EU, UN vow to fight violence against women

AMERICAS

The European Union and the United Nations have launched a major initiative to combat violence against women in Latin America. An average of 12 women are killed each day in the region, just for being female.

    
Carla Ayala Palacios

Carla Ayala Palacios was a policewoman in El Salvador. On December 28, 2017, she suddenly vanished after her unit’s Christmas party. Authorities searched for many months, until her remains were discovered on a property belonging to a colleague’s relatives. Her suspected killer is still on the run.

Murders like these are not uncommon in the Latin American country. “The case reminds us that we need to step up our efforts; even a single male police officer who believes he can mistreat women is one too many,” said Mauricio Ramirez Landaverde, El Salvador’s justice minister, at Ayala Palacios’ funeral last week. Authorities have classified her murder as a case of femicide.

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A global problem

The term femicide describes the killing of a girl or woman simply because of her gender. It was originally coined in 1976 by sociologist Diana Russell at the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels.

In 1992, Russell co-edited an anthology of essays titled Femicide: The Politics of Woman Killing, which defined femicide as the attempt by men to control the lives, bodies and/or sexuality of women, who, should they reject this control, are then punished by death.

Femicide is not specifically a Latin American problem, however. Back in 2013, Margaret Chan, then director-general of the World Health Organization, warned that women are subjected to violence in countries all over the world, across all cultures and social settings. But reported cases of femicide in Latin America are especially high.

According to UN Women, a United Nations agency working toward gender equality and female empowerment, 14 of the world’s 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide are in Latin America and the Caribbean. Each day, 12 Latin American women are victims of femicide, according to the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

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‘Women are having to fight their way’

EU, UN aim to end all violence against women

At the UN General Assembly this past week, the European Union and United Nations launched a €50 million ($58 million) project to help protect women in Mexico, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras from male violence. Their joint Spotlight Initiative in Latin America comes a year after the bodies began a €500-million, multi-year project to help end all violence against women and girls by 2030.

Speaking at the launch of the initiative in New York, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini expressed optimism, saying that “culture can change, social norms can evolve” and that this is “a matter of education, legislation, persuasion and good example.”

Mogherini added that girls and women in Latin America, Europe and across the world should never again have to live in fear.

But this ambitious initiative comes too late for Carla Ayala Palacios, who was buried on September 22 with a huge crowd of politicians and police officers in attendance. Her mother placed a sunflower on her coffin — Ayala Palacios’ favorite. She can only hope that her daughter’s murder will not go unpunished, as has been the case so many times in the past.

Every evening at 1830 UTC, DW editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

courtesy: DW

What will keep China and Russia from building a new world order?

ASIA

Russia and China are forming closer economic and strategic relations in the face of increasing pressure from Washington. Although a Sino-Russian bloc sounds ominous to the West, there are big obstacles to an alliance.

    
 Russland | Vladimir Putin und Xi Jinping auf dem Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok (Reuters/ASS Host Photo Agency/Pool/S. Bobylev)

Russia’s geopolitical show in eastern Siberia this week with special guest China combined a dramatic display of military hardware with diplomatic trappings, summit pageantry and an executive-level cooking show.

In two separate events – the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) being held in Vladivostok and the Vostok (East) 2018 military games – Russia and China signaled to the West that they are working closer together to counterbalance US “unilateralism.”

Read more: Russia and China to reduce use of US dollar in trade

The American tariff showdown with China and continued sanctions on Russia have pushed Beijing and Moscow closer together. And US President Donald Trump’s protectionist course for the US also gives Chinese and Russian presidents, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, the chance to portray themselves as heroes of bilateral cooperation and globalization.

Ahead of this week’s events, China’s ambassador to Russia, Li Hui, told China’s official Xinhua news agency that Sino-Russian relations were at their “best in history.” The report also touted Chinese President Xi as a proponent of regional cooperation amid “anti-globalism and protectionist trends,” while ushering in a new age of diplomacy with Russia.

Xi reportedly told China’s CCTV on Tuesday that Russia and China needed to “oppose unilateralism and trade protectionism and build a new type of international relations and shared human destiny.”

Putin and Xi already met twice over the summer in Beijing and in Johannesburg. During his first-ever appearance at the EEF on Tuesday, Xi spoke about the “uniqueness” of China’s bilateral relationship with Russia and that both countries gave “top priority” to preserving good diplomatic ties. The EEF has been held annually since 2015 as part of Russia’s diplomatic efforts to develop ties with the Asia-Pacific.

 Russland | Vladimir Putin und Xi Jinping auf dem Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok (picture-alliance/dpa/Photoshot/mcg/X. Huanchi)Xi and Putin meet at the EEF on September 11

Bear hugs?

