The World Today for March 25, 2024

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VENEZUELA

President Nicolás Maduro seems likely to breeze through Venezuela’s July 28 general election.

He recently won the nomination of his political party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, with little or no opposition, reported the Associated Press. He also faces no serious rival. Last year, Venezuelan officials barred his main opponent, María Corina Machado, from running for office for 15 years because she supported American sanctions on the socialist country and supported former opposition leader Juan Guaidó, reported Reuters.

On Friday, Machado threw her support behind a proxy candidate because of the ban on her run: 80-year-old historian and professor Corina Yoris, Al Jazeera reported.

Maduro is the chosen successor of the late President Hugo Chávez, the wildly popular but controversial left-wing leader who inaugurated a socialist regime in the oil-rich country, tilting its diplomatic relations toward China and Russia while alienating the US. He died in 2013. A former bus driver, the current president has “leveraged the top-down Chavista framework, the destruction of institutions, military support and the intelligence services to prop himself up in the presidential seat,” explained Spain’s El País.

Shortages of food and other crucial supplies as well as soaring prices have been the norm under Maduro’s socialist rule. The Stimson Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank, described the South American country as “the state that refuses to collapse,” arguing that Chinese economic ties have just about kept the government in place while migration has transferred the most disgruntled Venezuelans to other parts of the world.

Meanwhile, Machado, whose criticism of the government’s mismanagement of its oil resources has struck a chord among the Venezuelan public, was forced to decide whether to pull her name from ballot registrations or else potentially face punishment for breaking the law.

“They believe this is just one more election, one more electoral fight where they can run us over, or cheat, that we’re going to stay quiet and lower our heads,” she said recently. “They haven’t understood anything.”

Ironically, Machado can’t take part in a deal that Maduro’s government struck with opposition parties last year that guaranteed the upcoming vote take place at all, added World Politics Review. The US has paused some sanctions to encourage such a deal. However, as Adam DuBard, a former Marcellus policy fellow of the John Quincy Adams Society, wrote in the Hill, the US must decide whether to extend the pause or resume the punishments, including cutting the West off from Venezuelan energy exports.

Still, Maduro appears to be girding for the return of the sanctions, wrote OilPrice.com, potentially telegraphing how the election will be held.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

The Blame Game

RUSSIA

Four men appeared in a Moscow court Monday, accused of carrying out a terror attack by an Islamic State offshoot that killed almost 140 people at a concert hall in the Russian capital over the weekend, which came less than a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin began a fifth term in office, the BBC reported.

Video footage of the attack on Friday at the Crocus City Hall on the outskirts of the Russian capital showed at least four gunmen opening fire on concertgoers, and using “a flammable liquid” to set fire to the hall, Russian officials said.

The death toll reached 137 people Monday and may still rise.

Shortly after the attack, Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) – an offshoot of Islamic State that operates in Afghanistan and other parts of Central Asia – claimed responsibility for the assault and released footage of the massacre.

The four accused were among 11 people detained by Russian authorities, Sky News added. Russian news reports said the men were from Tajikistan.

Even so, Putin alleged that the attackers attempted to flee to Ukraine, with some officials claiming that the gunmen were Ukrainian and hinting that the “Ukrainian trace” in these attacks must be answered on the battlefield.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy swiftly denied the allegations, countering that it was “absolutely predictable” that “Putin and other scum are just trying to blame someone else.”

The concert hall attack comes two weeks after US intelligence had warned of a potential attack targeting “large gatherings” in Moscow. Kremlin officials criticized the reports for lacking specific details.

Still, analysts said the attack comes at a significant time for Putin, who secured another term in the Russian presidential elections last week – he ran nearly unopposed – because his popularity is largely based on his guarantees of security for the country.

Instead, Putin’s blaming of Ukraine and the West reflects a narrative shift, showcasing his struggle to maintain control as Russia’s protector, potentially eroding public trust in his leadership amidst rising security concerns, CNN wrote.

Digging In

ISRAEL

Israel will seize nearly four square miles of Palestinian territory in the West Bank, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced, in what has been described as the single largest land seizure by the Jewish state since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Washington Post reported.

On Friday, Smotrich said the action was part of Israel’s settlement expansion efforts, saying: “We are promoting settlement through hard work and in a strategic manner all over the country.”

The seized area will include portions of the Jordan Valley and between the settlements of Maale Adumim and Keidar.

Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza following the 1967 Six-Day War. Although Israeli settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law, Israel has used land orders such as Friday’s to take control of over 16 percent of Palestinian-controlled lands in the territory, the newspaper wrote.

