The World Today for July 11, 2024

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Succession

BOLIVIA

Bolivian President Luis Arce recently told the Associated Press that his mountainous South American country is not struggling in an economic crisis. Many Bolivians and most economists would disagree.

Commercial activity in the capital of La Paz ground to a halt recently, for example, after Arce deployed troops into the streets to counter a supposed coup d’état that the president claimed was occurring.

Gen. Juan José Zúñiga Macías, now relieved of his command, brought soldiers to central Plaza Murillo in front of the Bolivian Congress and presidential palace. “A Reuters witness saw an armored vehicle ram a door of the presidential palace and soldiers rush in,” wrote the news agency. Speaking to journalists, Zúñiga said the country’s leaders needed to “stop destroying, stop impoverishing our country, stop humiliating our army,” noted the Economist.

But the plot fizzled. During the ruckus, Arce, 60, clasping a ceremonial baton that symbolized his rank as head of state, and his cabinet ministers confronted the general. “I am your captain … withdraw all of your troops right now, general,” Acre said to Zúñiga, according to the Guardian.

The soldiers left the presidential palace a few hours later. Police then took control of the palace and arrested Zúñiga. He’s one of 21 military officers and others associated with the coup behind bars.

Arce’s political enemy, former President Evo Morales, meanwhile, accused Arce of organizing a “self-coup” with the aim of cementing his control over the government and claiming extraordinary powers in an emergency that only he knows is happening.

As World Politics Review explained, Arce and Morales were once close allies. Arce served as finance minister under Morales, who won an unconstitutional fourth consecutive term, but resigned in 2019 under pressure from the army amid widespread protests against election meddling. Morales supported Arce’s 2020 candidacy. But he now might challenge Arce as the ruling Movement for Socialism party’s candidate in 2025. Arce has made clear his intent to remain president, however.

This tension in the runup to next year’s presidential poll comes as the economy is cratering despite Bolivia’s many natural resources, wrote Agence France-Presse. The country has natural gas fields and mines of lithium, a vital mineral for future technology manufacturing. Yet the country needs more investment in these sectors to truly capitalize on them. Now the country has slipped into a recession that is making it harder to recover, wrote the Wilson Center, adding, “Worryingly, the real crisis has not yet begun.”

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Closing Ranks

NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Tuesday pledged to boost arms production by signing a nearly $700 million surface-to-air missile contract, against the backdrop of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Newsweek reported.

Speaking at a US Chamber of Commerce event as part of a summit held in Washington, DC, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced the deal as he acknowledged discrepancies in the alliance’s arms production against Moscow’s mounting threats of direct confrontation.

The war “demonstrated serious gaps in our interoperability,” Stoltenberg said, adding that “there is no way to provide strong defense without a strong defense industry.”

The contract will enable NATO countries to increase production of the FIM-92 Stinger, a portable surface-to-air missile system made by US defense firm Raytheon. It can be used by ground troops or mounted onto vehicles, offering short-range defense against enemy aircraft.

The US, which provided Ukraine with Stinger systems when Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and other partners will deliver another air defense package to Kyiv, President Joe Biden said on Tuesday.

Support for Ukraine is a core topic at the NATO summit, and the recent announcement has angered the Kremlin, who again blamed the alliance, which turns 75 this year, for the war.

As Denmark and the Netherlands are set to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine this summer and fall, Russian lawmaker Andrei Kartapolov warned that Moscow could attack NATO airfields hosting jets to be used against Russia.

Transatlantic allies are scrambling to reach deals ahead of the US presidential election in November. A win by former President and Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump could jeopardize US support for NATO partners, the Associated Press wrote.

Earlier this year, Trump said he would allow Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” with NATO countries that failed to meet defense budget requirements.

Despite the ambitions displayed by allies in Washington this week, leaders recognized hindrances, namely bureaucratic, in the West, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“Putin can order a sausage factory turned into an arms plant but democracies have planning processes, which can take years,” said Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur.

At the Finish Line

SOUTH SUDAN

Opposition groups negotiating a peace deal in South Sudan said on Tuesday they would not sign the proposed agreement if the government enabled legislation allowing individuals to be detained without arrest warrants, the Associated Press reported.

The controversial National Security Act, which amends a bill that has been in the works since 2014, passed in South Sudan’s parliament last week. President Salva Kiir now has a month to sign it into law.

