Geopolitics

Spain's Top Daily Publishes False Photos Of "Hugo Chavez" Surgery

CLARIN (ARGENTINA), EL NACIONAL (VENEZUELA) EL PAIS (Spain)

Worldcrunch

MADRID - Spain's most widely circulated newspaper El País was forced Thursday to retract a story and image it had claimed showed Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez undergoing surgery.

With information scant on the Venezuelan President, who is in Cuba for cancer treatment, the front-page story was titled "The Secret of Chavez's Illness," and featured an image of an oval-faced man with a tube in his mouth.

According to Argentinian daily Clarin, the image is a screen-grab from a 2008 YouTube video showing a surgery procedure of an acromegalic patient in 2008, who is not Chávez. If you pause the video (see below) at 2:34, you obtain the same image published by El País. Thirty minutes after a Twitter user from Barcelona found the video, the complete article and picture disappeared from the online version of El País.

El Pais, considered by many to be Spain's paper of record, apologized to its readers in an online note, and said it was attempting to collect copies of the first edition of Thursday's paper from newsstands, the BBC reported from Madrid. The paper said it has opened an internal investigation, noting that it had published the story already with a disclaimer that the image came from a news agency and could not be independently verified.

Chavez was reelected in October, but his January 10 inauguration ceremony was indefinitely postponed because of his illness.

Supporters of the Venezuelan president lashed out at the Madrid daily. Venezuelan Minister of Communications and Information Ernesto Villegas, sent a tweet saying, “Chávez’s intubated picture posted as headline news on the venerated diary of El País is as grotesque as it is false,” Caracas daily El Nacional reported.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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