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Cows graze in a deforested pasture on the Yari plains, in Caqueta, Colombia March 3, 2021. Picture taken March 3, 2021.

REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

Deforestation surges in Colombia – and you’ll never guess why

For years, Colombian rebels and narcos perfected the art of kidnapping people for ransom – now they are holding the rainforest hostage.

New figures show that after declining for many years, deforestation in the Andean country has shot up 40% in each of the last two quarters.

The culprit? A major armed group that controls vast swathes of the jungle rescinded an earlier order to protect the vital forest resource. The “Estado Mayor Central,” as the guerilla command is known, is now using the rainforest as a bargaining chip in peace talks with the government, by allowing, or forcing, local farmers to clear trees for cattle or coca farms.

By way of background: In 2016, the government signed a peace accord that ended decades of war with the FARC, the largest of various Marxist and narcotrafficking groups active in the country. But as those rebels demobilized, other violent groups filled the vacuum.

President Gustavo Petro, the country’s first leftist president (himself a former guerrilla), pledged during his 2022 campaign to reduce chronic violence by negotiating a “Total Peace” with all armed groups. He also committed himself to a pro-environment agenda. Suddenly, those are two branches of a common problem.

Commercial vessels wait to pass the Bosphorus strait during a misty morning in Istanbul, Turkey, October 31, 2022.

REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo

Hard Numbers: Grain deal extension woes, FRB rescued, loose Libyan uranium, global coke binge

120 or 60: Although the Black Sea grain deal will almost certainly get extended before it expires Saturday, Russia and Turkey are tussling over how long that extension should be. Ankara — backed by Ukraine and the UN — wants to prolong the agreement for another 120 days, while Moscow is insisting on 60 days, presumably to pressure the West to lift sanctions against certain Russian payment systems.

30 billion: Asian and European stock markets on Friday saw gains hours after a group of 11 big US banks swooped in to rescue First Republic Bank, an embattled regional lender. The banks injected $30 billion into FRB to shore up confidence in the US banking system following the recent collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.

2.3: A warlord has recovered an estimated 2.3 metric tons of uranium ore that had gone missing in eastern Libya. The uranium was probably left over from the late dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s defunct nuclear weapons program.

35: Global cocaine production surged by a whopping 35% in 2020-2021, according to a new UN report. One of the main reasons is that drug cartels have taken over coca-cultivating areas of Colombia previously run by the FARC and are competing to churn out more powder for Americans and Europeans to snort.
Annie Gugliotta

What We’re Watching: China bans crypto, commandos kill Jesús, EU opens anew

China bans cryptocurrency: China has banned financial institutions and payment companies from processing online transactions in cryptocurrencies. The move, which follows an earlier ban on cryptocurrency trading by Chinese firms, is a clear sign of China's suspicion of any digital currencies that it cannot control. In fact, what China really wants is to promote its own digital yuan that would track every single transaction. Other governments would love to do the same, of course, but they don't have nearly as much financial firepower as China. Meanwhile, the news from Beijing made the price of Bitcoin — the world's most prominent cryptocurrency — plunge to its lowest in three months. Who would have guessed just a couple of weeks ago, when everyone was still frantically buying Bitcoin, Etherium or Dogecoin on RobinHood, that all it would take to burst the digital currency bubble would be an Elon Musk tweet and China.

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What We're Watching: Pakistan PM on the ropes, China's green plans, Colombia's post-peace problems, Thai cat rescue

A body blow for Pakistan's Prime Minister: Imran Khan suffered an embarrassing defeat this week when members of the National Assembly, the country's lower house, voted to give the opposition bloc a majority in the Senate. (In Pakistan, lower house legislators and provincial assemblies elect senators in a secret ballot.) The big drama of it all is that Khan's own Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party holds a lower house majority, which means that lawmakers supposedly loyal to his party voted in secret for opposition candidates. Khan's allies claim that PTI members were bribed to support the opposition, and the prime minister says he will ask for a lower house vote of confidence in his leadership. That vote will not be secret, but even if he survives, the political damage is done. Without a Senate majority, he has no chance of passing key reform plans, including constitutional amendments meant to centralize financial and administrative control in the federal government. Khan has, however, refused to resign.

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