The World Today for April 26, 2023

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Shiny, Happy People


In Bhutan, the law states that “if the government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the government to exist.” The small, constitutional monarchy in the Himalayan mountains, taking the constitutionally enshrined “Gross National Happiness” principle seriously, therefore aims to foster sustainable development, free speech, environmental conservation, and other laudable policy goals. As a result, it’s one of the happiest developing nations in the world.

As RealClearWire wrote, however, Bhutanese citizens also must fulfill their responsibilities in exchange for this happiness. As the Buddhist maxim says, “A little effort on your part will be much more effective than a great deal of effort on the part of the government.”

For example, as the World Bank explained, the Bhutanese government helped support women who have opened businesses in rural villages to preserve local traditions and create jobs to lure younger workers who might otherwise flood into cities. Happiness was the result.

“The whole process of planning the revival of our community has given us an opportunity to listen to each other and set a new vision for the stewardship of our culture, and the nature around us,” said Madam Pem, who started a restaurant that serves almost-forgotten traditional food in Nobgang, a village in the country’s west.

Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is likely one reason why Pem and her fellow citizens might be joyful about their country. Soon after he ascended to the throne in 2006, he launched a democratization process, including scrapping anti-homosexuality laws in 2021.

The king in theory wanted to distance himself from the harsher periods in his country’s history. Political prisoners who allegedly suffered torture while in Bhutan are still in jail, for example. Most are from Bhutan’s crackdown on citizens who spoke Nepali in the 1990s. The government drove these people, who represented around 16 percent of the population at the time, into exile, argued Human Rights Watch.

Bhutan faces a bigger problem with its two titanic neighbors, India and China. The three countries have been engaging in negotiations in recent years over land claims in the space where their three borders meet, India Express explained. China has been trying to separate Bhutan from India, its traditional ally, ThePrint argued, citing an anti-India commentary in the Global Times, an English-language mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering recently said China has an equal say in resolving the dispute. Objectively, he was probably correct. But many in India thought his comments were extremely concerning.

Maybe they should not worry and just be happy.


A Last Gambit


Colombian authorities expelled Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó this week after the former parliamentary leader sought to participate in a summit in Bogotá, Colombia, aimed at resolving the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, Agence France-Presse reported.

Guaidó said in a statement Monday that he had walked across the border from Venezuela to Colombia, hoping to join the summit organized by Colombian President Gustavo Petro – even though he was not officially invited.

But Colombian officials said the opposition politician had arrived in the capital in an “irregular manner” and went later to the capital city’s El Dorado airport for a “departure on a commercial airline to the United States during the night.”

Monday’s developments came a day before a multinational summit in Bogota that will address the Venezuelan crisis: Among the topics are an end to sanctions against that country’s government of socialist President Nicolás Maduro and the restart of stalled negotiations between the government and the opposition, Newsweek noted.

When Maduro was re-elected in 2018 in a widely denounced fraudulent election, the opposition in Venezuela, supported by several nations including the US, refused to accept the results.

Instead, the US imposed more sanctions against Venezuela the following year, having initially imposed punitive measures in 2015 over the harsh suppression of anti-government protests.

Guaidó – who at the time led Venezuela’s legislature – declared himself the country’s interim president, citing the constitution. The move received support from the US and other Western nations in an effort to oust Maduro.

But as Maduro persevered, Guaidó’s support began to fizzle out both nationally and abroad. Earlier this year, Venezuela’s opposition voted to disband its symbolic “interim government” and replaced Guaidó as the head of a parallel congress made up of opposition lawmakers.

A Chipped Diamond


Subdued protests marked commemoration ceremonies honoring the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding Tuesday as the country continues its battle over a plan to reform its judiciary, the Washington Post reported.

At military cemeteries across the country, mourners honoring the fallen – as is tradition in the country – asked politicians to leave, left early themselves or shunned the tradition altogether. At one cemetery in Beersheba, for example, Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister who was disqualified from serving in the military because of his activism in an anti-Arab organization, was met by mourning families who demanded that he leave. Others applauded him. As he left, scuffles broke out.

