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Cozumel, the Mexican island taking a stand against cruise ships | International

The sound of someone breathing underwater is like a hypnotic purr. Every breath produces a long column of bubbles rising to the surface and a sound like Darth Vader’s mask. The man behind this mask is the biologist Germán Méndez, who advances in a perfect horizontal line, his oxygen tank strapped to his back, as though supported by an invisible harness. He is diving in the crystalline waters of the Caribbean, carefully looking after his coral farm. If one is lying on the sea bed, he gently replaces it so that it does not fall down again. Some look like purple tentacles, others resemble yellow brains or huge folding fans swaying in the sea. “What do you think of my office?” he asks as he emerges.

But Méndez’s office, off the island of Cozumel on Mexico’s eastern seaboard, is under threat. In an area that has been reserved for the preservation of coral for a decade, the government has authorized the construction of an 800-meter (2624-foot) mass of concrete: the island’s fourth international cruise ship pier. The project is part of a strategic plan set out by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in October 2020 to kick-start the economy after the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. Méndez, on the other hand, believes that destroying part of the coral reefs the island is famous for is akin to “shooting the golden goose.” And he wonders aloud: “What are tourists going to come for? To see dead rocks? Cozumel isn’t an island of piers, it’s a coral island.”

When the sun starts to set, the stretch of the coast where the pier will be built starts to fill up. A group of friends drink cans of beer under a mangrove and a little further along a couple kiss with the sound of the sea in the background. The area is so close to downtown Cozumel that it is a popular place for residents to while away the afternoons. Here there is no dollar charge to enter nightclubs like there is in the tourist areas. There are no frozen margaritas or umbrella-shaped straws. Here there is just a public space, of which there are fewer and fewer, where those who do not have a lot can feel wealthy admiring the turquoise sea as the sun tints the horizon red. When the pier goes up, this part of the beach will be off limits to the public.

The activist Guadalupe Martín waves a flag during a signature collection drive in Cozumel on January 22, 2022.
The activist Guadalupe Martín waves a flag during a signature collection drive in Cozumel on January 22, 2022.Teresa de Miguel

A group of women arrive in a whirl of noise to collect signatures calling for a public consultation on the project. The youngest, Olivia Rose, whizzes up and down the promenade on her scooter with a flag bearing the name of the collective: “No to the fourth pier.” Environmentalist Guadalupe Martín Cab, who is also president of the Conservation, Research and Environmental Management of Cozumel (Cimac) organization, applauds Rose’s efforts while she sets up a small table on the sidewalk. Claudia Yaneth Cifuentes, a staunch supporter of López Obrador, asks a man who wants to sign up for the cause for his ID. The collective is heterogeneous, as is the fight against a project that aims to bring more tourists to an island where livelihoods depend on tourism.

Martín Cab knows what she wants to say and she wants to say it quickly, before darkness falls. “The question is: why do they want to build a fourth pier when the ones that are already there are never full?” She has the numbers to prove it, too. Cozumel has three international cruise ship piers that did not exceed 54% of their capacity in 2018 or 2019, buoyant years for tourism before the pandemic hit. Even so, Cozumel is one of the most-visited islands in the world by cruise ship operators. The company that won the contract, Muelles del Caribe, gained a juicy bit of business. As well as constructing the pier, it will also put up a terminal building with a commercial area attached. And there could lie the answer to Martín Cab’s question: in a statement, the company said “evidently, the pier is being built for future operations and not current ones, and as such is needs to have greater dimensions than those currently in operation.”

When Martín Cab found out about the project, Cimac carried out a census of the zone that counted around 20 different species of coral, among them two that are on the endangered list. However, when Muelles del Caribe presented their own findings to the environmental authorities the company reported only seven species. That led Martín Cab to join forces with Méndez and other organizations on the island to file an injunction against the project, with the help of the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA). The action was admitted by the courts in January. In early February, a second injunction filed by the “No to the fourth pier” group was also accepted by a federal judge, who ordered the project provisionally put on hold while the matter is deliberated in court.

