The World Today for August 24, 2022
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The Old, the New and the Dead
The recent return of the body of the late president of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, to his home from Spain was a fitting prelude to the tensions that have been growing in the country in the run-up to the Aug. 24 elections.
After ruling Angola from 1979 to 2017, dos Santos died in Barcelona where he had been in self-imposed exile after he fled his southern African nation amid public protests over crime and corruption – including allegations that his family was plundering state coffers – the poor economy and other issues, the New York Times reported.
Dos Santos was an authoritarian leader who brooked no political dissent, controlled the economy with an iron fist and operated an extensive state surveillance system to oppress his people, University of Johannesburg anthropologist Claudia Gastrow and Catholic University of Angola researcher Gilson Lázaro wrote in the Conversation.
While he was gone, his handpicked successor, Joao Lourenco, distanced himself from the former president and declared that he would restore the rule of law, Africa Report explained. He fired dos Santos’ daughter from her job as president of the national oil company and removed his son from Angola’s sovereign wealth fund.
Now, as Angolans head to the polls to elect a new president and parliament, they are deciding between Joao Lourenco and his ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, and opposition leader Adalberto Costa Junior of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. Incidentally, the two parties waged a 27-year-long civil war against each other that ended in 2002.
The election has become a fight between the new and the old. By distancing himself from dos Santos, Lourenco has attempted to fashion himself as a new kind of leader, but few voters have accepted his transformation, Al Jazeera wrote. That said, as Stratfor noted, the incumbent president is still expected to win.
Lourenco has cracked down on civil rights in the days prior to the vote, Amnesty International warned, evoking memories of the bad old days under his predecessor. Police arrested a Voice of America reporter for covering a protest against electoral irregularities, the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote. Few are optimistic that the elections will be free and fair, according to the Maverick.
Whoever wins will have a chance to live up to the ideals that ordinary Angolans clearly want in their leaders. Will they? That’s anyone’s guess.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Leftist President Gustavo Petro proposed new plans to decriminalize cocaine in Colombia, in an effort to end the war on drugs despite concerns from its main ally the United States, the Washington Post reported.
Colombia, the largest producer of cocaine in the world, has been on the frontline of the war on drugs and has kept a long-standing – and profitable – counter-narcotics relationship with the US.
But the radical shift comes a few months after Colombia’s truth commission released a final report criticizing the country’s decades-long war on drugs.
The commission, set up as part of Colombia’s 2016 peace accord between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), discovered that drug trafficking had contributed to the conflict’s prolongation, despite more than $8 billion in US military aid to the South American country to fight the drugs trade. At least 260,000 Colombians were killed in the fighting, the vast majority of them civilians, CNN noted.
The new Colombian government prepared its drug policy days before taking office on Aug. 7. Felipe Tascon, Petro’s drug policy coordinator, said the then-incoming president spoke of convincing world leaders that illicit drugs aren’t the problem, but its prohibitions, Colombia Reports wrote.
The legislation would also put an end to the aerial spraying and manual eradication of coca farms, which critics say has been targeting poor rural farmers.
US government officials, however, said they would not support the decriminalization proposal, noting that cocaine was responsible for an estimated 25,000 overdose deaths in the US in 2021.
A former US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official, meanwhile, fears this will limit the agency’s collaboration with the Colombians on drug trafficking investigations from Bogota, Colombia, home to the largest DEA overseas office – and the world’s largest cocaine producer.
“Everyone would be fighting from the outside in,” he said.
Thousands of Indian farmers marched in the streets of the capital this week to protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, less than a year after they occupied New Delhi to pressure his government in repealing a slew of controversial farm laws, Reuters reported.
More than 5,000 farmers rallied in the capital to demonstrate against what they label as the government’s unfulfilled promises. Protest organizers said that they were demanding that the government guarantee a minimum support price (MSP) for all produce and clear all farmer debts, among other things.
Government officials did not comment on the situation.
The recent rallies come more than eight months after tens of thousands of farmers all over India held a year-long protest in the capital against Modi’s government over three farm laws.
