War of the Orchids – Political power struggles within Venezuela & US interests

On January the 10th, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in as President of Venezuela for a second time despite claims the 2018 election was illegitimate.

One day later on the 11th, The Venezuela National Assembly declared the election to be invalid and proclaimed their leader Juan Guaidó as President.

Whilst Maduro still claims power Guaidó is still contesting it.

Outside Venezuela, a number of countries have announced support for Guaidó. According to Reuters, Paraguay has cut political ties with Venezuela after Manduri was sworn in for a second term, Peru has withdrawn the country’s diplomats in objection, Brazil has issued support for Guaidó. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the United States has labeled Maduro’s claim as “illegitimate” and have voiced official support for protestors.

“On behalf of President Donald Trump and all the American people, let me express the unwavering support of the United States as you, the people of Venezuela, raise your voices in a call for freedom.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence

United States interests in Venezuela:

Early into the Trump’s presidency, Maduro and his party blamed the United States and Trump for the issues plaguing Venezuela. Therefore the United States and Donald Trump have personal bones to pick with Maduro.

In 2018 (January – October), the United States imported between 13,000 and 21,000 barrels of oil and petroleum. Whilst this is down from previous years as the United States has focused on producing their own oil (reaching 11 million barrels per day last year), the United States still consumes almost 20 million barrels per day meaning they still have a significant interest in Venezuela and it’s stability.

Concerns surrounding refugees and migration has also become an overwhelming issue for the Trump administration. With Trump cracking down on migration, refugees, and asylum seekers hoping to escape their homelands and cross the border; Increased or continued instability within Venezuela will force more to leave in the future. According to the UN Refugee Agency and the UN Migration Agency, the total number of Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers has now reached 3 million. And whilst the majority have been hosted by neighbouring countries, thousands still make the long journey up to the United States border each year.

Now Maduro has ordered the departure of US diplomats from the country in consequence for the country’s support of his opposition, however, according to the Washington Post, it may be the military that determines whether or Maduro retains control of the country. Whilst the Venezuelan armed forces have publically declared support for Maduro, some suspect internal/private uncertainty due to small actions such as noticeable restraint shown towards both Guaidó and the civilian protests.

The election of Jair Bolsonaro

With almost all of the vote reported, Jair Messias Bolsonaro from The Social Liberal Party will almost certainly be Brazil’s next president.

But who is this new world leader? And why has the gaze of the entire world (particularly western nations) fallen upon Brazil?

The man himself

Jair Messias Bolsonaro born in 1955 is a politician and former military officer. Overtly conservative and controversial, Bolsonaro has drawn both criticism and praise nationally and internationally.

As a campaign, he promoted pro-market and liberal economic policy which would allow individuals more say in decisions rather than having them made by the government and other organisations. As well as calling for greater relationships with the United States and Israel.

However, Bolsonaro has not escaped controversy. In the #MeToo era Bolsonaro once told congresswomen Maria do Rosario “I wouldn’t rape you because you don’t deserve it,” going on to call her ugly. Bolsonaro has also made controversial negative comments regarding homosexuality (which is now accepted in over 70 countries worldwide), as well as both the treatment of political opponents and suspected criminals.

The country 

Brazil recently endured an economic crisis from 2014 to 2016 which resulted in the loss of 72,000 truckers’ jobs and the impeachment of their president at the time. Since then Brazil has struggled with petrol shortages having a domino effect upon the production and exports industries.

This has left a stain of political mistrust within Brazil, visible as the out-going Brazilian president (Michel Temer) produced an approval rating of 5%.

To a country emerging from crisis, national-minded Bolsonaro may appear as a light in the darkness.

The Western world

The 2018 Brazilian election and Bolsonaro as a candidate have not escaped the eye of the western world. His ideology and behaviour have drawn comparisons to United States President, Donald Trump,  labels of ‘far-right’ given, and fears of fascism voiced.

For the Western world, the election of Jair Bolsonaro may develop feelings of fear and uncertainty for the future as right-wing ideology and conservatism appears to be on the rise in western nations. However, in contrast, over 50% of Brazil hopes that Jair Bolsonaro will lead them out of the lingering uncertainty and crisis.

 

Useful sources: 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/27/gay-relationships-still-criminalised-countries-report

https://theslot.jezebel.com/far-right-candidate-who-once-said-a-congresswoman-was-t-1830060394

https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/2017/10/1925458-bolsonaro-diz-que-e-liberal-e-adota-discurso-que-agrada-investidores.shtml

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12065391

https://www.americasquarterly.org/content/brazils-crisis-two-sentences-or-less

 

Image labeled for reuse from Wikimedia Commons

Breaking down: Catalan independence

On October 1st, Catalonia Spain undertook a referendum asking voters if they wanted their region to become independent from Spain and embrace a future as a republic. The result of this has Sparked global debate. So what is Catalonia? What right do they have to independence? And how could they gain it?

Firstly, what and where is Catalonia?

Catalonia a northern region of Spain located just under France that slightly resembles a sideways wizard’s hat. The popular Spanish tourist city of Barcelona sits within this region.

Why do they want independence and what right do they have to it? 

The region was embraced into modern Spain in the early 1700s but continuously rejected Spanish laws and language. After a period of time, they were allowed to govern themselves to a certain degree but there was a growing sense of nationalism.

In 2010 Madrid overruled claims that there was no legal basis for recognising the nation as a part of Spain.

Spain’s troubling economy has moved some towards independence. As a wealthier region it would have less trouble supporting itself and boasts low unemployment rates. While Catalan is not recognised as part of the European Union’s 24 offical languages it is still widely spoken and understood in Europe meaning language would not pose a significant barrier for relations if they were to seperate.

The offical Spanish view (and counter argument) however…

Does not acknowledge the referendum results and does not want to grant Catalonia independence. As previously mentioned, the area is one of the more wealthy ones in the country and is a strong industrial hub for them. Catalonia is also responsible for over half of the country’s start up investments and a quarter of exportation goods.

In an economical crisis, losing Catalonia could have significant consequences on the rest of the country.

So what now?

Currently Madrid is unwilling to negotiate with Catalan over the result.

Catalan do have options such as making a formal declaration of independence but they still face the issue of being internationally recognised by other countries and organisations (such as UN).

Being internationally recognised is an important factor and some countries such as France have already stated they would not recognise them.