News from the Philippines, Israel and Venezuela

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on November 19, 2013

PHILIPPINES – President makes frank admission of typhoon relief failures

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Philippine President Benigno Aquino (Photo: Reuters)

Benigno Aquino, the Philippines president, issued a frank admission on Monday that the country’s disaster relief system had collapsed in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan as the government acknowledged mounting criticism of its response to the tragedy.

The most powerful typhoon to hit land ever recorded has left the impoverished Asian democracy reeling as officials struggled to cope with the enormity of the damage.

On the second day of a tour of the affected islands of Samar and Leyte, where thousands died and millions were left homeless, Mr. Aquino said he was “driven to despair” by the disaster.

“The systems failed. We had a breakdown in power, a breakdown in communications, a breakdown in practically everything,” he said. “The destructive force of this typhoon was of such a magnitude that even personnel were themselves victims.”

Despite airlifts of relief beginning to reach even the most isolated areas affected, senior aid officials said there were still hurdles to the operation.

The UN said up to 2.5 million people were still in need of assistance despite a ramping up of the effort as the US military spearhead deliveries and foreign aid agencies pile into the region.

“We’re still facing co-ordination problems and bottlenecks,” said Bernard Kerblat, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Manila. “The situation we’re facing in the Philippines is unprecedented in magnitude.”

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Debris in the super typhoon devastated city of Tacloban
(Photo: EPA/Nic Bothma)

A presidential spokesman said the government would accept some criticism of its performance in what appeared to be an effort to placate critics. “We have to clear up the congestion so that we can increase the flow of food packs and other relief goods to the victims,” the spokesman, Ricky Carandang said. …

In the latest controversy to hit the relief effort a volunteer posted images of government workers repacking aid from Indonesia as official Philippine assistance. The Facebook page of Cherrey Mae Bartolata, a volunteer stationed in Mactan Air Base in Cebu, went viral. “I am frustrated. I am angry. I feel hopeless,” she wrote. …

The government’s already stretched budget is being rewritten to reflect the impact of the disaster. There was some good news for [Manila] as it secured $1 billion in loan pledges to help rebuild areas from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. …

President Aquino must tread a fine line between pushing for a better performance from local and national government agencies and being seen to score political points against his opponents. Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of Tacloban, is a nephew of former first lady Imelda Marcos and therefore a political enemy of Mr. Aquino.

The president on Sunday referred to Mr. Romualdez’s failure to order an evacuation of Tacloban on the basis of storm warnings, saying he had to keep the anger he felt in his “sour gut.”

“The whole relief effort has been politically polarized,” said Prospero de Vera, a political analyst at the University of the Philippines. “This will be the defining moment of Aquino’s administration, and he needs to act very strongly and be very focused, and rise above any political bickering.” …

ISRAEL – Government to push for better Iran nuclear deal

me_mapIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed the government’s “grave concerns” that the West was poised to sign a deal with Iran over its nuclear program that would give it “practically nothing” in return.

Mr. Netanyahu’s comments came as negotiators prepared to return to Geneva on Wednesday (11/20) where a first-step deal looks likely to be agreed upon, breaking a decade-long impasse.

The Israeli prime minister said he still hoped that “we will be able to persuade our friends during this week and in the days that follow to get a much better agreement.”

“I’m concerned, gravely concerned, that this deal will go through and in one stroke of the pen, it will reduce the sanctions on Iran – sanctions that took years to put in place – and in return for this, Iran gives practically nothing,” he said.

Both the White House and the Russian foreign minister [Russia is an ally of Iran] have expressed optimism that a deal can be signed that would partially freeze Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, creating a six-month window in which to try an negotiate a comprehensive deal.

Mr. Netanyahu has already rejected US assurances that the [reduction of sanctions on Iran can be quickly restored] in the event that – as Israel suspects – it becomes clear that Tehran [the Iranian government] is not serious about giving up its push to become a nuclear-weapon capable state.

Israel has argued that only increased sanctions will keep sufficient pressure on Tehran to cut a meaningful deal, while President Obama countered last week that the Israeli uncompromising approach – which many hawks in the US Congress also support – threatens to derail a historic opportunity.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said in an interview with CNN: “If you do a bad deal, you may get to the point where your only option is a military option.” 

Talks broke up without a deal earlier this month, reportedly over French objections that Iran was to be allowed to continue building their plutonium reactor [used to make nuclear weapons] at Arak during the interim deal period – a point of contention that the White House now says is resolved.

François Hollande, the French president, was in Israel on Sunday, where he sought to reassure Mr Netanyahu that Paris would not allow Iran to use the interim deal to trick its way to building a bomb.

“France will not make concessions on nuclear proliferation,” Mr. Hollande said. “France will maintain all its measures and sanctions until we are certain that Iran has renounced nuclear weapons.”

