The World Today for January 13, 2017


From the Frying Pan

As Cuba draws closer to the United States – President Barack Obama on Thursday ended visa-free travel for Cubans fleeing to the US, a long-sought goal of Havana – the other once-great socialist hope of the Western Hemisphere, Venezuela, is sinking into chaos.

On Thursday, President Nicolás Maduro jailed three anti-government politicians in what critics said was a new crackdown on dissent, the Associated Press reported.

Among those arrested were Raul Baduel, a former defense minister who worked for the late President Hugo Chavez but who is a critic of the current president. In 2015, Baduel served six months in jail on corruption charges. Now Maduro is claiming that he is seeking to overthrow the government.

The crackdown was the latest sad turn in Venezuela, an oil-rich country where bread lines have become the norm and famine is not far behind.

Late last year, the Wall Street Journal reported, Havana purchased oil on world markets rather than turn to its fellow revolutionary government in Venezuela. Cuban doctors who served Venezuela’s poorest families exited as the countries’ oil-for-healthcare deal withered on the vine. Venezuela simply couldn’t meet its end of the bargain.

As CNN reported, after underinvesting in infrastructure, skyrocketing inflation and corruption, the South American country is pumping the least amount of crude it has pumped in 13 years.

The economy is such a shambles that Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay recently kicked Venezuela out of the South America’s free trade bloc. Authorities recently seized 4 million toys from a distributor, saying they were slated for sale at inflated prices. Critics compared Maduro to the Grinch who stole Christmas.

He’s used to the name calling. In October, as Venezuelans demonstrated and clashed with the police, Maduro blocked a recall referendum to take him out of office and called off local elections slated for December. Now the opposition is calling on the president to hold a reelection ballot or explain why he’s above the law.

“If Maduro continues to lead the government, despite massive unrest and democratic attempts to remove him, it must be assumed, domestically and internationally, that Venezuela is, in effect, under a dictatorship,” the Christian Science Monitor argued in an op-ed.

Could things become worse? Yes.

Reports said the country’s vice president, Tareck El Aissami, has ties to the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah, suggesting Maduro is looking for any allies to remain in power.

Foreign Policy suggested Venezuela could be President Donald Trump’s “first nightmare.” Given how many challenges Trump is expected to face as soon as he assumes office, that assessment is a sign of how close Venezuela is to meltdown.


Cyprus Solution?

One of the world’s oldest territorial disputes may finally be on the eve of a resolution.

The foreign ministers of Britain, Greece and Turkey met in Geneva on Thursday with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders to discuss detailed visions for how the disputed borders of Cyprus might be redrawn, the New York Times reported.

The first such high-profile meeting of the disputing parties since the island’s partition in 1974, it was promising enough to prompt new United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, to express hope that a deal may be on the horizon.

“I strongly believe Cyprus can be the symbol of hope at the beginning of 2017,” Guterres said.

The island in the Mediterranean has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded following a Greek-backed coup. A UN buffer zone separates the Greek and Turkish populations.

This is first time that the so-called “guarantor powers” – Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom – have participated in the talks and the first time the two sides have exchanged proposed maps. These talks aim to create a federation composed of two states, NPR reported.

Flying Bombs

The Syrian army accused Israel of firing rockets at a military base outside Damascus and threatened to retaliate for what it called “a flagrant attack.”

Several rockets were fired from northern Israel just after midnight, and landed in the compound of the airbase, which is used by President Bashar al-Assad’s elite Republican Guards, Reuters reported.

“Syrian army command and armed forces warn Israel of the repercussions of the flagrant attack and stresses its continued fight against (this) terrorism and amputate the arms of the perpetrators,” the agency quoted a Syrian army statement as saying.

The statement did not disclose whether the rocket attack had resulted in any casualties.

In the past, Israel has launched similar attacks on Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah group inside Syria, where it is supporting the Syrian army in the ongoing civil war. In November, the Syrian army said Israeli jets fired two missiles on an area west of Damascus, while an air strike in Syria in December 2015 killed a prominent Hezbollah leader, Samir Qantar.

Unspecified Countermeasures

China and Russia said they would take unspecified countermeasures against the planned US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system set to be deployed to protect South Korea from nuclear attack.

The countermeasures “will be aimed at safeguarding interests of China and Russia and the strategic balance in the region,” Radio Free Europe quoted China’s state news service Xinhua as saying.

THAAD has unsettled Moscow and Beijing, which worry its powerful radar will compromise their security. Beijing, for instance, has expressed concern that the system’s radar has a range that extends into China.

At a meeting in Moscow January 12, Russian and Chinese diplomats agreed that introducing THAAD on the Korean Peninsula will “damage regional stability and security,” giving the region a “high conflict potential” by “boosting the arms race” there, RFE quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying.


Trump Trigger

By now, most have grown accustomed to the president-elect’s affinity for tweeting – and the impact his cyber-screeds have in the real world.

Now there’s an app for that.

The program basically warns consumers of the potential market consequences of the president-elect’s busy fingers.

Trigger Finance, an app that notifies users of real-time gains and losses in their stock portfolios, has developed a special Trump “trigger” for their interface to let stockholders know when Trump mentions a company in their portfolio.

Following painful losses by Boeing and other corporate giants in the wake of Trump tweet storms, Trigger Finance’s co-founder and chief executive Rachel Mayer said the app’s user base expressed “overwhelming” demand for the new feature.

“When he tweets, the market moves,” Mayer told the Washington Post. “Our users see this as an investment opportunity and a way for them to manage their portfolio risk.”

Next time someone discounts a 140-character note, remember Mayer’s words. “Tweets really do matter,” she said.

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