Europe/Americas update: December 16-17 2017



Leaders of Europe’s various Nazi cosplayer parties gathered in Prague on Saturday to praise Donald Trump and denounce the European Union. That must have been a real fun time. They wanted to make it clear to people that they “are not xenophobes” (a real thing that Marine Le Pen said), they just hate and fear foreigners. They seem to be very excited over the rise of far-right populism in Austria (see below), which, um, makes me a little uneasy, but maybe I’m just over-sensitive.


Russia’s Federal Security Service killed three suspected Islamist militants in a raid in Dagestan on Sunday morning.

It’s not clear if this raid was connected with the alleged terrorist cell that Russian authorities reportedly took down in St. Petersburg on Friday, but that story was in the news again on Sunday because it turns out that it was a CIA tip that clued the Russians in to the cell’s existence. Vladimir Putin called Donald Trump on Sunday to thank him for the assistance. The cell was allegedly planning to strike multiple targets in the city, including the landmark Kazan Cathedral.


Mikheil Saakashvili and about 5000 of his supporters gathered in Kiev for a march and rally on Sunday to once again call for the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko. The protesters violently attempted to seize control of Kiev’s October Palace arts center and make it their headquarters, which is the kind of thing that’s not likely to endear them to the broader Ukrainian public. Saakashvili has certainly made a lot of noise in the past few weeks, but it’s not clear that his support extends much beyond the 5000 people who marched with him on Sunday. If he wants to make an impact, he’ll need to not alienate the rest of Kiev’s population.


Speaking of the far-right, Austria’s far-right Freedom Party has agreed to form a coalition with the, uh, slightly less far-right People’s Party, and in exchange for their generosity they’re going to be given control of Austria’s foreign, defense, and interior ministries. Oh, well as long as they’re not being given too much authority then. This only leaves the Junior Nazi Appreciation Society in control of, um, Austria’s military and police.


Leaders of Germany’s Social Democratic Party are going to push Chancellor Angela Merkel to give them control of the finance ministry in any coalition government. It’s not clear how Merkel would respond to that demand, nor is it clear whether the demand is a red-line for the SPD.


French President Louis XVI Emmanuel Macron honored his commitment to austerity by celebrating his 40th birthday this weekend at the Château de Chambord, in Loire, which looks like this:

(Wikimedia | Arnaud Scherer)

To be fair, Macron and his wife, Marie Brigitte, are only staying in a guest house on the palace grounds and won’t be holding any celebrations in the palace itself. Because that’s the frugal thing to do, you see. They also insist they’re paying for the vacation themselves, which a) probably isn’t completely true and b) is beside the point for a president who wants French workers to eat a painful stew of benefit cuts and reduced legal protections while he cuts taxes for wealthy people like the kind of folks who can afford to spend a birthday weekend renting out part of an actual royal palace. Meanwhile, investigations into Macron’s plucky band of political outsider cabinet members have shown that, and hold on to your hats here, many of them are actually phenomenally wealthy. Go figure.


Theresa May says she “will not be derailed” from pursuing an “ambitious” trade deal with the European Union, and it seems like somebody flipped a switch and the old Tory “Europe will give us everything we demand because we’re Britain” attitude is back in full force. This despite the fact that, to get to the trade agreement stage of Brexit talks, May had to basically cough up everything the EU wanted in terms of the details of Britain’s departure from the union, and the fact that the EU has given no indication that it’s willing to give the UK a trade deal any better than the one Canada has gotten (which doesn’t include service industries and thus would be a fairly lousy deal for the UK). But Boris Johnson, back on his bullshit, is talking about maintaining “zero tariffs and frictionless trade” with Britain still somehow being totally outside EU law, which is a deal that simply isn’t on the table, at least not at this point.

Meanwhile, another faction of Conservatives in parliament are urging May to work with them and a group of Labour MPs to avoid a “hard Brexit.” They seem to think that a majority can be cobbled together to keep the UK in the European customs union, which–contrary to Johnson–would undoubtedly require adhering to EU laws and regulations. Norway, whose deal with the EU is seen as a model for these folks, isn’t in the customs union but still aligns its laws to be compatible with Brussels in order to be part of the single market and the free movement area. Or everybody could push for another Brexit referendum, which polling suggests might go quite a bit differently from the first one.



All that pre-election uncertainty from last week went right out the window on Sunday, when former and now future Chilean President Sebastian Piñera easily won the presidential runoff with just under 55 percent of the vote. Piñera’s win represents another victory for the center-right in Latin America, something that seems to be a trend of late. Piñera moved a bit to the left to pick up votes in the runoff, but he’ll likely govern with a mix of pro-business tax cuts offset by spending cuts. That agenda has already proven unpopular, go figure, in places where center-right governments have recently been elected, like Argentina and Brazil.


A Paraguayan senator named Mario Abdo Benítez won the Colorado Party presidential primary on Sunday, defeating former finance minister Santiago Peña. Peña was current President Horacio Cartes’s chosen successor, so Abdo’s win is a blow to a party establishment that was discredited when Cartes tried to change the country’s electoral laws to allow him to run for another term in office. Abdo will face Liberal Party nominee Efraín Alegre in April, but it’s almost inconceivable that he could lose, given Colorado’s long stranglehold on national politics.


Though he acknowledges making money from contract work his consulting firm did for Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski says that he was only a shareholder in the company when that work was done and had no direct role in any potentially shady business. Odebrecht is now at the center of a massive corruption scandal sweeping across Latin America and parts of Africa. Odebrecht itself has said it can find no indication that the payments it made to Kuczynski’s firm were illegal.


Russian energy giant Rosneft has won contracts to develop two offshore Venezuelan natural gas fields. Russia, and Rosneft in particular, have been helping to keep the Venezuelan economy afloat, so these contracts were probably inevitable.


Colombia’s ELN rebels say they’ll be willing to extend their ceasefire with the government, which expires next month, provided that enough progress is made in peace talks.


Honduras’s electoral commission finally declared incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández the winner of the November 26 election over challenger Salvador Nasralla. Disputes over the outcome and the vote count are likely to continue, with Nasralla taking his case to the Organization for American States and the US State Department.


The Pentagon admits that it ran a dedicated UFO investigation program between 2007 and 2012 to the tune of $22 million per year. Hey, better that than another hundred or so MOABS, as far as I’m concerned.

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