Xi’s bonhomie with Putin at the EEF, and the direct participation of the People’s Liberation Army in Vostok-2018, the largest Russian war games since the height of the Cold War, are a signal that the leaders of Russia and China are redefining their relationship – at least on the surface.

In the West, closer ties between Russia and China have previously been thought of as superficial alliances of convenience, frayed by history and tensions over regional hegemony. But in the current geopolitical climate, the incentive structure looks to have changed, with Beijing and Moscow having more to gain by working together.

Read more: Russia and China make show of unity as US relations falter

“Russia and China do have some differences and competition in the former Soviet Central Asia. However, the importance of these differences, as well as the importance of the past conflicts between Moscow and Beijing, should not be exaggerated,” Vassily Kashin, an East Asia expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told DW.

“What is much more important is the shared opposition of both countries to the US-led global order. Russia has irreversibly fallen out of this order after the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. By now China is also in systemic conflict with this order which is the cause for the current trade war,” added Kashin.

Russland Vostok 2018 War Games | Flagge Russland, China, Mongolei (picture-alliance/AP Photo/S. Grits)The Vostok-2018 war games from September 11-17 include some 300,000 Russian troops, 1,000 aircraft and 36,000 tanks

From Crimea to Beijing

A major turning point for Sino-Russian relations was in 2014, when Russia’s relationship with the West began to deteriorate after the annexation of Crimea. Russia initiated deals to sell China advanced weaponry, including fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles. In May 2014, Russia and China signed a joint declaration on “new stages of comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation.”

Read more: Opinion: Crimea reflects Russia’s fate

US foreign policy expert Angela Stent wrote in a 2016 report published by the US-based German Marshall Fund that China protects Russia from the full impact of sanctions and gives it legitimacy while the West tries to isolate it.

However, James D.J. Brown, an associate professor in political science at Temple University in Tokyo, told DW that the Sino-Russian relationship is limited by national interests. “Each side will support the other as long as it remains in their national interest to do so,” said Brown.

Read more: EU leaders extend Russian sanctions over Ukraine for six more months

“When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, China did not explicitly offer support. Doing so would have attracted criticism from the West and, while China is willing to endure international censure when necessary, it will only do so when it decides that it is beneficial to do so,” he said, adding that China neither approved nor disapproved of Russia’s action.

Stent wrote that even as both China and Russia reject the global order, they “do not agree on what a future world order should look like.”

Watch video26:00

America backs off – China steps in?

Economically, China is currently Russia’s second-largest trade partner after the EU. Russian analyst Kashin points out that Sino-Russian trade is projected to rise further in the coming years. “This year, the annual trade will break the $100 billion mark for the first time,” he said.

Russia and China are also mulling over ways to cooperate more closely in Central Asia, a region Moscow views as its backyard. Furthermore, there’s talk of both countries working together to advance their key geopolitical projects – Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” and Moscow’s “Eurasian Economic Union.”

Read more: As G7 argues, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping show SCO friendship

Despite the warm words at the EEF about deepened economic integration, there have yet to be any binding measures connecting these two major initiatives.

Feng Yujun, a Russia affairs expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, told DW that although there is strong political will on both sides to bring the trading routes closer together, major roadblocks remain.

“Because Russia is subject to Western sanctions, it is economically eager to get China’s investment, technology, and market access,” said Feng. “Russia needs to show a high degree of enthusiasm for the Belt and Road.”

“Although China has long proposed an agreement to sign free trade zones with the Eurasian Economic Union countries, these agreements are nowhere in sight,” he added.

Watch video01:09

BRICS nations for free trade

A ‘quasi-alliance’

Pragmatism remains a major limitation to the formation of a permanent alliance between China and Russia, which could consolidate into a bloc similar to NATO. But this doesn’t mean that the alliance isn’t growing stronger.

“It is likely that this relationship will still prove enduring,” said Brown.

“This is because China and Russia are being driven together by their shared tensions with the United States, encouraging them to put aside their reservations about each other,” said Brown, adding that the increased strategic cooperation between Russia and China is a “quasi-alliance,” which lacks elements indicating a true merging of strategic interests.

“For a relationship to be a true alliance, there must be some level of commitment to collective defense,” said Brown.

“At present, there is no such security commitment between Russia and China,” he said, noting that even as bilateral security cooperation deepens to unprecedented levels, the relationship couldn’t be described as a true alliance.

“At present, this still seems unlikely since neither country wants to risk becoming entangled in the other’s conflicts.”

Read more: As G7 argues, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping show SCO friendship

Germans skeptical of Russia and China, pessimistic on US

Who needs who more?

Both China and Russia have different incentives for working together. While both can provide the other some solace from international isolation, the common economic and strategic pressure from the US is also subject to change.

“Although Russia might be regarded as the current troublemaker for the United States, most US strategists view China as the greater threat in the longer term,” said Brown. “Their concern therefore is the extent to which Russia can play a role in assisting China’s rise to regional predominance.”

