The World Today for September 22, 2023

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The Micro and the Macro


Three microstates with a combined population of only 150,000 people could pose macroeconomic threats to Europe.

Andorra, a principality that sits on the border between France and Spain; Monaco, a city-state within France near the Italian border; and San Marino, a tiny country that is an enclave in Italy, are not members of the European Union. But they are currently negotiating closer economic relations with the massive bloc, including access to the European single market.

But recently, reported Politico, EU regulators sounded alarm bells about loosening the barriers between Europe and the three small states, citing “historically … less rigorous financial regulations,” that could facilitate “money laundering and other illicit activities.”

As the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) noted, the three states have long facilitated “opaque financial arrangements,” that include banking money from individuals and businesses in corrupt countries with poor human rights records.

The ICIJ cited how the Pandora Papers, a trove of documents that exposed global elites’ dodgy offshore bank accounts, revealed how Russian President Vladimir Putin’s girlfriend, Svetlana Krivonogikh, a former cleaner whose daughter is allegedly Putin’s child, purchased a $4 million apartment in Monaco 20 years ago with the help of a Monaco wealth manager.

Early this year, EU watchdogs issued a report finding that Monaco needed to overhaul its anti-money laundering measures and mechanisms to prevent the funding of terrorism, reported AML Intelligence. “It was one of the worst assessments of recent times for a country with an advanced banking and financial system,” wrote the publication.

Similarly, between 2007 and 2015, the Banca Privada d’Andorra kept $1.14 billion of money plundered from Venezuela’s state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, wrote El País. Businessman Luis Mariano Rodríguez Cabello, an unassuming accountant who helped facilitate the scheme, was the depositor.

Among the transactions for the funds in Andorra was a payment of more than $600,000 to the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris for the cousin of a corrupt Venezuelan politician who enjoyed the hotel, where guests marvel at views of the Eiffel Tower and a bevy of Michelin-starred eateries.

Meanwhile, San Marino was once known as a tax haven. Only nine miles long, the tiny county has six banks where foreigners could discreetly hide their cash from pesky government revenue agencies. Now, however, as Reuters reported, most account holders are locals.

Accordingly, Sammarinese officials were highly critical of European bureaucrats, saying the negative comments flew in the face of efforts to integrate into the EU.

However, financial contagion, many EU officials believe, must be guarded against – like its biological counterparts.


Total Recall


Thailand’s new government is planning to restrict the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, a year after the country approved a landmark policy to decriminalize the narcotic, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced that his 11-party coalition is seeking to “rectify” the country’s cannabis policy as part of a broad government effort to “eradicate” drugs from Thai society.

He said marijuana can be regulated “for medical use only,” adding that there can’t be a middle ground for recreational use.

Srettha’s Pheu Thai party and some of its coalition partners campaigned on a hardline anti-drug campaign ahead of the May elections. Even so, there are many uncertainties about how the policy will be revamped.

The Bhumjaithai Party, a coalition member, vowed to introduce a new cannabis bill that seeks tighter monitoring of the industry – but opposes classifying the plant as a drug again.

Last year, the then-ruling military government declassified marijuana as a narcotic, which resulted in the emergence of almost 6,000 dispensaries all over the country. These businesses sell everything from cannabis buds to oil extracts containing less than 0.2 percent tetrahydrocannabinol – THC, the psychoactive compound that gives users a “high” sensation.

It also allowed many Thai farmers to freely grow weed after registering with the country’s Food and Drug Administration.

Some advocates and analysts explained that the reimposition of controls will not have a major impact because the medical benefits of cannabis already blur the lines between health and recreational use.

“More regulation will be good as we don’t want a free-for-all anyway,” said Poonwarit Wangpatravanich, president of the Phuket Cannabis Association.

Still, others expressed concern that reclassifying the plant as a narcotic could risk pushing recreational use underground where there will be less control.

Thailand is considered a major route for drug trafficking in Southeast Asia, with law enforcement agencies seen sometimes as ignoring the transport of narcotics.

In 2019, the organized crime economy in Southeast Asia, which includes illegal trade in drugs and wildlife, was estimated at $130 billion, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Importing Tradition


The Italian region of Sardinia will import shepherds and farmers from Kyrgyzstan, a move aimed at addressing a declining population and preserving farming traditions on the Mediterranean island, Euronews reported Thursday.

The local branch of the national farmers’ union, Coldiretti, recently announced it had struck a deal with the Kyrgyz government to start a pilot project that would bring about 100 Kyrgyz shepherds and their families to Sardinia next year.

Under the agreement, Kyrgyz shepherds will stay in rural Sardinian centers, receiving apprenticeships that may later become long-term contracts. If the pilot works, thousands of Kyrgyz shepherds may come to Sardinia, according to Coldiretti.

The deal comes as the Italian island has been struggling with the issue of depopulation in recent years, particularly in rural areas. This has sparked concerns over the disappearance of Sardinia’s traditions, such as the production of the strongly flavored sheep-milk cheese pecorino.

The farmers’ union said that Kyrgyzstan has shepherding traditions that are similar to Sardinia, where sheep farming has gone on for centuries. Although many migrants have been landing on Italy’s shores in recent years, the union noted that it has been difficult to find long-term workers willing to work in Sardinia’s rural regions.

Kyrgyz shepherds, on the other hand, are used to living in small communities and are familiar with sheep farming, it added.

