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Building transatlantic ties against the crisis | Economy and Business

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Three years had elapsed since the last edition of a forum that, in what has now a become a tradition during the week-long United Nations General Assembly in New York, brings together political and financial leaders from both sides of the Atlantic at the invitation of EL PAÍS and the Spain-US Chamber of Commerce. And what a three years it has been: a pandemic that brought the world to a grinding halt, shortages and disruptions in supply chains – all unprecedented in the history of globalization – inflation more typical of the days of old, central banks desperate to try and turn the course of the tide and a war in Europe that is threatening to trigger a global food crisis. All of these concerns provided a somewhat gloomy backdrop to the speeches and interviews during the fifth edition of the meeting, which was held last Thursday at the Yale Club in Manhattan and sponsored by Abertis, Baker & McKenzie, Hiberus and Iberia, with the cooperation of the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI).

Gustavo Petro, president of Colombia (left), in conversation with Jan Martínez Ahrens, director of EL PAÍS América.
Gustavo Petro, president of Colombia (left), in conversation with Jan Martínez Ahrens, director of EL PAÍS América.Juan Arredondo

Two world leaders were present at the event, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who closed a session held under the title Latin America, The United States and Spain in the Global Economy, where they spoke about climate change, logistics, energy transition, tourism and education, among other topics. Also discussed at the forum was the perspective of Transatlantic relations, which Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs José Manuel Albares described as crucial in “facing the complex geopolitical panorama of the present.”

It was inevitable that geopolitics would dominate proceedings when Sánchez and Petro took the podium. New York had awoken that morning, replete with world leaders, to a partial mobilization of 300,000 people in Russia – the country’s first use of such a measure since World War II – the threats of Vladimir Putin to resort to nuclear force and so-called referendums in the pro-Russian Donbas region of Ukraine. The Spanish prime minister condemned the Kremlin’s rhetoric, reaffirmed Spain’s commitment to the defense of Ukraine and issued a warning: “We are entering a critical phase: Putin knows he is losing the war.”

José Manuel Albares, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain (left), greets Manuel Tovar, Minister of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica.
José Manuel Albares, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain (left), greets Manuel Tovar, Minister of Foreign Trade of Costa Rica.Juan Arredondo

In this new reality, Sánchez added, the best approach is to continue to work as a team, as part of the coalition of the European Union, the US and the other members of the G7. Not only in terms of the war in Ukraine, but also to navigate the turbulent waters of an economic panorama that does not look overly promising but in which Spain, according to Sánchez’s “prudent optimism,” is in a “better position than other European economies.”

“[Spain] has experienced growth this year above the EU average,” he said. “The consensus is that we will exceed 4% in 2022 and 2% in 2023. We have 330,000 more people in work than last year. Our unemployment rate is at its lowest since 2008. The percentage of temporary jobs is below 20% and we are changing a dynamic of historical insecurity. The tourism sector is now at practically the same level as it was before the pandemic. Exports of goods have grown by 20%. We have considerably more robust foundations than in the past and homes and businesses are much less indebted. Our country is much more resilient. These figures invite confidence in the Spanish economy as a place to invest.”

Left to right: Spain's PM Pedro Sánchez, Prisa President Joseph Oughourlian and , President of Prisa, and Mariano Jabonero, Secretary General of the Organization of Ibero-American States.
Left to right: Spain’s PM Pedro Sánchez, Prisa President Joseph Oughourlian and , President of Prisa, and Mariano Jabonero, Secretary General of the Organization of Ibero-American States.Juan Arredondo

Petro, for his part, took advantage of an interview with the director of EL PAÍS América, Jan Martínez Ahrens, to continue the theme of a defiant speech he delivered a day earlier at the UN – an environmentalist plea in which he questioned the war on drugs – and to make his first statement on Ukraine, 45 days after being elected as the first leftist president of Colombia. Petro said he would align himself in a common front with his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which will take the form of a statement calling for the creation of a UN committee with a view to declaring a cease-fire in Ukraine of at least five years. “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is as bad as those of Syria and Iraq,” he concluded.

