2020
November
16
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Monitor Daily Podcast

November 16, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

A tree (still) grows in Kenya

In the perennial contest between trees and the built environment, trees often lose out. But in Nairobi, Kenya, last week, a century-old fig tree held its ground in a face-off with a massive new highway project. After a vocal campaign by environmentalists, President Uhuru Kenyatta decreed that the tree’s graceful canopy, some four stories tall, will continue to offer local balm while the highway is redirected toward a new route.

The outcome recognizes the practical impact of trees, particularly mature ones. Those include cooling overheated neighborhoods and mitigating pollution. Beyond that, as the Monitor noted in a report on urban forestry last year, crime can decline and property values rise in areas where tree cover expands, as happened in Baltimore, Maryland. Or residents turn far less frequently to prescription antidepressants, as happened in London. 

That speaks to the building blocks of community, to “the sense of rest” that one Boston leader referenced after progress this summer in rethinking a road that threatened 121 venerable trees in an underserved area. Indeed, pop culture and literature, secular and religious, are replete with reminders of what trees teach humans about resilience and stewardship. In Nairobi, President Kenyatta called the fig tree a “beacon of Kenya’s cultural and ecological heritage.” Kenyan environmentalist Elizabeth Wathuti told Reuters it was a symbol of the city’s aspirations – a beacon of hope.

Trump’s lawsuits are foundering. But ‘fraud’ charge could linger.

How does a democracy investigate concerns about election fraud and irregularities without fanning the flames of misinformation? That’s the test America faces right now.

Amelia

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Faced with a growing list of legal setbacks and defeats, President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday that his team would file a new wave of “big cases” showing the “unconstitutionality” of the 2020 election.

None of the cases his campaign has filed so far assert widespread election fraud or involve enough ballots to overturn the results, and many have already failed. The Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement Nov. 11 calling the election “the most secure in history.” 

The Trump legal offensive follows many election rule changes that state officials said were necessary to ensuring access to voting during the pandemic, but which the president claims compromised election integrity amid a record spike in mail-in voting. Courts have found at least 150 incidents of absentee ballot fraud in recent decades, but most cases have been small scale and at the local level.

Still, President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that Joe Biden won due to “fraud” could serve his interests – either as a future candidate or kingmaker – if enough GOP voters are convinced he didn’t really lose.

“That gives him a relevance that a Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush didn’t possess,” says Henry Olsen of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

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1. Trump’s lawsuits are foundering. But ‘fraud’ charge could linger.

Faced with a growing list of legal setbacks and defeats, President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday evening that his team would soon file a new wave of “big” lawsuits showing the “unconstitutionality” of the 2020 election.

So far, the Trump lawsuits have mainly involved small-scale claims that would not change the current Electoral College projection of a 306-232 win for Joe Biden. At least a dozen of those cases have already proved unsuccessful. None of them assert widespread election fraud, and lawyers representing the Trump campaign in Arizona and Pennsylvania testified that they were unaware of any such mass fraud in those states. In addition, the Trump campaign scaled back one of its key cases, in Pennsylvania, over the weekend.

At issue, however, is not only what happens in the courtroom – but also in the court of public opinion. In an increasingly polarized environment in which President Trump wields a digital bully pulpit with nearly 90 million Twitter followers, legal verdicts alone may not settle the question in the minds of his supporters. Even if the Trump campaign’s lawsuits fail, his unsubstantiated allegations that Mr. Biden won only because of “fraud” could serve his political interests – either as a future candidate or kingmaker, with an unparalleled ability to rile up the GOP base.

“If what he has done is convince Republican voters and activists that ‘I didn’t really lose,’ that gives him a relevance that Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush didn’t possess,” says Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.

On Nov. 11, the president’s own Department of Homeland Security issued a joint statement by members of two key election infrastructure entities calling the 2020 election “the most secure in history.” State election officials from both parties have widely disavowed that there was any noticeable widespread fraud.

But a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted Nov. 6-9 found that 70% of Republicans didn’t believe that the election was free and fair. When asked why, 84% of them agreed with the statement that “mail-in voting led to widespread voter fraud” and 76% said they thought ballots had been tampered with, according to a detailed breakdown.   

Concerns around absentee ballots

The president began raising concerns about the integrity of the election well before Nov. 3, after many states instituted rule changes that officials said were necessary to ensuring access to voting during the pandemic, including a massive expansion of mail-in voting.

Some conservatives have questioned various modifications and exemptions that removed some measures designed to prevent abuse of absentee ballots. These included waiving eligibility standards for absentee voting, suspending notarization requirements, reducing witness signature requirements, extending deadlines for voter registration, and – in California’s case – automatically mailing ballots to registered voters without them requesting one and verifying their current address.

Voting rights advocates cite studies showing that cases of proven electoral fraud are extremely low, though absentee ballot fraud is the most common type and the most difficult to detect “since the misuse of a voter’s ballot or the pressure on voters occurs away from the polling place or any other outside scrutiny,” according to a 2001 bipartisan commission on federal election reform featuring former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter as honorary co-chairs. 

compilation by a conservative think tank of some 150 criminal convictions for absentee ballot fraud over the past few decades shows that most cases have been small scale and at the local level – where relatively limited fraud can prove decisive.

In 2009, Wisconsin residents Louis and Jane Kwiatkowski voted not only in their hometown but also by absentee ballot in the village where they owned a cabin, helping their preferred candidate win the trustee’s race by a two-vote margin. Angel Perales, a local official in Cudahy, California, admitted to opening mailed ballots in 2007 and 2009 elections to see for whom the ballots had been cast, resealing and submitting those for incumbent candidates and tossing the rest. And in 2016, Brandon Dean, who was elected mayor of Brighton, Alabama, at age 24, was forced to vacate his office less than a year later after a judge ruled that 46 fraudulent absentee ballots – including 22 sent to Mr. Dean’s home address – had been crucial to his victory.

Rarer are known cases of absentee ballot fraud involving state races. In a highly scrutinized 1993 Philadelphia special election for state senate, a federal judge found evidence of “massive absentee ballot fraud” and ousted the Democratic victor after he had already taken his seat, flipping control of the legislative body to the GOP.

Hans von Spakovsky, the manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the conservative Heritage Foundation, started the database from which the examples of absentee ballot fraud cited above were drawn. But he says the 1,400 incidents of all different types of voter fraud in his database are just the tip of the iceberg – and anyone who disputes that must believe that the only drug dealers in the country are those who have been convicted. 

