World update part 2: March 1 2019

AFRICA

ALGERIA

If you’ve been hoping for the protests against Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s potential fifth term in office to dissipate, Friday was not your day:

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Algiers on Friday to denounce Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to run for a fifth term, and police fired tear gas into the crowds.

It was the largest protest the Algerian capital had witnessed since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, and the latest in a series of extraordinary public gatherings that have erupted across the North African oil and gas producer over the past week.

In a country still controlled by veterans who fought for and won independence from France 57 years ago, where security and intelligence operatives are everywhere, few Algerians have dared to express their political views openly.

But the decision by the ailing 81-year-old Bouteflika, who is rarely seen in public and who uses a wheelchair, and his loyalists to try to prolong his 20-year-rule in elections next month touched off a collective frustration kindled by an anemic economy and high rates of unemployment among the young.

This is a bit unfair to Bouteflika, who’s probably too mentally incompetent to be deciding anything let alone planning his political future. But Friday’s protests seem by all accounts to have been a remarkable event in Algerian politics, and a sign that the country’s ruling clique may want to quickly revisit its internal debate to choose a successor to Bouteflika. It’s been easier for them to simply stick with the incumbent than to slog through the factional infighting necessary to pick an heir, but the Algerian people’s patience may be running out.

One person was reportedly killed in the protests, though that’s unconfirmed.

MALI

Nine Malian members of the G5 Sahel joint defense force were killed in central Mali on Friday when their vehicle rolled over a roadside bomb. There’s been no claim of responsibility but al-Qaeda’s JNIM affiliate would be the prime suspect. Also on Friday, Malian authorities said that ten people from the country’s Dogon community were killed earlier in the week while attempting to bury a body that turned out to be booby trapped. It’s unclear who was behind that attack.

SOMALIA

Thursday evening’s al-Shabab car bombing outside a Mogadishu hotel and office complex turned out to be merely the prelude to a bigger, day-long attack that ultimately left at least 29 civilians dead along with three attackers. That death toll is almost certainly going to rise as the scene is cleared and more bodies recovered. Elsewhere, US Africa Command says it killed 26 al-Shabab fighters in an airstrike on central Somalia’s Hiran region. Were there any civilian casualties? Who knows? As usual, Africa Command says there weren’t.

EUROPE

BELARUS

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says he’s probably going to run for reelection in next year’s election. This, along with his inevitable victory, comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody.

GREECE

One person was wounded on Friday when a car exploded in a parking lot just south of Athens. Greek authorities suspect there may have been a bomb involved but they’re still investigating.

AMERICAS

ARGENTINA

Argentine President Mauricio Macri delivered his State of the Union address on Friday, which included a new plan to raise subsidies for poor families with children by 46 percent. Given that Macri is an austerity fan, that must mean he’s getting ready to run for reelection soon–and, look at that, he is, in October. Macri has been raising taxes and cutting spending and watching his economy shrink because, well, that’s what happens when you get a big bailout from the International Monetary Fund. He’s still leading in the polls against likely challenger and former president Cristina Kirchner, but it’s a slim lead and another few rough months for the Argentine economy could be enough to sway things against him.

VENEZUELA

The United States imposed sanctions against six more members of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s political circle on Friday, this time focusing on senior security officials involved in the failed February 23 effort to move humanitarian aid (allegedly) into Venezuela. It also revoked visas for some 49 Venezuelans accused of “undermining Venezuela’s democracy.” As with previous sanctions and travel penalties, these are designed to make it costly for those officials to continue supporting Maduro.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, meanwhile, spent the day continuing his tour of South America, visiting Paraguay and Argentina. Guaidó says that 600 members of the Venezuelan military have defected to his cause, and while it’s nice to have friends that’s really not that many. However, Guaidó also claims that 80 percent of the Venezuelan military supports getting rid of Maduro, which would be super for him if he had any evidence to prove it. He does not.

UNITED STATES

Finally, at Jacobin, SUNY Professor Richard Lachmann throws his hat into the “leftist foreign policy” arena:

Our hopes for a socialist United States are constrained as much by the material and human costs of the American empire as by the power capitalists wield domestically. If we want to build public support for socialism we must make foreign policy part of our analysis.

We need to be able to explain clearly why the United States is perpetually involved in hot and cold wars; and offer a clear pathway to a different foreign policy that serves the true interests of the vast majority of Americans and the desires of people around the world for freedom from war, environmental disaster, economic oppression, and political repression.

This country’s military budget, trade agreements, foreign “aid,” military alliances, and wars all are designed to further the interests of capitalists and of what C. Wright Mills called the military elite. We need to recognize that at times some capitalists are in conflict with others and that the military elite has its own interests that go beyond making the world safe for American capitalism. Those differences provide leverage for the rest of us to challenge existing foreign policy. However, our main strength comes from showing how most people are harmed rather than helped when the government serves narrow elite interests.

Lachmann proposes a “five-point foreign policy platform” of the sort a leftish presidential candidate might adopt: reducing greenhouse emissions, ending foreign arms sales, reducing the US military’s global footprint, reducing the level of US military spending to what is needed for a purely defensive military, and reconfiguring sanctions policy to target tax cheats and their shelters rather than the civilian populations of countries deemed to be US adversaries. It seems like a good list, though it’s definitely aspirational.

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