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Luisa Vieria.

Stories we overlooked in 2022

A handful of stories – the war in Ukraine, China’s zero-COVID policy, and US elections – have dominated much of the media coverage this year. Meanwhile, many other crucial global stories have been woefully undercovered. We take a look at four of them.

Venezuela: The challenge of migrating again

Since strongman President Nicolás Maduro responded with an iron fist to widespread protests in 2014 over shortages of goods and sky-high inflation, Venezuela has been subject to more severe US economic sanctions that have put its already-struggling economy on life support. (One of the first sanctions was imposed by the Bush administration in 2006 over Caracas’ failure to crack down on drug trafficking and terrorism.)

As a result of the economic and political crises gripping the country, more than 7 million Venezuelans have fled since 2015, making it one of the world’s largest migrant crises. For those who stayed behind, their quality of life is abysmal: Joblessness is rife, the medical system is in tatters, and more than 67% live in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, most of those who fled sought refuge in Latin America, mainly in Colombia, where they have struggled to find jobs – forcing many women to resort to sex work or even to sell their hair to survive.

But 2022 brought fresh challenges for Venezuela's migrant population. Global inflation has disrupted Latin America’s gig economy, which many Venezuelan migrants rely on to get by. As a result, thousands have been forced to uproot their lives – again – resulting in new migration routes to North America.

Consider that in the first 10 months of this year, Venezuelans accounted for 70% of people who trekked through the Darien Gap, a perilous crossing between Colombia and Panama that’s submerged in dense jungle and swarming with drug cartels and guerrilla groups. The US recently lifted some sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector in a bid to offset losses from Russia. But Washington is still a long way off from reaching any agreements with the Maduro regime that would rescue Caracas’ economy.

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January 6th Committee votes on criminal referrals against Trump.

Reuters

What We're Watching: Jan 6. panel's final report, Japan's nuclear U-turn, Fiji's unresolved election, Venezuela's opposition shakeup  ​

Jan. 6 committee suggests Congress ban Trump from office

After an 18-month inquiry, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol has released its final report, blaming Donald J. Trump of a “multi-part conspiracy” to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and of failing to stop the insurrection when he knew the situation was spiraling out of control. The report also points fingers at some of Trump’s former wingmen – such as Mark Meadows, Trump’s final White House chief of staff, and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani – naming them as potential “co-conspirators.” So what now? The report lays out steps to prevent this sort of calamity from happening again, including a proposal to strengthen the 14th Amendment's ban on insurrectionists that would prevent Trump and his enablers from ever holding office again. Though the report – which Trump has called “highly partisan” – carries no legal weight, it sends a powerful message to the US Justice Department, which is conducting its own investigation into the Jan. 6 attack.

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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Reuters

Why Washington is chatting up Nicolás Maduro again

You can isolate some of the oil-rich strongmen all of the time, or all of the oil-rich strongmen some of the time, but that’s about it these days, as Joe Biden is quickly learning.

Last week, it emerged that the White House is exploring ways to relax certain sanctions against the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro. Under a proposed deal, Washington would allow US oil major Chevron to resume exporting oil from the country while Maduro, for his part, would agree to restart talks with the opposition about free and fair elections.

As a reminder, a 2018 crisis brought on by Maduro’s repression and economic mismanagement drove millions of Venezuelans abroad. It also landed the country under “maximum pressure” financial and energy sanctions from the US, which were designed to squeeze Maduro — the heir to “21st Century Socialist” Hugo Chávez — from power.

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Rescuers work at a residential building heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Russia’s Zaporizhzhia strikes, Washington-Caracas dealings, Canadian asylum challenge, Macron’s intimacy

Russian strike on Zaporizhzhia provokes anger and fear

Ukraine’s foreign minister said Thursday that seven Russian missiles hit residential buildings overnight, killing a still unknown number of people in Zaporizhzhia, a city located in a region annexed by Russia in recent days and the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. President Putin has ordered Russian troops to take control of the plant. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi was in Kyiv Thursday as part of talks on creating a zone of protection around it to avoid a catastrophe. Last week, at least 25 people were killed and many more were wounded by a missile strike on a humanitarian convoy in this same region. It’s a reminder that though Russia is losing ground at the moment in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, it can still inflict great damage, including to civilians. And it’s one more attack that raises fears for nuclear safety.

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Restoring Ties With Venezuela Is a No-Brainer for Colombia’s New President | GZERO World

Restoring ties with Venezuela is a no-brainer for Colombia's new president

One of Gustavo Petro's first moves after becoming president of Colombia was to restore diplomatic ties with neighboring Venezuela.

Why? Petro says that closing the border between two countries who share the same blood has led to an economic "catastrophe."

