The World Today for August 23, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

ANGOLA

Follow the Leader

Angolans go to the polls Wednesday to elect their next president and parliament. But what they are actually doing is writing a new chapter in the history of their young country.

Here’s the obvious change: Africa’s second-longest-serving leader, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, is stepping down after 37 years, a period defined by a brutal fight for independence from Portugal and a bloody, decades-long civil war.

Here’s the good news: The People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) will not fight over trenches, airstrips and dusty roads through scrubby forests. They will battle for the backing of 9 million voters, as the Guardian wrote.

And there’s more reason to be cautiously optimistic about this oil-rich country’s future.

The president’s handpicked successor, Defense Minister Joao Lourenco, is all but sure to win. And while Lourenco was a surprise choice, he’s a strong one, the Washington Post reported. He’s respected both at home and abroad, having held multiple high-level government positions. He’s also married to the World Bank’s former executive director for Angola, Nigeria and South Africa.

Indeed, Lourenco has a track record clean of corruption, a rarity in Angola, whose capital, Luanda, by the way, was recently ranked the most expensive city in the world, the Independent reports. The country is plagued by nepotism and elites lining their pockets even as their fellow citizens remain entrenched in poverty, the New York Times wrote.

And with oil prices sinking and inflation rising, Angolans have become increasingly restless as botched infrastructure projects, a lack of access to basic needs and a stagnant economy have squeezed them.

Sensing the dissatisfaction, the MPLA has run on a platform of “improve what is good, correct what is wrong,” Africa.com opined.

Still, observers urge caution: The status quo will likely remain for a while, despite the change of leadership, Deutsche Welle reported.

First, Lourenco will be beholden to party stalwarts in the government whose jobs are guaranteed by a statute that breezed through parliament during the last session.

Second, the current president’s daughter, Isabel dos Santos, is head of the state-run oil firm, Sonangol. Considered Africa’s first female billionaire, she won’t likely be going anywhere anytime soon, either.

Third, there’s concern over the crackdown on speech in advance of the elections, Human Right Watch reported.

Still, the MLPA is expected to pay a price for ruling incompetently. Recent polls show the party’s support is dwindling. They’re expected to win only 38 percent of the vote, which is enough to be the largest party in parliament, but hardly constitutes a mandate.

Also, the oil crisis and the strife of the past few decades have “focused minds…realizing the party is over,” said the Guardian.

So while a strong opposition and an ailing governing party could make life hard for Lourenco, it could also be an opportunity to reach across the aisle and let fresh air into Angola’s government and its future.

“We hope,” said Marcolino Moco, a former prime minister who is now a fierce opponent of dos Santos. “We have to try. We have to hope.”

[siteshare]Follow the Leader[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

Fight or Flight

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro thumbed his nose at the prospect of more US sanctions and said he’s seeking an international arrest warrant for former Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz, who fled the country last week.

“I have prepared a set of decisions and measures to defend us against commercial, financial or oil blockades that Donald Trump will decree,” Bloomberg quoted Maduro as saying.

Ortega and her husband fled to Colombia to avoid what they claim are politically motivated charges at home. A former Maduro loyalist, Ortega began opposing him earlier this year and sought to stop the elections for the controversial Constituent Assembly – which was formed on July 30 to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution in the face of the threat of a crippling US oil embargo.

She’s now set to address a meeting of the regional economic group Mercosur in Brazil, where she claims she will “show the world proof that will incriminate President Nicolas Maduro and those around him on serious charges of corruption.”

[siteshare]Fight or Flight[/siteshare]

EGYPT

The Price of Freedom

Washington will deny Egypt nearly $100 million in aid and delay a further $200 million over the country’s failure to make progress on respecting human rights and democratic norms.

The decision reflects Washington’s desire to continue its security cooperation and US frustration over Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s stance on civil liberties, Reuters reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

A main source of aggravation was al-Sisi’s failure to stop a new law that regulates non-governmental organizations pushed through in May that restricts NGO activity to developmental and social work and introduces jail terms of up to five years if they violate those restrictions.

The administration will redirect elsewhere some $65.7 million in fiscal year 2017 Foreign Military Financing funds (FMF) and $30 million in fiscal year 2016 Economic Support Fund (ESF) funds. But it has only put another $195 million on hold – reflecting its desire to keep Egypt in the fold despite human rights concerns.

[siteshare]The Price of Freedom[/siteshare]

EL SALVADOR

Of Soldiers, Priests and Judges

El Salvador’s Supreme Court struck down arrest warrants issued by Spain against a group of soldiers accused of killing six Jesuit priests during the South American country’s blood civil war in 1989.

Following a Spanish petition to Interpol for their arrest, the Supreme Court ruled the warrants were void on the grounds the soldiers were tried for the murders at the time, Reuters reported. Two officers originally received long jail sentences, but they were released following the passage of an amnesty law in 1993.

Among those named in the warrants were three generals and four colonels.

Prosecutors said soldiers killed the priests to end their work to expose rights abuses committed by the US-backed army during the 1980-1992 civil war – which claimed an estimated 75,000 lives.

Earlier, a US lower court judge cleared the way for Col Inocente Orlando Montano, also a suspect in the killings, to be extradited to Spain for trial, the BBC reported. However, Montano may appeal the decision in federal court.

[siteshare]Of Soldiers, Priests and Judges[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

A Cold Drink

The common goldfish and its relatives in the wild, carp, have it tough during the cold winter months.

When the fresh water pools and lakes in which they live freeze over, they’re trapped beneath the ice and deprived of the oxygen they need to survive.

But these fish have developed an intoxicatingly interesting way of enduring those cold months: They use alcohol to survive.

Instead of consuming alcohol, these clever creatures produce and expel it across their gills into the surrounding waters.

It’s a unique evolutionary process these fish have developed to get a fin up on the competition, researchers reported in an article published recently in Scientific Reports.

Other fish eventually die from a buildup of lactic acid naturally produced when they are deprived of oxygen. But goldfish and their relatives have evolved separate proteins that convert lactic acid into alcohol. This allows them to dispel toxins from their bodies and survive the winter.

All that alcohol production adds up, too, one of the study’s authors, Michael Berenbrink from the University of Liverpool, told the BBC.

“If you measure them in the field the blood alcohol goes up above 50mg per 100 milliliters, which is the drink-drive limit in Scotland and northern European countries,” he said.

[siteshare]A Cold Drink[/siteshare]

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