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Colombia’s Petro Calls For Peace Negotiations To End The War In Ukraine

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On September 21, Gustavo Petro announced that he is working on a joint statement with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to stop the war in Ukraine.

“Peace negotiations are needed. There is an escalation of the conflict. We are not [in favor of] any international aggression,” said the President of Colombia at a New York City forum titled ‘Latin America, the United States and Spain in the global economy,’ an event organized by EL PAÍS and the Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Petro attended the event the day after his speech before the UN General Assembly, where he declared the failure of the war on drugs and the fight against climate change.

Since coming to power in August, he had not spoken in depth about the invasion of Ukraine. But now he has joined López Obrador’s peace project, proposed by a UN committee, which hopes to declare at least a five-year-long truce between Ukraine and Russia.

The proposal, offered up in the midst of the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian troops, was immediately rejected by Kyiv. An adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky said that the peace plan would give Moscow time to renew its reserves and launch a new offensive. “It’s a Russian plan,” he concluded.

Petro ignored this criticism, announcing that he is in contact with the president of Mexico to promote the initiative. Interviewed by Jan Martínez Ahrens, director of EL PAÍS América, the Colombian President said that there are no “good or bad invasions,” avoiding a direct condemnation of Russia.

Regarding the resistance that he has encountered in his first weeks in office, Petro noted that Colombia has suffered a lot from sectarian violence and that politicians have a responsibility not to generate a climate of violence with their statements.

“A ruler must be very careful with every word.”

The leftist Petro has appointed ministers from across the political spectrum… some even hail from the Conservative Party. Former President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-18) said in a recent interview with EL PAÍS that the Petro administration was well oriented, although it lacked rigor and a clear narrative.

“It’s a valid criticism because we don’t have a single narrative, [we have] diversity,” Petro replied, avoiding a criticism of Santos.

Gustavo Petro arrives in New York City to attend the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly
Gustavo Petro arrives in New York City to attend the 77th session of the United Nations General AssemblyJuan Arredondo

Petro arrived in New York with a strong message against US anti-drug policy. His message to the General Assembly was one of the most forceful that a Latin American leader has given in the last decade. Tonight, at a dinner at the Museum of Natural History, he will personally raise the issue with President Joe Biden – he wants to convince the American President to transfer all money destined for the fight against the drug cartels to the care of the Amazon rainforest. Petro will encounter much resistance, since the Drug War is a deeply rooted policy in Washington, which has the backing of powerful and influential agencies such as the DEA.

However, the Colombian President says that he has found “a more open mentality” in the US government. His intention is to change the direction of the discussion on drugs towards “a different axis, that of the climate crisis.” He recalls that, together with the United States, the first military unit dedicated exclusively to putting out fires in the Amazon was created. It utilizes several Black Hawk helicopters that would have previously been used in the internal war that Colombia has been engaged in for more than 50 years.

Petro is convinced that now is the time to achieve what he refers to as “total peace” – the disarmament and surrender of all armed actors in the country. Right now, he explains, there are no organizations as large as Pablo Escobar’s cartel at its peak. Rather, there are small cells that operate independently.

“All these [criminal] organizations… have sent letters to the government asking to open talks. [They wish] to negotiate legal benefits with the justice system so that they stop their activity.”

Ahrens asked Petro why he wanted to seek the mediation of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro in the negotiations with the ELN, the last active insurgent group in Colombia. He responded that he is picking up the process in the same place where Santos left it, which had the support of Venezuela, Cuba and Brazil to disarm the FARC in 2016.

“[Venezuela] played a positive role that is not always recognized.”

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Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega Escalates Diplomatic Crisis With US And Europe

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Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.JAIRO CAJINA (AFP)

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has decided to break ties with the Netherlands in what is the latest diplomatic feud to be sparked by the former guerilla. The Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday that it had severed all diplomatic ties with the European country because it “offended and keeps offending Nicaraguan families.”

