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The Middle East, North Africa, and Foreign Policy Challenges for the Next President

Luis Durani

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2016 will be a pivotal year for the US as it chooses a new president. It is an election year with no incumbent running. With candidates on both sides vying for the highest office in the land, major challenges exist for the next president of the US. One of the more turbulent areas the next president will have to deal with is foreign policy.

With global affairs being tempestuous and capricious, the next president will have many challenges abroad to confront especially in the Middle East and North Africa.

ISIS

The US campaign against ISIS began with airstrikes in 2014. Despite the coalition air campaign against them, ISIS still managed to increase their territorial holdings in Syria and Iraq. As they acquired more territories, they managed to increase and build a steady flow of revenue from the oil wells they captured. They expanded their recruiting campaign by going global and becoming social media savvy. They have further escalated their operations by going after targets abroad such at the attacks in Paris as well as the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt. ISIS feeds on anarchy and anywhere instability erupts, the group moves in. Aside from originating in the chaotic regions of Syria and Iraq, ISIS has managed to get its tentacles into other anarchical war zones such as Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, India, Nigeria, and the North Caucasus.

While defeating ISIS has become a complicated matter due to the regional and international web of involvement, the issue goes beyond defeating a terror organization. In order to prevent playing a game of whack a mole with terror organizations, the next president needs to tackle the root of the issue that led to the rise of ISIS. The invasion of Iraq was a major catalyst behind the regional battle for influence. The regional tug of war between Iran and Saudi Arabia that emerged after the fall of Iraq has helped further enflame the issue. With Sunnis being ostracized in Iraq during the tenure of Prime Minister Maliki, ISIS became the outlet for their frustrations as well as a means to security.

The next president not only has to be able to defeat and contain ISIS but also has to be able to reduce the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Defeating ISIS will not be an easy feat, sending in ground troops can lead to a potential quagmire while airstrikes so far have only managed to slow but not stop the group . It will require diplomatic finesse in order to put together an international coalition of troops, mainly comprised of regional nations, to lead the fight against ISIS. Simultaneously, the question of Assad poses a further complication for any coalition . Defusing the Saudi-Iranian tension will help remove the possibility of another ISIS-like group rearing its head again. This may be the one of the most difficult and complex military/diplomatic agenda the next president will face.

Afghanistan

The longest war in US history continues to go largely ignored by the media for the past 15 years. This war will span over 3 different presidencies before it might end. While the initial intervention can be justifiably argued due to the 9/11 attacks, the continuation and execution of the campaign has sparked a different debate.

Aside from removing a misogynistic regime that supported a terror organization, the US also decided to partake in nation building. The goal was to remake this war-torn nation into a vibrant democracy. But the whole campaign was born in original sin. The US inst alled warlords instead of technocrats. It was these same warlords that led the brutal massacre of Afghans during the civil war that erupted after the withdrawal of the Soviets. With corruption and other crimes taking place under the auspices of the Afghan government, the Afghan people lost hope. They began to look to the insurgency as an alternative government to provide them with security and justice. While the US became focused on Iraq, the Taliban built on the American diversion to create a momentum that is allowing them to win today. President Obama decided to prematurely imitate an Iraqi-style surge, which led to no real perturbations to the Taliban movement. With a raging insurgency, ISIS managed to establish a foothold in the country. As the deadline passed for the US withdrawal, President Obama has decided to retain a small contingent of US troops to ensure the survivability of the Afghan government.

The next president will have to come to terms with the somber reality that an ideal withdrawal and resolution will not happen. He/she will need to decide either to stay the course and further waste money into a black hole that will end the same whether there is a withdrawal now or later. The only element that has changed in the political calculus is the presence of ISIS. If a negotiated peace between the Taliban and the Afghan government is not formulated, which it most likely won’t, the US needs to make a pseudo-peace deal with the Taliban and work with both the Afghan government and Taliban to eliminate the threat of ISIS. While the Taliban may be a short-term regional nuisance, ISIS is a long-term strategic threat to the US globally. Time and momentum are on the side of the Taliban, so it might not hurt for channels to be opened with the group   on defeating ISIS.

