Weed is legal
Canada’s Senate voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana this week, making Canada the second country in the world after Uruguay to fully legalize the drug. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had made legalization a central plank of his 2015 election campaign. “It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana and for criminals to reap the profits,” Trudeau said. “Today, we change that.” The federal government will regulate marijuana production, and under-18s will be prohibited from buying the drug. Anyone caught selling to minors could face up to 14 years in jail. The new legislation will come into force in October. Canada’s legal pot market is expected to be worth $5 billion.
Trying to deport Roma
Italy’s new far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has been thwarted in his attempt to call a census of the country’s Roma people and deport those without valid residency. “And Italian Roma?” he said while announcing the policy. “Unfortunately, we have to keep them.” Salvini is head of the anti-immigrant League party, which formed a coalition government with the populist Five Star Movement just weeks ago. Five Star leader Luigi di Maio, who serves as a deputy prime minister, shot down the proposal, saying that a census based on ethnicity would be unconstitutional. About half of the country’s 120,000 to 180,000 Roma are Italian citizens.
State prosecutor hid bodies
In the latest in a string of charges against former Veracruz officials, the onetime state prosecutor has been charged in more than a dozen cases of forced disappearances. Luis Ángel Bravo Contreras is accused of helping hide the victims’ bodies while he worked under former Gov. Javier Duarte, who allegedly embezzled some $3 billion and colluded with drug gangs. Mexican prosecutors believe Duarte let the Jalisco New Generation cartel into the state in an effort to push out the brutal Zetas gang while he was governor from 2010 to 2016; many of Duarte’s underlings have been charged with murder, including 19 police officers. Duarte fled to Guatemala in 2016 and was extradited to Mexico last year.
Drug war warrior?
A populist conservative, Iván Duque, won Colombia’s presidential runoff election this week, trouncing his leftist rival, Gustavo Petro, 54 to 42 percent. A relative unknown, Duque, 41, is a protégé of former President Álvaro Uribe, who led a crackdown against FARC rebels in the 2000s and opposed the peace deal that the departing president, Juan Manuel Santos, brokered with the Marxist group in 2016. That deal, which ended five decades of fighting, guarantees the rebels a portion of seats in Congress. Duque says he will overhaul the agreement to remove that clause. He also plans to resume aerial spraying of coca fields, which had been halted over health concerns. “He will return to the iron fist of coordination with the U.S.” in combating drug traffickers, said Arlene Tickner, a political scientist at Del Rosario University in Bogotá.
Reporters called to Prague Castle last week for a sudden announcement expected to hear Czech President Milos Zeman, who is reportedly in poor health, say he was stepping down. Instead, he ceremoniously burned a giant pair of red underwear, similar to the oversize boxers that protesters flew from a flagpole atop the presidential palace in 2015 as a symbol, they said, of his love of Russia. “The time of underwear in politics is over,” Zeman told reporters. “I’m sorry to make you look like little idiots.” The president, a fierce opponent of immigration, has called for Czechs to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union and NATO. Last year, he told Russian President Vladimir Putin that journalists should be liquidated.
Chileans shun church
A crisis of faith
A child sex abuse scandal that has dogged the Chilean Catholic Church for years has turned many Chileans away from the faith. The share of Chileans who identify as Catholic has plummeted from 61 percent eight years ago to 45 percent in 2017; even fewer—36 percent—say they now trust the church. That shift in support is largely a result of outrage over the case of Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was found guilty by the Vatican in 2011 of abusing dozens of minors over three decades. Pope Francis last week accepted the resignation of three bishops, including Juan Barros of Osorno, who was accused of witnessing and covering up Karadima’s abuse; 31 other Chilean bishops have offered Francis their resignation.
Nukes in heart of Europe?
Russia appears to have significantly modernized an old nuclear weapons storage bunker in Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. The Federation of American Scientists published satellite images this week that show Russia has been renovating the site since 2016 to return it to operational status. In February, Russia deployed advanced, nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles—which could reach most of Poland and all of the Baltics—to Kaliningrad. “These pictures don’t prove that there are nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad now,” said Hans Kristensen, head of the nuclear information project at FAS. “But they do show it is an active site.”
March for peace
At least 65 Afghans who walked 400 miles across their war-torn nation in the name of peace arrived in the capital, Kabul, this week. After being treated for dehydration at the end of the 38-day march, the activists asked President Ashraf Ghani for a cease-fire between Afghan government and Taliban forces and the removal of foreign troops. “He told us that our demands will be met, but if the Taliban keep attacking us, we will have to defend ourselves,” said Iqbal Khyber, the 27-year-old medical student who led the march. The government and Taliban observed an unprecedented three-day cease-fire last week to mark the end of Ramadan, and Ghani allowed Taliban militants to enter government-controlled cities to pray alongside government officials. Some Afghans, though, fear that militants may now be lurking among them, planning attacks.
Military exercise scrapped
The U.S. and South Korea announced this week that they had canceled a long-planned joint military exercise scheduled for August, just days after President Trump declared that he would suspend the “war games,” in a surprise concession during his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Last year’s drill involved 17,500 U.S. troops and 50,000 South Koreans practicing a response to a North Korean attack. Analysts said skipping one large-scale game would not hurt U.S. combat readiness, but a total moratorium on major exercises would. Trump got the idea for halting war games as an inducement to Kim, The Wall Street Journal reported, from a conversation last summer with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Poachers, smugglers nabbed
Cat Lai, Vietnam
A massive, monthlong global crackdown on illegal animal smuggling has netted thousands of live animals and tons of meat and ivory. Operation Thunderstorm involved police, customs, border, environment, wildlife, and forestry agencies in 92 countries and resulted in hundreds of arrests, including of two flight attendants in Los Angeles caught smuggling live spotted turtles in their carry-ons. Some 43 tons of wild meat were intercepted, including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale, and zebra, and 1.3 tons of elephant ivory, 27,000 reptiles, almost 4,000 birds, 48 live primates, and 14 big cats. Eight tons of pangolin scales, used in Asian medicine, were seized, half in Vietnam on a ship from Congo. Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said the operation revealed how wildlife traffickers use the same routes as other criminals, “often hand-in-hand with tax evasion, corruption, money laundering, and violent crime.”
Pakistani Taliban leader killed
The Pakistani jihadist who ordered the 2012 shooting of the then-15-year-old girls’ education campaigner Malala Yousafzai is dead. Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan last week. More a sermonizer than a fighter, Fazlullah ordered dozens of terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including the 2014 killing of 150 people, mostly children, at a military-run school in Peshawar. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani credited “tireless” intelligence gathering by Afghan agencies for the strike on Fazlullah, who had been hiding in Afghan territory for years. Ghani urged Pakistani authorities to follow suit by exposing Afghan Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan. ■