Europe/Americas update: January 12-13 2019

EUROPE

SERBIA

Thousands of people took to the streets of Belgrade to protest against Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić for the sixth Saturday in a row this weekend. Demonstrators are demanding that Vučić and his Serbian Progressive Party stop stifling press freedoms and attacking opposition leaders, and they’re preemptively expressing opposition to any deal Vučić might cut with Kosovo. There’s no indication Vučić is circling a deal with Kosovo, but he does want to get Serbia into the European Union and that cannot happen until the Serbia-Kosovo conflict is finally settled.

GREECE

The Greek governing coalition is collapsing over Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s deal with the Republic of North (?) Macedonia:

Greece has been plunged into political turmoil after the defence minister, who heads the coalition government’s nationalist junior partner, resigned, citing the landmark accord aimed at settling the decades-long dispute over Macedonia’s name.

With resolution of the row closer than ever before, Panos Kammenos said his Independent Greeks party was no longer able to support prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist administration. His withdrawal ends an alliance that stunned many when the anti-establishment Syriza agreed to join forces with the right-wing populists after narrowly failing to obtain an overall majority in 2015.

“The issue of Macedonia, an issue for which thousands died, does not allow me not to sacrifice the minister’s chair,” Kammenos announced after holding talks with Tsipras on Sunday. Six ministers from his party would immediately withdraw from the government, he said.

The Macedonian government did its part to cement the agreement by passing the constitutional amendments required to change the country’s name on Friday. In response to Sunday’s development Tsipras will call for a vote of confidence in his government on January 16. He’s expected to win that vote and pass the Macedonian agreement.

FRANCE

Some 84,000 “yellow vest” protesters are believed to have turned out across France on Saturday, an increase over the previous week and another indication that these protests aren’t going anywhere in 2019. But don’t worry–French President Emmanuel Macron has a plan to fix everything that I can only assume involves boring the protesters to death or at least incapacity. In a 2300 word letter published in newspapers all over the country, Macron promised to listen to the ideas of the protesters except when they contradict his religious commitment to tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts for everybody else:

But Macron said he would remain faithful to his campaign manifesto, and appeared to rule out rolling back some of the pro-business economic reforms, such as scrapping a wealth tax, which have earned him the nickname “president of the rich”.

“When taxes are too high, our economy is starved of the resources that could be usefully invested in companies, creating jobs and growth,” Macron wrote.

“We will not undo the measures we have introduced to put this right, encourage investment and ensure that work pays more.”

It’s rare you find a leader willing to say “hey, I know we’ve got some problems, so I promise to listen to your concerns and then totally ignore them.” Truly Macron is a different kind of politician.

UNITED KINGDOM

Parliament will vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal on Tuesday, and if it fails as expected then it’s anybody’s guess what comes next:

Parliament is scheduled for a historic vote Tuesday evening on Prime Minister Theresa May’s unloved, half-in, half-out compromise exit plan. Members of her own Conservative government acknowledge that May’s deal — negotiated over the past two years in Brussels — might fail to win support. Many in the political press are predicting a devastating, career-defining defeat.

If May’s deal survives, then Brexit lurches ahead, and Britain leaves the European Union — kind of, sort of — on March 29 as planned.

If May’s deal dies? Chaos.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. Jeremy Corbyn has promised to table a no-confidence vote as soon as May loses the vote but he almost certainly doesn’t have the votes to force a new election. The UK will leave the EU come hell or high water on March 29. So we know those two things at least. Hardliners are fine with a no-deal Brexit, and though they represent a minority in parliament it’s not clear that matters. There’s been talk of parliament taking control of the Brexit process away from May and somehow blocking a no-deal scenario, but there’s no mechanism by which it can really do that. Brexit is final on March 29, with or without a deal.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

Juan Guaidó, opposition leader and president of Venezuela’s powerless National Assembly, was briefly arrested on Sunday. Guaidó told a crowd of supporters on Friday that he’s ready to assume the Venezuelan presidency from Nicolás Maduro, whom the opposition deems illegitimate. Presumably Maduro didn’t appreciate that sort of talk. He probably also didn’t appreciate comments from the US State Department on Saturday supporting Guaidó and calling for a new government in Caracas. As usually the mighty Wurlitzer of American diplomacy is marvel to watch in action.

COLOMBIA

Former FARC leader Luciano Marín, AKA “Iván Márquez,” released a video on Saturday saying that he “regrets” the group’s 2016 peace deal with the Colombian government. Marín gave up his seat in congress and vanished in August due to frustration over the deal and its implementation.

HONDURAS

It can be easy to stop thinking of the people who seek asylum via the US southern border as human beings. Certainly Donald Trump and those who work for him don’t view them that way, and media coverage around them tends to focus on the political football rather than the human stories. But they definitely are human beings. Nelson Espinal, a 28 year old father, was one of them, and the Trump administration has now become an accessory to his murder:

Espinal had made the 4,900km journey with several thousand others who joined the migrant caravan in October in the hopes of starting a new life.

Within weeks of reaching the US, however, he was deported back to his gang-infested neighborhood in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa – and the death threats that had prompted him to flee.

He resolved to try his luck again in the new year: head north, save his life and find a way to help his family and provide for his seven-year-old son.

But just over a week after his return, Nelson was shot dead on the street outside his home on 18 December 2018.

UNITED STATES

Finally, while you all know hopefully that I am not a huge “Russiagate” fanatic and in fact we rarely talk about the story around here, this Washington Post story is too wild not to at least note:

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.

As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.

I’m not about to say that Donald Trump is a Russian intelligence asset or whatever, but with that said, something ain’t right here. It is incredibly irresponsible not to have a record of these sessions that can be, say, compared against Russian readouts of the same meetings, and it’s doubly irresponsible to do this when the president is Donald Trump with his beautiful, broken brain. Trump denies the story, for whatever that’s worth.

Author: DWD

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