The legislation would allow National Security Service officers to arrest and detain, without a warrant, any person suspected of committing an offense against the state. The offenses are only loosely defined.

In Nairobi, where the Kenyan government has hosted mediation talks since May, opposition groups have threatened to withhold their approval of the nearly complete peace deal if Kiir approves the bill.

“This law violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of South Sudanese citizens, it eliminates civic and political space,” Pagan Amum from the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance told the Associated Press.

The United Nations’ representation in South Sudan also called for the legislation to return to parliament for revision.

“As South Sudan prepares for its first elections since independence, the citizenry must be able to exercise their civil and political rights without fear of retribution,” said UN Human Rights Commissioner Barney Afako.

Opposition groups were invited to negotiate in Nairobi after they were left out of an agreement in 2018 to end a five-year civil war that killed 400,000 people.

The talks are dubbed Tumaini, which is Swahili for “hope,” and resulted in a draft deal to postpone South Sudan’s first-ever election, which is currently set for December, so that the country’s constitution and electoral rules can be ready for the vote.

All Clear

PANAMA

A court in Panama has acquitted 28 people who were prosecuted in connection with tax evasion and money laundering scandals – including those detailed in the so-called 2016 “Panama Papers,” which highlighted how some of the world’s rich and powerful use tax havens to hide their wealth, the BBC reported.

The cases centered on Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca, who founded a now-defunct law firm called Mossack Fonseca & Co., which played an outsized role in the Panama Papers investigation.

Judge Baloisa Marquínez said at the court in Panama City late last month that the evidence considered by the court was “not sufficient” to determine the criminal responsibility of the defendants, who faced up to 12 years in jail. He also said the evidence from the data leak had not been collected in line with due process, questioning its “authenticity and integrity,” Agence-France Presse reported.

Both Mossack and Fonseca – who died in May – denied they, their firm, or their employees had acted illegally.

The scandal broke in April 2016 when the leak of secret financial documents showed how high-profile personalities such as former British Prime Minister David Cameron, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi hid their wealth in offshore accounts in tax havens such as Panama. The list also included 12 current or former heads of state and government, including dictators accused of embezzling money from their own countries.

It was the biggest such data leak in history, with 11.5 million documents analyzed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), led by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. “While the court did not hold these defendants accountable, the enduring impact of our investigation persists,” said ICIJ executive director Gerard Ryle.

Judge Marquínez also acquitted individuals charged with money laundering in the “Operation Car Wash” corruption scandal that rocked Brazil and other South American countries in 2014, which resulted in the imprisonment of President Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva, Reuters reported.

DISCOVERIES

Neanderthal Hearts

In 1989, archeologists discovered the fossilized ear bone of a Neanderthal child at Valencia’s Cova Negra, in Spain.

At the time, researchers didn’t pay too much attention to it, although the cave had been occupied by the extinct human relatives 146,000 to 273,000 years ago.

But a new study on the child’s ear added some new insights into Neanderthal caregiving and their capacity to care for each other.

Lead author Mercedes Conde-Valverde and her colleagues used computer tomography scans to create a 3D model of the bone, which revealed that it belonged to a child between the ages of six and 10.

Affectionately naming her “Tina,” the study showed that little Neanderthal girl’s ear bone had characteristics of Down syndrome, such as an enlarged vestibular aqueduct and a small cochlea.

This was surprising because it meant that Tina was at least six years old when she died, suggesting it wasn’t just the mother taking care of the child.

The Stone Age was no playground for children, especially Tina, who had to deal with disabilities such as hearing loss, vertigo and muscle weakness, according to the authors.

“The individual would have needed continuous and intensive care,” Conde-Valverde told CNN.

The team proposed that the entire Neanderthal community cared for Tina and helped the mother, even though this aid was not practical or reciprocal in nature.

In plain terms, the allegedly brutish cavemen cared for the child out of the goodness of their heart.

The paper adds to a growing body of research that the Neanderthal had complex social bonds and an evolved instinct to care for their members.

Other instances of Neanderthal care include the “Old Man of La Chapelle in France, who had degenerative arthritis and possibly required feeding assistance, and an adult male from Shanidar Cave in Iraq, who survived severe disabilities thanks to the support of his group.

“What was not known until now was any case of an individual who had received help, even if they could not return the favor, which would prove the existence of true altruism among Neanderthals,” Conde-Valverde said in a statement. “That is precisely what the discovery of ‘Tina’ means.”

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