The World Today for July 26, 2022

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Cycles of Despair

HAITI

The gang warfare that has claimed more than 230 lives in Haiti recently has also threatened to cut off energy imports vital to transportation and electricity generation. As Agence France-Presse reported, the black market in gasoline in the Caribbean nation has become massive while gas stations go dry and gangs rule the streets.

Hospitals are working at half capacity as they conserve fuel and wait for medicine shipments. The World Food Program warned of a hunger crisis as a result of the troubles and disruptions to supply chains bringing basic goods to the country.

The United Nations Security Council threatened to impose sanctions on gangs and human rights abusers in the country, added Al Jazeera. A New Yorker magazine writer described a Haitian friend’s experience in the city of Croix-des-Bouquets: “She is accustomed to nightly rounds of gunfire from rival gangs but one night last February she woke up and found a bullet on the floor of her bedroom.”

These developments are the latest tribulations for a country that, as the New York Times recently reported, has suffered a long history of colonization, slavery, exploitation, poverty and, unsurprisingly given all of those factors, political instability. Even so, the country is proud of its legacy stemming from the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) – possibly the most successful slave insurrection in human history.

But the violence and associated economic collapse in Haiti today specifically stem from the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in early July last year. After his death, rival gangs began fighting for control of neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

The investigation into Moïse’s death hasn’t inspired confidence in the Haitian justice system either. Haitian authorities have arrested more than 40 people, including top police officers and former Colombian soldiers, the Associated Press explained. At least two were extradited to the US to face charges connected to the killing. But investigators still haven’t identified or arrested everyone involved in the killing or explained why Moise’s elite security detail failed to protect him.

Street violence hasn’t made the job easier. In fact, many Haitians might end up receiving more justice in US courts, where investigations into the assassination are proceeding at a faster pace than those in the Caribbean nation, noted Voice of America.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who is serving as acting president, has yet to call elections so that voters can elect someone to replace Moïse. The government didn’t hold parliamentary elections in 2019 as it was supposed to. Then Moïse shuttered parliament in early 2020 and ruled by decree until his assassination. Now the vacuum is real and widening, feeding the cycle of despair.

Stopping it will be hard. Putting the country back together again will be even harder.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The ‘Terrorists’

MYANMAR

Myanmar’s military junta executed four pro-democracy activists this week in an attempt to deter protestors in the wake of last year’s coup, the New York Times reported.

Junta officials said Monday the four individuals were hanged over the weekend in what were the first executions in the country in 30 years. The government had accused the victims of “brutal and inhumane terror acts” and sentenced them to death earlier this year.

The defendants had denied the charges and tried to appeal but the court rejected it.

The executed included popular activist Kyaw Min Yu and Phyo Zeya Thaw, a hip-hop-artist-turned-politician and ally of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Foreign leaders and international organizations had urged the junta to halt the executions, with the United Nations calling the death sentences “a vile attempt at instilling fear among the people of Myanmar.”

Meanwhile, opposition politicians and human rights groups swiftly condemned the killings. Myanmar’s junta, however, defended the sentences and had called previous efforts by foreign officials to halt the executions “reckless and interfering.”

The executions come more than a year after the army ousted Suu Kyi’s elected government in a coup and detained the civilian leader. The takeover sparked mass anti-government protests, which prompted the junta to launch a bloody crackdown.

Suu Kyi, meanwhile, has been convicted on a number of charges and sentenced to 11 years in prison. She faces another 13 charges that carry a maximum cumulative sentence of more than 180 years.

Analysts noted that the hangings were a desperate move by the military to show strength but said they will likely backfire by turning the activists into revolutionary heroes.

The army has been struggling to suppress resistance forces, who, along with armed ethnic groups that have been fighting the military for years, claim control of around half of Myanmar’s territory.

Dismantling Democracy

TUNISIA

Tunisians went to the polls Monday to vote on a new constitution that would grant the country’s president significantly more power, and likely eliminate Tunisia’s democratic gains more than a decade after ousting autocratic leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Last month, President Kais Saied unveiled a new constitution that – if adopted – would give him the ability to extend his tenure beyond the two-term limit and increase the powers of the presidency, while curbing those of parliament.

