The world at a glance …
Soccer despair: The world ended for many soccer-loving Italians this week after their national team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in nearly 60 years. Italy’s 0-0 tie with underdog Sweden in Milan sent the Swedish team on to next year’s tournament and the Italians home to a despondent nation. Headlines there compared the humiliation to the Battle of Caporetto, when Italian troops were routed by Austro-Hungarian forces in World War I, and to the Apocalypse. La Gazzetta dello Sport called the elimination “a brutal blow causing incalculable harm to a country that lives and breathes soccer,” and weeping team captain Gianluigi Buffon announced he was quitting the sport. Italy has won the World Cup four times.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Billions needed: Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked Congress this week for nearly $95 billion to completely rebuild the island’s devastated electrical grid and other infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Officials also want Congress to scrap a provision in the House Republicans’ tax plan that would impose a 20 percent tax on goods manufactured on Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, and exported to the mainland, as if it were a foreign country. Two months after the storm, more than 60 percent of Puerto Ricans still lack power, and an unknown number are drinking tainted water. While an exact death toll from the hurricane is unclear, 472 more people died in Puerto Rico in September 2017 than in September 2016.
Defaulting on debt: Venezuela has missed $200 million in repayments on its foreign debt, prompting credit agency Standard & Poor’s to declare the country in “selective default.” More defaults on the nation’s $140 billion in foreign debt are expected. Under leftist President Nicolás Maduro, the country has been pouring its foreign currency into meeting debt obligations even as the people go hungry. Maduro claims that he has begun the process of restructuring the debt. But he has placed Vice President Tareck El Aissami— who is barred by U.S. sanctions from any financial dealings with Americans—in charge of negotiations with creditors, and some lenders walked out of talks this week when they saw Aissami. Venezuela has endured months of triple-digit inflation and food and medicine shortages; hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have fled abroad.
Presidents on the take: At least three Peruvian presidents, including current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, have been implicated in a massive bribery scandal emanating from Brazil. Marcelo Odebrecht, the jailed former head of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, claimed the firm gave $3 million in under-the-table contributions to Ollanta Humala’s successful 2011 presidential campaign and $20 million in kickbacks to Alejandro Toledo, president from 2001 to 2006. Both former leaders face criminal charges; both deny any wrongdoing. This week, Odebrecht revealed his company also hired Kuczynski as a “consultant,” after he left President Toledo’s government in 2006. Kuczynski insists he has never had professional ties with Odebrecht.
Warning Putin: Amid growing evidence that Russian propaganda targeted voters in the run-up to the U.K.’s Brexit referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May this week warned Russian President Vladimir Putin to cease and desist. “We know what you are doing,” she said in a stern speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, “and you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies.” Researchers at Edinburgh University have found more than 400 fake Twitter accounts, thought to be operated from St. Petersburg, that posted in favor of Britain exiting the European Union. “I hope UK after #BrexitVote will start to clean their land from muslim invasion!” one Russian account tweeted.
Green Beret murdered? Navy officials are investigating whether two members of the elite SEAL Team 6 murdered an Army Green Beret while on a secret assignment in Mali. Anonymous service members told TheDailyBeast.com that Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar—a 34-year-old veteran of two tours in Afghanistan— confronted the SEALs with evidence that they were skimming money from a fund used to pay confidential informants. The SEALs, Petty Officer First Class Tony DeDolph and Chief Petty Officer Adam C. Matthews, allegedly offered Melgar a cut of the take. When he refused an altercation erupted, during which Melgar lost consciousness and accidentally suffocated. DeDolph and Matthews said Melgar blacked out during hand-to-hand fighting exercises, and they tried to revive him. They have not been charged. U.S. forces are in Mali to conduct counterterrorism operations.
KGB is guarding U.S.: The U.S. government has hired a firm founded by a former KGB counterintelligence boss to provide security at the American embassy in Moscow and at consulates throughout Russia. Elite Security Holdings was set up by Viktor Budanov, who led a KGB branch in East Germany when Russian President Vladimir Putin was a spy there and who later became head of Soviet counterintelligence. The U.S. was forced to outsource security after Moscow ordered the diplomatic mission to cut its staff from 1,200 to 455 people in retaliation for new U.S. sanctions adopted in August. The State Department has refused to comment on the awarding of the $2.83 million contract.
Tongo Tongo, Niger
U.S. soldier executed: The body of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of the four U.S. soldiers killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Niger last month, was found two days after the attack with his arms tied behind his back and a gaping head wound, local villagers have told The Washington Post, suggesting that he was captured and then executed. The bodies of the other slain U.S. soldiers were found just hours after the firefight. The Pen ta gon said the Army Special Forces unit and the Nigerien forces they were assisting had been on a one-day mission and extended it to camp overnight, giving jihadists an opportunity to surveil them and plot the ambush.
Deadly quake: More than 500 people were killed and some 8,000 injured this week when a magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck along the border between Iran and Iraq. Thousands of buildings collapsed, and rescue workers in both countries struggled to free survivors from the rubble. “I was sitting with my kids having dinner and suddenly the building was just dancing in the air,” said Baghdad resident Majida Ameer. In Iran, the hardest-hit towns were in a Kurdish-dominated region that is already one of the nation’s poorest. The town of Sarpol-e- Zahab (pop. 35,000) lost half of its buildings.
Starvation campaign: The Saudi Arabia–led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen bombed the country’s main airport in Sanaa this week, destroying the only way for aid to reach desperately suffering civilians. The coalition, which supports the exiled Yemeni government, had already closed all border crossings and seaports last week to prevent Iran from supplying the Houthis with weapons. The blockade has put some 7 million Yemenis at risk of dying from famine; a massive cholera outbreak has already infected 900,000 and killed some 2,000 people. “The humanitarian impact of what is happening right now is unimaginable,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.
Gay marriage wins: Rainbow flags were waved across Australia this week after the country voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing gay marriage. In a national postal survey, nearly 62 percent of respondents said same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. While the mail-in referendum was nonbinding, all political parties had pledged to act on the results, and the shockingly large participation of 80 percent of eligible voters gave it political legitimacy. The conservative government said it would allow a bill on marriage equality to proceed before the end of the year. “They voted ‘yes’ for fairness,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “They voted ‘yes’ for commitment. They voted ‘yes’ for love.”
It is too a coup: Zimbabwe’s military seized control of the country this week, detaining President Robert Mugabe, 93, in his Harare home and sending tanks into the capital. “This is not a military takeover,” Gen. Sibusiso Moyo said on state TV, declaring that the army had grabbed power in order to “target criminals” around Mugabe, who has ruled for 37 years. A day before the coup, another general had warned that the military would not tolerate Mugabe’s purge of supporters of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was fired as vice president last week. Mnangagwa, a liberation war hero, is supported by much of the military as a successor to Mugabe. He has clashed repeatedly with first lady Grace Mugabe, who is supported by the ruling ZANU-PF’s youth wing and had aimed to succeed her husband.