The World Today for May 17, 2024

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An Eye on the Fence


When President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic assumed office in 2020, the Caribbean country’s economy had contracted 7 percent amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the succeeding three years, a tourism wave propelled economic growth increases of 12 percent, 5 percent, and 3 percent each year.

Today, the Dominican Republic’s living standards are among the fastest improving in Latin America, according to the International Monetary Fund. The country is now the region’s seventh-biggest economy, bigger than Ecuador and Venezuela.

Abinader, 56, a former tourism executive, told the Financial Times that his prescription for success was simple. The Dominican Republic over the years transformed from an agrarian economy to one that included manufacturing, free trade zones that attract foreign investment, and services in tourism and offshore finance. Importantly, Dominican leaders had not only shepherded this growth, they reinvested the returns to scale for more growth.

“Our government is a pro-investment, pro-business government, but at the same time we have increased social spending more than any other government,” Abinader said. “That’s the key to success because it helps us keep social peace.”

It’s this luck – and talent – in managing the country’s economy that is helping Abinader “cruise” to reelection, wrote Americas Quarterly. His approval rating is around 70 percent, 25 points more than his nearest rival in the presidential elections scheduled for May 19.

Abinader’s challengers include Leonel Fernández, who served three presidential terms between 1996 and 2012. Younger voters, who comprise a large segment of the electorate, might not remember him, however. Those who do remember might also associate his periods in office with the corruption that remains a problem in the country. A third candidate is Abel Martínez, a mayor who has called for more spending on the agricultural sector.

All three candidates have pledged to staunch the flow of impoverished, undocumented Haitians crossing over their country’s border and prevent refugee camps from being established on Dominican territory. Martínez, who appears to be the most conservative on the issue, described this migration as “an overflowing invasion.”

The crisis in Haiti, Haitians in the DR, and racism against Haitians and Black Dominicans are important issues on the island of Hispaniola, where the two countries – one French and Creole-speaking, one Spanish-speaking – coexist.

Tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola, go back centuries. In the mid-1800s, for example, Haiti controlled and brutalized the inhabitants of the now-capital of Santa Domingo for decades until they revolted and won independence in 1844.

Since that time, Haitians have crossed the border to settle in the Dominican Republic – about 500,000 Haitians currently live in the country of 11 million people, and many more are the descendants of Haitian migrants.

Now, Dominican authorities have been summarily deporting Haitians without due process because they are Black, for example, complained Amnesty International.

Writing in AFRO, Howard University lecturer and human rights advocate Nikongo Banikongo decried this racism in Dominican society and politics. “Make no mistake, in the Dominican Republic, the term ‘Haitian’ is merely a euphemism for ‘Black,’ and the language of anti-Haitianismo is resonating well with the people,” he wrote. “It is populism at its very best – or worst. If they could agree on nothing else, they could agree on that.”

But Dominicans, who according to local polls mostly agree with the deportations, dispute that racism has anything to do with support for closing the country’s doors to its neighbors, saying that their country is a fusion of Black, White, Taino and immigrants.

Instead, officials say the Haitian migration is straining resources and poses a security threat, especially regarding gang violence spilling into the Dominican Republic along with smuggled guns, drugs and other goods.

They also point to how the possibility of a major regional destabilization, driven by a massive influx of Haitian migrants, raises alarms throughout the Western Hemisphere: from Jamaica to the Bahamas and the United States, governments across the region are cracking down on undocumented Haitian migrants.

Closer to home, President Abinader fears gang members crossing the border and expanding the conflict, wrote Global Americans, a think tank specializing in Latin America and the Caribbean: “With the overwhelming number of Haitians waiting to enter the country (at the border crossing) in Dajabón, gang members slipping past border patrol is a real possibility.”


Dangerous Divides


Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was in a “stable” condition but “not out of the woods yet”, officials said late Thursday, after an assassination attempt that shocked the nation and prompted concerns about divisions in the country, following officials’ remarks that the attack was politically motivated, the Washington Post reported.

On Wednesday, Fico was shot five times at close range after attending a government meeting in the central town of Handlova. He was in critical condition and underwent hours of surgery.

Deputy Prime Minister Robert Kaliňák said the prime minister’s condition had stabilized, but it was “still very serious as the injuries are complicated.”

On Thursday, police charged 71-year-old security guard and poet Juraj Cintula with attempted murder in Fico’s shooting, Politico added. Local media reported that Cintula told police he had planned the shooting, but had no intention of killing Fico.

If found guilty, he could face up to 25 years or life imprisonment.

Although authorities are still probing the gunman’s motives, Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok told reporters that the attacker is “a lone wolf who had radicalized himself … after the presidential election,” Al Jazeera noted.

Eštok was referring to the April elections won by Fico’s ally, Peter Pellegrini.

The attack prompted condemnations in Slovakia and abroad, with Pellegrini, the president-elect, calling it an “unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin – an ally of Fico – described it as a “monstrous crime.”

Fico was reelected as prime minister for the fourth time following the October parliamentary elections – he was forced to resign in 2018 over corruption allegations. Last year, his party, the populist Direction – Slovak Social Democracy (SMER-SSD, or Smer), was able to capitalize on the cost-of-living crisis and public skepticism of supporting the war in Ukraine.

