Europe/Americas update: February 23-24 2019

EUROPE

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union is reportedly trying to expand its Libyan concentration camp model to the rest of Africa, but for some reason the African Union is resisting. The EU has an agreement with the Libyan government, such as it is, that allows it to return migrants from Libya, when picked up in European waters, back to Libya to have their asylum requests processed. This has led to the wonderful migrant detention facilities that can now be found all over the Libyan coast, where migrants get to experience what the United Nations has called “unimaginable horrors.” Now the EU would like to cut similar deals with other African states on the Mediterranean, and is pushing the plan at a summit with representatives from the League of Arab States in Egypt. The AU is reportedly urging those states to resist:

The leaked draft joint position of the AU notes that Brussels has yet to fully flesh out the concept of the “regional disembarkation platforms”. But it adds: “The establishment of disembarkation platforms on the African Continent for the processing of the asylum claims of Africans seeking international protection in Europe would contravene International Law, EU Law and the Legal instruments of the AU with regard to refugees and displaced persons.

“The setup of ‘disembarkation platforms’ would be tantamount to de facto ‘detention centres’ where the fundamental rights of African migrants will be violated and the principle of solitary among AU member states greatly undermined. The collection of biometric data of citizens of AU Members by international organisations violates the sovereignty of African Countries over their citizens.”

The AU also criticises Brussels for bypassing its structures and warns of wider repercussions. “The AU views the decision by the EU to support the concept of ‘regional disembarkation platforms’ in Africa and the ongoing bilateral consultation with AU member states, without the involvement of the AU and its relevant institutions, as undermining the significant progress achieved in the partnership frameworks and dialogues between our two unions,” the paper says.

UKRAINE

Two people were killed on Saturday when their minibus ran over a landmine near the border between the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and the rest of Ukraine.

ROMANIA

Thousands of Romanians hit the streets on Sunday over a new “emergency decree” that gives the Romanian government more control over appointing prosecutors and removes oversight for a prosecutorial unit assigned to monitor and maybe/possibly intimidate Romanian judges. For obvious reasons the decree has renewed many Romanians’ concerns about judicial independence.

UNITED KINGDOM

According to the Guardian, “senior” EU officials are looking into the possibility of delaying Brexit until 2021, assuming Theresa May can’t get parliament to back her Brexit plan. The EU wants to avoid a no-deal scenario if possible, but more importantly it doesn’t want to give the UK a short-term extension that will interfere with this year’s elections for the European parliament. The longer-term extension is unlikely to win over Brexit hardliners in the UK. May, for her part, reportedly wants to extend Brexit by two months, which is exactly the scenario Brussels doesn’t want.

May is taking a fair amount of heat in parliament for delaying another vote on her Brexit plan as long as possible so as to get MPs panicked about the no-deal scenario and more amenable to supporting her plan as a last resort. She’s now refusing to hold a vote this week and will only promise to hold one by March 12, which is a mere 17 days before the Brexit deadline. Fortunately, May says she won’t resign and risk the possibility that a new prime minister who has some idea what the hell they’re doing might succeed her.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

One thing became clear during Saturday’s big humanitarian aid day in Venezuela, which is that it had nothing to do with humanitarian aid. Opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaidó largely failed in his efforts to run the Venezuelan government’s blockades along its Colombian and Brazilian borders, and Venezuelans who could have used that help now won’t get it. But Guaidó and his US backers shifted so seamlessly to the next phase of their operation–the one in which we start suggesting that Nicolás Maduro’s failure to allow the aid into the country, and the militaristic way he kept the aid out, has maybe now justified a military intervention to oust him–that it has become abundantly clear this is where they were going all along.

Following Saturday’s events, Guaidó began talking about “keeping all options open” with respect to Maduro, which is how sophisticated world leaders obfuscate their invasion plans. The Trump administration says it will “take action” with respect to Venezuela, and there’s really no mistaking what that means. Vice President Mike Pence will reportedly meet with Guaidó in Colombia on Monday, after which he’ll announce “concrete steps.” Sounds exciting!

That getting the aid into Venezuela wasn’t the Trump administration’s main goal here has, I suppose, been obvious for a while now. Certainly it’s been pretty clear to international aid organizations, which didn’t want any part of Saturday’s events. But I have to admit I was under the assumption that the goal was to actually deliver aid and thereby 1) discredit Maduro and 2) get a big chunk of the Venezuelan military to openly defy him, thereby increasing the chances for a military coup. Now I’m pretty sure this was all about creating the pretext for an invasion.

If the United States had any genuine interest in getting humanitarian aid into Venezuela it would have turned the process over to a neutral organization and offered to let Venezuelan authorities fully inspect every carton of material. Maduro might still have prevented the stuff from coming in, but at least the international community would have done all it could do. Instead, Guaidó and the US sent big trucks barreling toward the Venezuelan border without the permission of the Venezuelan government to cross that border, then blamed Maduro when his military blocked the way. It’s Maduro who politicized this aid, don’t you know, not the people who explicitly turned the aid into an invasion designed to undermine Maduro’s presidency.

Imagine, if you will, that the Honduran government sent a fleet of trucks containing what it claimed was food and medicine heading toward the southern US border, with instructions to roll on through no matter what. Do you think there’s any chance the Trump administration wouldn’t respond to that with devastating force? It would assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the cargo was not humanitarian in nature but was something nefarious. And before you insist that the United States would never use humanitarian relief as a cover for something, consider that Elliott Abrams used humanitarian aid shipments as a cover to run millions of dollars worth of guns to Nicaraguan rebels in the 1980s. And, say, you know who was in Colombia on Saturday helping to coordinate things? Go figure.

COLOMBIA

A major oil pipeline in southern Colombia was bombed overnight Friday-Saturday. It was apparently not in operation at the time, which thankfully would have limited the environmental impact, but the damage will have to be repaired. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but Colombia’s ELN rebels are the prime suspect.

CUBA

Cuban voters turned out on Sunday to participate in a national referendum on a new Cuban constitution. The new charter opens the door to some market-oriented changes in the Cuban economy as well as recognizing some basic rights like habeas corpus, placing term limits on the presidency, creating a prime minister’s office, and protections for LGBT Cubans. Results should be known on Monday.

UNITED STATES

Finally, at Fellow Travelers, Tyler Bellstrom argues for extending the domestic priorities of the left to foreign policy:

Protecting the American middle class is a futile effort if your plan to do so does not attack oligarchy around the world. The ultra-wealthy from every country dodge taxes and oversight by putting their money in havens like Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Caribbean at a world-destabilizing rate. Prioritize building the international structures that can pursue oligarchs around the world as they hide, steal, and hoard what should rightfully be public money. International oligarchy has taken root because of the form of capitalism that we have promoted around the world. By acting to clean up tax shelters, we can take concrete steps toward building economic systems that work for everyone.

Going after the wealth of oligarchs themselves is a necessary but insufficient approach to confronting the effects of oligarchic capitalism. Oligarchs set in motion the warming of the planet, and the window to meet that challenge with any hope of significant success is rapidly narrowing.  Candidates should make the Green New Deal their domestic and their foreign policy. Pledge to eliminate oil imports and destroy any special relationships with corrupt governments that rely on cheap oil and gas to survive. Propose concentrating direct investment on green development in any country open to receiving that aid, and be willing to offer help in the battle against desertification. Campaigns should propose bending the American state toward a worldwide, multilateral effort to prevent an apocalyptic climate crisis.

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