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.

Brexit and other blusters

 

 

The geopolitical world map is being reconfigured and it seems to be not too positive for Europe. Trump’s election goes far beyond the intention about the Americans recovering their factories or getting better terms in free-trade agreements. It is not only protectionism, but part of a change which could be radical.

An essential element for this changes must do with the role of the United States in the world. It is the great world military power; it also concentrates the largest and most important companies in the financial industry, energy, and those developing the greatest innovations in the productive environment. American manufacturing companies are no longer leaders because of their competition. In contrast, many of the American firms linked to Silicon Valley, from Amazon to Facebook, are becoming the leading players in the new economic context, and some others like Uber, Tesla or Airbnb, are becoming to be so. It will mean, if successful, that the US economic dominance will be strengthened in a new way, perhaps even more intense than in the past.

Ted Malloch, who is expected to be the next US Ambassador to the EU, has stated that the Euro has just 18 months left. He has said also that during 2017, decisive elections will take place in Europe, in France, Germany and the Netherlands, and the Europeans will decide whether they want to continue or not in the EU, and the end of the road will be inevitable. Of course, according to Malloch, the fact that the common European currency disappears and the EU breaks, it will not be a problem for these countries which decide to leave, because the US will be there to back them up. The bet has been made clear with the United Kingdom, which has been offered a bilateral treaty via express delivery if necessary, and it will be the way to reaffirm the UK position.

At the first meeting of President Trump with a foreign leader in the White House, British Prime Minister Theresa May, it will be measured if they both have more pragmatism or ideological affinity. The two conservative politicians share the enthusiasm for the Brexit and the negotiation of a bilateral trade agreement. “As we end our time in the EU, we have the opportunity to reaffirm our belief in a sovereign, global and self-confident UK, ready to build relationships with our old friends and new allies,” British PM said.

May seeks to become a privileged ally of Trump. But the British exit of the EU locates the so-call special relation between Washington and London in an uncertainty situation. So far, not everything is being an easy for May: The British Supreme Court has ruled that the instance which authorized the UK entry into the EU (1972), it is the only one which could authorize its departure. It is a broad-spectrum sentence. It opens a discussion of great interest: Most deputies were supporters of ´Remain´ and many of them even considered that Cameron had committed a serious political error in calling the referendum. It was, moreover, a transversal majority, of conservatives, labourist and liberals, and even the former PM was part of it. In the other hand, Trump praises the Brexit, but the British exit of the EU might mean for Washington the loss of the best defender of US interests in economy, security and espionage´matters, along the EU corridors.

Meanwhile, the head of Economic Affairs of the EU, Pierre Moscovici has quite reacted about Malloch´ statement:  “The Euro will not collapse, not in 18 months, not in 10 or 20 years. I do not think Malloch was well informed.” The Presidents of the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament have decided to keep a low profile in front of the new US administration and its more than inappropriate views on the future of the EU. Moscovici tried at first to be more neutral, insisting that “the US is a major EU partner, economic, strategic partner, an ally and friend, and will continue to be, but at the same time there is a new president with his own political choices and with a nationalist and protectionist´ tune.”

Questioned about a possible break-up of the Euro, the former French minister was much sharper. “I do not think it’s an informed judgment. The currency is a decisive factor of unity, it makes no sense to try to divide the Europeans, we need to strengthen the Eurozone, deepen it, and the European Commission will make its proposal in its next white book, when the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.” In Brussels, the position of Trump irritates much, but they do not want to create more frictions with the new US administration. Before provoking a diplomatic incident, they prefer to let some time pass by, and see which the practical facts are going to be, and instead, go beyond rhetoric: “We will disappoint those who see us already dead. We should reflect on Mark Twain’s words about how the rumours of his death had been more than premature, ” Moscovici insisted.

Some days ago, it was again Pierre Moscovici who replied to the doomsday future painted by the new White House: “Having an Administration which is wishing the dismantling of Europe is simply impossible. I do not accept this view of things and I do not believe that these comment, which glorify the division of the Union, are the best for Euro-Atlantic relations.” It seems like those Trump’s advisers are linking the US policy success to the others´ failure. It would be a very poor vision of things. Trump is said to be against free-trade, but he might be only against free-trade when it benefits countries other than his own.

