The World Today for September 19, 2023

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NEED TO KNOW

The Black Gold Rush

GUYANA

A remarkable economic experiment is occurring now in Guyana, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Oil giants like ExxonMobil, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, and TotalEnergies are now bidding on the rights to drill for black gold off the small South American country’s coast, reported Oilprice.com.

Discovered in 2015 but not yet fully opened to energy companies, Guyana’s offshore reserves could hold 14 billion barrels of oil and 32 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, more than enough to dramatically reverse the former British colony’s fortunes. The country of fewer than 800,000 people is on track to becoming the fourth-largest offshore oil producer in the world.

The country – still technically impoverished – now has the world’s most booming economy, wrote Bloomberg. Growth is expected to hit an eye-popping 38 percent this year after expanding 62 percent in 2022. What’s more, the country is in the early stages of its boom.

“Not only are we going to be a major oil producer,” said Guyanese President Irfaan Ali recently at an unrelated event in Washington, DC, according to Reuters, but “soon we’ll have a national gas strategy and that itself will bring tremendous benefit to the country.”

Guyanese folks are excited. Oil revenues have poured $1.6 billion into the country’s coffers. The government has initiated 12 new hospitals, seven hotels, schools, two new highways, a deep-water port, and energy production facilities that will allow officials to cut utility bills in half, explained the Associated Press.

Officials at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have raised concerns about that much money flowing through the developing country so quickly.

In a report issued two years ago, USAID officials noted how a slim no-confidence vote in 2018, fraud, and other corruption allegations surrounding the 2020 election of Ali, as well as the general disempowerment of Guyana’s poor population, raised questions about the country’s capacity to manage its newfound wealth.

Ali and others also know they must move quickly not only to demonstrate that they can harness their country’s wealth to benefit its people, but also to take advantage of high oil prices and demand now before the market plunges or the international consensus turns even more against fossil fuels, noted the BBC. Signatories to the 2015 Paris Climate Accords, for example, have pledged to decrease greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change to net zero by 2050.

It’s not a bad problem to have.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Opening Doors

ARMENIA/ AZERBAIJAN

Humanitarian aid resumed in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh Monday, after Armenian-backed separatists reached an agreement with the Azerbaijani government following months of tensions and fears of renewed conflict, Radio Free Europe reported.

Since last year, the Azerbaijani government has blocked the only road – known as the Lachin Corridor – linking Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. The closure resulted in shortages of food and medicine, prompting Armenia to accuse its neighbor of pursuing a “policy of ethnic cleansing.”

Azerbaijan rejected the allegations, countering that separatist authorities had refused its proposal to simultaneously reopen both the Lachin Corridor and the Aghdam road – the latter of which connects Nagorno-Karabakh with the rest of Azerbaijan.

On Monday, Azerbaijani authorities announced that humanitarian aid from the Red Cross could flow along the Lachin Corridor and Aghdam road, while maintaining that “there was no so-called blockade but deliberate self-blockade,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has been a major source of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, resulting in two wars over the past three decades.

The most recent conflict ended in autumn 2020 with a Russian-brokered truce that saw Armenia cede swathes of territory it had controlled since the 1990s.

Even so, despite ongoing peace negotiations mediated by the European Union and the United States, clashes have occurred regularly along the shared border of the two countries.

Analysts said the months-long blockade and the presence of Azerbaijan troops near the region’s border have sparked fears of a new conflict between Baku and Yerevan.

The Unwanted

TUNISIA

Tunisian authorities expelled hundreds of sub-Saharan African migrants from the port city of Sfax this week, part of a government crackdown on illegal migration amid racial tensions in the North African country, Agence France-Presse reported.

Non-governmental organizations said security forces rounded up around 500 migrants and “dispersed in small groups towards rural areas and other towns.”

The expulsions have been taking place since Saturday, with Tunisian officials saying they arrested about 200 migrants “who were preparing to make the clandestine boat trip” toward Europe.

Many of the migrants had been thrown out of their homes in the wake of unrest in July. Those clashes started after a Tunisian man died following a violent altercation with migrants.

Tunisia is a major gateway for migrants and asylum-seekers attempting dangerous sea voyages to Europe.

