Updates on Venezuela

This is going to be less of a long article and more of (as the title describes) an update.

It has been two months since I published my compilation of information on the Venezuelan food and economic crisis.

Since then, it has gotten very much worse. 

Child abandonment/sale has become even more of a prominent problem. Families are being forced to separate. Crimes and robberies of foodstuffs have increased. Emigration from the nation is at recent historical highs.

To put the food shortage in perspective: the IMF projects inflation to hit 500% this year. Towns and town grocery stores are being forced to create and sell packages of food to its citizens for obscene prices.

The crisis is so critical that I do not want to by accident downplay its severity.

A solid article that can properly describe the progression is this particular BBC piece I have attached.

I have also hyperlinked 3 increasingly recent articles, all of which, I think, from the research and reading I have done, have done the humanitarian crisis justice in description.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-38336054

http://www.ibtimes.com/venezuela-hunger-crisis-2016-starving-children-abandoned-amid-food-shortages-economic-2461294

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/world/americas/hungry-venezuelans-flee-in-boats-to-escape-economic-collapse.html

https://www.ft.com/content/240b5226-c4c4-11e6-8f29-9445cac8966f

The Financial Times piece holds a bit of capitalist bias. The New York Times piece and the International Business Times focus more on the humans than the statistics. 

The Venezuelan Economic Crisis

Food in Venezuela is becoming something far more scarce than the previous months of the humanitarian crisis it is currently facing. 

In a world of seemingly global development, Venezuela is the outlier. In an era of growth, Venezuela faces the fasting contraction of any developing nation's economy. Moreover as reported by the Guardian (and as corroborated by a variety of news sources), Venezuela faces rapidly increasing violence and inflation nearing 1000%. 

This by its very nature makes the Venezuelan crisis something unprecedented. For comparison, as of today, the Venezuelan Bolivar is worth 0.10 US Dollars. That, for a South American economy, is next to nothing. It requires nothing less than a large handful of cash to buy something as simple as a set of stamps or a roll of toilet paper. Moreover, this rate is just plain unsustainable. The Venezuelan Institute of Higher Administration Studies analyzes and estimates to cost of making new money as significantly more expensive than its value.

Another way of measuring the sheer disastrous nature of this economic state is Venezuela's exports. For a nation with that large of a population, Venezuela is decreasing the amount of food it both exports and imports. Bread shipments as reported by CNN money fell 94% while fruit exports from Venezuela fell 99%. This will only help to further exacerbate the problem. Moreover, the rice being sold in Venezuela (something that used to be primarily Venezuelan) is now Brazilian, something that has caused the price of it and flour to more than double.

As a whole what is this economic volatility leasing to that is worrisome: the destruction of the Venezuelan life. The Venezuelan people essentially no longer have the ability to pay for basic goods like food (and even what would seem like cheaper foods like canned peas/corn).

I would like to use this time to also note that Venezuela's food crisis in not on the level of evident malnutrition. It is being eased by imports from other South American nations. But it is still worsening at a critical rate.

What's possibly worse is that Venezuelan debt payments are at such high levels that they, according to the Venezuelan government, must be worked on, at the expense of food scarcity and medical supply shortages. Also, in what I think is a personal fit of pride, Venezuela is denying aid for humanitarian groups and nonprofit organizations like Amnesty International. 

Weekly wages are not rising with inflation levels as well, something that in a BBC interview with a Venezuelan factory worker was described as only enough to buy minimal amounts of ham, margarine, and flour on the black market.

Moreover factories within the nation are finding themselves in the tough situation of not being able to produce their products, something that is an absolute must in order to bolster the economy. And why is this happening? The raw materials are simply not being cultivated within Venezuela anymore or the raw materials are simply too gosh darn expensive.

Dumbo's Demise

Very recently PeerJ published one of the most in depth reports on the plight of the African elephant conservation effort. Their Great Elephant Census took over three years to collect all the data necessary to create this comprehensive and descriptive analysis. ( I highly recommend you read it if you have the time.)

The Great Elephant Census spent these three years gaining on-site research and data from eighteen different countries within the continent. In a feat previously unparalleled, the census (the vision explained here) was able to account for greater than ninety percent of the elephants of Africa.

