The World Today for March 28, 2023

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NEED TO KNOW

The Forever Search

MEXICO

In what the BBC called a “twisted moral code,” Mexican mobsters affiliated with the Scorpions Group, a faction of the drug-running Gulf Cartel crime syndicate, recently forced five of their members to turn themselves in to police for murdering two of the four Americans they had mistakenly kidnapped in early March.

Crime bosses in Matamoros, a city across the border from Brownsville, Texas, even left a note saying the men acted of their own volition, not at the behest of their drug lords, and broke cartel rules protecting innocents.

Lest anyone think this action reflects a softening of the Mexican cartels’ violent ways, advocates for victims of crime in the Latin American country noted that while two of the Americans made it back home, more than 100,000 other people are still missing in Mexico, CNN reported.

The advocates are angry with the government as well as the drug traffickers. Mexican officials have blamed their own police and security forces for disappearing people in extrajudicial actions or on the orders of the deep-pocketed criminals who bribe them and corrupt their departments. A lack of forensic expertise and facilities in the country has also led to the government holding some 52,000 unidentified bodies while families search for the missing. Many families have launched their own investigations to find their loved ones.

“Working with picks and shovels, they have discovered clandestine graves and extermination sites, facing risks, lack of resources, and extreme conditions,” wrote WOLA, a Washington, DC-based group that aims to advance human rights in the Americas.

Mexicans in the state of Tamaulipas were understandably angry at the speed at which authorities and the cartel found the kidnapped Americans. Nearly 13,000 Mexicans are now listed as missing from the region, according to the Associated Press. Delia Quiroa, for instance, has been searching for her brother for nine years since gunmen kidnapped him. She frequently walks the northern Mexico deserts with a shovel and other tools in hopes of finding a mass grave where her brother might have been laid to rest.

Meanwhile, shootings and other violence have risen in northern Mexico as drug gangs battle for turf and market share. As CBS News recently wrote, the body of a gangster boss was found in another northern state, Sinaloa. The boss’s name was José Noriel Portillo Gil, also known as “El Chueco,” or “the Crooked One” in Spanish. Among other misdeeds, he stood accused of murdering two Jesuit priests last year.

These developments are signs of a deeper sickness in Mexico, argued InSight Crime. Internecine conflicts between gang factions, corrupt police, incompetent or honest but outgunned authorities, and other factors have allowed violence to rage out of control.

Someone besides the crime bosses needs to show some leadership.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Blink

ISRAEL

The Israeli government temporarily backed off from a planned judicial reform Monday, just hours before it was to go to a vote after protesters threatened to shut down the country in one of the largest strikes in years, Reuters reported.

“Out of national responsibility, from a desire to prevent the nation from being torn apart, I am calling to suspend the legislation,” said Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. “When there is a possibility to prevent a civil war through negotiations, I will give a time-out for negotiations.”

Israeli universities, workers’ unions, hospitals, banks, seaports, malls and Israel’s national carrier, El Al, had announced a general strike, and the international airport terminated outgoing flights. However, the strike was called off in light of Netanyahu’s delay, the Wall Street Journal noted.

Tens of thousands of protesters from around the country had flooded into Jerusalem to express their fury over the plan they say undermines Israel’s democracy.

A number of Israeli diplomatic missions abroad also shuttered their embassies and consulates to protest against the government’s judicial reform, according to Haaretz.

Monday’s unrest marked the latest escalating opposition to the judicial overhaul, which would give the government and lawmakers more power in appointing judges, as well as allow parliament to overrule the country’s Supreme Court.

Since its proposal earlier this year, Netanyahu and his conservative coalition have faced large-scale demonstrations and criticism from the opposition.

Officials have said the overhaul is aimed at creating a proper balance between the elected government and the unelected judiciary. But opponents warned that the changes would undermine Israel’s legal checks and balances.

On Sunday, Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after he called for the government to halt the controversial reform, worried over the military’s readiness to fight threats: Reservists and other members of the military have also been protesting the reform plan.

That decision sparked overnight protests across a number of Israeli cities Monday.

Meanwhile, the political crisis also drew the rare intervention of Israel’s head of state, President Isaac Herzog, who called on the government to “stop the legislative process immediately.”

Analysts explained that a warning by the president – whose function is largely ceremonial and is supposed to stand above politics – underscores the alarm caused by the proposals.