Racial tensions have also flared up in the country after Tunisian President Kais Saied made a provocative speech earlier this year against the influx of sub-Saharan illegal migrants. Kais said “hordes” of illegal migrants were causing crime and posing a demographic threat to the country.

Humanitarian groups allege that authorities have expelled or forcibly transferred more than 2,000 sub-Saharan Africans to the desert regions bordering Algeria and Libya.

Meanwhile, the European Union and Tunisia struck a deal in July to curb migration flows to the European continent, an agreement that has faced criticism from the bloc’s lawmakers, national governments and NGOs.

Last week, Tunisia denied entry to a group of European Parliament lawmakers who were planning an official visit to the country to speak with opposition groups and assess the political and economic situation there, Politico noted.

The Tunisian government did not provide a clear reason for this decision, but parliamentary officials suggested the incident was linked to EU legislators expressing criticism of Tunisia’s democratic backsliding in a press conference held that month.

Actual Responsibility

UNITED KINGDOM

The United Kingdom plans to ban American Bully XL dogs in the country, following a series of incidents involving the dog breed that prompted Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to label them as “a danger to our communities,” CBS News reported.

Last week, Sunak announced his intention to ban the breed under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, saying that officials and dog specialists are working “to firstly define the breed of dogs behind these attacks.”

The prime minister’s comments came a day after a man died from injuries he sustained in an alleged attack by two American Bully XL dogs. A 30-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter after originally being detained on suspicion of having dogs dangerously out of control.

The man’s death followed another incident in England where the breed seriously injured an 11-year-old girl and two men seeking to protect her from the dog.

The UK and US Kennel Clubs do not recognize the dog as a unique breed, even though other organizations do. American Bully XL dogs – also known as XL Bully – were originally bred from the American Pitbull Terrier and strongly resemble that breed, but are larger.

If they are banned, they would be the fifth breed to be added to the Dangerous Dogs Act list, which currently comprises of the Pitbull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino, and the Fila Brasileiro.

Amid the controversy, the UK Kennel Club noted that no dog breeds are inherently dangerous and cautioned that such bans sometimes ignore the irresponsible dog owners who train their pets to be aggressive.

In a 2019 report, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe found that there was neither any scientific nor statistical evidence to suggest breed-specific bans reduce either the frequency or severity of injuries to people.

DISCOVERIES

A Spicy Weapon

Scientists recently made a series of discoveries about how Papua New Guinea’s toxic birds evolved a unique form of self-defense, Scientific American reported.

Locally known as “spicy birds,” these avian species independently developed resistance to the potent batrachotoxins, a neurotoxin commonly found in South American poison dart frogs. These toxins, if they bind to neurons’sodium-channel proteins, can lead to muscle paralysis and even death.

Although their existence in Papua New Guinea was first scientifically documented in 1992, a new study identified two new species recently.

The research team wrote that the birds store the potent toxins in their feathers and skin. They theorized that the species acquire batrachotoxins by consuming poisonous beetles of the genus Choresine.

They noted, however, that the animals have independently developed resistance through mutations in the sodium-channel proteins in their nerve cells. This parallel evolution in different species shows the remarkable diversity of adaptations that can occur in response to environmental pressures.

One theory behind this toxin storage in birds is that it might serve as a defense against parasites. However, for this strategy to work, the birds must avoid poisoning themselves, highlighting the complexity of this evolutionary adaptation.

While this research sheds light on toxin resistance and adaptation, there is still much to learn about the mechanisms involved.

“Understanding biodiversity and the diversity of adaptations … can give us really great ideas for medicine, for agriculture and for understanding how animals adapt to pollution,” said ecologist Rebecca Tarvin, who was not involved in the study.

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Correction/ Clarification: In our NEED TO KNOW section on Aug. 13, we said in our “Club Fed” item that Pedro Castillo was the leader of a peasant union. He was, in fact, a leader in a union of teachers, many of them rural. Also, we wrote that over the past 30 years, many Peruvian presidents have been linked to the Brazil-based Odebrecht construction firm, whose executives admitted to bribing politicians to receive public works contracts to the tune of around $800 million. That total amount was in fact in regard to the bribes, not the value of the contracts. We apologize for the errors.

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