A cruise ship near the area where authorities are planning to build a fourth pier on the Mexican island of Cozumel.
A cruise ship near the area where authorities are planning to build a fourth pier on the Mexican island of Cozumel. Teresa de Miguel

It is Monday morning and as soon as dawn breaks these floating cities begin to appear in the sea. There are five of them, which translates into thousands of people who will descend on the beaches early and reboard their cruise ships to set sail again around 5pm. Taxi drivers wait for fares in a huge line, but the majority of the day-trippers have their itineraries set by their tour operators. They descend to the terminal building, board buses and head for beach clubs or an ATV tour of the jungle. They will use all use the bathroom, it is estimated, at least twice during the day. Meanwhile, the island’s one sewage treatment plant works at full tilt. If the fourth pier is built, there could be up to 18,000 more daily visitors arriving on Cozumel, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The viewpoint of the institutions that promote tourism at a national level is more flattering. Marisol Vanegas, who served as secretary for tourism in the state of Quintana Roo until last July, is a supporter of the fourth pier because in her estimation it will not only increase the number of visiting ships but will also diversity the types of company that arrive on Cozumel. Vanegas points out that every cruise ship tourist spends around $175 (€153), which is “not inconsiderable given they are only there for a few hours.” However, she acknowledges that visitors who stay in hotels to dive around the island spend more.

A cruise ship operated by Disney sounds its horn, which emulates a famous jingle from the cartoons of our childhoods. It also interrupts Miriam Moreno, who is wondering who genuinely benefits from this kind of tourism. “These are huge corporations who feed off other huge corporations. What trickles down to residents is really very little.” A social psychologist and diver, Moreno is a member of the Coral Hero organization, which is dedicated to the community conservation of reefs in various parts of Quintana Roo. She says that since 2020, when cruise ships largely stopped coming because of the pandemic, the island’s economy has supported itself through its main source of employment: the diving industry. “But if it continues to be managed as it is now, the reefs are not going to last much longer. And divers tend to look for living areas, not dead ones.”

A view of Lakam Ha, a tourism development project in Cozumel, as seen on January 23, 2022.
A view of Lakam Ha, a tourism development project in Cozumel, as seen on January 23, 2022.Teresa de Miguel

What is happening in Cozumel is also happening elsewhere in the world. Venice’s decision to stop welcoming cruise ships reverberated globally. To what extent can a place entertain so many people on a daily basis, provide them with fresh water and deal with their waste? How many cruise ships can anchor at an island before its viable limits are breached? In environmental terms, Cozumel’s beauty is also a curse. Tens of thousands of tourists want to enjoy its coral reefs, its beaches and crystalline waters, and its forests that contain dozens of unique species. But to meet that demand it is necessary to build beach clubs, resorts and controversial projects like Lakam-Ha, in the south of the island, which gradually eat away at the pristine landscapes that attract tourists in the first place. This has been the story of Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum in Mexico’s Caribbean coast.

“What they are doing across the whole of the Riviera Maya is cutting down mangroves, building hotels and pumping sewage into the sea. That is why we are seeing huge amounts of algae in those areas, which are killing off the coral,” says marine biologist Thomas Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance. Goreau worked alongside Méndez in the reef restoration project in Cozumel and says that the nutrients contained in sewage provide food for algae, but are lethal for coral. To this has been added so-called White Syndrome or White band disease, a coral disease that was first detected in Florida in 2014. Four years later it had killed off half of the reefs around Cozumel.

Méndez appears uncomfortable on dry land. He is happier in a wetsuit, propelling himself forward with long blue fins, tending to what he calls “his coral,” as though they were his offspring. Around him, he sees only destruction where others see economic development. When the interview ends, he asks with a concerned look: “Did I sound too catastrophic?”

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Congratulations, Privacy Just Took A Great Leap Out the Window!

Your Data Is Being Used Without Your Permission And Knowledge

The Voice Of EU | In the heart of technological innovation, the collision between intellectual property rights and the development of cutting-edge AI technologies has sparked a significant legal battle. The New York Times has taken legal action against OpenAI and Microsoft, filing a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. This legal maneuver aims to address concerns surrounding the unauthorized use of the Times’ content for the training of AI models, alleging copyright infringements that could potentially result in billions of dollars in damages.