Colombia’s role in Latin America (Petro also discussed Venezuela, the total disarmament of guerrilla organizations and how to combat climate change in the Amazon with the help of the United States) was another of the key topics addressed in his speech to the UN. The Latin American continent was to the fore from the outset of the day’s events, which were led by Joseph Oughourlian, president of Prisa, the parent company that publishes EL PAÍS, which he described as a “multi-Latin” company that derives 70% of its income and results from the region. “We decided to invest heavily in the region over the past few years,” Oughourlian said. As a result, EL PAÍS, with the support of the rest of Prisa, has strengthened its newsrooms and editions Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina, as well as its presence in the United States.

Support network

In order to help Spanish companies to gain a foothold in the land of opportunity, one of the primary missions of the Spain-US Chamber of Commerce is to facilitate “the connection of a wide-ranging network of business organizations, governmental authorities, professional and commercial associations and prominent dignitaries,” with the goal of strengthening commercial ties between both countries, the Chamber’s president, Alan D. Solomont, said during his speech.

Alan D. Solomont, President of the Spain-United States Chamber of Commerce.
Alan D. Solomont, President of the Spain-United States Chamber of Commerce.Juan Arredondo

“Spain is and will continue to be the gateway to Europe for Latin America,” Minister Albares said, while promising to use Spain’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2023 to further strengthen these ties. The links between Spain and Latin America were also lauded by Costa Rican Minister of Foreign Trade Manuel Tovar, who reinforced his country’s position as the “island of sustainability, environmental protection and respect for the rights of workers,” in the increasingly convulsive context of Central America, where authoritarian overtones are sounding in Costa Rica’s neighbors, Nicaragua and El Salvador. In economic terms, Tovar announced that Costa Rica would increasingly look to the Pacific commercial front though its ties with countries such as Ecuador. “Unfortunately, our continent remains too little integrated,” he said.

Faced with the reality of the current global situation, Christian Asinelli, corporate vice-president of the CAF-Development Bank of Latin America Strategic Program, said that the Latin America and Caribbean could further strengthen its position as a “region of solutions” for the uncertainties deriving from the aftermath of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. “We are capable of boosting energy transition,” Asinelli said, and as such he put forward the multilateral CAF as a valuable tool for the future. “Some member nations have reserves of gas that aid with energy transition and there is capacity for hydroelectric projects that will serve to increase food production,” he added.

Christian Asinelli, Corporate Vice President of Strategic Planning at CAF-Development Bank of Latin America.
Christian Asinelli, Corporate Vice President of Strategic Planning at CAF-Development Bank of Latin America.Juan Arredondo

Given this reality, Christian Asinelli, corporate vice president of Strategic Programming at CAF-Development Bank of Latin America, opted for the reinforcement of Latin America and the Caribbean as “a region of solutions” for the uncertainties arising from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. “We are capable of promoting the energy transition,” explained Asinelli, and for this he applied to the multilateral organization for which he works as a tool for the future. “Some member countries have gas reserves that can help with the energy transition, and there is capacity for water projects that allow increasing food production,” he added.

Greater digitization

Mariano Jabonero, secretary general of the OEI, laid out the educational perspective and called for a wider commitment to the digitization of education to bridge the gap between education and productivity. Jabonero advocates hybrid education, in which digital transformation would be strengthened, broadband access and the technological skills of teachers are improved and household access to the internet is increased. “The future is virtual, technological and digital. It is an educational challenge, but also a political and economic one,” he said.

Tim Robertson, CEO Americas, DHLGlobal Forwarding.
Tim Robertson, CEO Americas, DHLGlobal Forwarding.Juan Arredondo

Tim Robertson, CEO of logistics giant DHL in the Americas, provided an optimistic nore among so many grim forecasts. His company belongs to one of the sectors that was hardest hit during the early stages of the pandemic, when it seemed that countries were paradigmatically closing in on themselves. But the logistics sector also discovered that out of adversity arose the virtue of e-commerce, which took a giant leap forward during those days of confinement and uncertainty. Supply chains subsequently showed their most fragile side, but Robertson believes international freight capacity will return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this winter. “It has been a terrible two and a half years, but it has at least served to demonstrate the essential role of commerce in improving people’s quality of life.” This, he added, was in part due to the logistics sector, which had little choice but to prove its “resilience” – a recent buzzword that was among the most oft-spoken in New York last week.

