The World Today for August 29, 2023

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NEED TO KNOW

Mopping Up

GUATEMALA

Anti-corruption crusader Bernardo Arévalo won Guatemala’s presidential election on Aug. 20, garnering a clear mandate with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He defeated Sandra Torres, a former first lady, who was a leader in the Central American country’s conservative elite.

It was a political earthquake, wrote Stephen Kinzer, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, in the Boston Globe. It wasn’t supposed to happen.

The question Guatemalans are now asking themselves is whether the criminals and corrupt officials in the country will allow Arévalo to govern.

Torres has not yet conceded defeat. The Organization of American States recently called on Guatemala, meanwhile, to give Arévalo a security detail to protect him from a rumored assassination plot, the Associated Press reported.

Other curveballs could be coming, too. Prosecutors, for example, are still questioning his Seed Movement political party’s registration status due to alleged irregularities stretching back to 2018, explained the Washington Post. Investigators are also looking into voting irregularities that they claim occurred in the first round of voting in June.

As Vox wrote, the newly elected president has defeated prosecutors in court, though they can appeal to higher chambers. Many have also claimed that he wants to institute communist rule in Guatemala. He has blasted their attempts at slander in a manner that many voters appreciate.

“We believe that democratic institutions must be reestablished,” Arévalo said in an interview with Spain’s El País. “We have to re-found the process that this corrupt political class has hijacked from us.”

That message resonates with Arévalo’s supporters, who view his legal woes as signs of Guatemala’s corrupt political system attempting to destroy a reformer who is standing up for ordinary people, the New York Times reported. Voters described casting ballots for an inspiring candidate for the first time in memory.

The new president, incidentally, is the son of Juan Jose Arévalo, who happened to be the first democratically-elected president of Guatemala, according to Reuters. His father’s administration from 1945 to 1951 ended a period of dictatorship and instituted a leftist administration that became known as the “Democratic Spring.” Juan Jose Arévalo fled the country after a US-backed military coup took over in 1954, however. His son, Bernardo, was born in Uruguay in exile.

Now, Arévalo has pledged to crack down on corruption, tackle poverty, and end the repression that has marked the government’s policy toward opponents and dissidents, the Nation magazine wrote.

The elites who had been ruling Guatemala emerged after the end of the 30-year civil war in the country that ended in 1996. Their grip on power loosened, however, in 2015 when a UN-backed commission exposed ex-President Otto Pérez Molina’s corrupt administration. Since then, the country has been unstable as corrupt officials and reformers have vied for control along with the drug cartels that use the country as a transshipping center, and control much of the police force and the army.

Now Arévalo has a chance to mop it all up.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Dangerous Liaisons

LIBYA

Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah dismissed Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush on Monday after she met with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen last week in Rome, a meeting that sparked protests in the war-torn country and caused controversy in Israel, Al Jazeera reported.

The diplomatic fiasco began Sunday when Cohen announced he had met Mangoush in the Italian capital in a meeting hosted by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani. Cohen said he and al-Mangoush spoke about “the great potential for relations between the two countries,” the Associated Press added.

However, his statements quickly raised eyebrows in Libya and Israel.

Israeli opposition politicians and pundits criticized Cohen for breaking diplomatic norms and damaging the country’s reputation.

Libyan officials countered that Mangoush had “refused to meet with any party” representing Israel, adding that the meeting was an unplanned encounter. They also accused Israel of trying to “present this incident” as a “meeting or talks.”

But the meeting sparked demonstrations within Libya, with protesters calling for al-Mangoush’s dismissal and Dbeibah’s resignation.

Libya does not recognize Israel and has no diplomatic ties with the country. Under Libyan law, dealing with Israel is punishable by up to nine years in prison.

There have been discussions about normalizing relations between Libya and Israel under the US-brokered Abraham Accords that helped restore ties between Jerusalem and four Arab countries in recent years.

Even so, Libyan leaders have remained cautious about moving forward amid concerns about a public backlash in a country known for its support for the Palestinian cause.

Teacher, Preacher

MEXICO

Mexico’s new school textbooks are causing an uproar between leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and opponents who have criticized them as politicized and rife with factual error, a dispute that comes as Mexican students returned to class on Monday, the Financial Times reported.

The controversy centers on new school textbooks published less than a month before the new school year was to start. Government officials have promoted the new material, saying it aims to provide “decolonial” perspectives, as well as teach honesty, respect, and social justice.

However, critics countered that the books sponsor communism and homosexuality, as well as contain many factual errors, such as the wrong date of birth for Benito Juarez, Mexico’s first Indigenous president.

