The World Today for March 24, 2016

March 24, 2016


Argentina: Leftover Dinner

Call it “dancing with the pols.”

In their version of ping-pong diplomacy, America’s hottest reality TV couple – Barack and Michelle to fans – danced the tango at a state dinner in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.

Separately. And with the aid of professionals. But still. It was an elegant move.

Following his attempt to symbolically end the Cold War once and for all in Havana earlier this week, the US president is in Argentina with a more pragmatic agenda. By putting America’s despicable past support of right wing authoritarian regimes to bed, Obama hopes to send Latin America’s left wing populist opposition to the US packing, too.

The last US president to visit Argentina, George W. Bush, was sent home with his tail between his legs in 2005 – after Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez and Argentina’s former President Nestor Kirchner scuttled a proposed free-trade agreement for the Americas.

Among the highlights: They lambasted W. for America’s “imperialist” policies. And Chavez implored frenzied crowds to bring back the leftist revolutionary spirit of Argentine hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara, asking “Donde esta el Che?”

But following more than a decade of populist, leftist governments — in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela, among others – cheap oil, the end of the commodities boom and corruption scandals are turning the tide. Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who took office in December, is one of several centrist leaders taking Latin America back from the anti-US left.

The left was also trounced in recent elections in Bolivia and Venezuela, and a similar turn looks likely in Brazil and Chile – where corruption has hit popular socialist leaders.

Make no mistake: Socialism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Ask Bernie Sanders. Or Finland.

But the anti-Americanism of Macri’s predecessors, like that of Venezuela’s Chavez, was arguably costly for both Buenos Aires and Washington. Following President Nestor Kirchner’s death in 2010, his widow, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – aka “Queen Cristina” – spurned Washington in favor of aligning Argentina with Moscow and Beijing. Moreover, her nationalist policies discouraged trade and investment, critics say.

To bolster support for Macri, her replacement – and a deal to settle Argentina’s $4.65 billion dispute with hedge funds in New York – Obama will do more than dance.

Visiting Argentina on the 40th anniversary of the US-backed “dirty war” that ushered in a brutal military dictatorship in 1976, he’s also banking that the release of classified CIA, FBI and other secret documents related to the dictatorship will prove to Latin Americans that his disavowal of Washington’s Cold War realpolitik is for real. On Wednesday, the Vatican, too, said it would dish its secrets on the stances taken by various Argentine bishops – some of whom backed the military.

It remains to be seen how the document dump will go over, and Obama’s answers to questions about the US role in the “dirty war” so far have not lived up to the rhetorical standards he set in Havana. (“We have put a great emphasis on making sure that some of the ideologies, the disputes of the past, that they are frankly acknowledged, but that we are also able to look to the future and not just behind us,” he said at a press conference).

But if he acts true to form, he’ll step it up during Thursday’s visit to a riverside park that honors the thousands of people killed or “disappeared” during the dictatorship.


Brussels: Criminals Turned Radicals

With the identification of the alleged perpetrators of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgian authorities confirmed a trope that has now become familiar. At least when it comes to bombings and shootings, the Islamic State finds its front-line troops in prison, not at the mosque.

Brothers Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui, two of the suicide bombers, had done time for armed robbery and carjacking. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Brussels-based leader of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, had been convicted of burglary and assault. And Salah Abdeslam, an alleged accomplice captured in the city last week, had several drug-related convictions.

To some, like Belgian counterterrorism official Alain Grignard, that signals that today’s terrorists are “Islamized radicals” rather than “radical Islamists” – indicating they are motivated by social grievances, not religious ones. But others warn against buying into the “Molenbeek myth,” pointing out that by the numbers, Belgium’s mixed neighborhoods contributed more jihadis than the “Muslim ghetto.”

“Ten years ago, young people who went bad stole, assaulted or robbed,” said Aissa Ben Mohamed, 25, of Moroccan descent who grew up in the mixed Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek. “Today, they become terrorists.”

Brazil: Noose Tightens on Rousseff

A jailed construction mogul is ready to name names in the $2 billion Petrobras scandal, tightening the noose on beleaguered President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Rousseff is battling an impeachment drive from Brazil’s legislature, while Lula faces a possible jail term related to a beach house and luxury apartment he allegedly received as a bribe.

Now Marcelo Odebrecht, the former chief executive of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht SA who was sentenced to 19 years in prison for his role in the Petrobras scheme, is ready to dish. He may verify the names of as many as 200 politicians who received kickbacks, based on a list published by local media outlets that was said to have come from Odebrecht company documents.

Lula and Rousseff – who deny any wrongdoing – could be the biggest casualties.

Mozambique: Clue to Missing MH370

Debris discovered off the coast of Mozambique is “almost certainly” from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, according to Australia’s transport minister.

The two pieces of debris are consistent with the panels used in the Boeing 777 aircraft, Malaysian investigators found, and the location where they were discovered is consistent with Malaysian authorities’ theory that the plane went down somewhere over the Indian Ocean.

The panels might show damage indicating whether the plane blew up in mid-air or hit the water intact, but that’s a long shot. If they don’t deliver any new clues, the discovery may not be enough to convince investigators to prolong the ongoing search for the body of the plane that relatives of the people on board are demanding.

Currently, the search is set to end in June if combing 120,000 square kilometers (46,330 square miles) of the southern Indian Ocean doesn’t turn up some compelling evidence.


India: Widows Get Wild

Indian widows are celebrating Holi, too. Click for pics.

If you live somewhere there are Indians – in other words, practically anywhere – you might see them drenched with water and covered in red, green and purple dye on Thursday.

They’re not (just) crazy. They’re celebrating the victory of good over evil and the coming of spring. You know, the usual stuff.

This year, though, more than a thousand widows broke Hindu tradition to join the celebration in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh – the town where the god Krishna is said to have spent his childhood.

Historically, Hindu widows were compelled to wear white and withdraw from mainstream society. They’re still often abandoned by their families or illegally deprived of their rights to inherit property from their husband. So it was the Indian equivalent of a bra-burning moment.

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— Compiled and written by Jason Overdorf


Thu, 03/24/2016 – 05:42

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