The World Today for April 08, 2024

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PERU

Many Peruvians lost respect for Dina Boluarte when she campaigned as left-wing President Pedro Castillo’s running mate, but became a business-friendly conservative when right-wing Peruvian lawmakers removed Castillo from office in 2022, elevating Vice President Boluarte to the South American country’s top office.

Now the world is gaining a glimpse of why President Boluarte might have changed her colors. Journalists in Peru reported that the president owned a collection of jewelry worth $500,000, including a Cartier bracelet worth $50,000 and a Rolex watch worth $19,000, the Washington Post reported. Her presidential salary, meanwhile, is only $4,200 a month.

Prosecutors have launched an investigation – a traditional event in Peruvian politics. Every president of the country since 1985 has come under suspicion of corruption based on plausible evidence. Boluarte denied she was “corrupt or a thief,” noted the Guardian, alleging that she was the victim of a plot. It seems undisputed that she failed to register the pricey jewelry, however, as the law requires. She also claimed that she acquired the jewelry years ago – even as one piece dated to July 2023.

Boluarte’s popularity ratings were already low. As World Politics Review explained, clashes between security forces and protesters who opposed Castillo’s ousting have resulted in scores of killings in the country. Many Peruvians blame her for the bloodshed.

The 61-year-old president, a former mid-level bureaucrat, has also failed to address corruption and crime in Peru, issues that have caused a major migration outflow to Europe and the United States.

“Unscrupulous politicians entrenched themselves in office and eroded the rule of law and democracy,” wrote Americas Quarterly. “Organized crime expanded while the formal economy suffered. And finally, once the future looked bleak enough, a steady stream of outmigration became a flood.”

The corruption has tainted the country’s Catholic Church, as an Associated Press story about a powerful bishop accused of sexual abuse and illicit financial dealings demonstrated.

Boluarte’s capacity to govern is now further eroded. Soon after the revelations surfaced, six ministers, or around a third of the cabinet, resigned, Reuters wrote. But so far, she’s refusing to go.

In the meantime, the country faces serious problems that government officials need to address. A water crisis, for example, has struck the capital of Lima. Around 1.5 million people there lack access to drinking water, Le Monde reported. Citizens in the country’s remote jungle regions suffer from mercury poisoning stemming from gold mines that used the chemical to separate precious metals from other substances, National Public Radio noted.

It’s unlikely the president is going to be able to solve these problems. Most analysts, meanwhile, are predicting she’ll leave office sooner rather than later. Just like Peru’s last three presidents since 2020.

“Peru didn’t deserve (these leaders),” wrote Peruvian newspaper Diario Correo, referring to Boluarte and Castillo, adding that she’ll likely share his fate – imprisonment.

The problem is, in the special prison for Peruvian leaders, there’s no space left.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Long Six Months

ISRAEL

Israel withdrew most of its ground troops from the southern part of the Gaza Strip Sunday – the six-month anniversary of Hamas’ attack on Israel – even as the Israeli government faces growing criticism at home and abroad for its handling of the offensive in the Palestinian enclave, the Washington Post reported.

Only one Israel Defence Forces (IDF) brigade remained in Khan Younis, the largest city in Gaza’s south, after the military reduced its presence in the territory, under pressure from the US and Europe to address an intensifying humanitarian crisis, Reuters explained.

An Al Jazeera reporter in Rafah noted that soldiers were stationed in the enclave’s central area to prevent Palestinians from returning to the north. Observers posited that the IDF was redeploying its troops in preparation for a ground offensive in Rafah city, where over a million Gazans have taken shelter.

US President Joe Biden, who earlier said invading Rafah would be a “red line,” offered Israel a rare rebuke in the aftermath of an attack last week that killed seven members of the World Central Kitchen (WCK).

In an unusually rapid probe, a retired army general concluded that IDF officers had violated military procedures. The Israeli army on Friday dismissed two soldiers and reprimanded three others for their roles in the strikes, the Associated Press reported.

While the WCK acknowledged “important steps forward,” it called for “systemic change” and an independent investigation. The incident was “not an anomaly,” said Oxfam, describing the killing of aid workers in Gaza as “systemic.”

Israel’s admission of wrongdoings came as it has faced widespread accusations of not doing enough to protect civilians in Gaza, where Israeli strikes have killed at least 33,175 people since Oct. 7, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated that the return of more than 120 remaining Israeli hostages was a sine qua non of any cease-fire deal.

Meanwhile, the IDF said on Saturday it had recovered the body of Elad Katzir, an Israeli who was abducted on Oct. 7, and said he was killed in January. That evening, protesters in the capital Tel Aviv chanted, “Elad, we’re sorry.”

