The World Today for July 26, 2023

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Declaring War

BRAZIL

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the charge to protect the Amazonian rainforest.

Following Lula’s example, leaders of eight South American countries are now pledging to end illegal deforestation in the massive region that has been called the lungs of the planet, reported Bloomberg. The pledge is tantamount to a declaration of war against farmers, ranchers, timber companies, oil drillers, and gold miners who have been plundering the rainforest for profit.

Acting as a sink that sucks up and sequesters carbon in the atmosphere while releasing oxygen, the Amazon cools the entire planet by approximately 0.25 degrees Celsius, according to the Lever.

But over the past few years, his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, hobbled environmental regulators and encouraged farmers and miners to exploit the rainforest in the name of economic growth, wrote National Public Radio. Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon increased to its highest rate in the past 15 years, with around 5,100 square miles lost.

Lula, 76, has demonstrated success in protecting the Amazon since he won office in a stunning political comeback last year, explained CNN. He has managed to reduce the annual rate of deforestation by 34 percent through June this year compared with 2022.

A leftist who served as Brazil’s president between 2003 and 2010, he served more than a year in jail on corruption charges in 2018 and 2019 before the country’s top court exonerated him on procedural grounds. Then he ran for office again and defeated rightwing populist Bolsonaro.

The question, however, as the Washington Post asked, is whether Lula can keep it up.

Conservative lawmakers in Brazil’s Congress have reversed Lula’s efforts to grant Indigenous communities more authority over their lands, describing them as “constraints on agribusiness that could harm exports,” according to Al Jazeera. Lula’s critics on the left said he could have done more to fight the lawmakers but didn’t. Reports that top players in Lula’s cabinet also have conflicting visions of how they want to enact his policies likely helped fuel that negative reaction from the president’s base.

“Indigenous people and environmental campaigners have reacted in horror,” wrote the Irish Times in an editorial.

Furthermore, while rainforest destruction has declined, it’s risen to a seven-year high in the Cerrado, a savanna region bordering the Amazon. More than 4,000 square miles, an area larger than the Middle Eastern nation of Lebanon were lost between July 2021 and July 2022, reported Reuters in December.

Progress in politics can be slow and unsteady. However, Lula and the Earth don’t have the luxury of time.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Burying Bodies, Burying Truth

NIGERIA

Nigerian officials are planning mass burials for the more than 100 people who died during the country’s anti-police brutality protests in 2020, an announcement that has revived questions about the exact death toll and calls for a new investigation into the incident, Africanews reported.

Authorities in Lagos, the country’s economic hub, confirmed plans of a “mass burial” of 103 people, saying the bodies were not claimed by anyone. They added that the burials would relieve overcrowding in the morgue.

In 2020, Nigeria was grappling with mass demonstrations against police brutality that became known as the #EndSARS movement. The movement was named after Nigeria’s now-disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) police unit, which had been accused of racketeering, torture and murder for years.

Thousands of people were demonstrating at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos on Oct. 20 that year when security forces opened fire on protesters. An independent inquiry described the incident as a “massacre,” but authorities have denied there were any victims, according to Voice of America.

Lagos officials confirmed for the first time Monday that the 103 bodies were connected to the city-wide protests, but denied that they were specifically connected to the Lekki toll.

Even so, human rights groups and survivors accused authorities of attempting to cover up the actual number of casualties and called for a new probe on the matter.

Others, meanwhile, allege that the SARS unit was not disbanded and continues to operate in secret.

Delaying Tactics

GUATEMALA

Hundreds of Guatemalans took to the streets of the capital this week to protest against the government’s alleged interference in next month’s presidential runoff, another development tarnishing the country’s electoral process, the Associated Press reported.

The demonstrations in Guatemala City come amid a weeks-long political crisis that began after the first round of voting in Guatemala’s presidential elections on June 25.

That vote saw progressive candidate Bernardo Arévalo come in second place among the 22 candidates, while his conservative rival, former First Lady Sandra Torres, finished first.

But the country’s Constitutional Court suspended the certification of the results over complaints of inconsistencies and irregularities in the vote count. Although electoral officials confirmed the results nearly two weeks ago, the Attorney General’s office announced an investigation into how Arévalo’s Seed Movement party obtained the necessary signature years ago to form.

Initially, prosecutors succeeded in obtaining a judge’s decision to suspend the party’s legal status. However, the Constitutional Court later issued a preliminary injunction that prevented the suspension from taking effect.

Arévalo has criticized the raid as illegal, saying it “is part of the political persecution that the corrupt minority that knows it is losing power day by day is carrying out to try to intimidate us, to try to derail the electoral process.”

Guatemalan law prohibits authorities from suspending a political party during an election campaign. The United States has labeled the recent actions by Guatemalan officials as a threat to the country’s democracy.

Equity and Neutrality

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa’s main opposition party called for mass demonstrations this week to protest against a new employment law that critics say will lead to job losses, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday.

The 2020 Employment Equity Act – due to take effect in September – will require companies with more than 50 employees to set “equity targets” reflecting the demography of the region they are operating in, and issue plans on how they intend to achieve them.

It also allows the country’s labor minister to set numerical targets for specific economic sectors.

But the Democratic Alliance – an opposition party that has traditionally appealed to a predominantly white electorate – warned that qualified workers could lose their jobs. It described the legislation as a “race quotas” bill, adding that it violates South Africa’s constitutional principle of racial neutrality.

Meanwhile, businesses worry that the bill threatens private employers whose workforce does not mirror racial demographics.

However, officials countered that the law will not result in job losses but promote diversity in the workforce.

Despite three decades passing since the end of apartheid, South Africa continues to suffer from significant inequalities – the World Bank says it’s “the most unequal country in the world.”

Official figures show that nearly half of Black South Africans were unemployed during the first three months of 2023, whereas the joblessness rate among White South Africans was only 9.5 percent.

The recent controversy comes as South Africa prepares for elections next year. Polls indicate that the ruling African National Congress, which has been in power since the end of apartheid in 1994, faces the possibility of seeing its vote share fall below 50 percent.

DISCOVERIES

The Sound of Silence

Silence may be the absence of sound but a new study suggests people can actually hear it, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

For their paper, scientists conducted a series of experiments on 1,000 participants using well-known auditory illusions typically employed to examine noise perception. For their experiments, the researchers modified these illusions to measure participants’ responses to silence instead.

In one experiment, participants listened to a recording resembling ambient noise in a crowded place, that was interrupted in the first half of the recording by two short periods without sound, and in the second half by one longer period of silence.

Then the researchers asked participants which silence felt longer – the combination of the first two periods of silence or the longer, single one. Although the uninterrupted silence was actually the same length as the two shorter ones combined, most of the test subjects believed the single period of silence was longer.

The team explained that the findings were in line with previous research on similar illusions that involved sound rather than silence. They added that both sound and silence can influence a person’s perception of time.

Because participants appeared to be deceived by these “silence illusions,” the authors suggested that our auditory system treats silence in a manner consistent with how it treats sounds.

Even though there is a lack of sound, the ability to perceive and hear silence implies that the act of hearing encompasses more than just sound waves.

“If you can get the same illusions with silences as you get with sounds, then that may be evidence that we literally hear silence after all,” co-author Chaz Firestone said.

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