Bolivia Facing an Uncertain Future

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The expulsion of Evo Morales from the presidency of Bolivia marks the end of a South American leftist, authoritarian ruler who abused his power excessively, ignored the will of the people, and all but exiled democracy from the country. When all was said and done, Morales went a step too far and it was too much for the Bolivian people to take. The 20 October, 2019 election results were clearly fraudulent, and bent in Morales favor artificially. The people took to the streets in protest. Evidence of voter fraud surfaced, international pressure grew, and the protests continued, becoming larger, and now included police officers marching side by side with private citizens.

After 19 days of protests, the police and military demanded the resignation of Morales. He addressed the nation, announced he was resigning from office, and has disappeared from sight. Rumors are circulating that warrants for his arrest have been issued and he’s on the run, but there has been no confirmation. Mexico has offered asylum to the former president, and claims Morales is the victim of a military-backed coup.

What comes next for Bolivia remains to be seen. Morales was Bolivia’s longest serving president and his departure will leave a vacuum. The stage looks to be set for a period of unrest. In the streets, supporters of the former president are constructing barricades and preparing for a long, drawn out struggle. The political leadership picture is fluid at the moment. Along with Morales, a number of senior government officials also resigned, including the vice president. Questions about the nature of the upheaval also need to be answered. Was this a military revolt, or a democratic uprising?

As the questions are answered, and post-Morales Bolivia gets sorted out, it would be valuable to look around the rest of South America and wonder what comes next. There are other nations there contending with similar problems at the moment. South America is rife with instability, and leftist authoritarian leaders. If this can happen in Bolivia, it can easily happen elsewhere.

Venezuela, I was staring directly at you as I typed that last sentence.

Mexico Is Failing Fast

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The ambush and murder of nine Americans in Mexico this week has highlighted the continuing trials and tribulations America’s neighbor to the south has been enduring. Put simply, Mexico is on the road to ruin right now. The drug cartels wield the same power and influence of a national government in many regions of the country. The rule of law has broken down almost entirely across large swaths of territory and the government has been unable, or unwilling to do anything to counter it. In effect, the drug cartels and organized crime syndicates are Balkanizing Mexico, stripping the nation of its sovereignty, and its citizens of their safety.

It’s not fair to say the Mexican government has not moved to take down the cartels in the past. It has. Unfortunately, just about every effort has failed miserably. Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s president from 2006-2012, targeted the leadership of the cartels and for every high-ranking criminal that was incarcerated or killed, another rapidly moved in to fill the void. Calderon’s successor Enrique Peña Nieto developed a more passive strategy. He believed political reform, and strong economic conditions would be enough to reduce criminality, and the influence of cartels in everyday life. This approach failed too.

Mexico’s current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has fared no better. Federal and municipal authorities submit to the wishes of the cartels. The overwhelming majority of crimes committed go unpunished. The national will has been fractured and so far Obrador has found no way to repair it.

Meanwhile, in Washington DC, President Trump is starting to pay closer attention to what’s happening to the south. The deaths of nine Americans has alarmed the Trump administration and the president has offered Mexico any and all forms of support needed to bring the cartels down once and for all. The Mexican government’s response was essentially ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ Obrador is unwilling, and in many ways unable to do anything effective to curb the drug cartels.

One has to wonder how long it will be until the United States decides to do the job for him. The cartels are infiltrating Texas at an alarming rate, and now there are American citizens being massacred on Mexican soil. If Obrador cannot get his country under control, or is powerless to, the Trump administration could decide the stability of Mexico is essential to the national interests and security of the United States. At that point the gloves will come off and what happens then is anyone’s guess. But it probably won’t end well for the cartels. Or the Mexican government for that matter.

G20 Summit Kicks Off in Buenos Aires

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President Trump and other world leaders have arrived in Buenos Aires for the 2018 G20 Leaders’ Summit. As the summit starts, there are a number of subplots worth watching over the course of the next few days. The recent clash between Ukrainian and Russian ships in the Black Sea region, concerns about whether or not the US-China trade war will escalate, and the continuing blowback of the Khashoggi Murder are three of the issues G20 leaders will be contending with.

Kicking off the summit was an announcement that the United States, Canada, and Mexico have completed and signed a trade agreement. The United States, Mexico, and Canada Agreement (USMCA) will replace NAFTA. When President Trump took office restructuring or even replacing NAFTA was a top priority. After two years of negotiations, and some arm-twisting, the new agreement has become a reality.

The fate of President Trump’s planned meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Buenos Aires is uncertain right now. Trump announced he was canceling the meeting in response to tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The Kremlin, however, has said nothing about the talk having been cancelled, leaving the fate of the meeting up in the air.

