Europe/Americas update: August 4-5 2018

EUROPE

RUSSIA

You know what, folks? I think all this US-Russia nonsense might just work out OK after all:

BELARUS

The Belarusian government has a penchant for fining reporters and media outlets that report things without the government’s permission, and they’ve particularly targeted online TV outlet Belsat, which is based in Poland. Belsat officials say they’re being fined repeatedly and their reporters are being intimidated by Belarusian authorities.

UKRAINE

Russian officials are currently pitching Vladimir Putin on a plan to create a “cultural center” in Crimea, complete with an art museum, ballet theater, cinema, dance school, and opera house. It’s an effort to increase Crimea’s already substantial tourist trade and bolster the fait accompli aspect of Russia’s annexation.

ITALY

Cracks are already starting to form in Italy’s League-Five Star Movement coalition government:

But two months into the M5S-League coalition government some have major doubts. Last week Roberto Fico, M5S MP and president of the chamber of deputies, spoke out against a controversial pact with Libya that sees migrants forcibly returned to war-riven north Africa.

On the night of 30 July, according to the International Organization for Migration, almost 350 people were taken back to Libya. Fico commented: “Libya is not a safe landing point. Human rights are not guaranteed, so migrants cannot be left there.”

He has also clashed with Salvini over his xenophobic rhetoric and blocking of Italian ports to rescue ships. “I don’t want to close the ports,” he said. “We need to talk about immigration with intelligence and heart.”

Other M5S politicians have come forward as attacks on immigrants have risen. There have been 12 shootings, two murders and 33 physical assaults in the two months since Salvini became interior minister. “All of us, starting from those in the political world, have the responsibility to create a barrier to these unacceptable, cowardly episodes,” M5S MP Vincenzo Spadafora said last Monday.

Five Star is in kind of a bind here–they agreed to give Salvini control over immigration policy, after all, and chances are that if they break up the coalition and force new elections, the League will emerge in a stronger position than it is now.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

Far right presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro has chosen his running mate: retired General Antônio Hamilton Mourão, who was openly musing about a possible military coup just last year. Bolsonaro himself has spoken approvingly of past Brazilian military dictatorships, so this sounds like a great pair.

Bolsonaro is the frontrunner, but only in polls that exclude former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who would probably win October’s election if he weren’t, you know, in prison. Lula’s Workers’ Party officially nominated him as its candidate on Saturday, despite the likelihood that his candidacy will eventually be rejected by Brazilian elections officials.

VENEZUELA

So it appears that somebody attempted to assassinate Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro by drone:

As the tweet says, Maduro was speaking at a commemoration of the 81st anniversary of the Venezuelan army on Saturday when two explosions occurred seemingly overhead, sending Maduro’s bodyguards into action and the soldiers gathered for the speech into flight. Seven soldiers were reportedly wounded in the explosions, one of which may have set off a fire in a nearby apartment building. The AP initially reported that the blasts may have been from a gas leak, but witness statements seem to corroborate the drone story, which means it was likely an assassination attempt.

But perpetrated by whom? Six people have reportedly been arrested so far but there’s no way to be sure they were involved and no information about their possible allegiances has yet come out. Obviously Maduro has no shortage of enemies. He’s already accused Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, in collaboration with the Colombian government and Venezuelan exiles living in the United States. Cool,boa denies any involvement. A group called the “National Movement of Soldiers in T-Shirts” (no, seriously) claimed responsibility, but it’s not clear that anybody had ever heard of that group before this incident. The Trump administration, in the person of White House adviser Yosemite Sam John Bolton, is also denying any involvement. There’s no particular reason to believe any of this, if you’re keeping score at home.

Bolton and the Venezuelan opposition have advanced the theory that maybe it wasn’t an assassination attempt but rather a false flag operation intended to give Maduro a way to distract the public from Venezuela’s catastrophically poor economy and a justification to crack down harder on the opposition. Those arguments don’t make a whole lot of sense–the Venezuelan people aren’t going to be distracted from the fact that they’re being starved to death because they think somebody tried to kill the president, and Maduro has never needed a justification to crack down against the opposition before. Meanwhile, the images of Maduro’s military officers hightailing it out of the line of fire didn’t exactly project the image that he’s a powerful leader in full control of the country. One assumes that, had Maduro engineered this incident, he would’ve stage managed it in a way that made him look better. Also there’s, you know, no evidence backing up this conspiracy theory.

Anyway, even if the fate of Venezuela’s president doesn’t interest you, consider this: drones are becoming ubiquitous, and they’re pretty easy to weaponize. That’s got implications far beyond what happened in Caracas this weekend.

CANADA

Saudi Arabia has suspended “new trade and investment with Canada” after the Canadian government called for the release of women’s rights activists who have been arrested by the kingdom. They’ve also recalled their Canadian ambassador and booted Canada’s ambassador out of the country. I guess somebody was feeling touchy this weekend.

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Author: DWD

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