Alidad Vassigh

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Picture of a cannabis farm in Libertad, Uruguay
Economy

Cannabis Business: Latin America Can Export More Than Raw Material

Latin American businesses and governments are seeing the marketing and export potentials of an incipient liberalization of marijuana laws in the region. But to really cash in, it must be an investment in more than simple commodity crops.

LIMA — After his stint at Stanford University business school in California, Uruguayan entrepreneur Andrés Israel began to research the nascent global cannabis industry, to find the countries with the most favorable regulations for its large-scale production and use. They were Canada and Uruguay, with the latter legalizing its recreational use in 2013.

After he returned home, Israel founded the Cannabis Company Builder (CCB) to help new firms exploit Uruguay's new legal framework. Cannabis, he says, is a "blue ocean" industry, with major growth horizon and few current regulations — and Uruguay is at its forefront.

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Working during the pandemic
EL ESPECTADOR

The Pandemic Has Changed The Meaning Of Work And Free Time

Bill Gates is among those predicting that the shift toward remote work will last beyond the COVID-19 crisis. But what if, to compensate, people start making more of an effort to mix and mingle?

-OpEd-

In a marvelous reflection on the post-modern world and the individual, human condition, the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman cites the example of a young man who aspired to having 500 friends on Facebook.

Bauman observes that at 86, he still hasn't found that many friends, but suggests that the word friend likely means different things to him and to the young Facebook user. Bauman wants authentic human bonds, in a living community. The online community, he says, depends for its existence on two gestures: connecting and disconnecting. And both are just a matter of clicking the right button. Add friend? Click. Remove friend? Click.

The philosopher's reflections focused on the blessings and curses of human ties in the real world versus the virtual, online realm. But now there's an entirely new factor to consider: a painful pandemic that will reshape the world, and our relations.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently tackled the topic of COVID-19, and the lasting impact it may have on the world, in a conference organized by the New York Times. And one of his predictions is that 50% of business trips and 30% of office days will be eliminated.

Offices will never go back to how they were.

That's a very different scenario from the one that people envisioned just last year, when things were still "normal." In a piece published Jan. 24, 2019, Spain's El País called business travel a "rising asset" and cited Bogotá, along with London, New York, Sao Paulo and Mexico City, as one of the world's best cities for corporate events.

But then COVID-19 came along, and many executives made their homes an office. Remote work means it won't be easy to justify a business trip now, which will surely reduce the number of flights crossing the skies every day. Bad news for the airlines, but as far as climate change is concerned, it's actually a rather favorable development. Airports, long trips, jet lag, hotels and constant separation from loved ones will no longer be part of the routine of corporate directors.

Also during the pandemic, many people moved to places far removed from city centers. They were looking for quiet places, surrounded by nature and often cheaper. Moving forward, everything indicates that more people will return to the countryside and picturesque villages where the norm is to appreciate the small things in life. This will likely reduce the population density of big cities and in the long term, redistribute the population in many countries.

Sunday morning on Wall Street — Photo: Billie Grace Ward

Gates believes that the shift to remote working will be a lasting one, and that offices will never go back to how they were. He expects that as a result, people will feel more of a need to socialize. In the meantime, though, we're still having to deal with the virus. Vaccines will take time to distribute and apply, meaning that the disruptions to normal life will continue. We can also expect that most people will continue being cautious with elderly parents and relatives.

In 2020, most countries imposed social distancing. Borders were closed. People moved apart. And our houses, in addition to being homes, doubled as offices, classrooms and everything else. The silver lining was that the concept of home recovered its beauty, sense and essence. And yet, it's also clear people want to reach out and touch each other again. After staring at a screen for hours on end, people want to look each other in the eyes, the way they used to.

Gates said he hadn't anticipated facemasks would be so controversial, or that the Trump administration would take such an extremist attitude to the pandemic. He acknowledged that there is strong antipathy in the United States to using facemasks, but said he isn't sure if it's because of the government's political posturing, or due to a vigorous attachment, among American people, to personal freedoms.

Those kinds of unpredictable behaviors — in the name of freedom or under other pretexts — could occur elsewhere in the world too. Only time will tell. Either way, let's hope that whatever happens, whether in relation to Bauman's ideas about human bonds or Gates's post-pandemic predictions, we'll be ready to see and experience the changes — in person.

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Buenos Aires police detain a suspect on March 22 after the national quarantine began.
CLARIN

Coronavirus Profiteers: With The Virus Come The Vultures

While we see a general boost in solidarity, a small minority is looking to profit from the COVID-19 tragedy, feeding on a weakened and distracted society.

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — When tragedy strikes, as it has with the COVID-19 pandemic, the vultures are always quick to descend. These scavengers come to feed off a society that is ailing, threatened or defenseless. They are a minority, for sure, but there are still far too many.

The first of these vultures tried to flout the mandatory confinement. The old Argentine society — the one that existed before the virus and is giving way to a new, yet-to-be-understood reality — hates abiding by rules. It admires countries where people respect the rule of law, but doesn't like to follow those same laws here, its own territory.

