The World Today for April 07, 2023
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Taking Out the Trash
Nicaraguan officials recently aired a prison interview with Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who in February was sentenced to more than 36 years in prison on charges of treason. Critics said the interview was staged to deflate criticism of the cleric’s conviction.
Álvarez is now living in a prison known as “La Modelo,” reported the Catholic News Agency. Human rights activists have said the prison suffers from overcrowding, inadequate medical care, violent guards, poisoned food and other problems.
The bishop had declined to live in exile in the US rather than face what critics say is twisted justice at home, the Washington Post editorial board wrote, describing him as a political dissident on a par with the men of the cloth who challenged communist leaders during the Cold War. Álvarez has become an outspoken critic of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s environmental and human rights policies, especially a new tactic for getting rid of undesirables: Throwing them out of the country.
Ortega recently cast out more than 200 political prisoners from the Central American country, flying them to the US after repealing their Nicaraguan citizenship, wrote Reuters.
Ortega, 77, rose to power as a leader of the leftist Sandinista guerrilla movement that overthrew the autocratic Somoza family dynasty in the late 1970s. After winning and losing the presidency, Ortega won office again in 2007 and has been consecutively reelected three times since. His wife, Rosario Murillo, is his vice president.
A notorious human rights abuser with dictatorial tendencies, Ortega has been accused of committing crimes against humanity, according to the United Nations. “They have been weaponizing the justice system, weaponizing the legislative function, weaponizing the executive function of the State against the population,” said Jan Simon, chair of the UN’s Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua.
A die-hard socialist, Ortega also has close ties to Russia and China. His critics say he’s committed to creating a “tropical North Korea,” El País reported. Press freedom is seriously compromised. Only half of Nicaraguans enjoy access to the Internet, and it’s limited. Political opponents are harassed, jailed or run out of the country, claimed Foreign Policy magazine. Even rock bands who sing protest songs run the risk of attracting the police, added Divergentes, a Spanish-language news website, translated in WorldCrunch.
Pope Francis has compared Ortega’s regime to the Nazis, prompting the Nicaraguan leader to propose suspending relations with the Catholic Church. The pontiff responded by closing the Vatican’s embassy in the capital of Managua, the Associated Press reported.
Ortega doesn’t care about dissidents, human rights, the afterlife or the Church. He’s content with being a law unto himself, as Confidencial noted, even offering himself forgiveness.
THE WORLD, BRIEFLY
Friends and Frenemies
CHINA/ IRAN/ SAUDI ARABIA
Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to reopen their diplomatic missions and boost economic cooperation during a meeting in the Chinese capital on Thursday, a significant step forward for the two regional rivals seven years after they broke off relations, the Associated Press reported.
Both sides said they would open their embassies and consulates in the future, adding that they are also looking into resuming flights and official and private visits between the two nations.
Iran and Saudi Arabia also affirmed the need for regional stability, a statement that could potentially reduce the chance of armed conflict between the rivals – both directly or through proxies, as is the case in Yemen.
The meeting in Beijing came a month after China had brokered an initial reconciliation agreement between the regional powerhouses. China, meanwhile, said it was ready to support both sides in improving relations and urged the international community to help also.
Thursday’s talks mark the first formal meeting between senior diplomats of the two countries since 2016, having severed ties that year after protestors in Iran attacked Saudi diplomatic outposts in response to the Saudi government’s execution of a prominent Shiite religious leader and 46 others. Iran is predominately Shiite while Saudi Arabia is a majority Sunni nation.
Analysts said that the agreement could encourage efforts by diplomats to end Yemen’s long civil war, a conflict that has involved both Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Others added that the meeting also underscores a diplomatic victory for Beijing as Gulf Arab states perceive the United States as slowly withdrawing from the region.
Even so, US officials noted that the success of rapprochement might hinge on the progress of peace negotiations in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels since 2015.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia remains wary of Iran’s nuclear program, which has progressed significantly after the US withdrew from the 2015 agreement to limit Iran’s atomic activities.
Zimbabwe is planning to ban the recruitment of its health workers by other countries, a move aimed at tackling a shortage of personnel as the southern African nation experiences a worsening economic situation, Africanews reported Thursday.
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga announced the bill this week, saying that the loss of healthcare professionals was comparable to human trafficking.
“If one deliberately recruits and makes the country suffer, that’s a crime against humanity,” said Chiwenga, who is also Zimbabwe’s health minister. “People are dying in hospitals because there are no nurses and doctors. That must be taken seriously.”
Local media said more than 4,000 health workers have left the country since February 2021. The Zimbabwe Medical Association estimated that there are about 3,500 doctors in a country with a population of 15 million people.
For many doctors and nurses, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service has been an attractive destination because the pay is far higher than in Zimbabwe.
Still, last month Britain halted the recruitment of Zimbabwean health staff after the World Health Organization placed Zimbabwe on the red list of countries facing serious health personnel challenges.
Zimbabwe is currently experiencing an economic crisis marked by rising inflation, which has resulted in considerable salary reductions.
The Chickens and the Eggs
Japan is running out of land to bury culled chickens, as the country experiences a record outbreak of avian flu that analysts say will put a strain on the supply of poultry and compound the global spike in the price of eggs, CNN reported Thursday.