But for the US, enticing Russia away from China in the era of Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, does not look realistic. As Russia’s foreign policy continues to antagonize the West, there is little prospect of sanctions relief in exchange for cooperation against Chinese interests.

“With the assistance of Russia, China is a much stronger power. Without Russia, China is a country without powerful allies,” said Brown.

And on the other side, China can help ease some economic pain for Russia, but Russians are still anxious about the shift in power that dependence brings.

“In the long history of Sino-Russian relations, this change in power relations will undoubtedly cause concern in Russia,” said Feng.

Additional reporting contributed by Fang Wan 

Watch video26:00

Quadriga – The New Silk Road: China’s Route to Europe?

COURTESY: DW

Scientists say ‘neuroweapons’ were behind Cuba attacks

Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images, Ernesto Mastrascusa/Getty Images
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WASHINGTON — Could a foreign country build a directed-energy weapon tailored to target a single diplomat walking through a house, leaving other occupants unaffected? What about drugs that target a person’s brain, or even a specific part of the brain? Yes, it’s possible, according to scientists who have been studying the possible causes of the mysterious health effects reported among U.S. diplomatic personnel in Havana, Cuba.

Four scientists, including the first doctor to examine the diplomats reporting symptoms in Cuba, took part in a Pentagon-sponsored teleconference on Friday, where they announced new research results, including what they determined to be the probable use of “neuroweapons” in what they called the Havana Effect.

At issue are the more than two dozen U.S. government officials stationed in Havana, who have described hearing strange sounds, followed by a combination of medical symptoms, including dizziness, hearing loss and cognitive problems. More recently, a similar case has been reported in a U.S. embassy worker in Guangzhou, China. For months, a mix of secrecy and speculation has surrounded those incidents, including an increasingly popular theory that the diplomats were the victims of microwave weapons.

Michael Hoffer, an otolaryngologist at the University of Miami, who was the first to conduct tests on the embassy workers, said on the Friday call that the diplomats are suffering from a  “neurosensory dysfunction,” which is primarily affecting their sense of balance.

The Friday call was organized as part of a study program sponsored by the Pentagon and titled “Probable Use of a Neuroweapon to Affect Personnel of US  Embassy in Havana: Findings, Pathology, Possible Causes, and Disruptive Effects.” It was unclear who the briefing was intended for, and a Pentagon spokesperson was not able to answer questions about its purpose.

A Pentagon official told Yahoo News that the briefing was offered by the scientific team for interested people in the Defense Department and was to gain “general knowledge” about their findings. “This didn’t have an operational element,” the official said.

During the call, Hoffer gave a broad description of his findings, and promised that published results would be out soon. “I’m going tell you that this data is all going to be coming out in more detail in a peer-reviewed publication,” Hoffer said. “That peer-reviewed publication is due out probably in the next three to four weeks.” Hoffer did not say where the results would be published.

A man carries an umbrella past the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China, in June this year. (Photo: Kelvin Chan/AP)
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But Hoffer’s results could result in deepening the controversy around the Cuba incidents, since he concludes that the symptoms do not match those of brain injury — as posited by another group of scientists — and instead could be limited to the ear canal. “It’s important to know that that site of injury could be limited to the inner ear,” he said, noting that the diplomats affected appear to have damage to parts of the inner ear, known as the otolith organs, which affect balance.

Injury to those organs can cause dizziness, among other symptoms.

Earlier this year, scientists at University of Pennsylvania, who saw the patients after Hoffer did, determined that affected personnel were suffering from something akin to a mild traumatic brain injury, according to an article they published in the Journal of American Medical Association.

Hoffer did not discuss those published results during the call, and did not respond to a request for comment, but he said on Friday that “the definition of mild traumatic brain injury as defined by the military does not fit these individuals.” The authors of the JAMA study did not respond to a request for comment.

Little has been previously known about Hoffer’s involvement in evaluating U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba, and the Friday call appears to be his most extensive public comment to date on precisely how and why he became involved.

“I got a call from the State Department in February of 2017, and literally, the call was, ‘This is the State Department, we have a problem.’” he said. “They spoke to me about individuals who began experiencing symptoms late in 2016 with ear pain, ringing in the ear, dizziness and cognitive issues.”

Hoffer said he and his team evaluated 35 personnel in Miami: 25 of those have been exposed to the sounds and were symptomatic, and 10 lived in the same house at the same time as those reporting symptoms but did not appear to be affected. “So they were in the next room and they didn’t get an exposure, they didn’t have any symptoms,” he said.

He then traveled to Cuba, where his team evaluated 105 unaffected embassy personnel. “Those were largely selected for us by the embassy mission, except for a group of U.S. Marines that protect the embassy,” he said. “We requested to see them ourselves, due to my 21 years of active-duty service.”

