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
Berlusconi Comeback in Italy Looks Like a Long Shot
Silvio Berlusconi is eying a comeback in Italy — again.
The eighty-year old former media tycoon, who was prime minister four times between 1994 and 2011, still leads Forza Italia, the country’s largest conservative opposition party.
But it is only polling around 14 percent support. So many things need to happen to put Il Cavaliere back in power that it looks like a long shot:
The European Court of Human Rights needs to overturn Berlusconi’s ban from public office. Elections must be held before May 2018, but Berlusconi can’t run again until 2019 due to a conviction for tax fraud. He is appealing the verdict.
The ruling center-left Democratic Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which are polling in first and second place, respectively, need to lose popularity.
So does the formerly separatist Northern League, which Matteo Salvini is transforming into a national right-wing populist force that is anti-euro and anti-immigration.
A new electoral law must have a high-enough threshold to prevent Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano’s center-right Popular Alternative from eating into Berlusconi’s margins — but not so high as to prevent the nationalist Brothers of Italy from winning seats. Berlusconi would need them for a majority. Read more
Republican Attempt to Repeal Obamacare Turns into Farce
Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare have descended into farce.
Politico reports that Senate Republicans don’t even want their latest bill — which would repeal the 2010 health reforms without replacing them — to become law.
“The substance of this is not what’s relevant,” said Bob Corker of Tennessee. “This a pathway to conference. That’s the only purpose in this.”
But there is no guarantee the House of Representatives will agree to a conference, which is not designed to write laws to begin with. It’s a process to iron out differences between similar bills passed by both chambers.
The reason Senate Republicans must resort to this is that they haven’t been able to unify their own behind a health-care bill, let alone attract Democratic support. Read more
Janan Ganesh wonders in the Financial Times if, rather than economic pain, relatively good times led to victories for Brexit and Donald Trump.
The median Briton, he points out, has no recollection of national crisis: no devaluation, no three-day workweek, no conscript war, none of the floor-to-ceiling greyness of the postwar years, when austerity entailed the rationing of basics and not just tight public-sector pay settlements.
The worst ordeals were an invasion of Iraq conducted by an all-volunteer army and a crash in which unemployment peaked at 8 percent.
To remain vigilant after such a benign experience of history is too much to ask, argues Ganesh. Read more
Libya’s two most powerful leaders have agreed to call a ceasefire and hold elections next year after a meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
Their deal has the potential to end six years of civil war, but there are at least five reasons to doubt it will hold:
Khalifa Haftar, the generalissimo in charge of eastern Libya, and Fayez al-Sarraj, the prime minister of the internationally-recognized unity government in Tripoli, did not agree on a date for elections, so there is no deadline.
The truce exempts counterterrorism, which Haftar and Sarraj could interpret differently. Haftar calls his entire campaign a counterterrorist operation.
Libya’s institutions, including the central bank and National Oil Corporation, have recognized Sarraj’s as the legitimate government, but he has no security force of his own and could struggle to convince the militias that support him to stop fighting.
Haftar, by contrast, has his own army, which occupies two-thirds of Libya, most of its oil ports and the city of Benghazi. But he has to convince a rival parliament in Tobruk to agree to the deal. Given how well the civil war has been going for them lately, they may balk at its terms.
While Western countries and the United Nations back Sarraj, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates support Haftar in his war against Islamists. Read more
Don’t Read Too Much into Macron’s Falling Popularity
There is a bit of schadenfraude on the far left and the right about French president Emmanuel Macron’s approval rating, which has sunk from 64 to 54 percent in one month. See, Marxists and conservatives howl, the Little Napoleon is already disappointing the French.
Disapproval is strongest among certain demographics — civil servants, pensioners and supporters of the Mouvement démocrate party.
Which is hardly surprising when Macron intends to fire tens of thousands of bureaucrats, has proposed to bring public-sector pensions in line with those in the private sector and lost three ministers of the Democratic Movement to a spending scandal. Read more