Pakistan

On the border with Afghanistan, Pakistan represents the ultimate balancing act for US foreign policy. The fragile country possesses both nuclear warheads and radical fundamentalist groups. Pakistan’s alliance with the US is shaky at best. Despite a strong alliance during the Cold War especially during both nations’ covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the relationship went somewhat sour shortly after. The relationship was renewed once again after 9/11 but was circumstantial at best. To the chagrin of the Pakistanis, the newly installed Afghan government of Karzai was much friendlier to India, Pakistan’s mortal enemy. As the US became entangled in Iraq, the Pakistanis renewed their covert alliance with the Afghan Taliban to help secure an allied government on their northern border. The control of Islamic fundamentalist organizations to carry out the Pakistani foreign policy objectives in Afghanistan, India and other places has metastasized into a whirlwind of trouble for them. At one point, their native insurgents came within miles of taking over the capital and perhaps the nuclear arms. Pakistan has been in a low-level civil war ever since. While the US has larger threats, it has to watch the developments in Pakistan closely because the situation can become the primary concern for the US overnight.

Syria

Syria represents a Great Game within a Great Game. It is the battleground for two proxy wars; a regional war between the Saudis and Iranians as well as the emerging global competition between the US and Russia. Ever since the protests against Assad’s government in 2011, the country has descended into civil war. In the wake of this bloodshed, ISIS used the chance to expand its territories and establish a foothold in both Syria and Iraq. Now the conflict has foreign militaries that include the US, EU, Russia, Iran, Turkey, the Gulf States, the Kurds and others. The situation is a powder keg that can explode at any moment into a larger regional conflict. The next president has to find a way to wade through the turbulent seas of the Syrian conflict. Despite what the next president decides to do in Syria, ISIS will force them to be actively involved in the battle. The future of Syria is bleak at best.

Libya

President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s intervention in the Libyan civil war to remove Gaddafi has proven unwise to say the least. The once quiet North African nation has been in turmoil ever since. Despite the lack of media coverage, Libya has descended into civil war with a tribal twist. In the wake of the anarchical state that Libya has become, ISIS has expanded its tentacles and created a stronghold in the North African nation. This strategic location allows ISIS a pivotal base at the southern gate of Europe as well as access to another oil-rich country. The next US president has to decide on whether to get involved in a civil conflict that was mostly instigated by its initial intervention or try to limit any type of involvement to solely eliminating ISIS.  

Yemen

Yemen represents another venue in the continuing proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran for regional supremacy. While Iranian troops have been bogged down in Syria, Yemen has become Saudi Arabia’s quagmire. Yemen has long been simmering with tribal and sectarian conflicts. The Cold War witnessed the nation bifurcating along US/Soviet lines while reunification in the early 1990s helped to temporarily heal the divide. The long authoritarian rule of Saleh came to an end when the Arab Spring swept the region. Shortly thereafter, the country devolved into civil discord. When the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels appeared to be ascending into power, the Saudis decided to intervene and restore their allies back into power. Saudi Arabia could not afford to have an Iranian-allied nation on its southern border. The Saudi intervention has turned into a quagmire. In the midst of the civil strife, Al Qaeda found havens in the mountain region of the country. But now Al Qaeda has been eclipsed by ISIS. With Saudi Arabia bogged down in its own imbroglio and ISIS at its border, the entire US strategic calculus for the Middle East can fundamentally change if ISIS creates upheaval in the Saudi kingdom itself and establishes a foothold there.  

Somalia

Ever since the early 1990s, Somalia has been a failed anarchical state. Different factions have been vying for power but to no avail. The US has stayed clear of the region since its failed 1993 intervention in an incident that became renowned as Black Hawk Down. But since 9/11 and the rise of the Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist organization Al Shabaab, the region once again has popped onto the US radar. To make matters worse, the group began piracy operations, which eventually culminated in an international effort to stop their raids. Despite not posing the direst threat against US interest at the moment relative to other issues, the organization has been successful in recruiting Somalis from the West especially the US. In addition, ISIS has begun a campaign to have the Al Shabaab turn against Al Qaeda and join its ranks. The next president will need to ensure that not only Al Shabaab is isolated but also find a way to help the provisional Somali government establish authority over the entire country. If that happens, then Horn of Africa will not be a potential breeding ground and emanating source for terrorism.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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America’s Deep-seated and Almost Universal Bigotry

Eric Zuesse

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On May 12th, Politico headlined “‘A dream ticket’: Black lawmakers pitch Biden-Harris to beat Trump”, and reported that:

The Congressional Black Caucus may have found an answer to its Joe Biden dilemma: Vice President Kamala Harris.