As many as 100,000 people demonstrated at the city’s Democracy Square over the weekend, the scene of months of anti-government protests last year before the war began, the Times of Israel reported. Demonstrators demanded snap elections and an immediate hostage release agreement.

Meanwhile, during the protest, a Netanyahu supporter drove his car into the crowd, injuring five people. Israeli politicians condemned the attack, with President Isaac Herzog calling it “most grave.” He warned Israelis that unity was key to the war’s outcome, saying, “We cannot return to October 6.”

Pain and Gain

HUNGARY

Tens of thousands of Hungarians protested in front of parliament in Budapest over the weekend in one of the biggest demonstrations in years, supporting a former government insider who has emerged as a serious challenger to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the Guardian reported.

The protests were organized by attorney Peter Magyar, the ex-husband of former Justice Minister Judit Varga, who was once a member of the inner circles of Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz. He rose to prominence recently as an influential opposition figure after he produced evidence of alleged corruption in Orbán’s government, mounting the biggest political crisis the prime minister has faced in his 14-year tenure.

Orbán has long been accused of cracking down on the country’s democratic institutions and press to consolidate his grip on power. He has also long been criticized for maintaining warm relations with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and clashing with other members of the European Union.

But the more recent corruption allegations are his first real threat domestically, analysts say.

Addressing a crowd of students, pensioners, and families on Saturday, Magyar said he wanted to steer his nation toward Europe and make it more meritocratic. He announced that he would launch a new party to run candidates for European and local elections.

Protesters told reporters that Magyar deserved his chance, as they considered the current opposition “hopeless to fight Orbán.”

A recent poll estimated that Magyar’s prospective party would rank third in a general election, winning 15 percent of votes.

Magyar made headlines in February when he released an audio recording in which Varga was allegedly heard commenting on government aides tampering with a high-profile graft case. The leak dealt an additional blow to Orbán’s government, which had faced an unprecedented public outcry following a scandal over a presidential pardon granted to a man convicted of child abuse.

The prime minister’s spokesperson told the Guardian: “Such characters come and go.”

Unwelcome Intruders

ECUADOR

Mexico broke off relations with Ecuador over the weekend, after Ecuadoran police broke into the Mexican embassy in the capital Quito, in violation of international law, to arrest a former vice president taking refuge there to avoid serving jail time, the Financial Times reported.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Alicia Bárcena said her country would take Ecuador to the International Court of Justice for the invasion, which conservative President Daniel Noboa ordered to take Jorge Glas into custody. A left-winger who served as vice president from 2013 to 2018, Glas was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption but took shelter in the Mexican embassy in December.

During the breaching of the embassy Friday night, police injured several Mexican diplomats and wrestled acting ambassador Roberto Canseco to the ground before leaving the premises in two black Jeep cars.

Noboa said the diplomatic protection Glas was granted was illegal due to the graft charges he faced and it also undermined Ecuadorian sovereignty. On Saturday morning, Glas was transferred to a maximum security prison in the country’s largest city, Guayaquil.

The Noboa-sponsored move marked a rare violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention, which forbids a host government from entering a diplomatic mission’s premises without permission.

As a result, left-wing Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador protested a “flagrant violation of international law and Mexican sovereignty” and said he had suspended relations with Ecuador.

Nicaragua followed suit, while Latin American governments across the region – including Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Uruguay – condemned the arrest, the Guardian reported.

DISCOVERIES

Artificial Enhancers

Scientists recently employed artificial intelligence (AI) to refine the flavors of Belgian beers and enhance their quality, the Guardian reported, attempting to dissect the intricate relationships that motivate human aroma perception.

In their paper, lead researcher Kevin Verstrepen and his team analyzed the chemical composition of 250 Belgian beers spanning 22 styles, including lagers, fruit beers and non-alcoholic brews.

This analysis included properties, such as alcohol content, pH levels, sugar concentration, and more than 200 flavor compounds. A tasting panel of 16 participants then evaluated the brews for 50 attributes over a three-year period. At the same time, the team also collected 180,000 online consumer reviews of different beers.

Using machine learning, the researchers constructed models to predict beer taste and appreciation based on its composition. These models were then utilized to improve commercial beers by incorporating substances identified as key predictors of appreciation, such as lactic acid and glycerol.

Results from the tasting panel indicated an improvement in ratings across various metrics for both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beers, including sweetness, body, and overall appreciation.

Although the AI models have limitations and were based on datasets of high-quality commercial brews, the authors suggested that their application could significantly benefit non-alcoholic beers.

Meanwhile, Verstrepen emphasized that while AI can predict chemical changes to optimize beer, it would not threaten rich traditions in beer making, emphasizing that the expertise of brewers is essential.

“The AI models predict the chemical changes that could optimize a beer, but it is still up to brewers to make that happen, starting from the recipe and brewing methods,” he said.

 

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