Although I must admit that this vision does not correspond only to the new US administration: It was also supported by the well-known Professor of Economics at the New York University, the American Paul Krugman, 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics, who considers himself very modern and liberal, and he is much praised by the American progressists, meaning the Democrats. They have more in common than a priori they seem. We must observe carefully to make sure if in Britain, as well as in Trump´s America, are these capable elites of carrying out the programs of the PEOPLE.

The year of the lies

 

We have never had so much access to information as we have today, but in the other side, we have never been so subjected to manipulation, simplification, and scam. It is the so-called ‘Post-truth’. We have seen a lot of it during the last 2016.

2016 was the year in which the United Kingdom voted its divorce from the EU, blaming migrants and refugees, without receiving any of the latter as it was agreed within the EU system of quotas of distribution of refugees. The two great leaders of the campaign, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage admitted, after winning the referendum, having lied about their utopian promises. About the one which spoke of recovering for the United Kingdom 350 million € which, supposedly, was wrongly spent by the European Union. The British newspapers did not want or could not explain that the UK refused to receive in the previous months a single asylum seeker. The number of those who crossed UK borders was zero. The Brexit has been one more exponent of the alarming clashes of legitimacies that the Populisms put forward to end to the Rule of Law and the representative democracy in Europe.

The year 2016 will be remembered in the history as the year in which a multimillionaire disguised as ‘an outsider’ has broken all the prognoses when reaching the White House. Erratic, politically incorrect and unpredictable in his governing form, his victory can bring about a profound reversal of American politics. And the world.

It was 2016 the year in which there was a “near-coup” in Turkey and by which Erdogan, taking advantage, put in prison tens of thousands of people in Turkey accused of coup’ plotters without having presented a single evidence against them. Now Erdogan is about to seize all the power, the absolute power, once and for all, so that no one ever snatches it from him.

2016 was the year in which Bashar al-Assad razed Aleppo by killing thousands of civilians while using forbidden weapons. For many, he became the new liberator of the Middle East.

2016 was the year Putin imprisoned most of his opposition in Russia, including the communist, but managed to galvanize many left-wing sympathizers around the world, for being iron fist against the West. Including Donald Trump, who praised the Russian president’s response to the sanction imposed on his country by Obama’s White House team: “A great movement, I always knew he was very intelligent!

It was also 2016 the year in which it is observed that of, after the economic crisis of 2008, the largest of recent times, the social democratic left has been giving power and losing influence in the main developed countries.

We are already in 2017. Europe, the world, are changing so much that the stillness, the calm, seems no longer the worst of the scenarios. There are coming critical elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany and, as the EU idea about integration, collaboration and the transfer of sovereignty has become a first-class throwing weapon, Paris and Berlin will try not to make big decisions, announcements or new strategies, so as not giving ammunition to the populists. The scenario has changed completely in just a few months. After the British referendum on ‘Brexit‘ the EU split in two. On the one hand, those who like France, wanted more Europe. On the other, the side led by Germany, Holland or Finland, the economic hawks, who prefer a break for the time being.

Thinking over before acting, consolidate before proceeding. It seems obvious that the reaction of the citizenship to a possible greater integration is not wanted. Those referendums in Europe, the Greek on the bailout, Brexit, the Hungarian on quotas, the Dutch on Ukraine, or the Danish on participation in the EU in internal affairs, that of Renzi in Italy, were all lost. The Eurosceptic groups are proliferating. So, the Heads of State and government have chosen to give a truce. The issue is, that of at least two new elements have showed up in the equation. On the one hand, Trump, whose messages are very disturbing in Brussels and which may force to the member states to take a few steps forwards on issues of common defence and security policy, in the fear that NATO, its natural shield, will be affected by which it seems the new doctrine of the United States.

In Britain, Theresa May has given up her asymmetric free-market claim among European and British goods, as opposed to the barriers to the citizens who produce them. The imminent ruling of the British Supreme Court, which will rule on respect for parliamentary sovereignty over those who are based on the will of the people, has led the British PM to anticipate and dispel doubts about the actions and positions of her government around the withdrawal from the European Union.