The decision to break ties was made after the Dutch ambassador for Central America, Christine Pirenne, informed the Nicaraguan government that the Netherlands would not be funding a $21.5 million hospital promised long ago. The news outraged Ortega, who accused the ambassador of treating Nicaragua as if it were “a Dutch colony.”

“Those who come to disrespect our people, our homeland, they should not appear again in Nicaragua. And we do not want relations with that interventionist government,” he said during his speech on Friday, which marked the 43rd anniversary of the founding of Nicaragua’s repressive National Police. “We [the Sandinista government] continue to open hospitals, even when we are met with human misery. The human misery of a European country, the Netherlands!” he added.

Diplomatic sources told EL PAÍS that the Netherlands had suspended the hospital project due to the “mishandling of funds, lack of transparency, and the serious human rights situation in Nicaragua.”

“The Netherlands regrets the disproportionate decision by Nicaragua to break off diplomatic relations. We take a firm stand on the worsening democratic structures and human rights violations in Nicaragua,” Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said via Twitter on Saturday. “Other countries have also noticed difficulties in maintaining an open dialogue with Nicaragua. We will discuss our next steps with the EU.”

The clash with the Netherlands followed a week of heightened tensions with the European Union and the United States.

On Friday, Nicaragua’s Vice President Rosario Murillo, the wife of Ortega, also announced that the Central American country would not accept the new US-appointed ambassador Hugo Rodriguez as its representative in Managua. Ortega initially signed off on the appointment, but withdrew his support in July after Rodriguez told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he would continue to advocate for an end of human rights violations in Nicaragua.

“The United States has spoken out against these abuses, and, if confirmed [as ambassador], I will continue to do so, not because we have any intention to determine Nicaragua’s internal affairs, but because it is our commitment under the Inter-American Charter, which both the United States and Nicaragua signed in 2001,” Rodriguez told the committee.

Despite Nicaragua’s objections, the Joe Biden administration appointed Rodriguez as ambassador on Thursday. Ortega railed against the decision during his speech to police forces. “The candidate for ambassador to Nicaragua appeared before the Senate, and what did he do? He insulted and disrespected us,” he said on Friday. “So we immediately said ‘get out, get out and stay out, and he can continue yelling whatever he likes out there, but here in our country, our flag is respected.’”

On Thursday, in another speech, Ortega attacked the Vatican, Chilean President Gabriel Boric and Brian Nichols, White House Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who he described as a “poor Black man” with a “bulldog face.” Boric and other Latin American leaders, who have called for the release of political prisoners, were branded as “lapdogs” of the United States and the European Union.

And on Wednesday, Nicaragua declared the European Union ambassador, Bettina Muscheidt, “persona non grata” and gave her three days to leave the country. The decision was made after the EU delegation demanded freedom for Nicaragua’s political prisoners at the United Nations General Assembly last week.

“The EU profoundly regrets and rejects this unjustified and unilateral decision,” the European External Action Service (EEAS) said in a statement released on Sunday, a day after Muscheidt left Nicaragua. “The EU also profoundly regrets the disproportional and unjustified unilateral decision taken on Friday by the Nicaraguan government to cut diplomatic ties with the kingdom of the Netherlands and expresses its unwavering support to the Dutch government,” it added, warning that it would respond in a “firm and proportional manner.”

In recent months, Nicaragua has also rejected all proposals for dialogue, including those put forward by Pope Francis, Colombian President Gustavo Petro and the US government.

“Ortega’s strategy is to escalate the crisis to a point where only the use of force will solve it, but he knows very well that the use of force is not an option the international community is going to consider,” Eliseo Núñez, a former opposition deputy in Nicaragua, told EL PAÍS. “Everyone believed that they could push Ortega to the brink of the abyss, but he has taken the international community to that brink and is forcing it to choose between two options: a global economic blockade, which would collapse Nicaragua, or to sit back and wait to see what happens.”

