- Power outages in Venezuela have left much of the country in the dark, hindering humanitarian efforts, and killing 21 people.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will be removing diplomats from Venezuela citing the “deteriorating situation” in the country as a reason.
U.S. to Withdraw Diplomats
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the U.S. would withdraw all diplomats from Venezuela as the country faces nationwide power outages.
Pompeo announced the decision in a tweet, writing, “the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy.”
This move is especially significant because the last line of the tweet could indicate that the U.S. is considering using military force, an option President Trump and his administration have repeatedly indicated is still on the table.
The removal of U.S. diplomats is also a big deal because the U.S. has continually said it will keep essential diplomatic staff in Venezuela. The effort to withdraw diplomatic personnel could indicate that the U.S. government may feel the situation is out of control.
Sweeping Blackouts in Venezuela
Meanwhile, most of Venezuela has been without power for almost a week now.
On Saturday, yet another wave of protests swept Caracas as opposition protestors came out to demonstrate against a nationwide blackout that has left almost all of the country in the dark since last Thursday.
The blackouts reportedly stem from an unspecified problem in Venezuela’s primary hydroelectric power plan, Guri.
Guri is a massive plant, supplying power to 4 out of 5 Venezuelans, and the problem allegedly came from a substation based in the center of the country.
Unsurprisingly, the power outages have made the humanitarian problems in Venezuela even worse.
Water pumps have been affected in parts Caracas, leaving people to fill water bottles at sewage pipes. Long lines of cars and citizens can be seen waiting for gas at the few gas stations that are still open, while transportation networks like subways have been shut down.
Much of Venezuela’s telecommunications networks have been entirely knocked out. Most alarming is the impact on hospitals and medical facilities, which already face medicine shortages, and now are struggling to keep patients alive.
Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who has been declared interim president, stated on Sunday that 17 people had died due to the blackouts, referring to the deaths as “murders.”
Then on Monday, The Guardian reported that at least 21 people, six of whom were babies, had died as a result of the blackouts.
It is still unclear how many people have died and how many people are affected by the blackouts, with contradictory reports of how much power has been restored to different parts of the country.
Also still disputed is what exactly caused the outage at the hydroelectric plant.
On Saturday, Nicolás Maduro claimed that the blackout was caused by cyberattacks launched by the opposition with “the support and assistance of the US.” Then, in a speech on Monday, Maduro stated: “The United States’ imperialist government ordered this attack.”
Maduro’s Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez additionally claimed that the blackout was caused by right-wing extremists under the direction of Senator Marco Rubio.
Maduro and his ministers have not provided any evidence for these claims.
Guaidó has disputed this assertion, arguing that blackouts were caused by years of underinvestment in energy infrastructure.
Guaidó’s claim has been broadly supported by energy experts and Venezuelan power sector contractors who have said that in addition to underinvestment, the blackouts are also a result of corruption and brain drain from the energy sector.
Venezuela’s electrical system used to be one of the best in Latin America, but now it is in poor shape after years of improper maintenance and mismanagement.
Venezuelan officials have been accused of stealing government money earmarked for the electrical system. Blackouts have become fairly frequent in Venezuela. However, a blackout of this scale and magnitude has not been seen for many years. S
On Monday, the opposition government declared a state of emergency.
It remains unclear when Venezuela will regain power, especially now as both sides continue to add political charge to the issue.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Guardian) (New York Times)
Venice Mayor Blames Worst Flood in 50 Years on Climate Change
- The Italian government declared a state of emergency in Venice after the city experienced its second-worst flooding in almost 150 years of flood records.
- Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro blames the floods that have grown increasingly common over the last few decades on climate change.
- While the flood peaked at over six feet, it has receded some; however, parts of the city are still four feet underwater.
- The flood has reportedly caused structural damage to major landmarks like St. Mark’s Basilica.
Second Worst Flood on Record
The Italian government declared a state of emergency on Thursday as 85% of Venice sits underwater.
On Tuesday night, a combination of high tide, strong winds, and a full moon led to seawater overwhelming seawalls and flooding the city. The flood, which is the second-worst on record in almost 150 years, peaked at more than six feet; however, it came only a couple of inches shy of beating the record-breaking 1966 floods.
Wind and water reportedly slammed boats onto streets in the city, which is only about three feet above sea level. In some cases, boats hit streets so violently that they dislodged bricks and stones. By Wednesday morning, many of those boats sat on the streets.
