The World Today for March 19, 2024

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Friends With Benefits


American Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo recently joined executives from GreenFire Energy, Google Asia Pacific, Visa, United Airlines and KKR to announce $1 billion in investments in the Philippines. It was the latest good news between friends.

American and Philippine leaders signed a mutual defense treaty 73 years ago, reported Reuters. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., whose father ruled the country as a dictator for more than 20 years through 1986, has leaned heavily on his country’s alliance with the US.

The US, for example, is funding the construction of a civilian port on Batanes, a group of islands in the channel separating the Philippines from Taiwan to the north, added the South China Morning Post. This port facility could prove useful for evacuating Philippine citizens who might flee Taiwan if China invaded. It could host military personnel, too, of course.

Marcos has been turning to other friends, too. In the past two years, the Washington Post wrote, the Philippines has signed new defense agreements with Britain, the European Union and India. Canada, France and Japan may soon conclude deals to station their troops in Philippine bases, too.

These diplomatic missions occurred after a series of concerning interactions in the South China Sea, such as when a Chinese coast guard ship shot a military-grade laser at a Philippine coast guard vessel recently, CNN reported. Chinese ships have also harassed Philippine resupply vessels headed to Second Thomas Shoal, where a beached boat represents the Philippines’ territorial claims to the area, explained the New York Times.

These and other incidents are signs of both sides “maneuvering for advantage” in the region as the Philippines flexes its muscles, argued World Politics Review. Marcos’ predecessor, ex-President Rodrigo Duterte, attempted a friendlier approach to China but gained little benefits from that policy.

American and other international help, for example, could now help the Philippines exploit the oil wealth that sits under the seabed in the region, wrote Bloomberg.

Philippine leaders are jockeying to take credit for these policies or deflect past ones.

Marcos and Duterte, who were formerly allies, are now feuding. Duterte, for example, recently called Marcos a “drug addict,” reported the Associated Press, his favorite insult. Marcos, in turn, suggested that Duterte might still be taking the fentanyl that he admitted to using in the past as a pain medication following a motorcycle accident.

Marcos’ vice president, Sara Duterte-Carpio, meanwhile, is Duterte’s daughter, noted Al Jazeera. She has been trying to keep the two sides together, since presently she is best poised to replace Marcos when he steps aside after his single term ends in 2028.

She might, as analysts predict, have to split the baby.


Winner Takes All


Russian President Vladimir Putin clinched another term in power following a tightly managed presidential election over the weekend, a victory that puts him on a path to catching up to Soviet leader Josef Stalin as Russia’s longest-serving leader, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Exit polls showed the incumbent secured nearly 88 percent of the vote, according to the Russian Central Election Commission. Election officials said Monday that turnout was 77 percent, surpassing the 67.7 percent in the 2018 polls.

The victory and voter turnout highlight widespread support, although skepticism remains about the legitimacy of the process, opponents noted.

Many of Putin’s credible challengers were sidelined from the 2024 race, while opposition figures were silenced through various measures, such as imprisonment and restrictions on press freedom.

Despite threats of arrests, there were reports of sabotage, such as pouring dye into ballot boxes, and protests against the vote, the Washington Post noted. At least 85 individuals were detained across 21 cities, according to Russian rights-monitoring organizations.

Meanwhile, Russians protested Putin by forming long lines to vote against him at noon Sunday — answering the call of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The election took place a few weeks after the sudden death of Navalny, who was serving a prison sentence at an Arctic penal colony. The circumstances behind his death remain unclear and many of Navalny’s supporters accuse Putin of orchestrating it.

On Monday, Putin made the first public comments on Navalny’s death – which some observers believe to be the first time the long-term president has uttered his main opponent’s name, according to CNBC.

The Russian leader called Navalny’s passing a “sad event” and claimed that he had been prepared to involve the Kremlin critic in a prisoner swap with the West.

In a post-election address to his supporters, Putin pledged to defend Russia in its fight against Ukraine, as well as proposed new initiatives to support veterans and bolster the country’s economy. However, critics dismissed his promises as empty rhetoric, suggesting they’re aimed at maintaining power rather than addressing societal concerns.

Analysts explained that Putin’s plans will include a continuation of the conflict in Ukraine, portraying it as a nationalistic endeavor against Western influence. They also predicted further crackdowns on dissent, increased militarization, and economic policies aimed at sustaining Russia’s stability amid ongoing Western sanctions.