“We want an agreement,” he added. “This agreement can be obtained but is only possible if Iran renounces nuclear weapons.” …

VENEZUELA – Socialist government jails 100 “bourgeois” businessmen in crackdown

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro raises his fist during a rally in Caracas on November 12, 2013. Venezuela's ruling party eyed a vote Tuesday to pave the way for Maduro to govern by decree, broadening his powers, during an inflationary crisis a month before crucial municipal elections.  (Photo: Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro raises his fist during a rally in Caracas on November 12, 2013. (Photo: Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty)

Venezuela’s socialist government has arrested more than 100 “bourgeois” businessmen in a crackdown on alleged price-gouging at hundreds of shops and companies since the weekend, President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday.

“They are barbaric, these capitalist parasites!” Maduro thundered in the latest of his lengthy daily speeches. “We have more than 100 of the bourgeoisie behind bars at the moment.”

The successor to the late Hugo Chavez also said his government was preparing a law to limit Venezuelan businesses’ profits to between 15 percent and 30 percent.

Officials say unscrupulous companies have been hiking prices of electronics and other goods more than 1,000 percent. Critics say failed socialist economic policies and restricted access to foreign currency are behind Venezuela’s runaway inflation.

“Goodyear has to lower its prices even more, 15 percent is not enough, the inspectors have go there straightaway,” Maduro said in his evening address, sending officials to check local operations of the U.S.-based tire manufacturer.

image1163bSince the weekend, soldiers and inspectors have gone into 1,400 shops, taken over operations at an electronics firm and a battery-making company, and rounded up a handful of looters.

The move – Maduro’s boldest since taking office in April – is reminiscent of the dramatic governing style of Chavez, who nationalized swaths of the OPEC member’s economy during his 14-year socialist rule.

Like Chavez, Maduro says he is defending the poor.

The inspections have shaken Venezuela three weeks before local elections that his opponents are casting as a referendum on the 50-year-old former bus driver. Maduro has made preserving Chavez’s legacy the mainstay of his government and has been matching his former mentor’s anti-capitalist rhetoric. …

Only a few of the hundreds of shops targeted with surprise inspections had been found to be offering “fair prices,” officials say. Some businesses are voluntarily lowering prices – or staying closed – in case the inspectors come.

“We’ve reduced everything by 10 to 15 percent, but it’s not fair. I can’t make a profit now,” said the owner of one small electronics store, who asked not to be identified. “I agree they should go for the big fish, the real speculators, but they risk hurting us all.”

Venezuela’s official inflation, 54 percent annually, is the highest in the Americas.

Maduro said the forced price discounts should lead to negative inflation of 15 percent in November and 50 percent in December – forecasts that brought immediate mockery from critics on Twitter. …

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at London’s Daily Telegraph on Nov. 18 and Nov. 17 and Reuters on Nov. 14.)

Questions

1. For each of the 3 countries, provide the following information:

a) capital:

b) location/the countries that share its borders:

c) the religious breakdown of the population:

d) the type of government:

e) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]:

f) the population:

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for maps and a list of continents.]

NOTE: Before answering the questions below, read the info under “Background.” 

2. For PHILIPPINES:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Typhoon Haiyan was the most powerful typhoon to hit land ever recorded. President Aquino could be given some slack over the collapse of the country’s disaster relief system. What should he be held accountable for, and what should he have done/should he do moving forward, after recognizing that the disaster relief system was not effective?
c) China is the 2nd largest economy in the world. How much did it pledge to give the Philippines in relief aid as compared to the U.S.?  (see “Background” below)

3. For ISRAEL:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Define sanctions as used in the article.
c) Israel is our ally; Iran is our enemy (we have had no diplomatic relations with Iran since they held our citizens hostage in the late 1970s.) Iran consistently calls for the destruction of Israel, a U.S. ally. Is it good diplomacy for President Obama to say that sanctions need to be lifted on Iran before we can expect them to make a deal in ending their quest for nuclear weapons? Is Prime Minister Netanyahu going overboard on his insistence that sanctions stay in place until a deal is made? Explain your answer.
d) Ask a parent the same question.

4. For VENEZUELA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Define bourgeois as used by President Maduro.
c) In addition to jailing businessmen he thinks charge too much for products sold in their stores, what other action is President Maduro taking against Venezuelan businessmen?

 


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Background

PHILIPPINES

  • Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on November 8th as winds blew at speeds of up to 195 miles per hour. The typhoon triggered a storm surge that laid waste to large areas of coastline, wrecking inland towns and low-lying villages.
  • The official death toll stands at 3,976 with 1,598 people missing. The United Nations estimates up to four million people have been displaced, of whom only 350,000 have found shelter in evacuation centers.
  • Outlying islands have posed a particular challenge as the government and foreign donors poured into Tacloban, the city of 220,000 that was hit by the storm surge.
  • “Outside of Tacloban people are still begging for resources and getting very little,” said Kendra Clegg, a UN official who has been based on Panay island on the western side of the archipelago. “On the outlying islands it’s been particularly difficult because they are fishermen and have lost their boats.” …
[On a side note], China bowed to pressure for a significant gesture of assistance, claiming its was ready to send an emergency medical team to the Philippines as soon as Manila gave the green light.

