‘Desperate to find a way out’: Iran edges towards precipice

Economic grievances, lack of freedoms, global sanctions putting country under unprecedented pressure

In the words of Mohammad, a graphic designer out of work for four months, life in Iran is “like being a fish in a rapidly shrinking puddle of water, under scorching sun in the middle of desert”.

On the surface the 28-year-old’s comments speak to the country’s grave environmental challenges: it is experiencing its worst drought in modern history, with water shortages and recurring electricity cuts that cut the internet, halt lifts and disrupt air conditioning in 40C heat. Authorities in Tehran are even considering to bringing working day forward, from 6am to 2pm, to help workers cope.

But Mohammad, who relies on his father’s pension for survival, like a “leech feeding on blood” as he puts it, is not speaking about the environment. Instead he is referring to a wider crisis he says has created a sense of hopelessness permeating Iranian society, which few have seen on such a scale since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A combination of factors ranging from economic grievances and a lack of social and political freedoms to international pressure and sanctions has put the country under unprecedented pressure. Many Iranians would now agree with Mohammad that the country faces a pivotal moment.

“People are desperate to find a way out,” he says. “If it’s war, so it be, but quick; if it’s reaching an agreement, so it be, but quick; if it’s regime change, so it be, but quick.”

Weeks of sporadic protests across the country over water scarcity, unpaid salaries and currency depreciation, combined with mounting pressure from the Trump administration, which wants all countries to stop buying Iranian oil by 4 November, have piled pressure on Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani. He is increasingly being seen as a lame duck as he proves unable to fight off hardliners and pursue his agenda. One pledge he has delivered on – the landmark 2015 nuclear deal – is unravelling after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the framework in May.

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Hassan Rouhani raised expectations when he became president in 2013, but could not deliver. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

A piece of tech – an interactive pen – that Mohammad bought last year for 5m rials is now priced at 25m rials (£440), a five-fold increase. Similar price increases have affected other items, particularly those imported and dependent on the price of the dollar. The rial has hit an all-time low and foreign companies are increasingly pulling out of Iran because they fear US actions which will make it difficult for people like Mohammad to find jobs.

“All the ‘down to America’, ‘down to Israel’ chants put us in this agony,” he says. “All the people around me are thinking about emigrating. My only way to flee is a student visa, but the costs are high – also you can’t find visa appointment times easily.”

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A row of paddle boats sit on the parched riverbed in Isfahan. The country is experiencing its worst drought in modern history. Photograph: Vahid Salemi/AP

Alarm bells have been raised about the country edging towards a political, economic and even environmental precipice, and analysts fear that the warnings are being ignored. Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of politics at Tehran University, says the situation has become so bad that “people see no light at the end of the tunnel”.

“In no period of time before this, we’ve had so much anguish, so much anxiety, so much despair about the future of the country,” he says. “Even this [level of despair] didn’t exist during the Iran-Iraq war years. Despite all the problems during the war, and the rationing, there was hope, because people believed the war would one day finish, but now, the problem is like having an illness that never gets cured.

“It might get like Iraq, bartering food for oil. Rouhani is getting closer to hardliners; he is becoming like a football team that has lost the first game 3-0 and now has no hope for the next match. He has become a lame duck.”

Zibakalam adds that Iranian society has turned its back against both conservatives and reformists, as people see no prospect of reconciliation with the US.

He believes that if, or rather when, the situation gets worse, hardliners will become strengthened, meaning that “the unelected part of the establishment will grab more power”.

Shoppers
Shoppers browse in the Grand Bazaar. In 1979 $1 was worth 70 rials. This week it is worth 75,000 rials in central Tehran. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian history at the University of St Andrews, says the outcome of the current situation “would be … something akin to military government”.

“What’s going in Iran is not something for democracy, people are not chanting for democracy, people are chanting for water and bread,” Ansari says. “In 2009 [post-election unrest], people were saying: ‘Where is our vote?’ That’s finished, what’s happening now is much more fundamental talking to the body politic of the country, which is more existential.”

The post-revolutionary optimism that helped people go through the Iran-Iraq war, he says, has given way to a state of despair as economic, social and political resources have become depleted.

The Iranian currency has been steadily losing its value against the dollar since the 1979 Islamic revolution, when $1 bought 70 rials. This week, $1 was exchanged for up to 75,000 rials in central Tehran.

Rouhani raised expectations when he became president in 2013, but could not deliver, says Ansari. “Everyone is focusing on Trump; Trump is his own problem right, let’s not diminish it, but actually the elephant in the room is [Iran’s supreme leader, Ali] Khamenei.

“Khamenei’s principal priority is the Islamic Revolution, and not the Islamic Republic. Khamenei has always been of the view that you have to show strength, but there comes a time when you have to ask what does this mean? [President] Assad showed strength in Syria but what does it mean for him in the long run?”

For ordinary Iranians, the sense of despair is palpable. Sam, a 26-year-old university lecturer from Shiraz, describes Iran’s ordeal as “the knife reaching the bone”, a Persian proverb meaning the last straw.

Matin, 25, from Isfahan, who earns $115 a month working in a dentist surgery and lives with his parents, is even more downbeat. “We are going all the way downhill, like Venezuela,” he says.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

The Latest: New clash at Brazil-Venezuela border

The Latest on Venezuela’s political crisis (all times local):

1:35 p.m.

Renewed clashes have broken out between protesters and Venezuelan national guardsmen at the border with Brazil.

Dozens of Venezuelans who had come to the Brazilian border city of Pacaraima began throwing rocks across the closed border at Venezuelan troops, who responded with tear gas and buckshot.

