Is Venezuela a narco state?

 

 

At the present time, Venezuela is experiencing a terminal crisis; Crisis of government, regime and crisis of the state at the same time. “Organic crisis”, which the Political scientists would recall, in the neo-Marxist language. It affects to the institutions which are currently supporting the political and legal order. Not necessarily the society is in permanent mobilization, as it happened in 2014 and in 2016, but the crisis is equally unstoppable. It spreads from the very bowels of power. For this reason, it evokes the implosion of the socialist countries of the late 1980s in Eastern Europe, albeit in a different and worse degree of decomposition, with a more corrupt and criminal nomenclature than was that of Eastern Europe.

Before the Chavez’s administration, those Venezuelan institutions were governed by separations of powers and democratic means. But the regime of liberties and democracy which Venezuelans enjoyed for more than 50 years, was left to the history after the Major Commander Hugo Chavez seized power in 1999. During Chavez first 16 years his hegemony reigned in the National Assembly until his party lost in the legislative elections of December 2015. The popular vote punished President Maduro for leading the country to the deepest economic crisis, with shortages of food and medicines that the country has ever known. The increase of poverty and misery, violence and crime, are the most visible signs of Chavez’ failed model of the ‘Socialism for the 21st Century’. The year 2016 was a terrible and dark year for Venezuela, closing with an economic contraction of 18% and the inflation of 800%, according to unofficial figures from the Central Bank disclosed by Reuters. But for the parliament, currently dominated by opposition to the regime, it was a year of light, hope and combativeness to recover the lost democracy.

The situation is completely out of control due to the irresponsibility of the Maduro government: the collapse of oil revenues, and the opposition to the Bolivarian oligarchy in order to cut state spending, have ended up triggering the country’s public deficit to levels close to 25% GDP.

But problems never come alone. The US Treasury’s indictment of drug trafficking against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, along with his frontman Samark López, may be contagious. The inclusion of El Aissami in this drug trafficking ignominy list, is added with a dozen people linked to the power in Venezuela, all of which supporting the accusation that Venezuela might be a ‘narco-state’. The Wall Street Journal had already quoted in May 2015 sources from the US Department of Justice, who accused El Aissami of receiving bribes to facilitate drug trafficking over Venezuelan territory.

Moreover, a document from the Prosecutor’s Office of the Southern District of New York, reveals that the convicts Efrain Campo Flores and Francisco Flores De Freitas, the narco-nephews of the Venezuelan presidential couple, negotiated the liberation of Hermagoras González, one of the heads of the La Guajira’ cartel. The same name also appears related to El Aissami, according to the US Treasury.

Maduro’s government in Venezuela would do anything to stop the world media analysing this narco-trafficking scandal, which plagues the country’s vice president, after the US has imposed sanctions on them because of their link with drug trafficking. Maduro would have wished that Washington had not known the place of Venezuela on the globe. It began with CNN’s investigative report on passport and visa trafficking, according to which a criminal network based in the Venezuelan embassy in Baghdad, sold ID documents. The same ID’s which arrived at the terrorist and drug traffickers’ hands.

All these news were broadcasted at the very same time when the visit to DC of Mitzy Ledezma and Lilian Tintori, the wives of political prisoners and opponents of the Chavista regime, Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo López, respectively. Both ladies held meetings in the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House. After the meetings, Trump demanded to the Venezuelan government the immediate releasing these political prisoners on Twitter, as he is used to. Cornered by the events, Maduro responded by censuring CNN throughout Venezuela, and later expelled them of the country, due to a new reportage involving El Aissami with the issuance of fake passports for Islamic terrorists.

Maduro with his usual awkwardness, also censored the Mexican TV Azteca.  A full invitation to Peña Nieto to harden his position against Venezuela. Maduro is doing a favour to the Mexican president: he is giving the chance to Peña Nieto of a common cause together with Trump. If it used well, it could serve both to find the space for a more cooperative relationship, rather than the current one.

