The World Today for November 15, 2018

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Cuba Libre, on Ice

Originating in Cuba in the early 20th century, the Cuba Libre (Rum and Coke) is considered a mediocre drink, almost an insult to the aged dark liquor that – if one is lucky – sometimes infuses it. Still, the sweet and bitter concoction has its fans, its new high-end reinventions and, of course, its historical legacy.

You could say that it’s an apt metaphor for its homeland these days.

In the wake of warmer relations with the US, exiles like dancer Rolando Sarabia are returning to the island. Sarabia recently took part in the 26th Havana International Ballet Festival after not appearing on a Cuban stage for 13 years.

“Happiness, happiness. I just don’t have any other words,” Sarabia’s brother told the Associated Press. ”This is something big.”

Homecomings like Sarabia’s aren’t the only signs of raised hopes since the US restored diplomatic ties with Cuba under President Barack Obama.

Republican lawmakers are calling for reforms in agricultural financing rules to allow American farmers to sell rice, soybeans and other goods to the island. “Cuba is one of only a very few foreign markets where the potential for US agricultural growth is quantifiable and achievable,” three GOP lawmakers argued in an editorial in the Hill that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.

Some things have not changed, however.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel recently embarked on his first foreign tour. The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, noted that he was visiting China, North Korea and Russia – the island’s historical friends, but hardly allies of the United States.

Chinese officials evoked the coded but clear anti-American language of the Cold War years during Díaz-Canel’s appearance in Beijing.

“China supports Cuba in its determination to explore a development path suited to its own national conditions,” said Wang Yang, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Cuba and other nations have also kept up pressure on the US in international bodies like the United Nations, where delegates in the General Assembly still vote to condemn the American embargo of the island while rejecting US criticisms of Cuba’s human rights record, Al Jazeera reported.

American leaders like National Security Advisor John Bolton don’t hold back, either. The Los Angeles Times wrote that Bolton recently described Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as a “troika of tyranny.” It sounds silly, but the alleged microwave attacks on American diplomats in Havana suggest Bolton might have cause to remain very suspicious of Cuban leaders. And this week, President Donald Trump added 26 new names to a list of tourist attractions that Americans are barred from visiting – though travel to Cuba remains legal, the Associated Press reported.

Such contretemps are one reason that American businesses are less enthused about opportunities in Cuba, reported the Miami Herald.

The climate has consequences. Economic growth in Cuba has stalled. Revenues from tourism and other sectors are down, Reuters said. Government austerity measures likely contributed to the downturn.

Things were so hopeful a few years ago. In Cuba, real change might take more than one generation.



Many Hats, No Hats

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to don a new hat Wednesday, as his decision to reinstate the ceasefire with Gaza resulted in the resignation of his hardline defense minister.

Following the resignation of former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu is now not only prime minister and defense minister but also foreign minister and communications chief, ABC News reported.

Calling the cease-fire a “surrender to terror,” Lieberman called for the prime minister to declare early elections. That could well become necessary due to the departure of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party from Netanyahu’s Likud-led governing coalition. Netanyahu now has only 61 seats in parliament – meaning his majority depends on a single vote.

Lieberman said he had also opposed Netanyahu’s decision to allow Qatari cash and fuel to enter Gaza last weekend. It was used to pay civil servants and re-establish the electricity supply.

After a botched intelligence operation killed seven Palestinians and one Israeli commando, militants fired hundreds of rockets into Israel and Israeli airstrikes flattened buildings in Gaza. But residents in southern Israel demand further retaliation.


Political Untouchables

Sweden’s parliament rejected center-right hopeful Ulf Kristersson’s bid to become prime minister by an unprecedented majority vote on Wednesday, rebuffing his effort to form a government that would depend on the far-right Sweden Democrats to pass legislation.

Among those opposing the Moderate Party candidate were his traditional allies from the Liberal and Center Party, the Irish Times noted.

Liberal leader Jan Björklund said his party had voted against Kristersson with a heavy heart as a protest against a “rising tide of right-wing nationalism” in Sweden and across Europe. The Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party also rejected Kristersson, resulting in a vote of 195 to 154.

Nine weeks after a general election in which none of the players won a majority, the vote leaves considerable uncertainty about the path forward. The Social Democrats, the Left and the Greens together have 144 seats in parliament; the center-right Alliance group has 143; and the Sweden Democrats have 62. If both coalitions consider the Sweden Democrats untouchable, they’d have to form common cause to avoid new polls.


What Goes Around…

Iraq is seeking to trade food for oil in a bid to work around US sanctions on its neighbor Iran, even as Baghdad takes further steps to undo the damage done to Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

Baghdad has already agreed to the food-for-oil swap with Tehran and has requested an extension of a 45-day waiver from the US to allow it to go forward, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported. With the US as an important military ally and Iran an important trading partner, Baghdad is in a tricky position.

Separately, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said Wednesday that Iraq is moving toward “the full normalization” of relations with Kuwait through gestures like the repatriation of assets taken during the war, including 2,300 books, an archive of Kuwait Television videotapes, a sword, and a valuable painting.

Kuwaiti ambassador to the UN Mansour A. Al-Otaibi welcomed that effort and said the visit to Kuwait by Iraqi President Barham Salih earlier this week reflected the growing improvement of bilateral relations.


Nosy Diagnoses

Dogs have such an acute sense of smell that they are able to detect diseases like prostate cancer and diabetes.

Now scientists have discovered that man’s best friend can detect malaria infections through a person’s socks, the Guardian reported.

In research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans, scientists used two trained dogs to sniff for malaria on footwear samples from Gambian schoolchildren.

Lead researcher Steven Lindsay told the Guardian that some people infected with the disease don’t display any symptoms, but they emit a particular odor that canine snouts can detect.

“Individuals that are infected with malaria parasites produce odors in their breath and from their skin that are specific signals,” he said.

The research had promising results. The pooches accurately identified the socks of children with malaria infections about 70 percent of the time and correctly assessed uninfected ones about 90 percent of the time.

The canines struggled, however, in cases where the parasite had reached a reproductive stage giving rise to cells that would later develop into male and female sex cells.

Lindsay argued that the parasite could produce a different odor at this stage. He emphasized that more tests were needed to have dogs spot different strains of malaria – and in real people instead of footwear.

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