Japanese media said that 16 out of 26 prefectures did not have enough land to bury the culled birds properly. All Japanese prefectures had been grappling with avian flu outbreaks recently, with authorities culling more than 17 million chickens – the highest number on record.
Officials and farmers usually kill and bury the animals to prevent the disease from spreading, but the shortage of land has hindered these efforts.
According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, avian flu is caused by infections that occur naturally among wild aquatic birds. Infected birds can spread the virus to other animals via their saliva and other bodily fluids.
The record-breaking cull comes as analysts from Netherlands-based Rabobank released a report this month saying that global egg prices had “reached historic high levels” in the first quarter of 2023, citing the impact of avian flu across the world and higher feed costs for hens.
The findings noted that worldwide feed prices doubled between mid-2020 and mid-2022, largely because of the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The situation has prompted some people around the world to purchase their own hens in order to ensure their own supplies of the pantry staple.
This week, Russian troops led by mercenaries of the Wagner Group captured the center of Bakhmut even as Ukrainian forces continued fighting for the embattled eastern city in what’s now the war’s 58th week, Al Jazeera reported. Bakhmut has seen some of the fiercest and most lethal fighting of the war, with aerial drone bombardments becoming the norm, according to the New York Times.
Also this week:
- Ukraine unveiled this week a 12-point plan outlining how it would reintegrate Crimea back into the country if it regained the territory militarily, France 24 noted. However, analysts and Ukraine’s allies believe that Kyiv is getting ahead of itself, as the Ukrainian army is still fighting against Russian assaults in the east. The United States’ stance on Ukraine’s retaking of Crimea appears to be mixed, with some officials expressing support for the idea while others express skepticism and caution.
- The Biden administration committed an additional $2.6 billion in military aid to Ukraine on Tuesday, saying it will give air defense systems, gun trucks and laser-guided weaponry to counter Russia’s deployment of drones, the Washington Post wrote. Since Russia’s invasion over 14 months ago, the administration has offered more than $35 billion in military support to Ukraine.
- At the same time, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Poland this week and received pledges of military and economic cooperation, including the delivery of fighter jets and Polish weaponry, the Associated Press added. Both countries signed agreements to develop Ukrainian infrastructure and set up joint manufacturing plants for weapons and ammunition.
- The US, United Kingdom, Albania, and Malta walked out on Russian children’s rights envoy Maria Lvova-Belova as she spoke by video to the United Nations Security Council on evacuating children from conflict zones, Reuters reported The US and UK blocked the meeting from being webcast by the UN. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Lvova-Belova and Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes related to the unlawful deportation of children from Ukraine. Lvova-Belova presented a video of Ukrainian children in Russia during her speech while claiming Russia did not use children for propaganda purposes. Critics accuse Russia of using the program to erase Ukrainian identity and statehood.
- Russian officials detained a suspect in the bombing that killed one of the country’s most prominent military bloggers and accused Ukraine of working with supporters of a jailed opposition leader to carry it out, according to NBC News. Vladlen Tatarsky, an outspoken advocate of the war who helped define the Kremlin’s anti-Ukrainian narrative, died in an explosion Sunday night at a cafe in St. Petersburg’s center. More than 30 people were injured in the blast, which the Kremlin described as a “terrorist attack.”
- At least 200 Russian journalists have signed an open letter urging Moscow to release American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was detained and accused of espionage last week, the Moscow Times added. The signatories called suspicions that Gershkovich had been collecting state secrets about Russia’s defense industry while reporting for his employer, the Wall Street Journal, “preposterous and unjust.”
- Putin authorized a new Russian foreign policy concept aimed at confronting the US and its allies, declaring that an “era of revolutionary changes” in world relations had begun, Bloomberg wrote. According to the 42-page document, the US is “the source of fundamental risks to the security of the Russian Federation,” and most European states are pursuing an “aggressive policy” aimed at weakening Russia’s sovereignty.
Eyes on the Side
South America’s Thylacosmilus atrox was a strange creature.
Living around five million years ago, the animal was a 220-pound marsupial sporting long and deadly canines – similar to those of other saber-toothed cats, such as the Smilodon fatalis.
Now, a research team found that the extinct mammal’s large teeth had forced it to adapt itself to a unique way of seeing for such a predator, CNN reported.
In their study, scientists explained that the T. atrox had eyes on the side of its head, resembling the format of cows or horses, while most predator species have forward-facing eyes and full 3D vision to help them chase after prey.
But the marsupial saber-tooth’s large canines precluded it from having eyes on the front of its face.
Researchers used 3D virtual reconstruction and scans to analyze the creature’s skull and compare it with that of other mammals, especially carnivores.
Their findings showed that its eye sockets were more vertically oriented than those of other comparable species, in order to achieve depth perception.
“One way to imagine it would be when you take a picture of a panoramic view with your cell phone,” explained lead author Charlène Gaillard.
Gaillard and her team suggested that Thylacosmilus’ vision showed that the animal was more of an ambush predator that waited for its prey, rather than pursuing it.
But the findings just add more questions about the species, for example, why was it the only animal to have large teeth that then required skull adaption, and how did it use other senses to hunt.
“We may view it as an anomaly because it doesn’t fit within our preconceived categories of what a proper mammalian carnivore should look like, but evolution makes its own rules,” noted co-author Analia M. Forasiepi.
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