This census, is in a sense (pun so very intended), holds a vast amount of information about the illegal poaching trade. Detailing the timeline from 2007 until 2014, the population of African has been very negatively affected by black market poaching. In fact, the population has declined by about 144,000, a number that is highly devastating for the species already on the endangered spectrum.

From reading this report, I was surprised to learn one thing: that the population of African elephants is of largely unknown quantity and quality, despite seemingly constant global naturalist attention. Because of this, the Great Elephant Census is considered very easily the most holistic study possible, taking the most trusted estimates for the beginning of their analyses.

In order to attack their research head on, the scientists originally split up the African elephant population, focusing on Savannah elephants. They used hierarchical surveying methods (which seems to have involved lots of aerial surveys and lots of government preauthorizations). In order to maintain accuracy in numbers, there seems to be multiple observers and teams and reanalysis.

I could bore you by me trying to explain their meticulous mathematics, estimations, and analysis with my mediocre skills in science, but that is not why I brought up this particular piece of news. I find the results to be the most impact-full part of the report. From their analysis, the scientists describe the nations with the highest elephant mortality rates: Angola, Cameroon, and Mozambique. I feel it can thus be implied that these nations also face high levels of illegal poaching of the African Savannah elephants for their ivory. This is especially concerning because the GEC also estimates that 84% of African Savannah elephants are in protected areas. That to me means there are significant inefficiencies within these reserves throughout Africa that need to be considered. Despite their status as protected areas, poachers are able to infiltrate these areas (something that needs to be looked at and revised policy-wise if possible- but this is not a part of what the GEC set out to do).

The Great Elephant Census also notes a couple important things. The GEC mentions the ever important fact that the trends varied by nation and region, as they explained using an analysis of two nations. According to the GEC, Zambia's elephant populations decreased from the triple to double digits while the Kafue ecosystem grew by about fifty-five percent. Moreover, the GEC notes that its analysis used the historical data available and present, something that was simply nonexistent in certain regions. The same goes for raw historical data in most of their ecosystems.

While the Great Elephant Census does blame poaching as a major and critical cause of the population decrease, it is important to note that the GEC does also mention other factors. These include the conflicts that can arise between elephants and humans with regards to development and growth.

As a whole it does appear that the Great Elephant Census is one of the most comprehensive studies to date. It and its scientists do admit to not having all the information they want: either due to historical inaccuracies or the fact they did not count forest elephants. However, because of its intense nature, I believe that this census is one of the greatest things to happen to the conservation movement. 

As time goes on, the scientists plan on continuing to conduct the survey regularly in order to monitor the conservation of the African elephants (with future hopes of assessing the destructiveness of poaching and climate change). 

This survey is a key moment in history, a powerful tool for the conservation movements of both African elephants and also all endangered creatures. By raising awareness of the population decreases of African elephants, the GEC brings light to the issues of poaching and climate change. By doing so, there is hope that surveys and censuses like this will bring new fervor to natural conservation movements, bringing hope and new energy to anti-poaching policy reform. 

(Find a related NPR article here!)

Bolivia Miners' Strike is a Minefield

The Bolivian Miners' protest has faced a lot of heavy violence in recent days, the most prominent being the reported murder of Bolivian Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes. This protest has been of wide concern in Bolivia, especially since early August.

The Bolivian government, as reported by Telesur, is in fear that the miners' strike is too heavily armed and is destroying the transport routes of the nation. In fact, the government criticizes the strike for being riotous, destroying property, injuring law enforcement, and allowing for abductions. 

Interior Minister Carlos Romero has described the miner's strike and murder as "cowardly and brutal".

Why are the miners violently protesting?

The Bolivian miners have organized, albeit destructively, due to their loss of power in mining legislation in Bolivia. Until recently, the miners and their mining cooperatives held political power, holding charge and jurisdiction over the Bolivian Vice Ministry of Mining. This post has since then switched into the government's custody, detracting from collective mining's political capital.

Moreover, Bolivia miners have been very vocal in their desires to increase trade, production, and profit. The structure of Bolivian mining currently focuses on self-governed and local cooperatives. These unfortunately feel to the miners to have reached maximum capacity, plateauing in growth. Due to this, Bolivian miners want to be able to grow their profits via commercial associations.

