The World Today for April 21, 2023

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Paradise, Imperfect


Those who live in Costa Rica practice what they refer to as the “pure life.” They dwell in a beautiful ecosystem where the culture is easygoing. The country’s army was abolished in 1948. In contrast with the 1980s, when deforestation rates in Costa Rica were among the highest in the world, today a quarter of Costa Rican territory has been set aside for conservation.

But not everything is perfect in paradise. For the past 15 years, crime has been rising in the Central American country, reported the New York Post. More than 650 homicides occurred in Costa Rica last year, for example, the highest since at least 1990. Around 80 percent were connected to drug trafficking.

Costa Ricans can attest to the statistics. Maribel Sandí, a resident of the Bella Vista neighborhood of Puntarenas, a port city on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, said killers had recently left a dead 21-year-old man on the dirt road outside her house. Bullets from AK-47 assault rifles had “ripped apart” his body. “We had never seen that,” she told the Washington Post.

Colombian and Mexican drug traffickers have long used Costa Rica as a transit route running south to north. Now, however, the cartels are warehousing cocaine in the country and establishing trade deals with Europe, wrote the Associated Press. Local Costa Rican gangs have emerged, too, as the illicit trade has grown.

The Caribbean port of Puerto Limón, where young unemployed men vie for status in the underworld, is an epicenter of crime and violence. Murder, drug deals, and police crackdowns are a fact of life in the city, explained InSight Crime.

The duality of Costa Rica is that, while those problems persist, leaders are also grappling with other issues, like preserving the country’s majestic, biologically diverse forests. As the Associated Press wrote, Costa Rican officials are preparing to fund their conservation efforts through different taxes as they reduce their consumption of fossil fuels and drive electrified vehicles. A voluntary program where tourists could offset their vacations’ greenhouse gas emissions through supporting rainforest preservation raised $600,000 last year.

Indigenous communities in Costa Rica are also angry, added YaleEnvironment360. They want to reclaim the land that they say ranchers stole from them years ago, before the government began promoting reforestation and other green measures. Their efforts have clashed with powerful interests. A farmer was recently found guilty of murdering an Indigenous leader, for example, the Guardian wrote.

Very few things in life, unfortunately, are pure.

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Building Walls


The European Parliament approved new measures on Thursday that aim to accelerate the deportation of migrants who entered Europe illegally and prevent them from traveling to other European Union countries, Politico reported.

The new measures propose a more stringent registration system and call on countries to voluntarily set their own quotas on the number of migrants to accept. In emergency situations, however, the EU could order countries to accept asylum seekers.

The proposal defines an emergency as the “mass and sudden arrivals of third-country nationals,” and grants the European Commission the power to trigger the crisis mechanism.

The changes strike a middle ground on the controversial issue of whether countries will be required to take in asylum seekers from fellow EU members.

The package received support from countries such as Italy, which bear the brunt of illegal crossings, and are governed by leaders who are stridently anti-immigration.

Meanwhile, Thursday’s vote underscores a gradual rightward shift on migration in the European Parliament, which mirrors the progression of EU countries’ domestic politics but cuts against the EU’s own lawmakers’ more left-leaning record on the issue.

The shift comes amid a spike in both legal and illegal migration across Europe, with unauthorized border crossings in 2022 reaching levels not seen since 2016.

The vote comes on the heels of two recent votes that displayed the parliament’s increasingly strict line on migration, including backing the use of EU funds to support individual countries with border protection.

The Gray


A new Netflix documentary series sparked outrage in Egypt this week for portraying ancient Egyptian Queen Cleopatra as a Black woman, with one lawyer calling for the streaming platform to be blocked in the North African country, the Telegraph reported.

The issue stems from a trailer for the series “African Queens,” which shows the first-century BCE queen as a woman of Black African descent – played by mixed-race British actress Adele James.

US actress and executive producer Jada Pinkett Smith said the decision to cast a non-white Cleopatra was aimed at having Black actresses tell the stories of Black queens.

But the trailer stirred controversy in Egypt, with leading Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass releasing a statement saying that “Cleopatra was not black.”

Hawass said the docu-series “gives wrong information on ancient Egypt,” adding that Cleopatra was of Greek descent.

A number of Afrocentrist scholars have proposed that the ancient Egyptian queen was Black – but that theory has mostly been rejected by academia.

Historians say that Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty that began with Macedonian Greek general Ptolemy I in the fourth century BCE.

Ptolemy I became ruler of Egypt following Alexander the Great’s death when the latter’s empire was broken up between his generals.