Interaction between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will be closely watched this weekend as well. The two leaders will meet during the summit, raising hopes that the ongoing trade war between the world’s two largest economies can be deescalated, and the souring relations between China and the United States reversed. A ceasefire on tariffs would be especially welcomed, although one is unlikely to be reached this weekend. Trump views tariffs as leverage and an effective weapon. He will not be prepared to give it up so easily. The US-China relationship is complex, and a prime example of economic and geopolitical interests clashing head on.

It would seem, for the moment, that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will receive a pass on the Khashoggi murder. The G20’s attention this weekend will be on the global economy, climate and energy concerns, and other similar issues. Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi agents at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul is a topic to be avoided and understandably so. The G20 is an economic club at its heart. As a general rule, dubious political matters are avoided at all costs, even though the global media would love nothing more than for Salman, and Saudi Arabia to receive a comeuppance of sorts in Buenos Aires.

Border Security and National Sovereignty

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Since yesterday, a number of media outlets have reported that the Trump Administration is strongly considering a plan to close the southern border with Mexico as a measure to prevent members of the Central American migrant caravan from crossing into the United States. According to the New York Times, the plan calls for broad executive action on the part of the president aimed at fortifying the southern US border with additional troops, and denying asylum requests by Central Americans for a period of time. Whether or not this plan becomes reality remains to be seen. If it does, a number of challenges will likely be filed against it in US courts. The saga of the migrant caravan comes with less than two weeks remaining until the US midterm elections. This has been a raucous political season in the United States, and both Democrats and Republicans are both using the caravan to gain leverage over the other.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the president is fully within his rights to shut the southern border if he deems it necessary to protect the United States from an external threat and the migrant caravan falls into this category. The organizers and leaders of the caravan have plainly stated their intentions to force entry onto US soil. In essence, they’ve declared war on the US and turned their humanitarian pilgrimage into an invasion force. President Trump cannot, and will not allow them to enter the United States.

Border security is central to national sovereignty. The ability of a nation-state to remain both politically stable, and internationally reliable, is jeopardized the moment its borders become porous. The European Migrant Crisis produced numerous examples of this, having eroded the sovereignty of numerous European nation-states, and of the European Union as well. The after-effects of that crisis continue to be felt across the continent.

The US doesn’t appear likely to make the same mistakes that Brussels, and Berlin have. The Trump administration has made border security a priority since the beginning. Progress on building a wall on the southern border has been hampered by opposition efforts, and congressional infighting, however. It is not secret that President Trump has been frustrated by his inability to firmly gain control of the border. This caravan, and the crisis surrounding it, presents him with the opportunity to turn reverse these fortunes. The United States needs a secure southern border as much as it does strong leadership in Washington.

Wednesday 7 February, 2018 Update: US Oil Sanctions Against Venezuela Appear More Likely

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While in Argentina over the weekend, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson remarked to reporters that the imposing of oil sanctions and restrictions against Venezuela’s oil sector is now on the table. US oil sanctions are considered the nuclear option and would close off Venezuela’s economy to the single source of dependable income it has left. US and international sanctions already in place against Venezuela have not had the intended effect. If anything, the moves have emboldened Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro to dig in his heels and go for broke. In January, 2018 Maduro announced he will be seeking a new term in office. The presidential election has been scheduled for 30 April of this year and with the majority of opposition candidates and leaders banned from running, Maduro is expected to skate to an easy victory.

If the presidential election proceeds, and the Trump administration imposes an oil embargo in response, the impact on markets, supply, and output will be significant. 2018 has seen an overall tightening in the oil market and a supply disruption now is sure to cause reverberations that weren’t felt when there was a crude superabundance. If Venezuela faces an oil embargo its economy will collapse entirely and that could cause an undesirable chain of destabilization among its neighbors, and other Latin American nations. The prospects of sanctions bringing a scenario like this to life are real. Caribbean nations rely heavily on cheap Venezuelan oil and have resisted Tillerson’s calls for a hemisphere-wide effort to challenge Maduro. US, Mexican, and Canadian oil officials, and diplomats are forming a working group to try and find an alternative to Venezuelan oil for nations in the Western Hemisphere that are reliant on it at the present time.

President Trump favors harsher sanctions against Venezuela, though its uncertain if he’s willing to turn to his nuclear option just yet. As mentioned above, the current sanctions in place have not motivated Nicolas Maduro to begin the reform process. If US efforts to create an anti-Maduro coalition show signs of success between now and the end of April, expect the Trump administration to begin thinking seriously about oil sanctions, or an outright embargo against Venezuela by 1 May.