Even in cases where it can be proved that the number of fraudulent ballots exceeded the margin of victory, that doesn’t guarantee the results will be overturned. In a case involving Washington’s 2004 gubernatorial race, a judge determined that 1,678 ballots were invalid in a race in which the margin of victory after a hand recount was just 129. But the Republican plaintiffs still lost because it couldn’t be determined whether the bad ballots – involving felons, dead people, and provisional vote – had been critical to the winner’s victory. 

John Bazemore/AP
Supporters of President Donald Trump hold signs during a rally outside the Georgia State Capitol, Nov. 13, 2020, in Atlanta.

“Zero” Trump lawsuits will stand up

Barry Richard, a Democratic lawyer who led George W. Bush’s victorious legal team in the 2000 Florida election litigation, says in an interview that there are “zero” Trump lawsuits that have a decent chance of standing up in court. Many prominent Republican experts agree.

But top GOP lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, say the president is well within his rights to pursue the legal route, and that allowing the courts to examine such claims and concerns will build public trust in the election’s credibility. Many Democrats counter that it’s allowing Mr. Trump to stoke unfounded suspicions among his base, in ways that will likely undermine Mr. Biden’s presidency.

Among the evidence presented in the Trump lawsuits are various affidavits, mainly from poll observers. One comes from a woman identified as an employee “for decades” for the city of Detroit who was assigned to help with the 2020 elections, Jessy Jacobs. In an affidavit which featured prominently in a Nov. 9 Trump campaign press conference, Ms. Jacobs claims, among other things, that she was asked to predate absentee ballots that arrived after the Nov. 3 deadline and to alter the qualified voter file to falsely show that the ballots had been received in time to be valid. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson had addressed the backdating claim in a previous statement, saying that it was done to remedy a clerical error, and that Republican poll challengers had declined to challenge that method of resolution.  

The Pennsylvania case that legal experts say does involve a legitimate constitutional question – whether the constitutionally mandated authority of state legislatures to determine how elections are conducted was circumvented by other state and local officials, including the state Supreme Court’s decision to allow a three-day extension for receipt of mailed ballots – now appears unlikely to move forward. That’s because only some 10,000 votes were reportedly received during the extension period, far less than Mr. Biden’s current lead in Pennsylvania of more than 65,000 votes.  

In recent days, Mr. Trump has targeted his fire at Dominion Voting Systems, which he alleges deleted millions of votes and “switched” hundreds of thousands of votes from him to Mr. Biden. Dominion has denied such claims, pointing to the DHS statement’s conclusion: “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” The statement does not specify what steps were taken to examine concerns about the security and reliability of Dominion’s voting machines.

State election officials using the machines, including in Michigan’s Antrim County, have explained initial misreporting of some results as due to human error rather than software problems. Moreover, an audit in Arizona’s Maricopa County, which also uses the machines, did not find any discrepancies. 

Democrats and even some Republicans who are otherwise sympathetic to Mr. Trump have denounced his claims about Dominion as conspiracy theories, though Democratic senators including Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar did raise concerns about the security of such voting machines with the backers of the three major vendors, including Dominion, in December 2019.

Compromise of 1877

In 1876, Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and was leading in the Electoral College but Republicans cried foul. Among the concerns were stuffing of ballot boxes, attempts to trick illiterate voters by stamping Democratic ballots with Republican Abe Lincoln’s face on them, and various voter suppression tactics targeting Black citizens in the South, who at the time tended to favor the Republican Party. The electoral votes of three Southern states plus Oregon were disputed, throwing the country into a constitutional crisis. Congress appointed a bipartisan commission with members of the House, Senate, and Supreme Court, which decided in favor of Republican Rutherford Hayes by one electoral vote. 

The Trump team has reportedly considered a similar scenario, in which they would try to convince GOP legislatures to send a rival slate of electors in key battleground states. Under the 12th  Amendment, this would force the incoming Congress to settle the dispute – first through the Senate, presided over by Vice President Mike Pence, or if the body could not agree that either candidate received the minimum 271 electoral votes, the House would vote directly, with each state delegation receiving one vote. The GOP would likely have the upper hand in either scenario, since it appears on track to control at least 26 delegations in the House and maintain its majority in the Senate, unless the Georgia runoffs change that. Key to this scenario would be states missing the Dec. 8 “Safe Harbor” deadline to choose electors, which may have been a goal of his campaign’s litigation.

“There’s a whole series of ifs and presumptions … but I can see Trump and his inner circle believing that is possible – that the entire Republican apparatus would fall in line and do a partisan-motivated appointment and confirmation of a rival slate of electors,” says Mr. Olsen.

But Edward Foley, a constitutional law professor at Ohio State University who laid out such a disputed election scenario in a 2019 Loyola University Chicago Law Journal article, says he no longer thinks it’s likely. “I don’t believe Biden’s inauguration is in any jeopardy,” he says.

Maggie MacAlpine, an election security specialist and co-founder of Nordic Innovation Labs in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has also spent time over the past year gaming out nightmare scenarios. In a virtual tabletop exercise run by Boston-based firm Cybereason in August, one of the last prompts in the simulated election crisis told participants that 30% of conservative Twitter was saying the results weren’t valid. Now, in real life, it’s 70% of Republicans.

One way she says voter confidence could be improved is by implementing a type of postelection audit that is relatively inexpensive and efficient. Known as a risk-limiting audit, it involves checking a portion of ballots to ensure that the vote tally is correct, using statistical methods to reduce the risk that an incorrect result will be certified. The wider the margin, the smaller the portion of ballots that needs to be checked. Thirty-four states as well as the District of Columbia currently use RLAs, which can be carried out as a matter of routine, rather than as a result of anyone casting suspicion on the process. 

“If we make this just a sanitation part of the election, a lot of this doubt can go away,” says Ms. MacAlpine.

How Turkey’s use of military power furthers Erdoğan’s ambitions

President Erdoğan is asserting Turkey’s military hard power to bolster himself politically. But he also sees restoring Turkey’s regional standing as his calling.

Amelia
Turkish Presidency/AP
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrives to address the lawmakers of his ruling party at the parliament, in Ankara, Turkey, Nov. 11, 2020, following Turkey's decisive support for Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia.

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The list of conflicts into which Turkey has inserted itself, either with military hard power or strong rhetoric, seems to be ever growing: Syria, Iraq, Libya, Cyprus, even France.

It’s been able to do so because around the region, the United States and the Europeans have increasingly absented themselves. But using that power – decisively, in the case of supporting Azerbaijan against Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh – also means potentially coming into conflict with a great power like Russia.

