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Venezuela

Is Venezuela Behind Latin America's Surge In Civil Unrest?

South American states like Chile and Ecuador suspect Venezuela's socialist regime of fanning rioting in their countries.

Protests earlier this month in Quito, Ecuador
Protests earlier this month in Quito, Ecuador
Luis Carlos Vélez

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — "What's happening in Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Honduras is just the first breeze," said the Speaker of Venezuela's Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. "A Bolivarian hurricane is coming."

The apparent threats a few days ago, following a series of popular uprisings in other Latin American states, are disconcerting, coming from this regime stalwart and crony of President Nicolás Maduro, also known for his rhetorical bluster. We should take note, as they state clearly his regime's intentions in the region. It was always evident that its founder, Venezuela's late president Hugo Chávez, wanted to export his tragic model across all of Latin America. Yet many of us imagine that Maduro's weakness and the international censure to which he is subjected will have dissuaded him from his late mentor's ambitions. We know today the plan is very much alive.

How is he doing it? By three ways: infiltration, social networks and exploiting local anger. The infiltrators: authorities in Colombia and elsewhere have been able to identify professional instigators from Venezuela in protests registered in the country. There are multiple reports on the presence of supposed members of Caracas' intelligence agency in the protests in Ecuador, while the government of Sebastián Piñera in Chile has indicators of some form of Venezuelan involvement in the excesses of recent street protests.

Secondly, online networking: For this I would recommend reading Antisocial, an extraordinary book by the journalist Andrew Marantz, in which he describes how online extremists hijacked the political debate in the United States and how easily the procedure is replicated worldwide. Our region has yet to talk about it, but we need to start this conversation or face the dissemination of more fake news that dupes the public and exposes it to manipulation by radicals. The tech giants meanwhile make millions in profits on the back of the carefree and the destruction of democracy as we know it. Facebook and Google are enriching themselves by acting as the engines of populists, and it is time now for them to take responsibility for their actions, or rather inaction.

There is a common element in Chile, Ecuador and Colombia: no desire to negotiate.

Thirdly: manipulating local disaffection. There is a common element in the case of Chile, Ecuador and Colombia, namely acting or provoking faits accomplis, without regard for dialogue or a desire to negotiate. In Chile, it was an increase in the price of public transport tickets, in Ecuador the removal of fuel subsidies and in Colombia, mainly, demands for more money for education. Protesters came onto the streets in droves before the conversation had really taken place, and forced back those measures by bringing their governments to their knees. Is throwing stones the new way of public discussion or voting?

To be clear, I am not saying all demonstrators are revolutionaries or that every act of protest is encouraged by the Venezuelan regime. I would affirm however that local problems and public anger are definitely being exploited using technology and its lack of oversight, and that Maduro-backed infiltrators are exacerbating the protests and pressuring democracies in Latin America. It is an explosive cocktail that, if we are not attentive, could blow up in our face.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Western Tanks To Ukraine Trigger Russian Threats — But Also Fears Of Major Counterattack

Germany and the U.S. overcame months of reluctance in the past 24 hours to commit to sending heavy combat tanks to Ukraine. Russia responded with official bluster, but others in Moscow fear that the tanks delivery could be a gamechanger on the battlefield.

Picture of recently mobilized Russian troops

Recently mobilized Russian troops getting ready to depart for service

Cameron Manley

A week of growing expectations of a coming Russian offensive was turned on its head Wednesday as Germany and the U.S. announced their intention to send heavy combat tanks to Ukraine.

The sudden show of resolve on supplying tanks — after months of reluctance, particularly from Germany — has prompted some Russians to fear that Ukraine will now be equipped for a major counterattack. That would be significant reversal after speculation had been growing this month about a Russian spring offensive.

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government confirmed Wednesday morning that Berlin plans to send at least 14 German-built Leopard 2 tanks to the frontline. U.S. media also reported that Joe Biden’s administration is expected to officially announce Washington's commitment, with at least 30 M1 Abrams tanks expected to be sent.

The timeline remains unclear as to when the vehicles would make it into combat. Still, both sides on the war acknowledged that it is a significant development with the potential to change the math on the battlefield.

Official Russian response was loaded with typical incendiary rhetoric. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian president Vladimir Putin, said the new tanks would "burn like all the rest, only these ones are expensive.”

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