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Venezuela

Take 5 Venezuela: Prisoner Wives, Cheap Gas, Maduro On Maradona

Take 5 Venezuela: Prisoner Wives, Cheap Gas, Maduro On Maradona
Aurore Barlier and Pierre Labainville

We shine the spotlight this week on Venezuela:

PRISONER POLITICS

Plenty of glowing foreign press coverage of the arrival in Caracas of former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, who came to support opposition leaders who've been jailed by the government of President Nicolás Maduro. But El Correo del Orinoco, a state-owned daily, wrote that the vast majority of Venezuelan people "rejected the presence of the former Spanish prime minister in the country," and criticized his interference in internal affairs. Gonzalez's visit is part of a growing movement to challenge the government's policy of jailing political opponents, with Italian daily La Stampa reporting on a group of wives of imprisoned government opponents who call themselves the "Women In White." The group has also denounced the lamentable economic situation of the country and demanded transparent presidential elections.

SAVE THE CONDOMS

The Center for Biological Diversity has sent 12,000 unusually packaged condoms to Venezuela. The women's monthly Cosmopolitan writes that the condoms feature endangered species pictures on their packaging, as a way to raise awareness of nature conservation while responding to a well-publicized shortage of condoms the country has been experiencing. Last February, the media reported that Venezuela was running out of condoms which had led to skyrocketing prices and raised serious health concerns.

CHEAP AND EMPTY

Venezuela is a new favorite destination of young people who do not want to go broke on their holidays. But although you can buy a beer for a few pennies and find a decent hotel for $5 a night, Reuters says that last year's approximately one million tourists is four times fewer than in Colombia for example. In people's mind, Venezuela remains a place of crime and frequent shortages.



GAS GUZZLING

In Caracas, gasoline for your car is actually cheaper than water: $0.015 per liter ($0.26 per gallon). Prices are even 40 times lower on the black market. With such low prices, Venezuela's carbon footprint is South America's biggest, and is an opportunity for bootleggers who sell the gasoline in neighboring Colombia. According to the Venezuelan newspaper La Calle, the government is considering raising prices, which surprisingly is supported by 59% of the population, according to a recent poll.

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Photo: Sdi-jr/GFDL

MADURO ON FIFA

After the recent soccer scandals that forced FIFA chief Sepp Blatter to resign, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has made clear his preferred candidate is a certain No. 10 from Argentina. "(Diego) Maradona should become president of FIFA," Maduro declared. "He has been denouncing FIFA's abuses for years and all he's got in response were threats and ridicule." Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, was a close friend of Maradona.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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