As water gushed into the city, it flooded homes, stores, and hotels. In some instances, water spewed out of toilets as pipes backed up.
There have also been reports of power outages across the city. Reportedly, one 78-year-old man died after being electrocuted by a short circuit in his home.
Schools were canceled on Wednesday and again on Thursday.
“The disaster that hit Venice is a blow to the heart of our country,” Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte said in a Facebook post. “It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised, its business activities on its knees.”
All of that presents another massive problem as floodwater damages major landmarks in the city. People described St. Mark’s Square as a lake, with the floodwater also reaching St. Mark’s Basilica, which along with Venice is part of a World Heritage Site.
The archbishop of Venice, Francesco Morgalia, said St. Mark’s is now suffering structural damage and that the water is causing “irreparable harm.” The flood has also further damaged marble that was already showing signs of water and salt damage.
Although the basilica has only flooded six times since it was built in 1063, the last four of those times have all been within the past 20 years, with the most recent being in November 2018.
“Venice is an emblem for the whole country,” Venice’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, said in a press conference on Wednesday. “We are no longer talking about a local problem, but a worldwide one.”
“There were people who were crying today because they’ve lost everything, and we’re not talking about the poor,” he added. “The point is that there is no longer certainty. You no longer know how to live, and if we want to repopulate, we want to give certainty. It’s the life of the city itself, the future of the city.”
The Floods’ Connection to Climate Change
On Twitter, Brugnaro also said that the floods are a result of climate change, and climate scientists have agreed.
Similar to the current fires in Australia, scientists say the world is seeing more extreme weather events.
As polar ice caps continue to melt, ocean and sea levels have begun to rise. In Venice alone, city officials said the sea level is four inches higher than it was 50 years ago. In addition to that, Venice sunk five inches between 1950 and 1970 and continues to sink at a rate of half an inch per year.
Climate scientists predict the city will be underwater by the end of the century.
Venice’s expected flooding season, known as “acqua alta,” also carries strong winter winds that can be made even stronger by the effects of climate change.
All of those factors can then produce higher and more devastating tides.
Since the record-breaking 1966 flood, Venice has seen almost 20 floods peaking at over four-and-a-half feet.
“The [increased flooding] is a trend that jibes with the extremization of climate,” the former head of Venice’s Tide Monitoring and Forecast Centre said. “If we look at the course of history, we have documents dating back to 1872, and we can see that these phenomena didn’t used to exist.”
Venice’s Floodgate Project
While Venice does have seawalls to help reduce flooding, there’s actually been a lot of controversy around the city’s new floodgates.
Since 2003, the city has been trying to complete a more than $6 billion dollar effort to build 78 underwater floodgates. That project, MOSE, would temporarily isolate the lagoon from the sea during flood season, but it has also been plagued by cost burdens and corruption scandals.
Because of that, it has been delayed multiple times and even missed its 2018 deadline. Currently, MOSE is projected to be completed by 2022.
Following the flood, Brugnaro said MOSE must be completed soon. On Thursday, Regarding the MOSE project, Conte also said that the “commitment to Venice is total”.
He said he hopes the floodgates are at least partially functional by the 2022 deadline.
“The situation in this unique city is dramatic,” he added. “Lots of money has been spent.”
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Fox News) (NPR)
Hong Kong Police Battle Protesters on College Campus as Chinese Students Flee the City
- University students in Hong Kong won control of a bridge from riot police Tuesday night after a day of dramatic and violent clashing.
- The situation follows the first official death in Hong Kong where a student fell from a parking garage while protesters were being dispersed by police.
- Some universities have canceled their semesters early and others have suspended classes, prompting many students originally from mainland China to flee over the Hong Kong border.
Battle at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong gained control over a bridge near the Chinese University of Hong Kong Tuesday night after a day-long dramatic clash with police.
The incident started when police began to occupy the bridge, signaling a shift in an unspoken rule to leave universities alone.
Student protesters then set up a barricade on campus to keep police from entering. Following that, the two groups began to clash, with students throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails while police fired multiple rounds of tear gas at the protesters. Police also physically wrestled some of the protesters to the ground as students yelled at police to leave the campus.
After the first clash, the protesters retreated to an athletic field and locked the gate. Police then continued to fire tear gas by lobbing it over the gate. At one point, the field reportedly caught fire and the students retreated to bleachers.
The ongoing violence then prompted the university’s president, Rocky Tuan, to try and act as a common ground between students and police.
