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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Disbanding the Venezuelan Mafia | Stratfor

Disbanding the Venezuelan Mafia | Stratfor
A number of powerful individuals who were propelled into positions of influence during the administration of former President Hugo Chavez have used that influence to shape the economy into a mangled instrument that suited their personal interests. These individuals now function less as a government than as a mafia.

Disbanding the Venezuelan Mafia

As the price of Brent crude continued its five-day dip, settling at $64 per barrel Tuesday, we can assume the latest slump is extremely worrisome for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The petrodollars he needs to keep the Venezuelan economy afloat are dwindling. He has only $17.8 billion sitting in largely illiquid reserves, most of which are stored in gold, and total reserves are declining by roughly $2 billion every month. Less oil revenue means fewer dollars to fund imports, which in turn means the average Venezuelan with a necessary ID card can shop only on days designated by the government. And on those days, that citizen has to rush to stand in maddeningly long lines patrolled by security guards only to find that basic goods, from toilet paper to milk, are stripped from the shelves.

But the drop in the price of oil is not the only thing Venezuelans can blame for the shortages. Festering within the government are a number of powerful individuals who were propelled into positions of influence during the administration of former President Hugo Chavez and who have used that influence to shape the economy into a mangled instrument that suited their personal interests. These individuals now function less as a government than as a mafia. Military generals and government officials have worked hand in hand to move cocaine from Colombia through Venezuela while gaming the country's purchasing and distribution mechanisms and subsidized exchange rates to realize profits from various arbitrage schemes. So even when the government is able to import basic goods, their partners in crime can hoard products at ports or in warehouses to sit and rot or eventually be sold on the black market.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.

Maduro inherited a government stacked with officials and generals whose primary interest is to maintain the influence and the perks that come with their positions. But Maduro has a problem. Venezuela's shortages are eventually going to reach a critical point as the country's financial cushion deflates, creating the potential for more serious unrest. At the same time, elections are due this year, and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela is going to struggle to win votes when the government is running on the fumes of the Chavez era. If Maduro has any chance of carrying the country through this crisis, he will have to start by dislodging Chavistas who are distorting critical parts of the economy through their elaborate corruption schemes.

Obviously, this is easier said than done. If Maduro had the power to purge his government, he would have done so by now. The people in question are powerful for a reason, and they have military backing and links to armed groups that can cause trouble if they are crossed. The prospect of messy street protests means he needs the support of his security forces more than ever.

It is for these reasons that we are particularly interested in the growing number of leaks and rumors on U.S. prosecutors and Drug Enforcement Administration members working to build cases against high-level Venezuelan officials complicit in drug trafficking. Following weeks of rumors in Venezuelan media on impending indictments against high-level officials, The Wall Street Journal captured a great deal of attention on Monday with its detailed investigation on this very issue. The report claimed that National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, Aragua state Gov. Tareck El Aissami, head of the National Guard Nestor Reverol, Gen. Luis Motta Dominguez and retired Gen. Hugo Carvajal are under investigation in the United States, giving credence to previous claims in Venezuela that Cabello, in particular, is at the top of the United States' list of targets.

Of course, these cases have been building for some time, particularly after the 2010 arrest of Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled. But it is notable that the rumors are intensifying at the same time the United States is trying to repair its relationship with Caracas. U.S. State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon met with Maduro on May 11, following up an April visit, and is reportedly expected to have more meetings with him in the coming weeks. The investigation of such high-profile Venezuelan officials would be discussed in these meetings. It is also reasonable to believe Cabello would be a central point as well.

Cabello, who participated in the 1992 coup attempt led by Chavez, has served in several powerful positions in the government and has influence over several members of the military. So long as he remains in a position of influence, the members in his criminal network are also protected. For now, as president of the National Assembly, Cabello has diplomatic immunity from any charges that the United States could throw at him. But if he loses his power — either through elections or through a decision by Maduro — then he and his cohorts will be susceptible to arrest and extradition if they leave the country now that he faces an impending indictment. Such concerns may be at least part of the reason we have not yet seen the Venezuelan government follow through in setting a date for the elections, even though Maduro likely knows that canceling the elections would result only in more severe and possibly unmanageable unrest on the streets.

That brings us back to the talks between Shannon and Maduro. Holding charges over the heads of powerful members of the Venezuelan government enables Washington to pressure Caracas into making political concessions, including a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition. But there may be more to the negotiation as well. Maduro may not be able to purge powerful figures such as Cabello and El Aissami on his own, but there is a possibility they could be sacrificed as part of a bargain with Washington — beginning the process of routing the government and the economy of its most destructive elements and delivering a message that the criminal networks distorting the economy are not impenetrable.

One way or another, Maduro needs to mitigate food shortages and secure economic aid. The United States is in no way the whole answer to Venezuela's problems or a substitute for the structural reforms needed to repair the economy, but it may be able to offer Maduro a partial solution. That prospect alone should have Cabello nervous.

