Dutch Caribbean Caught Up in ConocoPhillips-Venezuela Oil Dispute

View of Willemstad, Curaçao, November 21, 2012
View of Willemstad, Curaçao, November 21, 2012 (David Kirsch)

The Dutch Caribbean have been caught up in a legal dispute between the American oil company ConocoPhillips and the government of Venezuela.

A judge has allowed Conoco to seize Venezuelan-owned and -operated refineries on the islands in order to collect $2 billion in compensation awarded by the International Chamber of Commerce for the 2007 nationalization of Conoco assets in the socialist-run country.

The seizure poses a “potential crisis” to the economy of Curaçao, Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath has told Reuters. The Isla refinery, which processes 335,000 barrels of oil per day, accounts for a tenth of the island’s economy. Read more

What You Need to Know About the Election in Mexico

Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets a voter in San Baltazar Chichicapam, March 20, 2016
Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets a voter in San Baltazar Chichicapam, March 20, 2016 (Wikimedia Commons)

Mexico’s general election on July 1 will involve roughly 3,400 new elected officials taking office and $2 billion in campaign finance. It has been dubbed the biggest election in Mexican history.

It is important not only in terms of scale, but in terms of its new rules. For the first time, the ban on reelection does not apply and independent candidates can run.

This heightened capacity for change coincides with an electorate moving from apathy toward anger. Last year, only 18 percent of Mexicans told pollsters they were satisfied with their democracy, down from 41 percent in 2016. Institutional confidence is at a nadir.

Concerns about violence and insecurity related to drug cartels and organized crime are now coupled with deep frustrations about corruption and impunity as well as lopsided relations with the United States. Read more

Piñera Back, But Chileans Need Convincing

Sebastián Piñera gives a speech days before the end of his first term as president of Chile, March 3, 2014
Sebastián Piñera gives a speech days before the end of his first term as president of Chile, March 3, 2014 (Gobierno de Chile)

Sebastián Piñera unsurprisingly won back Chile’s presidency last week, defeating the governing party’s Alejandro Guillier in a runoff.

Piñera last ruled the country from 2010 to 2014 but was constitutionally barred from serving a consecutive second term.

What was surprising was the scale of his victory following a weak performance in the first voting round, where left-wing candidates got a combined 55 percent of the votes. Read more

No Shock Therapy: Macri Takes Gradual Approach to Reform

Presidents Mauricio Macri of Argentina and Michel Temer of Brazil deliver a news conference in Brasília, February 7
Presidents Mauricio Macri of Argentina and Michel Temer of Brazil deliver a news conference in Brasília, February 7 (Carolina Antunes)

Argentina’s Mauricio Macri and his coalition have reasserted their position as the party of government following last month’s midterm elections. The first conservative to win the presidency since democracy was restored in 1983, his supporters won majorities in thirteen out of 23 provinces. They have also taken charge of five of the most populous districts in the capital Buenos Aires.

Yet Macri’s party, Cambiemos (Let’s Change), still doesn’t have a majority in Congress, which helps explain his step-by-step approach to reforming the economy. Read more

Chile Shows Better Way to Neighbors in Crisis

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet attend a multilateral summit in Lima, Peru, November 20, 2016
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet attend a multilateral summit in Lima, Peru, November 20, 2016 (Gobierno de Chile)

Whether change comes swiftly or slowly, a deafness to cries for change can discredit not just politicians or political parties but whole systems of government.

This has already happened in Venezuela. It’s in the process of happening in Brazil. Chile, however slowly, is showing a better way. Read more

Venezuela Is a Geopolitical Tinderbox

Presidents Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Vladimir Putin of Russia shake hands at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 2, 2013
Presidents Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Vladimir Putin of Russia shake hands at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 2, 2013 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Surges of protests against a deeply unpopular government have catapulted Venezuela from back-burner regional crisis to a hemispheric one. It’s only a Russian presidential visit away from becoming the world’s next geopolitical hot spot.

Medical supplies are running short, opposition leaders are calling for nationwide boycotts and now the Americans are rousing themselves to begin a sanctions regime against the beleaguered Maduro government.

It’s quite the fall from grace. From 2004 until 2013, Venezuela’s economy rocketed upward, bringing a measure of prosperity to a country long accustomed to hardship. It appeared, in those heady days, that Hugo Chávez, the country’s authoritarian ruler, could bring about his socialist Bolivarian Revolution and economic prosperity. For the Latin American left, Venezuela was proof that one did not have to conform to the neoliberal capitalism of the United States to be successful.

Alas, since 2013, the economy has slid further and further while inflation has hammered the country’s currency to the point of worthlessness.

With America now poking its nose directly into Venezuelan affairs, with the opposition building a shadow government and with the Russians trying to shore up Nicolás Maduro’s government through increasingly generous aid shipments, the country has all the ingredients of a major geopolitical crisis.

The Americans could find themselves sucked into an ever-expanding role in managing the Maduro regime; the opposition could give up on peaceful politics altogether and embark on an armed struggle; an opportunistic Vladimir Putin might wedge Russian power into South America in hopes of throwing the Americans off balance in Europe. Read more

Dutch Relieved After Mainstream Parties Win Curaçao Election

The old harbor of Willemstad, Curaçao seen from a bus, December 24, 2007
The old harbor of Willemstad, Curaçao seen from a bus, December 24, 2007 (Gail Frederick)

Former prime minister Gerrit Schotte has lost the election on Curaçao, avoiding a standoff with the European Netherlands, which is loath to work with the corrupt politician.

Schotte’s populist Movement for the Future of Curaçao (MFK) gained one seat in the island’s legislature on Friday, winning five seats altogether, but the mainstream parties did better.

The liberal Party for the Restructured Antilles (PAR) and the social democratic Partido MAN won a majority between them. They can now govern alone, although they may add one or two small parties to round out a coalition. Read more