Progress, integration, growth, are the natural EU’ movements, and much to do still remains. But doing it without a right plan, without any guidance or goals could become an equal or greater threat. One for which Putin and the Europhobes are already preparing. “We are witnessing the beginning of a new era, distinguish by the triumph of fear and anger; a brazen lack of respect for the truth; xenophobia; the weakening of liberal ideas and the rejection of the economic globalization’ achievements. “, was appointed by David Held, Professor of International Politics and Relations at the University of Durham in the UK. In 2017, the temptation for those leaders handling the planet’s geopolitics hot spots, (Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Assad, Al Sisi, Le Pen, Wilders …), will further abuse of this Post-Truth lab, in order to win contracts, elections or wars. While the emotions are occupying more space than the real facts.

Thus, begins 2017. Happy New Year!

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A Spy Story

 

 

 

During the last Christmas holiday, we have astonished and attentively observed every day the US political crisis issue motivated by the alleged interference of Russia in the last US presidential elections, and how such interference could have changed the direction and the result of the election. There has also come to the forefront, the very existence of a dark dossier on possible links during the last five years between the next US President and the Russian Government. From the beginning, no one wanted to give enough credit to this alleged dossier to bring it to light, but the information has erupted with just a week left for Donald Trump to make the Presidential oath.

This dossier has been classified as ‘unverified information’ by all those media which have published it. But the reality is that the content has placed the President-elect on the ropes during his first press conference after several weeks, and only a few days before his swearing-in as President of the United States. According to the report, there would have been some plot among Trump’s team and Putin’s government to injure during the election to the Democratic Party and its candidate Clinton. On the other hand, it is said in it that Russia could use the information collected for several years on the tycoon, information which might include an alleged orgy with prostitutes in a luxurious hotel in Moscow, in order to blackmail him once he is officially the President of the USA.

Trump called the report ‘fake news,’ and blamed to the US intelligence agencies about being behind the dossier. He has described these facts and information as a ‘witch hunt,’ although in the document it is pointed out that the Russian Intelligence would have material and compromising information about the President-elect, both economically and personally. It has now been reported that the dossier was written by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 spy, who worked as a spy in Russia during the 1990s and right now runs the private ‘Orbis Business Intelligence’ company in London, and who recently has been forced to leave his home in Surrey together with his family and hide in an unknown location in the face of fear of retaliation by the Russian secret services. In his report, Steele concludes that Moscow has been tracking Donald Trump for five years and has accumulated enough embarrassing material of unorthodox behaviour to blackmail him.

But that is not the most disturbing part of the report: it is affirmed that Trump has been receiving assistance, support and information by the Russian administration, under the name ‘Operation Trump’ which has been commanded by Putin directly. The Kremlin would have been providing intelligence about Trump’ opponents in the electoral race. The dossier also contains information accumulated over many years about candidate Clinton, including the communications interception, led directly by Kremlin spokesman, Mr. Peskov, reporting directly to Putin.

The report relates about continued conspiracy between Donald Trump’s campaign team at the highest level, which would include Russia’s diplomatic staff in the US as well as the use of hackers who would be behind the appearance of Clinton’s e-mails in the WikiLeaks platform, to create distrust and hatred towards the Democratic candidate. In exchange, Putin would receive intelligence from the US, especially about the Russian oligarchs, their businesses, and their families in the US, and would have managed to get rid of the candidate Clinton to whom Putin detests.

In the Steele’ report are concrete data, dates, details of actions and events which makes it very difficult to reject it in advance. Both, the US intelligence services are giving it the highest credibility and the FBI is investigating its authenticity. The only fact admitted by Trump, but only a little bit, is that Russia might have entered the Democratic National Committee’s servers to steal damaging information for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. But then, he clarified his words. “The US is being ‘hacked’ by the whole world. It includes China, Japan and Russia and everyone.” Trump said in a new example of his tendency to talk about China, Mexico or Japan, whenever he is asked about Russia.

WikiLeaks has pointed out that the dossier “is not an intelligence report. Neither its style, facts nor data shows any credibility.” The Kremlin was quick to dismiss the revelation as an ‘utter falsehood’ aimed to damage the relations between the two countries. “The sources are one of the flimsiest aspects of Trump’s report,” wrote the journalist Luke Harding at the ‘The Guardian.’ Despite those holes in the style and content, the very report has been circulating for weeks on the heights of the American power. Here is the rarity. Even the Arizona Senator John McCain has acknowledged that the FBI sent it for review to him.