The contentious bills – passed in 2020 – would have removed some of the rules that have safeguarded India’s farmers for decades, subjecting them to uncontrolled free-market mechanisms with intense competition.
The government said that such a move was aimed at modernizing India’s farming sector, but many farmers feared that it would leave them at the mercy of market forces and hurt their earnings, CNBC noted.
After initially refusing farmers’ demands, the government relented and repealed the laws last year.
Last month, the government established a panel of growers and government officials to devise methods of ensuring MSPs, or fixed rates, for all farm produce.
The Hungarian government fired the head of the national weather service and her deputy this week over a mistaken weather forecast that sparked an uproar in the country, the BBC reported.
On Monday, Innovation Minister Lazlo Palkovics sacked Kornelia Radics, head of the country’s National Meteorological Service (NMS), and her deputy Gyula Horvath, but did not provide a reason for their dismissal.
Their removal came as the country had been preparing for what has been described as “Europe’s biggest fireworks display” to celebrate “Hungary’s millennial state” on St. Stephen’s Day on Saturday, according to the Guardian.
In a spectacular display that often draws up to two million spectators, about 40,000 fireworks were prepared to be set off from different points along a three-mile stretch of the Danube River in central Budapest.
The NMS had originally forecasted there would be thunderstorms and wind gusts on Saturday, prompting the government to cancel the event. But Saturday’s weather turned out to be calm, which led the agency to publicly apologize the next day for the alarm.
Even so, pro-government supporters criticized the agency for giving “misleading information about the extent of the bad weather, which misled the operation team responsible for security.”
The fireworks display will now take place this Saturday, officials said.
Still, nearly 200,000 people signed a petition asking that the fireworks be canceled in light of the conflict in neighboring Ukraine and domestic austerity measures.
- The US embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, has issued a new warning to Americans to leave the country as Ukraine prepares to celebrate its Independence Day Wednesday amid the ongoing Russian aggression, MarketWatch reported. The embassy said in a security advisory that the US State Department has information that Russia is stepping up its efforts to launch strikes against civilian infrastructure and government installations in Ukraine “in the coming days.”
- Approximately 9,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died as a result of Russia’s invasion of their country since it started almost six months ago, a Ukrainian general said in a rare admission of death figures in the conflict, Al Jazeera noted.
- The United Nations has said it is “very concerned” about plans by Russian-backed authorities to hold trials for captured Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol, the Guardian wrote. A UN rights office representative said that pro-Russian authorities appeared to be placing metal cages in a Mariupol hall as part of plans to set up what they were calling an “international tribunal,” adding that such a move might constitute a war crime in and of itself.
Miracles Versus Ethics
Israeli scientists recently developed the world’s first synthetic embryos using mice stem cells, a milestone that has also raised ethical questions, Euronews reported.
Researchers at the Israel-based Weizmann Institute of Science wrote in their study that the novel embryos were made without using any eggs, sperm or even a mouse’s uterus.
They grew mouse stem cells – cells that can develop into any organ or tissue – using an artificial womb for eight days, the equivalent of three months of pregnancy in mice.
The team said that the embryos were able to develop a simple brain, an intestinal tract and a beating heart before they stopped growing after the eighth day.
Still, they maintained that synthetic embryos cannot be considered the same as natural ones, despite their similarities. The researchers added that attempts to implant them into a mouse’s womb did not result in pregnancy.
The science team explained that the findings aim to study and understand how organs develop in embryos and potentially reduce animal experimentation. They also hope that the study can aid in developing replacement organs for people who need transplants.
Even so, the experiments bring up some ethical questions about developing synthetic human embryos: Currently, there are regulations surrounding natural human embryos but synthetic ones remain unregulated.
“Our goal is not (to create a) pregnancy outside the uterus, whether it’s mice or any species,” lead author Jacob Hanna told the Washington Post. “We are really facing difficulties making organs – and in order to make stem cells become organs, we need to learn how the embryo does that.”