One important aspect of Hoffer’s research is that he evaluated the affected individuals before there was any media coverage of the event, which could have triggered others into believing they were affected. “This is the only group of individuals who were, in a sense, pure,” he said.

Workers at the U.S. Embassy in Havana leave the building on Sept. 29, 2017, after the State Department announced that it was withdrawing all but essential personnel from the embassy because Cuba could no longer guarantee diplomats’ safety. (Photo: Emily Michot/Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images)
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Hoffer said he has not examined any U.S. diplomats from China, and indicated he wasn’t allowed to speak about other patients he might have seen. “As regards to foreign countries, I can tell you this much: Great Britain, Germany, Canada and France described it potentially being present in their embassy individuals,” he said. “But we either can’t say, or are not allowed to say if we saw any of those individuals.”

Hoffer’s involvement in examining affected personnel is not without controversy, however. A 2011 article in Time magazine titled, “Dr. Frankenstein — or Military Miracle Worker?” detailed allegations that Hoffer had treated U.S. soldiers in Iraq affected by traumatic brain injury with an untested drug, and that he had a financial interest in the treatment. A Department of Defense Inspector General report harshly criticized the study, calling it “inconsistent with military standards for human subject medical research.”

In a congressional hearing Friday to discuss the Cuba health incidents, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, questioned a senior State Department official about the decision to send the affected diplomats to Hoffer, given his previous research.

“Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that our diplomats suffering from ‘concussion-like’ symptoms would be sent to a doctor who apparently did not use standard concussion assessments?” Engel asked Charles Rosenfarb, the State Department’s medical director. “Isn’t that strange?”

“At the time, we felt he was the best qualified person — the recommendations we received to do the initial evaluation,” Rosenfarb replied.

Rosenfarb said that State Department later determined that the injury “was probably not localized to the acoustic system, that it was more kind of a broader brain injury process” and sent the patients to specialists at the University of Pennsylvania.

This is not the first time Congress has expressed concern about the State Department’s handling of the mysterious health issue. Engel, along with committee’s chairman, Rep. Ed RoyceR-Calif., wrote to the State Department late last year asking why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had not initially been involved in reviewing the health incidents.

“I think it’s a no-brainer that as our nation’s top experts on health threats, the CDC, should be at the forefront of this investigation with the appropriate experts deployed in Havana,” Engel said Friday.

The State Department made a formal request to the CDC in December of 2017, according to Rosenfarb, and the agency is now involved. “We have been very happy with CDC to this point,” he said.

But a congressional aide, who asked not to be named, said that CDC’s involvement is still limited. The agency’s personnel went to China as soon as a case was reported there, but they haven’t been to Cuba.

“These are our nation’s top experts,” the aide said. “These are the people who should be looking at it.”

The CDC did not respond to questions about the agency’s involvement. A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the CDC’s involvement.

Hoffer’s involvement is only one aspect of a complex investigation that has given rise to multiple theories, including the possibility that the health issues were caused by exotic weaponry or even just mass hysteria.

While Hoffer’s work is focused primarily on understanding the type of injury causing the symptoms, both he and his colleague on the call Friday seemed to agree that some sort of neuroweapon was used. Their theories for the type of device employed ranged from a directed-energy weapon, such as one using microwaves, to a weaponized microbe or drug designed to cause injury, or a combination of both.

General view of the U.S. Embassy in Havana after the U.S. government pulled more than half of its diplomatic personnel out of Cuba in September 2017. (Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa/Getty Images)
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“Is it possible and probable that drugs alone could do this?” asked James Giordano, a professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University during the call. “Highly unlikely. Is it possible and probable that ultrasonics can do this? Yes, it’s very possible, and it’s probable. Is it possible and probable that electromagnetic pulse devices that would then be propagated either directly or vectored could do this? Yes, it’s very, very possible and very probable.”

Giordano suggested that an attacker could even model a weapon based on the specific dimension of a person’s head. “Could something like this be developed that actually models specific features that could then be precision or personalized? The answer to that question would be yes,” Giordano said. “If you had anthropometric dimensions on a certain individual, that could be extracted, for example, from pictures.”

Carey Balaban, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who worked with Hoffer, says there are commercial off-the-shelf — known as COTS — devices that could be used in such attacks. “When you take a look at the availability of COTS devices, insect-repellent type devices, and the footprint, there could be something that looks like your thermostat inside the house that is one component of a ultrasound and [radio frequency] type of delivery system, and it could just be there,” he said, speaking on the Friday call. “We don’t know.”

While Balaban said it was unclear what type of device was used, the health effects seemed to indicate it was, in fact, a directed-energy weapon, which could result in cavitation — essentially air bubbles — in the inner ear. “If anything else, the Havana Event is a wakeup call for us, we really have to take a look at these kinds of gray area neuroweapons very carefully,” he said.

