The World Today for December 25, 2023

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Editor’s Note:

Dear Readers,

This holiday week we’re reprising some of our lead stories of the past year, ones that illustrate ongoing trends in their respective regions. DailyChatter reports on more than 150 countries every year in every region of the world, and we feel many of these stories deserve another look.

Today we take you to South and Central America, where organized crime has had an outsized and devastating impact on the societies of Ecuador, Nicaragua, Colombia, and others over the past years, as Spanish newspaper El País noted.

On behalf of the DailyChatter team, we wish you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season.

NEED TO KNOW

To the Rescue

ECUADOR

Ecuador is overly dependent on oil and, therefore, the dramatic economic swings that often occur in energy commodities. Violence has skyrocketed as the South American country has become a center of the cocaine trade. Corruption is endemic.

A fresh face emerged to tackle these challenges, however, after 35-year-old Daniel Noboa won Ecuador’s presidential election in the second round of voting in October, CNN reported.

Noboa has taken office amid extraordinary instability. Lame-duck President Guillermo Lasso triggered the presidential election after he dissolved the Ecuadorian legislature to avoid impeachment. Anti-corruption presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was then assassinated days before the first round of voting in August.

Now Noboa will serve out the remaining 18 months of Lasso’s term, meaning he will need to move quickly to convince voters that he should remain their leader. He will in a sense be running an election campaign as soon as he takes office, noted the North American Congress on Latin America.

“He must deal with the insecurity,” Ecuadorian political scientist Santiago Basabe told Al Jazeera. “To some extent, he should promote public health, support the most impoverished sectors, and grant opportunities for higher education. Other than that, I don’t think he can do much more in this given time.”

Still, the new president acted fast to fulfill a campaign pledge; within 48 hours of taking office in November, he repealed controversial guidelines established by the country’s left a decade ago that had eliminated penalties for people found carrying illegal drugs under certain amounts, the Associated Press reported.

A center-right businessman and banana fortune heir – his father unsuccessfully ran for president five times – Noboa has also pledged to increase spending on social programs, crack down on crime, and solicit foreign investors to reinvigorate the economy, wrote Oilprice.com.

Noboa arguably has the wind at his back. He defeated left-wing candidate Luisa González, an ally of former president Rafael Correa, because voters want bold ideas and change, not incumbents and business as usual, the Economist wrote. Correa was sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges but has escaped justice by living in exile in Belgium. Ecuadoran authorities are now seeking his extradition.

To reduce crime, Noboa will need to uproot networks of foreign and local cocaine traffickers who ship their product out of the country’s Pacific Ocean ports, explained the Council on Foreign Relations. That illegal commerce has fueled a spike in homicides to 40 per 100,000 people, one of the worst in the Western Hemisphere. More Ecuadorians have been migrating northwards to the US and elsewhere to escape that violence, too.

Accordingly, he plans to “militarize” the country’s ports and borders, according to teleSUR.

More violence could be the result in the short term. But law-abiding Ecuadorans might welcome it as long as they are not on the receiving end.

THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

We’ll be back next week with the latest from around the world.

DISCOVERIES

Rudolf’s Shiny Eyes

Forget about the shiny nose: For the reindeer guiding Santa, it’s all about the eyes.

That’s because, during the colder months, reindeer eyes turn from a golden color to a vivid blue that allows them to see in the darkness of winter.

The animals have a special light-enhancing tissue called tapetum lucidum in their eyes that gives them and other nocturnal creatures night vision. Still, scientists have long wondered about the reindeer’s visual acuity because it isn’t a nocturnal creature, and it’s the only animal whose eyes change color.

Now, a new paper has suggested that the hoofed creatures evolved these visual capabilities to be able to easily forage for food during the dark Arctic winters, according to the Washington Post.

A research team conducted a study in the Cairngorm Mountains in the Scottish Highlands, which houses Britain’s only reindeer herd and around 1,500 species of lichen – pale, branchlike organisms that tend to grow in thick beds and resemble shag carpeting.

Reindeer love lichen, even though it’s not very nutritious.

Turns out that the fungi-algae organism is capable of absorbing ultraviolet light, which makes it more visible to the reindeer in snow-covered terrain.

Images taken with filters adjusted to mimic reindeer sight showed the ungulates probably see lichens as dark patches against the highly reflective snow.

“They can see it from a distance and this would give them big advantages because then they don’t have to wander around the landscape looking for food,” said lead author Nathaniel Dominy.

He added that this is the first study to measure the amount of light at different wavelengths that are being reflected from the lichen that reindeer often eat, which also explains the animal’s unusual visual system.

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