The World Today for July 06, 2022

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Petro-fied

COLOMBIA

The president-elect of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, was in jail when his leftist guerilla movement, M-19, stormed the Palace of Justice in the South American country’s capital, Bogotá, in 1985. They launched the attack with the financial backing of drug lord Pablo Escobar in hopes of compelling the justices to charge the country’s leadership with violating a ceasefire with them. Files associated with a criminal case against Escobar happened to be destroyed in a fire.

As Insider explained, M-19 members later put down their arms and became a political party, heralding a larger peace agreement between the Colombian government and another leftwing militant group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016.

M-19 and FARC sought to redistribute resources in the country from elites to the impoverished masses, including farmers and poor city dwellers, according to a Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder. Landowners then allied with the state to create paramilitary groups to protect their property. The drug trade added money and violence to the fire.

Now, winning recently on a platform of using the government to improve the lots of “black and Indigenous people, the poor and the young,” as Agence France-Presse wrote, Petro is expected to kick off leftwing reforms and changes that will alter the government of the traditionally conservative US ally.

“For the first time, a man who doesn’t belong to the elite, who’s not from the traditional parties, who’s not from the same old families, will be president,” former M-19 militant Darío Villamizar, who has known Petro for years, told the Financial Times. “That’s the great importance of this moment.”

Petro’s rise to power is not a unique phenomenon. He is perhaps the best example of the “pink wave” of leftist governments that have come to power in recent years, the Irish Times reported.

That’s even though President Iván Duque did a good job in office, observers say, doing well to combat Covid-19 and dealing with the economic collapse of neighboring Venezuela.

Still, Petro has been described as personally difficult. Writing in the Atlantic, David Frum noted that, in addition to attending Hugo Chávez’s funeral, Petro was intolerant of disagreement or dissent. And many in the country and outside – such as political leaders and business folks in the US, for example, worry about the changes his administration will bring.

On the other hand, the Guardian editorial board saw Petro as the best chance for Colombia to wean itself off unstable and unsustainable coffee, oil and gas exports. Elites gain from those industries but the rest of the country is arguably not receiving adequate benefits from them, they argued.

The president-elect has a chance to succeed or fail. Hopefully, in the future, he’ll be judged on that alone.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Means and Ends

TUNISIA

Tunisian President Kais Saied presented a draft this week of a new constitution that would greatly expand his presidential powers, with critics and civil groups warning that it would slide the country back into authoritarianism, the Financial Times reported Tuesday.

The draft document will give the president the ultimate authority over the government and judiciary: It would empower him to dissolve parliament and stay in office for more than two five-year terms if a situation presents an imminent danger to the state. It also says the president “cannot be questioned” about his actions.

The proposed constitution will be put to a referendum on July 25. On Tuesday, Saied urged voters to support the constitution in the vote, adding that it would not restore authoritarian rule, according to Reuters.

Supporters of the president say he is standing up to elite forces whose incompetence and corruption have consigned Tunisia to a decade of political gridlock and economic stagnation.

But some members of the panel that drafted the constitution, including its head Sadok Belaid, have condemned the charter, saying it could pave the way for “a disgraceful dictatorial regime.”

Opposition parties, meanwhile, have been urging voters to boycott the upcoming referendum.

The draft document comes a year after Saied dissolved parliament and began ruling by decree, a move his opponents have described as a coup. The former law professor, who was elected in 2019, went on to dissolve a council guaranteeing judicial independence and placed his appointees on the electoral commission.

Although he received popular support for his power grab, analysts noted that he has “lost some popularity” amid an economic crisis, high youth unemployment and rising inflation.

Still, observers cautioned that there is little doubt the constitution will be adopted even if they expect a low turnout.

We’re Done…Sort Of

SUDAN

Sudan’s military will withdraw from the ongoing political talks and allow political and revolutionary groups to form a civilian transitional government, months after the army seized power in an October coup that ignited mass protests in the restive African nation, Al Jazeera reported.

Coup leader General Abdel-Fattah Burhan announced this week that the Sudanese army “will not stand in the way” of democratic transition. He added that the ruling sovereign council – made up of military and civilian members – will be dissolved after the formation of the new technocratic government.

According to the military commander, a new Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will be formed following the establishment of the government and will be responsible for security and defense as well as “related responsibilities.”

Burhan did not specify the armed forces’ role in the future and didn’t say when the sovereign council will be dissolved.

His statements come after months-long pro-democracy demonstrations demanding a return to civilian rule. Authorities have responded to the unrest by launching a brutal crackdown that has killed more than 110 people, including 18 children, since October.