The government said they would delay the vote on the reform plan until next month.

A Savior, Saved

RWANDA

The Rwandan government released former hotelier and opposition leader Paul Rusesabagina, famous for saving hundreds of people during the 1994 genocide and the inspiration for the film, “Hotel Rwanda,” who had been jailed for years for “terrorism,” CBS News reported.

Officials announced that Rusesabagina’s sentence was commuted by a presidential order after a request for clemency. He will travel to Qatar and then to the United States in the next few days.

The decision comes nearly three years after Rusesabagina disappeared in 2020 during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, only to appear days later in Rwanda in handcuffs after being tricked by the government.

He was later convicted by a local court on eight charges including murder and membership of a terrorist group, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Rusesabagina and his family said his detention came as a result of his criticism of Rwandan President Paul Kagame over alleged human rights abuses. The government has denied the allegations.

Following his 2020 arrest, authorities said that the opposition figure had been going to Burundi to coordinate with armed groups based there and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But the circumstances surrounding his arrest, his limited access to independent legal defense and his worsening health prompted international condemnation, especially by the US. Analysts believe Kagame relented because he wanted to improve ties with the country.

His release was welcomed by his family and a number of Western leaders. Even so, the Rwandan government explained that commutation does not “extinguish” the conviction.

Rusesabagina is credited with sheltering more than 1,000 ethnic Tutsis at the hotel he managed during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which more than 800,000 Tutsis, and Hutus who tried to protect them, were killed.

His story was famously portrayed in the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” where Rusesabagina was played by Don Cheadle.

What Time Is It?

LEBANON

Lebanon’s government reversed a last-minute decision to postpone daylight savings, with the initial move not to put the clocks forward on Sunday having caused mass confusion and split the population of the small Middle Eastern country into two different time zones, the BBC reported.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nahib Berri had moved to put the clocks forward as late as April 21, however Mikati announced Monday that the clocks would go forward this Wednesday.

The original delay came during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan which falls between March and April this year. Practiced by a majority of Lebanon’s population, the holy month sees Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, which daylight savings would put around 7 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. – requiring practicing Muslims to wait an extra hour before breaking their fast.

The move prompted anger from Lebanon’s powerful Maronite church – the largest Christian institution in the country – saying they were not consulted on the decision and warned that it would cause chaos in the country, which it did.

Lebanese people woke up to two different time zones, with some institutions refusing to implement the change, according to the Associated Press, impacting airports, businesses, as well as tech companies Apple and Google, which could not agree on what time it was in Lebanon.

Some Lebanese called the rushed change an act of support for Muslims observing Ramadan, prompting warnings that such a move could also inflame sectarian tensions in the nation, which maintains a delicate balance between the groups.

Lebanon’s leadership is divided between Sunni and Shia Muslims and Christians.

The controversial decision came as the country reels from soaring inflation, a severely depreciated currency and general state dysfunction.

DISCOVERIES

An Ode to Hair

Ludwig van Beethoven suffered from a variety of ailments throughout his life, including gastrointestinal issues and – most famously – deafness.

Still, questions surrounding the death at the age of 56 of the revered pianist and composer have lingered, with scholars blaming his alcohol consumption or lead poisoning.

Now, a new study on Beethoven’s hair has found that the renowned pianist had a high genetic risk of liver disease that contributed to his death, New Scientist reported.

Scientists analyzed DNA from five locks of hair that originally came from Beethoven’s head. Their findings unveiled a number of fascinating details about him, including his family history.

Beethoven had a predisposition for liver disease. The team explained that while this risk is benign in most people, the composer’s heavy drinking potentially increased the likelihood that he developed the condition.

The study also found evidence of a hepatitis B infection, a virus than can also cause liver damage.

But researchers couldn’t determine the genetic factors that led to Beethoven’s gastrointestinal problems and his deafness. The musician began losing his hearing in his 20s – just as he was starting to become famous – and became almost completely deaf in his mid-40s.

Still, the analysis also showed that Beethoven was not genetically related to others in his family line, according to the New York Times.

His Y chromosome DNA differs from that of five living members of the Van Beethoven patrilineage who live in Belgium today and share a 16th-century ancestor with the composer.

This implies that there was an extramarital affair in Beethoven’s direct paternal line.

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