The World Today for January 18, 2024

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Trading in Blood

MEXICO

Mexico is the United States’ top trading partner – more than 800 billion dollars’ worth of goods move across the border each year, according to the US government.

Some of those goods crossing the border, however, are not welcome – namely guns.

Mexican law enforcement officials say that American guns have become Mexico’s problem, citing research asserting that half a million American firearms cross the southern border annually into Mexico. About 70 percent of guns found at crime scenes in Mexico originate in the US, they add.

This trade results in bloodshed. Gun-related homicide rates are high in Mexico. The stories behind the statistics illustrate the scale and style of the crisis, though. In 2021, for example, armed men rampaged through the Mexican border city of Reynosa, killing 15 people over the course of an eight-hour shooting spree, wrote Foreign Policy magazine. Authorities killed four gunmen, who were later linked to drug cartels. They found American-manufactured rifles and ammunition in their weapons cache.

As a result, Mexico has been fighting via the US courts to stop the flow.

A few years ago, explained the Economist, the Mexican government launched lawsuits in American courts to hold US gun manufacturers liable for “negligently, recklessly and sometimes unlawfully sell guns in full awareness that they are likely to end up in the hands of criminal organizations.”

One lawsuit targeting gunmakers demanded $10 billion, noted Border Report. Another targeted gun dealers in Arizona.

American law enforcement provided the Mexican government with evidence for its claims. As the Dallas Morning News reported, American officials believe that most Mexican cartels obtain their guns in the Lone Star State. They didn’t attempt to stop this trade, however, until the cartels started flooding Texas with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is the latest scourge in the sad history of narcotics. Now, they are facing serious challenges in shutting down the well-established gun pipeline.

In 2022, a federal district court judge in Massachusetts threw out the $10 billion lawsuit, saying the law prevented the Mexican government from bringing forward such a case, according to Texas Public Radio. But Mexico appealed, added Reuters. The appellate court has yet to decide.

Writing an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Mexican journalist Leon Krauze said everyone involved in the cross-border gun trade, from the American gun sellers in Arizona to the people whom drug cartels pay to serve as “straw men” who actually carry out the in-store purchases of the firearms, know that they are perpetuating a bloody business. It is too lucrative, though. Meanwhile, the sellers insist they are helping people exercise their right to self-defense.

Many Americans, however, fear that terrorists from around the world might be crossing from Mexico into the US with the drugs and the migrants who easily enter the country illegally, day after day, in search of a haven from violence, says NBC News.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Big Shrink

CHINA

China’s population dropped in 2023 for the second year in a row, according to the country’s statistics agency, a decline that has raised demographic and economic worries in one of the world’s largest economies, NBC News reported.

On Wednesday, China’s National Statistics Bureau said the country’s total population was 1.409 billion at the end of last year, down more than two million from 2022. The number of births in 2023 was nine million – a birthrate of 6.39 per 1,000 – more than 500,000 fewer than in 2022.

Deaths amounted to at least 11 million, including nearly two million excess deaths early last year after the government lifted tough restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

Chinese analysts said the decline was “within expectations” given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, adding that a “rebound” in newborns is expected this year.

But the results underscore the demographic challenges China faces after it was overtaken by India as the world’s most populous country last year. Observers said it has also prompted questions about whether China can overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy.

The population decline has been attributed to an increasing aging population and declining birth rates.

In recent years, Chinese officials have taken a series of measures to increase births and encourage marriage, including dropping the country’s infamous one-child policy. Chinese couples can now have up to three children.

Other incentives include tax breaks, childcare subsidies, and making it easier for unmarried women to have children – long a cultural taboo. President Xi Jinping has also called for “a new culture of marriage and childbearing.”

However, many young people cite the stresses of life and economic concerns as the reasons for remaining single and childless.

Women, particularly, have also described the government’s efforts as attempts to revert them to traditional roles, citing a lack of consideration for gender equality in laws and societal norms, the New York Times added.