But whatever the situation is, Maduro does not want to antagonize Trump: he claims the Treasury Department and the CNN network, want to “impose” an agenda against Venezuela, which they are predisposing against to President Trump. While the Republican president has expressed his concern for Venezuela when speaking with the presidents of Peru, Colombia and Argentina, and last week also demanded from the oval office the freedom and the release from prison of the Chavista regime’ opponent, Leopoldo Lopez, while he was accompanied by his wife, Lilian Tintori.

Despite this, Maduro does not want to displease the new American President and treats him with a white glove because he considers him to be like him, hating both the media which dare to criticize them.

Election fraud in Ecuador?

 

 

After ten years of being Rafael Correa the President of Ecuador, it will be difficult to exercise the power like him, in a way which could well be defined as omnipresent. In the decade of 2007-2017, the current president became involved in almost every issue which generated interest in the country, whether political, social, economic, religious or sports, personally or through Twitter, his favourite social network. Correa created a very personalist movement, instead of generating a socialist party with an ideological content, and its policy has been social dismantling: combating the trade unionism by denying them any social representation, atomizing the indigenous movement and crashing over many groups, such as healthcare and Armed Forces.

For Correa’ critics, those representatives of the old politics, bankers of the “long neoliberal night“, journalists “ink’ hitmen“, as Correa uses to denominate them, or those who were disenchanted during the way, his omnipresence became Omnipotence. After too much accumulated power, the Ecuadoreans from the coast or from the Sierra, from Quito or Guayaquil, are just right now pro-Correa or against-Correa, or what is the same, fully polarized.

Neither the presidential candidate, Lenin Moreno nor his great rival, Guillermo Lasso have obtained for time being, the necessary votes to be proclaimed president without resorting to the ballotage. In a count which continues maintaining the Ecuadorians’ excitement as well as their breath, Correa’s candidate Moreno has failed to overcome the barrier of 40% of votes needed to win in the first round. At the moment, stands at the doors of the Government Palace with a 39.11% support. Lasso, leader of CREO-SUMA with 28.31% of votes, still hopes to achieve his goal, to reach the second round on April 2nd.

For the very last ten years, the Ecuadorians had grown living the elections without great uncertainties. The name of the person sitting in the presidential chair was a sure bet. But after a decade with Rafael Correa, the question is not only about who will be the next president, but how the economic crisis in the country will be solved. The Ecuadorians had to decide amongst the change, or four more years of revolution.

Guillermo Lasso from ‘Alianza PAIS‘ is the opposition candidate. He lost already the 2013 election against Rafael Correa. He promises that his presidency will be the required change which Ecuador is needing, to end with the revolutionary project of Correa: belonging to the ALBA Alliance, founded by Hugo Chavez and called ‘Socialism of the 21st Century.’ Lasso is a self-made man. At age of 15, he got his first job to contribute to the family’ economy. There he began his career in the banking sector. Without having any university degree, he became the CEO of the Bank of Guayaquil, of which he is still one of its main shareholders.

Lenin Moreno, the official candidate of ‘Alliance PAIS’ represents the continuity of Correa’ s legacy, although he says he will do it with his own style. Moreno refuses the confrontation and bets on dialogue to make politics in a more dignified way. Teacher and son of teachers, he left the classrooms to create his company of tourist promotion. In 1998, a robbery changed his life: A shot at the exit of a bakery left him with no mobility in his legs. From his wheelchair, he decided to become a professional Coach using humour as a tool, a vision which he has developed in eight books. His leap into public life was as Correa’ vice president between 2007 and 2013. The visibility of disabilities and the social policies in Ecuador took the UN to appoint him as the Special Envoy of the Secretary General on Disability and Accessibility.

