Welcome to Tuesday, where dozens are arrested following anti-government protests in Cuba, troops are called in to quell South African unrest and the Olympic chief makes an embarrassing slip to his Japanese hosts. Le Monde also looks at lessons that coronavirus-stricken Brazil can draw from its 1904 "Vaccine Revolt."
• Cuba arrests dozens after protests: Following the country's biggest public demonstration in decades, dozens of people in Cuba have been arrested for protesting against the Communist government's economic policies and its handling of the pandemic.
• Hospital fire in Iraq kills dozens: At least 58 people were killed, and 67 injured, in a fire at a hospital in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya that was treating COVID patients. Initial signs indicate the fire was likely caused by an oxygen tank explosion.
• South Africa military deploys soldiers to quell unrest: The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is sending soldiers in the Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal provinces to assist law enforcement after violent protests erupted over the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma that have left at least 30 dead.
• "Living with" COVID-19: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed the lifting of most remaining social distancing restrictions on July 19, while urging people to remain cautious in closed and crowded places. Israel, also facing a major uptick in cases of the Delta variant, has likewise maintained the looser rules following a successful vaccination drive. The government says Israelis need to learn to live with the virus, hoping that widespread vaccination will greatly reduce severe cases of COVID. Meanwhile, after French President Emmanuel Macron announced a series of new rules and warned that the unvaccinated could face more restrictions, hundreds of thousands of people rushed to set up vaccination appointments.
• Former U.S. drug informant arrested in Haiti assassination: One of the Haitian-American men suspected of taking part in the assassination of Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse last week, had been an informant to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). An acting DEA official had said that the individual was not acting on behalf of the DEA, nor was he an active informant at the time of the assassination.
• Olympics chief calls Japanese people "Chinese": In an attempt to win over the reluctant hosts of the Tokyo 2020 Games, Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), referred to the people of Japan as "Chinese," before quickly correcting himself. The blunder was not repeated to English-to-Japanese interpreters at the meeting but it triggered a backlash on social media after Japanese media reported on it.
• Seoul bans upbeat songs in gyms to stop sweating and heavy breathing: In South Korea, which is battling a new outbreak of the virus, gyms in Seoul have been told not to play music with a tempo higher than 120 beats per minute in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. According to officials, the restrictions will prevent people from breathing too fast or splashing sweat on each other. K-pop fans of Blackpink might suffer a bit more than followers of BTS.
Colombian daily El Espectador reports on the protests in Cuba, asking: "What was it that provoked the anger of Cubans?" One answer came from Sara Naranjo, a protester who said in a video shared on Twitter that she was quite literally hungry and thirsty: "I don't have water, I don't have anything. You get bored, you get tired, we are going crazy." The country has experienced its biggest protest movement in decades, with thousands of Cubans demonstrating against food shortages caused by the ongoing economic crisis and the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 lessons from Brazil's ‘"Vaccine Revolt"" of 1904
More than a century ago, a government campaign to vaccinate citizens of a rapidly urbanizing Rio de Janeiro against a range of contagious diseases provoked a violent insurrection. Today, instead, it is the Brazilians themselves demanding immunization against COVID-19 from their anti-vax President Bolsonaro, Bruno Meyerfeld, Brazilian correspondent for French daily Le Monde, reports:
In 1904, the city (still the capital of Brazil) was industrializing, its population nearly doubling in 10 years. Built between dunes and lagoons, interspersed with rank swamps, the city was a petri dish for viruses. In 1902, having just come to power, President Rodrigues Alves made it his job to remedy the situation. A "modernizing wave" swept over Rio: Thousands of buildings were razed. Everywhere, avenues were built and gas spouts were planted.
The population grumbled at these ultra-brutal methods. "In two years, 2,000 buildings were destroyed and 100,000 inhabitants were expelled without compensation to the outskirts of the city," says historian Laurent Vidal. But none of this stopped the authorities, which finally decided to tackle smallpox. The only solution: vaccines. On Oct. 31, 1904, the government made vaccination mandatory. But enough was enough for citizens of Rio: on November 10, the city went into an insurrection. The repression was violent. At the end of six days of confrontations, 30 people were killed and 110 injured.
More than 115 years have passed, and the revolt against the vaccine seems very far away. In contrast to 1904, in a Brazil devastated by COVID-19 (more than 500,000 victims), an overwhelming majority of the population is eager to be vaccinated: According to a survey recently published by the Datafolha Institute, 91% of Brazilians would be willing to lend a shoulder for an injection. How did roles reverse so thoroughly? "It took a lot of effort and several generations to convince Brazilians to be vaccinated," says Alexandre Padilha, a former Minister of Health.
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A 25-year-old copy of "Super Mario 64" sold for more than $1.5 million at auction, breaking the previous record price for a video game set just two days earlier, when an original "Legend of Zelda" cartridge sold for $870,000.
I am asking for the same amount of money to be paid to the slaves that was paid to the slave owners.
— Jamaican lawmaker and Labour Party member Mike Henry explained the £7.6 billion in compensation he is demanding the United Kingdom pay in reparations to help redress for the country's role in the transatlantic slave trade. Henry's calculation specifically alludes to the fact that, after slavery was abolished in the British empire in 1834, slaveowners were compensated for their monetary loss through loans that the UK only completed interest payments on in 2015.
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.
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
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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