Some black lawmakers are agonizing over whether to back Biden or two members of the close-knit caucus — Sens. Harris and Cory Booker — who are also vying for the White House, according to interviews with a dozen CBC members.

But with the former vice president jumping out to a huge, if early, lead in the polls, several CBC members are warming to the idea of a Biden-Harris ticket to take on President Donald Trump.

“That would be a dream ticket for me, a dream ticket!” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). “If she is not the nominee, that would be a dream ticket for this country.”

Harris is everything the 76-year-old Biden is not. The freshman senator from California is younger, a woman and a person of color. …

America’s billionaires — who love it when the public are so obsessed with “Blacks versus Whites” or “women versus men” or other such distinctions amongst the public — hire politicians and ‘news’-media that play up to those distinctions instead of to themselves versus the public, because this way the public will accept those billionaires’ controlling the government — as they do.

Blacks are just as bigoted as Whites, and women are just as bigoted as men — and that goes also for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and every other distinction within the public — every other rage by the public, that’s being redirected away from the billionaires (who virtually own the government) to being instead against some mass of the public who DON’T control the government, and who AREN’T the cause of this country’s massive economic inequalities of opportunity, and who DON’T benefit from extending the American empire by bombs (or otherwise) to Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya, and Syria, and Iran, and Venezuela, and Ukraine, and Russia, etcetera.

Therefore: the first question that should be asked of every Democratic Presidential candidate isn’t (like it is) “man or woman?” or “Black or White?” or “Muslim or Christian?” or anything like that, but instead: Did you vote for the invasion of Iraq, and of Libya, and for economic sanctions (which are the first step toward declaring a nation officially as being an ‘enemy’ and thus the first step toward war) against Iran, and Syria, and Venezuela, and Russia? 

Those international hostilities are just great for the billionaires’ corporations, such as Lockheed Martin, but they bring billions to the billionaires and nothing but increased taxes and death and disabilty to the public and to our soldiers — and vastly worse to the people who live in the tragic lands where we are sanctioning or invading, or doing regime-change by means of coups. So: they hire the distractors. 

This isn’t to say that Trump isn’t a racist, but it’s about how the billionaires’ Democratic Party agents who are in Congress deal with this in such a way that the racist distractionism is on both sides and drowns-out any authentic progressivism (that being what the billionaires of both Parties fear). Part of progressivism is an opposition to regime-change wars — international dictatorship (including not only invasions but also the earlier stages: economic sanctions, and coups). The U.S. violates international law whenever it does those, and it does the vast majority of the ones that are done. The U.S. is thus the last nation in the world that should be pontificating to other countries. Whenever the U.S. Government does it, we should all be ashamed of it. 

So: the billionaires need the distractionaires. 

The Congressional Black Caucus, according to Fact Check, as posted in 2008 and never since revised, “has never had a white member in its 36-year history” (and, today, that would be never in its 47-year history), so that if for example Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg or maybe even the warmongering Joe Biden himself, were to apply to join and then be turned down by them, and this were to become public, then the resultant bad publicity for that Caucus would likely reduce, instead of increase, that candidate’s standing with black voters. Consequently, he probably won’t even apply to join.

In any case, being a member of a victimized group doesn’t mean that one is less bigoted than other groups are. And who is to say that Americans weren’t bigoted against Iraqis when we did to them the catastrophe that we did

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A More Nakedly Aggressive United States

M Waqas Jan

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Of all the instability and unrest the US has been accused of fomenting over the last three years, no other example comes close to the lengths the US has gone to in its unilateral attempt at isolating Iran. Long accused by Russia and other major powers as the leading cause of instability in the Middle East, the recent escalation of tensions between Iran and the US forms part of a wider more troubling trend. This has included the US ratcheting up tensions with both friends and foes alike such as the escalating trade war with China, calls for regime change in Venezuela and the estrangement of its allies across both the European Union and NATO.