Moreno, the official candidate nominated by Correa, came to the election as the best positioned.  Right now it seems like the whole election intrigue is not about who will be the winner anymore, but whether there will be a second round. Some are predicting that Correa will continue to rule in the shadows if his candidate wins, while others speculate that he will return stronger in some years if the opposition finally wins. There are people who fear that in his absence, all the social achievements during his presidency will disappear, but also those who only wish him a sad and lonely end. But no one after his 10-year presidency has been indifferent to Rafael Correa’s fate, which is his omnipresence’ legacy.

While Ecuador still has no president, it already has its National Assembly. And the clear majority which Correa’s party enjoyed has been drastically reduced in these election: Alianza PAIS (AP), which had 100 of the 137 chamber seats, has fallen to about 67 seats, compared to 64 for the opposition, according to the ‘Citizen Participation’ platform. The distortion of the circumscriptions would explain that AP has half of the seats, while in the votes counting, the official Lenin Moreno provisionally obtained a 39.1%, compared to 51.4% percent got for the three main opposition candidates.

The slowness counting and offering the results by the National Electoral Council, was interpreted as an attempt to wait for Moreno seizing the 40% required to avoid a second round. Whether he loses the presidency, AP will no longer have the clear majority which had enjoyed since 2009, and allowed Rafael Correa to effectively control the judiciary and the electoral administration, as well as the dismantling of any independent media, according to the Bolivarian model of the so-called ‘Socialism of the 21st Century’. The ‘Socialism of the 21st Century’ already lost two of its allies with the change of government in Argentina and the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. It may lose a third party.

In any case, the Ecuadorian people are in the streets defending their votes. The last news about Ecuador is that National Electoral Council is removing all the volunteers’ credentials of the opposition parties, so that of they cannot witness the latest piece of the voting count. I might be wrong, but something starts to stink badly.

Cuba, the Geostrategic pearl of the Caribbean

The geopolitical importance of Cuba is not due to the strategic cunning of Fidel Castro, who was certainly a great connoisseur of the international relations during the 20th century, but to the geographical location of the island. With or without the Castro, Cuba is the fundamental piece which gives entry to the Greater Caribbean, as it is usually called the union of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, since Cuba as Mexico, are part of North America.

This central location explains why Cuba was the logistic centre of the Spanish Empire from the Sixteenth century to the beginning of the Nineteenth century. Columbus first arrived in The Bahamas and made a first fort in La Hispaniola, (today Dominican Republic and Haiti). But the Spanish Crown decided to set its operations’ centre in Cuba. From there, the conquerors took their expeditions to the north, to Florida; to the west, to New Spain, today Mexico; to the south, to New Granada, today Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and, through Panama, to Peru. All the galleons passed by Havana before making their return jump to the Peninsula. It remained like this until 1898, when the last Spanish overseas’ possessions, Cuba, together with Puerto Rico, Philippines and Guam, partly because its insular character isolated it from the independence movements, but mainly by the particular, affective and strategic consideration which always attributed to Cuba from the Metropolis, became independent after Spain losing the war vs. the United States. Only the great importance of the South American colonial territory articulated from the Rio de la Plata, was at the same level of the Cuban centre of gravity.

Cuba was also an essential element for the consolidation of the United States as a power in its hemisphere, between the end of the Nineteenth century and the beginning of the Twentieth century. To be a great power before World War I, the United States needed to control Cuba. To take Spain out of there was mandatory. That is the reason why the USA invented a pretext to declare the war to Spain: taking advantage of an internal explosion in the battleship Maine, anchored at that moment in the port of Havana, accused to Spain of having bombarded it, which was proved false once revealed the classified US documents about it, and which confirmed what the Spanish government had always maintained. Cuba has the geopolitical capacity of influencing in a large number of neighbouring countries, since all of Central America is its natural environment. When the US became the world superpower, it was to endure a communist Cuba in the Soviet orbit, because the US had control of the rest of the region.