At one point during those negotiations, a man walked down the street while revving a chainsaw, but a group of protestors then convinced that man to put down the chainsaw and enveloped him in a hug.
Later, Tuan struck a deal with police, saying that university security would guard the bridge instead of police if students dispersed and stopped throwing objects onto the highway below the bridge. That then prompted students to ask why police were even on campus. Refusing to disperse, protesters then asked about the safety of those who had been arrested.
The battle over the bridge continued into the night as more clashes broke out with protesters carrying umbrellas, shields, barricades while police filled the area with tear gas and fired rubber bullets.
Other protesters threw more Molotov cocktails at police in an attempt to gain ground while people used leaf blowers to blow away the tear gas. Some students even practiced firing flaming arrows from bows.
We’re almost to the other side of the bridge now pic.twitter.com/oELMRXlGnk— Rosalind Adams (@RosalindZAdams) November 12, 2019
Students later retreated after police fired a water cannon.
We’re almost to the other side of the bridge now pic.twitter.com/oELMRXlGnk— Rosalind Adams (@RosalindZAdams) November 12, 2019
Soon after, however, they then came back and ultimately forced police to retreat. Students pushed forward and built more barriers with golf carts and a burned-out car to hold their ground gained.
I legit don’t even know how they did this but protesters just carried the burnt out car that was on fire earlier this afternoon to the bridge?? And added it to the barrier, and cheered when they lifted it and tipped it on its side pic.twitter.com/sEs5yHslDR— Rosalind Adams (@RosalindZAdams) November 12, 2019
Protesters remained on the bridge throughout the night while passing supplies to each other and making more Molotov cocktails in case police came back.
Chinese Students Flee Hong Kong
On Wednesday morning, the Chinese University of Hong Kong ended its semester early. It was originally scheduled to end its semester on Nov. 30.
Another university also suspended its on-campus semester and switched to online classes. At the same time, other universities suspended classes for a week.
Additionally, Hong Kong canceled all schools in the city on Thursday due to transportation and safety reasons.
As universities canceled classes, students originally from mainland China fled over the Hong Kong border with the help of police.
While those students said they had felt safer on campus than in the streets, some said many of them didn’t openly express pro-China views on campus. Those students also said they felt the need to avoid talking loudly in Mandarin, which is the main language in China.
On the other side of the border, hotels offered those students free rooms, with some of those hotels filling to near capacity.
What Led to Tuesday’s Clash?
Tuesday’s clash between student protesters and riot police comes after the death of student Chow Tsz-lok, who went by the name Alex. Chow’s death is the first death from clashes that have been consistently escalating since they began nearly six months ago.
Chow died while demonstrating with other protesters at a parking garage on Nov. 4. When police tried to break up that crowd, Chow reportedly fell one story from the structure.
Chow sustained head and pelvis injuries and was rushed to the hospital; however, he died from his injuries on Nov. 8.
Later that same day, students at Chow’s university held a vigil and an on-campus march for him. Protesters held other vigils across the city, including at the parking garage where Chow fell.
Protesters called for an investigation into the use of force by riot police, which has been one of the five key demands of the protesters.
As protesters called for revenge, some of the demonstrations that night once again became violent.
On Monday, another protester was shot several times, this time at point-blank range. Other protesters shouted at that officer and called him a murderer. That officer then doused the crowd with pepper spray.
That same day, protesters set a different man on fire after he reportedly yelled at them, telling them they lacked patriotism for mainland China.
Hospital officials said both those men were in critical condition.
In October, both an 18-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy were shot by police.
What is the Hong Kong Government Doing?
Last month, the extradition bill that sparked the protests was finally formally withdrawn. Still, that’s not enough for these protesters. They are also calling for complete amnesty, a retraction of the official characterization of the protests as “riots,” and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
On Nov. 24, Hong Kong is scheduled to hold elections; however, those elections have also faced controversy as Hong Kong has barred a prominent pro-democracy activist from running. Other pro-democracy lawmakers and candidates have been arrested, and one pro-China lawmaker was stabbed.
Also because of all of the violence, there is some worry that those elections might not end up happening. Lam has said she will do everything possible to ensure that elections are fair and safe, saying on Tuesday that the government “hopes that the elections can continue as planned.”
Also on Tuesday, the pro-China newspaper The People’s Daily—which has acted as a mouthpiece for Beijing—said that elections should only proceed if calm is restored to Hong Kong.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Wall Street Journal) (BuzzFeed News)
As Two Australian States Declare Emergencies, Scientists Warn that Climate Change is Making the Country’s Fire Season Worse
- Fires raging in Australia have forced officials to declare a state of emergency in New South Wales and Queensland.