Yet much of the information that has come out appears to defy any singular technological explanation.

One theory, for example, is the noise diplomats heard was caused by pulsed microwaves, which can create the perception of audible sound, a phenomenon known as the Frey effect, or the “microwave auditory” effect. That theory, however, would be contradicted by the recordings released earlier this year by the Associated Press, since the microwave auditory effect isn’t caused by sound waves.

Writing Friday in Scientific American, Kenneth Foster, who has published on the microwave auditory effect, called this “theory wildly implausible,” because of the energy levels that would have been required. “To actually damage the brain, the microwaves would have to be so intense they would actually burn the subject, which has never happened in any of these incidents,” wrote Foster, a professor of bioengineering at University of Pennsylvania.

Foster instead speculated that a surveillance device could have inadvertently caused the injuries to U.S. personnel, a theory proposed earlier this year by University of Michigan computer scientists. Their theory, which received widespread press attention, is that overlapping ultrasonic devices intended to spy on diplomats inadvertently emitted sounds at a dangerous frequency.

“There’s something funny going on,” Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, who is not involved in any of the medical research into the affected personnel, said in an interview. “Whether the event itself is real or not, the reaction is real.”

While there’s not enough known to make any conclusions, “I still think the Michigan engineers’ theory seems the most plausible,” says Moreno.

Yet even something less exotic — like a surveillance operation gone wrong — has difficulty making sense of all the facts. Why would an accidental injury caused by surveillance devices leave family members in the same household unscathed? How could a perpetrator target individuals as they moved around from room to room, as has been reported? And an interesting twist to many of the theories is a new detail given by Hoffer: When diplomats opened the front door, the sound they heard went away.

Another critical question — particularly one raised by Cuban government officials, who have vigorously denied any involvement — is why would anyone want to injure diplomats? One theory is that someone orchestrated the attack to fracture relations between the United States and Cuba.

The spying material — codes, notebooks, instructions for using them and radio casting procedure — which Tass, the official Soviet news agency, alleges was used by Oleg Penkovsky, a Russian scientific worker accused of spying for Britain and the United States in 1962. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)
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Speaking on the same call Friday, Diane DiEuliis, a senior research fellow at the National Defense University, described these neuroweapons as something that would be “very highly effective” in “gray zones,” where an enemy would use them to have plausible deniability. “Certainly, using these kinds of technologies as a weapon of mass destruction is possible,” she said. “I think what we would be more likely to see as the use of this as a weapon of mass disruption.”

The microwave weapons claims have echoes in the past. In the 1960s, the U.S. government ran a top-secret program to test whether microwaves being beamed at the U.S. embassy in Moscow were intended as mind-control weapons. After several years of research, government scientists concluded the Moscow Signal, as it was called, was being used to activate listening devices in the embassy, rather than controlling diplomats’ minds.

The mystery now, however, is in some ways deeper. The research into the Moscow Signal was sparked by the detection of microwaves, whereas this time, the health effects are what sparked the investigation. And though a number of agencies and outside experts have been consulted on the Cuba health issues, it’s unclear how those efforts are being coordinated, or by whom.

Justin Sanchez, the director of the biological technologies office at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, confirmed that his division was among those asked to look at the Cuba issue. “We understand the brain. We have expertise in this area,” he said in an interview. “If somebody didn’t ask us, I’d be surprised.”

Sanchez declined to say what DARPA’s experts advised. “I don’t know if there’s a definitive answer yet to what’s going on,” he said, when asked what could be the cause.

“Somebody needs to get the bottom of it,” he said.

COURTESY: YAHOO NEWS

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Fire at Brazil National Museum engulfs 200-year-old building

Fire fighters in Rio de Janeiro are battling a fierce blaze that has engulfed the city’s 200-year-old National Museum. The esteemed museum houses millions of items related to Brazil’s history.

    

Watch video00:26

Brazil’s National Museum engulfed by fire

Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro was engulfed by a violent fire on Sunday, putting in jeopardy millions of the country’s most valuable treasures.

Fire fighters in northern Rio de Janeiro continued to battle the blaze into the early hours. It remained unclear what caused the fire.

Television footage showed the fierce flames light up the night sky, as thick plumes of smoke rose out of the burning building.

Brazilian media, citing security officials, said no one was believed to be injured. The museum had already closed by the time the fire broke out in the evening.

In a statement, Brazil’s President Michel Temer said it was “a sad day for all Brazilians.”

“Two hundred years of work, investigation and knowledge have been lost,” Temer added.

