what happened last week - It all started with a Rolex watch



what happened last week in Asia, Africa and the Americas

 

 
Hey, this is Sham, your very own news curator. Happy Easter! And as my gift to you, you're reading the VIP version of this newsletter for free today. If you liked it and want to become a VIP Member of this newsletter yourself, I've got an Easter discount for you here (40% off!). I'm 100% self-funded and I have no sponsorships, so your financial support is greatly appreciated.

Issue #374 didn't mean to be so mean to the French, but they asked for it. My deep dives this week go to Peru (where they're likely going into political crisis mode over a Rolex watch and a Cartier bracelet) and to the DRC (a new report, once again, links cobalt mining to health issues in people living close to the areas where cobalt is being mined). Plus, I have some good LGBTQ+ news from Cuba and Thailand, a Nigerian swimmer's plan to raise awareness on mental health, an intro to Med Hondo, one of the founding fathers of African cinema and a new Aya Nakamura song that's a literal 'F*ck you' to France's far-right, so you can bring all of you to the Easter dinner party tonight and a North Korean TV's obsession with a white British man, and so much more.

Enjoy reading, and see you next week in your inbox!
Sham
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Big shout-out to Wikimedia Commons for the helpful maps.
The Americas
 

Peru is having its very own 'Let them eat cake' moment with a Rolex watch

What happened
A Rolex watch is causing trouble in Peru. President Dina Boluarte's home was raided by police last weekend because recently there's been accusations by the press that she had illegally enriched herself during her presidency because, 'well, look at all the different Rolex watches she's started wearing since taking office. When have those been purchased?!'. Prosecutors suspect her of violating the country’s laws against unlawful enrichment and failing to declare assets. 'I have a clean vest, and I will not resign until 2026,' Boluarte has said in response at a press conference since.

Why this matters
Most people in Peru are very fed up with their government. Latest polls show an 82% disapproval rating for President Boluarte, and half of the country believes Peru is not a democracy anymore. There were protests when the last president was ousted and arrested (that's a whole other issue), and 49 people died during those. Some analysts write that no country in Latin America suffers higher rates of dissatisfaction with democracy and government institutions than Peru. The country has seen at least six presidents in the last decade, and this Rolex story (and, sadly, not that of the death of 49 protesters) has the potential to start yet another political crisis in the country. Peruvian political analyst Juan de la Puente already posted on X, 'the Dina administration is over.'

Tell me more
Some 20 officials from the public prosecutor's office and 20 police raided President Boluarte's house last Friday night, and the palace on Saturday morning. She's called the raids a "disproportionate" measure and "abusive." Peruvian Prime Minister Gustavo Adrianzen also criticized the raids. "The political noise that is being made is serious, affecting investments and the entire country," he wrote on X. "What has happened in the last few hours is disproportionate and unconstitutional actions." Peruvian historian Joseph Dager is also appalled, 'the president personifies the nation. How could you raid her home?!' People working at the palace said that the raid was carried out "normally and without any incident."

Why all this fuss?
Two weeks ago, a report came out that got everyone curious, especially the country's prosecutors: Is Dina Boluarte corrupt? According to news outlet La Encerrona, President Boluarte has worn 14 different watches, including a Rolex, since she became Vice President during the administration of now-jailed former President Pedro Castillo (the Castillo chapter in Peruvian politics is such a juicy story). The investigation also revealed that during that period, while her monthly salary ranged from 30,000 to 16,000 soles (US$8,000 – US$4,300), she wore watches like the Rolex, which is valued at US$14,000 in Peru. As the days went by, it was revealed that she also has a US$58,000 Cartier bracelet, according to another report by the newspaper La República. In Peru, the elected authorities must report to the government any assets worth more than 10,300 soles, or about US$2,774, and disclose any gifts received from third parties. Boluarte's response? 'Yes, I own a Rolex watch, but I bought it with money I earned since I was young'. This whole thing has become a controversy because the economy is flagging and hunger is growing in the country. The investigative news program Cuarto Poder reported that President Boluarte wore one Rolex model worth more than US$18,000 at an event in February to address poverty in vulnerable populations. This is like when Marie Antoinette was saying, 'let them eat cake' (which I have come to find out that she's never actually said that, but you get the point).

