The World Today for May 02, 2024

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Mining Discontent


Canadian mining company First Quantum Minerals is waiting for the results of Panama’s presidential election on May 5 before deciding what to do with the shuttered Cobre Panama copper mine.

As the Canadian Press reported, First Quantum Minerals closed the mine in November after Panamanians took to the streets to protest the Toronto-based company’s operating agreement with the government and a court ruled that the deal was unconstitutional. The company is now seeking $20 billion from Panama in an arbitration case under a Canada-Panama free trade treaty, noted Bloomberg. First Quantum Materials is also considering selling the mine to Jiangxi Copper, a Chinese company, added Reuters.

The closed mine is only one of the serious economic challenges awaiting whoever wins the vote in the Central American country, wrote the Financial Times.

Panama’s other problems include its low credit rating and high debt, skyrocketing costs for energy and other necessities, the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the environmental toll of the government’s pro-business policies and rampant corruption. As the Panama Papers showed, rogue finance is a huge industry in the country. A prolonged drought has also hurt traffic on the Panama Canal, added the PBS News Hour, impacting global trade.

Discontent is simmering in the country. President Laurentino Cortizo, who won office in 2019 but is ineligible according to law to serve another five-year term, failed in his pledge to stamp out corruption. He also has yet to reach a new constitutionally acceptable agreement with First Quantum Materials, a major employer that represents around four percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

“Panamanians generally believe that their country is headed in the wrong direction and are skeptical of the major political parties’ ability to deliver a positive change,” explained World Politics Review.

The current frontrunner in polls is José Raúl Mulino, a former foreign minister and security minister who leads the Realizing Goals party. Originally, he was supposed to serve as vice president to former President Ricardo Martinelli, who served from 2009 to 2014 and was earlier leading the race. However, a court last year sentenced Martinelli to prison for 11 years on a money laundering conviction and invalidated his candidacy, wrote the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

Martinelli has been campaigning for Mulino from the Nicaraguan embassy in the capital of Panama City, where the ex-president sought asylum to avoid justice, reported America Quarterly. In social media posts featuring his dog, Bruno, Martinelli has been spreading the message that Mulino will bring prosperity back to the country.

Whoever wins, say analysts, needs to square the circle of welcoming investment, sharing the wealth, and protecting the land.


Where the Grass Is Greener


Irish police dismantled around 200 tents housing asylum seekers in Dublin on Wednesday, shortly after the government said it would push for legislation aimed at curbing the number of illegal migrants entering the country from neighboring Britain, Reuters reported.

On Wednesday, authorities began moving refugees and their families who had been living in a “tent city” in the capital’s central Mount Street over the past year. The government said the asylum seekers were relocated to sites south of Dublin that include weather-proof tents, showers, food and security.

Before the police action, Prime Minister Simon Harris said it was important that the migrants do not return.

The relocation comes as Ireland struggles to accommodate a surge of migrants while also grappling with a housing crisis. It also follows an ongoing debate on migration that has divided the European Union country and ignited violent far-right-led protests last year.

Earlier this week, the Irish government announced it was planning to enact an emergency law by the end of the month that would deport asylum seekers back to the United Kingdom, Politico noted.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said more than 80 percent of the arrivals entered the country from Northern Ireland, adding that the legislation would allow faster processing of migrants.

Even so, Ireland’s High Court ruled last month that the government could not send back asylum seekers arriving from the UK because the Irish government hadn’t determined whether they might face danger upon their return, Euronews added.

The government’s announcement comes days after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed that Ireland’s surge is the result of the UK’s new policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, saying the policy has worked as a “deterrent … because people are worried about coming here.”

Spotlights and Supporting Actors


The International Court of Justice rejected a bid by Nicaragua to force Germany to stop supplying arms to Israel, in a case where the Central American country argued Berlin was enabling acts of genocide in Gaza, the Guardian reported.

The court noted that Germany significantly decreased its military hardware sales to Israel since the beginning of the war, acknowledging that the arms sold were mostly defensive and that Berlin probed the exports’ potential of aiding war crimes. However, the court refused Germany’s demand to close the case altogether.

Nicaragua argued during hearings that Germany delivered 10 times more military equipment to Israel in 2023 than in 2022, for a total value of $350 million. In rebuttal, German lawyers said sales had fallen to $1 million by March 2024.

