December 03, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

BOLIVIA

A New, And Contested, Leaf

Bolivia is sending an ambassador to the United States for the first time in 11 years.

Recently appointed by Interim President Jeanine Añez, the new envoy will oversee a thaw in Bolivian relations with the US, the BBC reported. At the same, Añez also broke diplomatic ties with Cuba and Venezuela, where leaders had been more sympathetic to the socialist policies of her predecessor, Evo Morales. She even kicked Cuban doctors out of the country, CNN reported.

The first indigenous president of Bolivia, Morales resigned under pressure from the military and fled to Mexico on Nov. 10. He stepped down after violent protests broke out following his re-election to a fourth term in October. In office for 14 years, Morales had convinced the country’s top court to scrap term limits despite a 2016 popular referendum that had put them in place.

Additionally, as the Associated Press explained, serious questions arose concerning fraud and irregularities during the voting.

Morales referred to his ouster as a right-wing coup. An opinion piece in the Reno Gazette Journal argues that Morales has a point. The writer notes how the new right-wing leaders in La Paz have expressed racist, judgmental opinions of indigenous religious practices, for instance.

Since Morales’ departure, violent protests and clashes with security forces have wracked the nation, claiming at least 33 lives.

The former president has his defenders. Morales nationalized oil and gas companies, redistributed land to the poor and grew Bolivia’s GDP through socialist policies funded during a boom in commodities prices, wrote National Public Radio.

Some Bolivians still treat him with “almost superhuman reverence,” the New York Times reported. “Evo Morales is like a father to us,” said coca farmer Antonietta Ledezi, who came 30 miles to join protesters at a highway blockade. “If he doesn’t return, there won’t be peace.”

The Guardian wondered if Bolivia had become a right-wing dictatorship, a form of government the country and its neighbors have adopted throughout their histories.

Vox noted how Añez brought a Bible to the government palace – a jab at Morales’ policies respecting indigenous spiritualism. Bolivia’s interior minister recently called Morales a terrorist who should spend his life in jail and threatened to charge his followers with sedition, too.

Añez recently withdrew the military from protest zones and agreed on a pathway to a new election that would not include Morales, reported Reuters, describing the development as a “major breakthrough in the political crisis.”

Let’s see if the voters have a chance to change their government again.

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WANT TO KNOW

RUSSIA

The Contract of the Century

Russian and Chinese leaders oversaw the launch of the Power of Siberia pipeline on Monday, Russia’s most significant energy project in almost three decades and a symbol of Moscow’s shifting diplomacy toward Beijing, the Financial Times reported.

The $55 billion project will provide China with 38 billion cubic meters in annual gas supplies via the 1,864 mile pipeline that crosses Siberia to the Chinese border in the southeast.

Dubbed “the contract of the century,” the deal will allow Russia’s Gazprom to increase gas exports amid declining demand from the traditional markets of Europe and Turkey.

Work on the pipeline began shortly after the United States and the European Union instituted sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The project will also increase China’s energy security and help combat air pollution in the coal-dependent northeastern regions.

China has become heavily involved in Russian gas projects in recent years and it’s currently in talks with Gazprom on two additional pipelines.

SAMOA

Contagion

Samoa ordered a government shutdown Monday to help fight a measles outbreak that has claimed the lives of more than 50 people on the Pacific island since mid-October, Agence France-Presse reported.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi announced in a special address that it was time to immunize all 200,000 people on Samoa under the age of 60, and that he would close all public services for two days to accomplish that.

So far, there have been over 3,700 cases of measles – nearly two percent of the population – and the government announced a state of emergency in mid-November.

The outbreak was caused by low immunization rates on Samoa, which has been blamed on foreign anti-vaccine campaigners, according to the World Health Organization.

Anti-vaccination sentiment increased in Samoa and the country’s immunization program was temporarily suspended after two babies died last year while receiving measles vaccines.

It later turned out that the deaths occurred when other medicines were incorrectly administered.

ITALY

Want To Go

A referendum this week failed to separate the city of Venice, in Italy from its mainland boroughs due to a low turnout, the Guardian reported on Monday.

A majority of voters supported separating Venice from neighboring Mestre, but the referendum on Sunday was deemed invalid because it failed to reach the threshold of 50 percent voter turnout.

The vote comes as the city is facing devastating floods in recent weeks, with pro-separatists arguing that the city would respond better to the crisis if it had autonomy.

Separatists blame the city’s mayor for sabotaging the vote and vowed to appeal the result.

This was the fifth vote in 40 years that failed to give the city autonomous rule.

Venice previously had its own administration until Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime combined it with industrial Mestre in 1926.

The merger resulted in Venice’s population decreasing due to rising waters and mass tourism, while most Italian development money went to Mestre.

DISCOVERIES

Half a Brain

Having half a brain is not so different from having a full one, according to a study in the journal Cell Reports.

Scientists have discovered that people who have lost one of their brain’s hemispheres still have intact motor, language and thinking skills, Discover Magazine reported.

Researcher Dorit Kliemann and her team studied the brain function of six adult patients who had had one of their brain’s hemispheres removed during childhood.

The participants had previously suffered from severe seizures and underwent a hemispherectomy to control their symptoms.

The research team scanned and compared the brains of the participants with normal ones, and were surprised at the result: The remaining hemisphere formed stronger connections between different brain networks.

These connections allowed people with one hemisphere to function similarly to individuals with both hemispheres. Brains generally need both hemispheres to be properly wired, but this wasn’t the case, Kliemann noted.

“You can almost forget their condition when you meet them for the first time,” she said.

The study shows how brains can adapt in extreme conditions to better operate, the researchers said. They hope their findings will contribute to developing new treatments for people with brain injuries.