Who is Dina Boluarte?
She hasn't been elected to office by the people, but she has been in office since December 2022. She took over the presidency, following Castillo’s ouster (he tried to dissolve Congress, which is unconstitutional; he's arrested now). At least 49 people were killed in the protests that followed; she's "apologized" for them last July. However, she also has staunch critics who accuse her government of leaning too much into authoritarianism because she doesn't really address demands for early elections and works with members of congress on laws that threaten to undermine the independence of Peru's judicial system.

What now?
Criminal lawyer Carlos Caro told news outlet RPP that Boluarte could face an investigation even with just a small sign of wrongdoing, because she is a public official, and that 'because the watches are quite valuable, if Boluarte bought them from a jewelry store or an authorized Rolex seller, those sellers are required to maintain sales records for 10 years according to anti-money laundering rules.' So far, the Public Ministry has requested copies of photographs and video records of the watches. They have also asked for information on travel expenses, salaries, among other things, and receipts from the president. For La República, journalist Doris Aguirre yesterday wrote that it was found at least one of the watches has been purchased in July 2023, when she was in fact already in office. So... things are not adding up. Political crises are nothing new in Peru, writes journalist Paola Ugaz. "Since 2016, no president in Peru has finished their five-year term", she writes in this article for ABC International. But this "latest crisis will further tarnish the image of the Peruvian presidency, with potentially significant political and economic implications," Benjamin Gedan, the director of the Wilson Center's Latin America Program, said in this interview with journalist Eléonore Hughes for AP. Given the economic struggles of many Peruvians, "allegations of corruption could be incendiary," Gedan added. Boluarte will testify to the prosecutor's office on April 5, Boluarte's lawyer told news outlet RPP. To be continued.
Africa
 

Cobalt mining is seriously harming women and girls in the DRC, another report says

What happened
According to a new report by two human rights groups, more and more women and girls in cobalt-mining communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are having reproductive health problems such as miscarriages, infections, and birth defects.

Why this matters
As the world goes gaga over green energy (hello, electric cars!), the demand for cobalt is shooting up. And wherever people are mining cobalt for companies, drinking water is contaminated. Yes, companies keep claiming that they comply with environmental standards, but the local water's (or whatever's left of it) still a toxic cocktail, impacting community health and day-to-day life.

Tell me more
The report in question has been published by the UK-based human rights group Rights & Accountability in Development (RAID) and the Kinshasa-based NGO AFREWATCH and is one of the first in-depth studies of the environmental impacts of industrial cobalt mining on the human rights of hundreds of thousands of Congolese people living in and around Kolwezi, the heart of DRC’s cobalt industry. The groups say there is a link between the reproductive health issues that these women face to the environmental contamination from mining activities in their immediate surroundings. In total, they interviewed some 144 people living in 25 communities near five industrial cobalt mines as part of the study. More than half of all interviewees (56%), raised concerns about their own reproductive health or that of family members.

What were the findings?
Anaïs Tobalagba, a legal and policy researcher at Raid and the report’s lead researcher, told the Guardian: 'the impact on women is off the charts. Sure, we knew cobalt mining and health issues were bedfellows, but the scale? Mind-blowing.' It turns out women, who are the champs of household chores, are up close and personal with this toxic water every day.  "And medical experts have told us that when the pH level of water is lower, gynecological issues are more likely." Another of the findings, Tobalagba said, was that 75% of people interviewed said that they can’t afford healthcare anymore. "People are becoming poorer because they rely on fishing and agriculture, but because the water is so polluted, the fishing stocks have diminished and crops grown along the water banks have begun to fail," she said.

Is this new?
Not exactly breaking news, but still a big deal. A Lancet study from 2020 already threw up red flags about the connection between cobalt mining and birth defects.

