The World Today for May 23, 2024

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Hearing the People

CHILE

Chilean truckers staged protests in the mining region near the capital of Santiago recently. The drivers demanded that the government of leftist President Gabriel Boric take action to reduce violent crime in the country.

Murder rates decreased slightly last year, but in 2022, they spiked by 50 percent, reported Bloomberg. Boric has hiked spending on security to address the situation, but the drivers don’t think he’s done enough.

The previous administration in the South American country invoked harsh security laws in 2020 when truckers in the south blocked routes to highlight their concerns about crime, Reuters added.

Some believe that the administration kept in mind how a truckers’ strike in 1972 was instrumental in bringing about the downfall of President Salvador Allende and the rise of the dictatorial General Augusto Pinochet, who ran the country for almost 17 years from 1973 until 1990.

These troubles have raised questions about how Chile, an economic dynamo where good governance has been the norm in recent years, can retain its momentum. In addition to disgruntled truck drivers, Boric’s two proposed constitutional changes, which supporters argued would help the country move beyond the Pinochet era, as well as deadly forest fires have also added to the sense of gloom.

“Since 2019 the place once considered the poster child of Latin America has instead been the site of tumult,” wrote the Economist.

Boric, who was elected on a wave of hope for change, has lost public support as his agenda has stalled and he has failed to fix other challenges that naturally arise for national leaders, contended Global Americans. As a result, the president has trimmed his ambitions – he lacks a majority in the National Congress of Chile – and has sought to shore up the political capital he can possibly deploy in the two years he has left in office.

“The depth of the changes we imagined went against the grain of what the majority of people wanted,” he told El País. “We changed our priorities and our speed, but not our principles.”

Chile is still likely the best place in Latin America for Western businesses to operate, according to BNamericas. But criminal gangs like Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua have been moving into the country, too. Religious leaders have also called on Boric and other Chilean politicians to tackle the corruption that many feel is worsening in the country, noted the Vatican News.

Copper might offer Boric and his compatriots a bright spot of light. The price of the metal, a top Chilean export, is rising, reported Bloomberg, potentially giving the economy and the government the resources they need to solve problems.

Even so, some analysts say that Boric might want to formulate a plan B, just to be safe.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Push-Pull

EUROPE

The governments of Spain, Ireland and Norway said on Wednesday they would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, a move they argue will promote peace, and one they hope will end the humanitarian crisis resulting from Israel’s war with Hamas, the Associated Press reported.

The almost simultaneous decisions by two European Union countries, and Norway, may generate momentum for the recognition of a Palestinian state by other EU countries, the newswire wrote, and possibly push the United Nations to take action.

After the announcement, Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said a two-state solution would be in Israel’s best interest.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), meanwhile, welcomed what it called a “historical” moment honoring “long decades of Palestinian national struggle.”

Israel, however, was furious and recalled its envoys to Spain, Ireland, and Norway. “Today’s decision sends a message to the Palestinians and the world: Terrorism pays,” said Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

The Israeli government has argued that the recognition of a Palestinian state is tantamount to rewarding Hamas for the atrocities it committed on Oct. 7, when militants killed some 1,200 people and took more than 250 others hostage.

Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, said the decision by the European countries was an “important step.”

Nonetheless, Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris said he did not want the move to signal diplomatic support for Hamas, rather an encouragement for talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, Politico reported.

The three European countries will soon join 140 countries, which have already recognized Palestinian statehood. The list features an overwhelming majority of states in Latin America, Africa and Asia – and the notable absence of most nations in the Western world.

Seven of the EU’s 27 member states currently recognize a Palestinian state. Five of them, all Eastern European countries, did so in 1988 in a joint effort of the Eastern Bloc. In 2014, Sweden became the first EU member to unilaterally recognize Palestine.

Harris said he hoped that the move by his government and Norway and Spain would prompt other nations to recognize Palestinian statehood as well. Already, Malta and Slovenia have said they would follow and Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Petra de Sutter has expressed support.

Observers noted the timing of the decision, which came days after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh.

Two weeks ago, the United Nations General Assembly approved a symbolic resolution demanding membership for Palestine, which currently has observer status. Israel and the United States were among the nine states that voted against it.

A Profitable Sanction

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union (EU) on Tuesday formally approved a novel plan to use interest accrued from frozen Russian assets in the bloc to support Ukraine’s defense, a decision that Kyiv said was welcome but insufficient, Reuters reported.

Ministers from the EU’s 27 nations rubberstamped an agreement reached in early May to use profits from Russian central bank assets held in the bloc to help Ukraine. The move is a first step amid the swirl of debate among Western powers on whether and how to use some $300 billion worth of assets while staying within legal boundaries.

