The World Today for June 21, 2017




As Venezuela continues to spiral out of control, Caracas’s voracious borrowing to prop up the nation’s withering economy has economists anticipating an inevitable financial crash.

So far, President Nicolas Maduro has managed to meet payment deadlines on the $55 billion in oil-backed loans it has received from Russia and China. To accomplish that goal, he’s diverted all his foreign reserves to debt and slashed imports of food, medicine and other essentials, the Washington Post reported.

But it seems like Caracas’s days of living paycheck to paycheck are about to end.

Maduro recently missed a $1 billion payment to Russia for previous arms purchases, leaving investors fearing a default on billions in the near future.

Desperate for cash, Maduro’s regime has resorted to selling off $2.8 billion of bonds from the state oil company PDVSA for just 31 cents on the dollar to financial giant Goldman Sachs – a sharp divergence from Venezuela’s socialist ideology that’s led to universal condemnation.

At the same time, US lawmakers are deeply concerned over the results of a possible default, especially exposing US oil infrastructure to Russian control, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A Venezuela default “would give the Russians more control over oil and gas prices worldwide, inhibit US energy security and undermine broader U.S. geopolitical efforts,” Reps. Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.) and Albio Sires (D., N.J.) wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier this year.

Meanwhile, social upheaval continues to paralyze Venezuelan society.

Large-scale protests and violent clashes with state security forces have become a daily occurrence in Venezuela, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Since the Maduro-controlled Supreme Court announced its annexation of the legislative branch in March, daily protests have resulted in more than 60 deaths, more than 1,200 arrests and millions of dollars in property damage.

The government has banned opposition leaders across the country from running for office – some for as long as 15 years – as dramatic food shortages and staggering rates of crime have exacerbated public cries for regime change. The two forces are in constant tension.

“The cumulative effect of increasingly severe and blatant authoritarian measures can be seen in the wave of street protests in Caracas and elsewhere,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. “The opposition has pursued other avenues to press for change but has consistently hit a wall.”

Events at home have also enraged the Venezuelan diaspora, sparking public shaming of prominent Venezuelan politicians during foreign stints, the Associated Press reported.

Maduro continues to push for constitutional changes to create a new constituent assembly that would address the people’s needs. But critics say the idea is merely another power grab. Even formerly stalwart supporters of his regime have publicly lambasted his actions.

Maduro’s approval rating is bottoming out in the low 20s, underscoring the urgency for an international solution to the crisis before all-out anarchy takes hold, economist Francisco Rodriguez wrote in the Financial Times.

“Without such an agreement, the country’s future could prove to be even bleaker than its present.”




Classroom Terror

Militants associated with Islamic State stormed a school early Wednesday and took several students hostage in the Philippines, where the military is waging a pitched battle for control over the island of Mindanao.

About 300 armed men attacked a school in Pigcawayan town in North Cotabato province on the  island and were holding an unknown number of civilians, including some students, captive, Reuters quoted local police as saying.

Pigcawayan is 120 miles south of Marawi City, where various allied Islamist militants have been battling the Philippines military since May 23.

The Philippines army launched a renewed push against the militants in Marawi City on Tuesday in a bid to clear the city before the weekend Eid festival, the agency said. A spokesman for the military told the Associated Press that the hostage-taking incident could be intended to disrupt that siege.

Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the entire southern region to deal with the Marawi crisis.

[siteshare]Classroom Terror[/siteshare]


Lone Wolves

Soldiers shot and killed a suspected terrorist who detonated an explosive device in one of Brussels’ main railway stations Tuesday night.

Police say the man was wearing an explosive belt and a witness heard the man call out “Allahu Akbar” before the blast, the Guardian reported.

No civilians were injured in the attack, though the incident caused panic as people in the area ran for cover.

The Belgian capital has been on high alert for more than 18 months, since Brussels-based Islamic State militants carried out attacks in Paris and Brussels in November 2015 and March 2016. The authorities said there is no indication that another incident is imminent, but the threat level remains at 3, which warns of a “possible and likely threat,” CNN noted.

Belgian counter-terrorism police are still probing the identity of the bomber, Reuters said. Security experts called it similar to “lone-wolf” assaults carried out by radicals with limited access to weapons and training.

[siteshare]Lone Wolves[/siteshare]


Symbolic Gestures

Washington unveiled new sanctions on dozens of people and organizations involved in Russia’s incursion in Ukraine.

The Treasury Department announced sanctions on 38 individuals and entities involved in efforts to try to unite Crimea and the Donbass region more closely with Russia on Tuesday – the same day that President Donald Trump met with Ukraine President Petro O. Poroshenko at the White House, the New York Times reported.

The measures may be largely symbolic, as the targets are not active outside Russian and Ukraine and have little in the way of international assets, the paper said. But the move sends a clear signal to Moscow ahead of the first meeting of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Germany, next month.

Among those implicated: Officials who had suggested adopting the Russian ruble or issuing local passports that Russia would recognize, a company that insured a $3 billion project to build a bridge linking the Crimean peninsula to the mainland, a motorcycle gang and Putin’s personal chef.

[siteshare]Symbolic Gestures[/siteshare]


Unlikely Climbers

Some say it’s difficult to teach an old goat new tricks.

But in southwestern Morocco, you don’t have to. The local goats learn on their own.

Goats are naturally good climbers. Some particularly adept members of the species live on steep mountainsides, prancing from ledge to ledge.

While that’s not the case for domesticated Moroccan goats, they’ve triggered their climbing gene out of pure necessity. During the dry season in Morocco, there’s no place else to forage other than in the treetops.

These unlikely climbers have become a staple in society. Locals trim the trees to make them more accessible to the kids.

The trees get something out of this oddball relationship, too, the New York Times reported.

New research published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment shows that the goats spit out larger seeds they can’t digest during rumination, giving new saplings the chance to grow large enough to one day host goats of their own.

[siteshare]Unlikely Climbers[/siteshare]

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