Turkey’s economy can be another limiting factor, but the temptation to act is great, not only to improve President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political standing, but to improve the nation’s self-image.

“There is clearly a resurgent Turkey – one that has more self-confidence – [that] defines its role in the world as having a military footprint outside of its borders,” says Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, an expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“Turkey wants to be a regional hegemon, and to get to that it understands it needs to be an active player in conflict zones,” Ms. Aydıntaşbaş says. “President Erdoğan himself feels that ... it’s his calling in life to make sure Turkey emerges as a great power.”

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2. How Turkey’s use of military power furthers Erdoğan’s ambitions

The cease-fire agreement ending six weeks of fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh was greeted in Turkey as a “sacred success” for “brotherly Azerbaijan” in its fight with Armenia.

But the elation in Ankara was not simply due to its ally’s battlefield gains, which reclaimed ground lost to ethnic Armenian separatists in the early 1990s.

For Turkey, the outcome was also the latest successful example of its assertive and game-changing use of military hard power, which has so far redrawn geopolitical realities from Libya and Syria to the southern Caucasus.

The moves take advantage of a vacuum left by now-absent U.S. and European actors, analysts say, in order to realize Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ambitions of regional preeminence – and to enhance his popularity at home.

The result is that Mr. Erdoğan is the latest exemplar of the effectiveness of gunboat diplomacy, even as traditional military players withdraw from the field. If there is one important caveat, though, it is that Turkey’s ambitions have also brought it increasingly into competition with another power, Russia.

“There is clearly a resurgent Turkey – one that has more self-confidence – [that] defines its role in the world as having a military footprint outside of its borders,” says Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a Turkey expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

“Turkey wants to be a regional hegemon, and to get to that it understands it needs to be an active player in conflict zones,” Ms. Aydıntaşbaş says. “President Erdoğan himself feels that ... we’ve already entered a new age of great power competition, and [that] it’s his calling in life to make sure Turkey emerges as a great power.”

“Often all of these things are regarded [abroad] as Turkish adventurism, whereas in Turkey they are a source of pride,” she says. “The government does not see these as adventures, [but] as milestones that are building up a Turkish empire in a new age.”

In Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia brokered the cease-fire after President Vladimir Putin and Mr. Erdoğan spoke. Nearly 2,000 Russian troops are to monitor the cease-fire lines. Turkey’s peacekeeping role is still to be determined, but Mr. Erdoğan submitted a bill to parliament today to approve deployment of peacekeeping troops for a year.

Turkey’s expanded influence

Few think Azeri troops could have broken the years-long stalemate with Armenia without Turkey’s ironclad support and weaponry. Ankara’s arms sales to Azerbaijan increased six-fold this year, rising to $77 million in September alone – making Azerbaijan the biggest client for Turkish weapons – Reuters reports. Turkey also reportedly deployed Turkish-trained mercenary fighters from Syria.

The Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is hardly the only arena in the region – and beyond – in which Turkey has exerted influence:

  • Timely Turkish military intervention in Libya last spring, on behalf of the United Nations-recognized government in Tripoli, is credited with blocking a takeover bid by Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general who had Russian, French, and Saudi support.
  • Since 2016, Turkey has played increasingly effective military roles in Syria and Iraq to limit the reach and power of ethnic Kurdish militias it calls “terrorists” – even facing off directly with U.S. Special Forces units and, last spring, Russian forces over Syria’s northwest enclave of Idlib.
  • Turkey is locked in a tense maritime dispute with Greece and Cyprus over newfound energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
  • And, further compounding Turkey’s fractious relations with Europe – and bolstering Mr. Erdoğan’s claim to be a leader for all Sunni Muslims – the Turkish president in late October rejected government efforts to limit the practice of Islam in France after a spate of Islamist attacks, saying President Emmanuel Macron “needs treatment on a mental level.”

Such nationalist and pro-Islamic activism plays well for Mr. Erdoğan at home, where a struggling Turkish economy has dented his popularity.

“There are inherent limits to how far this can go, and the limit is really the Turkish economy, because it is very interdependent with the Western economy,” says Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat and head of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM).

Dmitry Lovetsky/AP
Smoke rises from a burning house as cars and trucks climb the clogged road from Kalbajar for Armenia, leaving the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh Nov. 14, 2020. The territory is to be turned over to Azerbaijan on Sunday as part of territorial concessions in an agreement to end six weeks of intense fighting with Armenian forces.

Turkey’s assertiveness abroad has been aided by two concurrent changes in the global order, he says: A United States that is “much more disinterested in this part of the world,” coupled with the “continuing ineffectiveness of the EU as a foreign policy actor.”

“This combination has opened up space for mid-power countries like Turkey to exert themselves more assertively in the regional theater,” says Mr. Ülgen. “The domestic dimension is that the [ruling] AK Party has espoused a narrative of a strong Turkey abroad, and hard power tactics tend to nurture this narrative.”

A report by Al-Monitor news website noted that Mr. Macron “followed the tried and tired analysis that everything [Erdoğan] does abroad must be for ‘religious’ reasons. Others claim that Erdoğan is overreaching politically and militarily.... And yet the Turkish juggernaut keeps marching on.”

Russia sees encroachment

Turkey’s moves have also caught the eye of other intervening powers, notably Russia, which has seen Turkey on the opposite side of frontlines in both Libya and Syria. Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan – a former Soviet Republic – is viewed by Moscow as encroachment in its backyard.

The Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, for example, stated that Turkey had made “an unprecedented breakthrough into the political space Moscow always considered exclusively its own.”

The result of the war is “disastrous” for Russia, says Ruslan Pukhov, director of a Russian defense think-tank. “The harsh reality is that Moscow’s influence in the trans-Caucasus region has sharply decreased, while the prestige of a successful and pugnacious Turkey, on the contrary, has grown incredibly,” he told the Financial Times.

Indeed, the Kremlin made clear last week that Turkey is not mentioned in the cease-fire deal and that – despite Azeri statements – any Turkish forces deployed are not official peacekeepers.

Even the fact that Russia is treating Turkey as a player is indicative of how the character and quality of Turkey’s regional reach has changed since the Arab Spring in 2011. Back then, Mr. Erdoğan took a “victory lap” tour of Tunis, Cairo, and Tripoli, buoyed by the widespread belief that Turkey presented a model of a successful and modern Islamic state for the post-dictator era.