Cuba has been for its geopolitical situation, the anti-American rebellion’ centre from 1960 until today. When analysing the geographical distribution of the communist guerrillas in Latin America, a circumference which has Cuba as the equidistant centre is observed, from the subversive attempts of the early 1960s in Venezuela to the Zapatista rebellion in Mexico in the 1990s; Guerrillas in Guatemala, El Salvador, and the Nicaraguan Sandinista regime of the 1980s. It is also necessary to include the support to the Colombian FARC and the control of the Chavismo. The Chavismo has already been something bigger apart, engineered and controlled from Cuban’ intelligentsia almost absolutely. Outside of that geographical area, Cuba has hardly had any influence: the disastrous adventure in Bolivia was a Che Guevara’ stubbornness, and the terrorist Peruvian’ Sendero Luminoso was of Maoist inspiration.

Castro was the creator of his own marketing: he led the far-left US and European intellectuals to believe that his revolution placed the culture, education and health above material values, which was what these intellectuals wanted to hear. He was a master of his own propaganda. Until recently, the visitors to Havana were shown a hospital, a school and a bookstore. I had myself the privilege of visiting these places. The hospital, reserved for the country’ leaders, was the jewel of the Exhibition. The bookstore was dedicated to the written works of Castro. And that’s it. The school improved the educational levels of Cubans, although before the revolution were already the highest in Latin America, but it is right to say that with the Revolution, the education was spread and mandatory to the entire Cuban population.

As for the immediate future, once the new diplomatic relations with Cuba have been re-established by the former Administration, the new US Trump’ Administration policy for Cuba, will not mean condescending treatment of the island. Although these are my own speculations, it seems that Trump will probably accept the decision already taken by Obama, but it is predictable that, to facilitate economic interaction, the US will demand some actions from the Castristas. Thus, the US embargo would remain in place if there are no signs of a certain economic opening, and if the Cuban state carry on with keeping in the pocket those business dollars, and not the private initiative of the citizens, which, right now except for a very few exceptions, it remains like that.

The day when Cuba gets rid of Castrism and the Castrism disappears, Cuba will keep up having the continental leadership, because it is where it is located. Cuba will be able to take advantage of the enormous possibilities which offers the fact of being at the centre of the immense Atlantic gulf of the American continent, formed by the coast line that goes from New York to Caracas. A democratic and economic liberalism could contribute to a communion of interests with the United States. Only a friendly and convinced relationship with the great northern neighbour could accelerate the development of the entire southern region of North America, including Colombia and Venezuela. Geopolitics proves that Washington will never cease to consider this area as its own security space; While not seeing certain risks, the US should contribute to a sincere promotion of its neighbours. By its privileged location, Cuba is called to be the great ally of the US in the Caribbean, in a mutual respect basis, and thus, becoming a hub for air and maritime communications of this ‘super gulf’ of the beautiful Caribbean Sea.

And now is the turn of France

 

The United States is not the only Western country in which Russia influenced prominently in the elections. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Russia is also a hot topic in the French presidential campaign. In the lead up to the election in spring 2017, nearly all the opposition parties, whether on the right, far right, or far left, have bemoaned the degradation of ties with Russia under the government of President François Hollande, arguing that it breaks with France’s tradition of diplomatic engagement and political dialogue with Moscow and that it is detrimental to French economic interests. Some politicians from these parties have also expressed, on international issues such as Ukraine or Syria, views sympathetic to the Kremlin.

This week we have seen the decline of the polls leadership of Francois Fillón, leader of the French centre-right (UMP); as a result, it was the poll´s rise of the leftist independent Macròn, while he was accused of cheating his wife with a member of his team, a man. All these events are positioning Mrs. Le Pen, leader of the populist far-right in France, who wants to leave the EU and abandon the Euro, a new Frexit! The pro-Russian stances of France’s populist or extremist parties do not really come as a surprise: In the US and Europe, from Republican President Donald Trump to British Nigel Farage or Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, have voiced their admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

