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Venezuela’s Misery Could Worsen With Debt Default

Luber Faneitte has lung cancer but there’s no medicine to treat it. She cannot make ends meet. Crime is rampant in her neighborhood.

And she fears that if Venezuela defaults on its $150 billion debt, which is considered likely, things will get worse.

Faneitte, 56, lives on the 18th story of a decrepit building in downtown Caracas. In her fridge there is only water. Meat is a luxury of the past because of inflation that the International Monetary Fund projects will hit 2,300 percent in 2018.

“We get by on grain, and that is just when we can get it. We make a kilo last two or three days,” Faneitte told AFP.

She is on disability from her job as a civil servant and survives on a pittance, equivalent to $8.70 per month.

She depends on food the government sells once a month at subsidized prices to offset the shortages of just about everything.

Last time she brought home two kilos (4.4 pounds) of beans, a kilo of rice, two liters (quarts) of cooking oil, a kilo of powdered milk and four kilos of flour.

But it went fast. Faneitte lives with a daughter and four grandkids. They all depend on her income.

Cendas, an NGO that monitors the cost of living in this oil-rich but now destitute nation, says that in September it took six times the minimum wage to provide for the average family.

Although she has nothing to cook, Faneitte leaves the gas stove running to save on matches.

The faucet drips, day and night. But she has no money to fix it, and water service — like that from other utilities — is practically given away by the government.

‘Hungrier’ and needier

Politically, the idea of Venezuela declaring default is seen as offering a possible short-term boost for widely unpopular President Nicolas Maduro, who has his eye on elections next year.

As oil prices are down — petroleum accounts for 96 percent of the country’s hard-currency revenue — Venezuela has cut down on imports to save money for debt service, worsening the seemingly endless shortages of basics, even such items as soap and toilet paper.

If Maduro declares default, it would free up money to buy imports, do election campaigning and thereby ease the risk of street protests.

But analysts say the long-term impact of defaulting would be disastrous. Venezuela would be mired in lawsuits by creditors and see its assets frozen abroad, said Alejandro Grisanti of the consultancy Ecoanalitica.

Maduro has said he wants to refinance and restructure Venezuela’s debt. But the idea of default is seen as looming.

“I don’t know if that is what Venezuela needs to open its eyes,” said Faneitte. “What I do know is that we are going to go hungrier and be more in need.”

She does not know how things got so bad but she certainly is feeling the effects.

Agonizing choice

She gave up chemotherapy in January because of the acute shortage of medicine to treat her cancer.

She made that tough decision after struggling for years over whether to buy food or treat her disease.

Doctors say she needs chemo. But instead she prepares a homemade concoction of liqueur, honey and aloe vera.

“I leave it outside for two days, then I take a spoonful in the morning and another at night. I think I breathe much better when I take it,” she said.

Faneitte has been a smoker since age 15. She struggles to breathe when she talks or walks. She has had three heart attacks.

She recalls sarcastically how the late socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez once complained that poor people in his country were reduced to eating dog food.

“I want to eat that again,” said Faneitte.

Crime is yet another woe. There is no internet in her neighborhood because thieves have stolen all the cables.

Her apartment building is pocked with bullet holes from shootouts among rival gangs. That violence forced her to move the beds in her apartment away from the windows.

“I am resigned,” she said, “to whatever God wants.”

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Indian Wheat Makes History, Arriving in Afghanistan Via Iran

Afghanistan has received an inaugural consignment of wheat from India through an Iranian port, opening a new trade and transit route for the landlocked nation that bypasses neighboring Pakistan.

The strategic sea route, officials say, will help improve trade and transit connectivity between Kabul and New Delhi.

It will also potentially give India access to Central Asian markets through Afghanistan, because rival Pakistan does not allow Indian goods to be transported through its territory .

The shipment of almost 15,000 tons of wheat dispatched from India’s western port of Kandla on October 29 reached the Iranian port of Chabahar on November 1. It was then loaded on trucks and brought by road to the Afghan province of Nimroz, which borders Iran.  

Speaking at a special ceremony to receive the historic consignment Saturday in the border town of Zaranj, India’s ambassador to Kabul, Manpreet Vohra, said the shipment has demonstrated the viability of the new route. He added that India, Afghanistan and Iran agreed to operationalize the Chabahar port only a year-and-a-half ago.