But the credibility of that model soon disappeared, lost in the clouds of tear gas fired against protesters during the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, and then eroded further by Mr. Erdoğan’s own increasing authoritarianism.

“A decade ago, Turkey presented itself as a model for the region, with its soft power instruments,” says Ms. Aydıntaşbaş of ECFR. “Today it’s an actor in the region with hard power instruments. There is a great interest in the use of hard power, and each and every time that becomes a reality, the lesson for the next international incident is that it works.”

How to use influence?

Turkey has been on a learning curve of interventions since it first crossed into northern Syria in 2016. Ms. Aydıntaşbaş recalls visiting Syrian territory controlled by Turkey back then and finding local Turkish authorities “very self-consciously talking about this as an experiment.”

Though Turkey’s military footprint has since extended much farther, it is not clear how Turkey will use its influence in a place like Libya.

“This is not really thought through. And there is a reason that Western countries are so gun-shy about the use of hard power in the Middle East, precisely because the returns are so little and the costs are so heavy,” says Ms. Aydıntaşbaş.

“For Turkey, there is a great appetite, because it helps Turkey’s self-image, it helps the president’s own standing, and it is now defined as an ultimate destiny for the country,” she says.

The fact that many Turks favor intervention abroad – even if it is too early to tell if it makes Turkey itself more secure, or improves the economy – is a key reason behind it, says Mr. Ülgen of EDAM.

“The way you have to analyze the activism in Turkish foreign policy is less from the standpoint of the end result, and more in terms of its implications for domestic power,” says Mr. Ülgen.

“It’s really more about whether this foreign policy activism helps President Erdoğan’s popularity at home – and it does – at a time when that popularity is under stress because of the economic malaise.”

No tourists, but many migrants: Canary Islands face a new reality

A surge of migrants is posing a new question: How do nations handle care for refugees when residents’ worries about COVID-19 and unemployment are already high?

Amelia
Borja Suarez/Reuters
More than 100 migrants are rescued by a Spanish coast guard vessel off the island of Gran Canaria, Spain, Nov. 2, 2020. Migrants arriving in the Canary Islands are being put up in hotels that have been left empty by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Hundreds of migrants, recently arrived in the Canary Islands, are being housed in hotels left vacant by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since January, more than 17,000 people have arrived across the archipelago, mainly from Senegal, Mauritania, and Morocco, in the largest wave of migration the archipelago has seen since 2006, when over 30,000 people sought refuge here.

The pandemic has forced the regional government to look for ways of accommodating the surge of people, in hopes of protecting migrants as well as the local population from COVID-19. With just 20% of hotels in the Canary Islands currently open, at just 6% occupancy, the government has turned to the badly hit tourism sector to step in and help with the crisis.

And with locals already facing hunger and an unemployment rate of 25%, the newly arrived migrants’ treatment has stirred some resentment – in addition to stereotypical fears. So the government is banking on a boom in volunteerism to combat mistrust and bridge understanding between communities.

“The Canarian population still has a relatively positive attitude about immigration,” says Vicente Manuel Zapata, a professor of human geography at the Universidad de La Laguna in Tenerife. “It has always been a part of our national fabric.”

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3. No tourists, but many migrants: Canary Islands face a new reality

It’s the low season, but the Tenerife Ving hotel would still normally be packed with German and Scandinavian tourists escaping gray autumn skies.

Instead, the heads poking out from the hotel’s goldfinch yellow balconies are young men from Senegal and Gambia, who have recently arrived in this tourist town on the island of Tenerife after treacherous journeys on wooden fishing boats called cayucos. They’re in quarantine to protect the community from COVID-19.

“They won’t let us out,” a young Senegalese man calls out in French over his balcony. He’s been inside for more than a week and will stay for at least one more before being placed elsewhere or left to his own devices. “I’m not really sure what’s going on or what’s going to happen next.” 

The more than 100 men staying at the Tenerife Ving are just some of hundreds of migrants being housed across the Canary Islands in hotels left vacant by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since January, more than 17,000 people have arrived in the Canary Islands, mainly from Senegal, Mauritania, and Morocco, in the largest wave of migration the archipelago has seen since 2006, when over 30,000 people sought refuge here. Nearly 10,000 people have arrived in the last month alone.

The pandemic has forced the regional government to look for ways of accommodating the surge of people, in hopes of protecting migrants as well as the local population from COVID-19. With just 20% of hotels in the Canary Islands currently open, at just 6% occupancy, the government has turned to the badly hit tourism sector to step in and help with the crisis.

Colette Davidson
The Tenerife Ving hotel in Puerto de la Cruz would normally be full of tourists this time of year. But now it is being operated by the Red Cross to quarantine dozens of recently arrived migrants, mostly from Senegal and Gambia.

And with locals already facing hunger and an unemployment rate of 25%, the newly arrived migrants’ treatment has stirred some resentment – in addition to stereotypical fears of terrorism and worries about COVID-19 contagion. The government is banking on a boom in volunteerism – largely due to the high unemployment rate – to combat mistrust and bridge understanding between communities.

“The current context has amplified xenophobic and racist attitudes, and the propagation of hate speech,” says Vicente Manuel Zapata, a professor of human geography at the Universidad de La Laguna in Tenerife. “But we can’t say this is a general phenomenon. The Canarian population still has a relatively positive attitude about immigration. ... It has always been a part of our national fabric.”

“Everything is being improvised”

At the locked door of the Tenerife Ving – one of the few hotels housing migrants that hasn’t boarded up its windows – security guards stand watch. Passersby who try to talk to the men peeking out of their windows are quickly shooed away. 

It’s all in line with the current government directive, which is to keep the number and names of participating establishments private. It’s not out of secrecy, say volunteers, but as a way to protect the migrants.

“These men have crossed an ocean. They’re in a new place with a new language and everything is different,” says Rosa María, a Red Cross volunteer. “They’re still in shock.”

Ms. María has been volunteering at two hotels in Puerto de la Cruz after being put on furlough from her job at a boat tour company during Tenerife’s first COVID-19 wave. She now spends eight hours a day, five days a week serving food, leading improvised exercise classes, and chatting with the young men. She says volunteering has shown her how fortunate she is.

Aid workers aren’t the only ones creating relationships with migrants; it’s also extending to hotel staff. In the south of the island, near Los Cristianos – at the heart of the 2006 crisis – the Granada Park hotel was housing around 300 migrants at the start of November with more arrivals expected in the coming weeks. 