The Bolivian government prohibits mining from linking themselves with private mining businesses and corporations via partnerships of any form. According the government, it destroys the very fabric of economic cooperatives if they were to work with big business and big business's infrastructure. 

Because of this, Bolivian miners tried a variety of actions. The actual reason why the protests have gone brutally violent are relatively unknown, but I would warrant with violence in protests comes a feeling of desperation. 

In early August, the Bolivian miners had enough of feeling as if their pleas were being unheard. Thus, the miners created a much larger scale protest to gain movement.

Heavily armed and weaponized, the Bolivian mining collectives decided to blockade major highways and government departments. The miners by doing so managed to block away many of the important routes from Cochabamba to La Paz. The only way the miner's are willing to ease these blockades is if the government agrees to open up a dialogue and compromise with the cooperatives.

It seems that the government was willing to talk to the mining cooperatives, announcing a response to the National Federation of Mining Cooperatives.  Unfortunately this came after reciprocal imprisonments from both sides and  constant condemning by President Morales that the entire situation and the demands were unconstitutional.

Despite this, the union after days of violent fights with police, were willing to remove the blockade in hopes of making amends and gaining concessions from the Bolivian government. Thanks to this, the miners released about 50 policemen in exchange for their fellow miners.

As of this easing, there were a grand total (from both sides) of around 320 injured,.

So Then Why Murder?

It appears that these peace negotiations and talks about compromise have fallen through.

The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives has resumed protest, with highly riotous elements, citing that President Morales's government has failed to properly negotiate. In this sense, the miners felt their cries for greater representation and the ability to partner with the private sector were just not being heard.

Because of this, a riotous and extreme sect of the protesters kidnapped and abducted the Deputy Interior Minister Illanes: the only condition for his release being proper negotiations between the two parties over mining legislation. 

It has become clear, especially since the news is just coming out and is all relatively new, that the Bolivian government is trying to keep the situation's details out of the public.

Illanes was captured earlier this week and after torture was beaten to death, as described and reported by Defense Minister Ferreira and Interior Minister Romero.

This lines up with the trend of increasing violence, when previously two miners were killed and tear gas and heavy weaponry are being utilized.

Why is the German AFD Growing?

In the contemporary era, anti-immigration has spiked in favor in Europe. Due to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, Brexit, and the continuing rise of ISIS, Europe is at the crossroads of immigration tensions, security tensions, and progressive/anti-progressive sentiment.

One of the large players in Europe, the United Kingdom has already voted by referendum to leave, within the next five years, the European Union. The party that strongly supported this was UKIP, a notoriously anti-immigration and controversial political party in the nation.

In other European nations, anti-immigration sentiment is also on the rise. In fact, in Germany (what was once hailed as a progressive beacon and refuge for Syrian refugees), anti-immigration sentiment is becoming a strong political force.

While a relatively/comparatively new movement, Germany faces a new political party: AFD.

What is AFD?

AFD, or Alternative für Deutschland, is a new political party in mainstream German politics. Its platform focuses on anti-Islam, anti-immigration, and anti-EU policies.

AFD started at a time where the Great Recession was well under way. In fact, AFD was a direct response in 2013 to the use of Euro Zone bailouts instead of austerity measures. Moreover, the party placed a strong amount of the blame for these bailouts on the migrant crisis facing Europe. Because of this, those of the Alternative for Germany place an emphasis on anti-immigration policies as a way to fix the economic instability in the region. 

In fact, I would say the sentiment and policy standpoints of AFD are what scared me about UKIP and the Brexit referendum vote. As a party, AFD is an alternative conservative movement, one that goes against the conservative parties of Angela Merkel and the German government. It does so in a similar way to the Trump campaign: via fear and consistent pressure on fear-raising issues. For Germans, that issue is most definitely immigration from the Middle East and Africa. 

It can be argued that much like the Tea Party of America, AFD has found its niche with those who are mostly conservatively inclined and most negatively affected by globalization. What makes it different from the other ultra-conservative parties is its conscious effort to not focus on extremism, ridding itself of any radicals with fascist tendencies.

What I feel is extremist though about the AFD is its racist tendencies, something seen from the fact that prominent members like Hocke talk of genetic differences between Europeans and Africans that affect their socioeconomic status. (This is a notion that I personally think should have been destroyed centuries ago.)