Palestinian land rights advocates warned that the expansion will exacerbate the division between the northern and southern regions of the West Bank, impacting Palestinian livelihoods and trade routes.

Others warned that the land order is especially problematic for the potential of a two-state solution, the Times of Israel reported.

More than 40 percent of the West Bank is controlled by Israeli settlers and more than half a million Jewish residents live there, according to the Israel-based rights group B’Tselem.

The issue has also been complicated for Palestinians in the West Bank: Following the 1967 war, Israel issued a military order that stopped the process of land registration in the West Bank, causing families to lack paperwork to prove that they have private ownership over their land.

Tax records – the only other evidence to prove property rights – are not accepted by Israeli authorities.

Last year, the Israeli parliament – dominated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-conservative coalition – bypassed a longstanding requirement for approval from the prime minister and defense minister for West Bank settlement construction. Smotrich, a key leader in the settlement movement, now holds significant sway over construction planning, approving a record number of settlements in 2023.

Meanwhile, analysts described the recent seizure as a “provocation” as they came during a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Israel for discussions about the future of the war in Gaza.

Books, Blackboards and Terror

NIGERIA

More than 130 kidnapped Nigerian students were released over the weekend, according to officials, less than a month after gunmen abducted nearly 300 students in the northern Kaduna state, the latest in a spate of kidnappings in the West African country, Al Jazeera reported.

Government spokesman Abdulaziz Abdulaziz said all the students were released following “a lot of backchannel engagement.” He added that “all of them were fine,” giving the official number of freed students at 137.

However, the official did not clarify the discrepancy in numbers, after initial reports suggested that the number of kidnapped students was 287.

Separately, Nigerian military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edward Buba said rescue efforts “would continue until other hostages are found,” the Associated Press noted.

The release comes weeks after motorcycle-riding gunmen invaded a school in the town of Kuriga on March 7 and forced students into the forests before authorities could arrive. School officials said a total of 287 students were kidnapped, with more than 100 of them aged 12 or younger.

The attackers had demanded a total of $680,000 for the release of the students and vowed to kill them if they were not paid within 20 days.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the March 7 abduction was the most recent one in the country where kidnappings have become more frequent in the northern and central regions.

Locals have blamed bandit groups known for mass killings and kidnappings for ransom in the conflict-battered northern region.

The recent abduction has put more pressure on President Bola Tinubu, who has vowed to end the mass kidnappings and rescue children “without paying a dime” as ransom.

In 2022, Nigeria banned the practice of paying ransoms in an effort to deter attackers. Ransom-payers could face 15 years in prison, but most parents have proceeded in paying kidnappers – with the government seldom admitting to payments.

Around 1,400 children have been abducted since 2014. The first mass kidnapping was carried out by the Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram, which seized 276 students from a girls’ school in Chibok in the northeastern Borno state in 2014.

Some of the girls have been returned to their families, but the rest have been forcefully married to the fighters.

DISCOVERIES

A Rainbow of Wine

In ancient Rome, the wine flowed freely.

Now, new research has uncovered what it might have tasted like, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Researchers Dimitri Van Limbergen and Paulina Komar found that Roman wine boasted a spicy taste, with tones of toasted bread, apples, roasted walnuts, and even curry – a far cry from the simplistic notions often held about its composition.

In their paper, the researchers delved into the role of clay pots known as “dolia” in the meticulous winemaking process. These vessels, ubiquitous in Roman times, served as more than mere storage containers, but instead were intricately engineered to influence the flavor and texture of wines.

Today, wines are made in stainless steel tanks and contain added preservatives. But ancient wine production is more similar to the modern Georgian method: Georgian winemakers use “gvevri” vessels – similar to dolia – and bury them underground to ferment wine.

The team explained that Romans buried dolia up to their mouths and sealed them with lids to regulate temperature, humidity, and pH during fermentation,

The porous ancient vessels were coated with pitch on the inside to facilitate controlled oxidation, while their narrow bases allowed solids from the grapes to sink to the bottom and separate from the wine.

These buried conditions also nurtured the development of flor yeasts, infusing the wine with unique compounds. The latter would give the ancient drink a distinctive flavor and aroma, such as notes of toasted bread, roasted nuts, and even green tea.

However, the final product would have an orange color, with Van Limbergen noting that comparing this hue to modern-day wines is tricky.

“Wine colors … were not standardly subdivided between white and red (as is done today), but for the Romans, they belonged to a wide spectrum of colors ranging from white and yellow to goldish, amber, brown and then red and black,” he told Newsweek.

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