WHILE YOU SLEPT

Venezuela, Democracy Or Dictatorship?

The shoes were clearly too big for him to fill. Three-and-a-half years after Hugo Chávez’s death, his successor Nicolás Maduro is losing an already loose grip on the helm of his country. A disastrous economic and social crisis is turning into a political one, and the country’s long-suffering opposition feels primed to remove him from power.

Anti-government protests now appear to be reaching a critical juncture after a policeman was shot dead yesterday by demonstrators in Caracas, while two other officers and several protesters were injured, along with dozens of arrests, El Universal reports. The opposition called for a nationwide strike tomorrow, and for a protest march on the presidential palace next week Thursday.

The current turmoil in Venezuela, and Maduro’s way of dealing with it, are blurring the lines between democracy and dictatorship â€" a bitterly ironic reversal for what was once a strong democracy in a Latin American continent otherwise dominated by authoritarian regimes.


This is the state of affairs described by Colombian professor Ronal F. Rodríguez in an op-ed column for El Espectador, available in English onWorldcrunch: “Classifying Venezuela as a dictatorship or democracy has not been easy these last years,” he writes. “The country ruled by Chávez was neither entirely democratic, nor dictatorial. The presence of an opposition that could compete in elections, though often in unequal conditions, made this rather a moderately authoritarian system. But the picture has changed since Chávez's death.”

Unlike the Venezuelan opposition, Rodríguez stops short of calling Maduro a dictator. But he does warn that the regime is “openly flirting with dictatorial practices,” causing as a result “alarm across a continent where democratic ideals are still far from written in stone.”


WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY


TWO EARTHQUAKES HIT ITALY

Two earthquakes, the first of magnitude 5.4 and the other one much stronger at 6.1, hit central Italy in quick succession yesterday evening. Both were aftershocks of the devastating quake that hit the same region in August, killing nearly 300 people. According to news agency Ansa, there have been at least 200 smaller earthquake since yesterday, with more than 30 of them above magnitude 3. There have been no reports of casualties so far but some locations have suffered extensive damage, and the Civil Protection Agency in the Marche region said they feared many of the homes that still stood after the August earthquake would now likely be uninhabitable. A map, published by Corriere della Sera, shows that much of the Italian peninsula is at high or very high risk of seismic events.

U.S. PREPARING RAQQA OFFENSIVE …

U.S. forces and their allies are preparing for an offensive on Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria, CNN reports. They will be ready for battle “in a matter of weeks,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters yesterday, before adding “and not many weeks.”

… AS BATTLE FOR MOSUL RAGES ON

ISIS fighters are putting up a fierce resistance on the southern side of Mosul and have so far been able to hold up Iraqi troops, some 20 miles south of the city, according to Reuters. In a sign that the terrorist group won’t accept defeat easily, reports emerged of dozens of prisoners executed as ISIS fighters retreat.

â€" ON THIS DAY

Wishing a happy birthday to one of the most eccentric Italian directors ... That, and more, in today's 57-second shot of history.

BREAKTHROUGH ON CANADA-EU FREE TRADE DEAL

A Canadian delegation led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced it had cancelled a planned trip to Brussels with EU-Canada negotiations on a trade deal blocked overnight. But by midday local time, Belgian daily Le Soir was reporting a breakthrough to overcome the opposition to the deal of Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium.

58%

Global wildlife population plummeted by 58% between 1970 and 2012, the World Wildlife Fund reveals in a shocking new report. If current trends continue, two-thirds of the world’s mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles will have disappeared by the end of the decade, compared to 1970 levels, with conservationists warning of a “mass extinction.”

â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Iran has had enough of Justin Bieber and the Great Satan corporate powers turning out such sinful teenage beats … To combat the Canadian-born singer’s “adolescent antics,” the country is organizing its own awards: “The organizer of the first Grand Prize for Revolutionary Music, Mohsen Tehrani, told ISNA news agency this week that the program's goal is to foster collaboration between songwriters and musicians and promote musical excellence. It is also looks to ‘vaccinate’ youngsters against the West's pop culture intrusions, which threaten ‘fundamentalist and family-oriented’ societies like Iran's, he said.”

Read more about it, exclusively in English by Worldcrunch: Iran’s Next Target: Justin Bieber.

SAMSUNG PROFITS TUMBLE AFTER NOTE 7 FIASCO

Samsung’s operating profit between July and September fell by more than 30% compared to last year, as a result of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone’s debacle. Profits for the South Korean company’s mobile division alone suffered a 96% year-on-year decline.

â€" MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Far From The Pharaoh â€" Cairo, 1990

MYANMAR IS THE WORLD’S MOST GENEROUS COUNTRY

For the third year in a row, Myanmar proved to be the world’s most generous country. Second-placed United States is among the five G20 nations to have made to top 20.

MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH

BACK TO BACK TO BLACK

English singer Amy Winehouse’s second and final studio album Back To Black came out 10 years ago today. For The Atlantic, pop culture specialist Spencer Kornhaber dives into the record’s “enduring sadness.”

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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