The world’s second-largest economy [China] initially announced it was giving $200,000 before increasing the sum to $1.64 million, far less than other major nations. (from the Telegraph report above)

China’s pledge, which it boosted after getting flack for its original offer of $100,000, is a fraction of the amounts pledged by other countries in the region and much farther away, including the USA, which pledged $20 million. Australia promised $30 million. The United Kingdom offered $16 million. Japan and United Arab Emirates each pledged $10 million. Ikea (the Swedish furniture company) is sending $2.7 million. (from an AP news report)

  • ISRAEL

    Despite the optimism in Washington and Moscow, negotiators on the Iranian side said on Sunday that the coming talks would be “difficult”, reiterating their position that Iran has a right to enrich uranium.

    “No agreement will be reached without securing the rights of the Iranian nation” on its nuclear program and uranium enrichment, Abbas Araqchi, the Iranian negotiation and its deputy foreign minister, told the official IRNA news agency.

    Opponents of the deal, including Israel, say that Iran should give up all enrichment, a position that US and British negotiators privately accept is unrealistic given the reality of Iran’s huge nuclear advance over the last decade.

    However in a possible fix to this sticking point, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said that while his country has a right to enrich uranium, it was not insisting other nations recognize the entitlement. (from the Telegraph article above)

    IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM:

    • Iran’s 20 year secret nuclear program was discovered in 2002. Iran says its program is for fuel purposes only, but it has been working on uranium enrichment which is used to make nuclear bombs. [NOTE ON URANIUM ENRICHMENT:  Enriched uranium is a critical component for both civil nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency attempts to monitor and control enriched uranium supplies and processes in its efforts to ensure nuclear power generation safety and curb nuclear weapons proliferation (buildup).]
    • Under the United Nations’ NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty) countries are not allowed to make nuclear weapons (except for the 5 that had nuclear weapons prior to the treaty – the U.S., Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom).
    • Safeguards are used to verify compliance with the Treaty through inspections conducted by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
    • The IAEA has consistently stated it is unable to conclude that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful. 
    • The IAEA issued a report on Sept. 15, 2008 that said Iran has repeatedly blocked an investigation into its nuclear program and the probe is now deadlocked.
    • The U.N. Security Council has already imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear defiance. Despite the sanctions, Iran has refused to end its nuclear program.
    • A group of U.S. and Russian scientists said in a report issued in May 2009 that Iran could produce a simple nuclear device in one to three years and a nuclear warhead in another five years after that. The study, published by the nonpartisan EastWest Institute, also said Iran is making advances in rocket technology and could develop a ballistic missile capable of firing a 2,200-pound nuclear warhead up to 1,200 miles “in perhaps six to eight years.”
    • The Iranian government has called for the destruction of Israel on numerous occasions. It is believed that once obtained, Iranian President Ahmadinejad would use nuclear weapons against Israel.
  • VENEZUELA

    • Around Caracas and other major cities, crowds of shoppers are flooding electronics, clothing and other outlets where [government forced] price cuts are anticipated. There has been some violence.
    • The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflicts reported 39 incidents of looting or attempted looting since Friday. “We ask officials to moderate language in speeches that could be interpreted as calls to violence,” the local non-governmental organization said.
    • The campaign to reduce prices and blame entrepreneurs may play well with Maduro’s power base among the poor and could help unite factions within the ruling Socialist Party.
    • Given Venezuelans’ anxiety over inflation, and scarcities of basic goods from toilet paper to milk, Maduro was risking a backlash at the Dec. 8 nationwide municipal elections. …
    • Critics say the moves do not tackle the roots of Venezuela’s economic malaise, like an overvalued bolivar that forces many importers to buy black-market dollars and then pass those costs on to consumers.
    • The government has ordered local telecom companies to block various websites showing the bolivar [Venezuelan currency] at 10 times the official rate of 6.3 to the [U.S. dollar] on the illegal market.
    • Prominent pro-opposition columnist Nelson Bocaranda said Maduro’s economic policies were “chillingly similar” to those of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The African leader also used security forces to enforce a price crackdown in 2007.
    • Opposition party Justice First accused the state of hypocrisy, saying [the government controlled] stores were also hiking prices unjustifiably.
    • An imported sandwich toaster, for example, that costs $34.99 in the United States, was selling at a fivefold markup of 1,100 bolivars ($175 at the official exchange rate) in state [government] supermarket chain Bicentenario, it said.
    • “This shows the economic chaos Maduro has got us in where prices have no logic. The government created this monster and now tries to pretend it will control it, but Venezuelans cannot be deceived by this electoral show,” Justice First said.
    • Like Chavez on several occasions, Maduro is seeking decree powers from Congress [which is controlled by his supporters], which granted preliminary approval on Thursday. He says he needs the Enabling Law to fix the economy, but critics accuse Maduro of simply amassing power. (from the Reuters article above)

    Resources

    PHILIPPINES

  • ISRAEL

     

  • VENEZUELA