Tag Archives: Hugo Chavez

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The U.S. political scene this week was dominated by coverage of Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings in the Senate. After the hearings, Sotomayor appears to be headed for an easy confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, a fact conceded by Republican Senator Lindsay Graham on the first day of the hearings.

Also on the domestic political scene, the battle over President Barack Obama’s proposed health care reform heated up this week, with both sides spending increasingly large sums of money on television advertising. So far, Obama has been content to allow Congressional Democrats to lead the reform effort, but that strategy appears to be in danger after several moderate Democrats expressed hesitation over the bill introduced in the House last week.

In news from outside the United States last week:

1. A suicide bomb attack in Jakarta, Indonesia, killed 9 people and injured more than 50 on Friday. Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing, the police investigation is focusing on Jemaah Islamiyah, a terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda. The group was responsible for a series of attacks between 2002 and 2005, including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

2. The standoff between President Manuel Zelaya and the leaders of the military coup in Honduras remains unresolved. On Friday, Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras, only to be denied entry. He is currently in Nicaragua. Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a close ally of Zelaya, has become increasingly vocal in his condemnation of the coup, accusing it of being backed by the United States. On Thursday, Chávez said, ““The Honduran army wouldn’t have gone forward without the approval of the state department. I don’t think they told [US president Barack] Obama, but there’s an empire behind Obama.” The de facto government of Honduras has filed a complaint against Venezuela with the United Nations Security Council, claiming that the Chávez government is interfering in its domestic affairs. But the Security Council has so far refused to deal with the complaint.

3. It’s been a month of relatively good economic news out of Zimbabwe. Although efforts at developing a new constitution to deal with the ongoing political standoff between the country’s two leading political parties appear to have stalled, the economy is slowly recovering. Finance Minister Tendai Biti announced on Thursday that the government would have a balanced budget this year, with total spending increasing 39 percent to U.S. $1.39 billion. After peaking at more than 231 million percent last year, inflation has been brought under control and the economy has effectively been dollarized, with foreign currencies used for most transactions. Nevertheless, the government is forecasting a sharp increase in agricultural production and a smaller increase in tourist revenues, which should offset a decline in mining revenue caused by the global economic crisis. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund issued a statement describing Zimbabwe as experiencing a “nascent economic recovery” facilitated by “a more liberal economic environment, price stability, increased financial intermediation and grater access to foreign credit lines.”

4. The Russian economy is currently experiencing its worst economic decline since the transition from communism in the early 1990s. According to a Financial Times report issued on Wednesday, the Russian economy contracted by 10.1 percent in the first half of 2009, a much sharper decline than the 7.9 percent forecast by the World Bank just one month ago. Russia’s current economic woes have been caused largely by the sharp decline in global oil prices, which have recovered to $60 per barrel after falling as low as $35 per barrel earlier this year. Russia is also experiencing its own financial crisis, as commercial banks there are bogged down with bad loans. The Russian government may be forced to turn to international markets, barrowing to offset the sharp decline in tax revenues caused by the economic downturn. Based on the new figures, its projected deficit for 2010 could reach as much as 7.5 percent of GDP, a figure far above the 5 percent originally projected. Unemployment has increased from 6 to 10 percent and continues to grow. Meanwhile, many Russians are responding to the economic crisis by returning to the soil, growing their own food on small plots just outside the city.

5. Natalia Estemirova, a human rights activist in Chechnya, was murdered on Wednesday. Estemirova was kidnapped as she left her house in Chechneya on Wednesday morning, and was found shot to death in Ingushetia, a neighboring Russian republic. Protestors fathered in Moscow on news of her murder, and the international community has condemned her death. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has promised those responsible for Estemirova’s death would be punished, but the Russian human rights community remain skeptical of his reassurances. Estemirova was the third human rights activist killed this year. She was also a close friend of Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist murdered in Moscow in 2006. No one has yet been punished for any of the deaths. Estemirova’s murder, however, raises concerns that the Caucasus region may be headed toward greater instability.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The turmoil over last week’s Iranian elections continued into this week, with thousands of people defying a statement  by the country’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and orders by President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and the country’s Revolutionary Guard banning such protests. Over the weekend, hundreds of supporters of Mir-Hossein Moussavi were arrested during protests. Moussavi’s supporters believe the election was rigged, but international observers and foreign governments have so far refused to comment.

In other news from the previous week:

1. The World Bank issued a statement urging the developed world to focus on the global economy in their recovery efforts. The collapse of global credit markets over the last year, the Bank noted, had led to a dramatic decline in private capital flows, with investment in developing countries declining from $1,200 billion in 2007 to an estimated $363 billion this year. Meanwhile, announcement of the new stimulus package by the Chinese government led the World Bank to increase its forecasts for the Chinese economy this year. But the decision of the Chinese government to include a ‘Buy China’ policy in its stimulus package has led to increasing tensions over the specter of protectionism in the global recovery effort.

