The World Today for April 28, 2023

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Change and Its Discontents


Presidents from the Colorado Party have ruled Paraguay for all but five years since the South American country adopted democracy in 1992. Now, however, as Paraguayan voters head to the polls to elect a new president on April 30, Colorado Party candidate and Finance Minister Santiago Peña might be in trouble.

Last year, as reported by the Associated Press, the US slapped sanctions on Paraguay’s former President Horacio Cartes Jara and current Vice President Hugo Velázquez Moreno due to corruption allegations and ties to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed, US-designated terrorist organization that operates primarily in the Middle East. Both men have rejected the American claims.

Around 70 percent of Paraguayans now say their country needs change, the Americas Society/Council of the Americas wrote. The opposition Concertación political coalition hopes their nominee, Efraín Alegre of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party “can ride voter frustration” to office. He is now running neck and neck with Peña.

Despite his center-left credentials, Alegre recently promised the country’s powerful agricultural industry that he would opt for an austerity budget that would favor cutting government spending over raising taxes on farmers. Adding that bribery and embezzlement were rife in the government under Peña and current President Mario Abdo Benítez, who can’t run for reelection due to term limits, he pledged reforms.

“It is very difficult for the private sector to feel comfortable paying more taxes if the public sector does not make an effort to properly use the available resources,” he told Reuters in an interview.

A string of high-profile killings has also fueled the sense that the government has lost the ability to impose the rule of law onto the people, according to Americas Quarterly. Last year, after the country’s top prosecutor closed a prison drug laboratory, he was murdered on his honeymoon. Paraguay is also a major conduit for cocaine bound for Europe, InSight Crime added.

Alegre has also questioned his country’s links with Taiwan. As one of a handful of nations that recognize Taiwan as the legitimate government of China, Paraguay can’t sell its beef and soy to China, the world’s biggest market. Taiwanese officials have expressed dismay over his comments, noted Focus Taiwan. Honduras, for example, recently switched sides in order to curry favor with officials in Beijing. Peña, meanwhile, has pledged to keep snubbing the powerful communist country.

Paraguay rarely sees a toss-up election, wrote Foreign Policy. It will this time.


The Faustian Pact


El Salvador began its trial against former President Mauricio Funes this week, with prosecutors alleging that the former leader had negotiated a truce with the country’s street gangs during his 2009 to 2014 presidential term, the Associated Press reported.

Authorities accused Funes of illicit association and failure to conduct his duties for the gang truce negotiated in 2012. But the former president denied that he associated with the criminal groups or gave its leaders any privileges.

He countered that the truce was made between rival gangs, not with the government.

Funes is currently living in Nicaragua and he is being tried in absentia. If found guilty, he could face up to 11 years in prison even though it is unlikely that he will ever serve time in El Salvador.

Meanwhile, Salvadoran authorities have similarly charged other officials.

Allegations of engaging with criminal gangs have also hit incumbent President Nayib Bukele.

In December 2021, the US Treasury accused Bukele of secretly negotiating a truce with gang leaders in exchange for political support. The imprisoned gang leaders allegedly received privileges in exchange for reducing their killings and giving support to Bukele’s party.

The truce fell apart in March 2022 when the gangs killed 62 people in a single day. Bukele responded by suspending some rights and waging war against the gangs, a battle that continues.

On the Hunt


A bank security guard shot and killed a prominent Iranian cleric this week, a rare attack on a high-level religious figure that comes as the country continues to grapple with unrest, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Ayatollah Abbas Ali Soleimani was shot by the guard at a bank in the northern province of Mazandaran. Authorities arrested the suspect.

So far, authorities have not released information on the suspect’s motive but said the guard acted spontaneously and was not part of a broader terrorist plan.

Soleimani’s assassination comes after months of mass anti-government protests that began following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September, who died in the custody of the country’s morality police.

Demonstrations have also recently erupted over the suspected poisonings of hundreds of schoolgirls across Iran, which some Iranians blame on the government.

Soleimani was close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: The late cleric was a member of the Assembly of Experts, a body empowered to appoint the supreme leader of Iran.

Khamenei either directly appoints or vets the assembly’s membership.

Soleimani was Khamenei’s former clerical envoy to the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchistan, a province on Iran’s eastern border that has long been a center of unrest.

The killing marks the first time in recent memory that a religious figure has been targeted, even though he is the latest in a long list of assassinations that have taken place in Iran.

The Iranian government has accused Israel of carrying out previous attacks, including the killing of a top nuclear scientist in 2020 and an attack on a nuclear program facility in 2021.

Israel has not taken responsibility for these attacks.

Rear-view Mirror


Portugal’s president suggested that the country should take responsibility for its role in the transatlantic slave trade, marking the first time a Portuguese leader has hinted at an apology for the nation’s colonial past, Reuters reported.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa made the historic statement during Portugal’s annual commemoration of the 1974 “Carnation” revolution, which toppled the country’s dictatorship.

While he did not offer any specifics, the leader said the country should go beyond an apology and “assume responsibility” for its past in order to build a better future.

Around six million Africans were abducted and forcibly transported by Portuguese ships across the Atlantic and sold into slavery, mainly to Brazil, between the 15th and 19th centuries.

But there is little discussion about slavery during Portugal’s colonial era when the country ruled over a number of African, American, and Asian countries. Instead, this period is often discussed as a source of pride.