“The ease and the speed with which this project is already working is evident from the fact that as we are receiving the first trucks of wheat here in Zaranj, the second ship from Kandla has already docked in Chabahar,” Vohra announced.

He said there will be seven shipments between now and February and a total of 110,000 tons of wheat will come to Afghanistan through Chabahar. Vohra added the shipments are part of a promised 1.1 million tons of wheat as India’s “gift” to Afghanistan out of which 700,000 has already been sent to the country.  

India is investing $500 million in Chabahar port to build new terminals, cargo berths and connecting roads, as well as rail lines.

The Indian shipment arrived in Afghanistan days after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on a visit to New Delhi, allayed concerns the Trump administration’s tough stand on Iran could pose a fresh stumbling block to India’s plans to develop the strategic Iranian port as a regional transit hub.

The Indian ambassador also took a swipe at Pakistan, though he did not name the rival country.

“The logic of finding easy connectivity, assured connectivity for Afghanistan is also because you have not had the benefit despite being a landlocked country of having easy access to international markets. We all know that a particular neighbor of yours to the east has often placed restrictions on your transit rights,” Vohra noted.

The shortest and most cost effective land routes between India and Afghanistan lie through Pakistan.

But due to long-running bilateral territorial disputes between India and Pakistan, Afghanistan and India are not allowed to do two-way trade through Pakistani territory. Kabul, however, is allowed to send only a limited amount of perishable goods through Pakistani territory to India.

“We are confident that with the cooperation, particularly of the government of Iran, this route now from Chabahar to Afghanistan will not see any arbitrary closure of gates, any unilateral decisions to stop your imports and exports, and this will provide you guaranteed access to the sea,” vowed Vohra.

Pakistan also allows Afghanistan to use its southern port of Karachi for transit and trade activities. However, Afghan officials and traders are increasingly complaining that authorities in Pakistan routinely indulge in unannounced trade restrictions and frequent closure of border crossings, which has undermined trade activities.

“With the opening of Chabahar Port, Afghanistan will no longer be dependent on Karachi Port,” provincial governor Mohammad Samiullah said while addressing the gathering. The economic activity, he said, will create job opportunities and bring billions of dollars in revenue to Afghanistan, Iran and India.

Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan have also plunged to new lows in recent years over mutual allegations of sponsoring terrorism against each other’s soils.

In its bid to enhance economic connectivity with Afghanistan, India also opened an air freight corridor in June this year to provide greater access for Afghan goods to the Indian market.

Pakistani officials, however, have dismissed suggestions the direct trade connectivity between India and Afghanistan is a matter of concern for Islamabad.

“It is our consistent position that Afghanistan as a landlocked country has a right of transit access through any neighboring country according to its needs,” said Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a nearly 2,600 kilometer largely porous border. However, Islamabad has lately begun construction of a fence and tightened monitoring of movements at regular border crossings between the two countries, saying terrorist attacks in Pakistan are being plotted on the Afghan side of the border.

 

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Trump Touts Vietnam as ‘One of the Great Miracles of the World’

U.S. President Donald Trump heaped praise on Vietnam Saturday, saying the southeast Asian nation is “one of the great miracles of the world.”

Trump’s remarks were made at a state banquet in the capital of Hanoi, the latest event on his five-country Asian tour. Trump, who arrived in Hanoi Saturday, told dignitaries he toured parts of the country, which he said “is really something to behold.”

After the nearly 20-year Vietnam War that killed millions of people, the country’s economy has been among the world’s fastest growing since 1990. Its gross domestic product has grown nearly 6.5-percent annually in the 2000s, according to the World Bank.

On Sunday Trump is to have meetings with Vietnamese President Tran dai Quang and other leaders.

Prior to his arrival in Hanoi, Trump was in the central Vietnamese city of Danang, where he attended the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Enroute to Hanoi aboard Air Force One, Trump reiterated to reporters traveling with him that he discussed with APEC leaders bilateral agreements that have resulted in trade imbalances he says are disadvantageous to the U.S.

“It’s disgraceful. And I don’t blame any of those countries. I blame the people we had representing us who didn’t know what they were doing because they should have never let that happen.”

At the close of the APEC meeting, the 21 member nations issued a statement expressing support for free trade and closer regional ties, without any mention of Trump’s ‘America First’ doctrine.