What's more, he tells Ian Bremmer in an exclusive interview with GZERO World, globalization at its purest is about trade between neighbors like Colombia and Venezuela, which the previous government destroyed "to the point of stupidity."

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Supporters of Iraqi leader Moqtada al-Sadr swim as they protest inside the Republican Palace in the Green Zone, in Baghdad.

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

What We're Watching: Deadly clashes in Iraq, China-Russia military drills, Colombia-Venezuela restore ties

Iraq’s deepening political crisis

Hundreds of Iraqi protesters stormed the government palace and took to the streets Monday after popular Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose bloc won the most seats in parliamentary elections last fall, announced he was stepping back from politics. At least 30 people were killed and more than 380 were injured in clashes between al-Sadr supporters, Iran-aligned groups, and Iraqi security forces. Moreover, al-Sadr announced he was starting a hunger strike until the violence stops. It's the the worst violence Baghdad has seen in years, most of which is concentrated around the heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and government buildings. For almost a year, Iran-aligned parties have prevented al-Sadr from forming a new government, prompting his 73 lawmakers to resign en masse this summer in protest, which in turn led to sectarian clashes. Al-Sadr — who has long railed against Iran’s influence over Iraqi social and political life— retains widespread influence over some institutions and has proved adept at whipping his supporters into a frenzy. (Last month, hundreds of his supporters breached Baghdad’s Green Zone and occupied parliament.) The Supreme Court will decide on Tuesday whether parliament will be dissolved and new elections called – though the constitution says the legislature must agree to dissolve itself. That’s unlikely given that parliament is now dominated by a pro-Iran bloc, which became the biggest parliamentary faction by default after al-Sadr withdrew. Iraq’s military announced a nationwide curfew as the situation continues to deteriorate.

Updated on Aug. 30.

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Annie Gugliotta

What We're Watching: World War Z, US-Venezuela thaw

What’s Z deal with that Russian symbol?

Russian gymnast Ivan Kuliak was widely criticized for taking to the podium of a World Cup event over the weekend with the letter “Z” taped to his leotard. Why? Well, since Putin ordered his armies into Ukraine two weeks ago, the Roman letter Z — often rendered in a paintbrush style — has become a symbol of support for the invasion and for Putin’s regime. In Russia, it’s been slapped on cars, drawn on lapels, and even emblazoned on the sweatshirts of the guys in this super chill “non-fascist” video in support of the war. Where does the Z come from? The clearest answer is that it’s the symbol the Russian military has slapped onto its trucks and tanks in Ukraine to distinguish them from the same Soviet-era hardware that the Ukrainians also have. The Russian Ministry of Defense’s Instagram account has all kinds of uses for the Z now: Za Pobedu! (For Victory!), DenaZification! DemilitariZation! Still, why not use a Cyrillic letter? Then again, after all the sanctions and boycotts, the Roman letter Z might soon be the only Western thing left in Russia.

US meets with Venezuela’s Maduro

With fears that the war in Ukraine could push global energy prices even higher, Washington has brought an olive branch to an unlikely shore. US officials recently met with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to discuss conditions for repealing the crippling US sanctions in place against the South American oil producer. Washington, which broke off relations in 2019 over Maduro’s rigged elections and crackdowns on opposition protests, is reportedly demanding free and fair presidential elections and extensive reforms to the Venezuelan oil sector. Maduro, for his part, wants an end to US sanctions on Venezuelan oil and to be readmitted to the SWIFT global financial platform (see our explainer on SWIFT here.) Venezuela is, of course, a close ally and partner of Russia. With Moscow itself now under crushing economic and financial sanctions, the US is surely gauging whether there’s room to drive a wedge between Caracas and Moscow.

What We're Watching: US and Russia in Geneva, mass testing in Tianjin, a big loss for Venezuela's Maduro

US and Russia in Geneva. Senior US and Russian diplomats opened talks in Geneva on Monday, kicking off a round of discussions between Kremlin and Western officials across Europe over the next few days. Vladimir Putin wants Joe Biden and NATO leaders to redraw the security map of Europe by promising that Ukraine, Georgia, and other Russian neighbors will never join NATO and that the security alliance will not place missile system in Ukraine. That would, in effect, redivide Europe into Western and Russian spheres of influence. The Biden administration and NATO officials have said they will not allow Russia to veto NATO membership for countries that want to join. European leaders have warned the US to honor these promises, and Ukraine’s government is watching and waiting as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops remain poised near the Ukrainian border. Russia says it will pursue its aims by military means if necessary. NATO says it's ready to respond. The US says any Russian incursion into Ukraine will draw harsh sanctions against Russian and more supplies of Western weapons for Ukraine. Putin began this game of chicken, and we’ll be watching in coming weeks to see how far he wants to push it.

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