The World Today for December 27, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

VENEZUELA

Take the Help!

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is ready for an American invasion.

“We will arm the Bolivarian militia to the teeth,” he said recently, reported Newsweek, adding that the South American country’s civil militia had 1.6 million fighters. “An invading imperialist force may enter a part of our fatherland, but the imperialists should know that they will not leave here alive.”

Perhaps the militia was girding to fight US Marines. Or maybe it was a jobs program.

“Venezuela’s economy is in free fall,” NPR wrote.

Extreme poverty is the norm. Hyperinflation could hit 1 million percent. Food, medicine, water and even energy shortages are commonplace. Citizens of the oil-rich country are scrounging for gasoline.

In a typical strongman rhetorical ploy of identifying a foreign threat, Maduro has complained about US preparations for an attack, Reuters reported. He’s also said Colombia and Brazil are gunning for him, noted the Guardian. The classic psychological interpretation of that ploy, by the way, is paranoia.

But when people believe things are real, they might as well be.

Russian bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons as well as around 100 military personnel recently landed in Caracas, wrote World Politics Review, fueling speculation of a potential Russian military base in Venezuela. Russian President Vladimir Putin had promised Maduro a $6 billion aid package a few days earlier when the two met in Moscow.

Could cooperation between Maduro and Putin herald a new Cold War that might result in a repeat of the Cuban missile standoff? Probably not. The real emergency here is slower, less dramatic but nonetheless fraught with real consequences.

Around 10 percent of Venezuela’s population has fled their imploding country since 2015. Those refugees are causing humanitarian crises in the country’s neighbors, including small, unprepared islands like Trinidad, and fueling far-right leaders like Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro.

Writing in a Washington Post op-ed, Human Rights Watch researcher Tamara Taraciuk Broner and Johns Hopkins University Medical School professor Kathleen Page argued that the European Union, Organization of American States and United Nations should draw up a proper aid plan to help the Venezuelan people, and then “put considerable pressure on Venezuela to accept whatever aid is needed.”

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a left-leaning group, criticized that suggestion as the sort of imperialism Maduro opposes and uses to retain his grip on power.

But if an invasion of medicine and supplies is necessary to solve a public health disaster, no militia that represents the people should stand in its way.

WANT TO KNOW

IRAQ

The Uninvited Guest

Iraqi leaders slammed US President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to US troops stationed in their country as a violation of its sovereignty, saying the president “should know his limits.”

Calling the visit a “blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” Sabah al-Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of the Iraqi parliament to discuss how to respond, Al Jazeera reported. Islah is headed by Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who has long opposed the US presence in Iraq, the news channel noted.

The rival Bina block headed by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri also objected to Trump’s surprise trip.

“Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,” the bloc said in a statement.

Trump landed at an airbase west of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on Wednesday. He thanked US soldiers stationed there for their service, but he did not meet any Iraqi officials during his three-hour-long stay.

UKRAINE

Quietly Standing Down

A month after declaring martial law in response to Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships, President Petro Poroshenko let the state of emergency expire uneventfully on Wednesday.

Ukraine has this month accused Moscow of ramping up its forces near the border and claimed that Russia poses the greatest military threat since 2014, the year it annexed Crimea, Reuters reported.

For its part, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday it hoped Western countries would not participate in any Ukrainian “provocation” near the Kerch Strait, following Kiev’s pledge to send warships to its Azov Sea ports via the Kerch Strait last week.

The saber rattling comes as the nearly forgotten conflict in Eastern Ukraine is poised to enter its fifth year, noted Al Jazeera. So far, the crisis has claimed 3,000 civilian lives, displaced 1.5 million people and left 3.5 million in need, the news channel said.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 25, Alexander Novak, Russia’s minister of energy, reiterated statements that Moscow could bypass Ukraine in its future gas shipments to Europe, the Kyiv Post reported.

KOREAN PENINSULA

Not Quite All Aboard

Not everybody is on board and it’s hardly full steam ahead. But North and South Korea on Wednesday nevertheless held a groundbreaking ceremony for a project designed to link their railway systems and eventually allow people and goods to travel by land from South Korea all the way to Western Europe — through North Korea and across China or Russia.

“We know that linking the railways and roadways is much more than just a physical connection,” South Korean Transportation Minister Kim Hyun-mee said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The railways will not only cut down on time and space, but also the distance between the hearts of North and South Korea.”

That’s an optimistic view. South Korea needed an exemption from UN sanctions just to hold the groundbreaking ceremony, and further progress on the actual rail link is unlikely until the US-enforced sanctions are rolled back, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, the South’s apparent eagerness to engage with the North ahead of any concrete progress on denuclearization threatens to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.

DISCOVERIES

Might Sting a Little

Most people try to avoid a scorpion’s sting.

In Cuba, they welcome it.

Citizens and scientists in the Caribbean island have been using the venom of the blue scorpion – scientifically known as Rhopalurus junceus – as a homeopathic treatment, Reuters reported.

Since 2011, Cuban pharmaceutical firm Labiofam has been using the venom to produce Vidatox, a medicine to treat inflammations and pain and possibly delay tumor growth.

Locals swear by it and can buy it for less than a dollar, while on the black market abroad it’s ridiculously expensive – retailers on Amazon.com sell small vials of Vidatox for more than $200 a pop.

“After four to five years [of taking it,] the doctor whose care I was in told me that my cancer hadn’t advanced,” said patient Jose Manuel Alvarez Acosta, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008.

Farmer Pepe Casanas, however, prefers the old-style method of getting stung by the arachnid – whose venom is not fatal – and keeps one under his straw hat.

“It hurts for a while, but then it calms and goes and I don’t have any more pain,” he told the news agency.

Labiofam says the homeopathic medicine works by stimulating the body’s natural defense mechanism. Despite patients’ testimonials, however, Labiofam suggests that the remedy should be used only as a supplement and not replace conventional treatments.

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