Some analysts believe that Washington is seeking to exhaust all diplomatic routes with Nicaragua via Ambassador Rodriguez in order to justify future action against the country, such as expelling it from the DR-CAFTA free trade agreement.

“Ortega has been using vulgar, racist and blasphemous rhetoric,” Arturo McFields, Nicaragua’s former ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), told EL PAÍS. “It is a narrative that is aligned with Russia’s foreign policy. Right now, Russia is facing NATO, the United States and the European Union. Ortega is sticking in a parasitic to the foreign policy of Moscow and China.”

McFields recalled that Nicaragua was one of the seven countries that did not want the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to appear remotely at the United Nations General Assembly. “I believe that in the next few days, Ortega is going to break diplomatic relations with other countries in the European Union,” said McFields.

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Six Takeaways From Brazil’s Election

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Brazilians waiting to vote in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazilians waiting to vote in Rio de Janeiro.RICARDO MORAES (Reuters)

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Jair Bolsonaro and six other candidates faced each other this past Sunday, October 2, in the first round of Brazil’s presidential election.

These were the key takeaways of the day:

Run-off. None of the candidates obtained enough votes to clinch the election in the first round. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva received more than 57 million votes (48.38%), two points short of the figure required to win a third term outright. That means that in four weeks he will again face off against the president, Jair Bolsonaro. On October 30, Brazilians will choose between two antagonistic models for running the country.

Bolsonaro’s strength. The incumbent’s performance has been much better than any of the polls had predicted. He is only five points behind Lula when the polls had placed him between 10 and 15 points behind his leftist rival.

Failure of polls. For months, Bolsonaro and his followers had been insisting that polls underestimated his strength, just like in 2018. And they were right. Although several surveys have been published each week in recent months, none of the most reliable ones foresaw such a close presidential race.

-Victory in São Paulo. Nobody was expecting it: Bolsonaro won comfortably in the wealthiest state in Brazil. His candidate in the race for governor, Tarcísio Gomes Freitas, a former minister who is from the rival city of Rio de Janeiro, obtained a seven-point lead over Fernando Haddad, a former Workers’ Party (PT) candidate and former mayor. Both will fight it out in the second round of voting.

-A right-leaning Congress. The next president of Brazil, whoever he may be, will have to govern with a clearly conservative National Congress. Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party (PL) will have the biggest presence in the Chamber of Deputies, with 99 seats. The lower house has 513 seats, but it will be nearly impossible for Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) to build a majority.

– A five-hour vote count. Although Brazil is twice the size of Europe and its electorate exceeds 156 million voters, electronic ballot boxes reach every corner of the country, including the remote villages of the Amazon. This facilitates a speedy vote count: in just five hours, 99% of the votes had already been counted.

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‘Time Is Brain: The Longer You Take To Go To The Hospital After A Stroke, The Worse The Damage’

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To find out if the brain development of a newborn baby is normal, doctors usually look at – among other things – a small reflex action, triggered by exerting a tiny amount of pressure on the palm of the hand or the sole of the foot. This little movement in the first months of life provides invaluable information.

Lluís Barraquer Roviralta – considered the father of neurology in Spain – first utilized this technique over a century ago at Sant Pau Hospital in Barcelona. A full 140 years of scientific advances (and three generations of Barraquers) have now passed in the neurology clinics of Sant Pau. Today, specialized services in this area of medicine have taken giant leaps, thanks to the development of imaging technology.

“This is the decade of neurology,” proclaims Albert Lleó, the current director of the department that Barraquer created. The 50-year-old neurologist recently received a lot of media attention after his team successfully treated the 92-year-old former premier of Catalonia, Jordi Pujol, after he suffered a stroke. Pujol was released from hospital last weekend.

This interview has been translated and edited for clarity and brevity.

Question. How has the field of neurology changed in 140 years?

Answer. Neurological disorders are becoming more frequent. Many of these are age-related diseases – this is to be expected, given that people are living longer. It’s projected that the prevalence of degenerative diseases could triple within the next 30 years.