The last bit, regarding the US’s growing differences with the EU’s major powers such as France and Germany is also to a large extent directly linked with its hardline stance on Iran. This is evident in the clearly divergent stances both the US and EU have taken regarding Iran’s Nuclear program. President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last year had brought about considerable shock and dismay amidst European powers that had spent years negotiating the agreement with Iran alongside the US. Signed back in 2015, the JCPOA had set a historic precedent in international diplomacy, garnering support from China and Russia as well as the US, UK, France, Germany and the EU. Based on years of painstaking negotiations it was widely hailed as presenting a successful model for Nuclear Arms Control and non-proliferation.

In fact, a number of experts had hailed the JCPOA as being even better than the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in a number of ways. Its emphasis on monitoring other research and attempts at nuclear weaponisation beyond the involvement of nuclear materials was a major step in further expanding the role and scope of the IAEA’s monitoring mechanisms. These same mechanisms which based on the consensus of world powers have been successful in both monitoring and limiting Iran’s attainment of Nuclear weapons capability. The only exception has been the United States, and particularly the Trump White House that has made it a policy imperative to undo the years of work put in by both former US President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

President Obama had even quite recently publicly lamented how reneging on the JCPOA not only undermined the United States credibility as a negotiating partner, but also dismantled a whole non-proliferation mechanism that was to prove crucial in addressing the growing threat from North Korea as well. As apparent in the failure of the recent talks between the US and North Korea in Vietnam, the US’s seriousness and commitment to the non-proliferation regime has been openly questioned as it continues to prioritize its own geo-political imperatives. Its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign on Iran, which is flirting dangerously with yet another large-scale military conflict involving US armed forces, threatens to undo the last decades’ painstaking rollback of US troop deployments throughout the Middle East.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US’s unilateralism and more maximalist approach was never in question considering its series of interventions particularly in the Middle East. There was however a semblance of unity and International leadership which either under the aegis of the UN or NATO still more or less carried the garb of a multi-lateral consensus. That instead of simply employing naked aggression as accused of by its adversaries, the US was justified by its ideology and the success of its international diplomacy. This perhaps was best and most positively evident in the JCPOA, which had brought all the world’s major powers into a concerted agreement on one of the world’s most pressing issues, namely Nuclear Proliferation.

However, as the Trump administration beats its war drums to the tune of nothing short of a regime change in Iran, there is most definitely a marked difference in how the US has previously built its cases for military intervention in the Middle East. In the absence of any international support from its partners, or in the lack of any overarching ideal based on non-Proliferation or plain old human freedoms (à la Iraq), the recent case for the US military intervention in Iran appears outright indolent if not unjustified as has mostly been the case with US hegemony over the last few years.

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The crisis in Venezuela and its strategic significance

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Venezuela’s economy – in a country that has better oil reserves than Saudi Arabia and Iran – began with the OPEC oil price crisis, when Chavez was still alive, until the heavy fall in oil prices in 2013.

  The social spending of Venezuelan “Bolivarianism” was very high and a country living on oil permanently needs stable and growing markets. This is inconceivable with the current dislocation of strategic roles within OPEC and in the context of the struggle between Iranian Sunnis and Shiites.

  Saudi Arabia will decrease production as soon as prices fall – and this will be the rule for everyone.

 With Maduro, the primary choice for oil – i.e. Venezuela’s true economic policy -has remained in the wake of Bolivarianism. Oil resources, however, have fallen to less than half of those recorded during the Chavista boom and inflation has quickly grown to such a point that it is currently the largest in the world. It reminds us of the Weimar Republic and for the same reasons. The State of Caracas prints money with the same criterion with which newspapers in crisis print more copies.

 At the beginning of the Chavista era, the inflation rate was already 29.5%. In 2005, when the oil market was still bullish, the inflation rate dropped to 14.4% instead.

 Eight years after the former city bus driver in Caracas, namely Chavez, had risen to power, food prices in the capital city were nine times higher than at the beginning of Chavez’ new Bolivarian regime, while salaries had decreased by 40%.