Now there are two possibilities: if the accusations were verified, their very serious character could trigger further investigations, and even a possible impugnation which might undermine Trump’s Presidency. If they were false or unconfirmed, it would further aggravate the relations among Trump’ administration and American intelligence. If the report were verified, it would explain the Trump’s always favourable stance towards Russia; His compliments to Vladimir Putin and his strategy in Syria; The open door to recognize the annexation of Crimea; The not responding, within the NATO framework, to an eventual Russian aggression in Europe; The refusal to acknowledge the Russian ‘hacking’ during the campaign to the Democratic Party, despite the insistence of American intelligence, and finally, the appointment as the Head of Diplomacy of Rex Tillerson, an ex-ExxonMobil who is a close person to Vladimir Putin. It is ironic that Mitt Romney was dismissed as Secretary of State just when his very main opinion on foreign policy is being now vindicated. Romney said in 2012 that “Russia was the geopolitical adversary number 1 of the US.”

 Trump has at least acknowledged for the very first time that it may have been Russia which has pirated the accounts of the Democratic National Convention, although he also said that “Russia will have a lot more respect for our country when I am leading it than before, when other people were leading.” A typical intelligence play, worthy of a former KGB colonel, which is working up to date, but it has already created many shadows of doubt, and has begun to make water even before Trump assumes his new role as President of the USA. But if this report were verified, i.e., the violation of the most basic rule of International Law, the, ‘non-interference in the affairs of another country’, it would be too serious for the interests of the American citizens, because their will would have been vitiated, annulated and manipulated.

The most persecuted religious minority

 

I do not write normally on topics which affect religion. But the continued silence in the West about the continuing attacks on Christians in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan has drawn my attention. We do not write or talk about it. Not about the Yazidis, the Orthodox Christians, Catholics or Copts who have suffered and suffer open discrimination or worst, from the Muslim majority.

In Egypt, the Copts have been relegated as second-level citizens: They do not occupy the top positions in politics, in the judiciary, and even less in the military. They suffer discrimination in public life, and obstacles to the construction or reformation of churches. The intriguing thing is that nobody like them represents the pure essence of the country, since the name ‘Copt‘ comes from the Greek term ‘Egyptian‘, but Islam has condemned them to vassalage just for their fidelity to the Christian faith. The Copts are the ancient Egyptians’ descendants, who were later Christianized, and were therefore a community much earlier than the Egyptian Islamic. Coptic Christians are between 10 and 15 percent of the nearly 90 million Egyptians, though there are also Coptic communities in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan. In total, the Copts are about 65 million. The Copts are nine million people in Egypt and belong to all strata of civil society, from the humblest to the most brilliant of the national business. Copts are some of the Egypt’s oldest families, such as former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali.

The Copt’ prosecution has been aggravated during recent years with the frequent burning of churches and attacks, perpetrated by violent Islamist groups, events which often go unpunished. During the secular regimes of Nasser, Mubarak or the current Al Sisi, the things have not changed. The is a new stigma on them based on the popular rumor that they contributed to the 2013 coup that put an end to the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that is now considered Salafist.

The Egyptian Christians suffered last week again. At least 25 people died after a car bomb attack near the entrance of the Coptic cathedral of St. Mark’s in Cairo. The Egyptian President Al Sisi has announced the identity of the alleged terrorist: a 22-year-old men who would have carried a belt of explosives. The rapidity with which the Egyptian government has pointed out to a suicide bomber carrying an explosives’ belt has surprised and it has raised doubts about its veracity, since the Egyptian intelligence services have not an impeccable record. The Coptic Egyptians are a common target of sectarian violence. During 2016, the Eshhad group, which analyzes episodes of religious violence in Egypt, accounted for 54 sectarian violence’ incidents: “the Copts have always been targets of sectarian violence in Egypt. This attack is just one more, consequence of some preachers’ sectarian discourse against other religions,” said Mina Thabet, a Minorities’ researcher within the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).