The hotel has finally reopened, having being shuttered since March 21 due to the pandemic, and hotel owners say the situation is a win-win. Granada Park is able to pay employees their full salary – alleviating pressure on the government – while providing humanitarian aid. Red Cross volunteers provide food and translators, with hotel staff maintaining their regular jobs of cleaning rooms and serving meals – to a new clientele.

“We haven’t had any of our staff members complain about the situation and we’re very proud of that,” says Javier Cabrera Amador, a consultant for Granada Park. “On the contrary, they’re creating friendships with these young men since they’re seeing each other on such a regular basis.”

But operations still vary enormously across the islands. Some staff members are on-site, while other hotels have left the entire operation to aid organizations like the Red Cross. Certain hotels are hosting migrants for two-week quarantine periods, where no one is allowed to come or go. Others are acting as makeshift social housing centers, giving migrants a nightly curfew but allowing them to stay for a handful of months as they apply for asylum or refugee status, or set their sights on France, Germany, or the Spanish mainland.

“No one can give you any precise information on how long these migrants will stay in the hotels,” says José María Santana Suárez, who leads advocacy and social participation efforts at the Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid in Gran Canaria, “because everything is being improvised.” 

Disquiet in the Canaries

For some locals, putting up migrants in luxury hotels is too much to bear when they’re stuck lining up at food banks to put dinner on the table or applying for unemployment benefits. While the government has stamped out rumors that migrants living in the country illegally receive a daily living stipend, it has brought out an intolerant thread on an island chain known in recent years for its integration efforts.

At the end of October, more than 1,000 people protested in the port city of Arguineguín in Gran Canaria – where around 1,700 migrants are currently stranded, waiting for PCR tests and left in unhygienic conditions – against what the demonstrators see as a migrant “invasion.” In Puerto de la Cruz, migrants are gradually finishing their quarantine period and moving about town. Curiosity, as well as xenophobia, is mounting. 

“I’m not racist, but we’re a small island so we need more laws to monitor who is coming in,” says Martin Barreto, the owner of Puerto Bakery and Coffee. “There will be more COVID-19 cases and more terrorists coming in, just like in France, if things aren’t controlled.” 

Aid workers, however, are holding out hope that volunteerism will help counter some of the fear that the current migration wave is bringing. Groups like Médicos del Mundo Canarias and the Red Cross note a steady stream of volunteers in recent months, but say they still need more hands.

“Volunteering fulfills me enormously,” says Ms. María. “I don’t care what [these men’s] religion is or the color of their skin. They’re human beings and they deserve the same respect as everyone else.”

A deeper look

Brazil dam disaster: Five years on, are new laws enough?

We often hear “never again” after disasters. Following a devastating dam break in Brazil, new safety measures were created and a mining company pledged reparations. Is that enough to make “never” a reality?

Amelia
Ana Ionova
Marta de Jesus Arcanjo Peixoto surveys the ruins of her home, which was swept away in the Samarco mining disaster on Nov. 5, 2020, in the Mariana district of Minas Gerais, Brazil.

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Five years ago, Marta de Jesus Arcanjo Peixoto’s home was swept away when a dam holding waste from a nearby iron ore mine burst. She was one of hundreds of thousands of people across the Mariana region in Brazil’s mineral-rich Minas Gerais state that watched their land be destroyed by toxic sludge. It damaged the land, polluted rivers, and claimed 19 lives.

New homes were promised to victims, and both the federal and state governments passed new laws under the promise of “never again.” Yet residents are pushing for justice and prevention.

In a nation still suffering the effects of a 2014 economic crisis, dealing with the toll of COVID-19, and being led by a populist trying to open up extraction of natural resources, advocates and victims fear the steps taken so far won’t be enough to guarantee a disaster doesn’t happen again.

“What we are living today is not the life that we wanted. Our future is so uncertain,” says Mauro Marcos da Silva, a member of a group for affected residents. “But we’re fighting so it doesn’t put an end to our story in this place, so it doesn’t wipe it off the map.”

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4. Brazil dam disaster: Five years on, are new laws enough?

A few crumbling walls – stained a deep, muddy red – are all that remain of what Marta de Jesus Arcanjo Peixoto once called home. As the forest edges closer, dense vegetation is enveloping the concrete shell that used to be her kitchen. An antique clock, its hands frozen in place, still hangs on a living room wall.

“Here was my room and, over there was the boys’ bedroom,” Ms. Peixoto says, yanking at the towering weeds as she moves through the rubble. “Now, there is just mud and forest.”

Five years ago, Ms. Peixoto’s house was swept away when a dam holding waste from a nearby iron ore mine burst. It released millions of tons of toxic sludge over the Mariana region in Brazil’s mineral-rich Minas Gerais state, killing 19 people, polluting the region’s most important river, and poisoning water supplies that fed into fishing villages across nearly 40 municipalities. The torrent of mud traveled more than 400 miles before spilling into the Atlantic Ocean, making this one of Brazil’s worst environmental disasters to date.

Ms. Peixoto, along with hundreds of thousands of others across the region, is still feeling the impacts of the catastrophe. The new home that was promised to her by the mining company has yet to be built. The land where she grows crops and raises dairy cows is still covered in a thick, red sludge of mining waste. Her income has been decimated, leaving her dependent on monthly assistance of roughly $200, equivalent to a minimum salary in Brazil, from Samarco, the owner of the failed dam.

“The land is no good anymore – it’s dry, it’s hard,” Ms. Peixoto says. “Many crops end up dying.”

This town traces its very existence to the mining rush that gripped Minas Gerais at the start of the 18th century. But in recent decades, it avoided the region’s dependence on mining, thanks to a thriving small-scale agricultural industry. Then the dam collapsed. It displaced the tightknit community of farmers who lived off the land for generations.

“We didn’t just lose our crops,” says Vicente Celestino Arcanjo, Ms. Peixoto’s older brother, whose house in the hills of Paracatu survived the dam collapse. Before the sludge blanketed his family’s farm, Mr. Arcanjo grew sugar cane, just as his father had. “We lost a community. It was the football field, it was the school where my boys went, it was the church we prayed in.”

The 2015 disaster seemed poised to mark a turning point for Brazil. In the aftermath, lawmakers in Minas Gerais penned a new bill called “A sea of mud, never again,” which vowed to impose strict safety rules on mines. Pressure mounted in 2019, when another dam burst near the town of Brumadinho, also in Minas Gerais, and killed 270 people.

Last month, Brazil’s Senate adopted new legislation banning the type of dams that caused the two disasters, giving companies until February 2022 to bring existing structures in line with the new rules. Though important wins, the overhaul will do little to make mining safer in practice, experts warn, amid weak enforcement and an ongoing push to liberalize Brazilian markets – in part by opening the country up to more natural resource extraction.

