The World Today for June 10, 2022

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NEED TO KNOW

The Makeover

CHILE

Chilean President Gabriel Boric recently apologized to thousands of women who were forcibly sterilized over the years because they were HIV positive. As Al Jazeera reported, activists greeted the apology with a massive sigh of relief and a sense of vindication.

The move was one of many that Boric, a 36-year-old leftist elected in March, has been making in a bid to leave behind the conservative, pro-business government that has dominated Chile from the ascent of late dictator Augusto Pinochet following a coup in 1973 through the reestablishment of democracy in 1990. Boric’s rise coincided with mass protests against subway fare increases that ballooned into expressions of general discontent.

In his first state of the union address, wrote Reuters, Boric pledged to enact a 40-hour workweek, legalize euthanasia, increase spending on education, healthcare, housing and other infrastructure, reform the country’s pension system, cancel student debt and alter the tax system to address inequality.

It would, as the Wall Street Journal noted, grant sweeping social rights, including to the Indigenous, and “change the economic course of a country considered a model of development in Latin America.”

“I feel the strong and undeniable sense of historic responsibility to consolidate in peace this process of change that we’ve embarked on,” Boric said, according to Bloomberg. “There is so much injustice and abuse that we have to leave behind.”

But perhaps Boric’s most dramatic policy initiative involves a proposed new constitution. Chile’s current constitution reflects the perspective of Pinochet’s junta. As the Washington Post explained, critics say the document stokes inequality, undermines the social welfare safety net and gives the private sector too much power over the public sector.

Voters are slated to vote on the new constitution on Sept. 4. In a 2020 vote, around 80 percent of Chilean voters supported the concept of writing a new constitution. But recently that number has decreased to less than 40 percent as the reality of such a change has sunk in. But more than a third of voters are still undecided.

Chileans might be skittish because global economic conditions have changed significantly in the past year, while, as the Associated Press noted, Boric’s approval rating has plummeted as his ambitious political agenda has slowed amid the exigencies of governing.

Economic decline comes as other issues have emerged, too. Drought has reduced water levels in the country. More than half of Chileans faced “severe water scarcity” last year, according to the Guardian. In the country’s south, indigenous groups have launched attacks against the government, reported Merco Press. Truckers have staged blockages to protest the government’s lack of action to stop it, Deutsche Welle added.

Change can be good, sometimes. But, as Boric is discovering, it’s usually not easy.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Tricky Triangle

ALGERIA

Algeria suspended a decades-old cooperation treaty with Spain this week amid a fight over the disputed territory of Western Sahara, the Local Spain reported Thursday.

Algerian officials said they will suspend “the treaty of friendship, good neighborliness and co-operation” signed between the two countries in 2002. The deal aimed at promoting dialogue and cooperation on a number of political, economic and defense issues.

The decision centers on the status of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that is currently disputed between Morocco and the Polisario Front, an Algerian-backed movement that seeks independence of the territory.

Morocco has been fighting the Polisario Front since 1975 and currently controls 80 percent of the territory. In 2007, the North African country proposed a plan to offer limited autonomy to Western Sahara but insisted that it remains under Morocco’s sovereignty.

Spain had initially stayed neutral on the matter but in March, the government publicly backed Morocco’s proposal. The move came following a diplomatic row between Rabat and Madrid after a visit by Polisario leader Brahim Ghali to Spain for treatment for Covid-19.

Morocco responded to the visit by allowing thousands of migrants to enter Spain’s tiny North African enclave of Ceuta, a move seen as a way to pressure Madrid.

Algeria condemned Spain’s decision and said Wednesday that the move had been “in violation of its legal, moral and political obligations” toward Western Sahara.

The Spanish government said it regretted Algeria’s decision but issued a subtle warning to Morocco that Madrid “will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a means of pressure.”

The recent brouhaha highlights Spain’s precarious position in dealing with both North African countries: While Spain shares a border and strong economic ties with Morocco, it also relies on Algerian natural gas – a dependence that has become more acute following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and its use of gas as a bargaining chip.

Missing: Heritage

IRAQ

An Iraqi court sentenced a British man to 15 years in prison this week after finding him guilty of attempting to smuggle ancient artifacts from a country known as the cradle of civilization, CNN reported.

The judge said that former geologist Jim Fitton had attempted to smuggle 12 artifacts that he had picked up during a tour in Iraq’s ancient city of Eridu, which is part of the remains of Sumerian cities in ancient Mesopotamia. Another man, German Volker Waldmann, was also tried with Fitton but was released due to a lack of evidence

In March, authorities detained Fitton and Waldmann after discovering the archaeological items in their luggage. Both men had been touring the country’s ancient sites, the Associated Press noted.

Under a 2002 Iraqi law, looting artifacts can lead to a prison sentence of up to 15 years, while stealing antiquities by force is punishable by the death penalty.