Globo television broadcast images of a Brazilian soldier advancing to the border line on Sunday to appeal for calm on the part of the Venezuelan soldiers and to urge protesters and journalists to move back.

Local officials say dozens of people were injured in more violent clashes on Saturday as Venezuelan forces blocked aid shipments from crossing the border.

Brazilian Navy Col. George Feres Kanaan is coordinating humanitarian logistics in Roraima state, and he says two Venezuelan National Guard sergeants sought refuge in Brazil on Saturday, abandoning President Nicolas Maduro’s forces.

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11 a.m.

Officials in the Brazilian border state of Roraima say they’ve treated 22 Venezuelans who suffered bullet or buckshot wounds during a confrontation over aid shipments.

A spokesman for Gov. Antonio Denarium says 18 of those required surgery. And he says dozens of other Venezuelans are being treated for other injuries suffered in Saturday’s clashes at the border city of Santa Elena.

The spokesman says the influx has overwhelmed the health system in the state capital of Boa Vista and officials plan to declare a state of emergency for the public health sector on Monday. That would give officials the ability to more quickly buy medicine and to contract rooms at private hospitals.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is blocking aid shipments organized by the opposition that are meant to undermine his rule.

The border was closed for a third straight day on Sunday.

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10 a.m.

Venezuelan migrants are helping clean debris from a bridge where troops loyal to President Nicolas Maduro earlier fired tear gas on activists trying to deliver humanitarian aid in violent clashes that left two people dead and some 300 injured.

Colombian President Ivan Duque has reinforced security around two international bridges near the city of Cucuta and ordered them closed for 48 hours to allow for the clean-up effort.

Duque says that acts of “barbarism” committed by Maduro’s troops in blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid require a forceful international response — something that could come as early as Monday, when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence travels to the Colombian capital for an emergency summit on Venezuela with foreign ministers from more than a dozen mostly conservative Latin American and Caribbean states.

Read more: www.foxnews.com

Venezuelan refugees feared drowned en route to Trinidad

More than 30 people set sail on fishing vessel Jhonnaly Jose that capsized in heavy seas

More than 30 Venezuelans are missing, feared drowned, after their boat sank attempting to reach Trinidad in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The fishing vessel, Jhonnaly Jose, had left the port city of Guiria but capsized in rough seas near the uninhabited Patos Island, 3 miles (5km) from the Venezuelan coast.

The boat’s official manifest recorded 25 passengers, but sources say additional passengers boarded unlogged. Most of the passengers were women.

Nine survivors have been found by the Venezuelan and Trinidadian Coast Guards. Two, including the captain, Francisco Martinez, were found clinging to floating oil drums as daylight broke over the Gulf of Paria. The stretch of water that separates the Caribbean island from the South American mainland is just 7km at its narrowest point.

Venezuelan authorities released the names of 23 people confirmed as travelling on the boat, all aged between 17 and 28. Most are likely to have been fleeing the ongoing social and economic crisis. The accident happened at night on a popular route for refugees and migrants who pay traffickers to reach Trinidad. Passage costs $250 (£194), paid to boatmen who sail under cover of darkness, docking in quiet coves or jetties.

Passenger ferries travel between the two countries about once a week, but many Venezuelans are forced to cross illegally on fishing boats because they don’t have passports to enter through official ports and are often refused entry. Getting passports and official documents issued in Venezuela is almost impossible because of the collapsing civil administration. Some claim the regime of President Nicolas Maduro deliberately withholds passports and blame the bureaucratic delays on corruption or attempts to stop Venezuelan citizens fleeing the country.

According to government figures, 3 million Venezuelans have left since the crisis began. Per capita, there are more Venezuelans living in Trinidad and Tobago than any country in the region, except the microstates of Aruba and Curacao. The United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) and the Trinidadian government estimate that 40,000 Venezuelans are living in Trinidad, of whom 10,000 have registered as asylum-seekers with the UN refugee agency.

Refugees in Trinidad currently have no employment rights, which forces them to work illegally. Many are exploited, paid shockingly low wages and some resort to sex work to supplement their incomes. Sex trafficking rings have been uncovered by the Trinidadian police.

However, the Trinidadian government recently announced an amnesty on all Venezuelans living in the country – including those who entered illegally – that will allow them temporary work permits. The scheme, like those in other Latin American countries hosting Venezuelans, will require registration with the government within a two-week timeframe.

Trinidad’s minister of national security, Stuart Young, has said that after one year refugees will be expected to return to Venezuela. Concerns have been expressed about how the government will handle the data and whether it will be shared with the Maduro regime.

The governments of Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago have close ties, largely because of commercial deals over the off-shore oil reserves that bolster both countries’ economies. The diplomatic situation has coloured Trinidad’s approach to the refugee crisis, with the prime minister, Keith Rowley, thus far refusing to recognise Venezuelans living in Trinidad as refugees.

Early unconfirmed reports from local news agencies stated that at least two children were on board the Jhonnaly Jose when it set off.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘Nice try’! Nikki Haley has got some news for childbirth-splainer Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has got a fever, and the only prescription is Medicare for All. He’s citing the high costs of childbirth in the U.S. as evidence that what we really need to fix an admittedly flawed health insurance system is moar socialism:

Well, well, well … would you look at that? An old white man gushing off about childbirth. That’s so not-woke, Bernie. And the Medicare for All B.S. is so tiresome. Which is why Nikki Haley’s not having any of it:

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Shorter Nikki Haley: Thank you, next!

If Bernie is even more at home in the socialist paradises of Europe, far be it from us to keep him here.

Meanwhile:

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