What now?
Raid has shared its findings with the mining companies, largely European and Chinese giants, located across the copper belt, a natural region between northern Zambia and the southern Democratic Republic of Congo, known for copper mining. The companies? They're all, "We're on it, following the rules, auditing, the works!" They even brag about the cleaner water pumps they've doled out. The report said: "While this partly alleviates the chronic shortage of clean water, our investigation found that none of the mining companies had provided the minimal number of water points required by DRC regulations. Nor did they meet the World Health Organization’s guideline of 20 liters per person per day, the bare minimum required for drinking and basic hygiene." The Congolese government isn't off the hook, either. Despite robust environmental laws, enforcement is weak, letting pollution continue almost unchecked. Emmanuel Umpula from AFREWATCH writes, "We all need a sustainable future, but this must apply equally to those in the global North as well as to those in the DRC." 


what else happened

Bad
South Africa: A bus plunged off a bridge in Limpopo province and killed 45 people. An 8-year-old child is the only survivor. The passengers were headed to an Easter festival. (Daily Maverick)
Mexico / China: The bodies of eight Chinese nationals have been found on a beach in the Mexican state of Oaxaca after their boat capsized. (BBC)
Afghanistan: The Taliban has announced that it will resume publicly stoning women to death in Afghanistan, a move that has sparked outrage among human rights groups. This decision marks a return to the harsh punishments seen during the Taliban's rule in the 1990s. (The Guardian)
Mexico: In southern Mexico, the death of eight-year-old Camila Gómez in Taxco sparked a violent protest that led to a mob killing a woman suspected of the murder. Camila went missing after visiting a neighbor's house, leading her mother to contact the police with evidence, which was reportedly ignored. (BBC)
Zimbabwe: An extreme drought in southern Africa has left millions facing hunger, particularly in Zimbabwe, where crops have failed due to the lack of rain. The drought, affecting several countries in the region, is attributed to El Niño and is worsening food insecurity, with many relying on food aid distributions. (AP)
Interesting...
South Africa: Former South African President Jacob Zuma has been barred from running in the country's general election scheduled for May. The electoral commission, without specifying reasons, disqualified Zuma, likely due to his 2021 conviction and imprisonment for contempt of court. Zuma, who served as president from 2009 to 2018, faces ongoing corruption charges. (BBC)
Somalia / Puntland: Somalia's semi-autonomous state of Puntland has declared that it will not recognize the federal government following recent constitutional amendments passed by the central government. Puntland has decided to govern itself independently until these amendments are ratified through a national referendum in which Puntland participates. (Reuters)
UK / Ethiopia: The British Museum is under investigation for not fully disclosing information about sacred Ethiopian altar tablets, known as tabots, that have been in its possession for over 150 years. These items, looted in the 19th century, are so sacred that they are not displayed or studied, and only Ethiopian clergy can access them. Despite calls from Ethiopia for their return, the museum has not done so. The Information Commissioner's Office is now examining a complaint about the museum's lack of transparency in its internal discussions about the tabots. (The Guardian)
Brazil: Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has decided not to hold official commemorations for the 60th anniversary of the 1964 military coup, disappointing relatives of the dictatorship's victims. The decision seems aimed at avoiding tension with the military. (The Guardian)
Venezuela: Corina Yoris, an 80-year-old academic chosen by the opposition to run in the July presidential elections, wasn't allowed to register, signaling that the upcoming elections might be skewed in favor of President Nicolás Maduro. This professor was picked after Maria Corina Machado, a strong opponent of Maduro, was ruled out from running. (Reuters)
Japan: The Oxford English Dictionary has added 23 Japanese words in its latest update, with over half related to food and cooking, such as katsu, donburi, and onigiri. Other entries include terms from arts, like kintsugi, which denotes the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, and omotenashi, reflecting thoughtful hospitality. Additionally, isekai, a genre in fantasy fiction, was included, illustrating the ongoing influence of Japanese culture and language on English. (The Guardian)
Bolivia: Indigenous groups in Bolivia are contesting Colombia's plan to recover treasures from the San José, an 18th-century shipwreck. They argue that the gold, silver, and emeralds aboard were mined by their ancestors under forced labor and that the recovery violates international law without their consent. The ship's cargo, estimated to be worth billions, is seen as shared heritage. While Colombia plans to explore the wreck and create a museum, the Bolivian communities demand a halt to the recovery and seek intervention from Spain and UNESCO. They emphasize that any use of the recovered items should include fair compensation for the exploitation of their cultural legacy. (The Guardian)
Turkey: It looks like President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party is losing in the country's local election. At the time I'm writing this, no result has been announced yet. (Reuters)
Good
 