Friday, May 15, 2015

#India- #China: Seeking the Nixon spirit @TheEconomist

Seeking the Nixon spirit

THE three-day trip that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, will make to China from May 14th to 16th is seen in some quarters as a chance to reset the relationship between Asia’s two giants. Those inclined to enthusiasm note that Mr Modi is easily the most interested in China of any recent Indian leader. He first crossed the border into China many years ago, to a holy site for Hindu pilgrims; he has since returned several times to study China’s rapid economic development. When he was chief minister of Gujarat state, Mr Modi was treated with lavish cordiality in China. At the time, politicians and diplomats from most Western powers, America included, shunned him. Mr Modi has not forgotten the hospitality.   
He made a vow to visit China during his first year as prime minister and is fulfilling it, by a whisker. He reciprocates a visit by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, who came to India in September. Unusually, Mr Xi stopped off in Gujarat before he made his way to Delhi. In turn, before he goes to Beijing Mr Modi will visit Shaanxi province, birthplace of Mr Xi’s father, a comrade of Mao Zedong’s.
Both leaders are the first in their respective countries to have been born after the second world war, with a willingness to try fresh approaches. Both like to project an image of manly strength, keen on bold strokes in policymaking and ready to do business. And at home both leaders dominate foreign affairs along with much else. And so some analysts are looking to see indications of a breakthrough between the two giants that warily eye each other across a 4,000-kilometre (2,500-mile) disputed border in the Himalayas, scene of a brief if nasty war in 1962.
In that context, the name of Richard Nixon is never far from the lips of Indian strategists. Like Nixon, Mr Modi is a right-winger, a nationalist with form—for instance, in promising to be tough on China (as well as on Pakistan, China’s ally in South Asia). He is, in other words, probably better placed than previous Indian leaders to find a compromise that would settle the border dispute and make it acceptable back home. In conversation Mr Modi repeatedly emphasises the scale of his election victory last year. In international affairs, he implies, it gives him unusual latitude.
On the Chinese side, some also discern a potential for better bilateral relations...

Read the rest of the article online at the The Economist here: Seeking the Nixon spirit | The Economist

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Philippe Val receives the Morris Abram 2015 Award for Human Rights @UNWatch

What happened to the Left?

Islam has taken the passionate spot in the hearts of the world's intellectuals of the Left.

"We must not speak of Islam, because it stigmatizes the 'victim'"

Unfortunately it's only in French, but the speech is excellent.

Discours: Philippe Val reçoit le Prix Morris Abram 2015 pour les Droits de l'Homme

 See the video on YouTube here.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

When #Iran, #Israel, and #Turkey Worked Together @ForeignAffairs

Between 1956 and 1979, Israel shared intelligence with Iran and Turkey on a scale not seen since, was one of Israel’s most far-reaching and comprehensive foreign policy accomplishments.

Trident’s Forgotten Legacy

Yossi Alpher 

May 7, 2015 Foreign Affairs 

The Trident alliance, through which, between 1956 and 1979, Israel shared intelligence with Iran and Turkey on a scale not seen since, was one of Israel’s most far-reaching and comprehensive foreign policy accomplishments. The program represented the vanguard of Israel’s doctrine for dealing with its neighbors and provided the nation with a grand strategy for the first time since its creation. Jerusalem’s relationship with Tehran lasted more than 20 years, until the fall of Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979. Israel’s strategic relationship with Turkey continued on and off for several decades, ending with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s acerbic comments at the Davos summit in 2009. Although ambitious, Trident was just one in a series of Israeli attempts to find common ground with non-Arab allies—most of which yielded only fleeting success.

Iran and Turkey voted against the creation of Israel by the United Nations in 1947, and neither supported Israel’s request for UN membership in 1949. Nevertheless, both proceeded to recognize Israel on a de facto basis, establishing low-level or thinly concealed relations through trade missions. Iran and Turkey had a number of motives to enter into relations with Israel and maintain them at low and often deniable levels. For one, those countries’ relations with their Arab neighbors were often tense, and warming or cooling to Israel was useful leverage. Additionally, there was the U.S. dimension: Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion marketed Trident to Washington as an asset to the West against Soviet inroads into the Middle East and as a force to fight Arab radicalism. Both Iran and Turkey understood Jewish influence in the United States and perceived that a close relationship with Israel would mean that the U.S. Jewish lobby would convey their needs to Washington.

Although ambitious, Trident was just one in a series of Israeli attempts to find common ground with non-Arab allies—most of which yielded only fleeting success.
Trident also wrought regional geostrategic incentives. Israel’s achievements in the 1956 Sinai campaign, Gamal Abdel Nasser’s erratic regime in Egypt, the Iraqi coup in 1958, and growing fears of Soviet incursion all brought Iran, Israel, and Turkey into an intelligence relationship that took form in a series of separate meetings in Europe, Ankara, and Tehran from 1956 to 1958. At the first triangular meeting, heads of each national intelligence organization established an impressive array of cooperative intelligence ventures, some leading to subversion projects directed against Nasserist and Soviet regional influence.

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