The World Today for December 04, 2020

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Misery and Conspiracy

In the US, the power of communist Venezuela is the stuff of conspiracy theories.

But in Venezuela, the misery is real.

Authorities in neighboring countries like Trinidad and Tobago are dealing with tens of thousands of desperate Venezuelan fleeing their economically devastated country, Reuters reported. Venezuelan refugees have also taxed countries like Chile, Al Jazeera explained. The migrant trains and human smugglers have helped create a culture of crime and violence among the destitute: CNN described in a poignant but harrowing story the plight of Venezuelan women seeking to escape their homeland.

To date, about five million Venezuelans have left their country.

The Venezuelan economy’s problems are deep. Hugo Chavez, president from 1999 to 2013, and his Socialist Party borrowed heavily to lift millions from poverty. Now his disciple, Nicolas Maduro, has been printing money in a vain attempt to keep the economy going. Food and utility shortages are now widespread, Borgen Magazine wrote.

Gross domestic product has shrunk 65 percent over the past five years, one of the worst contractions in the history of the world.

Maduro rules with an iron fist. reported how the president has ordered the arrest of oil workers who go public with their concerns about corruption and mismanagement in the state oil firm. Strict controls on travel have resulted in Doctors Without Borders curbing their assistance in the country. Recently, the president has even been persecuting longtime Socialist Party stalwarts who dare expose the administration’s failings.

“After having crushed the political parties opposed to his version of socialism, Maduro’s critics say he has trained the state’s security apparatus on disillusioned ideological allies, repeating the path taken by leftist autocrats from the Soviet Union to Cuba,” the New York Times explained.

The tyrant might have a chance of securing more power, according to US State Department officials who spoke to Fox News. On Dec. 6, Venezuelan voters go to the polls to elect a new National Assembly. The opposition now controls the chamber. The US and the European Union have recognized its leader, Juan Guaido, as acting president. Maduro is hoping to seize control, eliminating a rival for the presidency in the process, American officials say.

Two years ago, when Guaido was emboldened to claim the presidency, he instilled hope in many freedom lovers around the world. But today, Maduro’s power remains solid while Guaido’s is a shadow government with moral cache and little else, Bloomberg argued.

That’s because the US policy of “maximum pressure” involving deep sanctions has pushed Maduro into the arms of China, Russia and other rivals of the US, which are propping up the government: “Iranian tankers go dark to ship gasoline and food to Venezuela in exchange for contraband crude, while Turkey buys Venezuelan bootleg gold. China and Russia, meantime, have obligingly rolled over Venezuelan debts. Cuba, has put its intelligence apparatus at Maduro’s disposal, implicitly as quid pro quo for Venezuelan petroleum,” Bloomberg wrote.

Guaido, backed by the US, most of Europe and the Organization of American States, has denounced the election as a sham. He is pushing instead for a parallel national referendum starting online on Dec. 5 and extending to some polling stations.

It’s a stalemate and the only thing that can move the situation forward is compromise, analysts say, a deal that no one will like. But without one, Venezuelans will continue to flee and many of those left behind will want to.



Holding Tight

Following Maia Sandu’s victory in last month’s presidential run-off, Moldova’s parliament passed legislation Thursday that would strip the president-elect of control over the nation’s intelligence service, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty reported Thursday.

Lawmakers in the Russian-backed Socialist party – which dominates parliament – said that since Moldova was a parliamentary republic, the legislature should have oversight of the Information and Security Service (SIS).

A year ago, parliament transferred control over the SIS to President Igor Dodon, the Socialist party’s former leader.

Sandu criticized the move as “an attempt to usurp power” and undermine her presidency.

The new leader, who favors close ties with the European Union, defeated Dodon but still faces a power struggle with parliament.

Moldova has been rocked by corruption scandals and also conflict with its Moscow-backed separatist Trans-Dniester region.

Sandu has called for Russian troops to withdraw from the region but the Kremlin has warned that such a move could lead to “serious destabilization.”


Cast Away

Human rights groups on Thursday urged Bangladesh to stop its plan to send thousands of Rohingya refugees to a remote island off its coast over safety concerns, Al Jazeera reported.

Bangladeshi authorities are preparing to relocate refugees to Bhasan Char – a flood-prone Bay of Bengal island that emerged from the sea 20 years ago – in order to resolve overcrowding in its refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, home to more than one million Rohingya Muslims.

Officials said that housing has been built for 100,000. The relocation will occur during the November to April dry season, they added.

Activists, however, worry that the island has never been inhabited, is flood-prone and vulnerable to cyclones. The United Nations, meanwhile, said that it has been given “limited information” about the relocation and has not been allowed by Bangladeshi authorities to assess the island.

In 2017, more than 730,000 Rohingya fled from Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh following a military-led crackdown that the UN has said had genocidal intent. Thousands died in the operation.

Myanmar denies the allegations and says its forces were fighting against Rohingya rebels who had attacked police posts.


Reversing Pressure

Iran expressed willingness Thursday to fully comply with the 2015 landmark nuclear deal if both the United States and Europe honor their original commitments, Reuters reported.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) could not be renegotiated but it could be resurrected.

President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran. President-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, has said he will rejoin the deal if Tehran resumes strict compliance with the JPCOA.

Zarif’s announcement follows the approval of a bill by Iran’s Guardian Council that would restrict United Nations inspections of its nuclear sites. The measure would also increase uranium enrichment beyond the limit set under the 2015 deal if sanctions are not eased within two months.

Zarif said that economic sanctions have cost Iranians $250 billion and has made it difficult to buy the drugs and vaccines needed to fight the coronavirus.

He added that the legislation is “not irreversible.”


Honey Trap

When bacteria infect a person, they tend to go after tiny fat droplets found in cells containing a decent amount of nutrients.

Scientists thought these lipid droplets were the most vulnerable part of the cell but actually, it’s the opposite, New Scientists reported. Researchers found that these droplets contain proteins that perform a variety of functions including defending the body from pathogens, according to a new study.

A series of experiments involving mice and human cells showed that once bacteria penetrated the cell, the cell entered into emergency mode and activated the immune proteins in the lipid droplets – these would then kill the bacteria.

Co-author Robert Parton explained that animal cells have found a way to weaponize their most vulnerable component after millions of years of encounters with microorganisms.

“It’s using it like a honey trap,” said Parton. “It’s producing these proteins, putting them on the lipid droplets and then killing the bacteria.”

But so far, the droplets can only fight bacteria – sadly, viruses and some bacteria such as salmonella can evade the trap.

Parton hopes that future research can exploit the immune activity of the fatty droplets to help fight more infectious diseases.

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: 14,147,241 (+1.60%)
  2. India: 9,571,559 (+0.38%)
  3. Brazil: 6,487,084 (+0.78%)
  4. Russia: 2,382,012 (+1.15%)
  5. France: 2,310,271 (+1.52%)
  6. Spain: 1,675,902 (+0.61%)
  7. UK: 1,678,419 (+0.90%)
  8. Italy: 1,664,829 (+1.41%)
  9. Argentina: 1,447,732 (+0.53%)
  10. Colombia: 1,343,322 (+0.69%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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