The Crisis In Venezuela

The Crisis In Venezuela Very Well May Escalate Into A Full-Blown Civil War

The key factor in the civil crisis appears to be security forces.

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The past week has seen a tumultuous change in the Venezuelan leadership, with Juan Guaidó, leader of the legislature, declaring himself active president during a continuing period of growing political dissent highlighted by skyrocketing inflation, power cuts, and shortages of food and medicine for the general population. The move has been seen by current President Nicolás Maduro as an attempt to oust his recently elected administration for a second term two weeks prior by foreign powers such as the United States, who had imposed sanctions against Maduro's government for what they considered to be an illegitimate play to control the nation.

A plethora of factors have accounted for the crisis in Venezuela coming to a head recently, powered by a declining economic state and civil unrest that has resulted in more than three million Venezuelans leaving the country, one of the largest forced displacements in the Western hemisphere.

In March 2013, then-Vice President Nicolás Maduro took over the office of the Presidency after the death of President Hugo Chávez, who championed a "21st-century socialism" approach to revolutionizing the economy to win over the hearts and minds of the masses. Chávez's government, which had come to power in 1999 (when Venezuela had huge inequality), attempted to utilize price controls to make basic goods more affordable to the poor by capping the price of flour, cooking oil, and toiletries. However, these policies resulted in a decreased level of domestic production by Venezuelan businesses.

In addition, foreign currency controls implemented in 2003 forced those wanting to exchange bolivars (the main currency of Venezuela) for dollars to utilize a government-run currency agency, with only those deemed to have valid reasons to buy dollars allowed to change their currency at a fixed rate, prompting the general population to the black market.

Maduro then went on to defeat the opposition party, headed by candidate Henrique Capriles, in presidential elections for a six-year term. Capriles later accused Maduro of fraud and called for his supporters to oppose Maduro's presidency. A wave of protests dubbed "The Exit" soon ensued, which led to the arrest of well-known opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. Maduro's first term in office was marked by rising discontent due to prolonged recession and rising inflation due to a drop in oil prices, which eventually lead to the opposition Democratic Unity coalition winning control of Venezuela's legislative body (the National Assembly) in December 2015, for the first time in 16 years.

After a series of anti-government protests that left more than 100 dead, Maduro's government called for a referendum in July 2017 in order to approve the creation of an all-powerful legislative body known as the Constituent Assembly, primarily in order to rewrite the constitution, sparking massive outcry amongst opposition supporters and accusations that Maduro was attempting to undermine democracy. The relationship between the Venezuelan administration and the opposition party continued across 2018, specifically in regards to disagreement over the timing of the next presidential election.

In May 2018, Maduro was reelected for a second six-year term over a lesser-known opposition candidate, but the domestic opposition, backed by the United States and Lima Group of mainly right-leaning Latin American governments, refused to recognize the results. Meanwhile, financial conditions deteriorated as hyperinflation at a staggering 1,300,000% rate marked the 12 months to November 2018 with an IMF forecast of a 10,000,000% inflation rate for 2019.

The United States has placed active pressure on the Venezuelan government to force Maduro aside to allow Juan Guaidó to take charge by imposing sanctions against state oil company PDVSA from collecting proceeds on crude exports to U.S. refineries, thereby cutting off the main source of Venezuelan revenue. The key factor in the civil crisis appears to be security forces who had been loyal to Maduro because of his frequent pay raises and appointment of high-ranking military officials to key posts in industry. Juan Guaidó has promised military personnel amnesty if they break away from Maduro, but only time will tell if the situation will escalate into a full-blown civil war.

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5 Major Issues Facing The United States Today

And why they are so important
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The Land of the Free. The Home of the Brave.

The U.S. is a country that I have always felt lucky to grow up in. We have the strongest passport in the world, best air-traffic control, a powerful influence in international relations, and a stable-ish governmental system. We haven't had violent governmental upheavals lead by dictators (though we could argue we have a fear-mongering president at the moment). As a white, American, middle-class woman, I can't say that I haven't experienced the comforts and privileges of being an American, and I have been grateful for some of them. It's impossible to ignore the shady stuff that the United States government has done though, including displacing an entire indigenous nation in order to take their land and capitalize on its resources.

When we celebrate patriotism in the United States, we sing our national anthem proudly and cheer that we are living in a "free country." There are five particular areas where, compared to other countries, the United States could be doing a lot better. Love for one's country has to be more than a paltry sense of nationalism or a spirit of competition against other nations. It has to be a willingness to admit the faults of the country you live in and fight for not only the rights of you and your family, but for the rights of all inhabitants of the United States.

Here are only five of the many issues I think the government needs to address to move in the right direction, since it feels like we've been moving backwards since November 2016.