2. French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a rare address to the country’s parliament at the Palace of Versailles this week. For more than 130 years, the French President had been constitutionally prohibited from entering parliament—an attempt to ensure legislative independence. But after the constitution was amended last year—in the name of increasingly parliamentary oversight—the restriction was removed. French Green and Communist parties boycotted the speech in protest of what they see as an attempt to increase the power of the French presidency. Sarkozy used the opportunity to outline measures intended to address the problem of rapidly detiorating public finances, sparked by the global economic crisis. In the speech, Sarkozy rejected the introduction of austerity measures, instead focusing on the need to protect jobs.

3. The situation in Iraq deteriorated over the past week, as the number of bombings as increased. On Saturday, a large truck bomb exploded outside a Shi’ite mosque in the Kurdish town of Kirkuk. The attack, the deadliest single attack in more than a year, killed 73 people. Meanwhile, a series of smaller attacks in Baghdad killed 15 people on Monday. The declining security situation comes as the United States prepares to begin its withdrawal from Iraqi towns, handing responsibility for day-to-day security over to Iraqi police by the end of June.

4. The speaker of the parliament in Somalia has issued a call for neighboring countries to send in troops to help prop up the country’s fragile government. The security situation in Somalia remains grim. On Thursday, the government’s security minister, Omar Hashi Aden, and more than 20 others were killed in a suicide attack by Islamic militants known as al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab seeks to overthrow the country’s western-backed government and impose its vision of strict sharia law in Somalia. So far, international assistance has been limited, and al-Shabaab has confined the influence of the government to the country’s capital, Mogadishu. Meanwhile, according to United Nations estimates, some 122,000 civilians have been forced to flee as a result of fighting which began in early May.

5. Tensions between the government of Hugo Chávez and the anti-government television station Globovisión have increased in Venezuela in recent days. Chávez accuses the station of “media terrorism” as a result of its critical coverage of his government, particularly following a minor earthquake which hit the capital, Caracdas, in early May. According to observers, the station makes an easy target for Chávez, who has stepped up his efforts to transform Venezuelan society and economy in recent months.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Poor economic news continues to flow out of most of the world. In the United States, new jobless figures released last week show unemployment up to 8.1 percent, the highest rate in 25 years. Malaysian exports have collapsed, placing pressure on the government to find a solution to the ongoing crisis. And the banking sector in South Africa, Canada, and Mexico (among others) continues to face problems, and the International Monetary Fund is urging greater coordination to address the crisis. 

But the Chinese government is asserting that things are improving there already, forecasting 8 percent growth this year and denying the economy is in a downturn. If they’re correct, perhaps we’re starting to see the beginning of the end of the global economic crisis. I, however, remain cautious.

Here’s important five stories from the previous week:

1. Hillary Clinton continued her charm offensive in Europe last week. After shifting to a more diplomatic strategy with Syria, the new Obama administration has announced its intention to conclude a new arms control agreement with Russia by the end of the year. The effort to improve diplomatic relations with both Syria and Russia are seen as part of a wider effort by the Obama administration to distance itself from the hardline policies of the previous president.

2. A suicide bomb attack against Baghdad’s main police academy killed 28 people on Sunday. Although the number of attacks has declined since the height of the sectarian violence in 2003, the attack nevertheless illustrates the challenges that Iraq continues to face.  On Thursday, a car bomb attack in Babil province—a region that has enjoyed relative peace for months—killed 12 people and injured 40. 

3.  Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Saturday announced his intention to resign. Fayyad was appointed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. But Fayyad was a controversial figure, and Hamas regularly criticized Fayyad for being too closely aligned with the United States and Israel. Fayyad’s resignation is seen as an important step towards the development of a unity government for Palestine, which itself is viewed as an important first step in the Middle East peace process.

4. The Good Friday peace accord in Northern Ireland faces its most serious challenge since it was signed in 1998, after two British soldiers were killed Saturday night in an attack by Irish nationalist groups opposed to the agreement. Though no group has yet claimed responsibility, several groups, including the Real IRA, the Continuity IRA, and the Irish National Liberation Army, oppose Sinn Fein’s effort to develop a powersharing agreement and peace deal for Northern Ireland.

5. Last week, President Hugo Chávez stepped up his effort to nationalize foreign agricultural producers in Venezuela. After last month’s referendum, which granted Chávez the right to remain in office indefinitely, Chávez announced his intention to move forward with the nationalization of key industries, including oil, steel, and cement. Chávez accuses foreign agricultural producers of exacerbating the country’s economic problems.

And in a bonus story for this week:

6. Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was injured in a car accident on Saturday, and Susan Tsvangirai, his wife of 31 years, was killed. According to witnesses, a truck swerved from the oncoming lane and struck his car, the middle in a convoy of three cars, head on. Some within Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change have accused Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, of masterminding the attack in an effort to eliminate his political rival. Although Tsvangirai has since said he did not believe the accident was part of a broader plot by Mugabe to eliminate him, Tsvangirai did accept an offer from Botswana’s President to recouperate across the border, fueling speculation about the nature of the accident. Zimbabwe’s national unity government remains an unstable coalition of rival groups, and the government has been unable to effectively address the ongoing economic crisis there.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

President-elect Barack Obama is moving forward with his transition.  According to most observers, he’s been meticulous in his vetting but has taken a pragmatic rather than partisan approach in selecting his cabinet.  Many of the most important positions have not yet been filled, but speculation is that Tim Geithner will be named Treasury Secretary and Hillary Clinton will be named to State.  A number of names have also been floated for other key positions in the administration.

Here’s five stories you might have missed during the extensive speculation about Obama’s presidency:

1.  The French left appears to be in disarray after Saturday’s leadership contestMartine Aubry narrowly won the contest fort the position, but Segolene Royal, the party’s candidate in the last presidential election, refused to concede defeat and demanded an immediate revote.  Observers fear that the leadership contest could result in the collapse of the French Socialist party.

2.  The increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia is having a dramatic impact on global trade.  Last week, pirates seized a Saudi oil supertanker carrying an estimated $100 million worth of crude oil.  The attack was a high-profile illustration of the dangers associated with shipping near Somali waters.  But Somalia is located along the Suez-canal transit path, one of the world’s busiest canals and part of a key shipping route between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  Shipping companies are now re-routing traffic around the Cape of Good Hope in Southern Africa to avoid the pirate infested water, adding to the cost of shipping.

3.  President Bush and President-elect Obama advanced competing economic plans this week.  President Bush appealed to the global community to embrace free trade, expressing his disappointment in Congress its refusal to approve new free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea before adjourning.  President-elect Obama announced his intention to develop a new public works program, echoing Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program which helped to bring the United States out of the Great Depression.  The program would focus on job creation, particularly in the areas of construction and the green economy.

4.  The status of forces agreement between the United States and Iraqi signed last week faced its first real challenges, as thousands of protestors backed by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr took to the streets on Friday in protest.  The rally of at least 10,000 peple demanded the immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.  However, al-Sadr’s group does not appear to have the ability to defeat the agreement. 

5.  Local elections on Sunday in Venezuela are projected to presenet a challenge to incumbent president Hugo Chavez.  The president’s party rode a tidal wave of support in 2004, when it won all but two governorships in the country.  But opinion polls suggest he could lose between six and nine seats, undermining the president’s ability to deepen his revolutionary transformation of Venezuela.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

There were many important and interesting stories this week.  WTO talks have resumed, the economic slowdown in the United States appears to be spreading to Europe and Japan, and Russia continues to reassert its position on the world stage.  But for now, here are five stories from the previous week you might have missed.

1.  Republican presidential candidate John McCain launched an attackon rival Barack Obama yesterday.  Obama cancelled a scheduled visit with wounded American troops in Germany after the Pentagon raised concerns about the potential political use of soldiers.  In a new television ad, McCain claimed that Obama would rather woo foreign leaders than visit US soldiers.  Obama countered that he refused to allow American soldiers to be used as pawns in a game of political back and forth.  The visit was supposed to be part of Obama’s international tour last week, when he visited leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.  The tour, which included a speech drawing more than 200,000 Berliners, was heralded as a success by the Financial Times editorials staff.

2.  Former Bosnian Serbian leader Radovan Karazic was arrested in Belgrade on Tuesday.   Karazic was the leader of Serbian forces responsible for Srebrenica massacre, where 8,000 people were murdered.  Karazic was wanted by the International Court of Justice and has been charged with crimes against humanity and genocide.  He had going by the name Dragan Dabic and earning a living as naturalist and alternative medicine guru since 1995.

3.  On Wednesday the Israeli Defense Ministry preliminarily approved plans to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  The proposal must still be approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  Under international law, the settlements are illegal, but more than 450,000 Israelis live in such settlements.  According to Palestinian officials, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are the most fundamental obstacle to peace in the region.

4.  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has proposed to expand his cheap oil initiative, known as Petrocaribe, to more countries in Central America.  Chavez developed the plan as a way to curry the favor of countries in the region, hoping to sway allies in struggle against the United States government.  The plan allows countries to purchase oil from Venezuela at a reduced price and to finance purchases over low interest rates over 25 years.  High oil prices have increased participation in the plan, and now, even center-right governments in Central America are singing up.

5.  Tens of thousands of workers have taken to the streets in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Workers from across the country are participating in a nation-wide strike called by the country’s largest federation of local unions, COSATU.  Workers are protesting declining standards of living due to economic slowdown and a proposed 27.5 percent increase in the price of electricity.