The prime minister has blamed “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists” for starting the conflict in Ukraine and has called for opening up dialogue with Russia. His administration has also sought to weaken anti-corruption efforts and plans to replace the public broadcaster with a new channel under greater government control.

These policies have brought out thousands of protesters since his reelection.

The assassination attempt underscored fears of the deep political polarization in Slovakia: Fico’s allies quickly blamed opposition parties and journalists for the attack, the Wall Street Journal wrote.

Amid the controversy, Pellegrini and outgoing President Zuzana Čaputová called for calm and said they would invite all parliamentary parties for a joint meeting.

Law and Order


The French Government on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in the Pacific overseas territory of New Caledonia, ordered French troops to the islands and banned TikTok, amid violent clashes over a controversial electoral reform bill that have killed three indigenous activists and two law enforcement officers, Le Monde reported.

The state of emergency, enforced after two nights of violence despite a curfew in the capital Noumea, led France to send nearly a thousand police and paramilitary officers to New Caledonia in order to crack down on the riots, Reuters reported.

French authorities said clashes continued overnight. Meanwhile, on Thursday, one gendarme was killed by “friendly fire,” the Interior Ministry told the newswire.

In their confrontations with pro-independence activists, mostly indigenous Kanaks, some residents in favor of French rule – known locally as “loyalists” – have organized into armed militias and set up barricades, reported public network Franceinfo.

The loyalist militias, made up mostly of “white” Caledonians, killed three Kanak youths earlier this week, wrote French newspaper L’Humanité.

Longstanding tensions flared up on Monday ahead of a French parliamentary vote on a bill allowing people who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years or more to vote in local elections. So far, only people who registered before 1998 and their descendants had that right.

Advocates for the archipelago’s full independence from France argue the enfranchisement is meant to dilute support for their cause.

The French government said the move was necessary to enhance democracy. On Tuesday night, France’s lower chamber in Paris approved the bill.

The French government, meanwhile, said it was open to changes in the bill, by enfranchising people born in New Caledonia only, public radio France Inter reported.

Voter roll changes in New Caledonia require an amendment to the French Constitution, passed by three-fifths of France’s legislature. Macron announced that he would set a legislative vote in June if Caledonians do not reach an alternative deal.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Thursday accused Azerbaijan of supporting pro-independence advocates. A source within French intelligence told Politico they had detected Russian and Azerbaijani interference in New Caledonia, “pushing the narrative of France being a colonialist state.”

Azerbaijan denied the allegations.

Delegated Power


The Netherlands is set to get its most right-wing government in its history after four right-wing parties reached a preliminary deal this week to form a government, following an election six months ago that saw the party of populist firebrand Geert Wilders secure the most votes, the Associated Press reported.

The deal however excludes Wilders from becoming prime minister.

The agreement follows months of coalition negotiations between Wilder’s Party of Freedom (PVV) and three others, including the center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) that had governed the country for the past 13 years, and the pro-farmer party, Farmer Citizen Movement (BBB).

Together they hold a comfortable majority of 88 seats in the lower house of parliament.

The deal also comes two months after Wilders dropped his bid to become prime minister and toned down some of his more extreme policies, such as banning the Quran and closing Islamic schools and mosques, according to the BBC.

Although the content of the agreement remains unknown, it will include a strict migration policy, as well as new investments in social security, defense and agriculture.

One of the key points in the deal is that none of the four party leaders will become the country’s prime minister, prompting questions as to who will lead the country.

If the deal is approved, the new government will be comprised of political outsiders and a prime minister who is not a party leader, which observers said will create more distance between cabinet and parliament.

Even so, political analysts suggested the Wilders and the PVV will have significant influence in the ruling coalition.

The PVV won nearly a quarter of votes in the November polls, a victory that marked a rebuke to the Dutch political establishment and boosted the right-wing parties across the European Union – particularly as the bloc prepares for legislative elections next month.


Dr. Rakus’ Balm

In 2022, biologist Isabelle Laumer and her colleagues were observing orangutans at Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park on the Indonesian island of Sumatra when they noticed a primate named Rakus had a noticeable wound on its face, possibly caused by a fight with another male, Al Jazeera reported.

The team saw how Rakus began chewing a plant used throughout Southeast Asia to treat pain and inflammation, then took the chewed-up plant with his fingers and applied the juices on the injury, before pressing it onto the open injury – similar to applying a bandage.

Laumer reported that Rakus’ home remedy marked “the first time that we have observed a wild animal applying a quite potent medicinal plant directly to a wound,” according to a new study.

The researchers said that Rakus used a plant locally known as Akar Kuning, which is seldom eaten by orangutans. They added that Rakus did not swallow the plant and did not apply it to other parts of the body.

Meanwhile, his medical skills paid off as the wound closed up within a month without any complications.

While the study only focuses on a single observation, it’s possible that this practice could be common among other orangutans, other scientists suggested.

Orangutans on Borneo are known to rub themselves with the juices of a medicinal plant to relieve pain and eliminate parasites.

Meanwhile, chimpanzees and gorillas chew shoots of certain plants or swallow certain types of leaves to relieve bellyaches or remove stomach parasites.

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