Europe/Americas update: February 28 2019

EUROPE

UKRAINE

Hundreds of people protested in Kiev on Thursday demanding the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko. Presumably they won’t be voting for him in next month’s presidential election then. On top of his failure to end the war, boost the Ukrainian economy, eliminate or even sightly reduce corruption, and, well, you get the idea, Poroshenko has recently become personally embroiled in a corruption scandal involving one of his associates and some phony arms deals.

Poroshenko, meanwhile, is trying desperately to push through new anti-corruption legislation to replace the previous statutes that were tossed out by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court earlier this week. The European Union and other potential international lenders are intent on Ukraine cleaning up its corruption problem, and Poroshenko really needs their financial help to try to keep himself in office.

SLOVAKIA

An environmental lawyer named Zuzana Čaputová has jumped to the top of the polls ahead of Slovakia’s March 16 presidential election. She’s leading ruling party candidate Maroš Šefčovič by over 20 points in one survey and over 10 points in another. The Slovakian presidency is a mostly ceremonial office, but it would still be a blow to Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini’s government were Čaputová to win.

SPAIN

Polling in Spain, meanwhile, shows the ruling Socialist Party improving its position ahead of that country’s April 28 election. The Socialists are up over 33 percent compared with just under 30 percent in the same survey last month. That bump, if it holds, could put the party in a stronger position to form a coalition government after the election.

AMERICAS

VENEZUELA

With his attempted revolution losing momentum, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó says he’s heading home:

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó said Thursday he will return to his country by Monday, and that a dialogue with President Nicolas Maduro won’t be possible without discussing elections.

Guaidó, who was in Brazil for a meeting with President Jair Bolsonaro, said he will return to Venezuela despite threats he and his family have received, including prison time.

The announcement came a day after Guaidó said he would exercise his duties as president as soon as he returns to Venezuela.

Guaidó is more likely to land in jail when he returns than he is to have a chance to “exercise his duties as president,” but that may be the point. A splashy return home and a martyr-like trip to the big house might ratchet up US intensions to get rid of Nicolás Maduro once and for all.

Dueling Venezuela resolutions at the UN Security Council both failed, unsurprisingly, on Thursday. A US resolution demanding that Maduro allow humanitarian aid into the country and hold a new presidential election was vetoed by Russia and China, while a Russian resolution calling for a political resolution and tacitly recognizing Maduro’s government was rejected by the council without a veto (only four members voted in favor and it takes at least nine to pass a resolution).

CANADA

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing a corruption scandal that could bring down his government:

According to claims first published in the Globe and Mail on 7 February, staff within the PMO allegedly put pressure on Wilson-Raybould, the attorney general at the time, to pursue a deferred prosecution agreement with the engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, meaning the company would avoid a trial and pay a fine in lieu of prosecution for allegations of bribery in Libya. Wilson-Raybould resisted, according to the Globe. In mid-January, Wilson-Raybould, the only Indigenous politician in cabinet, was shuffled from her role as top prosecutor to head of veterans affairs.

The allegations of bribery, used to secure lucrative construction contracts under the Muammar Gaddafi regime, mean the company faces the prospect of a decade-long ban on federal contracts if found guilty. Headquartered in Trudeau’s home province of Quebec, SNC-Lavalin employs 3,400 workers in the province – and its potential collapse could have deep political and economic reverberations for the region.

Trudeau has called the Globe story “false” and repeatedly denied that he or his office had “directed” Wilson-Raybould in any way, or that she had been put under undue pressure. “Her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself,” Trudeau said.

Hours after his comment, Wilson-Raybould resigned. She has so far remained silent, citing solicitor-client privilege. The ethics commissioner has opened an investigation into the matter.

That article was published a week ago, and Wilson-Raybould has since broken her silence. She testified before the House of Commons Justice Committee on Wednesday and completely contradicted Trudeau, saying she’d received “veiled threats” over the SNC-Lavalin case and was directly told by the PM that she would face consequences if she prosecuted the company. The fallout from her testimony is still unfolding, but Trudeau may be in some serious trouble.

UNITED STATES

The US Supreme Court issued what could prove to be a major ruling on Thursday, saying that international organizations based in the US can be sued in US courts. Specifically, they ruled that the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank institution, can be sued in the US for loaning $450 million to build a coal power plant in the Indian state of Gujarat several years ago. People living around the plant sued the IFC in 2015, saying that the plant turned into a gigantic environmental disaster. The IFC claimed immunity under a post-World War II law that grants immunity to institutions like the World Bank, the United Nations, et al, but the court ruled that immunity is only restrictive, not total.

Finally, the New York Times reports that White House memos show Donald Trump directly intervened in order to grant Jared Kushner top secret clearance over the objections of several national security agencies:

President Trump ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, four people briefed on the matter said.

Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been “ordered” to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.

The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.

The disclosure of the memos contradicts statements made by the president, who told The New York Times in January in an Oval Office interview that he had no role in his son-in-law receiving his clearance.

Kushner shouldn’t even be allowed access to the White House’s petty cash drawer, much less top secret material, but I guess this is what they mean when they say “elections have consequences.”

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