar-shaped, serrated upper canines.

Past studies – and illustrations – posited that the saber-tooth species usually bared its canines.

However, Antón and his colleagues looked closely at the teeth of modern big cats and analyzed ancient saber-tooth fossil remains. They concluded that the lower lip and soft tissue couldn’t accommodate the animal’s upper canines. Instead, the serrated teeth were hidden within the enclosed part of the jaw.

Anton’s team said the findings could revamp artistic interpretations of the Homotherium and spark more research on other saber-tooth species.

Meanwhile, while the Homotherium could conceal its weapons, another species couldn’t: The 900-pound Smidolon fatalis was equipped with teeth six inches in length that no jaw could accommodate.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 527,841,016

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,284,534

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,375,946,294

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

  1. US: 83,837,114 (+0.14%)
  2. India: 43,147,530 (+0.01%)
  3. Brazil: 30,880,512 (+0.10%)
  4. France: 29,626,992 (+0.07%)
  5. Germany: 26,200,663 (+0.01%)
  6. UK: 22,458,340 (-0.02%)**
  7. Russia: 18,053,287 (+0.08%)
  8. South Korea: 18,043,539 (+0.04%)
  9. Italy: 17,333,299 (+0.12%)
  10. Turkey: 15,068,094 (+0.01%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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