Unfortunately, despite a clear lack of organization, the AFD has a part in mainstream German politics, even if it is just fueling the anger. It's similar to the anti-immigration parties that are sprouting up in most major European nations. And in a nation like Germany, it could mean danger for Europe's progressiveness as a whole.

 AFD Growth

From its inception since 2013, Alternative for Germany has been able to find its way into local and national governments. In fact, AFD is present in about half of German state assemblies.

Due to its niche, AFD is able to attract Germans from the conservative German parties and those who felt all previous German political parties were well not extreme enough. 

A surprising fact about the AFD niche also makes it obvious why the AFD is starting to grow as the years go on. The AFD has found a majority of its supporters in the young, unemployed males without higher education of Germany. This is a crucial statistic to note because if this is a trend, men of this category will continue to support this party as they get older, creating a strong base.

Moreover, the AFD growth has made it a double digit national force. It is no longer just a small movement, considering it polls at about 10% of the nation. This makes it able to join Bundestag, the national parliament of Germany, as it will attempt in fall of 2017.

Why This is Scary

It is hard to deny that Alternative for Germany has racist history, despite its young age of three years. As recently as two days ago, the Leipzig AFD was found to be offensive thanks to Nazi Imagery on their party vehicle, using license plate AH1818 (a neo-Nazi code referring three times to Adolf Hitler). Moreover, in the past three years, the AFD and its prominent members have come under criticism for trivialization of the Holocaust and further anti-Semitism.

If the mere fact that the AFD is tied to racists or at least racist, close-minded tendencies is not terrifying enough to the German and international governments,  the fact that the euroskeptics are vying for state and district level politics positions is. If they win these, the AFD has the ability to act on their extreme anti-immigrant policies.

Angela Merkel's approval ratings have fallen in recent years in part due to fear growing in the German population. Her party the CDU is thusly weakened due to this fear. This is rightly frightening for the politicians in much the way Trump frightens some of the GOP. Fear is powerful tool, more so than fact. The AFD capitalizes on the fear of Germans, something that as an AFD defense mechanism for the nation can garner support. 

 

Syrian Blood Continues To Fall

The Syrian conflict is one of the bloodiest civil wars in contemporary history. It is honestly getting hard to even imagine current events without the Syria being on the back burner. Syria's gone through the Arab Spring, civil war and unrest,  ISIS, and oh so many civilian casualties in the past few years. 

The past few days and weeks, however, have unfortunately been some of the deadliest for civilians in Syria. Thanks to government and rebel attacks throughout conflict zones, especially near Aleppo, close to two hundred civilians have been marked dead, with some news sources questioning the severity of the true fatality rates.

From a Haaretz piece

The Modern Syrian Timeline

In March of 2011, Deraan protesters demanded the release of political prisoners, something that BBC among other sources have decidedly called the beginning of Syrian national unrest. President Bashar al-Assad gives in, releasing prisoners. Assad goes one step further and dismisses much of the government.

In May of 2011, the army enters the main urban areas within Syria. This is due to the increase in anti-government protests. The army enters with force to crush these protests. The Western world responds with harsher political and economic sanctions, forcing Assad to allow for the amnesty of political prisoners.

By June of 2011, Bashar al-Assad promises to start a national reformatory dialogue. This happens concurrently with the IAEA reporting to the UN about Syria's alleged nuclear reactor program and with troops attacking Jisr al-Shughour, forcing a refugee influx in Turkey.

In July there were mass demonstrations in Hama, something that caused Assad to put the province under military rule, at the expense of civilian lives. By November, the Arab League suspends membership of Syria due to its lack of peace, something that forces them to place sanctions on the nation.

From November to February, the government continues attacks on its provinces and major cities. The international world during this time proved silently concerned for the seeming lack of care for civilian lives and deaths.

Internationally, the UN creates a non-binding peace plan in March of 2012. Syrian diplomats are kicked out of major countries like the UK, Australia, and Germany due to the level of civilian casualties in May of 2012. This was the time of the Houla massacre where at least 100, mostly women and children, were killed in village attacks. The survivors blamed the government while the government blamed terrorists. One thing that is for sure is that it was one of the worst massacres in Syria's modern conflict.