1. First off, the quality of education in America varies widely depending on the location of a school and its financial resources.

According to The Atlantic, one in four American students don't meet the base-level of math competency as observed in PISA surveys where global education is reviewed. The U.S. ranks 26th out of the 34 surveyed countries in mathematics scores. The Socio-economic status of the students and schools surveyed has a lot to do with this low score. Additionally, there is not a clear set of curriculum besides for Math, Sciences, Reading, and Writing courses (as well as gym classes), that seem to be required. Private schools can adjust this curriculum how they see fit. Some schools can't afford to train their teachers to teach AP classes or hire enough faculty to actually benefit their students. Once again it seems like the more money you have, the better education you'll get for your kids. Students in inner city schools are more likely to be educationally disadvantaged compared to those that live in wealthier suburbs.

2. Parental Leave

The U.S. is still one of the only industrialized countries that does not have paid leave for the parents of newborns. Less than 2o percent of employers in America offer fully paid maternity leave. My parents were lucky that my grandmother lived ten minutes away so that I never had to go to an infant day care or anything of the kind as a toddler. Most families go into debt when one of the parents has to quit their job or pay for nannies and day care because they can't earn a salary when they decide to stay home for their children. Countries like Russia, the Netherlands, France, and Spain offer 100 percent pay to their workers and over 100 days of parental leave. The US, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea are the only countries that do not require parents to take a paid leave. Apparently raising families in America is only practical if you're wealthy.

3. Climate Change

With this week's headliner being Trump's pulling out of the Paris Accords, the U.S. is in a climate crisis. The first major anti-environmental awareness move that Trump made was to appoint Scott Pruitt, a known skeptic of climate change, to the head of the EPA. Pruitt believes that putting the federal government in charge of addressing climate change is a mistake, and this moronic thinking is only reinforced by Trump's promises to increase fossil fuel productions in the U.S. in order to make the world better for the American people. Now that he's pulled out of the Paris Accords, an agreement between countries to lower their emissions, Trump is making certain that the U.S. won't have to play by the rules, and this will undoubtedly cause irreperable damage to the environment, and to foreign relations.

3. Mental Health Awareness

This issue is less talked about on the political level in the U.S. We live in a country that is largely dominated by Western, Christian thought, and in more superstitious, less-educated communities, mental illness is no more than a sign of evil in the world with no cure. Many teenagers reach a breaking point when they go away to college, and suddenly realize that they suffer from extreme anxiety, depression, OCD, and other disorders, which can all be easily hidden when they are high-functioning disorders. Sadly, states have cut back funding for mental healthcare by $5 billion between 2009 and 2012. Mental healthcare is the hardest medical service to get access to in the United States, and almost 90 million Americans live in areas where there is a shortage of mental healthcare professionals.



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Brunei's Brutal New Penal Code Punishes Gay People By Stoning To Death

Defining being gay as a crime is appalling; likewise that a country would sentence gay people to stoning at this point in time.

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Recently, many celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John, have taken to social media to urge a boycott of certain hotels. These hotels are owned by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah. The purpose of the boycott is to protest Brunei's new penal code, which employs overly harsh punishments for acts that are normally not regarded as crimes.

Most notably, people can be stoned to death for having gay sex or an extramarital affair.

More specifically, stoning is used for gay men, while sex between two women is punished by whipping. Adultery, anal sex, and abortion will also be punished by stoning. Other punishments include amputation of limbs for theft and the death penalty for rape or heresy. It's clear why these celebrities are outraged at Brunei's new law.

The news of Brunei's penal code comes as a shock, especially in 2019. The law employs punishments that are very much outdated and easily defined as barbaric. Furthermore, these punishments apply to anyone who has reached puberty, even those who are considered minors by Western standards, and young children can still be whipped as punishment. These punishments are needlessly brutal. Punishments such as the amputation of limbs are irreversible and leave a permanent impact on a person for even a minor transgression.

The actions included in the penal code do not warrant such harsh punishments. Criminalizing sexual identity is appalling; likewise that a country would sentence gay people to stoning at this point in time. This seems to be the main focus of the celebrities who have spoken out against Brunei, and for good reason. While steps have been made worldwide towards equal rights for members of the LGBTQ+ community, Brunei's penal code is a huge step backward.

While it's good to keep the list of hotels to boycott in mind, for those of us who aren't traveling very often, the best thing to do is to speak out and bring attention to the injustice of Brunei's penal code. The penal code was initially delayed by international protest, and spreading the word and making Brunei's law widely known can make the difference in pressuring the country to change the law. This is an issue that requires immediate attention and action. Brunei's penal code is unjust and a hindrance to the progress being made towards marriage equality and LGBTQ+ rights.

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