The World Today for March 23, 2023

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Voting With Feet

CUBA

Almost 23 years ago, heavily armed federal agents wearing body armor seized five-year-old Elián González from his relatives’ home in Miami and returned him to his father, ultimately to be taken back to Cuba. The photo of the incident was a painful reminder of the fraught relationship between the United States and the communist-run island to the south.

Fisherman found González floating in the Caribbean, clutching an inner tube from his sunk boat, the last survivor of a desperate attempt by his mother and other Cubans to escape their communist island and start new lives in the US. After a public debate about whether the child should be returned to his father in an authoritarian state or permitted to live in the land of the free, the US Supreme Court ruled that his father was his rightful custodian.

Today, National Public Radio explained, González is expected to win a seat in the National Assembly when Cuban voters go to the polls on March 26. Once a close friend of Cuba’s late dictator and revolutionary founding father, Fidel Castro, González now says he disagrees with his mother’s attempt to flee. Cuba must remain socialist, he maintains, in order to stay independent from the capitalist American empire to the north.

González’s ideology is his prerogative, of course. His beliefs don’t change the fact that many Cubans are hungry, however. Inflation stands at 40 percent for the year, reported the Associated Press. Food prices have skyrocketed amid government controls on commerce. A pound of pork leg in the capital of Havana, for instance, now sells for $2.60, almost a tenth of the island’s average monthly state income of $29.

That’s one reason why so many Cubans want to leave Cuba. Last year, two percent of Cuba’s population, more than 220,000 people, were caught crossing the US-Mexico border, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported. Boats of Cuban migrants regularly land on Florida’s shores. Recently, two boats of 48 migrants landed in the Florida Keys, the Miami Herald wrote.

Cubans are also fleeing the island because of corruption and repression. US federal courts, for example, have declared Cuban officials liable for torture and extrajudicial killings against dissidents and others under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows victims to sue foreign sponsors of terrorism in American courts, wrote Colorado Politics.

A columnist in Prensa Latina, a Cuban state-owned, English-language news outlet, argued that the upcoming elections demonstrated how the Cuban people want to remain independent and resist American capitalistic influences. As the Peoples Dispatch wrote, the Cuban Communist Party doesn’t dictate who can run for the National Assembly per se. Instead, only candidates vetted by local committees of communist officials have a chance to appear on the ballot.

No matter the system, many Cubans are obviously voting with their feet.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Welcome, Peace

ETHIOPIA

The Ethiopian parliament agreed Wednesday to remove the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from an official list of terrorist groups, a key step to advancing a peace process following the two-year civil conflict in the country’s north that killed hundreds of thousands, Bloomberg reported.

Lawmakers approved a resolution to delist the TPLF, a decision that came four months after a ceasefire between the group and government forces.

Parliament had designated the TPLF as a terrorist group in May 2021, six months after its forces and government troops began fighting in the northern Tigray region. The civil conflict drew in neighboring Eritrea and is estimated to have displaced more than two million, according to Radio France Internationale.

The war ended following the November peace deal between the TPLF and the federal government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Under the deal, Tigrayan forces agreed to disarm in exchange for restored access to Tigray, which was largely cut off from the outside world during the war.

Observers noted that the removal of the terrorist designation marks another important step in upholding the peace agreement.

The change in designation came two days after the US State Department announced that all groups involved in the conflict had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Ethiopian and Eritrean officials dismissed the US findings.

Scraping the Bottom

LEBANON

Lebanese riot police clashed with protesters in the capital Wednesday, the latest unrest to grip the beleaguered nation amid an economic collapse and a plummeting local currency, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities fired tear gas at demonstrators – many of them retired soldiers and police officials – who were trying to storm the government’s headquarters in Beirut.

The protests were called by former security forces and depositors complaining that they can’t access their savings held in local banks. Lebanese banks have imposed a number of informal capital controls amid currency shortages.

The violence came a day after the Lebanese pound hit a new low, selling at more than 143,000 pounds to the dollar – the official rate is 15,000 pounds to the dollar.

Since 2019, Lebanon has been grappling with a financial crisis caused by decades of corruption and mismanagement by a political elite that has ruled the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

Most Lebanese are paid the local currency and have seen the value of their salaries decline in recent years as the pound crashed – its value has declined by more than 95 percent over the past three years.

Now, many businesses, restaurants and grocery stores have begun pricing their goods and services in dollars.

Economists worry that the “dollarization” risks exacerbating the crisis and pushing more people into poverty.

Lebanon has also stalled on measures as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund in order to secure access to $3 billion in bailout funds and unlock more in development aid to restart the country’s economy.

Don’t Tell

UGANDA

Uganda passed a law on this week making it a crime to identify as LGBTQ, handing authorities broad powers to target gay Ugandans who already face legal discrimination and mob violence,

NBC News reported.

While more than 30 African countries, including Uganda, already ban same-sex relations, the new law appears to be the first to outlaw merely identifying LGBTQ, according to Human Rights Watch.

The legislation imposes prison sentences for people identifying as homosexual and life in prison for those who engage in gay sex. It also bans individuals and organizations “promoting and abetting” homosexuality, as well as conspiracy to engage in same-sex relations, Sky News reported Wednesday.

The anti-gay bill also orders death sentences for so-called “aggravated homosexuality,” which includes sexual abuse of a child, a disabled or vulnerable person, or in cases where a victim of homosexual assault is infected with a life-long illness, the BBC noted.

Supporters said the bill is aimed at protecting children and traditional values in Uganda. But critics and some legislators warn that the draft law was “ill-conceived” and unconstitutional because it “criminalizes individuals instead of conduct.”

Advocates fear that the bill would lead to more attacks on gay people.

President Yoweri Museveni will now decide whether to sign it into law. Museveni – a close ally to the West – has made a number of anti-LGBTQ comments in recent weeks and has criticized Western countries for pressuring Uganda over the issue.

In 2014, Uganda’s constitutional court struck down a similar bill that would have strengthened laws against the LGBTQ community.

That bill would have made it illegal to advocate and sponsor LGBTQ groups and activities, as well as reiterating that homosexual acts should be punishable by life in prison, and was highly criticized by Western nations.

DISCOVERIES

Birds of a Feather …

A 2020 study discovered that flamingos can form close “friendships” with other birds in their flock and avoid those they don’t like.

Now, a research team found that the pink-feathered birds are actually very picky about whom they hang with, and tend to form cliques with like-minded flamingos, Popular Science reported.

For their new paper, the researchers analyzed the behavior of 147 Caribbean flamingos and 115 Chilean flamingos and noticed that the individuals of both species would spend time with those who had a similar personality to their own.

Researchers assessed their “personality” by measuring behaviors, such as aggressiveness and willingness to explore the world around them.

For example, birds with big personalities had stronger bonds with other bold birds, while more submissive flamingos spent more time with other laid-back birds.

The team noted that the different personality groups can be useful for the flock, for example, in resolving the squabbles that happen in flocks.

“Like humans, flamingos appear to carve out different roles in society based on their personality,” said co-author Fionnuala McCully.

McCully and her colleague, Paul Rose, added that there were differences between the two species: Caribbean flamingos of a specific personality type had a special role within the group overall, but this was not observed in the Chilean flock.

“Our findings need further investigation, both to help us understand the evolution of social behavior and to improve the welfare of zoo animals,” said Rose. “But it is clear from this research that a flamingo’s social life is much more complicated than we first realized.”

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