- The greater Sydney area is facing a “catastrophic” level warning, the highest level in the country and the first time it has been issued in the city since implemented after the 2009 Black Saturday fires.
- While scientists have said the fires are a result of worsening climate change, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister has said the concern should be on people losing their homes, not “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city Greenies.”
States of Emergency Declared
Nearly 90 fires are raging in New South Wales, Australia, with more than half of them considered uncontained, promoting Australian officials to declare a state of emergency Monday.
Fear mounted on Tuesday over a concern that a cold front might shift the direction of the fires that span along 620 miles of Australia’s eastern coastline.
The fires, which began in early September, have forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes with more being warned to be prepared to leave, if necessary. More than 150 properties have been destroyed since the beginning of the fire season.
Over the weekend, the death toll rose to three people.
According to the BBC, authorities called this week “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.”
Alongside New South Wales’ state of emergency, around 600 schools have shut down. Planes are spraying some homes and trees with flame retardant.
On Tuesday, as the fires encroached upon Sydney, Australia’s most populous city. The city’s skyline sat under a blanket of smoke as some of the fires reportedly reached suburbs as close as nine miles away from the city center.
Experts compared the day’s forecast to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in the state of Victoria, which killed 173 people.
The greater Sydney area is now under a “catastrophic” level-warning, which is the highest level warning for fires. It is also the first time Sydney has been hit with such a grave warning since the system was implemented after the Black Saturday Fires.
Queensland, which has also declared a state of emergency, reported 55 fires on Tuesday. While its fires were not considered as severe at the moment, officials warned that could change with little notice.
Bushfires Start as Bad “Omen” in September
While the bushfires started as part of Australia’s expected fire season, they were exacerbated by drought and high winds.
This season’s drought is particularly bad, but Australia’s east coast has actually seen below-average rainfall over the past two years.
In Queensland, more than 50 fires burned in early September.
Reports estimated more than 20 buildings destroyed within days of the start of the season. The destroyed property also included the historic Binna Burra Lodge in Lamington National Park.
“We’ve never seen this before in recorded history, fire weather has never been as severe this early in spring,” Andrew Sturgess, an inspector with Queensland emergency services, said in September.
Sturgess also called the fire a potential omen for worse to come, which proved to be true.
How Are the Fires Related to Climate Change?
Climate scientists have associated Australia’s worsening fire season with climate change. Those scientists predict Australia’s bushfires will only continue to become more frequent and more intense as climate change worsens.
They also say that Australia is particularly susceptible to climate change because of its vast interior desert combined with rapidly-heating ocean currents surrounding the country.
“There’s a human fingerprint on the temperature increases since 1950 — all the weather patterns are occurring in a planet that is warming and warming because of human activity,” Joëlle Gergis, a climate scientist and writer from the Australian National University, told the New York Times.
“We’re really missing the opportunity to prepare for future life in Australia. It’s going to be a lot warmer, and we’re going to see a lot of prevalence of extreme fire conditions,” she added. “The further we kick the can down the road and avoid these conversations, we’re really missing the opportunity to get the Australian public ready for what is upon us.”
Australia’s Reliance on Coal
On top of climate change, Australia is at odds with its deep ties to coal, with the country’s primary energy consumption still being dominated by coal.
According to the Australian government, the country still relies on coal for 40% of its energy. It’s also the largest coal exporter in the world and has fallen behind on its promise in the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions.
Because of that, Australia has seen a number of dramatic protests over the last couple of months. In October, a man chained himself to railroad tracks while holding a sign reading, “Australia has the worst record of species extinction in the whole world.”
A couple of weeks ago, protesters locked arms to stop people from entering a mining conference. They were then forcibly dispersed by police using pepper spray.
Speaking with ABC Radio National on Monday, however, deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack denied that these fires are related to climate change.
“We’ve had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding and real assistance – they need help, they need shelter,” he said.
“They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlighted, and woke capital city Greenies at this time when they’re trying to save their homes,” he added after he was asked why it was wrong to discuss climate change while the fires raged.”
Following McCormack’s interview, the mayor of the New South Wales town of Glen Innes challenged his statement.
“It is not a political thing — it is a scientific fact that we are going through climate change,” Mayor Carol Sparks said. “I think that Michael McCormack needs to read the science.”