The World Today for October 04, 2022

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Rinse, Repeat


Five years after Hurricane Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, it’s déjà vu. Hundreds of thousands of residents of the US territory are without power because of Hurricane Fiona, reviving memories of when Maria killed thousands, turned off the lights for months for three million people and how the US federal agency designed to help them “bungled” its response.

“I see an emotional exhaustion in people. It’s a ‘here we go again,’” social worker Gretchen Hernández told the Associated Press.

Fiona struck while Puerto Rico was already on its knees, and still rebuilding from Maria. According to Axios, more than 40 percent of Puerto Ricans live in poverty. The electrical grid as well as roads, bridges, schools and other infrastructure are in desperate need of renovation. But corruption, lack of leadership and tax revenues and questions over potential statehood have stymied efforts to make positive change. Authorities recently arrested ex-Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez, for instance, on bribery charges connected to campaign finances.

Many now question whether the island can remain viable, CNN wrote. After Maria, around 130,000 people, or 4 percent of the island’s population, left. That continued an ongoing trend. Since 2010, more than 530,000 people have migrated from the island. Most have gone to the US, where they are legally entitled to live as US citizens.

Many Puerto Ricans have given up hope for their island.

It’s no wonder. For example, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is bankrupt. The company is now working with federal courts to clear up its balance sheet, Bloomberg explained.

After months of getting the electrical grid up and running, officials transferred control of the grid to LUMA Energy, a private company. Critics have blasted LUMA Energy for failing to use billions in federal aid that was appropriated to help Puerto Rico, however, as electricity rates have spiked, and blackouts have become more common. Sweetheart energy deals for companies with political connections have also become the norm, added Israel Meléndez Ayala, an anthropologist and historian based on the island, in a New York Times op-ed.

The US could make some changes that might help. The Washington Post editorial board suggested the US change the 1920 Jones Act, which mandates that ships carrying goods to Puerto Rican ports from the US must be American ships. The law puts local Puerto Rican officials in the position of having to request a waiver for oil delivered on foreign ships – even in the wake of a disaster like Fiona.

In the Seattle Times, Gonzaga University Latin American Politics professor Jenaro Abraham contended that the island would only move forward when it severed its ties with the US. He suggested independence and American reparations to help the new country get on its feet.

The chances of Congress members and Senators embracing Abraham’s proposals are slim. Puerto Ricans, meanwhile, need more than lofty plans.




Former leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva secured a narrow lead in Brazil’s presidential elections Sunday but failed to win enough votes to avoid a runoff against far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, NPR reported.

With the majority of the votes counted, da Silva had won 48.4 percent of the vote while Bolsonaro trailed with about 43.2 percent in the 11-candidate race.

Sunday’s polarizing polls were largely peaceful despite a vitriolic – and often violent – campaign that raised concerns about Brazil’s democracy.

Bolsonaro, who has lauded Brazil’s former military dictatorship, often questioned the legality of the election as it approached – and as his poll numbers fell. He had previously hinted that he might not relinquish power if he lost.

Polls had long put da Silva in the lead, while Bolsonaro had experienced declining support over his botched Covid-19 response and economic stagnation, the New York Post noted.

Still, political analysts said the strong results for the incumbent showed that “Bolsonaro’s victory in 2018 was not a hiccup.”

The outcome was also somewhat of a vindication for da Silva, who is fondly remembered by many Brazilians during his two presidential terms from 2003 to 2010, when a commodities-fueled economic boom helped raise millions out of poverty.

But a series of corruption scandals resulted in his arrest and conviction in 2017. Two years later, Brazil’s Supreme Court annulled his convictions.

Brazil now faces four more weeks of intense political campaigning until the Oct. 30 runoff.

Holding Tight


Chad approved new resolutions this week that would delay democratic elections by two years and extend the term of interim President Mahamat Idriss Deby, Reuters reported.

Since April 2021, Chad has been ruled by a military junta led by Deby, who came to power following the death of his father, President Idriss Deby Itno. The elder Deby was killed on the battlefield during a conflict with insurgents.

The junta initially promised an 18-month transition to elections, which was due to end this month. But a national reconciliation dialogue forum, which aimed to create a political consensus between the authorities, civil society representatives and rebel groups, pushed for the delay.

Under the new plan, the elections will take place in October 2024. Apart from extending his term, the resolutions will also permit the young Deby to run for president in the eventual vote – despite past pledges not to do so, according to Agence France-Presse.

The move angered some opposition forces and defied warnings by the international community that the junta should refrain from extending the transition or fielding presidential candidates.

Some participants in the forum feared that the move would prompt international sanctions detrimental to Chad, one of the world’s poorest countries.

The resolution comes amid a series of coups that have gripped Africa since 2020 and sparked concerns of a backslide toward military rule in a region that had made democratic progress over the past decade.

Over the weekend, Burkina Faso experienced its second military coup in less than a year.

No Limits


Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled this week that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha can remain in office, after previously suspending him as it considered whether the former military leader had exceeded his term limit, the Guardian reported.

In August, opposition parties petitioned the high court, saying that Prayuth – who first came to power in a 2014 military coup – had violated term limits. Under Thailand’s 2017 military-backed constitution, the country’s prime minister is barred from serving more than eight years.

The court suspended Prayuth from office until it reviewed the case.

Prayuth’s supporters pointed out that the prime minister has not exhausted his term because the constitution took effect in 2017 and therefore cannot be applied retroactively. Some also proposed that his term should be counted as starting in 2019 when he was named prime minister after the elections.

The court found that Prayuth did not violate the constitution and that his term began in April 2017, when the constitution took effect.

The verdict sparked anger on social media and some pro-democracy groups threatened to protest against the court’s decision.

The case was the latest challenge against Prayuth, who has already survived a series of no-confidence motions, as well as mass anti-government protests calling for his resignation and reforms to the country’s powerful monarchy.

Observers said the court’s decision also has important ramifications for Prayuth in next year’s elections: The conservative prime minister plans to run in the May 2023 parliamentary elections – but if he wins, he could only remain in power for two-and-a-half years because of the term limits, according to the BBC.

Prayuth’s popularity has also declined because of growing dissatisfaction over the country’s sluggish economy. Analysts added that there were also concerns among conservatives that Prayuth would be unable to stop an election landslide by Pheu Thai, the opposition party established by loyalists to the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.


Ancient Toxicity

The ancient Mayans left grandiose sites filled with intricate art and majestic pyramids in what is now Central America.

But archaeologists recently discovered that the Mesoamerican civilization had major mercury pollution in its cities, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Researchers reviewed available data on mercury pollution at 10 different Mayan archaeological sites and found that seven had contamination in at least one location.

Most of these sites date from the Late Classic era, which happened toward the end of the first millennium CE. By the 10th century, every site had been abandoned.

The mercury levels in these spots ranged between 0.016 parts per million (ppm) to 17.16 ppm.

Researchers explained that in some areas the heavy metal levels in the soil exceeded modern guidelines for safe exposure. They added that the World Health Organization recommends the safe limit for mercury on agricultural land should be 0.05 ppm.

“Our review shows that numerous Maya sites have total mercury levels that, if found in a playground or a building site (today), would be cause for concern,” said lead author Duncan Cook.

It’s still unclear how hazardous these sites are. Meanwhile, Cook’s team hasn’t determined how the toxic heavy metal got there.

Archaeologists have previously discovered vessels of pure mercury at a number of sites. Others pointed at the bright red cinnabar mineral, made from mercury and sulfur, which was an important and sacred pigment for the Mayans.

Still, the authors hope that future research will show how mercury affected the health and behavior of the ancient Mayans.

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