Europe/Americas update: October 26 2018

EUROPE

CYPRUS

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı met on Friday for the first time in six months and agreed to open two additional border crossings between the two halves of the country. The goodwill gesture is meant to build momentum toward possibly giving peace talks another crack.

RUSSIA

Donald Trump has apparently invited Vladimir Putin to Washington for another chat sesh. John Bolton conveyed the invitation to Moscow earlier this week, but it’s unknown if Putin accepted.

UKRAINE

Here’s a heartwarming story: Kievan police are reportedly conducting raids to purge the city’s Southern Railway Station of Roma, and to increase their effectiveness they’re working side by side with Ukraine’s C-14 Movement, who just so happen to be neo-Nazis. Lovely to see people working together like that.

GERMANY

The German military is conducting naval exercises in the Baltic Sea in an effort to improve coordination between NATO and European Union naval forces. In case, I guess, of World War III. Germany is trying to take on a larger military role on the continent, both in response to Donald Trump’s insults and because European governments at this point have no reason to trust that the US will fulfill its NATO requirements if push comes to shove. Which, you know, I’m all for rethinking the NATO alliance, but there’s not exactly a lot of positive historical precedent for Germany assuming a bigger military role in Europe. I’m just saying.

ITALY

While the Rome-Brussels dispute over Italy’s 2019 budget may not seem like that big a deal, looming beneath the surface are some serious potential implications for the EU’s future:

This clash between an elected government that ran on increasing public spending and the technocrats of Brussels encapsulates the dilemma at the heart of the European Union — its democratic deficit as it tries to manage a currency shared by differing sovereign states without a common budget or finance minister.

But looming behind the current clash over the budget lies a much deeper fear in the European Union: that it will give more fuel to a populist, euroskeptic wave across the Continent before elections for a new European Parliament in May.

So far, European populism has played out on national stages. But a major showing by populists in the European elections would sharply change the balance of power in the European Parliament, affecting the makeup of the European Commission — the executive branch of the bloc — and potentially rendering European Union institutions even more ineffective.

The EU has brought this upon itself to a large extent, by demanding control over continent-wide monetary policy and budget-making without also crafting some kind of common, redistributive fiscal policy. That’s the way Germany wants it, but it hasn’t worked out very well for anybody else.

AMERICAS

BRAZIL

A new Datafolha poll has Jair Bolsonaro’s lead over Fernando Haddad at 56-44 heading into the weekend’s presidential runoff. That’s still pretty commanding, but it’s six points smaller than it was in the same poll just a few days ago. So it’s raising hopes a little that Haddad could pull off a miracle turnaround and Brazil won’t elect a fascist after all. It’s a pretty slim chance. Bolsonaro’s lead is still hefty, and if any poll responders are fudging their responses it’ll most likely be embarrassed Bolsonaro voters, not Haddad’s people.

Assuming that Bolsonaro hangs on, Foreign Policy published three pieces on Friday exploring the Bolsonaro voter. In one, international relations professor Matias Spektor explains how Bolsonaro expanded his appeal beyond the right-wing fringe:

Bolsonaro is running a campaign on a handful of promises that strike a chord with the majority of the Brazilian electorate: a tougher take on crime, radical economic reform to curb unemployment and falling incomes, a conservative turn in social mores, and unquestioned support for anti-corruption measures.

Of all the candidates on offer, Bolsonaro is the only one who has signaled his commitment to honor those promises. Both the style and content of his signals are abhorrent, but they do show an unwavering commitment to change. Consider, for instance, his pledge to fight crime: He has spoken highly of extrajudicial killing squads and has told security forces they will find protection under his watch to unleash violence against criminals.

On economic reform, he has appointed the University of Chicago-trained economist Paulo Guedes, who has made wild promises about a maximalist neoliberal agenda. On social issues, he has attacked minorities and has screamed on more than one occasion that they need to bow before the majority. Bolsonaro has also fed a type of homophobic hysteria that seems to be testing Brazil’s renowned tolerance of difference. And when it comes to the rule of law, one of Bolsonaro’s sons threatened to abolish the Supreme Court during a campaign rally. (He later retracted the statement.)

In a country where support for political parties and democratic norms has fallen to historic lows, Bolsonaro has cleverly tailored a message that appeals to the few institutions that still command popular respect: the family, the church, and the Armed Forces.

Brazilian journalist Ciara Long looks at women who are supporting Bolsonaro despite his deeply misogynist record:

Isabella Matarazzo, an architect in her 50s, doesn’t believe that feminist values are incompatible with supporting Bolsonaro. For Matarazzo, progress and equality mean not being given concessions because of perceived socio-economic disadvantages, such as social class, gender, or race—despite acute economic inequality in Brazil hitting women and minorities hardest. “I’m both feminine and feminist. I don’t feel like a victim. I feel like a protagonist,” she said. “You don’t sit around expecting the government to save you. We women have to make our own gains.”

Like many female Bolsonaro supporters, Matarazzo has one single criterion that takes precedence over all others when it comes to electing the country’s next leader: corruption. Twin political and economic crises beginning in 2014 have taken their toll on Brazil, triggered by the global commodity crisis and a simultaneous onslaught of high-profile political corruption scandals brought to light by the far-reaching Operation Car Wash. As of March 2018, four years after the investigation began, 237 people had been convicted of crimes including corruption and intent to form a criminal gang, with high-up executives and politicians agreeing to plea deals worth more than $3.5 billion in payments to the state. Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who carried the PT to power in 2002, is among those now serving out a jail sentence on corruption charges. He was barred from running for president just weeks before the first round of elections.

And, of course, Brazilian investors are big Bolsonaro fans, because while he might be a fascist, he’s promised to be a market-oriented fascist. They love that shit.

MEXICO

With the Honduran migrant caravan still making its way through southern Mexico, weeks away from the US border, the Mexican government is offering migrants ID cards, access to medical care and schools, and temporary work permits provided they stop where they are and don’t make any further moves toward the US border. It’s unclear how many migrants will take Mexico up on the offer but it will probably whittle away at the caravan’s already-dwindling numbers.

UNITED STATES

Finally, George Washington University professor Michael Barnett argues that the Trump administration’s migrant policy hasn’t been much of a break with recent US precedent on substance, but it has on rhetoric, and the rhetoric does matter:

While Trump might be the first to get an “F” in recent memory, most presidents get no more than a passing grade. The United States played a major role establishing rights for the forcibly displaced, but it also has been a serial violator of those rights. Although conservatives accused Obama of opening the border, refugee advocates said that he was not doing enough.

When the Syrian war erupted and millions fled, the Obama administration’s ceiling for refugee admission remained the same from 2013 to 2015. Despite increasing that ceiling each following year, critics claimed that this was too little, too late. And during his first term, President Bill Clinton continued President George H.W. Bush’s policy and turned back Haitians on the high seas in violation of their internationally defined basic rights.

But Trump’s policies are intended to actively discourage and deter refugees and asylum seekers. Vice President Pence recently told Latin American leaders that they needed to police their people and keep them from heading north. Trump has repeatedly demonized refugees and immigrants alike, from his first campaign speech warning that Mexican drug dealers, criminals and rapists were flooding the border to his recent pledge that the United States would not be turned into a “migrant camp.”

When you’re the United States, even your rhetoric matters, and Trump’s open xenophobia gives cover to a lot of other xenophobic governments around the world to really let their freak flag fly.

Author: DWD

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