In 2013, the Christians were among the groups who supported to the military leader Abdelfatah Al Sisi, as they were frightened by the sectarian violence’ rising incidents during the ruling years of Islamist Mohamed Morsi. The wanted to be protected against the wave of attacks, fires and churches looting throughout the country, including St. Mark’s Cathedral. However, the Al Sisi regime has proved ineffective in protecting the Copts: perpetrators of crimes against the Christians are often not judged and those destroyed churches remain unrestored. “The Copts feel that the government is not keeping their promise to protect them,” says Timothy Kaldas, a researcher at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. After the very last attack, Al Sisi lamented the death of ‘Copts and Muslims’. He also exalted the ‘heroic struggle’ of the security forces and the army. “Terrorism is directed against the homeland of Christians and Muslims, but Egypt will be strengthened under these circumstances, as usual,” Al Sisi stated.

Once again, the Christian Egyptians feel threatened and once again, the Christian leaders hold divided opinions on how they should respond. At the highest levels of the Coptic Orthodox Church there is an effort not to make much noise and work together with the administration, with the aim of presenting an image of unity and calm. The Christian community in Egypt has long had a symbiotic relationship with the state. The government provided security in an increasingly hostile environment, and the Christian leaders helped building an image of religious tolerance and freedom. This agreement was eroded during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak and collapsed after he was overthrown, and President Mohammed Morsi was elected. The attacks on churches led by young Islamists increased. In total, Coptic authorities have recorded 37 attacks in the past three years, not including the 300 attacks occurred just after Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were removed from power in 2013.

Across the Middle East, Christian minorities have been targeted in conflicts that ensued from what were supposed to be transitions to democracy. Some Western leaders, including Pope Franciscus and Prince Charles of Wales expressed concern about the threat to Christians in the region that gave birth to the faith. And yet, in the United States, it has drawn relatively little attention outside of a few Christian groups and lawmakers. Republican Congressman Christopher Smith has chaired several hearings on the matter recently: “We are witnessing grievous violence and other forms of intimidation directed against religious and political minorities, particularly the Copts and other Christians about which our government and the media have said far too little,” he told a House of Representatives subcommittee.

But the activists concede that it’s hard to press the issue because in the West, Christians are not widely seen as a vulnerable minority. Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya Television says the issue has little traction on both sides of the American political divide. “The plight of the Christians may be lost on the left, because the victims are too Christian, and lost on the rightist groups, the conservative groups here, because they are foreign.

Marshall, of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom says it was “the worst pogrom on Christians in Egypt for about 700 years.” Although almost no one speaks about them, the global war against the Christians in the world is becoming a worldwide genocide. According to the organization Open Doors, 75% of the world’s population, would be living in countries with serious restrictions on the exercise of religious’ freedom, and 100 million Christians, equal 5% of the total, are suffering persecution in over sixty countries. For the ‘political-correctness’ people, seems like this subject isn’t catching any interest at all.


The “Nica Act”

Daniel Ortega won in Nicaragua his third consecutive election victory in November, the elections in which the FSNL (Sandinista National Liberation Front) vetoed any presence of observers, national or international: “Scoundrel observers. The observation is over here, go observing to other countries,” said the president when he was proclaimed candidate. Ortega entered in the election along with his wife Rosario Murillo, candidate for the vice presidency, after having the main opposition group excluded from the ballots.

The controversial presidential couple recalls Frank and Claire Underwood, the main characters of the award-winning ‘House of Cards’ series: Two ambitious main character who end up deciding in pairs the United States’ fate. The plot has its simile in Nicaragua. Only it is not a TV series. This time the characters are real and will come out in the history books.

The main actor of the plot is 70 years old, he fought a war, is a former revolutionary commander and is the current President of Nicaragua. Daniel Ortega is part of the FSLN, the group who made the revolution against the cruel dictator Anastasio Somoza in the late 70s, and it is the party which Ortega has led the country between 1979 and 1990. His Vice-president is his wife Rosario Murillo, and for many, she is the person who leads the destiny of the second poorest country in America, only surpassed by Haiti. Husband and wife in the same election ticket which has caused much controversy in the region.

Ortega and Murillo have seven children, all of them very well known in Nicaragua. The Ortega’ stems are coordinating the macro project of the country’s inter-oceanic canal, like the Panama’ Canal, but in Nicaragua, a $ 50 billion Chinese investment which does not seem to move forward; They are also managers of TV channels, 33% of the TV grid in the country, as well as most radio stations and they also have interests in the oil industry. “Nicaragua now competes for the continent’ first place in family tyrannies. It is impossible to separate clearly the economic interests of the ruling family and Nicaragua’s economic interests” says a high-ranked former Sandinista and currently in the opposition, because of his differences with Ortega.