Michel Temer

@MichelTemer

Incalculável para o Brasil a perda do acervo do Museu Nacional. Foram perdidos 200 anos de trabalho, pesquisa e conhecimento. O valor p/ nossa história não se pode mensurar, pelos danos ao prédio que abrigou a família real durante o Império. É um dia triste para todos brasileiros

The National Museum, which is tied to the Rio de Janeiro federal university, dates back to 1818 and is one of the oldest museums in South America. The building houses more than 20 million historical artefacts, not just from Brazil but also Egypt, Greece and Rome’s ancient civilizations.

Before becoming a museum, the building served as the residence for the Portuguese Royal Family and later Brazil’s imperial family.

However, despite the building’s rich history, the National Museum’s vice director Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte told Brazil’s Globo news broadcaster that the museum had suffered from chronic underfunding. “Everybody wants to be supportive now,” he said. “We never had adequate support.”

According to reports, Brazil’s state-run development bank, the BNDES, has already pledged some 22 million reais ($5.4 million, €4.7 million) to help “physically restore the historic building.”

Brazil is also struggling to emerge from its worst recession in decades, which was spurred by extensive government mismanagement and corruption, coupled with a steep fall in oil prices.

Watch video05:36

Brazil’s faltering economy

dm/aw (AP, dpa, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

COURTESY: DW

Trump replaces NAFTA and triumphs — New trade deal with Mexico is YUGE win for both countries

President Trump won a major victory on trade on Monday, supplanting the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and replacing it with something far more beneficial. The new deal will help American workers and manufacturers. It’s also a win for Mexico.

One of the most fundamental parts of Trump’s campaign for president was his promise to change America’s deeply flawed trade arrangements.  These deals left us with massive $500 billion trade deficits—a huge drag on the economy—and devastated forgotten communities across America that are dependent on manufacturing jobs.

Second only to the booming economy, Monday’s announcement of a deal with Mexico is the most visible manifestation of Trump’s fulfilment of his campaign promises.  Last year, the USA had a large $71 billion trade in goods deficit with Mexico, owing in part to much lower worker pay.  This new deal will limit Mexico’s ability to take U.S. manufacturing jobs by underpaying workers.

Another key part of the new trade deal increases the percentage of a car that must be made in North America to qualify for lower-tariff import into the USA.  This will be a major boon to American automotive workers and that industry’s domestic supply chain.

Trump understood the simple math that countries with which we have trade deficits would have to come to the negotiating table.

More broadly, the deal vindicates Trump’s approach to trade, which has been lambasted by voices ranging from Wall Street to the national security establishment to the Chamber of Commerce, as well as mavens from both political parties.

They said nothing could come from Trump’s unilateral imposition of tariffs in order to get foreign governments to negotiate seriously.  They said a “trade war” would be self-defeating.

On Monday, they have been proved wrong by an unmitigated victory for the USA.

Trump understood the simple math that countries with which we have trade deficits would have to come to the negotiating table. By definition, we buy more from them than they buy from us, which gives us the power any major consumer has over a seller. These countries also cannot afford to lose access to our $20 trillion economy—the world’s largest. Trump realized the power this gives us and decided to use it to level the playing field for American workers—unlike other recent presidents.

This victory will lead to others.  The leftwing government of Canada, the other member of NAFTA, had refused to negotiate seriously, perhaps believing their friends in the progressive commentariat predicting Trump’s demise.

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, spent most of her time on visits to the U.S. lobbying governors and congressmen rather than talking seriously to our trade negotiators.  Her boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, even though it was a good idea to antagonize Trump at his failed G7 summit in June.

Canada must now return, hat in hand, for a deal.  If not, Trump will advance the deal with Mexico and leave Canada behind.  Today he again vowed to raise car tariffs on Canada if it refuses to revise unfair levies of nearly 300 percent on some American goods, among other unfair practices.

The European Union and China will also be greatly concerned about the Mexico deal—and more likely to negotiate seriously.

Europe last year had a $151 billion surplus with the USA.  When combined with the fact that we pay for most of their defense through NATO, Europe has benefited greatly from past U.S. administrations’ willingness to let Europe leach off of American workers and taxpayers.

The deal with Mexico and Canada’s likely about-face puts pressure on Europe to level the playing field for trade or face higher tariffs.  This is especially true of Germany, one of the world’s most export-dependent major economies.

The same factors apply to China, which is dependent on selling goods to the USA and stealing our companies’ intellectual property.

Trump has utterly flipped the script with China, which our elite effectively told us would supplant us economically and strategically, and with which we had to accept unfair trade factors. Now, China is reeling and American is ascendant. Those who bet on China over the USA chose poorly.

Looking ahead to Trump’s reelection fight in 2020, the win on Mexico and other likely victories will position him extremely well. Trump flipped states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio from Democrat to Republican in 2016 by promising economic prosperity in part by improving trade deals. Delivering on that promise with plenty of time to convey facts to voters means his prospects for reelection look excellent.

Christian Whiton was a senior advisor in the Donald Trump and George W. Bush administrations.  He is a senior fellow for strategy and public diplomacy at the Center for the National Interest and the author of “Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.”

