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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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Africa’s Eswatini, one of the last absolute monarchies, holds an election without political parties | International

The small southern African nation of Eswatini held elections Friday to decide part of the makeup of its Parliament, even as its extremely wealthy king retains absolute power, political parties are banned and elected representatives can merely advise a monarch whose family has reigned supreme for 55 years.

Eswatini, wedged between South Africa and Mozambique, is the last absolute monarchy in Africa and one of the few remaining in the world. King Mswati III, 55, has been the monarch since 1986, when he became ruler days after his 18th birthday. His father was king for 82 years before him, although Eswatini only gained independence from Britain in 1968.

It was formerly known as Swaziland.

Parliamentary elections are held every five years. Candidates for the lower chamber, the House of Assembly, and for the Senate cannot belong to political parties, which were banned in 1973, and are nominated at a local level before they face a popular vote.

Mswati III appoints a minority of House of Assembly members, and the majority are elected. He appoints a majority of the Senate, the prime minister and other key members of the government.

As king, or the “Ngwenyama” — which means lion — Mswati III is sometimes advised by a council but has executive and legislative powers under law in the country of 1.2 million people and makes decisions by decree.

A little over 500,000 people were registered to vote in Friday’s election, the electoral body said. The African Union and the regional Southern African Development Community bloc sent observers.

Mswati has faced increased pro-democracy protests in recent years, but activists demanding reform encountered a harsh crackdown from police and security forces under the king’s control in June 2021, with dozens killed.

The push for reform has continued, focusing primarily on allowing political parties and for the prime minister to be democratically elected.

Two members of parliament were jailed for calling for democratic reforms during the 2021 protests. They were convicted this year under an anti-terrorism law that rights groups say is only designed to suppress criticism of Mswati and halt the push for democracy.

The lawmakers, Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, now face up to 20 years in prison, according to CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society groups.

Mswati has been accused of living lavishly while Eswatini’s people struggle with widespread poverty, the world’s highest HIV infection rate per capita and a life expectancy of 57 years, one of the lowest in the world.

A 2008 report by Forbes magazine estimated Mswati’s wealth at $200 million. He owns private jets, a fleet of luxury cars and reportedly wore a suit beaded with diamonds to his 50th birthday celebration. The king has at least 15 wives and has been criticized for using public money to build palaces for them.

In its latest assessment, the World Bank estimated that more than half of Eswatini’s people live on less than $3.65 a day.

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“The Creator”: A Glimpse Into A Future Defined By Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

By Cindy Porter

In “The Creator” visionary director Gareth Edwards thrusts us into the heart of a dystopian future, where the battle lines are drawn between artificial intelligence and the free Western world.

Set against the backdrop of a post-rebellion Los Angeles, the film grapples with pressing questions about the role of AI in our society.

A Glimpse into a Future Defined by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

A Glimpse into a Future Defined by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

While the narrative treads familiar ground, it is timely, given the rising prominence of artificial intelligence in our daily lives.

A Fusion of Genres

Edwards embarks on an ambitious endeavor, blending elements of science fiction classics with contemporary themes.

The result is a cinematic stew reminiscent of James Cameron’s “Aliens” tinged with shades of “Blade Runner” a dash of “Children of Men,” and a sprinkle of “Akira” This concoction, while intriguing, occasionally veers toward familiarity rather than forging its own distinct identity.

Edwards’ Cinematic Journey

The British filmmaker, known for his foray into doomsday scenarios with the BBC docudrama “End Day” in 2005, has traversed a path from indie gem “Monsters” (2010) to the expansive Star Wars universe with “Rogue One” (2016).

“The Creator” marks another bold step in his repertoire. The film introduces compelling concepts like the posthumous donation of personality traits, punctuated by impactful visuals, and raises pertinent ethical dilemmas. It stands as a commendable endeavor, even if it occasionally falters in execution.

Navigating Complexity

In his pursuit of depth, Edwards at times stumbles into the realm of convolution, leaving the audience grappling with intricacies rather than immersing in the narrative.

While adept at crafting visual spectacles and orchestrating soundscapes, the film occasionally falters in the art of storytelling.

In an era where classic storytelling is seemingly on the wane, some may argue that this approach is emblematic of the times.

AI: Savior or Peril?

“The Creator” leaves us with a question that resonates long after the credits roll: Will artificial intelligence be humanity’s salvation or its undoing? The film’s take on machine ethics leans toward simplicity, attributing AI emotions to programmed responses.

This portrayal encapsulates the film’s stance on the subject – a theme as enigmatic as the AI it grapples with.

“The Creator”

Director: Gareth Edwards.
Starring: John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Madeleine Yuna Boyles, Ken Watanabe.
Genre: Science fiction.
Release Year: 2023.
Duration: 133 minutes.
Premiere Date: September 29.

WATCH: TRAILER

Top 5 Movies by Gareth Edwards:

1. “Monsters” (2010)

– A breakout hit, “Monsters” showcases Edwards’ talent for blending intimate human drama with towering sci-fi spectacles. Set in a world recovering from an alien invasion, it’s a poignant tale of love amidst chaos.