Meanwhile, the number of people above the age of 65 reached more than 15 percent of the population last year, meeting the United Nations’ definition of an “aged society.”

While the economy grew more than five percent in 2023, China’s economic growth remains below its rates prior to the pandemic. Kang Yi, the director of the National Bureau of Statistics, said that economic development will continue to face challenges amid the growing complexity and uncertainty of the global environment.

Less Is More

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

The Dominican Republic will launch a six-month pilot program aimed at creating a four-day workweek for employees in public and private companies, the first of its kind in the Caribbean country and part of a global trend seeking to improve the work-life balance of employees, the Associated Press reported.

The government said the initiative will begin in February, and employees will see a reduction in the standard workweek from the required 44 hours to 36 hours. Employees will work from Monday to Thursday but will earn the same salary.

The companies expected to participate include Latin America’s telecommunication giant, Claro, and the government’s National Health Insurance Agency.

A local university will monitor and analyze the results, including changes in employees’ health, their relationship to work, and their personal lives.

Labor Minister Luis Miguel de Camps hailed the program, saying it prioritizes people’s well-being and promotes “sustainable and environmentally friendly productivity.”

The Dominican Republic is emulating the United Kingdom’s example, which conducted the world’s largest trial of a four-day workweek last year, reporting positive results.

Similarly, an increasing number of US companies are adopting a shorter workweek, while in Chile, legislators approved a bill last year to reduce the standard work hours from 45 to 40 hours per week.

Deadly Rain

ZAMBIA

Zambia began administering oral cholera vaccines in response to a nationwide outbreak that has claimed more than 360 lives and has infected at least 9,500 people since October, Africanews reported Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the government received the first batch of 1.4 million oral cholera vaccines and began distributing doses in the Matero township, a heavily impacted area that is part of the country’s capital, Lusaka.

Cholera outbreaks in Zambia typically coincide with the rainy summer season which causes flooding and water contamination. Insufficient waste-water management systems and a shortage of clean drinking water access in various areas of the capital have also contributed to the spread of the disease.

Health authorities noted that nearly a third of the death toll is comprised of children under the age of five.

The outbreak also prompted the government to impose a series of measures to combat the waterborne disease, including postponing the reopening of schools, which were meant to start on Jan. 8.

Officials have also ordered churches across the country to restrict attendance to a maximum of two hours, while urging worshippers to avoid making physical contact, such as giving hugs and handshakes, the news outlet reported separately.

Even so, the National Health Institute’s director general, Roma Chilengi, believes the epidemic may have peaked, noting a consistent decrease in daily cases over the past few days.

DISCOVERIES

Prehistoric Terror

Scientists recently discovered the fossils of an early carnivorous animal, a find that highlights how diverse the Earth’s oceans were more than half a billion years ago, CNN reported.

Expeditions to the Sirius Passet site in North Greenland uncovered the remains of a predatory worm that was one of the largest animals swimming in the seas during the Cambrian period from 485 million to 541 million years ago.

In their study, the research team wrote that the Timorbestia – Latin for “terror beast” – was roughly one foot long and fed on small arthropods of that period, such as Isoxys.

Although not as impressive as today’s great white sharks, the worm was considered an apex predator of the Cambrian era, which also included strange-looking distant relatives of crabs and lobsters called Anomalocaris.

“Timorbestia were giants of their day and would have been close to the top of the food chain,” said senior study author Jakob Vinther.

Vinther and his colleagues explained that the predatory worms are a distant relative of the smaller, modern arrow worms, the latter considered among the oldest animals that originated from the Cambrian period.

The discovery sheds light on the evolutionary timeline of worms and showcases shared features with modern arrow worms, suggesting a common ancestor over 500 million years ago.

The team noted that the Sirius Passet site also contains the remains of other relatives of the “terror beast” and they hope to learn more about the early food chain of the planet’s oceans.

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