Some analysts compare the current political situation with the dictatorship of the Somoza, dislodged from power by the Sandinista guerrillas in the late 1970s. “There is a lot of ‘Somocism’ in the Ortega regime. The wealth’ concentration, the presidential family as a source of power, and the decision not to jeopardize the power into free elections, are the common features between Ortega and Somocism. The FSLN has ceased to be an ideological project and has become a machinery at the service of Ortega’s real project, which is power and money. He has gone from being a socialist revolutionary to a tyrant, ” adds the former high rank Sandinist, and now dissident.

The opposition’s pessimistic view contrasts with Ortega’s great popularity: The president has 64% approval, according to a Gallup poll conducted in mid-October, just before the election. Many of those who support Ortega mention the security of the country as an incentive to continue voting for him. The National Police has managed to contain the violence which are suffering in neighbouring states. Nicaragua is an oasis of tranquillity compared to Honduras and El Salvador, two of the most dangerous countries on the region.

Tourism has grown exponentially with  Ortega’s rule. It has benefited from the country’s low prices, the security and the improved industry’ supply. The economic boom has also been possible by Venezuelan oil cooperation for the recent years. The country would have received from Venezuela oil worth over $ 4 billion  over the last decade. Part of that money has been invested in social policies. What will it happen now when Venezuela stopped sending the money, or worst, the debt must be paid?

At the end of September, the North American legislative body passed a resolution, the so-called ‘Nica Act’, which will prevent multilateral financial institutions from making loans to Nicaragua until Ortega guarantees ‘free, fair and transparent’ elections. This is a bipartisan initiative, driven by Republican and Democratic congressmen. The text, promoted by Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lethinen  and the Democrat Albio Sires, both of Cuban origin, criticizes Ortega’s re-election in 2011. A court statement allowed Ortega to stand for the election, despite of the fact that the Nicaraguan Constitution prohibits the re-election of presidents. It also includes election fraud’ reports submitted by the international observers during the 2011 election; the dismissal of opposition deputies of the Assembly; the lack of transparency in the public funds’ management; the expulsion of US Government’ officials; the obstacles to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the Ortega’ control of the powers of the State, especially the Supreme Court, among other points.

The freezing of loans from multilateral financial institutions would mean the annual losses of US $ 250-300 million, coming from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. The Washington text leaves out of the prohibition those sums dedicated to meet the basic human needs and the promotion of democracy.

There is also the sceptical position of other countries, mostly European, who have also withdrawn their cooperation. “When Ortega came to power, he found 22 countries in the cooperating community. But there are only four of those left, ” said the analyst Norman Caldera, a former liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs. The deficit has been so far covered with money from Venezuela, which is no longer available.

Ortega’s authoritarian drift is also on the Organization of American States (OAS) discussion’ agenda. The OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, has produced a particularly critical report, whose publication is pending a meeting requested by Ortega. There seems to be no good times coming for Ortega and his wife.

Populism is the referendum

 

The defeat of Matteo Renzi in the referendum held last in Italy Sunday on the constitution’ reform, is due to different factors, ranging from the antipathy that the Italian Prime Minister arouses, to the generated protest by the economic crisis and the defense of the Constitution.

In the referendum was a high turnout and a high percentage of voters who rejected the reform, suggesting that people is fed up and tired, and especially the impoverished middle class, the unemployed youth, the workers who feel threatened with the massive arrival of immigrants and, those employees whose wages are not enough to live. It is the same people who was in favor of Brexit in Britain, who voted for Donald Trump in the United States and now has positioned to Italy in a new crisis. Italy’s referendum cannot be compared to Brexit, although it must be understood as a request for change, just as in the UK and the United States.