“The [federal] law is a lost opportunity,” says Bruno Milanez, a professor at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora in Minas Gerais and the coordinator of PoEMAS, a research group that studies the political, economic, social, and environmental impact of mining.

Now, with toothless laws on the books, winning truly effective reforms may be that much more difficult, he says. “We could have made significant strides. And we didn’t.”

Watered down

The cause of the Samarco dam failure remains under investigation. But internal documents seized by authorities shortly after the catastrophe suggest the company was aware the structure could collapse. Samarco denies knowledge of structural weaknesses.

Samarco, a joint venture between Brazil’s Vale and Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton, was ordered to pay billions in environmental cleanup and damages to victims. Twenty-one people were charged with homicide and a landmark suit was filed against BHP in England, alleging the company was “woefully negligent.” The UK High Court agreed on Nov. 9. The claimants plan to appeal the decision.

Ana Ionova
A destroyed house sits in Bento Rodrigues, in the Mariana district of Brazil's mineral-rich Minas Gerais state. In 2015, a Samarco-owned dam holding waste from an iron ore mine burst, releasing millions of tons of toxic sludge. Five years later, Bento Rodrigues is still struggling to recover.

The disaster sparked outrage across Brazil, but regulatory change was slow to come. “The law didn’t have the traction needed to advance because nobody believed another collapse would happen,” says Mauro Marcos da Silva, a former resident of Bento Rodrigues, one of the towns destroyed in the collapse, and a member of the Commission for People Affected by the Fundão Dam (CABF). “We kept saying that Mariana was not the first and it won’t be the last.”

More than brick and mortar were wiped out. The historical village of Bento Rodrigues was built by enslaved people in the late 1600s, back when colonial powers descended on the Mariana region in a mad scramble for gold. Even after the sludge erased most of the town, residents have fought to keep their land.

“The mud took everything. It destroyed the house where I was born,” Mr. Silva says. “Today, there is nothing. ... But it’s still our land. We still have a strong connection to this place.”

Efforts to tighten mining oversight are running up against a broader agenda of deregulation. Brazil is trying to attract investment and kick-start its economy, which is still recovering from a crippling 2014 recession. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazil now faces further fiscal pains as emergency aid balloons public spending.

The push toward liberalization of the mining sector began in 2018, but has only intensified under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. The populist leader has repeatedly railed against environmental protections, calling them a barrier to development. Informal, unregulated mining is also making inroads under Mr. Bolsonaro. He is pushing to open Indigenous lands to wildcat mining, which has encouraged illegal invasions into protected areas.

The government says it plans to slash the enforcement budget of the National Mining Agency, tasked with monitoring and regulating hundreds of dams across Brazil. Critics say this will likely make it more difficult to police mining companies and ensure they are following new regulations.

While Minas Gerais passed its state-wide law last year, Mr. Milanez says lawmakers have not outlined how it should be put into practice, making it impossible to enforce. Critics say Brazil’s new federal law, meanwhile, was watered down by a series of loopholes and exceptions in Brazil’s chamber of deputies.

“It was gutted. It became so lax that it is unlikely to improve security,” Mr. Milanez says. Brazil’s legislature remains vulnerable to lobbying from mining interests despite a ban on campaign financing, he adds. “It is easy to comply with the law without you having to actually change the way you operate.”

On a local level, mining companies wield power. They often employ whole communities and serve as a lifeline for cash-strapped municipalities that might need funding for infrastructure projects like roads or hospitals.

Mr. Silva, the community activist, says the region is dependent on the mines. “Here in Mariana, it’s the activity that guarantees the survival of the city.”

With municipal elections starting Nov. 15, the influence of mining companies has come into sharp focus. In neighboring Espírito Santo state, where mining has less clout, candidates in towns affected by the Samarco disaster have been vocal against the sector. But in Mariana, those running for office are treading carefully, making vague calls for change. None are proposing alternative engines for growth.

“No mayoral candidate wants to spar with a big mining company,” says Mr. Milanez. “At the end of the day, it will be this mining company that will likely help him renovate a sports field or a wing in a hospital if he needs to.”

Residents of Mariana, where the economy has struggled to recover, seem to be warming to mining once again. At first, public sympathy was with the survivors, Mr. Silva says. “But soon, it was back on the side of the company, asking for it to come back and guarantee jobs.”

Ana Ionova
Three years ago, Vicente Celestino Ancanjo buried his mother in the small cemetery overlooking the remains of the village of Paracatu, Brazil. The sludge from the 2015 dam disaster swept through the homes of three of Mr. Arcanjo's siblings and destroyed the family's crops. “The mud didn’t kill my mother, but seeing her children left with just the clothes on their backs hurt her a lot," he says.

Samarco says it plans to restart operations at its Mariana site by the end of the year, using a new dry tailings method widely seen as a safer alternative to dams.

“We just hope this really means it’s now safe,” says Sandro José Sobreira, a former resident of Bento Rodrigues.

At the mercy of others

The day the contaminated waters wiped out the town, Mr. Sobreira was working in his family’s store, in the house where he grew up. “It was a shop that was passed on from generation to generation,” he says.

The sludge swept away the store, the house, and much of the town, leaving behind reddish rubble, stained from the mix of mud and heavy metals. Five years on, he says his family is living in limbo as they await a new house and try to piece together how to move ahead. Like most of those affected, he is still living in a temporary home with rent subsidized by Samarco. “We’re at the mercy of the company, waiting for a resolution,” he says. “We don’t know when it will come.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt another blow to Mariana, where infection rates are nearly a third higher than elsewhere in the state. The pandemic has further slowed progress on rebuilding the communities devastated by the disaster. Five years on, just two houses have been completed and another five are slated to be finished by the end of the year, according to Mr. Silva. That’s out of the roughly 280 promised to the victims in Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu de Baixo.

The Renova Foundation, the group set up by Samarco to lead reparations, says it has allocated more than 10 billion reais ($1.7 billion) toward compensating families, rebuilding the destroyed towns, and cleaning up the environmental damage. So far, it says it has paid out 2.6 billion reais ($451 million) in damages and assistance to 321,000 people in the region.

CEO André de Freitas said Renova’s work had been stymied by the pandemic, which has slowed construction. He announced in November that reconstruction will likely take another 10 years.