The Unforgotten


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated a former Argentine detention center as a world heritage site this week, a decision seen as significant to remembering human rights abuses that occurred during the country’s authoritarian rule four decades ago, Al Jazeera reported.

Located in the capital of Buenos Aires, the Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA) initially served as an educational facility for the country’s navy, but was later transformed into a site of torture and brutality following the 1976 military coup.

The junta, which ruled until 1983, became known for its widespread human rights abuses in its attempt to eliminate dissent, activism and left-wing political views. As many as 30,000 people disappeared while in military custody. To this day, many disappearances remain unresolved.

There were up to 340 detention centers that sprung up during that period, with ESMA being one of the first.

It even featured a maternity ward where newborns were taken from their mothers, often to be adopted by families associated with the dictatorship. The military regime took extensive measures to hide the crimes committed at ESMA, both during and after the dictatorship.

In 2007, ESMA was reopened as a museum and memorial site, allowing the public to learn about the atrocities that occurred within its walls. Recent additions to the museum’s exhibits include an airplane used in “death flights,” a practice in which drugged detainees were thrown into the sea mid-flight.

UNESCO’s designation for ESMA underscores its historical significance and serves as a reminder of the importance of acknowledging past human rights abuses, the news organization wrote. It is particularly relevant in Argentina’s current political climate, where some high-profile politicians, such as far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei, have been accused of downplaying the brutality of the military dictatorship.

In an address to the UN, President Alberto Fernández emphasized the importance of preserving the memory of such horrors to prevent their recurrence.


This week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited Washington, DC to secure more US support for Ukraine as questions loom over continuing American financial aid to the war-torn country, the Associated Press reported. Zelenskyy expressed optimism about Ukraine’s progress in the war with Russia in meetings with congressional leaders and later President Joe Biden. The Ukrainian leader also addressed the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week, seeking sustained global support for Ukraine’s fight, the Washington Post added. Zelenskyy emphasized the escalating destruction and Russia’s actions affecting not only Ukraine but the global community as well. Developing nations, for example, are frustrated that aid to Ukraine diverts resources from their own priorities, like climate change and the alleviation of poverty.

Also this week:

  • Prior to the US visit, Zelenskyy removed all six deputy defense ministers from their positions in a significant leadership reshuffle, the New York Times noted. The move came against a backdrop of the Ukrainian president seeking to demonstrate better management of the defense ministry and address concerns about corruption affecting military aid, but no reason was given for this particular decision, however.
  • Poland halted its supply of weapons to Ukraine amid a diplomatic dispute regarding Ukraine’s grain exports, the BBC reported. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland’s focus is now on modernizing its own weaponry. While Poland had previously provided Ukraine with tanks and fighter jets, tensions between the two nations escalated when Ukraine’s Zelenskyy criticized Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia this week for banning Ukrainian grain exports to those countries. Although previously agreed-upon arms deliveries will continue, the suspension underscores the strained relations between the two allies.
  • Russian missile attacks and shelling this week killed two people and injured more than 20 across Ukraine, according to Al Jazeera. Ukraine’s General Staff reported a significant missile attack on civilian infrastructure. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces successfully intercepted and destroyed 36 of 43 Russian cruise missiles.
  • Russia and Ukraine are clashing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Netherlands over Kyiv’s claim that Moscow’s 2022 invasion violates the Genocide Convention of 1948, the Wall Street Journal wrote. Russia countered that the invasion isn’t covered by the Convention, while Ukraine claims that Moscow violated the international treaty by falsely accusing Kyiv of committing genocide in the Donbas region to justify the invasion. Russia and its leaders are facing legal scrutiny from various international bodies, including the International Criminal Court. However, these courts have no independent enforcement power and rely on the cooperation of national governments for enforcement. Analysts said the ICJ case could have consequences for allied support for Ukraine and the shape of an eventual peace. If the court declines to dismiss the case, a future round will consider the merits of Ukraine’s claim.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador defended the participation of Russian soldiers in a recent military parade, an event that drew criticism because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Associated Press wrote. López Obrador cited the participation of a Chinese contingent as well, asserting that all countries with diplomatic relations were invited. Mexico has condemned Moscow’s invasion but maintains a policy of neutrality. Even so, Ukraine’s ambassador to Mexico criticized the presence of the Russian regiment, calling them “war criminals.” Meanwhile, López Obrador’s administration continues to buy Russian COVID vaccines, which have been criticized for their lack of effectiveness.


Entertaining Illusions

Germany’s Roncalli circus is taking a novel approach to entertaining its audience while giving a nod to animal welfare, reported.

The show is now using holograms instead of live animals for its fantastic performances.

Circus boss Patrick Philadelphia said they stopped using live animals in 2018. He explained that the circus faced space issues in accommodating the animals, adding that the nomadic character of shows was a strain for the creatures.

“This no longer made sense for an animal-protecting circus,” Philadelphia told Agence France-Presse.

The switch to holograms was inspired by a show in which US singer Justin Timberlake “collaborates” with a hologram of the late musician Prince.

For their special shows, Roncalli uses 11 cameras arranged on the ceiling of the big top around the ring. The devices then project high-resolution images onto a fine-mesh netting that surrounds the performance space.

“Whatever you can imagine, it can be created by an animator, by a graphic designer, then it can also be shown up in a circus show,” according to Toni Munar, the technical director of the circus.

Despite not using live animals, the circus’ approach was welcomed by its audiences.

“I think it’s good without (animals), because they really try to make the rest of the show special,” said Andreas Domke, who attended one of the performances with his two sons.

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