Nigeria: Nigerian swimmer Akinrodoye Samuel has tried to raise awareness on mental health in Nigeria, swimming nearly 12 km (7.45 miles), the length of the longest bridge in Lagos where many people have jumped to their deaths. Samuel is a swimming coach and was moved by the death of a friend to speak up on how depression can ruin lives. A 2021 UNICEF report showed one in six Nigerians aged between 15 and 24 were depressed, anxious or had other mental health issues. (Reuters) In the same week, in Kuriga, a village celebrated as over 100 kidnapped students and staff came back home. They were found in a neighboring state after being taken by criminals who wanted ransom money. (Reuters)
Bangladesh: Dozens of Rohingya refugees fleeing from Bangladesh were rescued from the Indian Ocean off Indonesia's coast after their boat overturned. Seventy-five survivors were saved, but conflicting reports suggest many others may be missing. (The Guardian)
Cuba: In Cuba, a church in Matanzas, led by Rev. Elaine Saralegui, is making waves as an LGBTQ+-inclusive place of worship. This is a big deal in Cuba, a country with a history of repressing gay people. The church's open arms approach is part of a broader shift in Cuba toward more acceptance and rights for LGBTQ+ people. Just a few years ago, Cuba made it legal for same-sex couples to marry and adopt kids, which was a massive win for the community. (AP)
India / Cambodia: The Indian government is actively rescuing its citizens who were deceived into working in Cambodia and subsequently coerced into participating in cyber fraud activities. According to India's Ministry of External Affairs, around 250 Indian nationals have been rescued and repatriated, with 75 of them being rescued in the past three months. The rescues are a response to reports that over 5,000 Indians are trapped in Cambodia under duress to engage in cyber scams. (Reuters)
Thailand: Thailand's lower house of parliament has passed a marriage equality bill, paving the way for the country to become the first in Southeast Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill received overwhelming support from lawmakers and now awaits approval from the senate and the king. If enacted, this law would place Thailand alongside Taiwan and Nepal as Asian countries recognizing same-sex marriage. (The Guardian)


recommendations

Read… "Med Hondo's Vital Political Cinema Comes to New York" by Richard Brody (article) for The New Yorker. The late Med Hondo is showing in New York City right now. When I first heard about Med Hondo, I got to know him as the "French voice of Eddie Murphy, Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley". The second time around, I found out this man was "one of the founding fathers of African cinema". Hondo was a Mauritanian director, producer, screenwriter and actor, who smuggled himself onto a ship to France in 1959 (French colonization hadn't even ended yet) to find work as a chef (he actually trained to become one in Morocco) first in Marseilles and then in Paris. "He films aspects of French life that remained largely hidden in the works of white directors there: his principal subject was French colonialism, as it has affected Africans for centuries and as it continues to affect and afflict the lives of Africans, including those who migrate to France," writes Brody. His 1970 directorial debut feature, "Soleil Ô" (you can watch the entire movie on YouTube), was critically acclaimed, and rightly so. The movie (which he funded himself entirely; he's always had trouble making and showing his movies) starts with a scene I will never forget: "a white French priest baptizes a group of African men, who renounce their various native languages and are given French names; the men then march in procession, bearing long crosses, which, under military orders, they turn upside down and wield as swords in order to fight one another to the death, for the entertainment of a white French officer." And that was just the beginning. Fun fact: Hondo's 1979 film "West Indies" (watch the trailer here) was the first African film musical and, at US$1.3 million, the most expensive production in African film history.
 