READ: HOW YOUR DATA IS BEING USED TO TRAIN A.I.

This legal tussle underlines the escalating tension between technological advancements and the protection of intellectual property. The crux of the lawsuit revolves around OpenAI and Microsoft allegedly utilizing the Times’ proprietary content to advance their own AI technology, directly competing with the publication’s services. The lawsuit suggests that this unauthorized utilization threatens the Times’ ability to offer its distinctive service and impacts its AI innovation, creating a competitive landscape that challenges the publication’s proprietary content.

Amidst the growing digital landscape, media organizations like the Times are confronting a myriad of challenges. The migration of readers to online platforms has significantly impacted traditional media, and the advent of artificial intelligence technology has added another layer of complexity. The legal dispute brings to the forefront the contentious practice of AI companies scraping copyrighted information from online sources, including articles from media organizations, to train their generative AI chatbots. This strategy has attracted substantial investments, rapidly transforming the AI landscape.

Exhibit presented by the New York Times’ legal team of ChatGPT replicating a article after being prompted

The lawsuit highlights instances where OpenAI’s technology, specifically GPT-4, replicated significant portions of Times articles, including in-depth investigative reports. These outputs, alleged by the Times to contain verbatim excerpts from their content, raise concerns about the ethical and legal boundaries of using copyrighted material for AI model training without proper authorization or compensation.

The legal action taken by the Times follows attempts to engage in discussions with Microsoft and OpenAI, aiming to address concerns about the use of its intellectual property. Despite these efforts, negotiations failed to reach a resolution that would ensure fair compensation for the use of the Times’ content while promoting responsible AI development that benefits society.

In the midst of this legal battle, the broader questions surrounding the responsible and ethical utilization of copyrighted material in advancing technological innovations come to the forefront.

The dispute between the Times, OpenAI, and Microsoft serves as a significant case study in navigating the intricate intersection of technological progress and safeguarding intellectual property rights in the digital age.


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Culture

‘The Bill Gates Problem’ – The Case Against World’s Richest Man

The Case Against World’s Richest Man

When Clinton assumed the presidency of the United States, there was eager anticipation from the Chinese, not for Clinton himself, but for Bill Gates. This was during the late 1990s, a period when the internet was still in its nascent stages, and the digital boom of the early 2000s had not yet reached its peak. The enigmatic persona that captivated the attention of the burgeoning Asian powerhouse is now portrayed in “The Bill Gates Problem” as a “domineering, brusque figure” whose demeanor is likened to “a cauldron of passions that freely erupts.” According to a former employee cited in the book, Gates was perceived as “a complete and utter jerk to people 70% of the time,” while the remaining 30% saw him as a “harmless, enjoyable, exceptionally intelligent nerd.”

The 1990s were also the decade of the conflict between Microsoft and the now defunct Netscape browser, which challenged what was already being openly described as the former’s monopolistic practices. Gates was investigated and accused in Congress for such practices; he ultimately won the battle, but the case harmed his reputation, and in 2000 he resigned as CEO of his company. From there he undertook an expansion of the foundation that he had established with his wife and to which he has dedicated his main efforts in the last two decades. In 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

With a personal fortune of $100 billion and tens of billions more in his private foundation, Gates has been one of the richest men in the world for decades, and the foundation has been the most generous organization of its kind, specializing above all in health aid, education and child nutrition, with a large presence in Africa and India among other regions of what was formerly known as the Third World. Tim Schwab, a contributor to the weekly left-wing newspaper The Nation, undertook a detailed investigation to denounce something that in truth was already known: that American foundations are largely a way for billionaires to avoid taxes.

To prove this, he thoroughly looked into the accounts and procedures of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the failures and occasional successes of its philanthropic policies, and came to the conclusion that behind this facade of help to the needy hides an operation of power. He is ruthless in his criticism, although accurate in his analysis of the growing inequality in the world. Absorbed by the revolutionary rhetoric, he laments that the Gates Foundation has remained “deadly silent” regarding movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter, which demand social change in the face of the “excess wealth and ‘white savior’ mentality that drives Bill Gates’ philanthropic work.” He does attribute some good intentions, but his criticism is merciless, sometimes even coarse, while the absence of solutions for the problems he denounces — other than the calls for do-goodism — is frustrating.