For Mr. Silva, COVID-19 is just the latest in a string of excuses. “They are constantly looking for a justification for the delays,” he says. “Now, it’s the pandemic.”

Brazilian authorities seem to agree: Last month, federal and state prosecutors sought to reopen a suspended 155 billion reais ($27.4 billion) civil action lawsuit, alleging that Renova, Samarco, Vale, and BHP were dragging their feet on meeting their obligations after the disaster. A recent United Nations report found none of the 42 projects to repair damage from the collapse are on track.

A ticking clock

For some of the victims, time is running out. Three years ago, Mr. Arcanjo buried his mother in the red dirt of the small cemetery overlooking the rubble-covered remains of Paracatu. The sludge swept through the homes of three of his siblings and destroyed swaths of the family’s farm.

“The mud didn’t kill my mother, but seeing her children left with just the clothes on their backs hurt her,” Mr. Arcanjo says. “And she ended up dying without seeing us get justice.”

From the roughly 600 families that were directly affected in Bento Rodrigues, about 400 are still stuck in negotiations with Renova over compensation, according to CABF, which is made up of affected residents advocating for fair compensation and reparations.

For Mr. Silva, whose ancestors built Bento Rodrigues as enslaved people more than three centuries ago, the ongoing fight for justice is about preserving the legacy of the land.

“What we are living today is not the life that we wanted. Our future is so uncertain,” he says. “But we’re fighting so it doesn’t put an end to our story in this place, so it doesn’t wipe it off the map.”

Ana Ionova’s reporting in Brazil was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Editor's note: The original story incorrectly stated a UK court decision was pending. That's been updated. 

Books

Need a November escape? Our book reviewers have you covered.

“There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away,” Emily Dickinson’s poem begins. This is especially true this month, when our 10 picks include a Japanese crime novel, a book of cartoons by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss, and a true story of intrigue involving fossil hunters in Africa.

Amelia

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November’s cornucopia of books overflows with rich offerings, including a novel about heroism in the Warsaw ghetto and Martin Amis’ autobiographical novel. Among the nonfiction titles, Robert D. Putnam (of “Bowling Alone” fame) provides a hopeful perspective on this moment in American culture, and a biography of Henry Adams illuminates a period of great change in the U.S.  

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5. Need a November escape? Our book reviewers have you covered.

1. Prefecture D by Hideo Yokoyama 

Before becoming a mystery novelist, Hideo Yokoyama worked as an investigative reporter in Gunma prefecture on Japan’s Honshu island. His book, translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, is actually four novellas, each an intriguing story describing the complex relationships and bureaucratic tensions within the police force. "Prefecture D" is an excellent introduction to the political and social undercurrents that govern Japanese society. Like all good mysteries, each novella holds the reader in suspense until the surprising end.

2. Irena’s War by James D. Shipman

This deeply impactful novel is based on the true story of Irena Sendler, a member of the Polish resistance who rescued 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto. James D. Shipman’s heart-pounding historical thriller is a tribute to those who risked their lives to help others. 

3. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

At a Tokyo cafe, a ghost occupies a certain table – except when she visits the restroom, allowing tenacious customers to take her seat and venture into the past. The rules are many, but a few dare: an abandoned lover, a regretful sister, a forgotten wife, a mother and daughter. This international bestseller makes its delightful, timely U.S. debut, translated by Geoffrey Trousselot.

4. Inside Story by Martin Amis

Martin Amis delivers a big, thumping autobiographical novel bursting with reflections on love, sex, literature, global politics, parenting, writing, aging, and mortality. Tender tributes to his family, and to three seminal literary influences – Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, and Christopher Hitchens – form the core of this protean inside story. Read the review here.

5. The Best of Me by David Sedaris 

David Sedaris’ anthology features 46 of his best essays and stories curated from nine earlier books. It’s an excellent opportunity to view the arc of this American humorist’s development as a writer over 25 years. Stories about his family, his longtime partner, his predilection for the ghoulish, and his take on foreign languages and cultures show off his ability to combine hilarity with heart. Read the review here.

6. Our Last Season by Harvey Araton

Sports journalist Harvey Araton gives a touching and heartfelt history of his decadeslong friendship with a New York Knicks superfan in this memoir. Michelle Musler started out as a source for his stories, but she and the author eventually became as close as family, sharing one final season of basketball together before her death in 2018. Read the review here.

7. The Upswing by Robert D. Putnam

Simon & Schuster
“The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again” by Robert D. Putnam with Shaylyn Romney Garrett, Simon & Schuster, 480 pp.

A leading public intellectual reviews the last 125 years of American history and finds that the polarized and divisive Gilded Age was followed by a long period of increasing equality and cooperation. America is, once again, in the midst of a deeply individualistic and divisive era, but he concludes that we may be poised to move in a more generous and promising direction. Read the review here.

8. A Wealth of Pigeons by Harry Bliss and Steve Martin

Witty and wise, the cartoons gathered in this delightful collection result from the partnership of New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss and actor-writer Steve Martin. Animal lovers will rejoice at the numerous loquacious critters featured in the cartoons. Human foibles are also the target of the duo’s gentle but pointed humor.

9. Fossil Men by Kermit Pattison

HarperCollins Publishers
“Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind” by Kermit Pattison, William Morrow, 544 pp.

In the tumultuous Afar region of Ethiopia, a team of fossil hunters discovers prehistoric clues that threaten the scientific establishment’s understanding of how humans evolved. What happens next – to the paleontologists, the region, and the bones that make up the mysterious ancestor dubbed Ardi – is a riveting story of academic, political, and personal intrigue.

10. The Last American Aristocrat by David S. Brown

David S. Brown observes that writer and intellectual Henry Adams, who lived from 1838 to 1918, bridged America’s transition from the Colonial to the modern era. His excellent biography of this flawed but fascinating thinker, descended from two U.S. presidents, illuminates an extraordinary life and the period of great change it spanned.

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Peru’s cry for honest governance

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In the past decade countries around the globe have been shaken by youth-led protests for democracy. Now it is Peru’s turn, and what happens there may be pivotal for a region struggling to replace entrenched corruption with rule of law.

A week ago Peru’s Congress ousted President Martín Vizcarra over corruption allegations. The speaker of the legislature, Manuel Merino, was then appointed interim president. He lasted five days. Protesters clashed with security forces and by Sunday Mr. Merino had to step down.

At the heart of Peru’s political crisis is the constitution itself. It gives Congress the power to dismiss a president and the president the power to dissolve Congress. Since the adoption of the constitution in 1993, those powers have been applied under questionable legal pretexts, sowing instability and, most of all, exacerbating corruption.