Watch… "FRIDA" (trailer), a new documentary about Mexico's most famous (right?) painter on Prime Video. You might ask, 'Sham, is it possible to know any more about Frida Kahlo than we already do?' I know what you mean. There's literally endless pictures of her (thanks to her husband) and countless movies and documentaries about her (thinking about Salma Hayek now). Peruvian-born director Carla Gutiérrez said, 'it is possible, yes'. Her new documentary on the painter landed on Prime Video two weeks ago. If you don't know anything about her and her life (she was lovers with Trotsky!), then watch it ASAP. If you do, the film still stands out on a few points, writes Carolina A. Miranda for the Los Angeles Times. "For one, there are no awkward reenactments and no talking heads. Visuals consist exclusively of a mix of vintage footage and photography, along with Kahlo’s diaristic drawings and paintings — some of which are animated for added effect. Animating a painting can be cloying. (Can we let painting be painting?) But the filmmaker approaches her work with reverence. And the structure of the narrative, which centers Kahlo’s voice, drawn from her letters and diaries, makes the enterprise worthwhile."

Listen to… Aya Nakamura's new single "Doggy" (YouTube lyrics video), a "F*ck you" song to France's far-right. So, what's the tea? After some gossip spread about Aya possibly belting out an Édith Piaf tune at the Paris Olympics, some folks on the far-right threw a fit. They couldn't stomach the idea of the "most listened-to French-speaking artist in the world" (shoutout to The Guardian) covering Piaf, which led to some pretty nasty racist comments flung her way. Take Marine Le Pen, who was all, "Ew, that's not a good look, honestly." Then there was this radical group, the Natives, who decided to hang a banner near the Seine that basically said, "Nope, Aya, this isn't Bamako market; this is Paris." France's culture minister, Rachida Dati, called it straight-up racism, and football legend Lilian Thuram chimed in, questioning why some folks think Aya can't rep France. He's like, "I've heard this tune before," recalling his own days on the football field when people questioned the French team's identity. What now? The Paris prosecutor has opened an investigation into alleged racist abuse against the singer. Show your support by streaming her song anywhere you listen to music. Comme d'habitude, I added the song in this newsletter's own Spotify playlist, 'Go Global Weekly', where I've also added some other current favorite tunes of mine that I found on my TikTok ForYou page.


video of the week

 

Monkey Man | A movie about a secret fighting group in a made-up Indian city, directed by Dev Patel, got great feedback at its SXSW showing. The movie, based on Hanuman from Hindu stories, shows a fighter overcoming challenges to find the police officer who killed his mom. Audiences praised Monkey Man‘s portrayal of topics such as sectarian violence, income disparities, corruption, and the inclusion of third gender hijra actors. Patel’s "blend of folklore and socio-political critique into an engaging action-packed experience showcases a side of Indian cinema (outside the Hollywood machine) that often goes underappreciated internationally," Deadline wrote. Official release date? This Friday, April 5, 2024.


on a funny note

North Korean TV decided Alan Titchmarsh's jeans were just too hot to handle. Yep, in a classic "fashion police" move, they blurred out his pants while he was talking about petunias and peonies on "Garden Secrets."

Why? Well, in North Korea, jeans are pretty much Public Enemy No. 1, seen as the epitome of U.S. pop culture, thanks to rules set by Kim Jong-il. His son, Kim Jong-un, isn't a fan either.

In a world where jeans are outlawed, one man's trousers dare to defy an empire. Coming soon: Alan Titchmarsh in 'Denim of Defiance.

Hey, I'm Sham, the person behind this newsletter. Since 2014, I email a bunch of strangers once a week, curating news headlines from Asia, Africa and the Americas. I work under the assumption that, here in the West (I live in Berlin, Germany), we don't read or know much about the global majority, aka the rest of the world. 

My goal is to help you burst your Western-centric bubble.

If you want to know more about me, visit my
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