The Hungry Island


Rare demonstrations broke out across Cuba this week over rising power outages and food shortages, as the Caribbean nation continues to grapple with economic malaise, the Financial Times reported Monday.

On Sunday, a small group of protesters took to the streets of Santiago, the island nation’s second-largest city, calling for “power and food.” Protests also took place in other provinces of the Communist country, where demonstrations are rare and usually suppressed.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel blamed the unrest on the “mediocre politicians and social media terrorists” in the neighboring United States, where many Cuban exiles live.

Cuba has been grappling with an energy and economic crisis for years that has worsened following the Covid-19 pandemic. The US has maintained a decades-long trade embargo against Havana that was first imposed not long after the revolution led by late communist leader Fidel Castro in the late 1950s.

Since then, relations between the two countries have remained tense, prompting Havana to rely on its alliances with Russia and Venezuela – both under US sanctions – for fuel and food.

Last month, the government raised petrol and diesel prices by more than 400 percent in an effort to stabilize the economy. Also in February, it requested food aid from the United Nations World Food Programme, a rare admission by the Caribbean country that it was unable to produce enough food for its population.

Although protests seldom occur in the communist country, mass demonstrations swept the island in 2021 over the floundering economy – the largest since Castro’s revolution.

Authorities launched a crackdown against demonstrators that resulted in hundreds of arrests and more than 700 criminal charges. At least 400,000 Cubans have sought refuge in the US since 2021.

Absent Justice


The International Criminal Court (ICC) will hold its first in absentia hearing when it tries infamous Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony later this year, nearly 20 years after seeking his arrest, the Associated Press reported.

The Netherlands-based tribunal announced this month prosecutors will present evidence to support war crime and crimes against humanity charges against Kony, the alleged leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that operated in Uganda and neighboring nations decades ago.

Kony faces 12 counts of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape, as well as 21 counts of war crimes, including cruel treatment of civilians and drafting child soldiers.

The Oct. 15 hearing is not a trial, but will allow ICC prosecutors to outline their case in court. A defense lawyer will represent Kony. If he gets captured after the hearing, he will face trial at the court based in the Hague.

Kony remains at large, even after he gained international notoriety in 2012 when a video about his alleged crimes went viral.

The LRA began its attacks in Uganda in the 1980s when Kony sought to oust the country’s government. The rebel group was later pushed out of Uganda, but its fighters terrorized villages in Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

It was known for using child soldiers, mutilating civilians and enslaving women.

Although it still operates and is believed to have up to 2,000 fighters, the LRA has been weakened and fractured, Al Jazeera noted.

In 2021, the ICC convicted LRA commander Dominic Ongwen on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Last week, the court awarded reparations of more than $56 million to thousands of Ongwen’s victims.


A Rich Journey

A new study on an 11th-century star chart unveiled a unique instance of academic collaboration between Muslims, Jews and Christians in Europe, Artnet reported.

While researching 17th-century Italian collector Ludovico Moscato, historian Federica Gigante incidentally came across an image of an astrolabe at the Museo Miniscalchi-Erizzo in Verona Italy.

The museum houses much of Moscato’s collection, including the astrolabe – an early navigation instrument used to map stars and determine time.

Gigante carefully studied the instrument and found small inscriptions in both Arabic and Hebrew, suggesting that it had made an extensive journey – and had various owners – across Spain, North Africa, and Italy.

In her paper, Gigante explained that the astrolabe was created in 11th-century Andalusia, which at the time was a Muslim-ruled area of Spain.

The astrolabe features markings from the Spanish regions of Toledo and Cordoba, as well as north African latitudes, indicating extensive travel across the region. It also has engravings of Muslim prayer lines, which means it was initially used for daily prayers.

Subsequent inscriptions signed “for Isaac, the work of Jonah” indicate it passed into Jewish hands, despite being written in Arabic script.

At the time, Arabic remained a language of choice for Spain’s Sephardi Jewish community, according to Ars Technica.

The author added that the artifact also has Hebrew inscriptions and translations of Arabic astrological signs, suggesting that its final destination was Verona, where a vibrant Jewish community thrived in the 12th century.

Eventually, the navigation tool ended up in Moscado’s collection, but its discovery suggests that it is one of the oldest multilingual astrolabes in existence, according to Gigante.

“This isn’t just an incredibly rare object,” she said. “It’s a powerful record of scientific exchange between Arabs, Jews and Christians over hundreds of years.”

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