The World Today for July 18, 2023

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Past and Present


The Admiral Graf Spee was a German warship scuttled in 1939 in Montevideo Bay in Uruguay after the Battle of the River Plate, the first major naval battle of World War II. In 2006, treasure hunters searching the bay discovered a 770-pound bronze eagle that once adorned the heavy cruiser. In its talons, the eagle is clutching a swastika, a feature that understandably stirred controversy in the South American nation.

As the Washington Post explained, current President Luis Lacalle Pou wanted to destroy the artifact. Others persuasively argued that it was an important historic relic that officials should preserve as it can relate vital lessons about the past. Nobody knows what to do with it now.

Uruguayans today are similarly immobilized when it comes to their own past. In 1973, a coup installed a dictatorship and military junta that launched a crackdown on Marxist rebels, resulting in the imprisonment of 6,000 people, France 24 reported. The junta fell in 1985. Today, though, around 200 people known as the “disappeared” have yet to be found.

These days, Uruguay, on the one hand, is a success. It generates 95 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, the Economist noted. The Institute for Economics and Peace, an Australian think tank, ranked the country this year as the safest on the continent.

The country is not perfect, of course. A severe drought following years of underinvestment in water infrastructure has led to salty, gritty tap water in the capital Montevideo that caused an uproar, the Associated Press reported. On another level, a court recently sentenced Pou’s former chief bodyguard, Alejandro Astesiano, to more than four years in prison for using his position to corruptly arrange for Uruguayan passports for Russian citizens, added MercoPress.

But, to many Uruguayans, these relatively mundane issues pale in comparison with their desperate need to find the remains of the “disappeared”, and bring the former soldiers and police officers who were their kidnappers and murderers to justice. Every year on May 20, thousands of people march through the capital in silence carrying photos of the “disappeared” to commemorate their victimhood, wrote Global Voices.

“We need that whoever has information to deliver it,” said Alba Gonzalez, the mother of one of the disappeared. “It’s urgent to break the culture of silence and impunity.”

In 1986, however, Uruguay passed a law that in effect gave amnesty to the monsters who tortured and killed their fellow citizens, argued Francesca Lessa, a Latin American specialist at Oxford University, in the Conversation.

Uruguayans are in the impossible situation of holding despised memories they can’t easily forget.


The Reneger


Russia suspended its participation in a landmark United Nations-brokered deal that provided a humanitarian corridor to deliver Ukrainian grain to global markets, a move that will likely raise wheat prices and threaten food security in vulnerable nations around the world, CNBC reported Monday.

Signed a year ago, the Black Sea Grain Initiative sought to reduce the impact of the global food crisis arising from reduced grain supplies and soaring prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a fellow grain exporter – in early 2022.

Under the agreement, cargo ships carrying grain and fertilizer supplies could travel from three Ukrainian ports to Istanbul, one of Turkey’s busiest ports.

But the deal has been repeatedly extended in short-term increments amid increasing discontent from Russia over perceived restrictions that limit the full dispatch of its own grain and fertilizer exports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin complained to his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, that the key goal of supplying grain to countries in need – including African nations – had not been achieved under the deal.

On Monday, Russian officials said the deal is off, adding that it could only be resumed “if concrete results are received, not promises and assurances.”

The deal is set to expire on July 18.

The European Union criticized the move, while analysts said prices of grain exports from Ukraine will increase. They explained that Kyiv will be forced to deliver grain through its land borders and Danube River ports, which will “significantly drive up transportation costs and pile further pressure on Ukrainian farmers’ profits.”

Still, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who has been deeply involved in the negotiations – expressed confidence that the Kremlin will continue with the initiative.

Erdogan plans to hold phone talks with Putin ahead of their in-person meeting next month. Even so, observers questioned whether the Turkish leader’s efforts will succeed after Ankara endorsed Sweden’s accession to NATO earlier this month – a move that dealt an indirect blow to Russia.