In June of 2012, the rebels of the Free Syrian Army stated they will not agree to a cease-fire. They said they will only agree to a peace-enforcing mission by the UN, leaning towards the loss of the current government structure.

The attacks of Syria were only made worse when in 2013, chemical warfare began. 

From a RT piece

From a RT piece

On March 19 2013 in Khan al-Assal was the first widely-known attack via chemical weapons, followed by dozens of casualties due to sarin nerve gas. Ghouta near Damascus was the next highly deadly nerve gas attack, something the US blamed on the Syrian government. During this time, the US has begun to consider using its military force to help the situation. The UN confirms the sarin gas in September of 2013, causing the US to send ships in case a strike proves necessary. 

By October of 2013, international inspectors start dismantling Syria's chemical weapons thanks to a highly contentious deal between Russia and the US, something that possibly stopped full on war.

Early 2014 marked peace talks in Geneva. Unfortunately by March of 2014, ethnic persecution starts to occur as fostered by the Syrian Army and Al Qaeda forces against ethnic Armenians.

By summer of 2014, the Islamic State gains territory in Syria. It is important to note that Al Qaeda refuses to link itself with the Islamic State, disavowing all relations with the newer group. By August, there are airstrike.s by the Syrian government against IS. In September, President Obama states the US involvement will be increased in a systemic airstrike campaign.

Influxes of foreigners who believe in radical causes like IS start to enter Syria by Spring of 2015 to join the groups, making Syria a global training center for IS and extremism.

During this time, the amount of refugees rushing out of the war torn environment that is Syria has escalated to the point of a refugee crisis.

Refugees found themselves, since the earliest parts of the conflict, seeking mass asylum in Europe, numbers that make this refugee crisis the worst since World War Two. (The unfortunate side effect in Europe is the rise of anti-immigration political groups.)

September of 2015 marked the involvement of Russia in airstrikes against IS. The conflict and airstrikes continue for the remainder of 2015. Deaths are still numerous.

From an Al Jazeera Article about a Russian airstrike that hit a school

From an Al Jazeera Article about a Russian airstrike that hit a school

In early 2016, US and Russia helped to broker a cessation of hostilities. However, this deal was inapplicable to IS and other terrorist organizations and rebel groups in the area. Syrian peace talks are moved to March to allow for the ceasefire. Russia starts to partially withdraw from Syria in March as well, but clearly remains a presence.

The Current Heartache

The sanctioned cease fire, thanks to its inapplicable nature against rebel groups and terrorism, has done little in contested areas to alleviate the death toll. 

As seen since the beginning of August 2016, hundreds of Syrians have been slaughtered. In fact, from August 12 to August 15, the number of deaths across Syria is greater than 175. (This death rate is hard for me to comprehend, singularly devastating, and so angry-making.)

From Al Jazeera

As of last week, the Syrian rebels managed to break the government siege in Aleppo. This is a crucial move for the rebels because for four years Aleppo has essentially been the center of battles and humanitarian crises. Aleppo, for the last few days, has also been the site of many a government and Russian airstrike. There have been allegations of barrel bombs being dropped, suicide bombers, and napalm-like substances (all of which are harsh forms of warfare). As of right now, the accountability from both sides is lacking.

Aleppo is a key place for both the government and rebels due to its proximity to Turkey and its supply lines. Moreover, the sheer civilian population in the area makes it a place of power for the groups. Unfortunately, it also makes it a place where civilians tend to flee from.

There is however hope that terrorist strongholds in the region will fall. As of August 14, Islamic State has lost Manbij to a US-influenced force. Manbij is now in the hands of the Kurdish led SDF. While the fighting in this region faced a heavy death toll, it does mean IS's second largest stronghold is no more. Unfortunately, IS does still control a large portion of Syria, including the second-largest city Mosul. However, IS has in recent months also been driven out of Falluja, Palmyra, Rammadi, Shaddadeh, among others.

Burundi's Human Rights & the UN

It's been more than a year since April 2015, a period in Burundi's history that was the catalyst for protests, coups, and political upheaval. The moment to start it all was when President Pierre Nkurunziza announces his reelection campaign for his third term.

My question is how and why did Burundi get to the point that the UNSC now in July of 2016 has authorized deployment of a police force to control the chaos? And why is Burundi treating this as such a threat?