Years ago, during the dictatorship and in order to organize automobile traffic, someone thought of limiting circulation on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to cars with an even number plate. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays would be for cars with odd number plates, and on Sundays, anyone could drive. But right away, exceptions and exemptions began to emerge. Doctors, professors, sewerage operatives, accordion players, civil servants, soldiers, diplomats ... Everyone found an excuse not to comply, and so, within a month there was no telling who was supposed to drive when.

Disobedient civilians are placing lives at risk.

In that case, the civil disobedience wasn't really a matter of life and death. Our lives, after all, were already in the hands of a dictatorial junta. But today's disobedient civilians, not to mention all the people who are just plain idiots, are placing lives at risk.

The second wave of vultures infected — and yes, that is the right word — the social networks with the sinister trend of fake news, lies, fraud, magic recipes against contagion like washing in your urine or chewing a piece of garlic while fasting and the like ... There are the tasteless memes too — from all those irrepressible funnymen who think they're as clever as ever.

The third wave of vultures also swooped in on the back of Internet. An increase in home working and banking operations online, alongside an overflow of malicious mails, have proved a boon to hackers and all those who are keen, as always, to steal personal data or harm hospital, media or security systems. In more prosaic form, common criminals have also sought to enter residential blocks and flats, using fake IDs to pose as telecom technicians, doctors, ambulance drivers, healthcare workers or firemen.

While the vultures scavenge, the majority of people are of a very different mindset.

The rest of the scavenging pack is to be found in politics. Some will estimate the final death toll and use the pandemic to settle old scores from their time in government, or bring out their tattered old political IOUs. Others blame the pandemic on a particular social sector in a bid to consolidate their populist discourse. Yet others will try to piggyback on the appreciation being shown to medics and nurses, presenting their achievements as those of a government they hardly represent.

Curiously, while the vultures scavenge, the majority of people are instead of quite a different mindset. We're seeing an unusual, if not unprecedented, revaluation of certain overlooked professions: supermarket cashiers, shelf stackers or bank employees refilling ATM machines, trash collectors, carers in old people's homes, doctors and nurses who risk their lives on an invisible front line.

Indeed, a big chunk of society is applauding and singing to them from their balconies, belting out the national anthem, in some cases. These are expressions of gratitude, but also fear. Not that the vultures care. They feed on corpses.

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Bolsonaro is virtually the only world leader still downplaying COVID-19
EL ESPECTADOR

Bolsonaro, The Political Cost Of Downplaying Coronavirus

The Brazilian president may be risking his political future by taking the viral pandemic lightly.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro said in one of his more controversial declarations, going against World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, that he was asking state governors to end the quarantine regime and closure of schools and shops to "minimize the risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic." This is at a time when virtually every other national and regional government is asking their citizens to keep themselves isolated.

The president said there was no reason for confining the entire population as older people were the ones particularly at risk from the coronavirus. The virus, he said in typical fashion, would cause no more than a "slight flu," and Brazil"s warm climate and youthful population protected it against the pandemic. Bolsonaro then blamed the media for whipping up collective hysteria among a traumatized population.

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The city of Sorocaba, Brazil, decreed a dengue epidemic on Jan. 31
Peru

Coronavirus And Us: Why We Ignore Other Infectious Diseases

The level of media attention given to the coronavirus compared to other maladies says a lot about the economic and political power of the countries affected.

-Analysis-

LIMA — The World Health Organization (WHO) has played a vital role in coordinating international actions against a range of infectious diseases such as the spread of the H1N1 or swine-fever virus a decade ago.

The task of responding to a transnational threat in a world governed by nation-states, while not being a state, has required WHO to weave together an institutional network and series of governmental processes that are followed by most sovereign states to provide a generally effective authority for confronting an international health threat.

Of course, when we talk about exercising government functions, we inevitably are also talking about politics. And as we know, political decisions tend to run on the negotiating power of the actors involved.

Let us consider the following for example. While there is ample media coverage of the spreading coronavirus in our region, the following development received far less coverage: In 2019, the Western Hemisphere saw more than 3 million cases of dengue fever, the largest number to date and well above the previous high of 2.4 million registered cases in 2015, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which acts as WHO's regional office.

It's also worth noting that in 2015, some 1,400 people died of the illness in this hemisphere. In 2019, in spite of the increase in registered cases, the intense work done by countries to restrict the disease's lethal impact ensured a much lower death rate, 0.05% of all cases.

In 2017, Peruvian hospitals faced dengue cases — Photo: El Comercio/GDA via ZUMA Wire

We should highlight three points from this. First, according to this last estimate, more than 1,500 people died of dengue fever in 2019 on the American continent, while there were just 23 cases of coronavirus infection on the continent up to Feb. 18, 2020. None of these were in Latin America and the Caribbean and none had led to a patient's death.

Diseases spread through food cause 420,000 deaths a year, mostly in poorer countries.

Thus the level of media coverage is completely out of proportion to the relative gravity of this public health problem, at least so far. It's also worth noting that, in the case of dengue, collaboration of regional states had duly kept down dengue's mortality rate. The achievement then was due to collaboration between states, not the cooperation of international agencies (public, private, national and international), which had acted successfully against the spread of H1N1.