Deterrents and Bribes


Tunisia and the European Union signed a “strategic partnership” deal this week to boost the country’s economy and tackle the migration crisis affecting the bloc, amid a sharp increase in boats leaving the North African nation for Europe, the Middle East Eye reported.

The agreement will see the EU provide more than $1 billion in aid to shore up Tunisia’s finances, which have been battered by soaring inflation and a scarcity of essential goods.

It is intended to promote trade, investment, a transition to green energy, and macroeconomic stability.

The EU will also allocate more than $110 million to combat illegal migration, for example with initiatives to disrupt the business model of human traffickers, and strengthen border controls.

The deal comes as both parties have experienced a migration crisis in recent months that has seen thousands of undocumented African migrants flocking to Tunisia with the goal of reaching Europe in smugglers’ boats.

Official data showed that more than 75,000 migrants had reached Italian shores by boat up to mid-July this year, compared with 31,920 over the same period last year. More than 50 percent of them departed from Tunisia.

Some of these journeys have ended in tragedy, including a boat last week that sank on its way to Italy. The Tunisian coastguard reported recovering the bodies of 13 sub-Saharan African migrants as it rescued 25 others.

Tunisian officials, meanwhile, said that more than 600 people have died or are missing due to boat sinkings off the country’s coast.

The EU–Tunisia deal comes as the nation is in the midst of a political crisis ongoing since July 2021, when President Kais Saied suspended parliament and dissolved the government.

Saied has since ruled by decree, a move his opponents have labeled as a “constitutional coup.”

Despite plans to tackle migration, Tunisia said it will not act as a “reception center” for the return of sub-Saharan migrants, and will only take back migrants who are Tunisians, the Guardian noted.

Lines in the Sand


Mexico filed a diplomatic complaint to the United States this week to protest Texas’ decision to deploy floating barriers on the Rio Grande River in a bid to curb illegal migration, warning that such a move would violate treaties on boundaries and water, the Associated Press reported.

Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Alicia Bárcena announced that the government will send an inspection team to the Rio Grande to determine whether the floating buoys extend onto Mexico’s side of the border.

Bárcena said that if the buoys hinder the flow of water, it would violate the 1944 and 1970 treaties that require the river to remain unobstructed. She also complained about US efforts to put up barbed wire on a low-lying island in the river near Eagle Pass, Texas.

The floating barriers rolled out earlier this month are part of an effort by Texas to stop illegal migration via the border.

Migrant advocates warned that the barrier increases the risks of drowning in the river, while environmentalist groups questioned the impact on the waterway.


‘Ivory Lady’

When digging up buried remains for individuals, it’s not uncommon for archaeologists to incorrectly label the ancient individual as a male or female.

For example, a research team recently determined that the skeleton of a high-ranking individual buried in southwestern Spain between 3,200 and 2,200 years ago was female, Live Science reported.

Scientists first discovered the “Ivory Merchant” – also known as “Ivory Man” – in 2008 and initially suggested it was a male because of its pelvis.

But in a new study, a new group of scientists explained that the pelvic region was not well preserved and so used a different method to examine the skeleton.

They analyzed the skeleton’s teeth and found evidence of the AMELX gene, which is located on the X chromosome, one of the two sex chromosomes found in humans – and concluded the skeleton was actually that of a female.

While the findings don’t reveal her identity, the team believes that she was the “highest-ranked person” in this particular society during the Copper Age.

The grave of the “Ivory Lady” was filled with a number of valuables, such as ivory tusks, an ostrich shell, and a rock-crystal dagger. This distinguished her from other individuals in terms of wealth and social status, according to study co-author Leonardo García Sanjuán.

“She was a leader … and her status wasn’t inherited, meaning that she was a leader based on her personal achievements, skills, and personality,” he added.

The researchers explained that other burials in southern Spain, particularly of infants interred without grave goods, further show that during the Copper Age birthright was not the ultimate determinant of social status.

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