Welcome to Friday, where U.S. and Russian top officials are meeting today in Geneva as tensions mount over Ukraine, rock and Rocky Horror fans mourn Meat Loaf and a 19-year-old flies solo around the world. Meanwhile, from Bogota-based daily El Espectador, we see how an old text reveals new insights to late Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ambiguous history as a “wandering Sandinista.”
[*Nĭ hăo - Mandarin]
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• U.S.-Russia talks in Geneva: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are meeting today in Switzerland amidst growing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Despite denying a planned attack, Russia has gathered some 100,000 on the Ukrainian border, as Blinken has insisted that U.S. and European allies are unified in leveling severe sanctions against Moscow in event of an invasion.
• U.S. charges Belarusian officials with air piracy: Four officials from Belarus face prosecution by the U.S. Justice Department because of the forced landing of a Ryanair jet last year carrying opposition figure Roman Protasevich. The plane, which was flying from Athens to Vilnius, was diverted to Minsk after a fake bomb threat, a scheme allegedly concoted by the Belarusian officials. Protasevich, a journalist, was arrested along with his girlfriend and remains under house arrest.
• COVID update: The fear of an outbreak in Tonga (which has only reported one case during the whole pandemic) is disrupting aid to the Pacific Island nation in the aftermath of a volcano eruption and tsunami. In Germany, an increasing number of anti-vaxxers are joining in protests against the country’s potential plan to make the vaccine mandatory. Meanwhile, Austria becomes the first country in Europe to pass a vaccine mandate for adults.
• Eleven Iraqi soldiers killed by ISIS: The Islamic State group targeted the soldiers in an overnight attack at their base in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala.
• Road accident sparks deadly explosion in Ghana: A truck full of explosives collided with a motorcycle in a western Ghanaian town, killing 17, injuring dozens and damaging hundreds of buildings.
• Singer Meat Loaf dies: U.S. musician and actor Marvin Lee Aday (known as Meat Loaf) has died at age 74. His 1977 debut rock album Bat Out of Hell is one of the best-selling records in history; he also starred as Eddie in the 1975 cult classic film The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
• Canadian restaurant shut down for accepting dog photos instead of vaccination cards: The Granary Kitchen in Red Deer, Alberta, was forced to temporarily close its dining room after local health services were alerted that the restaurant was skirting pandemic guidelines by accepting dog photos in lieu of vaccine passes. Hopefully, this won’t affect their policy on doggy bags.
“President wanted,” titles Italian weekly news magazine Internazionale ahead of Italy’s presidential elections on Jan. 24. “How the role of the head of state has changed in Italy and who could be next,” the magazine writes, featuring a female figure on its cover, as some hope the country gets its first woman head of state.
New revelations of García Marquez's ties to Cuba and Nicaragua
Like other intellectuals of his time, the celebrated Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez admired Cuba's Fidel Castro, but also, as one text reveals, the Sandinista rebels who have stifled Nicaraguan democracy in past years, writes Mauricio Rubio in Bogota-based daily El Espectador.
🇳🇮 Daniel Ortega was again sworn in earlier this month as president of Nicaragua. Ortega has outdone Anastasio Somoza, the despot he helped topple in his youth, with a record 26 years in power. After Cuba's Fidel Castro, he is the tropical tyrant most frequently cheered by Colombia's leftist intellectuals, and praised as his people's emancipator from “yankee oppression.” When the Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez died, first lady Murillo published a text he had dedicated to her husband in 1982, in which García Márquez proclaimed himself to be a “wandering Sandinista.”
📄 The regime's website recalls that in 1978, García Márquez wrote Asalto al Palacio (Assault on the Palace), a chronicle "of one of the most decisive events of the struggle against the dictatorship" of Somoza. The text is based on accounts given by participants in the attack on the Nicaraguan parliament that year. The operation was decisive in toppling Somoza the following year. García Márquez's idealized description of the incident is unnerving.
🇨🇺 While not surprising, it is annoying that García Márquez kept quiet about the international dimension of the attack and the Cuban regime's definitive influence, if not support, of the operation. As a nickname, Wandering Sandinista is in fact better suited to Renán Montero, the Cuban colonel and longstanding collaborator of the Sandinistas. Montero, who was born in Cuba in the 1930s and established ties with the Sandinistas from the 1960s, had accompanied Ernesto "Che" Guevara to start a revolution in Bolivia, acting as his go-between with Cuba.
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Teenage aviator Zara Rutherford spent 155 days flying around the world, completing a journey of more than 32,000 miles (52,080 kilometers) that took her through 31 countries and across five continents. After 71 takeoffs and landings she touched down at Kortrijk-Wevelgem airport in Flanders just after 1 pm local time Thursday, becoming the youngest woman to fly around the globe solo. After landing, the 19-year old aviator wrapped herself in British and Belgian flags and told reporters: "It's just really crazy, I haven't quite processed it."
The barber of Amsterdam? Dutch culture sector's hair-razing COVID protest
It’s an unusual sight even in these unusual times: in the Royal Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's prestigious concert hall, a man sits on stage getting his hair cut. Behind him, an orchestra plays Charles Ives' Symphony no. 2. In front of him, dozens of people are watching — both the orchestra, and to see when it's their turn for the next haircut.
For one day it was possible: getting your hair cut in a theater or attending your morning Pilates class in a museum. This was project “Theater Hairdresser”, an initiative set up to protest the Netherlands' continued nationwide lockdown in the arts sector, even after restrictions on other businesses were reduced.
The nation of 17 million entered a strict lockdown on Dec. 19 to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, fearing the increase in cases would overwhelm its relatively small intensive care capacity.
Last week, the government relaxed some of its measures and permitted non-essential shops, hairdressers and gyms to open again. But the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte decided to keep cinemas, museums, theaters and other arts and entertainment venues closed.
The decision was met with great disdain since museums and theaters have repeatedly bore the brunt of the Dutch COVID policies. This sector was the final one to open during the last two lockdowns, leading to financial hardship amongst museum workers, artists, producers, and technicians, according to RTL nieuws.
“Theater Hairdresser” is the sector’s response. It’s a playful protest, initiated by cabaret artist Diederik Ebbinge. Approximately 70 theaters and 100 museums participated in the protest, reported the NRC.
After Security Council discussions on Tuesday night, mayors announced that they would be enforcing the COVID-19 measures. This led to tension everywhere as to whether and when the police might intervene. In the end, many municipalities only received a warning. But in other places – such as Nijmegen, Utrecht and Rotterdam – actions were prevented or stopped.
Yet, it seemed some authority figures and police felt for the arts and were reluctant to act. "You could feel from everything that the warnings were half-hearted," said Ebbinge, reports NOS.
Theater De Kleine Komedie in Amsterdam staged its light-heartedly defiant opening, NRC reported. Jochem Myjer, a well-known Dutch comedian standing in front of the doors disguised as a security guard, winked and said: “That’s possible, because we are a hair salon. If it were a theater, it would never be allowed of course.”
We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations.
— Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky pushed back on Twitter on U.S. president Joe Biden’s comment that a “minor incursion” by Russia in Ukraine might not prompt as swift a reaction from NATO as a full-scale invasion. After the comment sparked an outcry in Kyiv, U.S. officials clarified that any crossing of the border would be met with an equally strong and unified response from Western powers.
✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin