Venezuela and Gdansk


Staff & Wire Reports



FILE - In this Dec.13, 2017 file photo, president of Venezuelan parliament Julio Borges leaves after receiving the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, an award given to Venezuela's opposition, in Strasbourg, eastern France. On Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro implicated Borges, one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, in an alleged assassination attempt using drones. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

FILE - In this Dec.13, 2017 file photo, president of Venezuelan parliament Julio Borges leaves after receiving the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, an award given to Venezuela's opposition, in Strasbourg, eastern France. On Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro implicated Borges, one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, in an alleged assassination attempt using drones. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)


In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, security personnel surround Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, at left, during an incident as he was giving a speech in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he gave a speech to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas on Saturday but the socialist leader was unharmed, according to the government. (Xinhua via AP)


In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, an uniformed official bleeds from the head following an incident during a speech by Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he gave a speech to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas on Saturday but the socialist leader was unharmed, according to the government. (Xinhua via AP)


Venezuela ruling party cracks down on opposition lawmakers

By SCOTT SMITH

Associated Press

Thursday, August 9

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s pro-government constitutional assembly stripped two opposition lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution on Wednesday, accusing them of having roles in a drone attack that authorities say was an attempt to kill socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The National Constituent Assembly voted unanimously to lift the protection for Julio Borges and Juan Requesens, who have seats in the opposition-controlled legislature. The move came after the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Borges, who lives in exile in Colombia’s capital, Bogota.

Requesens was arrested Tuesday, an action purportedly captured in a video circulating on social media. His party, Justice First, said that the video showed Requesens.

Maduro has accused the two of being tied to a weekend incident in which two drones loaded with explosives exploded while he spoke at an outdoor military celebration.

Wednesday’s developments threaten to deepen Venezuela’s political crisis as opposition lawmakers accuse the government’s ruling party of using the alleged attack to clamp down on the opposition.

Constituent Assembly leader Diosdado Cabello said Borges and Requesens were just the first lawmakers to be accused in the investigation of the incident.

“These are the first two who appear to be involved, but the investigation continues,” Cabello said. “Justice is coming.”

In ordering the 48-year-old Borges’ arrest, the supreme court accused him of “flagrant crimes,” including public incitement, treason to the fatherland and attempted homicide.

During a national television broadcast on Tuesday, Maduro accused Requesens, 29, and Borges of complicity in the weekend drone explosions.

Maduro said statements from some of the six suspects arrested earlier had implicated the two lawmakers, as well as key financiers.

“Several of the declarations indicated Julio Borges. The investigations point to him,” Maduro said, though he provided no details of Borges’ alleged role.

On Wednesday, Borges, who has rejected the accusation, met with top lawmakers in Colombia, which has blamed Maduro’s government for causing the crisis that has led to masses of Venezuelans fleeing across the border into the neighboring country.

“We want to see you out of power, imprisoned for the violation of human rights, imprisoned for the destruction of democracy,” Borges said. “The only promoter of violence is a man named Nicolas Maduro.”

Antonio Ledezma, an opposition leader and exiled mayor of Caracas who now lives in Spain, stood alongside Borges in Bogota.

“Neither the deputy Borges, nor the deputy Requesens — no Venezuelan parliamentarians are involved in this type of scheme cooked up by the regime,” Ledezma said. “This is another parody of Maduro.”

The six suspects arrested earlier face charges of treason, attempted murder and terrorism. Investigators have linked a total of 19 people to the attack, Chief Prosecutor Tarek William Saab said Wednesday.

Critics of Maduro’s socialist government said immediately after the drone explosions that they feared the unpopular leader would use the incident as an excuse to round up opponents as he seeks to dampen spreading discontent over Venezuela’s devastating economic collapse.

The events come as Venezuela’s economy continues to hemorrhage and thousands flee to neighboring nations seeking food and medical care. Maduro has grown increasingly isolated, with the United States and other foreign powers slapping economic sanctions on a growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials and criticizing his government of being an autocratic regime.

The International Monetary Fund projects inflation could top 1 million percent by year’s end.

During Maduro’s two-hour speech, videos were displayed showing alleged suspects and images of the drones exploding. One video included a purported confession by a handcuffed suspect, whose face was blurred out.

The president also displayed wanted posters with names and pictures of other suspects who he said are living in the United States and Colombia.

Maduro said he would provide evidence to authorities in both countries and ask for their cooperation in handing over suspects who helped orchestrate and finance the attack.

“I want to explain to the government of the United States and the government of Colombia in detail all the evidence,” Maduro said. “I trust in the good faith of Donald Trump.”

Venezuela’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, and Saab, the attorney general, met Wednesday with James Story, the top U.S. diplomat in Caracas.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on what was discussed or whether Venezuela had made any extradition request.

Associated Press writers Cesar Garcia in Bogota and Fabiola Sanchez in Caracas contributed to this report.

The Conversation

Drone attack or no, Venezuela’s Maduro regime is probably here to stay

July 27, 2018

Authors

Andrea Oelsner

Associate professor, Universidad de San Andrés (Argentina)

Federico Merke

Professor of International Relations at Universidad de San Andrés, Universidad de San Andrés (Argentina)

Disclosure statement

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

An alleged assassination attempt by drones. A thwarted coup attempt. Calls for an international military invasion. Severe economic sanctions. Bankruptcy. Massive, nationwide daily protests. Regional isolation. Claims of a rigged election and near global refusal to recognize his presidency as legitimate.

Having overseen his once-wealthy country’s descent into humanitarian crisis and chaos, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has now weathered virtually every threat that could be faced by an unpopular leader.

Maduro isn’t the only one under siege: Venezuelan citizens have endured shortages of food, medicine and other basic necessities since 2015, thanks in large part to their president’s mishandling of an economic crisis originally triggered by a drop in global oil prices.

How long can a cash-strapped rogue regime facing international condemnation and humanitarian crisis survive?

Our international relations analysis of Venezuela reveals five reasons why Maduro may hang onto power for quite a while.

1. Money

Low international oil prices and political instability have dramatically reduced Venezuela’s revenues since Maduro took power in 2012. His country is effectively bankrupt.

Yet Maduro still commands more than enough state resources to avoid a coup. For years, the president has purchased the loyalty of Venezuela’s armed forces by giving the military loans and control over state-run enterprises.

The Ministry of Defense is now in charge of importing, producing, selling and distributing all food in Venezuela, for example. And in a country where people are starving, says retired Gen. Cliver Alcalá, the black market of “food is now a better business than drugs.”

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has bought the military’s support, making a coup unlikely. AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos

Maduro has also stacked his cabinet with generals, personally investing them in his government’s survival. Currently, they lead nine of 33 national ministries.

Military officers suspected of plotting against Maduro have been jailed and tortured.

2. Crimes against humanity

Just a few years ago, a powerful protest movement challenged the Maduro regime with daily demonstrations that involved hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans.

Brutally repressive tactics ended that. According to a recent report on human rights in Venezuela, police and other government forces killed 131 protesters between 2014 and 2017.

And since 2013, the Venezuelan security forces have arrested 12,000 citizens, executed 8,292 and tortured nearly 300 people. The report was written by a panel of independent international experts appointed by the Organization of American States and based on witnesses’ public hearings.

These actions amount to “crimes against humanity,” the report states, recommending that Maduro’s regime be investigated by the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

The United Nations made a similar recommendation in a June report on human rights violations there.

After years of violent repression, most people are now too afraid to protest.

Demonstrators clash with riot police during the so-called ‘mother of all marches’ against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in 2017. Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

3. A neutered opposition

The Maduro regime has neutralized almost all its domestic political opponents, too.

In August 2017, President Maduro stripped the National Assembly of its powers. The National Assembly was Venezuela’s legislative branch, dominated by opposition parties. Maduro replaced it with a regime-controlled “Constituent Assembly.”

Maduro has also ensured that his Socialist Party stays in power by blacklisting and jailing opposition candidates, shutting down news outlets that report on the regime’s actions and offering food in exchange for votes.

And pro-democracy groups that receive foreign funding are now subject to prosecution on charges of “financing terrorism” under a 2012 anti-money laundering law. The controversial legislation has handicapped Venezuelan society’s ability to organize against the regime.

4. Widespread hunger

Scarcity itself is a now a tool of repression in Venezuela.

Due to hyperinflation, food shortages and high prices, 93 percent of the population does not earn enough to buy food, according to a 2017 study conducted in Venezuela. Venezuelans have lost, on average, 20 pounds since the country’s humanitarian crisis began in 2015.

Almost 1 million Venezuelans have fled hunger and repression by migrating to neighboring Colombia over the past two years. Another roughly 50,000 sought asylum in the United States. Eight hundred Venezuelan refugees cross the border into Brazil every day.

The Venezuelans who remain must devote hours every day just to finding food. Starvation and endless food queues do not leave much time or energy for political resistance.

Motorists line up for fuel at a gas station during a shortage in Venezuela. Reuters/Marco Bello

5. No international agreement

A government like Maduro’s might not last long in, say, France, because neighboring countries and the European Union would exert sufficient diplomatic, political and economic pressure to punish the rogue regime for its actions.

Research shows that economic sanctions alone, such as those recently levied against Venezuela, rarely work to coerce governments into better behavior.

But international pressure can have some positive effect under two conditions. First, the target country must be heavily dependent on international economic exchange, without other strong allies. Second, the sanctions must be multilateral.

Neither condition is true of Venezuela.

The Organization of American States has tried for two years to expel Venezuela because it is no longer a democracy. But member countries like Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua – all of which have strongman leaders allied with Maduro – oppose the initiative.

Even if the group did manage to suspend Venezuela, the move would be symbolic. Venezuela has already announced its own withdrawal from the Organization of American States, calling it “a colonial body at the service of Washington.”

In any case, its Latin American neighbors are not Venezuela’s main international financial partners. China and Russia are largely keeping Maduro’s bankrupt regime afloat by buying oil concessions and extending the repayment period on loans. If Latin America isolated Venezuela in an attempt to force political changes, Maduro would just increase his reliance on these two non-democratic regimes.

We know this assessment isn’t what millions of suffering Venezuelans will want to hear, but Maduro may hold on to power for quite some time.

Until and unless all these domestic and international sources of support run out, we believe an imminent transition to democracy in Venezuela is unlikely.

This article is an updated version of an article originally published on July 27.

The Conversation

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GDANSK SHIPYARD STRIKE — POINT-COUNTERPOINT

Point: Gdansk Shipyard Strike Launched a Revolution

By Dalibor Rohac

InsideSources.com

A union leader, the pope and Margaret Thatcher may sound like the opening of an old joke. Instead of walking into a bar, the unlikely combo a defeated communist regime in Poland, revived free enterprise and democracy, and ushered in a period of unprecedented freedom and prosperity in the heart of Europe.

Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc, was born out of a strike at the Lenin Shipyard in Poland’s Gdansk in August 1980. The reasons for unrest seemed pedestrian. At the beginning of the 1970s, the communist leadership promised an economic boom that would allow living standards to catch up with those in the West.

Financed through foreign borrowing, the consumption-led expansion, not matched by any growth in productivity within the vastly inefficient state-run economy, was short-lived. As the government faced the pressure of foreign lenders in the latter half of the decade, fiscal tightening ensued and with it came increases in the prices of food and other commodities.

Those were not well-received by people who had been constantly told that Poland’s social and economic model was superior to Western democratic capitalism. Already in 1970, price increases of consumer staples led to protests in the north of Poland. Those were met with brutal violence, including the use of tanks and machine gun fire to suppress the rioters. At least 40 people were killed and more than 1,000 were wounded.

A reshuffle of the ruling United Workers’ Party’s central committee ensued and the new leadership promised to put the people first — by embarking on an unsustainable, consumption-driven boom.

When Poland’s economy found itself in dire straits again at the end of the 1970s, Poles were slowly waking up to the realization that the communist system was flawed and unsustainable as a whole. The election of a popular Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyła, as pope in 1978 gave them also the sense that they were no longer part of Europe’s forgotten periphery.

The demands of Gdansk shipyard workers led by Lech Walesa in August 1980 went beyond material prosperity and labor standards. They called for the release of political prisoners, freedom of speech and the press, and the legalization of trade union independent of the ruling party.

To say such things was not just subversive, it was unthinkable under a regime which vehemently denied that it persecuted people based on their beliefs or curbed freedom speech. The totalitarian ideology offered no place for legitimate dissenters. Since the party was the only legitimate voice of the working class, disagreement was a product of false consciousness, bourgeois prejudices or propaganda spreading from the imperialist West.

Other than repression, the regime had no means of engaging with dissent coming from factory floors. Martial law was imposed in 1981. Later, Jerzy Popieluszko, a Catholic priest working closely alongside the union leaders, was assassinated by secret police.

Yet the days of communism in Poland were numbered. There was no way to revive the moribund planned economy or to restore the regime’s legitimacy in the eyes of those it claimed to serve. In 1986, in a bow to economic reality, Poland joined the International Monetary Fund, yet the prescribed economic reforms were incompatible with a centrally planned communist economy.

The party continued to kick the can down the road, but the unrest continued, with mass strikes organized by Solidarity in the spring and summer of 1988. By then, the union had grown into a movement with millions of members.

During her highly symbolic visit to Poland in November 1988, the Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made a point of visiting the Lenin Shipyard, where she was greeted enthusiastically by some 20,000 Poles. After her meeting with Walesa, she said that she had “felt the spirit of Poland for myself.” At a dinner given earlier by the Polish government, she told her hosts that “one of the lessons of the world since 1945 is that greater prosperity comes to those nations which have greater freedom” and reminded them that they will be judged “by how they treat their own citizens.”

The rest, of course, is history. Within a few months, the regime gave in. After the semi-free elections in June 1989 the newly formed Solidarity-led government pursued a program of radical pro-market reforms that turned Poland into one of the most successful countries in Central Europe. But the main lesson of Solidarity is worth remembering in times of an increasingly toxic political culture across the Western world: namely that political renewal in crisis comes from building bridges over steep, decades-old divides.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Dalibor Rohac is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Counterpoint: After Winning the War, the West Now Retreats

By Charles A. Kupchan

InsideSources.com

Thirty-eight years ago — August 14, 1980 — Polish workers at the Gdansk shipyard went on strike to press for not only pay raises but also the right to belong to an independent union that would be free of communist control. So began the Solidarity labor movement that inspired opposition to communist rule in Poland and across Central Europe, ultimately leading to the collapse of the communist bloc.

Polish resistance proved contagious, clearing the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the implosion of the Soviet Union a few years later.

Poland did not look back. It adopted capitalism and its economy took off. It joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Along with its Central European neighbors, Poland embedded itself in Western markets, practices and institutions.

As the 21st century opened, democracy appeared to have finally triumphed over autocracy. Out of the courageous strike in Gdansk emerged a stunning and remarkable success story.

Not so fast. History has gone into reverse. Unsettled by globalization and immigration, Poland is abandoning its hard-won embrace of Western values. Its populist government is stacking the courts, seeking to control the news media, purging the civil service, and intimidating civil society organizations.

Hungary has already gone down that path. Britain is exiting the European Union, while recent elections in Italy have brought to power a coalition that is turning away refugees and stoking a racist brand of nationalism. Across much of Europe, populists and xenophobes are on the march.

The situation in the United States is hardly better. A racially tinged nationalism is eroding pluralism and tolerance. The White House propagates false claims as it launches daily attacks against the mainstream media. Tensions are building across racial, ethnic, geographic and class lines.

Surely, the West’s own success is contributing to democracy’s discontents. Technological advance and open trade have spawned economic duress across the United States and Europe. Uncontrolled flows of people across national borders have understandably provoked a backlash against immigration. Social media has made democratic institutions particularly vulnerable to manipulation. And transnational threats such as terrorism and climate change — although soluble only through collective action — have induced electorates to turn inward and raise protective barriers.

But the answer to these challenges is not to abandon Western values and retreat from the world as we look for scapegoats. It is to adapt to inevitable social and economic change by ensuring that the benefits of globalization are shared equitably across class, to arrive at immigration policies that are both firm and fair, and to work with, not against, other nations to solve collective problems.

Recalling Poland’s successful defeat of communist rule helps put our current predicament in perspective. I first visited Poland in 1983, after the communist regime had imposed martial law to snuff out Solidarity. The movement’s leaders had gone underground, but they insisted on meeting me in hotel lobbies and other public venues in order to demonstrate that they would not be cowed by the regime. One of Solidarity’s leaders told me that he and his colleagues were living in “internal exile.” They resided in Poland physically, but not politically.

In effect, civil society had separated itself from the state. The regime had lost any pretense of legitimacy — precisely why it was only a matter of time before it would collapse.

The triumph of Solidarity was a triumph of human will. Facts won out over fiction. Respect for human dignity defeated the cynicism of the authoritarian state. The resistance to sham leadership became so widespread that communist leaders, including those in the Kremlin, could not repress the will of the people.

This uplifting story of Poland’s transition from Soviet satellite to courageous democracy makes the current reversal of fortune all the more stunning. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, democracy looked unstoppable. But now the West is stumbling badly; democratic institutions have become dysfunctional, social cohesion has been replaced by bitter division, and openness, pluralism, and free trade have given way to fear of the other, intolerance, and protectionism.

The West has arrived at a moment of reckoning. The Atlantic democracies can pull themselves up by the bootstraps and reclaim the values and practices that made them great. Or they can accept defeat and retreat.

Americans and Europeans should look to the Gdansk strike of August 14, 1980, for guidance. Defeating communism took political fortitude, tenacious resistance and an unwavering commitment to human dignity.

Defeating today’s rising illiberalism will require nothing less.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Charles A. Kupchan is professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

FILE – In this Dec.13, 2017 file photo, president of Venezuelan parliament Julio Borges leaves after receiving the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, an award given to Venezuela’s opposition, in Strasbourg, eastern France. On Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro implicated Borges, one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, in an alleged assassination attempt using drones. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/08/web1_121112625-fc59f6a15d0c4e07afa1aa75dbe4167f.jpgFILE – In this Dec.13, 2017 file photo, president of Venezuelan parliament Julio Borges leaves after receiving the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, an award given to Venezuela’s opposition, in Strasbourg, eastern France. On Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro implicated Borges, one of the country’s most prominent opposition leaders, in an alleged assassination attempt using drones. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias, File)

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, security personnel surround Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, at left, during an incident as he was giving a speech in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he gave a speech to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas on Saturday but the socialist leader was unharmed, according to the government. (Xinhua via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/08/web1_121112625-6e961a8cc8874c55a08375d7a50ddbf2.jpgIn this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, security personnel surround Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, at left, during an incident as he was giving a speech in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he gave a speech to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas on Saturday but the socialist leader was unharmed, according to the government. (Xinhua via AP)

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, an uniformed official bleeds from the head following an incident during a speech by Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he gave a speech to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas on Saturday but the socialist leader was unharmed, according to the government. (Xinhua via AP)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/08/web1_121112625-d15ba61625d948848bcb93d3bd509fa2.jpgIn this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, an uniformed official bleeds from the head following an incident during a speech by Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018. Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he gave a speech to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas on Saturday but the socialist leader was unharmed, according to the government. (Xinhua via AP)

Staff & Wire Reports