Tunisian opposition leaders, jurists and international organizations criticized the charter, saying that it removes the necessary checks on presidential powers and “would return Tunisia to an autocratic constitutional order.”

Many Tunisians said they would boycott the referendum. In recent days, hundreds of demonstrators against the new constitution have clashed with police.

Saied, meanwhile, says this new constitution protects freedom and democracy, as well as establishes “a state of law.”

Monday’s referendum comes a year after Saied suspended parliament and fired the prime minister, citing the country’s economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, he has ruled by decree and fired dozens of judges, which critics say undermines the country’s independent judiciary.

On Monday, exit polls showed turnout as low as 25 percent. Results are expected to be released later this week.

Hat in Hand

CANADA

Pope Francis asked for forgiveness from Canada’s Indigenous community Monday for the Catholic Church’s role in the country’s “catastrophic” residential school system, which sought to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children into Canadian society, the BBC reported.

The pontiff made his remark during a visit to Canada this week, where he met with Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors.

Francis said that he was “deeply sorry” and felt “sorrow, indignation and shame” for the “evil committed by so many Christians,” who ran and operated the majority of residential schools in Canada.

Many Indigenous survivors and leaders praised the pope’s apology, even though some said they were looking for more action from the Vatican leader.

Monday’s remarks came more than three months after Francis first issued a historic apology to an Indigenous delegation in the Vatican.

The pope’s visit and mea culpa mark a significant admission by the Catholic Church, which has at times failed to acknowledge the Vatican’s involvement in historical injustices: For example, the Church has yet to issue a complete apology for the role played by Pope Pius XII and the Catholic Church in the horrors perpetrated in the Holocaust.

Canada has been reckoning with past abuses stemming from its residential school system following the discovery of a number of unmarked graves near the institutions.

The schools, which operated from the 1870s until the late 20th century, were part of a government effort to destroy Indigenous culture and language. During that period, around 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed in these schools. Many of the survivors said they experienced abuse and starvation by the school staff and clergy.

More than 3,000 are believed to have died with some being buried in unmarked graves near the premises.

A landmark 2015 report by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission described the school system as “cultural genocide.”

UKRAINE, BRIEFLY

  • Russian forces have reportedly been using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine as a base to launch attacks, raising security concerns in surrounding areas, France 24 reported. The power plant is the largest in Europe and has been under Russian control since March.
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow’s main goal in Ukraine is to oust President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government, outlining the Kremlin’s war objectives in some of the harshest language yet as its forces bombard the nation with artillery and aircraft, according to the Associated Press.
  • Russia has charged 92 members of Ukraine’s military high command with crimes against humanity, CNN wrote. Moscow has filed more than 1,300 criminal cases against Ukraine’s military and political leadership, Russian officials told state media.

DISCOVERIES

A Bad Rap

The average homeowner or farmer sees pocket gophers as pests but a new study suggests that the burrowing animals are actually decent agronomists, Science News reported.

Researchers Francis E. Putz and Veronica Selden investigated 12 tunnels belonging to southeastern pocket gophers in Florida. They wanted to understand how the creatures were able to dig these tunnels – a very laborious process – and remain full of energy.

They collected root samples from the soil around the tunnels and calculated how much root mass a gopher would encounter while excavating a three-foot tunnel.

Researchers observed that the gophers would nibble on the ingrown roots, which compensated for some of the energy lost in the burrowing process, according to the New York Times.

But this nibbling, combined with traces of gopher feces and the churning of soil in the tunnels revealed a bigger state of play.

The team determined that the mammals were practicing a form of simple agriculture: They created favorable conditions for root growth by munching on them to encourage new sprouting, spreading their feces as fertilizer and aerating the soil as they churned.

The findings suggest that gophers could be the first non-human mammals to be recognized as farmers. Still, some scientists remain skeptical about the labeling, countering that other animals – such as birds and cattle – can also be labeled “farmers” because they also positively contribute to plant life.

However, the authors explained that, unlike other creatures, gophers “cultivate and maintain this ideal environment for roots to grow into.”

Putz added that the study aims to create a better understanding of the ecological benefits of gophers, and help protect them.

“If you go to the web and put in ‘pocket gopher,’ you’ll see more ways to kill them than you can count,” he said.

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