From left: Lisa Schineller, managing director of Americas Sovereign Ratings at S&P Global Ratings; Carla Arimont, Vice President of the Official Spanish Chamber of Commerce in the US; and Ernesto Revilla, Managing Director and Head of Latin American Economy at Citigroup.
From left: Lisa Schineller, managing director of Americas Sovereign Ratings at S&P Global Ratings; Carla Arimont, Vice President of the Official Spanish Chamber of Commerce in the US; and Ernesto Revilla, Managing Director and Head of Latin American Economy at Citigroup.Juan Arredondo

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Uganda condemned for ‘shameful’ decision to close UN human rights office | Global development

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Rights activists and campaigners have condemned the Ugandan government’s decision to shut down the country’s UN human rights office, describing it as “shameful”.

In a letter to the Office of the UN high commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) in Uganda dated 3 February, the foreign affairs ministry said it will not renew the host country agreement it signed with the OHCHR, which established its initial mandate in the country in 2005. The current mandate, signed on 9 February 2020, expires in August.

“The government of Uganda will now continue its cooperation with the OHCHR Headquarters either directly or through its Permanent Mission in Geneva,” reads the letter.

The development comes less than three months after the UN’s committee against torture adopted the concluding observations on Uganda, which raised concerns that torture and ill-treatment continued to be frequently practised, and called for investigation and prosecution of security officials accused of excessive use of force, violence and arbitrary detention.

“The closure of the @UNHumanRightsUG office proves that [the] government has lost all sense of shame. It no longer wants any close international scrutiny of its human rights record,” tweeted Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.

“If the protectors are sent away, what then happens to those they were protecting? We are headed for tough times,” he added.

Adrian Jjuuko, (speaking, centre left) executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, has condemned the OHCHR closure.
Adrian Jjuuko, (speaking, centre left) executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, has condemned the OHCHR closure. Photograph: Alice McCool

Bobi Wine, the reggae singer turned Ugandan opposition leader, whose supporters remain in unauthorised places of detention or “safe houses”, said it was no surprise that Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, has closed the OHCHR. He tweeted: “In the face of growing international condemnation and isolation, tyrant Museveni has responded by shutting down NGOs, Facebook, DGF [Democratic Governance Facility] & declaring several internationals Persona Non-Grata or deporting them! Now he shuts down @UNHumanRightsUG.”

Wine added: “You’ll recall in the aftermath of the 2021 election and the hundreds killed or abducted by the Museveni regime, we petitioned the UN Human Rights Office & the military brutalised journalists right there. This UN Office condemned these actions. Not surprising it’s being closed.”

Human right activists and advocacy groups have called the decision a “mockery” and accused the government of running from international scrutiny on abuse and protection of human rights.

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“This is unbelievable, and the reasons given by the government are a mockery of the real state of human rights in the country,” said Jjuuko. “To claim that Uganda no longer needs the office [OHCHR] because of its strong stand for human rights is ironic to say the least.

“A strong stand for human rights would imply opening up to the UN and other actors.”

David Livingstone Sewanyana, founder of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative in the capital, Kampala, told the Guardian, “The decision not to renew the mandate deprives Uganda of a critical player in the field of human rights promotion and protection.”

At least 38 local and international staff at the head office in Kampala and two field offices in Gulu and Moroto stand to lose their jobs.

Jjuuko said: “Following closely on the closure of the DGF, this is a scary move which indicates that the government is no longer willing to have its human rights record scrutinised by international actors.

“This leaves local organisations at much more risk of being further silenced and their work curtailed without the government fearing close international security. It is a sad day indeed for the human rights movement in Uganda.”



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2023 State of the Union address, live | Biden will call for collaboration with Republicans | USA

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On the List: Biden’s guests at the State of the Union address

In the highly theatrical ritual of the State of the Union address, delivered each year by the President of the United States to a joint audience of congressmen and senators on Capitol Hill, the most eagerly awaited list in the hours leading up to the address is that of those invited by the President himself to attend his speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. They are carefully chosen to underscore with their presence the points the president wants to emphasize. This year they range from rock stars (Bono) to anonymous citizens unwittingly placed at the center of a whirlwind of tragedy and media attention, such as the parents of Memphis teen Tyre Nichols, the latest name to enter the history of police brutality infamy in the country.
 
What follows is a list of some of those illustrious guests at tonight’s speech in Washington: 

Bono. Singer of the Irish band U2 and activist for the most varied causes, for whose fight he deploys his worldwide fame.

Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States. She was already invited last year, when Biden’s first speech came six days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nearly a year later, the end of the war seems far off, but the U.S. commitment to Kiev’s cause remains unwavering.

