A Strike From the Skies That Missed
An American airstrike last week apparently killed up to 10 Somali militants working with al Qaeda but failed to kill the targeted al Qaeda suspects, U.S. officials reported. "Frankly, I don't think we know who we killed," said one. The attack around Ras Kamboni in southern Somalia came as U.S. Special Forces on the ground sought to locate al Qaeda remnants fleeing an Ethiopian and Somali government offensive that has pushed the radical Islamic Courts movement out of Mogadishu and other cities into a coastal area near the border with Kenya. U.S. warships are patrolling the waters off Somalia.
U.S. Special Forces were said to be pursuing three al Qaeda suspects and advising Ethiopian and Somali troops. The al Qaeda suspects may include alleged plotters of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, such as Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who is wanted by the FBI. Those attacks killed 225 people and wounded thousands.
The Karl Marx of the Caribbean
Pledging to rev up his Bolivarian revolution, Hugo Chávez was sworn in for another six-year term as president of Venezuela last week. "Fatherland, socialism or death-I swear it," he proclaimed in a speech recalling the rhetoric of his ailing friend, Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Chávez, 52, seems to expect a long stay in office. He is seeking a constitutional change permitting "indefinite re-elections," a prospect made virtually certain because all the members of the National Assembly back him after an opposition boycott of legislative elections.
Chávez is popular with Venezuela's poor, having taken the windfall from high oil prices and funneled it into education and healthcare-along with aid to friendly neighbors, like Cuba. Last week, he vowed to nationalize power and telecommunications companies. The nationalizations-which officials in Caracas say would include compensation-are expected to affect at least two U.S.-based companies heavily invested in those sectors: AES Corp. and Verizon Communications.
An Unlikely Second Act for a Sandinista
After his own swearing-in, Hugo Chávez jetted north to attend the same-day inauguration of Daniel Ortega as president of Nicaragua. A leading antagonist of the Reagan administration as head of the Sandinista government, Ortega returned to power for the first time since losing a 1990 election. After failing to win two more elections, he defeated divided conservatives in a November contest by portraying himself as a newborn centrist who wants reconciliation. He was able to gain the support of some former contra guerrillas-the earlier U.S.-backed, anti-Sandinista force. Ortega, 61, blasted the free-market policies of his predecessors and is likely to receive major aid from Venezuela. Washington opposed him, but a high-level U.S. delegation did attend the inauguration. President Bush phoned Ortega to express a desire to work together.
When Oil Money Trumps Friendship
Tiffs over money can shake even close friendships. So it was last week when Russia and its neighboring ally, Belarus, faced off over oil tariffs. Showing its sharp elbows where energy is involved, Russia cut off oil flows to Belarus after the government of strongman Alexander Lukashenko put a transit fee on oil and then siphoned oil to cover the fee. Russia is raising once subsidized energy prices for the former Soviet republics; it had more than doubled the price of natural gas to Belarus, and separately, it imposed a higher customs duty on oil. A year ago, Russia's dispute with Ukraine over natural gas prices briefly stopped gas deliveries to other European nations.
The Russian cutoff this time also exacted collateral damage, halting oil flows through its "Friendship" pipeline to Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine, and Slovakia. Though a compromise appears to have ended the immediate crisis, the incident has deepened European fears about overreliance on Russian energy. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso called Moscow's tactics "not acceptable," and the European Union rolled out a long-term plan to reduce dependence on oil and gas.
A 'Country' That's All Yours-for a Price
Wanna buy a country, of sorts? The tiny Principality of Sealand-a former World War II British military installation in the North Sea-is up for sale. Sealand consists of two concrete towers and a steel platform accessible only by boat or helicopter. Abandoned by the British government, it was taken over and refurbished by a retired Army major, Paddy Roy Bates. It was proclaimed "Sealand" in 1967. Prince Roy, as he is known, and his family once blocked a Navy eviction effort, and his claim of sovereignty was upheld by courts. The principality sports its own flag, anthem, stamps, and passport and gets de facto recognition from some European states, though not Britain. Sealand's price? Nearly $1 billion, says a Spanish real-estate firm.
With Kevin Whitelaw and Associated Press
This story appears in the January 22, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.