WATCH: Leaders of US and China Offer Asia Business Leaders Divergent Paths

​Two views on trade

On Friday, Trump and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, offered starkly contrasting views of the direction for trade in Asia in separate speeches to regional business leaders

 

Trump told the APEC CEO Summit that he is willing to make bilateral trade agreements with any country in the Indo-Pacific region, but he firmly rejected multi-national deals such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was quickly abandoned in the first days of his administration.

“I will make bilateral trade agreements with any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade,” Trump said. “What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible.”

The U.S. president said that in the past when his country “lowered market barriers, other countries didn’t open their markets to us.”

From now on, however, Trump warned the United States will, “expect that our partners will faithfully follow the rules. We expect that markets will be open to an equal degree on both sides and that private investment, not government planners, will direct investment.”

But making that happen is something that is easier said than done.

​Not playing by the rules

China has already shown that it has no intention of playing by the rules, said Fraser Howie, co-author of the book Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.

“China has been in WTO terms simply much sharper and smarter than the Americans,” Howie said. “While the Americans went in with good faith thinking the Chinese would change and whatever, the Chinese never had any intention of changing.”

Howie added that trade and access issues are difficult and sophisticated, and so far Trump has a poor track record when it comes to follow through – be it his travel ban, the wall, healthcare or tax policy.

“Yes you’re going to get tough on them, but how do get tough without penalizing them,” he said. He added, “how can China be penalized when Xi Jinping is your best mate? It doesn’t make any sense.”

WATCH: Despite Tough US Talk on Trade, Experts See Greater Trade Opportunities

President Xi, whose country’s rise has been driven greatly by large-scale government-planning, immediately followed Trump on the stage in Da Nang.

Xi embraced the multilateral concept, in particular calling for support for a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), which would harmonize regional and bilateral economic pacts.

China was left out of the TPP, which was led by the United States and Japan, and was meant in great part as a bulwark against China’s strategic ambitions.

Xi also termed globalization an irreversible trend, but said the world must work to make it more balanced and inclusive.

The speeches came just hours after Trump left China where he and Xi met several times on Wednesday and Thursday.

In Beijing on Thursday, the U.S. president had struck a markedly softer tone than in the past on touchy subjects such as North Korea and trade saying he had an “incredibly warm” feeling for Xi.

Trump noted the U.S. must change its policy.

“It’s too bad that past administrations allowed it go get so far out of kilter,” said Trump. “But we’ll make it fair, and it will be tremendous for both of us.”

The Chinese leader said Beijing’s relationship with Washington “now stands at a new starting point” and vowed to “enhance communication and cooperation on the nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula” and other issues.

“For China and the United States, cooperation is the only viable choice, and win-win cooperation can take us to a better future,” said the Chinese president.

Much of Trump’s Asia tour has focused on North Korea, which is developing a nuclear and missile program in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Trump pressed Xi privately on the North Korea nuclear issue, according to Trump administration officials. According to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump told Xi, “You’re a strong man, I’m sure you can solve this for me.”

Speaking in Beijing, Tillerson noted “there is no disagreement on North Korea” between the United States and China. The diplomat pointed out the Chinese have been clear and unequivocal over two days of talks that they will not accept a North Korea with nuclear weapons.

“There’s no space between both of our objectives,” said Tillerson. “We have our own views of the tactics, the timing and how far to go with pressure and that’s what we spend a lot of time exchanging views on.”

 

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Massachusetts Mill Town Puts 2 Cambodian-Americans in City Posts

Lowell, a Massachusetts mill town whose minorities nearly makeup a majority of its residents, has a history of all-white governing bodies. But in a citywide election this week, driven by a debate over the high school’s fate, voters elected two Cambodian-Americans, putting one on the City Council and the other on the School Committee.

The two victories in the city, which has the second-largest Cambodian-American community in the U.S. after Long Beach, California, came as voters nationwide elected a diverse group of candidates that included refugees, immigrants and members of the LGBT community, as well as racial and ethnic minorities. 

The electoral wins also came during a time of rising xenophobia and white supremacy in the country.

In Lowell, residents also made history Tuesday by electing the first minority to the School Committee, as the school board is called. Cambodian-American Dominik Hok Lay came in fourth in the vote for six open seats.

