The world at a glance ...
Plan for pot: Marijuana products should be sold in plain packaging, and only to buyers ages 18 and over, according to a Canadian task force charged with drawing up guidelines for national pot legalization. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to legalize recreational marijuana in his 2015 election campaign, and now his panel has put out a 106-page report that will shape the legislation. The report envisions stores and dispensaries that sell only marijuana, not alcohol or cigarettes, as well as cafés where pot can be smoked on site. There would be penalties for driving while stoned, and the government would regulate the level of THC, the chemical that causes the high, per dose. “Now is the time to move away from a system that for decades has been based on prohibition of cannabis into a regulated market,” said task force chair Anne McLellan.
Tourists eat everything: Cuba has opened up to tourists, and now the visitors are scarfing all the food. Since Washington and Havana restored diplomatic relations last year, a record 3.5 million foreign tourists have visited the island, and the restaurants and hotels they frequent have bought up Cuba’s harvest. Basic staples, like onions and green peppers, are now scarce on grocery shelves and too expensive for most Cubans. “We don’t just have to feed 11 million people anymore. We have to feed more than 14 million,” economist Juan Alejandro Triana told The New York Times. “In the next five years, if we don’t do something about it, food will become a national security issue.”
Turning to China: Mexico is seeking to strengthen economic ties with China because of expectations that the presidency of Donald Trump will bring a drop in trade with the U.S. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, this week to discuss increased trade and Chinese investment in infrastructure, resource development, and financial services. “Everything indicates quite the flirtation” between the two countries, El Universal said in an editorial. The U.S. is Mexico’s largest trading partner, but Trump has promised to renegotiate NAFTA, the trade pact that reduced tariffs between the two countries.
Cash crisis: Venezuela is now officially in hyperinflation, with prices doubling about every two weeks, yet President Nicolás Maduro chose this week to suddenly abolish the country’s highest denomination, the 100-bolivar note, now worth 3 cents. Maduro claimed the measure would punish criminals stockpiling cash for contraband, but it is hitting ordinary Venezuelans, most of whom keep their money at home. They are now rushing to spend the notes while stores will still accept them. Meanwhile, in an apparent bid for popularity, the government seized nearly 4 million toys from a private company and said it would hand them out to poor children for Christmas. It accused toy distributor Kreisel of hoarding toys to gouge prices, an accusation that makes no sense, as hoarded items lose value under hyperinflation.
Same as the old boss: Italy has a new government that looks almost exactly like that of Democrat Matteo Renzi, who resigned last week after Italians rejected his constitutional reforms in a referendum. Italian President Sergio Mattarella tapped Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni as the new prime minister, and Gentiloni promptly named a cabinet that included most members of Renzi’s team, just in different positions. The far-right Lega Nord and the leftist-populist Five Star Movement protested Gentiloni’s new government, saying voters had just showed they no longer trusted the Democrats—who still have Renzi as their party head. It is expected that Mattarella will call for early elections in 2017, before the legislature’s term ends in 2018.
Kurds rounded up: More than 200 Kurdish activists were arrested across Turkey this week after Kurdish suicide bombers targeted police in the heart of Istanbul, killing dozens. The Freedom Falcons, an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), claimed responsibility for twin bombings near a soccer stadium that killed at least 44 people, mostly police officers standing guard during a game, and wounded more than 149 others. Those arrested, though, were mostly members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party—which controls the third-largest bloc in the legislature—and many were charged with “spreading terrorist propaganda” on social media.
Taymyr Peninsula, Russia
Global warming kills reindeer: The world’s largest wild reindeer herd has shrunk by 40 percent since 2000, and scientists are blaming the mass die-off on climate change. Some 1 million reindeer roamed the northernmost point of Russia on the Taymyr Peninsula in 2000, but now the herd is only 600,000 strong. The animals migrate in winter and summer, and increased ice melt has made rivers wider, meaning more reindeer drown trying to cross. They also have to travel farther in summer to get to cooler ground and escape mosquitoes, which are becoming increasingly prevalent as the region warms, and more young calves are dying on the journey. “Reindeer are tremendously important for biodiversity,” said Andrey Petrov, an arctic researcher at the University of Northern Iowa. “They are part of the arctic food chain, and without them other species would be in trouble.”
Coptic cathedral bombed: ISIS claimed responsibility for a devastating suicide bombing that killed at least 25 people, most of them women, during mass at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, the seat of the Egyptian Orthodox Church. It was the worst attack on Christians in Egypt in recent memory. ISIS has been battling Egyptian troops in the Sinai desert region and said this week it will expand operations against Christian civilians in Egyptian cities. The attack comes as ISIS has made gains in Syria, retaking the ancient city of Palmyra from Syrian government troops. The Pentagon said last week that it is sending 200 additional U.S. special operations troops to Syria to help Kurdish and Arab rebel forces capture Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital.
Slaughter as city falls: Families were gunned down in the streets and women killed themselves to avoid being raped as the last rebel-held districts of eastern Aleppo fell to Syrian government forces this week. Desperate civilians sent out vain pleas for help on social media, posting photos of themselves and their trapped children. “The worst humanitarian tragedy of the 21st century is unfolding before our eyes,” said France’s ambassador to the United Nations, François Delattre. U.N. spokesman Robert Colville said he had received reports of pro-government forces entering homes and summarily executing dozens of civilians—including women and children. A cease-fire brokered by Russia, which backs the Syrian government, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, intended to allow thousands of rebel fighters and civilians to leave the city, quickly fell through after Iranian-backed Shiite militias balked at the deal. “They are planning to slaughter us all,” said civilian activist Monther Etaky.
The four-year battle for Aleppo culminated in a furious onslaught of Russian and Syrian airstrikes over the past month, as the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iranian militias, sought to create a fait accompli before U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, denounced the governments of Syria, Russia, and Iran for war crimes, asking, “Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin, that just creeps you out a little bit?”
Park impeached: Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans celebrated in their capital’s streets last week after the national legislature impeached President Park Geun-hye over a scandal involving her longtime friend and adviser, Choi Soon-sil, who is charged with extorting more than $60 million from South Korean businesses. Demonstrators gathered outside the presidential residence and chanted “Park Geun-hye, get out of the house!” and “Come down and go to jail!” Once the Constitutional Court approves the impeachment, an election will be held to choose her successor. The scandal has split Park’s Saenuri Party, and members who broke ranks to vote for her impeachment are expected to form a new party. Parliament is also investigating reports that doctors hired by Choi secretly visited Park, bypassing security protocols, to perform cosmetic treatments.
Honor the anthem: At least 20 people have been arrested at movie theaters in India in the past two weeks for failing to stand while the national anthem is played. In the latest sign of growing Hindu nationalist sentiment, the Supreme Court in October ruled that the anthem must be played before every movie and that audiences must stand. “People must feel they live in a nation, and this wallowing, individually perceived notion of freedom must go,” one justice said. The ruling has inspired vigilante enforcement. At a cinema in Panaji in the southern state of Goa, a disabled man who had been carried from his wheelchair to his seat was attacked when he did not stand.