President Putin is underestimating the concern that Russian involvement in attacking the American electoral system has engendered across the American political spectrum, about the concern over the Russian role in the American election. But Washington is not Putin only target. Germany is investigating a series of sophisticated hacking attacks on political parties, fearing that Russia might be trying to influence the outcome of this year’s elections. The offices of several MPs inside Germany’s parliament were targeted in the attacks, as well as regional offices of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and rival parties. The German government agency in charge of cyber security believes the attacks originated from Russia and may be linked to the hacking of private emails from Clinton´s campaign team in the US earlier this year. The attacks particularly targeted party offices in the tiny German state of Saarland, which is not much influential but which is due to hold the country’s next regional elections in March. National elections in Germany are due to follow in the autumn.

Kasparov, the well-known Russian dissident, president of the Human Rights Foundation and former world chess champion, was asked about Putin’s motives to help Trump win the election. Kasparov gave several possible reasons. First, he said, Russia is going through a bad economic time, and Putin needs to project an image of strength, as a world leader capable of challenging the US and even influencing its choices. Second, for geopolitical reasons, Trump is the perfect American president for Putin, Kasparov said. Trump has criticized NATO, the European Union and other organizations defending security and democracy in its area of ​​influence, and opposed the Russian invasion of the Crimea in 2014. “Putin realizes that, for his imperialist agenda, organizations like NATO and the European Union are an obstacle; Putin wants to undermine and destroy them, and Trump was the perfect candidate to weaken them.”

This year we will see elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany, and perhaps in Italy. By not responding to US sanctions with an eye-for-eye, Putin undoubtedly hopes to sway opinion in Europe, convincing voters that he is not a threat. His first goal of course is the removal of European and US sanctions on Russia, imposed for its actions in Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea.

The sophistication and capacity of Russian cyber-warfare operations have been revolutionised in recent years by a decision to co-opt the country’s impressive IT industry, said Andrei Soldatov, author of ´The Red Web´ and the foremost expert in Russian cyber espionage. “There used to be a view of Russia’s cyber espionage and hacking based on the idea of criminal mercenary gangs working for a proxy, such as pro-Kremlin youth groups. But what we’re seeing now is quite new: the idea now is not to use criminals but to use the industry. We have maybe the biggest engineer community in the world, and lots of great specialists. They are not criminals; they are professionals and they are not bothered or afraid to refuse requests from government agencies.”

And Putin’s fingerprints are everywhere in Brexit’s vote, and in Italy’s referendum in support of the “No” vote against Prime Minister Renzi. My opinion: I would not be surprised if Putin tries to help choose authoritarian populist leaders in Germany, France and even Mexico. His motives may be very simple: if Trump turns out to be an authoritarian president, as many already fear, and Germany and France choose authoritarian populist leaders in the upcoming elections, none of them will have the moral authority to criticize Putin for being an autocrat. While I might understand Putin rationales, I don´t understand Trump´s. Why Trump would wish to get rid of the European Union and the NATO?

The exercise of political power seems different today. Larry Diamond, a sociologist at Stanford, has described the past decade as a period of “democratic recession.” Within many of the remaining democracies, the quality of governance has deteriorated. Meanwhile, social media circulate ever-wilder rumours. Some people believe them; others don’t. It’s hard work to ascertain what is true. James Russell Lowell, the founder of “Atlantic´s” foreign affairs magazine, challenged the happy assumption that the Constitution was a “machine that would go of itself.” Lowell was right. Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism. No society, not even one as rich and fortunate as the US has been, is guaranteed a successful future. When early Americans wrote things like “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” they did not do so to provide bromides for future bumper stickers. They lived in a world in which authoritarian rule was the norm, in which rulers habitually claimed the powers and assets of the state as their own personal property.

Former President Obama waited too long to warn the world about the cybernetic threat of Russia. Unless President Trump begins to take it seriously and uphold the principles of democracy and human rights, as most Democratic and Republican predecessors have done, Russia might try to use cyber espionage and false news to influence voting in those various elections coming, putting the Western democracies at risk.