The World Today for October 13, 2016


The Running of Maduro

To say that 2016 has been a rocky year for Venezuela would be an understatement.

Against a backdrop of falling oil prices – the primary source of the country’s revenues – Venezuelans have had to put up with shortages of nearly everything, from food and medical supplies to electricity, as well as rampant inflation and rising crime.

Yet despite this country’s worsening economic collapse, Venezuela’s million-strong and long-suffering opposition movement has made little headway in its attempt to oust current president and Chavez successor Nicolás Maduro.

Until now. From Oct. 26, locals who oppose Maduro will have three days to collect enough signatures – four million – to hold a referendum to recall Maduro.

Some say it’s about time.

Venezuelans’ growing frustration with Maduro’s left-wing chavista government has increasingly come on display: A march on the capital in early Sept. saw an estimated one million protesters bearing the colors of the Venezuelan flag cover more than 10 miles of eastern Caracas, wrote the Wall Street Journal.

On Wednesday, protestors and supporters of the Venezuela leader clashed in the streets of the island of Margarita.

These protests, say analysts, are illustrating that resistance to Maduro is spreading beyond Venezuela’s traditional counterrevolutionary middle class.

The demographics of demonstrators have been “strikingly diverse” and much more representative of Venezuelan society this time around, wrote Foreign Policy.

But even more damaging to Maduro than these protests was an incident that occurred about a month ago when the Venezuelan president paid a visit to the once staunchly left-wing Villa Rosa shantytown on the island of Margarita.

Locals reacted to news of the president’s visit with a show of cacerolazo – the banging of pots and pans common at protests across South America – chasing Maduro through the streets and causing him to run for safety.

Cell phone footage of the incident quickly went viral under the hashtag #VillaRosa. The video footage of ordinary people banging empty pots in the president’s face “electrified Venezuela like nothing had in a good time,” reported the Atlantic.

Venezuelans are now “flaunting their kitchenware nationwide” to taunt Maduro and what they decry as his failed economic policies, wrote Reuters.

The Villa Rosa incident also shows how Maduro’s undoing partly lies in his own hapless character, argued the Economist.

“A strongman in a crisis needs charisma,” wrote the Economist. “Nicolás Maduro… has none.”

Still, despite his lack of charm, Maduro is doing his best to cling to power, surrounding himself with like-minded hard-liners at home and rebuffing humanitarian donations from abroad in a bid to save face on the international stage, said the New York Times.

But it’s doubtful that Venezuelans will be impressed by Maduro’s strongman-act abroad when that aid is sorely needed.

The referendum petition will be the test. Until then, the clanging of empty kitchenware is likely to be the soundtrack to Venezuela’s streets.


Meet the New Boss

The United Nations is expected to confirm former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the body’s new secretary general on Thursday – quite possibly by a unanimous vote.

When he was nominated by the 15-member Security Council last week, his selection put paid to hopes that the UN would get its first female general secretary. But diplomats stressed that the former UN high commissioner on refugees is simply the best candidate for the job, irrespective of other criteria, the Associated Press reported.

Coincidentally, the confirmation comes a day after his successor as UN human rights chief excoriated Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as “a danger to the world” – a rare instance in which a US politician, rather than a dictator or demagogue from Asia or the Middle East, came in for such harsh criticism.

Considering his nomination was backed by both the US and Russia, Guterres is likely to be far more, well, diplomatic.

Prickly Allies

All reassurances aside, a bitter dispute between Iraq and Turkey threatens to derail the US-led efforts to recapture Mosul from the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The US military downplayed the impact of the feud on Wednesday, saying that planning for the liberation of Mosul is still underway, the Washington Post reported.

But analysts say Turkey’s efforts to wage a separate fight against IS in Iraq, in part in an effort to prevent ethnic Kurds from gaining a foothold on its borders, could do serious harm to the US’s plans, the BBC said.

In the latest salvo in the dispute, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to Iraq’s call for him to withdraw some 2,000 soldiers from northern Iraq by saying Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is beneath him.

“You are not my interlocutor. You are not at my level. You are not my equivalent. You are not of the same quality as me,” Erdogan said before a gathering of Islamic leaders.

Not the kind of rhetoric that builds many bridges.


It’s not clear what the temperature will be in the negotiating rooms in the Rwandan capital of Kigali this week, as representatives from 150 world nations look to set limits on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators, aerosols and air conditioners.

The forecast calls for mostly sunny weather with a high around 28 degrees Celsius (82 Fahrenheit). But senior US state department officials don’t expect talks to get too heated inside, Reuters reported.

“We are optimistic about reaching an agreement” to phase down the use of factory-made hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, a senior State Department official said.

India, in particular, is under pressure to reduce its use of HFCs – which are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide and seeing growth of as much as 15 percent a year worldwide, according to the Ecologist.

About 100 countries are calling for HFCs to be phased out by 2019 in developed countries and 2021 in developing ones. But India – where temperatures are higher than 40C/100F as much as half the year – wants that date to be pushed back to as late as 2031.

“Such a date would spell disaster for the climate,” the Ecologist opined.


April Fools

Geologist Cynthia Liutkus-Price thought it was all just an April Fools’ Day joke.

But the recently excavated Engo Sero site in Tanzania, with its 400-or-so pristinely preserved human footprints, was no laughing matter.

Paleontological sites of ancient footprints are a very rare find. But the Engo Sero site differs even from its few counterparts: While not as old nor as plentiful as previous excavations, its raft of different footprints has the potential to teach us more about our early history than ever before.

“There’s one area where there are so many prints, we’ve nicknamed it the ‘dance hall,’ because I’ve never seen so many prints in one place. It’s completely nuts,” said William Harcourt-Smith, a paleoanthropologist on the Engo Sero team to National Geographic.

Some of the prints, ranging from 5,000 to 19,100 years old, appear to be walking, others running, showing our ancestors moving in both straight lines and zigged patterns.

As simple as they may be, the footprints offer an unparalleled direct connection to our ancestors: The prints have the potential to open up modern humans to a world much more different than our own.

“The sheer number of footprints that were all created at essentially the same time allows us to directly investigate social aspects of the lives of these ancient humans,” said Briana Pobiner of the Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program.

It’s safe to say: best April Fools’ Day joke ever.

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