Matteo Renzi (Florence, 1975), has been the youngest PM in the history of the Italian Republic. He was first a very famed Florence’ Mayor, who went on a bike to work and became PM because it was his party’ wish, (Democratic Party, social-democratic), after several months of political uncertainty. So, Renzi occupied the head of Government without going through the polls. He was the third minister who had Italy without elections in little more than three years, after Mario Monti and Enrico Letta. His conquest of power was fast, but nothing improvised. His political models are Blair, Clinton and Obama although he has been accused of resembling too much Silvio Berlusconi. Both are two great communicators and have the same taste for impact’ statements. The two of them have a crazy ego, although today, about self-esteem nobody surpasses Renzi: “Renzi has an exuberant ego. It is normal in politicians to have a marked ego. For three years until today, I would put Renzi at the head of all “, affirmed the writer and journalist, Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the prestigious Italian daily ‘La Repubblica’.

Renzi insisted during the campaign that the consultation was not about him, but about the Constitution’ change. But he made a serious mistake which has been the personalization of the referendum, making it practically a plebiscite. The consequence has been a terrible campaign, with the country divided and the opposition asking for the ‘No’ to eliminate Renzi from the political scene. It seems like it has been achieved for the time being.

The economic question was very important in the defeat of Renzi: In the districts with low unemployment’ rate, the ‘Yes’ overcame by 59%. In the 100 districts with the highest unemployment’ rate, the ‘No’ achieved 65.8%. In the south, the poorest Italian region, people voted massively for No.

The constitutional question is of great importance, as it was back in 2006, when the Italians rejected with more than 60% of the votes another Constitution’ change promoted by Silvio Berlusconi. Most Italians stated that they do not want to touch the complex balance achieved in 1948’ Constitution, drafted after World War II and after the twenty years of fascist government, and whose objective is to avoid the emergence of another dictator as Benito Mussolini. According to Gianfranco Rotondi, who was Minister of Silvio Berlusconi, “ Italians are a conservative country in constitutional matters.”

Renzi is already history. For this very time, the polls have not been wrong and the Italians have rejected a reform that would have gave more power to the central government and would avoid the eternal difficulty in Italy to create stable administrations: Italy is the country which in the nineties, had up to seven different PM’s.

Are this events good news for Spain? In part, because the bad relationship between Renzi and the Spaniard PM, Mariano Rajoy is widely known and documented. Spain and Italy are very similar countries, with a poorer south and a rich selfish north which wants to become independent; the uncontrolled public spending and a similar life’ style.

Latest August, Renzi convened a summit on Ventotene Island to ‘relaunch Europe’ after the Brexit fiasco and take a common stand towards Britain. There were, Merkel, François Hollande and Renzi himself. As the press revealed, Rajoy was the great absentee. The official excuse: he was ‘acting PM’. Then the Italian Premier was the main opponent for Rajoy participating in the mini Europe-United States summit that Merkel organized in Berlin to say goodbye to Obama. Finally, the Spanish PM was at the table, thanks to his friend and German ally, Mrs. Merkel.

Why these disagreements between Rajoy and Renzi? Because they are competing for being the most important country in Southern Europe; Because Rajoy is conservative and Renzi is left-wing and above all, because the Italian complains that Rajoy chose to get along with Merkel than making an alliance with him so that of the economic austerity’ conditions were relaxed. The predictable chaos and misrule in Italy will strengthen Spain’ position, which grows and fulfills its duties, as a preferred partner in southern Europe.

After Renzi, no one knows what might happen: the already weakened European Union and the Euro itself especially, are at risk, even to survive.

Some media already call it ‘Rexit’, in a play of words that conjugates the name of Renzi and the similarities that his case keeps with the UK Brexit. After all, in both cases, most the population took advantage of a referendum to show their disaffection with the political establishment, and to show through the polls their deep dissatisfaction with their reality.

A referendum on a complex and technical issue was transformed into a political fact, into a political choice. Renzi’s personality, his great arrogance and ambition, arouses antipathy and the Italians voted against the establishment, but also against Renzi’s rule. “57% of voters decided to vote based on his government,” Fabio Bordignon, an academic at the University of Urbino, told to Rai3, the public TV.

Democracy has become unpredictable. Or maybe it is becoming very predictable: always the “No” win and the establishment loses. After the Brexit and the Italian referendum there is a clear conclusion which we must be aware of: what constitutes ‘populism’ is the calling of citizens by the legitimately elected representatives, in the form of a referendum or similar consultations. The referendum is Populism.

Populism: the turn of Italy?

