The World Today for April 13, 2021

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When the Giants Come Calling

To Venezuela, Alex Saab is a diplomat. To the US, he is a fraudster with close ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. To Cape Verde, he’s a legal dilemma.

That diverse viewpoint was highlighted recently when the West African island nation’s Supreme Court ruled that local authorities could extradite Saab to the US, Reuters reported.

American prosecutors have charged Saab with helping Maduro arrange business deals to launder $350 million in violation of the sanctions that the US has imposed on the socialist South American country.

His alleged crimes are connected to a scheme designed to bilk cash from an international food program intended to help Venezuelans who have faced hunger due to Maduro’s mismanagement of the country’s oil-rich economy, explained the Associated Press. He has also helped arrange transactions of Venezuelan gold for Iranian gasoline, Bloomberg added.

Cape Verdean officials detained Saab in June when he made a stopover in the former Portuguese colony. Former President Donald Trump dispatched a US Navy warship to make sure he didn’t escape the country, wrote Al Jazeera.

His arrest could be illegal, however, according to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, because Interpol issued a so-called “red notice” for his arrest after he was detained, Agence France-Presse noted.

Saab’s lawyers have vowed to appeal the extradition to Cape Verde’s Constitutional Court. They have also related instructions from Venezuelan leaders that Saab should not discuss any confidential or sensitive information with American officials if he is taken into their custody.

Cape Verde is a stable democracy in Africa – it’s about 400 miles west of the Senegalese coast. Its proximity to Europe and Africa helped it benefit from the slave trade in centuries past. It has few natural resources, however, the Conversation wrote, importing much of its food. The coronavirus pandemic has seriously hurt its most important industry, tourism, according to Deutsche Welle.

Until recent years, it was also largely left alone.

But rivalries between the US, Europe and China have put Cape Verde in the center of a complicated geopolitical web. China is using Cape Verde as a waystation in its globe-spanning Belt and Road Initiative trade network. The US considers the country an important strategic partner.

As the Saab situation demonstrates, however, relevance entails responsibility. “Rather than leaning East or West, therefore, strategically positioning Cape Verde as a pivot between regions will be essential in maintaining competitiveness,” Foreign Policy magazine argued.

That’s a nice problem to have, actually.



Questioning the Dragon

China’s top disease control official said the efficacy of the country’s coronavirus vaccine is “not high,” a rare admission by a Chinese public official that could derail Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy, CNN reported Monday.

Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the low effectiveness has prompted health officials to search for solutions such as increasing the dosage or even mixing vaccines developed with different technologies.

He later walked backed his comments following intervention by Chinese censors: In an interview for the state-owned Global Times, he said news reports about his comments have resulted in “a complete misunderstanding.”

Gao’s admission, however, could prove problematic for China’s global reputation, said analysts.

China has positioned itself as a leader in Covid-19 vaccine development and distribution and has been supplying its inoculations all over the globe, to Turkey, Zimbabwe and the United Arab Emirates, for example.

Meanwhile, two pharmaceutical companies that supply the majority of Chinese vaccines have not published comprehensive clinical trial data on the vaccines’ effectiveness.

Interim results released by the two companies suggest the vaccines’ efficacy is far lower than those used in the Unites States or Europe. The CoronaVac developed by Sinovac has shown an efficacy rate of 50 to 83.5 percent in clinical trials in Brazil and Turkey, respectively. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have efficacy rates of 97 percent and 94 percent, respectively.


The Underdog

A former banker and businessman with highly unpopular policies won Ecuador’s presidential runoff elections Sunday in a surprise victory that comes amid deep suffering due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

Results showed that Guillermo Lasso won 52.5 percent of the vote, defeating his challenger, left-wing economist Andres Arauz, who was the handpicked successor to former president Rafael Correa.

Al Jazeera described Lasso’s victory as “unexpected” saying that his conservative economic policies are not very popular. Regardless, Ecuadorians decided to give him “a chance.”

Lasso will inherit a country that has been devastated by the pandemic: It has left one-third of the population of more than 17 million in poverty and half a million people unemployed.

His victory is also a defeat for Correa, who was sentenced in absentia on a corruption charge last year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Analysts said that Correa hoped that Arauz’ victory would allow him to return to Ecuador from his exile in Europe and result in his conviction being overturned.


Popular and Secure

Voters in Kyrgyzstan approved a new constitution this week that will give greater new powers to the country’s president in a vote that underscores the popular mandate for populist President Sadyr Japarov, Reuters reported.

Results of Sunday’s referendum showed that 79 percent voted in favor of the constitutional reforms despite a low turnout of 36.7 percent – just above the 30 percent threshold necessary for the vote to take place.

Apart from allowing Japarov to easily push through his policies, the changes will also shrink the number of lawmakers in the country’s parliament from 120 to 90.

In another change, Japarov will also be able to call a referendum. Before the amendments, only a vote in favor by half of the parliament or a public petition supported by 300,000 signatories could invoke such a plebiscite, Eurasianet reported.

Japarov proposed the changes after being swept to power following last year’s contentious parliamentary elections that sparked mass protests and resulted in the resignation of his predecessor Sooronbai Jeenbekov.


Fly Like an Eagle

The famous bald eagle, an enduring American icon, is back.

A new report by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found that the eagle population has quadrupled over the past decade, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

In 2009, 72,000 individual bald eagles and just 30,548 nesting pairs were recorded in the report. Those numbers increased to about 317,000 individuals and 71,400 nesting pairs in the 2019 breeding season.

US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland called the population boom “a historic conservation success story.”

Due to habitat loss, hunting and the use of the pesticide DDT during World War II, the numbers of the iconic avian severely declined between 1870 and 1970.

In 1967, bald eagles were placed on the threatened and endangered species list, prompting fast action from authorities and conservationists.

Decades of extensive conservation efforts from breeding programs to habitat protection allowed the majestic bird to multiply.

Bald eagles were removed from the list in 2007 and are now protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

“The strong return of this treasured bird reminds us of our nation’s shared resilience and the importance of being responsible stewards of our lands and waters that bind us together,” Haaland said.

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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: 31,268,125 (+0.23%)
  2. India: 13,689,453 (+1.20%)
  3. Brazil: 13,517,808 (+0.27%)
  4. France: 5,128,140 (+0.17%)
  5. Russia: 4,597,400 (+0.18%)
  6. UK: 4,388,296 (+0.08%)
  7. Turkey: 3,903,573 (+1.42%)
  8. Italy: 3,779,594 (+0.26%)
  9. Spain: 3,370,256 (+0.68%)
  10. Germany: 3,024,604 (+0.41%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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