Peru ranks as the third most corrupt country in Latin America. Yet, according to a Transparency International poll last year, 78% of Peruvians believe ordinary citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

Peruvians are tired of living under poor governance. Their desire for equality under rule of law has been awakened. It cannot be deferred too long.

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Peru’s cry for honest governance

In the past decade countries around the globe have been shaken by youth-led protests for democracy and economic justice. Now it is Peru’s turn, and what happens there has the potential to be pivotal for a region struggling to replace entrenched corruption with rule of law.

A week ago Peru’s Congress ousted President Martín Vizcarra over corruption allegations. The speaker of the one-chamber legislature, Manuel Merino, led the ouster and was then appointed interim president. He lasted five days. Protesters clashed with security forces in Lima, the capital, and by Sunday Mr. Merino had to step down.

Hundreds of Peruvian and international legal scholars have signed a statement calling the move against Mr. Vizcarra a “parliamentary coup.” Protesters carried signs reading, “You messed with the wrong generation.” Abigail Calluque, a student protester, told Al-Jazeera, “[Politicians] do whatever they want and we’ve always stayed quiet. No more.”

At the heart of Peru’s political crisis is the constitution itself. It gives Congress the power to dismiss a president and the president the power to dissolve Congress. Since the adoption of the constitution in 1993, those powers have been applied under questionable legal pretexts, sowing instability and, most of all, exacerbating corruption.

Peru ranks as the third most corrupt country in Latin America. Yet, according to a Transparency International poll last year, 78% of Peruvians believe ordinary citizens can make a difference in the fight against corruption. Mr. Vizcarra came to power in 2018 vowing to uproot corruption. After his reform agenda met stiff headwinds in Congress, he dissolved the legislature. Lawmakers responded by suspending the president on the grounds of “permanent moral incapacity” and swore in the vice president. Mr. Vizcarra refused to back down, and a day later his newly elevated vice president resigned. Mr. Vizcarra called for new congressional elections.

That ballot, last January, resulted in a significant defeat for Mr. Vizcarra’s party, leaving him exposed politically. In October he was accused of taking bribes during his tenure as a regional governor. He denied the allegations. An El Comercio-Ipsos poll last month found that 78% said Mr. Vizcarra should remain in office and the corruption allegations pursued only after his term ended. Few failed to note that more than half of the legislators who voted to oust Mr. Vizcarra are themselves under criminal investigation for corruption.

For Peruvians already battered by the health and economic consequences of the pandemic – the country has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world – the political crisis may signal more hardship. In six months, however, voters will have an opportunity to take their grievances to the polls and elect a new president and Congress. In the meantime, Peru’s leaders may want to draw a lesson from neighboring Chile, which has had sustained protests over economic inequality. Last month the people won out. They approved a referendum to draft a new constitution.

Peruvians are tired of living under poor governance. Their desire for equality under rule of law has been awakened. It cannot be deferred too long.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

The power that silences rage

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While it might sometimes seem that right and wrong are in perpetual warfare, in reality there is only one power – the power of good.

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1. The power that silences rage

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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I was driving home recently and came to a four-way stop. After looking for cross traffic, I began to drive forward into the intersection, when another car suddenly entered from the right, ignoring its stop sign. The driver just stared forward as if nobody else were around.

I jammed on my brakes and wanted to honk my horn. Then I wanted to quickly turn and follow this driver, blowing my horn. Then I was thinking, in following them, I could drive up next to their car, roll down my window, and yell at them while – you guessed it – blowing my horn.

You can see where this was really going: nowhere. Road rage is nothing more than letting a hurt ego act out, endangering yourself and others and accomplishing nothing in solving the problem.

This kind of reactive thinking seems to present itself in many other areas of life too. The constant clashing of individuals is nothing new. So, what really is the problem?

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul writes to the Romans with a conundrum – that of a perceived warfare within himself between two opposite laws: the law of Spirit, enabling him to do good, and the law of sin, warring against his spiritual nature to prevent any good works. He laments: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

Paul got his answer, however, because just two verses later he stated: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).

Christ Jesus not only preached but demonstrated that there is but one infinite, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-acting God, and that we are God’s children. Jesus did not preach of two competing minds, two competing egos, two competing creations. Through his healing practice he showed that violence, conflict, greed, and selfishness are not a part of God, who is Spirit, and therefore no part of God’s creation, man (meaning all of us), who is spiritual. The first chapter of the Bible even includes this statement: “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

If there is but one God, one Mind, and if God is only good, then it stands to reason that each of us has nothing but the power of spiritual good backing us up in all our daily thoughts and actions. Each day I pray and affirm that the one Mind goes before me in all of my dealings, and is protecting me and all.

Recently I moved to a new state and got a custom license plate. The message I chose speaks to God as the one and only power, and is a constant reminder that I am not alone, but here to seek and to serve one power, God. In my precarious driving predicament, I remembered that license plate message, laughed, and continued more calmly on my way, grateful that both the other unknown party and I had been kept safe.

In a talk to members of her church, the discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote of qualities such as innocence, unselfishness, and affection, “What grander ambition is there than to maintain in yourselves what Jesus loved, and to know that your example, more than words, makes morals for mankind!” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 110).

What a privilege it is to be Christlike, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus in demonstrating the truths of his teaching in all of our thoughts, speech, and action, as anyone can do. In my experience, it’s allowing me to more intelligently and more honestly love all humanity. And as I do so, I find others expressing more love to me. They are really responding, of course, to the Love that is God.

Do you wish to always be loving and Christlike in all your actions? The privilege, the precedent, and the possibilities are clear. It is your divine right. One infinite Mind alone keeps us safe and secure in one grand brotherhood. Affirming that there is only one power – God, good – releases us from anger and inspires us to bring out the best in ourselves and be of service to our fellow men and women.

Some more great ideas! To hear a podcast discussion about bringing the message of God’s healing love to others through church, please click through to the latest edition of Sentinel Watch on www.JSH-Online.com titled, “When “church service” means a church that serves the community.” There is no paywall for this podcast.

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Season of giving

Mark Lennihan/AP
Captain Chaka Watch with the Salvation Army lip-syncs in front of the New York Stock Exchange, Nov. 16, 2020, in New York.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for starting your week with us. I hope you’ll join us again tomorrow when Washington bureau chief Linda Feldmann will look at how both the Biden and Trump teams can step up their leadership as COVID-19 numbers spike to a new high.

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