COURTESY: FOX NEWS

Venezuelans flee to Peru as UN warns of a ‘crisis moment’

Thousands of Venezuelans fleeing an economic and humanitarian crisis are streaming across Peru’s border ahead of tighter controls. The UN has said the situation is nearing a “crisis moment” like in the Mediterranean.

    
Venezuelan migrants at the border with Ecuador (picture-alliance/dpa/AP/D. Ochoa)

Venezuelans fleeing economic meltdown and political turmoil have streamed across the Peruvian border, seeking to enter the country before Lima imposes new restrictions.

Peru has taken in nearly 400,000 Venezuelan immigrants, the majority of them arriving in the last year.

Read more: How Venezuela gets plundered

As of Saturday, Peru will require Venezuelans entering the country to produce a passport instead of only an identity card.

To date, 80 percent of Venezuelans have entered Peru with a passport, while 20 percent did so with an identity card, according to the migration data.

Watch video42:31

Venezuela: Escape from a failed state

The new regulations prompted Ecuador to open a “humanitarian corridor” to the Peruvian border, with 35 busloads on the way, Ecuadoran Interior Minister Mauro Toscanini said Friday.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans seeking to enter Peru are at risk of being stranded in Ecuador and Colombia, which are already struggling to cope with the heavy migrant burden.

Some migrants are trying to join family in Peru and other countries.

Eduardo Sevilla, Peru’s top immigration official, said parents with children seeking to join the rest of their family, pregnant women and the ill will be exempt from the passport requirement.

Last week, Ecuador implemented a passport entry requirement as well, only to reverse the decision on Friday.

Colombia’s migration director, Christian Kruger, has said he was “worried about the consequences” of any tighter border controls by his country’s two southern neighbors.

“Asking for a passport isn’t going to stop migration, because they’re leaving their country not out of choice but out of necessity,” he said.

Read more: Multilateral approach needed to contain Venezuela’s refugee crisis, experts warn

Around half of the estimated million Venezuelans who have fled to neighboring Colombia in the past 15 months entered with passports, while the other half entered with only identity cards, according to Kruger.

More than 2.3 million of Venezuela’s 30.6 million population have fled the country since 2014, with 90 percent leaving to other Latin American countries, according to the UN. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil have been hit hardest.

Read more: Drastic new measures for stricken Venezuelan economy

On Friday, the UN’s migration agency warned that the outflow of economic and political migrants was “building to a crisis moment that we’ve seen in other parts of the world, particularly in the Mediterranean.”

“We recognize the growing challenges associated with the large scale arrival of Venezuelans. It remains critical that any new measures continue to allow those in need of international protection to access safety and seek asylum,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Thursday.

UN Geneva

@UNGeneva

outflow “building to a crisis moment that we’ve seen in other parts of the 🌎, particularly the Mediterranean”- IOM’s Joel Millman to press today. Read @refugees+@UNmigration appeal for support to countries receiving Venezuela refugees,migrants: http://bit.ly/2LfryNz 

Oil-rich Venezuela is in the fourth year of an economic downward spiral under President Nicolas Maduro, with double-digit contraction in gross domestic product, industrial production collapse and inflation estimated to hit 1 million percent his year.

cw/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Every evening at 1830 UTC, DW editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

COURTESY: DW

Inflation approaches 1 million percent. The minimum wage will rise 3,500%. This is today’s Venezuela

Inflation approaches 1 million percent. The minimum wage will rise 3,500%. This is today's Venezuela
A man pushes a cart past graffiti reading “Hunger” in Caracas, Venezuela. (Federico Parra / AFP/Getty Images)

 

Maria Celeste Molina warily pulled cash from a downtown ATM and stuffed the bolivars in her purse. Come tomorrow, she had no idea what they might buy.

“I need the cash to travel tomorrow,” the 24-year-old university student said. “But I don’t know if there will be public transport or how much the new fares will be.”

Across this economically hollowed-out country where inflation is approaching 1 million percent and food, medicine, jobs and money are in short supply, residents worried anew as Venezuela’s president hit what many here see as the panic button Monday in an effort to restart a country that once thrived with opportunity.

The nation’s currency — the bolivar — will be devalued, sales taxes increased and minimum wages hiked more than 3,500%, drastic adjustments that President Nicolas Maduro said he hoped would jump-start the economy.

Critics, though, predicted the worst, saying the measures are bound to fail because of rampant corruption in the country, low productivity and crippling U.S. sanctions. Business owners said they can’t possibly afford the 3,670% increase in minimum wages that Maduro requested, and trade groups immediately called for a nationwide strike Tuesday to protest the measures.

