The World Today for June 11, 2020

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Going Rogue

Iranian oil tankers recently docked in Venezuela in defiance of American sanctions on both countries to prevent the transfer of fuel.

The situation is ironic, say analysts. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, but mismanagement of the economy has resulted in fuel shortages that have compelled the Latin American nation to reach out to Iran for help.

American leaders said they were monitoring the situation closely, but Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro didn’t appear to care that he was ratcheting up tensions.

“Two revolutionary peoples who will never kneel down before North American imperialism,” Maduro said in televised state address covered by the BBC. “Venezuela and Iran both want peace. We have the right to trade freely.”

The semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim wrote that the shipments were a “smack in the face for the administration of Donald Trump,” reported Israel Hayom.

One might argue that Maduro is foolish to risk a confrontation with the US. But he and his people are desperate. Spiraling inflation, food shortages and an exodus of Venezuelans to neighboring countries have spurred street protests and police crackdowns for years.

Now, amid a worldwide pandemic, the country’s beleaguered healthcare system won’t be able to prevent a catastrophe as the coronavirus spreads, said Human Rights Watch.

Maduro is also fighting for his political survival, Agence France-Presse explained. Recently, his attorney general asked the Venezuelan Supreme Court to declare opposition leader Juan Guaido’s party a “terrorist organization” after a failed sea invasion by mercenaries, including two retired American soldiers.

The US and around 50 other countries recognize Guaido as the country’s interim president, citing Venezuelan laws that call into question whether Maduro truly won a 2018 election. In addition to Iran, China and Russia support Maduro.

The Iranians might be seeking revenge for the humiliating death of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian military commander killed in a US drone strike in Iraq early this year, wrote Foreign Policy. If the US wants to undermine Iranian influence on its neighbors, Iran can do the same to American influence in its backyard, the theory goes.

Such moves might put pressure on the US to take rash action that might play into the hands of critics of America or compel the White House to consider détente as a more useful reaction, Business Insider added.

The old grudges are returning the situation back to normal. But it’s a new normal.



A Growing Fire

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas expressed “serious and honest concern” over Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank next month, Haaretz reported.

During a visit to Israel Wednesday, Maas met with high-ranking officials, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Maas argued that the plan would violate international law. He reiterated that Germany supports a two-state solution and the resumption of peace talks.

Netanyahu recently announced that his government will begin annexing parts of the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley on July 1.

The move has been met with fierce opposition by Palestinians, much of the international community, as well as Israeli settlers in the occupied territory.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Israel’s Supreme Court dealt a blow to Netanyahu’s plan when it rejected a 2017 law that would retroactively legalize about 4,000 settler homes built on privately-owned Palestinian land in the West Bank.

The court said that the legislation would legalize “unlawful acts perpetrated by one specific population” – Jewish settlers – “while harming the rights of another,” the Palestinians, the New York Times reported.


What Goes Around…

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza, who ignored the threat of the novel coronavirus and allowed both sporting events and an election to take place during the pandemic, died of an illness suspected to be COVID-19, the Guardian reported.

On Tuesday, officials in Burundi had announced that Nkurunziza had died of a “heart attack” at the age of 55.

Nkurunziza was named president in 2005 as part of a peace process that ended the bloody civil war in the tiny East African nation that killed about 300,000 people, the Associated Press reported.  He had planned to seek a third term in 2015, which resulted in thousands protesting against his bid to stay in office. The government then launched a major crackdown with scores of people disappearing.

He was due to step down in August, following the victory of the ruling party candidate – his handpicked successor – Evariste Ndayishimiye in last month’s election.

Analysts and human rights activists said that he left behind “a legacy of ruthless repression,” and political unrest which turned the country into an international pariah, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.

Following the 2015 elections, international donors froze funding to the government and Western nations imposed sanctions on Burundian officials.

As the coronavirus pandemic hit the continent, his government downplayed the virus and even kicked out the World Health Organization’s top official just days before the election.

Meanwhile, Nkurunziza’s wife was reportedly ill with COVID-19 and was transferred to Kenya for treatment in late May.


Being Heard

French police officers will be banned from using chokeholds on suspects, following mass protests over police brutality and racial discrimination in law enforcement this month, Politico reported earlier this week.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said the controversial method “will be abandoned, and will no longer be taught in police schools.”

Tens of thousands gathered in Paris and across France last week to protest the 2016 death of a young black man in police custody and the failure to hold police accountable.

The case and demonstrations have been likened to the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died of asphyxiation in Minneapolis after a police officer pressed his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The minister also said Tuesday that prosecutors have launched 30 investigations into allegations of racial slurs used by police in 2019.

Last week, Paris prosecutors launched an investigation into messages on a private Facebook group of 8,000 officers that contained racial slurs and attempted to incite racial hatred.


Holy Smoke

Cannabis might still hold a sketchy reputation but pot has played an important role in the rites of ancient civilizations.

Recently, researchers found evidence that cannabis and frankincense were used in cult ritual ceremonies back in the eighth century BC in what is now Israel, Newsweek reported.

More than 50 years ago, archaeologists discovered a shrine at the Tel Arad archaeological site in Israel’s Beersheba Valley.

The ancient place of worship had two limestone altars at the entrance to the shrine’s “Holy of Holies” – the most sacred area.

Both altars contained heaps of black, solidified material but researchers then were unable to determine what it was.

In a recent study, researchers used chemical analysis to discover that the material had traces of cannabis and frankincense – an aromatic resin used in fragrances and perfumes.

They also noted that the cannabis was mixed with animal dung to facilitate heating, while animal fat was combined with frankincense to promote evaporation.

The finding sheds new light on the ritual practices in the ancient Kingdom of Judah. It also marks “the first time that cannabis has been identified in the Ancient Near East.”

“We can assume that the fragrance of the frankincense gave a special ambiance to the cult in the shrine, while the cannabis burning brought at least some of the priests and worshippers to a religious state of consciousness, or ecstasy,” wrote Eran Arie, co-author of the study. “We can assume that the religious altered state of consciousness in this shrine was an important part of the ceremonies that took place here.”

Plants have been used in religion for fragrance or psychoactive purposes in ancient Near Eastern and Aegean cultures since prehistory, the authors noted.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET:

  1. US: 2,000,464
  2. Brazil: 772,416
  3. Russia: 493,023
  4. UK: 291,588
  5. India: 276,583
  6. Spain: 242,280
  7. Italy: 235,763
  8. Peru: 208,823
  9. France: 192,068
  10. Germany: 186,522

Source: Johns Hopkins University

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