The World Today for May 09, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

In Bloom

Tech giant Google fired up its first internet servers last week on the formerly isolated island of Cuba.

Internet access is shoddy and expensive in Cuba despite President Raul Castro’s initiatives to set up Wi-Fi hotspots in tourist destinations on the island. Home connections, especially in rural outposts, are even more rare, NPR reported.

Google’s Cuban servers will merely speed up the internet already available on the island by locally caching information. Cuba’s internet infrastructure isn’t expected to change dramatically.

But for a nation notorious for stymieing open communication, the move is an indicator of Cuba’s much anticipated, albeit tentative, blooming.

Since the United States’ rapprochement with Cuba in 2015, the island nation, once an economic disaster, has been making a comeback.

Tourism has seen a serious uptick, with projections for 2017 promising exponentially more tourists than the 4 million people that visited the island last year.

That sector has kept Cuba afloat, even amid an energy crisis. Petrol has become a pricey commodity since oil shipments from neighboring Venezuela have dried up, the Associated Press reported.

Cuba’s small private sector – mainly local restaurant owners and hoteliers – are enjoying a higher quality of life, perhaps contributing to the sharp decline in asylum seekers fleeing the island nation, Reuters reported.

The shift is having social ramifications, too. The island recently celebrated its first transgender religious ceremony, the Independent reported Monday.

Cuba has indeed made progress in a few years’ time – however, Cuba’s economy is still “bonkers,” argued the Economist.

Its practice of using two separate currencies – one for tourists, matched to the dollar, and one for islanders – ensures that doctors and other civil servants chained to Cuba’s communist past make a little over $50 a month at best, while those operating in the tourism sector and black-market enterprises can make much more.

That’s presenting confusing career choices for Cuba’s educated youth, PRI reported.

Meanwhile, although tourism is ramping up and flights from the US are becoming more and more frequent, the sector isn’t living up to expectations of yore when Cuba served as a playground for the American elite. Cuba’s citizens are having a hard time acclimating to the needs of their new guests.

That could lead to a return to the island’s revolutionary ways: Cubans could see the trade-off of moderate economic improvement for increased US influence as not worth the trouble, Stratfor reported.

In short: Expect Cuba to keep blossoming but don’t anticipate full bloom anytime soon.

WANT TO KNOW

A Trade in Slaves

The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) warned of a possible investigation related to the detention of thousands of migrants in Libya – where the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says criminal gangs trade migrants in modern slave markets.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the United Nations Security Council that her office was collecting and analyzing information “related to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya,” Reuters reported.

The IOM alleges that some 20,000 migrants are being held in illegal detention centers in Libya, where criminal gangs hold them for ransom or sell them for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Libya is the main transit point for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa and the Middle East, especially now that a deal between Turkey and the European Union has mostly stopped the flow of migrants into Greece. However, Libya, too, has been in turmoil since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Extreme Moderation

In a surprisingly harsh verdict, an Indonesian court sentenced the minority Christian governor of Jakarta to two years in prison for blaspheming the Quran.

Prosecutors had recommended a two-year suspended sentence, but the five-judge panel said Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was “convincingly proven guilty of blasphemy” and denied there were political aspects to the case, the Associated Press reported.

The unexpectedly hardline decision undermines Indonesia’s reputation for moderate Islam – for which it won praise from US Vice President Mike Pence last month.

The blasphemy charges also impacted last month’s elections, as hardliners told voters it would be a sin to vote for a non-Muslim. Prosecutors alleged that during campaigning, Ahok criticized a verse from the Quran that some say prohibits Muslims from living under the leadership of a non-Muslim. Ahok maintained he had not criticized the verse itself but those who were misinterpreting it.

Seen as a test of Indonesia’s laws supporting freedom of religion, the case adds credence to the criticism that its blasphemy laws are used selectively against religious minorities.

Coal Miners and Elections

Furious coal miners blocked the convoy of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the weekend in an “extraordinary display of public anger” two weeks before presidential elections.

Workers from the Zemestan-Yurt coalmine blocked Rouhani’s vehicle in outrage over the deaths of at least 35 fellow miners who were trapped in a cave-in after an explosion last week, the New York Times reported.

Seen as a reformer keen to improve ties with the West following his efforts to push through the nuclear deal with the US, Rouhani faces stiff opposition from hardline candidates in the upcoming elections on May 19.

Among his opponents’ key arguments is the claim that he has ruined the economy and failed to address widespread unemployment – making the workers’ protest a bad sign. However, his chief of staff said on Twitter that Rouhani insisted on meeting the miners, saying, if “the miners would achieve comfort and serenity by yelling at the highest national official, this is an honor for me.”

DISCOVERIES

Low-Carb Diet

For some of us, the temptation of a pastry is too strong to ignore.

However, for people with celiac disease – who are allergic to a protein called gluten present in the grains commonly used to make bread – just one bite of that same treat can result in days of cramping and bloating.

Celiac disease occurs in only around 1 percent of the population.

Still, most of us shouldn’t be too hasty to go gluten-free: A study published recently in the British Medical Journal shows that doing away with gluten completely can have some pretty serious consequences for your health, Quartz reported.

Over the course of 26 years, scientists tracked the gluten intake of more than 100,000 participants and compared it with their risk for heart disease.

Those who ate gluten over long periods of time showed no greater risk of developing heart disease. However, scientists concluded that avoiding gluten all together may reduce the health benefits of grain-rich foods on the body. That could lead to cardiovascular risk.

Conclusion: Before committing to the newest diet in fashion, make sure your waistline isn’t the only thing affected.

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