The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, found that only four war weapon export licenses had been issued by Berlin after Israel launched its offensive on Gaza following the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack. Two were for training ammunition.

The 16-judge panel voted 15-to-one against Nicaragua’s demands, which included compelling Germany to resume its financing to the United Nations aid agency for Palestinian refugees. Germany suspended its donations in January after Israel claimed the agency employed pro-Hamas militants, though Israel has not provided evidence for its claim, a recent report found.

Welcoming the decision, the German Foreign Ministry insisted that “Germany is not a party to the conflict in the Middle East.”

Nonetheless, the ICJ reiterated its concerns about the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza, who are facing famine because Israel has limited the delivery of food aid.

Moataz El Fegiery, who oversees a human rights program at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, told Al Jazeera that the ICJ ruling was not a victory for Germany.

The court will continue hearings over Nicaragua’s claim that Germany is enabling genocide in Gaza this month.

Israel, which is not a party to the case, maintains that its military operations in the Palestinian enclave do not amount to acts of genocide.

Looking West


Georgian police arrested 63 people after thousands of pro-European Union protesters gathered in the capital Tbilisi this week to denounce a “foreign influence” bill that critics say undermines the Caucasus nation’s aspirations to join the 27-nation bloc, Agence France Presse reported.

The detentions followed clashes between authorities and demonstrators in which police deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to disperse people blocking key roads outside the parliament and in other areas of Tbilisi.

Opposition leader and lawmaker Levan Khabeishvili was also severely beaten, according to his allies.

Authorities claimed they used “legitimate force” only after the demonstrations “turned violent and demonstrators entered into verbal and physical confrontation with law enforcement.”

Georgia has been hit with demonstrations for nearly a month after the ruling Georgian Dream party reintroduced plans for a new bill that would require any independent nongovernmental organization or media entity that obtains more than 20 percent of its funding from abroad to register as an “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power.”

The governing party first proposed the measure last year but dropped it following mass protests.

Officials have said the bill is aimed at increasing transparency of foreign funding for civil society groups. However, critics and opposition lawmakers have countered that the draft legislation resembles a “foreign agents” law in neighboring Russia.

The bill’s passage could further strain Georgia’s relations with the West, particularly the EU. The EU has granted the Caucasus country official candidate status but has also demanded significant reforms before formal membership talks can begin.

The bloc has warned that the proposed law “is not consistent with Georgia’s bid for EU membership” and that it “will bring Georgia further away from the EU.”

The bill is currently in its second reading in parliament. To become law, it needs to pass a third time and obtain a presidential signature. A veto is expected from President Salome Zurabishvili – a critic of the governing party. However, observers noted that the ruling party has enough parliamentary seats to override it.


Something Old, Something New

The world’s most popular brew of coffee has some very ancient origins, according to a new study.

Researchers recently discovered that Coffea arabica – popularly known as just “arabica” – is around 600,000 years old, the Associated Press reported.

For their research, scientists analyzed the genomes of coffee plants from around the globe, including arabica’s parent species and samples dating back to the 18th century.

Their findings showed that the arabica plant species emerged hundreds of thousands of years ago through the natural crossbreeding of two other coffee species – meaning that humans weren’t responsible for its creation, the research team noted.

They added that before human cultivation, the arabica plant’s population fluctuated over thousands of years: flourishing in warm and wet periods and struggling during dry spells.

It was during these difficult times that population bottlenecks occurred when only a small number of genetically similar plants survived.

The journey of arabica, which originated in Ethiopia but found fame when first brewed in Yemen during the 1400s, was a colorful one, the scientists noted.

Legend has it that Indian monk Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans from Yemen in the 1600s, which later triggered coffee’s global ascent.

Arabica coffee, known for its smooth and sweet taste, now dominates between 60 and 70 percent of the world coffee market, with brands such as Starbucks and Tim Horton’s relying on its beans.

The authors added that understanding arabica’s genetic history could help scientists devise strategies for safeguarding the crop’s future.

Today’s arabica coffee plants are vulnerable to diseases such as coffee leaf rust, resulting in billions of dollars in annual losses.

The recent study focused on a resistant arabica variety, pinpointing key sections of its genetic code for potential plant protection.

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