2. “Rogue One” (2016)

– Edwards helms this epic Star Wars installment, seamlessly integrating new characters with the beloved original trilogy. It’s a testament to his ability to navigate complex narratives on a grand scale.

3. “End Day” (2005)

– This BBC docudrama marked Edwards’ entry into the world of speculative storytelling. Presenting five doomsday scenarios, it set the stage for his later exploration of dystopian futures.

4. “The Creator” (2023)

– Edwards’ latest venture, “The Creator,” immerses audiences in a future fraught with AI warfare. While not without its challenges, it boldly tackles pertinent questions about the role of artificial intelligence in our lives.

5. Potential Future Project

– As Edwards continues to push the boundaries of speculative cinema, audiences eagerly anticipate his next cinematic endeavor, poised to be another thought-provoking addition to his illustrious filmography.

“The Creator” stands as a testament to Gareth Edwards’ unyielding vision and his penchant for exploring the frontiers of speculative cinema.

While it doesn’t shy away from the complexities of AI, it occasionally falters in navigating its intricate narrative.

As we peer into this cinematic crystal ball, we’re left with a stark question: Will artificial intelligence be our beacon of hope, or will it cast a shadow over humanity’s future? Only time will unveil the answer.


We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!

— By Cindy Porter

— For more information & news submissions: info@VoiceOfEU.com

— Anonymous news submissions: press@VoiceOfEU.com


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From YouTube to TikTok: The electoral weapons that Javier Milei has deployed in Argentina | International

Sergio Massa, Patricia Bullrich y Javier Milei
From left to right, Sergio Massa, Patricia Bullrich and Javier Milei.EFE / Getty

The far-right Javier Milei, 52, has become the favored candidate to win the October 22 presidential elections in Argentina… even though he has barely toured the country.

Milei —an economist and TV panellist by profession— visited 13 of the 24 provinces during the primaries, yet still won in more than half of the provinces he didn’t visit. Among them, the case of Salta was especially surprising. In the northern Andean province – where he achieved his best result – 49.38% of the voters voted for him in the mid-August primaries. Milei has been called the “candidate of television studios,” because he rose from being a talk show host to a member of Congress in less than five years. But you could also call him the YouTube and TikTok candidate, because, if social media is the new public square, Javier Milei is shouting the loudest.

No other candidate for the presidency has managed to dominate the discourse of social media like the far-right economist does – especially with so little effort and even fewer staffers.

Patricia Bullrich —the candidate of the traditional right— remains the most popular on Twitter. Sergio Massa —the current Minister of Economy and the presidential candidate for the left-wing Peronist alliance— is Facebook’s favorite. But Milei dominates Instagram and TikTok, the preferred spaces of voters under the age of 29, who make up a third of the electorate. He’s also the most popular candidate on YouTube… although not because of the content put out by his official channels.

“Around the world, the parties that are linked to the right have a special place in social media. In Argentina, this is the case of La Libertad Avanza (Liberty Advances, a far-right coalition) and its leader, Javier Milei,” explains Ana Slimovich, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires. For the researcher, this is because these political forces “construct discourses with simple language, which isn’t technical… it appeals to emotions, both positive and negative ones.” Milei began his campaign by comparing himself to a lion who came “to awaken other lions, not to guide the sheep.” Today, he walks around Buenos Aires with a chainsaw —a symbol of the cuts to the public sector that he intends to implement should he take office.

Milei, Slimovich notes, has grown strong because of the sporadic organization that his followers have built, including those beyond the party’s structure. Accounts like @elPelucaMilei or @MileiPresidente have almost a million followers and act as the most important spokespeople for the libertarian. They have almost four times more followers than Milei’s official channel, getting millions of views from videos that they cut, edit and publish. The most popular ones are the clips of television interviews with titles celebrating how Milei “destroyed” or “annihilated” journalists or political opponents in live debates.

“Even if the candidate isn’t present, they’re reproducing his speech,” Slimovich says. “This explains the [high number of votes] he gets in places where he’s not physically present. His followers on social media are always present, resharing his speeches. And, of course, the mass media also disseminates his content.” The same thing happens on TikTok, Instagram or Twitter, where online libertarian militants churn out viral memes that Milei often shares.

Agustín Romo – director of digital communications and a congressional candidate for La Libertad Avanza – states that only about 15 people work for pay in the libertarian campaign, but that “90% of the content is produced ad honorem.” For Romo, Milei’s victory in places he has never visited “sets the tone for an epochal change in the way of doing politics.”

Milei jumped into politics from the world of TV. With this background, he then imposed his anti-establishment fury on the political debate and amplified it via social media. In the last year, the country began to talk about the dollarization of the economy or the sale of organs —subjects that Milei brought to the table. “We use social media to install our own narrative and our agenda. If we put out a song in the morning, at night, everyone is talking about it,” Romo laughs.

