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U.S. Removes Diplomats From Venezuela Amid Nationwide Power Outages

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 […]

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  • 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.

Unknown Cause

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. Some are even calling the worst blackout in the country’s history.

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)

International

Anti-Asian Hate Crimes on the Rise in British Columbia

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  • A report given to Canadian police in Vancouver, British Columbia last week showed a 717% in hate crimes against Asians over the last year and a 97% increase in hate crimes overall.
  • Prosecutors have been urged to more seriously pursue hate crime charges, despite them being harder to prove in court.
  • The trend has been mirrored in Ontario, another Canadian province with significant Asian populations.

Massive Surges in Hate Crimes

The U.S. has struggled with anti-Asian hate crimes over the last year, especially in municipalities like New York City, which reported upwards of a 1,900% increase from one incident to 19 within the year.

However, the U.S. isn’t the only country dealing with the issue. Similar trends have been reported in Canada as well. A report given to the Vancouver police board last week found that in 2019, there were just 12 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes reported in the city. In 2020, there was 98, which marks a 717% increase. Those numbers helped drive the stats of hate crimes in the city up 97% overall.

To be clear, crime overall has been on the rise, likely fueled by struggling local economies dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Hard To Pursue Charges

The report has caused Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth to push local prosecutors to seek more hate crime charges.

The region has failed to actually bring charges for most reported hate incidents, with the past year only seeing just one charge filed despite police evidence of such hate crimes. The issue at hand is that adding a hate crime charge makes getting a conviction much harder.

The incidents have led to a push for more strict anti-racism legislation in the province, a position that John Horgan, the British Columbian Premier, has pushed for as far back as June 2020.

British Columbia, according to an assortment of Asian-Canadian advocacy groups, has the most incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes, followed by Ontario. This is especially notable because they are the number two and number one locations of Asian populations in Canada, respectively.

See what others are saying: (Vancouver Sun) (CBC) (CTV News)

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Japan Appoints ‘Minister of Loneliness’ To Combat Rising Suicide Rates

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  • Earlier this month, Japan appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as the country’s Minister of Loneliness, tasked with addressing rising suicide rates.
  • Suicides were declining worldwide, except in the U.S., ahead of the coronavirus pandemic but have since seen startling spikes.
  • In October, Japan reported 400 more suicide deaths than all COVID-19 related deaths in the nation until that point.
  • While suicide cases among men in Japan are higher, the country has seen a drastic increase in suicides among women, who are more likely to have unstable work that is susceptible to market disruptions from the coronavirus.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Loneliness Is a Rising Issue

Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshinori appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as its Minister of Loneliness earlier this month.

Sakamoto is already in charge of combating Japan’s declining birthrate and regional revitalization efforts, but his new role will see him combating Japan’s rising suicide rate. Suicides were actually on the decline in Japan until the COVID-19 pandemic, which has drastically exacerbated the issue.

That trend reached a milestone in October 2020 when Japan suffered 2,153 suicides – nearly 400 more than all COVID-19 related deaths in Japan until that point. Currently, monthly suicides no longer exceed the total amount of deaths from COVID-19, as Japan faced an outbreak at the end of the year and has over 7,500 COVID-19 deaths.

Even though monthly suicides no longer outstrip total coronavirus deaths, the rate hasn’t let up. While men still make up the vast majority of suicides, there’s been a drastic increase in women taking their own lives. Between October 2020 and October 2019 there was a 70% increase in female suicides.

According to Ueda Michiko, a Japanese professor at Waseda University who studies suicides, women are particularly affected because they often have more unstable employment that is more susceptible to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

She went to tell Insider, “A lot of women are not married anymore. They have to support their own lives and they don’t have permanent jobs. So, when something happens, of course, they are hit very, very hard.”

Internationally Suicides on the Rise

Sakamoto hasn’t outlined any specific plans to combat loneliness in Japan, but he has a blueprint to work from as he’s not the world’s first Minister of Loneliness. The U.K. appointed one in 2018 after a report found more than 9 million Brits said that they often or always felt lonely.

But the job doesn’t seem very easy or desirable, as the U.K. has gone through three ministers of loneliness since then.

COVID-19 has been a massive disruption to suicide rates globally, which had actually been steadily declining for decades. The notable exception to this is the United States, which has faced increases nearly every year since 1999 adding up to almost a 30% total increase over the past two decades.

If you’re in the U.S. and feeling suicidal or have thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

For reader across the globe, here are resources in your nation.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (NDTV) (Insider)

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Thailand Pushes Marijuana as Next Cash Crop

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  • The Thai government issued a statement Sunday urging farmers to grow cannabis as a cash crop.
  • A relatively small amount of farmers currently grow the crop for the nation’s medical marijuana industry, but state-run entities are now offering to buy it for $1,500 per kilogram, which is exponentially higher than other cash crops.
  • For reference, a staple like rice goes for about $1 per kilogram.
  • While other countries in the region have followed Thailand’s footsteps in approving medical cannabis, no others allow local farmers to grow the plant.

Underlying Shift in Region

In a drastic change for marijuana policy across Asia, the Thai government made announcements on Sunday that pushed for farmers to grow marijuana as a cash crop for the country’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry.

The decision is in stark contrast to much of East and Southeast Asian marijuana policy, which often features extreme punishments for trafficking the drug, and nearly as harsh punishments for using it recreationally or for medical purposes.

Thailand was the first to approve cannabis for medical use at the end of 2018, with the law practically going into effect in 2019. Since then, according to deputy government spokesperson Traisuleee Traisoranakul, “…2,500 households and 251 provincial hospitals have grown 15,000 cannabis plants.”

“We hope that cannabis and hemp will be a primary cash crop for farmers.”

Worth Its Weight in Gold

The push for more farmers to partake in the marijuana industry comes after hospitals and the nation’s state-run pharmaceutical company found that they needed more of the plant. Currently, the government’s pharma company is hoping that their price of $1500 for 1 kilo of marijuana that contains 12% cannabidiol (CBD) will be enough incentive.

That’s considerably more than what the government pays for other staple crops, such as rice, which goes for about $1 per kilogram.

Additionally, the government also announced that marijuana can now be used in foods and beverages at restaurants as long as it comes from an approved producer. This opens the door for a tourism industry akin to Amsterdam’s coffee shops

While Thailand is leading the way when it comes to marijuana policy, other nations in the region are following in their footsteps. In 2019, South Korea approved the plant and its derivatives for medical use, and Japan has opened the door for clinical research into the drug and its compounds. Still, those nations require that THC and CBD be imported, and their use is heavily restricted.

Thailand’s move to cultivate a homegrown marijuana industry is a huge shift and will likely help the nation secure a hold in the growing industry, which the industry marketing firm Market Research Future believes will be worth over $50 billion by 2025.

See what others are saying: (Bangkok Post) (Reuters) (Chiangrai Times)

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