Vesna Nuon, a Cambodian-born candidate, garnered the most votes — 6,518 out of 90,756 — cast for the nine open Lowell City Council seats. Nuon previously served on the council for one term, 2011-2012.

‘We are one city’

“I think it is a historical day in the city,” said Rodney Elliott, an incumbent who was re-elected. He credited his victory, in part, to allies in the Cambodian community. “We have a Cambodian city councilor and we have a Cambodian School Committee person. It is good for the city.

“I think it is a strong message that we are one city, and that we are starting to come together and understand and work together,” Elliott said.

About 49.2 percent of Lowell’s population, which totals a little more than 110,000, form the minority bloc, of which Asian-Americans are the largest group. Since 1999, only four minority candidates have been elected to the City Council.

Tuesday’s success is important for the city’s almost majority.

In May, several minority citizens filed a lawsuit alleging the city’s at-large, or “winner-take-all,” voting system dilutes the minority vote and discriminates against candidates from minority communities.

On Oct. 17, at the first public hearing on Huot v. City of Lowell in U.S. District Court, Judge William Young denied the city’s motion to dismiss. This means Lowell may find itself headed to trial against some of its minority residents, unless the council decides to opt for a change from within.

Nuon, 50, came to the U.S. in 1982 as a Cambodian refugee. He said the victory is for Lowell residents, especially the Cambodian community, who he says have trusted in his leadership vision in the city.

“This success is not just for me, but for Cambodian community and Lowell residents as a whole,” Nuon said. “Now it is time to work together for a better Lowell.”

A single-issue election?

Although this was an election when minorities were expected to obtain representation on the two city panels, the future of Lowell High School, whether to build a new school in a new location or renovate the current downtown school, emerged as the largest issue that drew voters to the polls.

The high school issue was pervasive in all races. Of the 18 City Council candidates, 10 supported the estimated $350 million renovation, while eight wanted to spend an estimated $334 million to build a new school nearer to the outlying playing fields.

In June, the City Council voted 5-4 to relocate the high school to Cawley Stadium in Belvidere, a predominantly white and well-to-do enclave. Sixty percent of those who voted in the election Tuesday, which included a measure on the high school, came from Belvidere, according to an analysis in the local newspaper the Lowell Sun.

Sokhary Chau, a Cambodian-born American candidate, lost his bid for the City Council.

A first-time candidate who favored relocating the high school, Chau said he was disappointed with the results, saying the election was dominated by Belvidere voters, although he was proud of the two Cambodian winners, Nuon and Lay.

“This is democracy,” said incumbent Elliott, who supported the campaign to relocate the high school. People were “organized and they voted. It is good to go out and vote. It is good to exercise freedom of speech. It is all good.”

Another incumbent who was re-elected on Tuesday agrees.

Councilor William Samaras, a former mayor, told the local newspaper that the ballot-box battle over the high school’s future “wasn’t a neighborhood issue. It was a citywide issue and the results show it.”

Or as Nuon put it, “The people have spoken.”

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Despite Tough US Talk on Trade, Experts See Greater Trade Opportunities

Despite President Donald Trump’s tough talk on trade at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam, international business leaders say they are excited by the prospects of greater cooperation among the 21 member countries of APEC. Many believe the annual economic leaders forum, established nearly three decades ago, will become more influential in the future and lead to greater and more balanced trade between East and West. Mil Arcega has more.

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Finding a Life, Purpose and Success Through Pizza

Kurdish refugee Hakki Akdeniz left Turkey in 1999 and came to New York City. At times he was homeless and often wondered where his next meal would come from. But as Saleh Damiger reports, he has more than turned his life around.

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Grammar-Proofing Startup by Ukrainian Techies Helps Foreign Students

Some foreign students in U.S. schools find it challenging to submit grammatically correct, idiomatically accurate papers. So two former Ukrainian graduate students launched an artificial intelligence-driven grammar-proofing program that goes well beyond spell-check. Today, their 8-year-old startup, Grammarly, whose first venture round netted $110 million in May, has offices in Ukraine and the U.S. VOA Ukrainian Service correspondent Tatiana Vorozhko has the story.

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Drones Increasingly Used in Police Work

Aerial surveillance can be an indispensable part of police or security work. But small police forces certainly can’t afford planes or helicopters to help them do their jobs. So increasingly, drones are filling the gap and providing eyes in the sky. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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