The World Today for May 18, 2018



Force and Change

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro learned politics under Hugo Chavez, the socialist firebrand who served as the South American country’s leader from 1999 until his death in 2013. Chavez was democratically elected, but Canada’s Globe and Mail described him as an authoritarian who brooked little dissent in the media, the courts or elsewhere.

Today, as Maduro faces re-election on Sunday, Chavez’s legacy lives on.

It turns out Maduro has a good chance of winning a second term, but not because of his policies.

The Venezuelan economy is a mess. Famine stalks the nation – a needless tragedy in a resource-rich country. Last year, Maduro abolished the opposition-led Congress with the blessing of his allies on the Supreme Court, but reversed his decision after civil unrest exploded in response to his brazen move to consolidate power. Three-million Venezuelans have emigrated rather than live under a strongman who rules a collapsing country.

“It’s a story of epic mismanagement,” said John Oliver accurately on his weekly HBO news-satire show.

Maduro is competitive in an election where he should lose in a landslide for two reasons.

First, he’s rigged the electoral system, argued Washington Post opinion writer Francisco Toro. “Virtually everyone expects him to ‘win’ on Sunday through a combination of vote buying, coercion, blackmail and ballot-stuffing,” Toro wrote.

Second, because the system is rigged, opposition parties are boycotting the election, Reuters reported.

The news agency quoted college student Ana Romano, who saw campaign workers in Maduro’s Socialist Party “assisting” voters in polling booths – allegedly a form of voter intimidation – and Socialist government officials keeping polling places open long after closing time to help their party’s get-out-the-vote efforts.

“I don’t want to have anything to do with this upcoming election,” Romano said.

As a result, Maduro’s main rival, former solider and provincial governor Henri Falcón – also a former Chavez devotee – is working hard to court his own supporters as well as those of Maduro and other candidates. Falcón’s pitch is hopeful: The system is corrupt, but the people will prevail.

“If an avalanche of votes is produced it could swamp any electoral condition,” Vicente Díaz, a government opponent, told the Wall Street Journal.

Amherst College professor Javier Corrales agreed in a New York Times op-ed. “By failing to vote, the opposition will waste the only chance in years to break this dictatorship,” he wrote.

Still, anticipating the worst, the US is already preparing new sanctions on Venezuela’s crucial oil industry, said CNBC. Those would be on top of sanctions that Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama already imposed on the country.

New sanctions may or may not hurt the already hurting Venezuelan people. They would certainly exert even more pressure to force change.

At what cost, is an open question.



No Limits

Citizens in the small east African nation of Burundi voted Thursday to decide whether to amend the nation’s constitution to allow current strongman President Pierre Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, to extend his term to 2034, the Wall Street Journal reported.

While in power, Nkurunziza has cracked down on opposition groups and the press. The situation in Burundi, the world’s third-poorest nation, has become increasingly violent since 2015, when Nkurunziza ignored the nation’s two-term limit on presidents and remained in office, citing his God-given right to do so.

The political crisis has led to 1,200 deaths since 2015, and more than 400,000 have fled to neighboring countries, human rights organizations estimate.

The measure is likely to pass, which would extend terms from five to seven years, and allow any president who’d previously served two consecutive terms to run again after sitting one out, the Journal reported.

It’s an observable trend across Africa: Although 18 countries on the continent have imposed term limits, 10 have done away with them, including Rwanda and Uganda.


Oh Holy Month

For the first time in 18 years, the Indian government announced Thursday a ceasefire against separatist militants in the troubled Jammu and Kashmir State during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Marked by conflict for over 70 years and claimed by both India and Pakistan, the predominately Muslim region of Kashmir has become increasingly unstable over the past months, the New York Times reported. Dozens have been killed in fighting, and constant protests have left little hope for peace.

The Indian government, which controls most of the Kashmir Valley, hopes the ceasefire will give both sides an opportunity to cool down and make another attempt at peace.

However, the ceasefire could have the opposite effect, the Times reported, as was the case during the last Ramadan ceasefire in 2000, which analysts believe only provided separatists with an opportunity to rally support for their cause. Meanwhile, Ramadan is a time of heightened terror in many countries: Islamic militants see being martyred during Ramadan as a high honor.


What’s in a Name?

Macedonia and its more influential neighbor, Greece, seem to have settled a decades-old debate that has prevented the former from joining both NATO and the European Union: a disagreement over the country’s name.

When the country, once a part of the former Yugoslavia, gained independence 27 years ago, it named itself the Socialist Republic of Macedonia and quickly adopted the shortened form, Macedonia.

That triggered Greece’s ire, which has a neighboring region called Macedonia that’s also named after the kingdom of Alexander the Great. Frustrated over what it sees as historical appropriation, Greece has used its veto rights to block Macedonia’s acceptance into both the EU and NATO.

The nations’ leaders, however, reached an agreement on the naming quandary in Sofia, Bulgaria, Thursday during an EU summit on expanding the bloc, the Wall Street Journal reported. Macedonia will begin to go by “Upper Macedonia,” pending approval from both nations’ parliaments and a constitutional change in Macedonia.

But this doesn’t mean that Macedonia is poised to join the EU anytime soon – European leaders made it very clear Thursday that Macedonia, as well as Albania, Montenegro and Serbia, would have to wait until at least 2025 to become members of the bloc.


International Beef

Recently, Sweden made a startling confession: Swedish meatballs aren’t Swedish at all.

Instead, this celebrated mainstay of its cuisine is actually from Turkey, the New York Times reported.

The shocking announcement and the history of the switch-up was posted on the country’s official Twitter feed.

“Swedish meatballs are actually based on a recipe King Charles XII brought home from Turkey in the early 18th century,” the tweet said. “Let’s stick to the facts!”

Suffice it to say that the statement engendered strong reactions from both countries. Swedes lamented at the revelation. Turks, on the other hand, rejoiced – and suggested the Swedes rename the dish “kofte” after the popular regional meatball dish.

All in all, there won’t be much fallout from the mix-up. Especially on the Swedish side, given that global furniture company Ikea is known for selling about two million meatballs per day around the globe.

The offering is popular in Turkey as well, where a portion of eight meatballs with fries and vegetables costs about $1.60.

Interested in sampling the dish for yourself? Click here for a synopsis of the meaty drama and a recipe.

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