Since the coup, international and regional groups have been trying unsuccessfully to broker a compromise to the political impasse.

Burhan’s announcement is unlikely to appease pro-democracy groups, who have refused to negotiate with the military.

Sudan has been gripped by unrest since the ouster of autocratic President Omar al-Bashir, who was removed by the military after a popular uprising in April 2019.

Betraying Gustave

FRANCE

Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower is riddled with rust and structurally weak, according to a series of leaked reports that come as the city prepares to host the 2024 Olympic Games, the Guardian reported.

French magazine Marianne published a number of reports this week showing that the tower has been experiencing corrosion for years, including 64 faults that were said to pose a risk to the “durability” of the structure.

Following the monument’s completion in 1889, Gustave Eiffel – the civil engineer whose company designed and built the tower – warned that stopping the spread of rust was the biggest challenge to the construction’s longevity and recommended it be painted every seven years.

Since then, Eiffel Tower has been repainted 19 times and will undergo a 20th renovation in preparation for the 2024 Olympics.

But experts told Marianne that the nearly $62 million repaint project was only a facelift and warned that the final results would be “lamentable.”

Initially, officials had planned to strip the paint and then add two new coats to a third of the tower. However, due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the existence of harmful levels of lead in the old paint, just five percent of the tower will be treated.

According to one expert, the proposed partial makeover would not address the excessive lead levels or the corrosion, risking a continued worsening of the tower’s condition.

Sete, the company that oversees the tower, has refused to close the monument for prolonged periods of time, fearing a loss from tourist revenue.

The nearly 1,100-foot tower attracts around six million visitors annually, making it the fourth most visited cultural site in France after Disneyland, the Louvre and the Palace of Versailles.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the closure of the monument led to a loss of almost $55 million in revenue.

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • On Tuesday, all 30 NATO members approved the accession protocols for Sweden and Finland, sending the two countries’ membership requests to the allies’ capitals for legislative approval, according to the Associated Press. The decision worsens Russia’s geopolitical isolation in the aftermath of its February invasion of Ukraine and subsequent military struggles there.
  • An international summit in Lugano, Switzerland, agreed on a set of principles that would help Ukraine rebuild and recover from its conflict with Russia in the long run, CNN reported. The declaration commits to long-term economic and technological assistance “that will prepare Ukraine for the time after the war while the war is still raging,” said Ignazio Cassis, president of the Swiss Confederation and head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
  • The Russian government will be allowed to compel firms to supply the military with commodities and force their workers to work overtime under two laws adopted in an initial vote in parliament on Tuesday to assist Moscow’s war in Ukraine, Reuters wrote. Nearly 19 weeks into the invasion, which Moscow defines as a “special military operation,” the actions practically put Russia on a war footing.

DISCOVERIES

The Fowl Mystery

Scientists recently pinpointed where domestic chickens come from, in a study that challenges previous theories about the beginnings of fowl domestication, South China Morning Post reported.

The origins of chicken domestication remain shrouded in mystery and two theories suggest that the flightless bird was first domesticated either on the Indian subcontinent or in northern China.

But a research team analyzed more than 600 archaeological sites from 89 countries and determined that fowl taming occurred in central Thailand thousands of years ago. Researchers said they realized that the first unambiguous chicken bones – dating back 3,500 years – were those found at the Thai village of Ban Non Wat, known for its archaeological sites from the Neolithic era to the Iron Age.

Their findings suggest that the ancient inhabitants of the area began the practice of domesticating fowl on the subspecies of Red junglefowl. The team was able to track the transition from Red junglefowl to chickens using gene flow analysis. Still, they noted it is difficult to determine exactly when the birds became domesticated farm animals.

Meanwhile, what led to this domestication was the cultivation of rice, which provided the conditions that allowed the birds to thrive in numbers and integrate with humans. Researchers added that the birds didn’t serve only as food but could also act as pest control to protect the rice farms.

The domesticated subspecies eventually started to spread “into and beyond” other junglefowl species, later translocating from Thailand to the rest of Southeast Asia, China, South Asia and Mesopotamia about 3,000 years ago.

As the birds migrated west, the process accelerated, with the first chickens arriving in southern Europe 2,800 years ago.

“In retrospect, the domestication of the chicken proved very useful for cultural developments throughout the wider region, as domestic flocks could easily be taken on sea voyages, either as provisions or, ultimately, to raise chickens in newly occupied areas,” co-author Joris Peters told Live Science.

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