Q. How has the prognosis of these diseases evolved?

A. Thirty years ago, there were very few diseases that had effective treatment. In most cases, the causes and mechanisms were not well understood. For strokes, there were only antiaggregants, such as aspirin. Practically nothing was known about degenerative diseases. As for neuromuscular diseases, only cortisone or very broad-acting immunosuppressants were available. What has happened in recent years is that more knowledge about the causes has resulted in more effective treatments.

Q. It used to be said that neurologists know all about the diseases, but they can’t cure any of them…

A. This belief is totally obsolete. There are effective treatments for cerebral vascular diseases, for stopping blood clots from growing or causing problems… there are very effective treatments for migraines, there’s gene therapy treatment being carried out for spinal muscular atrophy. Perhaps the most difficult diseases to treat are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Q. These are good times for neurology, then?

A. We are in a fantastic era, because of the therapeutic tools we have access to. But the rise of neurological diseases is also, in turn, a time bomb, because it can squeeze health services. We have aging populations, a greater prevalence of chronic diseases… all of this comes at a very high cost, the treatments aren’t cheap. This is why it’s very important to have adequate plans for Alzheimer’s, for example, or for other neurodegenerative diseases, to prioritize where we’re going to put the money – do we put it into long-term care homes or do we put it in research?

Q. Last week, former Catalan premier Jordi Pujol was proof that strokes can be reversible, even at an advanced age.

A. Today, more and more work is being done on biological age rather than on chronological age. That is, you can be 60 years old, but have the brain of an 80-year-old, because you’ve had an unhealthy lifestyle.

The rise of neurological diseases is a time bomb, because it can squeeze health services

Q. Mar Castellanos, the head of neurology at A Coruña Hospital, said in an interview with EL PAÍS that strokes don’t just take place among the elderly – more and more often, they are affecting the working age population. Why is this happening?

A. A stroke is highly influenced by lifestyle: smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, a sedentary lifestyle, high stress levels… age is not the only factor.

Q. Speaking of lifestyle… even though we’re living longer, are we living worse? Are we harming our brain with our habits?

A. I think there is still a lack of awareness regarding the prevention and early detection of neurological diseases. In the case of a stroke, for example, there are people who still think that it’s not necessary to go to the emergency room, that you can wait and see if it goes away. We see this every day. And why is this happening? Because cardiovascular or cancer prevention campaigns began in the 1970s, but in neurology, they started much later – we’ve been repeating this message for less time. In the case of a stroke, time is brain: the longer it takes to get to the hospital, the more brain damage there will be. Neurological diseases have been largely neglected from the point of view of awareness campaigns and funding.

Q. There’s a kind of knowledge black hole when it comes to neurodegenerative diseases, which still have no treatment. Why?

A. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s… these are very difficult diseases to study and treat. Sometimes, many years may pass before a person notices the first symptoms. By the time they begin to notice and seek help, there is already significant brain damage. When someone has a tumor, oncologists do a biopsy of the tissue, analyze it and look for viable treatment options. But you can’t do a biopsy in the brain: we depend on imaging techniques, which don’t have microscopic resolution. We aren’t able to examine these diseases in detail in the early stages – not knowing what’s happening during these critical years makes it difficult to find treatments.

In Alzheimer’s, there are more than 50 genes involved – it’s very difficult to know what the sequence of events is. Even so, I would say that much progress has been made. And it’s also very clear that the greatest advances have been made in the degenerative diseases that have received the most funding, like Alzheimer’s and MS. The common thread of all chronic diseases – except for strokes – is to understand the immune system in our brain, about which very little is known. This will be essential research over the coming decades.

Q. How can the healthcare system remain sustainable?

A. It’s necessary to carry out a cost-effectiveness analysis. If we manage to reduce or postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s for five years with effective treatments, we can reduce the number of total cases and, most importantly, improve people’s quality of life. This has a very high cost, but maybe it will buy patients a few extra years of life outside of long-term care.

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