The Boston Marathon bombings understandably captured the country’s attention. Americans want to know everything they can about the plot, the perpetrators and their victims, and the news industryhas gone to great lengths to provide answers to any and all questions.
Unfortunately, that has also meant, to a large degree, ignoring the many other important developments unfolding across the world.
I have always believed it is crucial for Americans — for everyone everywhere, really — to remain engaged and knowledgeable about what happens on all corners of the planet. It’s a small world and it’s our home. We all live in it. What happens everywhere matters, and eventually touches us more directly than we might have expected.
So, as a public service, I offer a brief roundup of important international developments you may have missed while absorbed in the news from Boston:
North Korea: Before Boston, North Korea’s regime had engaged in threatening moves and alarming rhetoric directed at South Korea and the West. Pyongyang was angry that the world imposed sanctions after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February. Boston shifted the spotlight, but Kim Jong Un’s men have not grown quiet.
During an April 25 ceremony marking the founding of the People’s Army, the generals warned his forces might launch intercontinental ballistic missiles and even kamikaze nuclear attacks at the United States. There are conflicting opinions among U.S. intelligence agencies about North Korea’s capacity to fit nuclear warheads on long-range missiles.
Separately, South Korea offered to hold discussions on reopening a jointly operated industrial complex. North Korea rejected the offer.
Venezuela: Temperatures are rising following the razor’s-edge margin of victory in the April 14 presidential election. The vote, held just weeks after the death of Hugo Chávez, produced a stunning result. Authorities said Chávez’s hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro, who had once held a double-digit lead over challenger Henrique Capriles, won by barely 300,000 votes out of more than 14 million cast. Maduro has rejected the outcome, charging fraud. In clashes after the results’ announcement, as many as nine people were killed.
Capriles continues challenging the results. He has vowed to take the case to Venezuela’s supreme court, admitting he’s pessimistic that the body, filled with Chavista judges, will give him a fair hearing. Chavistas, for their part, are threatening to imprison the opposition leader. National Assembly leader Diosdado Cabello called Capriles a “fascist murderer” who must be punished. Maduro also threatened to throw him in jail, and the prisons minister said there’s a cell waiting for Capriles.
Syria: The opposition fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has long accused government forces of using chemical weapons in the country’s civil war. Several countries, including France, the United Kingdom and Israel say they have seen evidence that Assad is, in fact, using some of its vast arsenal of banned weapons, but the United States had held back, saying it was looking into the issue.
The matter is enormously important, because President Obama has repeatedly warned Assad that using the weapons would cross a “red line” that would trigger American action, perhaps military action. On Thursday, the White House and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel revealed that U.S. intelligence has concluded that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, and believe it was Assad’s forces that used them. Now the president has to decide how to respond, with the knowledge that Assad is testing American and international resolve, and Iran is watching to see how seriously Washington enforces its own red lines.
Also in Syria, Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon have been pouring in across the border to fight alongside Assad’s forces, a development that highlights the extent to which the Syrian conflict is destabilizing the already teetering Middle East. If there are signs that Hezbollah is getting its hands on chemical weapons that would surely bring action from the United States, NATO or Israel.
There’s much more, of course. Former all-powerful President Musharraf arrested in Pakistan, accused of treason for imposing emergency rule and failing to protect rival Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a campaign rally. Italy chose a new prime minister amid great economic turmoil. Egypt continues to roil; Colombia received a credit-rating upgrade because of improved peace prospects.
And there were all the other events that have marked an unusually intense period in the United States. But you have heard about those.
If we ignore what happens outside America, it often comes to us repackaged as unwelcome national news. It all makes much more sense if we’ve paid attention all along.
Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.