Rebelo de Sousa’s comments came after Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva addressed the Portuguese parliament during a visit to the country earlier this week.

The Brazilian leader acknowledged that the Portuguese colonization of Brazil had positive aspects but also negative ones, such as slavery and the exploitation of Indigenous peoples.

Brazil gained independence from Portugal in 1822.

Advocate groups welcome the Portuguese president’s comments as “symbolic,” but added that reparations and public policies to fight inequalities caused by Portugal’s past are needed.

Elsewhere, French President Emmanuel Macron marked the 175th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in France by paying tribute to ex-slave Toussaint Louverture, who was a key figure in Haiti’s independence and a “tireless fighter” for freedom, according to France 24.

Louverture inspired millions to seek freedom after he and other Black leaders from the French-held territory of Saint-Domingue in present-day Haiti successfully defeated their colonial masters.


This week, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance has provided Ukraine with 1,550 armored vehicles and 230 tanks, in addition to anti-aircraft systems and artillery, to help the country retake territory from Russian forces, Agence-France Presse reported. Since the start of the conflict in February 2022, this delivery represents “more than 98 percent of the combat vehicles promised to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg’s announcement follows the release of a new report that found that global military spending hit a new all-time high of $2.24 trillion in 2022, marking the eighth consecutive year of growth, Al Jazeera noted. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Europe experienced a 13 percent rise in spending from 2021, with Finland and Lithuania boosting their budgets by 36 percent and 27 percent, respectively, due to concerns about Russian aggression. The US remained the largest military spender, with a 0.7 percent rise in spending to $877 billion. China has the second-largest outlay with an estimated $292 billion, while Japan’s military spending rose to its highest level since 1960, reaching $46 billion.

Also this week:

  • Leaked US military documents suggest that Russia will be able to fund its war in Ukraine for at least another year, even as it deals with heavy sanctions from the US and its allies, the Washington Post reported. The documents reveal that Russia’s economic elites are fretting about the impact of sanctions on their businesses but are unlikely to withdraw support for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaked assessment highlights how some of Russia’s most powerful officials and oligarchs are adapting to the sanctions – but it does not account for other factors that could impact Moscow’s ability to fight, such as ammunition expenditure and the need to recruit or conscript new soldiers, something Russian leaders worry will infuriate the public.
  • Chinese leader Xi Jinping assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that China will not add “fuel to the fire” regarding the war in Ukraine and has called for a “political resolution” to the crisis, Politico reported. The call, Xi’s first to Zelenskyy in more than 400 days, is seen as a signal that Beijing will not provide direct military assistance to Russia for its war on Ukraine. Xi suggested that Ukraine should pursue dialogue with Russia to bring peace to Europe. Xi’s call came just days after China’s ambassador to France, Lu Shaye made an explosive remark during a TV interview saying former Soviet countries have no “effective status” in international law, and disputed Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea, causing international uproar and forcing Beijing to disavow his remarks in an effort to mend ties with Europe. Chinese officials later countered that Beijing respects the independence of former Soviet nations, according to CNBC.
  • At least 12 people have been killed, including a three-year-old girl and her mother, in a renewed onslaught of Russian missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian cities from Thursday night, the BBC reported. The central city of Uman was worst hit with 10 residential buildings damaged and 10 dead, while Kyiv, incurring its first assault in 51 days, reported no casualties. The cities of Dnipro, Kremenchuk and Poltava were also hit. The attacks come as Ukrainian forces, bolstered by new equipment from the West, are thought to be preparing for a military offensive.
  • Meanwhile, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is calling for a “negotiated” settlement between Kyiv and Moscow over Ukraine, angering Ukraine and causing tensions with the West, Agence France-Presse reported. Lula is on his first European tour since winning reelection in January and is seeking to revive Brazil’s diplomatic ties – but his comments regarding Ukraine have raised criticism. Lula has resisted taking sides in the conflict and has announced that he is sending his top foreign policy advisor to meet Zelenskyy in Kyiv.


Big Bodies, Big Problems

A new study discovered that the bigger the animal, the harder it is for them to stay cool while traversing large distances, New Scientist reported.

Scientists recently analyzed the maximum sustained speeds of more than 500 species of animals, ranging from insects to whales and elephants.

The study primarily focused on animals in the wild.

Their findings showed that the traveling speeds of species increased as they became larger. But these speeds leveled off and decreased once a creature’s mass reached more than 2,200 pounds.

A closer analysis suggested that the bigger animals had to slow down to avoid overheating, noting that the muscles are not very efficient.

“For every 100 joules of chemical energy that gets pumped into your muscles, 70 of those joules are just turned into heat,” explained co-author Alexander Dyer.

This overheating problem also affected swimming animals – such as whales – even though their bodies can shed heat faster in water than in air.

On the other hand, Dyer noted that smaller animals could easily lose excess heat because of their higher surface area-to-volume ratio.

The paper suggested that global warming will mean bigger problems for big-bodied animals.

“If our model is correct, larger animals will have to reduce their activity in general or they will have to shift toward more nocturnal behavior,” Dyer added.

Even so, staying cool is becoming an issue even for smaller animals as the temperatures rise, forcing some animals to develop smaller bodies to avoid overheating.

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