The criticism also included accusations of age-inappropriate content and political bias, such as the assertion that “hope was the soul of the campaign” that elected López Obrador in 2018, according to Agence France-Presse.

A group of Indigenous parents in the southern state of Chiapas burned some books in protest, while thousands of people in the opposition-governed central state of Aguascalientes demonstrated against what they called “Marxist ideologies” spread by the new texts.

Meanwhile, some conservative groups have taken the matter to Mexico’s Supreme Court, which suspended the distribution of the books in two northern states. At the same time, governors in opposition-run states said they will refuse to distribute the books.

Despite granting two injunctions, the country’s top court will still have to review the merits of the case.

López Obrador has criticized the burnings as “medieval” and labeled the controversy as “politicking” stirred up by conservative opponents.

The school textbook issue erupted less than a year before Mexicans hold general elections, scheduled for next June.

Analysts said the curriculum controversy has arisen as Mexico continues to grapple with education issues following the pandemic.

The country experienced one of the world’s longest school closures during the coronavirus pandemic and has had no standardized teacher evaluations since a 2019 reform, according to the FT.

Some teachers complained that there has been little training in the new pedagogical approach, cautioning that the situation will force educators to develop their own teaching methods and change their timetables to accommodate projects.

The Hunt Begins

SCOTLAND

Volunteer hunters from all over the world arrived in Scotland this week on a mission to locate the Loch Ness Monster, in what is thought to be the biggest hunt for the legendary creature in five decades, the Washington Post reported.

The new event has hunters and adventurers using a variety of new tech to search for the mythical monster in the picturesque Loch Ness (lake) in the Scottish Highlands. The big hunt includes the deployment of thermal-imagining drones and a 60-foot hydrophone to detect sound from deep beneath the lake’s dark waters.

Independent research group Loch Ness Exploration, which organized the event, explained that the search is part of an effort to evoke both scientific inquiry and nostalgia, as well as prevent the waning of interest in the Loch Ness legend, NBC News wrote.

Legends surrounding the monster – also known as Nessie – began in the sixth century CE, but worldwide interest in the creature began after a reported sighting in 1933.

Many participants have provided various ideas about what they might do if they find Nessie, such as take selfies with the creature or call the police. While some volunteers doubt the monster’s existence, they described the hunt as a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Scientists and skeptics maintain that there is no concrete evidence that such a creature exists, but this hasn’t stopped some netizens from demanding the hunt to stop over concerns about Nessie’s well-being.

Meanwhile, NatureScot, the conservation authority in Scotland, has formulated a plan called the “Nessie Contingency Plan” to safeguard the Loch Ness monster,

Although initially created in 2001 for “a bit of fun,” the plan extends protection to any new species discovered in Loch Ness.

DISCOVERIES

Bloody Tears

Vlad Dracula, the 15th-century Wallachian leader who became the inspiration for the famous fictional vampire, has long been shrouded in legend and myth.

Known also as Vlad Tepes or “Vlad the Impaler,” the historical figure is remembered for the myriad of brutal methods he used to defend his lands – in what is now southern Romania – including impaling more than 20,000 people on wooden spikes.

Some accounts reported that he shed tears of blood, and now, a new chemical analysis of his personal letters has found some veracity in those rumors, Science Alert reported.

A research team collected three of Dracula’s letters dating to between 1457 and 1475. To extract materials without damaging centuries-old documents, they used a special film that can obtain proteins and molecules without destroying the surface.

An analysis of these films unveiled thousands of proteins and peptides, including those associated with human health such as skin and respiratory disorders.

Among these, researchers also noticed peptides associated with proteins of the retina and tears, and also blood proteins. Taking into account Dracula’s alleged bloody tears, they suggested that the historical figure suffered from a condition known as hemolacria, which manifests as the presence of blood in tears.

Still, the team noted that while the findings cannot be considered “exhaustive alone” they offer a very interesting glimpse of Wallachian life more than 500 years ago.

The authors discovered a variety of peptides, such as bacteria, viruses, and insects, including those associated with Yersinia pestis – the bacteria behind the black death.

They added that their technique could be used on other ancient documents, revealing more about the dynamics of bygone eras.

Correction: In Thursday’s NEED TO KNOW section, we said in our “The Fraying Chains” item that Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, who died in the custody of the country’s morality police, was arrested for refusing to wear the Islamic headscarf, the hijab. In fact, she was arrested for improperly wearing the hijab. We apologize for the error.

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