People buy groceries at the municipal market of Coche, a neighborhood of Caracas on Aug. 18.
People buy groceries at the municipal market of Coche, a neighborhood of Caracas on Aug. 18. (Federico Parra / AFP/Getty Images)

 

The immediate impact of the measures was difficult to gauge, as Monday was declared a holiday by Maduro so that officials could quickly adjust to his plan. Traffic was light in downtown Caracas and many streets in the capital were reported to be deserted.

Although Venezuela boasts enormous oil riches, crude production — the source of 90% of the country’s exports — has been in steady decline over the last decade. Due to a lack of spare parts and the loss of workers who’ve headed for the borders in search of better lives, the country’s refineries are operating at only one third capacity and — once unthinkable — fuel is now being imported.

Throughout the economy’s slow descent, Maduro, who took power in 2013 following the death of his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez, has blamed the United States for waging an “economic war” against his country, citing sanctions that have blocked access to banking and hampered Venezuela’s ability to purchase oil field and refining equipment.

“We are going to dismantle this perverse capitalist neo-liberal war and install a virtuous economic system [that is] balanced, sustainable, healthy and productive,” Maduro said Sunday night in a televised address from Miraflores, the presidential palace.

But critics say the moribund economy is a reflection of the socialist economic model installed by Chavez: Price controls, import duties and nationalization of companies that were then turned over to inexperienced worker cooperatives all combined to undermine Venezuela’s once-robust productivity

Moreover, Venezuelan productivity in sectors as varied as dairy products and auto manufacturing has been devastated in recent years as the workforce flees. An estimated 2.5 million people, or roughly 7% of the 31 million people who lived in Venezuela in 2016, have poured into Brazil, Colombia and other nearby countries. Social services such as education and healthcare have also been hurt by the departure of teachers, nurses and doctors.

Once welcomed, the Venezuelan migrants are now finding that countries like Peru and Ecuador are tightening their borders, saying they can no longer cope with the crush of humanity. At the Brazilian border town of Pacaraima, citizens attacked a migrant camp over the weekend after a reported stabbing.

Suely Campos, the governor of the Brazilian border state of Roraima, ordered a temporary closing of the border with Venezuela and asked the federal government to send security reinforcements to deal with what she described as “an increase in criminal activity” in the face of rising Venezuelan immigration.

Tensions have risen within Venezuela since an Aug. 4 drone attack on Maduro as he spoke at a military gathering in Caracas. He emerged unhurt from the assassination attempt, which involved two drone-carried bombs that injured seven military personnel.

Maduro blamed the assassination attempt on “right wing” dissidents and paramilitaries whom he said were led by former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Santos, who left office Aug. 7, dismissed the charges as “absurd.”

Nevertheless, the Maduro-controlled supreme court has requested the extradition of opposition congressman Julio Borges and former attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz from Colombian exile as alleged conspirators. National Assembly member Juan Requesens has already been jailed on charges of “attempted magnicide.”

A man shows new 5-bolivar notes in Caracas on Monday.
A man shows new 5-bolivar notes in Caracas on Monday. (Federico Parra / AFP/Getty Images)

 

But for Venezuelans on the street, the major concern is simply surviving another day amid scarcities of food and cash. As he unveiled his new measures, Maduro claimed that a solution could lie in a confusing new currency that will be tied to the virtual “petro” currency whose value in turn is tied to oil reserves.

Exactly how the new currency will affect prices and whether it will halt Venezuela’s rampant hyperinflation is unknown. The “new” bolivar is the same as the previous one — but minus five zeros. Currency markets both inside and outside Venezuela were reported to be chaotic amid the uncertainty, with the value of one U.S. dollar tripling in some cases to 6 million of the old bolivars, or 60 new bolivars to the dollar.

In a bid to quiet potential domestic unrest amid the galloping inflation that has devastated Venezuelans’ purchasing power, Maduro on Friday announced a new set of price controls and a rise in the minimum wage to 180 million bolivars per month, up from 5.2 million. Maduro promised in his address that the government would make up the difference if companies couldn’t come up with the higher wages.

Oil workers union leader Ivan Freites, who is a leader of the strike, said that the new measures will only put more Venezuelans out of work. “Maduro says he will pay the salaries of private sector workers, but we ask how will he do it if the state is broke?”

Antonio Souza, owner of a restaurant in the Venezuelan city of Barquisimeto, said he has no option but to close his eatery and let his 12 workers go.

“I can’t deal with a wage increase of the magnitude that the government approved,” Souza said in a telephone interview. “How high would I have to raise prices to make up for the losses? It’s an unsustainable situation.”

Maduro offered no solutions for healing Venezuela’s oil industry, which generates the lion’s share of revenue needed to keep the government running and to fund its social programs. Lower crude prices over the last three years and the decline in the country’s oil output have added to Maduro’s money crisis.

Special correspondents Mogollon and Kraul reported from Caracas and Bogota, Colombia, respectively.

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