Still, Fitton’s lawyer and family said the 66-year-old man had no criminal intent, no knowledge that he was breaking any local laws, nor any idea of the value of the goods found in his possession.

His lawyer said that he will appeal. Fitton’s family also fears that he will not be able to survive prison at his age.

The proceedings have received much international attention as Iraq seeks to open its tourism sector. It has also divided public opinion in Iraq with some saying that the punishment was fair, considering that the country has been a looting ground for invaders and foreigners for decades, with few punished. Others also pointed out that Iraq lacked proper site management or information to warn foreign visitors about the laws.

The country has recently pushed to recover thousands of ancient artifacts plundered in the two decades since the US invasion – many of which ended up in museums and personal collections in the United States and around the world, the Washington Post said.

The Test of Time

UNITED KINGDOM

Thousands of British employees began the world’s biggest trial of the four-day work week this week, the latest effort to reduce working time following the impact caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the Washington Post reported.

The six-month trial will include more than 3,300 workers from 70 companies, ranging from fish-and-chip shops to big corporations. Employees will work 80 percent of their hours for 100 percent of their pay.

Researchers said the new trial will monitor how the reduced workweek affects productivity, employee well-being and how it impacts the environment and gender equality.

The experiment comes as many employers grapple with pandemic burnout and the “Great Resignation” phenomenon that has led to thousands of workers leaving their jobs over issues such as low pay and a lack of advancement opportunities.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, more and more companies are recognizing that the new frontier for competition is quality of life, and that reduced-hour, output-focused working is the vehicle to give them a competitive edge,” said Joe O’Connor, chief executive of 4 Day Week Global, which is coordinating the trial.

Britain is the latest country to experiment with a shorter workweek.

Similar trials are set to begin in Spain, Australia and the United States this year. Meanwhile, Belgium announced plans in February to allow employees the option to request a four-day workweek.

Between 2015 and 2019, a number of large-scale trials of a four-day workweek in Iceland indicated that workers were more productive and happier, with fewer incidences of stress and burnout.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • A court in the pro-Russian self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic on Thursday sentenced to death three foreigners convicted of being “mercenaries” for Ukraine, the Washington Post reported. The three men – two British and one Moroccan – were apprehended by Russian authorities in Mariupol in mid-April. Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities said Thursday that Russian forces have started paying pensions in Russian rubles to residents of Mariupol, CNN added. According to the Russian official news agency RIA Novosti, around 46,000 applications for pension payments have been received, and officials in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have started distributing those benefits.
  • The true human cost of Russia’s siege of Mariupol was revealed Thursday as rescue workers discovered hundreds of victims in the ruins of bombed-out buildings around the Ukrainian port city, USA Today wrote. According to local officials, 50 to 100 bodies have been discovered in several structures. Ukrainian authorities believe that at least 21,000 Mariupol citizens were killed during the weeks-long Russian siege.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned that Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports might lead to the deaths of millions, the New York Post noted. He also called for Russia to be expelled from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization over the impact its war in Ukraine has had on global food insecurity, according to CNN.

Weekly World Quiz

DISCOVERIES

Avian Ballots

Scientists recently discovered that jackdaws practice a form of democracy when deciding to take flight in large numbers, Sky News reported.

Researchers at the University of Exeter, in Britain, wrote in a new study that jackdaws roost in groups of hundreds – or thousands – and yet make mass departures almost instantly.

They noted this would happen after the birds created a huge, discordant wave of sounds, which they believe is the birds’ way of casting a “vote.”

To prove this, they recorded the rising noise of jackdaw calls that happens before a mass flight at various roosts. They then combined this with tests in which pre-recorded jackdaw calls were played at a colony.

The findings showed that the avian species practiced a form of “consensus decision-making” – which could be compared to the noise and blabber that happens in legislatures.

“After roosting in a large group at night, each jackdaw will have a slightly different preference about when they want to leave, based on factors like their size and hunger,” said lead author Alex Dibnah.

Dibnah said that reaching an accord was integral for the survival of jackdaws because group flights offered many benefits, such as safety from predators.

He added that the study helps understand how really large groups of animals can coordinate their actions.

Instances of animal democracy have been documented in other species, according to the New York Times.

For example, African Wild Dogs will vote on whether to relax or go on a hunt by sneezing. The more sneezes there are, the more likely the canines would go hunting.

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 534,219,826

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,306,428

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 11,530,584,332

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

  1. US: 85,329,656 (+0.14%)
  2. India: 43,205,106 (+0.02%)
  3. Brazil: 31,360,850 (+0.14%)
  4. France: 29,946,603 (+0.13%)
  5. Germany: 26,738,530 (+0.29%)
  6. UK: 22,562,275 (+0.05%)
  7. South Korea: 18,209,650 (+0.05%)
  8. Russia: 18,097,767 (+0.02%)
  9. Italy: 17,589,595 (+0.13%)
  10. Turkey: 15,072,747 (+0.00%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

**Numbers have been adjusted by affected country

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