Israelis usually keep politics out of celebrations marking its national holiday. But this year, social and political divisions have risen to levels unseen in the country, Reuters reported Tuesday.

Since the beginning of this year, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition to limit the power of the judiciary and the country’s Supreme Court, plans which many view as a threat to democracy.

The government claims that such measures are necessary to curb activist judges who have intervened in functions reserved for the legislative and executive branches. But amid strong opposition both abroad and at home, Netanyahu paused the reform plan temporarily. The protests continue.

Still, analysts say the ongoing protests and standoff have raised fundamental questions about Israel that go beyond the composition of the Supreme Court and the power of the executive to override its rulings.

The growing power of religious and nationalist parties that helped bring Netanyahu to power last year has alarmed many secular Israelis who resent the special conditions and subsidies that allow many Orthodox men to not only avoid military service but also study in Torah schools rather than take paid employment.

Meanwhile, the nationalist right accuses its critics of failing to respect democracy.

Polls found that around 51 percent of Israelis remain pessimistic about their country’s future, which has rapidly evolved from a poor, largely agricultural country into a technological powerhouse within a lifetime.

Out With the Broom


Hong Kong will overhaul its last major political representative body, part of the city’s government’s efforts to prevent pro-democracy activists from taking office and ensure that municipal-level organizations are run by Beijing loyalists, the Associated Press reported.

Chief Executive John Lee announced Tuesday changes to the district council, a body that is primarily made up of popularly elected seats.

He added that the city’s government will not allow the district councils to become a platform for advocating independence for Hong Kong or intervening in its administration.

District councilors mainly deal with municipal matters and their elections seldom receive international attention. However, the 2019 elections took on symbolic importance after the city’s pro-democracy camp won a landslide victory at the height of the anti-government protests that year.

But two years later, Hong Kong amended its electoral laws for its legislature, which reduced the public’s ability to vote and increased the number of pro-China lawmakers making decisions. Lawmakers and councilors were also required to take an oath of office pledging allegiance to the city and the Basic Law, a move the pro-democracy camp opposed, according to the South China Morning Post.

The majority of the council seats are directly chosen by citizens under the present electoral laws. Lee said that an ongoing review will contribute to the depoliticization of the bodies.

Many pro-democracy district councilors resigned in 2021 because of the oath-taking requirement. Critics see the requirement as part of a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony, leading to an erosion of the promised freedoms as a semi-autonomous district since it was handed back to China in 1997.

The councilors’ resignation also followed rumors that they might have to repay their wages if disqualified from office, a claim that the government did not confirm.


Keeping Score

Archeologists in Mexico discovered an intricate stone marker in the country’s southeast that was used by the ancient Mayan in a ballgame that resembles modern-day soccer, the Washington Post reported.

The marker was unearthed at the Chichén Itzá archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, one of the main archeological centers of the Mayan civilization and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Believed to date to the 11th century, the elaborately-carved circular piece measures 12 inches in diameter and weighs nearly 90 pounds. The archeological team said the marker also displayed unusual hieroglyphic writings around two players at its center standing next to a ball.

The find is particularly significant because it marks the first discovery in more than a decade of an object with hieroglyphic writing at Chichén Itzá, according to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.

The stone’s depiction of the Mayan ballgame adds more insight into the mysterious sport, which dates back more than 3,000 years and is considered one of the first organized sporting events.

Still, there are lingering questions about the marker: Researchers aren’t clear if it was a scoreboard because the hieroglyphs are not easy to decipher.

“There’s some kind of debate amongst (researchers) as to whether they’re just very crude … or whether they’re actually what we call pseudo-glyphs, a point that is past literacy when people imitate text or they can’t actually write them anymore,” Simon Martin, a curator at the Penn Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, told the Post.

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