His abilities as an investigative journalist are thus overshadowed by a somewhat naive militancy against the creative capitalism that Gates promotes and an evident intention to discredit not only his work but, above all, him. The demands he makes for transparency and the accusations of obscurity are dulled by the author himself in the pages he dedicates to Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the famous corruptor of minors at the service of the international jet set. Gates has explained his meetings and interviews with him on countless occasions, and in no case has any type of relationship, other than their commercial relations or some confusing efforts to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, been proved. Still, Schwab raises, with no evidence whatsoever, the possibility that their relationship “could have had something to do with Epstein’s principal activities in life: sexual gratification and the exercise of power.” The book is full of this kind of opinions and speculations, to the detriment of a more serious analysis of Gates’ mistakes in the management of his foundation, the problems of shielding the intellectual property of vaccines in the hands of the pharmaceutical industries and, ultimately, the objective power that big technology companies have in global society.

He signed a collaboration agreement with the RAE to improve Microsoft’s grammar checker and was interested in the substantial unity of the Spanish language in all the countries where almost 600 million people speak it. That man was very far from the sexist, arrogant, miserable predator that Schwab portrays. Nor did we deduce — and this can be applied to the personal adventure of Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — that his life’s goal was world domination, as suggested by this book. If they have achieved it, or may achieve it, it is due to the dynamics of digital civilization and the objective difficulties in governing it. The deregulation of financial capitalism, which has increased inequality among humankind, is due to the incompetence of obsolete political institutions and to leaders who care more about their own fates than those of their people. The criticism against “lame and wasteful government bureaucracies” might be part of the propaganda promoted by the world’s wealthy, but lately we have also heard it from small-scale farmers across Europe.

In conclusion, we found the book to be more entertaining than interesting. It provides a lot of information — we’re not sure if it’s entirely verified — and plenty of cheap ideology. Above all, one can see the personal crusade of the author, determined to prove that Bill Gates is a problem for democracy and that millionaire philanthropists are a bunch of swindlers. The world needs their money; maybe managed by party bureaucracies, that much is not clear. Bill Gates’ money, that is, but not Bill Gates himself.


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Global Affairs

Brazil’s G20 Presidency Kicks Off In Rio With Foreign Ministers Meeting | International

Foreign ministers of the Group of 20 nations were gathering Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro to discuss poverty, climate change and heightened global tensions as Brazil takes on the annual presidency of the bloc.

The ministers and other representatives of the 20 leading rich and developing nations planned to spend two days setting a roadmap for work to accomplish ahead of a Nov. 18-19 summit in Rio.

One of Brazil’s key proposals, set by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is a reform of global governance institutions such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and multilateral banks, where he wants to push for stronger representation of developing nations.

Brazil’s ambassador to the bloc, Mauricio Lyrio, said at a news conference Tuesday that structural reforms of international institutions are urgent because of a proliferation of conflicts around the world — not just in Ukraine and Gaza, but in a total of 183 locations, according to one study, he said.

“We have practically returned to the level of conflicts seen in the Cold War period. This shows that there is a lack of governance to deal with current challenges,” said Lyrio, who is the economic affairs secretary at Brazil’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

“It is one thing to work for peace in each conflict; another thing is to have a global governance that prevents conflicts from occurring,” Lyrio said. “We’re basically putting out fires.”

After years of diplomatic isolation under former President Jair Bolsonaro, Lula has sought to reinsert Brazil on the center stage of global diplomacy since returning to power in January of 2023.

Lucas Pereira Rezende, a political scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said Lula was especially well-suited for the role, recalling that during his earlier terms as president from 2003 to 2010 he was once called “the most popular politician on Earth” by then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

The G20 “is a very important international stage, especially at a time when the world is facing two major wars, involving large states, and also at a time when multilateralism is in crisis,” Rezende told The Associated Press.

“But Lula is a very strong international actor and has a very strong multilateral role, especially when presenting himself as a leader of underdeveloped or developing countries.”

G20 finance ministers and central bank presidents are set to meet next week in Sao Paulo, and a second meeting of foreign ministers is scheduled for September.

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