The World Today for May 02, 2023

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Hearts and Minds


The prime minister of the ex-Soviet republic of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, recently met European and NATO leaders in Brussels to press the case for his country’s admission into both Western organizations.

Garibashvili and his fellow citizens felt snubbed when the European Union offered candidacy status for membership in the bloc to the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Moldova, reported Radio Free Europe.

Russia invaded Georgia, after all, in 2008 under the pretense of defending Russian-aligned breakaway republics in the small country on the Black Sea. That short war is considered to have been a test run for ongoing meddling in Moldova, the annexation of Ukrainian territory in 2014, and the full-fledged invasion of Ukraine last year.

Both the EU and NATO, however, told Garibashvili that he would need to enact political reforms and strengthen adherence to human rights standards if he wanted Georgia to join either organization.

The European and NATO leaders might also have had second thoughts about Georgia because Russia seems to already be dominating the country.

The Russian military has occupied 20 percent of Georgia since the 2008 war, noted Foreign Affairs. The population is largely pro-Western, but, rather than supporting Ukraine, Garibashvili and other Georgian leaders have appeared to grow closer to Russia in the past year. They have also launched Russian-style crackdowns on political dissidents.

Demonstrators recently took to the streets of the capital of Tbilisi, for example, to call for the release of political prisoners, press freedom, an end to efforts to suppress Western-funded non-governmental organizations and other demands.

“The government is controlled from Moscow and our obligation is to save our homeland from Russian stooges,” said Giorgi Margvelashvili, a former president who served from 2013 to 2018, in an interview with Euronews as he marched on the streets. “We are freedom-loving, we are part of the European family, we reject Russian slavery.”

Writing in Politico, another ex-president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now imprisoned on charges of corruption and sponsoring attacks against political opponents, said Garibashvili and other members of the ruling Georgian Dream political party have been receiving Russian support. Tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch with close ties to Putin, allegedly runs the party, argued Saakashvili, who maintains the charges against him are political.

American officials recently announced that four top Georgian judges would not receive visas to enter the US due to their rubber-stamp decisions in favor of Ivanishvili, for example, Agence France-Presse reported.

Georgia’s heart might yearn to join the ranks of London, Paris, and Berlin. But its head just can’t stop thinking about Moscow.


The Redistribution


Mexico’s upper house of parliament approved a package of laws this week, including a contentious mining reform that sparked concerns from the country’s mining chamber and its trade partner Canada, Reuters reported.

Lawmakers of the ruling Morena party and its allies approved the bills, including two constitutional reforms, in an express parliamentary session that was notable for its lack of debate.

The new legislation will reduce concessions in the mining sector from 50 to 30 years, limit water extraction permits, and order the distribution of mining profits to local communities.

The changes are part of an initiative by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who initially proposed reducing concessions to 15 years. The president has not granted any new mining concessions since he took office in 2018.

López Obrador countered that previous governments granted too many permits to extract Mexico’s resources, which include gold, silver, and copper.

Even so, Canada’s Ministry of Commerce worried that the decision would impact Canadian investment in Mexico’s mining industry, where many Canadian companies operate.

Camimex, Mexico’s mining chamber, also cautioned that the new legislation could result in a loss of approximately $9 billion in investments and up to 420,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, the other two constitutional reforms involved lowering the age to be a legislator and secretary of state from 21 to 18 years old, and banning perpetrators of gender violence from participating in elections.

The Mothership


Opposing protests took place in France and on the French island of Mayotte this week, over planned changes to the country’s immigration laws and the deportations of illegal migrants from the French overseas territory in the Indian Ocean, Agence France-Presse reported.

In Paris and other cities, thousands of people took to the streets to protest against a proposed bill that would expand the possibilities for deportation, particularly for non-nationals who engage in criminal activities.

The reform would also alter the rules for receiving French residence permits. Specifically, it proposes that individuals must show a minimum level of proficiency in French before being eligible for a multi-year permit and that the criteria for renewing long-term permits should be more stringent.

But many detractors said the proposal is “a racist law, which aims to criminalize foreigners.” The government countered that the bill aims to strike a balance between the expulsion of foreigners who threaten public order, and better integration of undocumented migrants.

Even so, the government has failed to reach a consensus on the bill in parliament.

Meanwhile, demonstrators also targeted “Operation Wuambushu” (take back) which is being carried out by French authorities on Mayotte.

The operation aims to send back illegal immigrants, most from neighboring Comoros, currently living in unsanitary slums on the island.

But while Comoros has slammed France over the move, many Mayotte officials and islanders have voiced support for the operation, which also seeks to tackle crime in the French territory.

Over the weekend, more than a thousand people in Mayotte took to the streets to express support for “Operation Wuambushu,” Africanews wrote.

Ridicule Vs. Respect


The Spanish government passed a bill this week that will ban “comic” bullfighting events featuring dwarves wearing costumes, a move that disability rights groups welcomed but a few surviving performers criticized, the Associated Press reported.

Groups of people with dwarfism – self-styled as “dwarf toreros” – have long dressed as firefighters or clowns to chase bulls without killing them, a tradition that dates back decades.

Known as “dwarf bullfights,” the declining public spectacles usually take place during festivals honoring a town’s patron saint, according to Agence France-Presse.

The government approved the legislation which brings Spain into line with European Union directives on discrimination against disabled people.

Spain’s Royal Board on Disabilities said the contentious shows “passed the idea to so many girls and boys who go with adults to see these shameful performances that it is OK to laugh at the difference.”

But while disability rights advocates welcomed the decision, the move was criticized by some dwarf toreros.

They countered that the shows make them feel respected and appreciated, adding that the cancelation of the events could put their livelihoods at risk.

Some dwarf bullfighters protested outside the Spanish parliament ahead of the ban.


The Big Slowdown

A recent study is shedding new light on the formation of the Andes Mountains, while underscoring the complexity of geological processes, Science Alert reported.

The Andes range runs 5,530 miles down the western side of South America, with heights of up to 4.3 miles and a width of up to 435 miles at its widest point.

For their paper, a research team investigated how the movement of tectonic plates helped create the majestic mountain range, using a new method to examine the motion of the plates and providing insight into the speed of their movement over shorter time frames. They used a combination of absolute plate movement (APM) and relative plate movement (RPM) data.

APM shows how the plates move in relation to fixed points on Earth, while RPM shows how the plates move relative to each other. By using high-resolution RPM data to estimate APM, the researchers were able to calculate the rate of movement of the South American plate with more precision.

Researchers noticed that the South American plate – which formed the Andes – experienced significant slowdowns in its movement both around 10-14 million years ago and 5-9 million years ago. These slowdowns caused the Andes mountains to widen rather than grow taller, as the plate was compressed and pushed against the existing mountain range.

But the jury is still out as to what caused the slowdowns of the South American plate.

The team suggested changes in the convection currents in the Earth’s mantle or a phenomenon called delamination, where parts of a plate sink lower into the mantle.

However, more research and data are needed to confirm these explanations.

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