The third (and paradoxical) issue is that while WHO is tasked with coordinating international efforts on healthcare, it plays a relatively minor role against infectious diseases that mostly affect poorer populations in countries that are not world powers. This is even more the case with diseases spread through food, which WHO reports cause 420,000 deaths a year worldwide, and are concentrated in poorer African and Asian countries that have very little influence in the international system. The World Health Organization must work to truly live up to its name.

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'Being vegan means always learning...'
CLARIN

Slow Vegetarianism: Take Your Time And Use Your Brain

Going vegetarian or vegan is not just to stop eating meat, but a progressive rejection of the globalized food industry.

BARCELONA — The warnings have been piling up for years: researchers are encouraging the public to eat less meat, both to protect the environment and their health. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) qualified red meat as "probably" cancer-causing and processed meats as "carcinogenic to humans," prompting social alarm and a sustained reduction since in meat consumption worldwide.

Spain's Agriculture Ministry, which gathers food consumption statistics, found that meat-eating in Spain fell by 2.8% in 2018 compared to 2017, as part of a steady decline over the previous seven years. In the United Kingdom, a study carried out by Sainsbury's supermarkets found that 91% of Britons were actively reducing meat consumption, not just for health but also ethical and environmental reasons.

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Time to share
EL ESPECTADOR

Why Latin America Should Go All In On The Sharing Economy

The collaborative approach to trade, production and services could help countries like Colombia end their dependence on raw materials.

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ — While we tend to think of the so-called sharing economy as a new concept — a product of the fourth industrial revolution — its origins are far older, as old as the economy itself. What's happening now, rather, is that due to the rise of e-trading and disruptive models that are ending certain logistical chains, the concept is developing and permeating popular speech.

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Members of the Colombian Nukak Maku tribe
EL ESPECTADOR

Colombia: Deforestation And Usurping Indigenous Land Go Together

Ranchers, farmers or plain criminals are pushing their way into and expanding their presence in Colombia's remotest nature reservations.

BOGOTÁ — Neither laws nor state actions have managed to curb the progressive deforestation of Colombia's Amazonian territories, which include the homes of indigenous tribes that have been striving for decades, even centuries, to avoid contact from the outside. The gnawing destruction is threatening designated reservations like the Chiribiquete National Park, and the nearby Nukak Maku and Yaguará II reserves that connect Chiribiquete with the Macarena National Park.

The tribes that live in these protected territories have good reason to fear contacts with the "white man." My friend, the researcher Roberto Franco, has gathered a range of historical documents and interviews with native thinkers to write Cariba Malo, a history of the Yuri — one of the Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation (PIAV, Pueblos indígenas en aislamiento voluntario), as the situation has been categorized. Their isolation, he writes in the book, "is an act of resistance emerging from the deep conviction that their freedom and independence are more important than the surrounding world of other humans or the caribas (whites)."

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An exchange office in Buenos Aires
CLARIN

Currency Crisis: Should Argentina Ditch The Peso And Adopt The Dollar?

With inflation on the rise, some pundits say the South American country should say adios to its faltering peso.

BUENOS AIRES — It's a classic response in Argentina. Every time the economy gets into trouble, people start proposing magic solutions.

This time, with a 100% devaluation of the peso so far this year and annual inflation heading above 40%, we're again hearing calls for dollarization. In other words, we ought to ditch the peso for the powerful U.S. currency, argue people such as Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastacia O'Grady.

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Cattle in Alvarado, Colombia
EL ESPECTADOR

Colombians Work to Reconcile Cattle Farming And Forests

Colombia's biggest project to make livestock farming sustainable is showing that farmers can raise cattle and even boost dairy production without destroying the forest.

BOGOTÁ — An ambitious project to make livestock farming sustainable in Colombia is yielding results almost a decade after its implementation in 83 districts. Its lesson so far is that livestock and trees can coexist, and farmers can make money without cutting down the forest.

Anyone observing the 43 million hectares Oxfam estimates are used as farming land in Colombia will see that the worst of its countryside's endemic problems are in livestock rather than crop farming.

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AR wants to make shopping both easier and more enriching. 
Sources

How Augmented Reality Will Transform Fashion Retail

Augmented reality applications are starting to recreate the physical experience of trying on clothes and accessories, and could either revive or help destroy high-street shopping.

SANTIAGO — Augmented reality (AR) connects the physical with the digital world, providing a unique experience where images generated digitally mix with real-world surroundings. Fashion is one of the industries where some of the most rapid innovations in this technology sector are being put into action.

AR does not just want to provide a more entertaining and innovative experience, but can also reinforce a brand's value and its relationship with the consumer through more experimental and immersive contact, regardless of whether the user is at home, shopping online, in a shop or at a fashion event.

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An Argentinean cattle farmer
CLARIN

China To Argentina, Betting On Agrobusiness' Green Future

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — Everything suggests that in the future, the world may want practically anything Argentina can produce. The question is whether the response to this demand should be simply augmenting current productivity, or seeking wholly new approaches.

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