The uproar over the Netflix series comes after US comedian Kevin Hart canceled his planned show in Egypt in February following public outcry over his past Afrocentric views on ancient Egyptian history, according to Middle East Monitor.

Cutting the Cord


Leaders of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) agreed this week to introduce bans on assault-style weapons in their countries in an effort to curb the spike in gun violence and weapon smuggling in the 15-nation bloc, the Associated Press reported.

The agreement came Tuesday following a summit in Trinidad and Tobago on crime, where Caribbean leaders complained about a rise in gangland violence, boosted by the availability of high-powered, military-style weapons smuggled in mostly from the United States.

Bahamian Prime Minister and Caricom Chairman Phillip Davis said during the summit that nearly 99 percent of illicit guns collected in his nation could be traced back to the US. However, he did not specify what percentage of those seized weapons were assault-style weapons.

Meanwhile, Keith Rowley, the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, said that bloc nations will need legislation to support the ban and called on opposition lawmakers in the region to support parliamentary action by their governments.

The proposed ban comes a few weeks after a number of Caricom countries announced plans to team up with Mexico to sue American gun makers over firearms trafficked into their countries.


This week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited Ukraine for the first time since Russia invaded the nation more than a year ago, assuring the country that the military alliance would continue to stand by it, The Hill reported. His trip comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a secret visit to the headquarters of his troops in the partially occupied Kherson region of southern Ukraine: That is where the Russian military was forced to withdraw from the regional capital in November, despite Putin’s illegal claim that the territory and its people had been annexed by Russia “forever,” the Washington Post added.

Also this week:

  • Bulgaria approved a temporary ban on imports of Ukrainian grain and other food products, the latest European Union country to do so amid protests from local farmers, Agence France-Presse wrote. Slovakia had also joined Poland and Hungary in introducing bans following complaints from farmers claiming that a glut of Ukrainian grain is causing them economic hardship, according to the Associated Press.
  • The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations threatened “severe consequences” if Russia uses chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine – those consequences also apply to those who back the Kremlin’s war effort and include “severe costs,” CNN noted. They specifically mentioned Russia’s threat to install nuclear weapons in neighboring Belarus. At the same time, Russia and India are discussing a potential free trade agreement (FTA) to deepen bilateral commercial ties, Reuters added. Despite Western calls for India to distance itself from Russia over the latter’s invasion of Ukraine, Indian imports from Moscow more than quadrupled to $46.33 billion in the last fiscal year, mainly because of oil. Russian Trade Minister Denis Manturov said the two countries would intensify negotiations on an FTA, with road construction material and equipment, chemicals, and pharmaceutical products in high demand in Russia.
  • A Moscow court denied an appeal for release by American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges on March 29, NPR reported. Tuesday’s hearing was the first time the 31-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter has been seen in public since his detention by Russian security officials while on a reporting trip in the Ural mountains city of Yekaterinburg.
  • A bright flash of light was seen in the Kyiv skyline on Wednesday night, prompting speculation on social media about its cause, Newsweek wrote. Some, such as Ukrainian officials have suggested it was a meteor or a NASA satellite, while others have suggested it could be extraterrestrial in origin. NASA’s Rob Margetta said the satellite was still in orbit at the time the flash was observed.


Taming Oneself

A new study found that wild African elephants are one of the few known species that may have domesticated themselves – meaning they didn’t need humans to tame them, according to New Scientist.

Domestication is generally known as the process of adapting wild animals and plants for human use. In animals, this usually involves breeding them into friendlier, more sociable, and docile creatures.

Some scientists suggest that humans and bonobos – a closely related primate – have also undergone the process, and have done it naturally, by themselves.

Now, a team of researchers believes that wild African savannah elephants show signs of self-domestication.

They noticed that humans, bonobos, and elephants display similar behaviors and share some attributes. These included long childhoods, playfulness, and caring for the offspring of others in their group.

Wild African elephants have a shorter jawline – a trait shared with many other domesticated animals – and exhibit restraint in aggression toward others.

On a genetic level, the team also found some commonalities between the genomes of domesticated animals and those of wild elephants: They identified 79 African elephant genes associated with domestication in other animals.

The findings are significant because humans and elephants are not closely related, which means that domestication can evolve convergently in different branches of the mammalian evolutionary tree.

While some scientists remain skeptical of the findings and the idea of self-domestication, the authors are hoping to study the phenomenon further, including other species such as dolphins, seals, and Asian elephants.

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