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There are just a few days left for the important and unnecessary referendum in Italy on the constitutional reform, and the ‘No’ continues leading the polls. The constitutional referendum has become a popular reprobation move to Matteo Renzi, the Italian PM, and although no one in Brussels wants the president of the Consiglio to lose, everyone assumes that this might be the case and prepares for chaos.

Matteo Renzi is not the most popular leader in Brussels. He had repeated and noisy confrontations with Jean-Claude Juncker and his commissioners. Inside the European Council, he is considered a bully and melodrama’ addict, with a lust for headship and excessive ambition. But in both institutions and most European capitals it is believed that a defeat will bring, at best, a turn of his policies not favorable to Europe. And at worst, the return of Italy once again, the fourth country of the Union, to chaos and instability.

To change the bad omens which the polls are forecasting, PM Matteo Renzi has announced a package of measures to be included in the 2017 budget. The main objective of these measures is to get more support for a reform which has turned into one of the fundamental pillars of his government, consultation that has become a judgment on Renzi himself, on the Italian economic situation and the role that should be played in Europe. If Renzi loses on December 4th, his mandate and his political project could end abruptly and immediately.

Renzi has risked a lot by convening this referendum, and the ‘No’ could mean the loss of investors’ confidence in the Italian economy, confidence which has already begun to glimpse after Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election, since Renzi was positioned in a reckless manner in favour of Clinton. Some see it as the next clash between the moderate and liberal center, and populist forces, as the opposition to Renzi is dominated by anti-system parties such as the Five Star Movement, led by Beppe Grillo, and the Northern League. Both have questioned the Italian permanence in the Eurozone and both are against the political establishment. Other analysts have called populist the fact of convening this referendum.

There was no need for this referendum. The reforms which are intended to be achieved, the reduction of the powers and size of the Italian Senate, which will make it difficult to block key projects for the regional administrations, could have been carried out from the Parliament with the necessary support. Then, Renzi thought he would win, while now he is fighting to save his own skin. Renzi personalized the result of the referendum too much in himself and about his leadership, a fact that the opposition has taken advantage to turn the voting into an opportunity to dismiss him, either to weaken Renzi or expel him from power.

The PM, who yesterday sent a message of ease to the markets, maintains that his constitutional reform will increase the Italian weight in the decision-making process of the EU, at the current turbulent moment for Europe after the Brexit and the coming elections in France and Germany in 2017.

Regarding the Italian weight in Europe, Renzi officially protested about Spanish PM, Mariano Rajoy being invited into a summit held two weeks ago in Berlin. At that summit were Merkel, Obama, Theresa May and Hollande. Renzi did not consider appropriate for Rajoy to attend, since it seems to take away some of “his” political weight, so he protested angrily. Merkel did not flinch: she considers Rajoy a reliable ally, and even possible more stable personally and in his position than Renzi.

The Italians are very polarized, with such a virulence not seen for years. From north to south, through the islands, in Italy there is no other talk but this consult. In the cafes, in the social networks and even in public transport, many express their indecision before this election. “There is a lot of talk, indeed, but there is also a lot of confusion. People do not quite understand what the reform is about,” some analysts say. The Italians are confused by the consult itself, but also by the vanity of Renzi, as he has projected it as a judgment on his person and what he has done since 2014, when he started as Italian PM, and so have interpreted the Italians. Meanwhile, the Italian and international media predict scenarios as apocalyptic as Italy will abandon the Eurozone if the PM loses.

It is very difficult to predict exactly what will happen. Per some political analysts, might be possible that Renzi presented his resignation to the President of the Italian Republic who will reject it. Everything is possible, although no one in Italy nor in Europe, want the country to fall into chaos or new elections. It seems like Renzi ‘s magic is gone, despite his involvement in TV shows, after hiring Jim Messina, Obama’s advisor and former campaign manager, to help him win now.

Renzi has been considered a Machiavellian politician and is now a prisoner of his own bluff. If he loses, Italy will again enter a period of political instability, will be a new hole in EU integration and a new threat to the Euro. This context has probably motivated the support received from Obama and Chancellor Merkel, with whom Renzi has lately publicly fought. On the contrary, winning this consult would undoubtedly reinforce the Italian PM figure as well as his margin of action, something he desperately needs.

The real political leaders are required to fix problems, not to create them. Renzi has created the problem that has now become its own big problem. Win or lose, he need a cure of humility and more unpretentiousness.