“(The) EU will be obliged sooner or later to return to our country what has been stolen,” Moscow’s acting envoy to the EU, Kirill Logvinov, told Russian journalists, citing “unpredictable consequences for the Eurozone.”

The Group of Seven (G7) nations froze assets held outside of Russia soon after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. More than $200 billion was seized in the EU alone.

For over two years, Western allies have been divided on how to use the money.

While the United States pushed for using it to support Ukraine, nations including France and Germany warned about the legality of such a move, the Washington Post wrote.

The new agreement is a compromise, allowing the EU to use so-called windfall profits – or, in the bloc’s words, “extraordinary revenues.” Brussels expects the assets to generate around $20 billion by 2027.

Ninety percent of the profits will be used to support Ukraine’s military response against Russia, while 10 percent will go into helping Kyiv in non-lethal ways – a request from countries including Ireland that do not wish to fund military aid.

While expressing his “gratitude,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said his government’s goal remained the confiscation of the assets themselves.

This week, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will attempt to reach an additional agreement with G7 finance ministers to extract additional money.

Mission Impossible

HAITI

The first of Kenya’s special forces police arrived in Haiti’s capital this week, as part of a United Nations-backed international force with the mission to stabilize the security situation in the Caribbean nation after years of political crisis, violence and a partial takeover of the country by criminal gangs, the Guardian reported.

The Kenyan officers landed in Port-au-Prince late on Monday, at the capital’s airport, which was reopened this week after being closed for months because of a gang uprising. Another 200 officers will arrive in the upcoming days, according to Kenyan media, with a total of 1,000 Kenyan officers expected to join the mission.

The troops are part of a “multinational security support mission” that was first authorized by a UN Security Council resolution last year. Kenya offered 1,000 troops to lead the mission, with Jamaica, Barbados and Bangladesh also pledging personnel, according to Reuters.

However, the troop deployment lagged for months amid ongoing chaos in Haiti and legal challenges in Kenya over the troop deployment.

The mission aims to assist Haiti’s beleaguered police force in fighting gang violence that has swept large parts of the country and seen 80 percent of Port-au-Prince fall under the control of criminal gangs.

The island nation has been in the midst of a political crisis and volatile security situation since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021.

Civil society groups and UN officials said the Kenyan forces come from paramilitary and police units experienced fighting Islamist insurgents in eastern Africa, adding that they are “no strangers to violent armed actors.”

They suggested that younger combatants might be more willing to surrender, citing a lack of ideology among gang members.

Even so, many Haitians remain skeptical about another international intervention, after previous UN missions were accused of human rights violations, sexual abuse and also triggering a cholera outbreak.

Haitian police also complained that the funds to bankroll the multinational force are not being used to boost their own efforts to fight armed gangs.

On Tuesday, Haiti’s transitional council announced that the national police will oversee the UN-backed mission, including making decisions on its “makeup, objectives, rules of engagement and health measures.”

DISCOVERIES

Shaping Emotions

Beluga whales are known as the “canaries of the sea” because of their chattiness, expressed through whistles, chirps and squeals.

But now, a new study has found that they also express themselves using a squishy bump on their foreheads known as “melon.”

In essence, as Science News described it, the beluga whale “wears its heart on its sleeve – or rather, its forehead.”

Researcher Justin Richard of the University of Rhode Island in Kingston and his team realized this after spending a year watching the interactions of four whales at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, paying close attention to the bumps, which are fat deposits that aid the marine mammals by directing soundwaves for echolocation.

While doing so, they noticed that the whales, using their muscles and connective tissue, can change the shape of these melons when interacting with each other.

They then compiled a visual encyclopedia of five different expressions captive belugas made with these “melons” that included lifting it vertically to resemble a top hat, flattening it against its skull, and making it jiggle like Jell-O.

“If that doesn’t scream ‘pay attention to me,’ I don’t know what does,” Richard told Science News. “It’s like watching a peacock spread their feathers.”

The team also found the animals would sport an average of two shapes per minute during social interactions.

Researchers are still exploring the purpose of these shapes, but Richard suggested belugas use them to signal or communicate because more than 93 percent took place within another whale’s line of sight.

Also, they realized certain shapes were also associated with a specific behavior: For example, shake and press shapes were related to courtship.

The researchers now plan to study how belugas use their melons in the wild, as well as determine the role shape-shifting has in their vocalizations.

“There’s got to be a reason they spend so much time doing it,” said Richard.

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