Taken from a succinct timeline of the Burundi conflict by DW

History of Conflict

Gaining its independence from Belgium in 1962 did not do much for Burundi's deep ethnic divides as fostered and enforced by imperial rule. In fact post-independence, the Hutu and Tutsi division (similar to the one that was put imperially in place in Rwanda) proved to be a constant cause for ethnic cleansing murders and rebellions. In Burundi, the government in this era was Tutsi-led. 

The government's ties to the ethnic divides proved too strong to stop, causing Hutu massacres in 1972-73 and 1988. Further, post civil war (1993-2000), the Burundian government tried to power-share between the two minorities through the Arusha agreement. Theoretically sound, the Arusha agreement explicitly stated their power-sharing formula and even checked the executive by placing a two term limit on presidencies.

Because of this limit, it seems only normal for conflict and uproar to arise when President Nkurunziza decided to break the agreement and run for a third term.

The Current Conflict Timeline

President Nkurunziza staged the beginning of his reelection campaign in April of 2016. Protests ensued, followed by censorship around April 27. Protesters, human rights associations, and independent radios were shut down within the capital and country. Social media censorship followed.

Protesters were then in May classed as criminals and terrorists by Burundi's security minister General Gabriel Nizigama. A grenade killed 17 including police on May 2 at a protest.

By May 5th, the Burundi supreme court decided that he was allowed to run on a technicality. Technically, the legal check on the executive requires elections by the people. President Nkurunziza was not elected by the people for his first term.

Protests proceeded to get worse thanks to tensions regarding Burundi increasing domestically and internationally. The death tolls at protests also only continued to increase. In fear that no amount of political uprising and revolution could help the situation, Burundi citizens throughout the entire conflict had and have chosen to flee and seek refuge elsewhere, primarily the East African community (Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burundi).

Moreover, the conflict has taken a turn towards gender violence, with Human Rights Watch citing gang rapes by the ruling party to the statistic that 14 out of 70 rape victims recognized their attacker to be an Imbonerakure.

UN Involvement

Now that the number of refugees is upwards of a quarter million, the Security Council of the United Nations had to intervene. Considering the sheer proximity of Burundi to Rwanda and the ghosts of both their Hutu-Tutsi ethnic conflicts, the UN knew its intervention was necessary to save lives of both the opposition and government.

As of July 30, the United Nations Security Council has authorized UN police deployment to ensure the stability and security of the East African nation's human rights and conflict. There however are questions as to the efficiency and possible success of this resolution. Powers, the US ambassador, believes this resolution will make the UN local bystanders to a deteriorating issue.

Notably, there were 15 abstentions from the vote, the most highlight-worthy being China, Egypt, Angola, and Venezuela. According to many of these nations, the UN's will to send UN police to Burundi is a clear attack on the nation's sovereignty and independence.

Burundi Takes Issue

Burundi has recently, as of August 3rd, found the UN resolution to send approximately 228 police to be a threat to its sovereignty. Because of this, the nation of Burundi has rejected the deployment citing violations of the UN's fundamental principles and violations of sovereignty.

Citing France 24's article

To Burundi, the resolution was a clear overstep of boundaries because they originally stated they would accept 50 officers as their maximum.

If Not the UN, maybe the African Union?

In early 2016, the African Union pledged to send a peacekeeping force of 5000 only to not and instead hold a delegation talk. Despite the questionable lack of formal approval from Burundi to send in the force, the African Union was well within its rights of intervention in a member state, especially considering Burundi's grave circumstances.

The lack of active prevention and force with regards to the Burundi conflict by the African Union has proved to be a setback for the organization. When BBC talked to Stephanie Wolters of the Institute of Security Studies, she described the move as an unfortunate hindrance that will make it "take a long time before the AU can assert itself and distinguish itself from the lethargic Organisation of African Unity".

Oh, Burundi

Where this conflict will lead to next, as of right now, is unknown. What is known is that both the government and the protesters of Burundi are dying because of the political conflict. What is known is that there are believed to be mass graves. What is known is that the UN in November of 2015 felt less equipped to deal with this conflict in Burundi than the Rwandan genocide.

Essentially, what is known is that the situation in Burundi continues to worsen and that those affected in the nation need and crave the hope, prayers, and best wishes of the rest of humanity.