Row Vaughn and Rodney Wells, mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols. Five police officers beat him to death last month in Memphis. His case, and the poise of his parents, have reopened the debate about police brutality in the United States, an issue that seemed on the mend after the chokehold death of African-American George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020. 

Brandon Tsay, another anonymous man at the center of American political power. Tsay disarmed the killer of 11 people in one of the latest mass shootings to horrify the country. It happened in Monterey Park, California, and the tragedy ripped the Asian American community in half. 

Deanna Branch. Lead was found in her son’s blood because of water coming out of the home’s plumbing. The Biden Administration has set a goal of replacing all lead pipes in the country within the next decade.

Mitzi Colin Lopez. Immigrant rights activist, specializing in advocacy for dreamers.  

Doug Griffin of Newton, New Hampshire. Lost a daughter to a fentanyl overdose. Biden plans to stress the importance of the fight against opioids. The drugs have taken the lives of 100,000 Americans by 2022.

Amanda Zurawski, Texas neighbor. She almost died because of restrictive anti-abortion laws that came out of the Supreme Court ruling that eliminated a woman’s federal right to choose.

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High-profile lawsuit against Meta can be heard in Kenya, Nairobi court rules | Global development

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A Kenyan court has ruled that a case brought against Facebook by a former content moderator can go ahead.

Daniel Motaung, who was hired as a Facebook content moderator by the tech firm’s subcontractor Sama in 2019, filed a suit against the two companies last year, alleging that he had been exposed to graphic and traumatic content at work, without adequate prior knowledge or proper psychosocial support – which he says left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He also claimed he was unfairly dismissed after trying to unionise his co-workers to fight for better conditions.

Facebook’s parent company, Meta, contested its involvement in the case, saying that Sama was Motaung’s employer, and Meta could not be subjected to a hearing in Kenyan courts because it was not registered, and did not operate, in the country.

However, on Monday the judge found that the tech giant was a “proper party” to the case.

The Kenya employment and labour relations court is yet to release its full ruling on Motaung’s case, but the decision – the first of its kind in Africa – is already being hailed as a win for the accountability of big tech on the continent, and in the global south.

“If the attempt by [Meta] to avoid Kenyan justice had succeeded, it would have undermined the fundamental tenets of access to justice and equality under the law in favour of foreign privilege,” said Irũngũ Houghton, executive director of Amnesty International Kenya.

“We finally have an avenue for accountability,” said Odanga Madung, senior researcher for platform integrity at Mozilla. “It calls for tech giants to make serious changes within their companies that take into consideration their workers and users outside the US and Europe.”

Cori Crider, director of Foxglove, a UK tech justice non-profit, which supported the Motaung case, said social media platforms should not outsource critical online safety functions like content moderation. “It is the core function of the business. Without the work of these moderators, social media is unusable. When they are not able to do their jobs safely or well, social media’s safety brutally falters.”

Meta is facing a second court case in Kenya, which was due to be heard this week but has been postponed. It was filed by two Ethiopian petitioners and a Kenyan rights advocacy group, Katiba Institute, who claim that the company failed to take online safety measures to manage hate speech on the platform during northern Ethiopia’s civil war – which they say fanned the conflict, with serious offline consequences.

Mercy Mutemi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in a second case against Meta due to be heard in Kenya, outside a Nairobi court in December.
Mercy Mutemi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in a second case against Meta due to be heard in Kenya, outside a Nairobi court in December. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The father of one of the petitioners was killed after a violent Facebook post that was reported, but not acted on in time. The petitioners claim that Facebook also failed to recruit enough moderation staff to its regional hub in Nairobi.

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“There are problems with Facebook’s woeful failure to value or to staff content moderation outside of the English-speaking United States,” said Crider, adding that Monday’s ruling could have global and regional implications on how tech firms think about and manage content moderation.

Leah Kimathi, a convenor for the Council for Responsible Social Media, agrees. “Big tech should not just look at Kenyans as a market, but should be accountable and alive to the nuances, needs and peculiarities of Kenya, especially when it comes to content moderation.”

Facebook has more than 13 million users in Kenya. It and Meta’s WhatsApp are the most commonly used social media platforms in the country.

A nationwide poll conducted in 2022 by the Council for Responsible Social Media showed that 68% of Kenyans who have internet access get their news from social media, and that a majority of these feel that social media platforms could do more to remove harmful content.

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