SANTIAGO - Ten days ago, on Feb. 23, our continent and the whole world were watching what would happen at Venezuela's borders with Colombia and Brazil . In an attempted show of force, Venezuela's opposition chief and self-proclaimed head of a provisional government Juan Guaidó , sought to bring humanitarian aid across the border, against the will of President Nicolás Maduro. The intention was to have the Venezuelan Armed Forces defy Maduro's authority and let aid in, effectively taking a first, putative step towards regime change.
That did not happen. Neither soldiers nor the police followed Guaidó"s mandate, recognized as legitimate by more than 50 nations around the world. They remained united and, aside from some scuffles, burned trucks and a few desertions, little happened that day in Venezuela.
Did Maduro become stronger? We do not think so. Venezuela is heaving under a ruinous dictatorship, with an annual rate of hyper-inflation exceeding a million percent and a growth slump that has pummeled GDP for five years and shrunk the economy by more than half. Food and medicines do not meet people's minimum needs. It is unthinkable that the culprit in this disaster could relax and think he has won - even if he was filmed dancing salsa with his wife that day - especially with the subsequent exacerbation of international measures against his regime that will likely continue in coming days and weeks .
Maduro is less in charge of the process than his tragicomical persona may suggest
What this latest episode reveals, in our opinion, is that the Venezuelan regime is much more a military, than a civilian-military dictatorship. Maduro is less in charge of the process than his public, tragicomical persona may suggest. Behind the scenes are figures like Diosdado Cabello, a soldier and president of the trumped-up Constituent Assembly, and Vladimiro López Padrino, another soldier and Minister of Defense. Numerous members of the military have turned Venezuela into a paradise for illegal businesses involving oil, gold and foreign exchange, and as many investigations suggest, drugs as well.
This is not a typical Latin American junta regime, with the army siding with a sector of the population (generally the conservative Right, and sometimes the Left), reaping the rewards, and expanding the terrain for corruption and impunity. We saw that in Central America, Chile, Brazil and Argentina. What we have here are the leaders of a corps profoundly altered and politicized by the late president Hugo Chávez, and since fortified by Cuban security services. Over the years, these have become a professional mafia that has taken over the government apparatus, and turned Venezuela into a failed state.
But this well-greased mafia will not stop a possible, negotiated solution to the country's impasse. Even the biggest capo has to at some point conclude it would be best to negotiate with the authorities. And this regime and its figureheads are not immune to international pressure or the repudiation of millions of Venezuelans, the vast majority of whom very likely back Guaidó. As he has indicated, the armies are probably divided, but the rifts have yet to emerge. Not all officers back Maduro, which may indeed explain why Guaidó can move about the country without being detained, so far at least.
None of this has so far swayed the junta.
Was he weakened by the failure to deliver aid? We think so, but not necessarily irreparably. He may yet win this war. His grave error that day was to declare that all options were open, including implicitly, foreign military intervention. Any such attack would engulf Venezuela in violence and impede the restoration of democracy, but also break the continental unity forged not around U.S. military intervention, but around the democratic cause in Venezuela.
The Lima Group has sensibly ruled out intervention, urging instead the military to recognize Guaidó. With this option out, what must be done to dislodge the regime?
Guaidó and his team have prudently offered officers full amnesty for recognizing his administration. Maduro himself may have been offered a way out and exile in Cuba or Russia, and the opposition have spoken of national reconciliation, not justice. But none of this has so far swayed the "junta" into desisting from its illicit enterprises that continue to sink a country and its economy.
There have been reliable reports of conversations between Guaidó and his people and China and Russia , to assure them that their investments would be protected and their debts, paid, if they drop Maduro. These elements, we think - tighter sanctions and diplomatic pressures, to loosening of Chinese and Russian positions towards the opposition, continued protests and seeking ways to bring in aid - may finally serve to push the doors to Maduro's exit and to free elections.
Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.
[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.
• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.
• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.
• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.
• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.
• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.
• Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials
.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."
— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.
📈💥 IN OTHER NEWS
Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians
The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:
⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.
☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.
🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.
Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com
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