The digital strategist believes that his candidate’s success in getting his agenda out there has two ingredients. On the one hand, Milei projects a message that connects with the electorate. This discourse among candidates —who present themselves as “outsiders” who aren’t really part of the political system— was successful for Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Milei often says that the “decadence” of the country is the product of a “political caste (or class)” that prioritizes its interests “at the expense of the people.” On the other hand, the consultant continues, the “libertarian movement” has been brewing for “10 years,” but “it had no political representation” until Javier Milei arrived on the scene.

The leading presidential candidate is also advised by Fernando Cerimedo —a major figure in digital communications among the Latin American extreme-right. A report published by the Latin American Center for Journalistic Investigation (CLIP) revealed that the consultant has spread “messages based on lies in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.” Cerimedo was one of the great agitators behind the accusation —presented without evidence— that Lula da Silva won the recent presidential elections in Brazil only because of electoral fraud. Some of this influence has already been seen in Milei’s campaign. On August 13 —despite being the candidate with the most votes in the primaries— Milei insisted that votes had been stolen from him.

Among the left-wing Peronist coalition, they admit that they’ve started this campaign with a disadvantage. Their candidate was announced as a surprise: Minister of Finance Sergio Massa —who has been in politics since 1999— was proclaimed “as a unity candidate” on June 23. He opened his TikTok account days later. “This happened to us when [Massa] contested the presidency in 2015 —Mauricio Macri’s campaign (which ultimately won) had a better-developed social media campaign. We balanced it out, but we were far behind. We prioritize other forms, other types of campaigning,” a member of the campaign tells EL PAÍS.

Sergio Massa’s advisors say that they still see a scenario of the vote being divided into thirds, but that “the most stark polarization is with Milei.” Massa’s social media campaign is now being supported by Lula da Silva’s advisors, who have joined the Spanish consultant Antoni Gutiérrez Rubí. “They came to share their experiences with us about the two elections that they had to fight against Bolsonaro: the one that Fernando Haddad lost [in 2018] and the one that Lula won [in 2022]. They’re working with us on the possibility of reaching the runoff [election] in November.”

In Massa’s race to attract young voters, the latest to join the campaign on TikTok has been the current vice president (and former president from 2007 until 2015), Cristina Kirchner. The main representative of the Peronist movement opened her account this past Monday and has already uploaded dozens of videos. Ironically, less than five months ago, she urged young people to not spend more than “20 minutes a day on TikTok.”

Massa’s left wing coalition —made up of traditional parties that are accustomed to large street events and rallies— is beginning to make its presence more known online. The current president, Alberto Fernández —who decided against seeking re-election— recently answered questions with his dog on Instagram. And Massa has begun to announce his economic proposals via short videos tailored to social media. His younger supporters and party members were the ones who encouraged him.

After Milei’s victory in the primaries, a group of young Peronists began to reflect on their poor communications strategy and created a TikTok account —@Indisciplinadxs— to create a “new space” in the campaign. “Social media is a disputed territory where we’re not fighting. And, if we’re fighting, we’re doing so incorrectly,” lament two members of @Indisciplinadxs. A recent video —in which they showed how voters are misinformed on a certain topic— went viral and reached 166,000 people. “The battle on social media shouldn’t be considered lost,” they insist. “The field is wide-open — there are ways to take advantage of it.”

Patricia Bullrich —the candidate for the traditional center-right Together for Change coalition— is also staking out her place in the presidential race. She won her party primaries against the current mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Bullrich deployed a “tough-on-crime” rhetoric, while Larreta, a moderate, prioritized dialogue and centrist policies. While Bullrich ultimately emerged triumphant, the question remains whether she can retain the votes of her formal rival, while trying to take on Massa and Milei, who have mostly focused their attacks on each other.

Her social media consultants are taking a careful look at her opposition. “I’m not looking at everything that Massa put out online as much, because what Milei does is more striking,” explains Yasmin Hassan, Bullrich’s principal advisor. The most positive element that Hassan sees in her party is similar to what Milei has going for him: an organic bloc of adherents who, of their own free will, circulate information for the campaign. They call the movement “Bullrichmania” —it consists of groups of self-convened online warriors, who spread information via WhatsApp groups.

Bullrich —who served as security minister under President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019)— has focused on pointing out the corruption that has taken place in the Kirchnerist governments: from 2003 until 2007, when Néstor Kirchner governed, from 2007 until 2015, when his wife, Cristina, governed, as well as the present administration, where she serves as vice president.

The bulk of her interactions on social media are with voters who similarly point out the corruption or bad policies of the ruling party.

Last week, a criminal court reopened two corruption cases against the former president and current VP. Immediately, Bullrich released her latest campaign video: in one minute, she revealed the model of a new maximum security prison for criminals that, she promised, will have a wing that is named after Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The candidate got what she was looking for: on Saturday, while Kirchner was speaking at her first public appearance in months, the video was already trending.

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