 The full nationalization of the oil company PVDSA was the first step that Chavez made down to the road for total economic disaster.

 Currently the oil companies operating in the Orinoco Basin – which is one of the largest in the world – do no longer make the necessary investment to make extraction possible, and nowadays oil extraction has leveled off at merely one million barrels a day.

 Certainly, we need to consider the US sanctions on exports, but extraction could still halve down to half a million by the end of 2019.

 Companies such as Malaysia’s Petronas and even the Russian Lukoil already left Venezuela in 2014. The Iranian company Petropars did the same in early 2015 and PetroVietnam in late 2015. Finally Exxon and Conoco had to leave quickly under the threat of Venezuela carrying out a punitive nationalization, with both companies’ related and immediate starting of formal proceedings before the international courts.

 Moreover, there is no legal framework – not even in Venezuela-delimiting possible operations, in the case of ongoing confiscations of foreign capitalists’ assets or of nationalizations. Hence those who remain, paying bribes left and right, obviously do not extract the amount of oil they could. This also applies to the Venezuelan non-oil economic sector.

 Even PDVSA – the always open coffer of Bolivarianism – has reduced its oil production from 5 million barrels a day to the current one million barrels a day. Later, with the embargo imposed by the United States, this trend will continue.

 The national oil company has long been heavily indebted with China and Russia, as well as with other countries, such as Iran.

 China has already requested the quick and full payment of its credits. China is not used to the structural inefficiency of Latin American countries.

 It is a process that China has started also with Brazil.

 Furthermore, Russia has already granted a rescheduling of its Venezuelan debt, which is already three billion and seven hundred million US dollars.

 Obviously, from a strategic viewpoint, Russia is interested in maintaining its own area of influence in a Latin American continent that, after Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil, is fully siding with President Trump’s policies.

  Hence, where possible, it is subject to Russian specific pressures.

As can be easily imagined, Venezuela’s weight in the OPEC area is now less than minimal- and this creates further difficulties.

 But the entire oil producers’ organisation, whose relations of its Sunni area with Trump’s America are currently very strong, has now a fixed rule we have already clarified: cutting production when the oil barrel prices decrease –  exactly the opposite of what Venezuela currently would like to do.

 Moreover, Venezuela keeps on exporting only 800,000 oil barrels a dayto the United States.

 Here not only geopolitics, but also the first global commodity, namely oil, has a role to play in this respect.

 For the United States, buying oil from Venezuela means trying to counter Russia’s weight – although with increasing difficulty.

 The United States clearly sees how Russia and China still support Venezuelan Chavism – also to recover their huge credits. Hence a geopolitical rather than economic clash between opposing blocks emerges in the country with the largest oil and gas reserves in the world.

 Inter alia, with shale oil and gas the United States is becoming a net oil exporter. Hence it is ever less interested in the fate of the countries that were once powerful suppliers, but are currently only tired competitors.

 Even the deep crisis of Madurism could favour the US oil and natural gas export market. Hence there is not much desire in the USA to solve the Venezuelan crisis, but only the desire to prevent Venezuela from choosing Russia, Iran, China or even the crazy and silly European Union.

 Moreover, the United States has an extreme need for high oil barrel prices, so as to recover the extraction costs which are still higher than the traditional ones.

 Hence, paradoxically, a regional production crisis near the US territory could even be good for the United States in the medium term.

 Therefore, apart from the usual creation of petrodollars, the United States is entirely in favour of an increase in the oil barrel price- and hence indirectly in favour of tension in Venezuela.

 The United States does no longer even need Venezuelan oil – as was the case in the past.

 There is no more room for Venezuela to even export its oil to the Caribbean at the usual low prices – a clear sign of an old and now impossible local hegemony.

 Hence, as is currently the case, the Hezbollah – currently guarding also Maduro – set in, while the Cuban intelligence services have defined a precise program for opposing Guaido’s possible “counter-revolution” and also the Russian contractors of the Wagner group are present, in force, in the Venezuelan territory to defend the wells and the other nerve centres of the former Chavista regime and, currently of Maduro’s regime, for which Russia has no esteem.

 The relationship between Hezbollah and Chavez was very complex – and it is still so currently with Maduro.

 At the beginning of Guaidò’s campaign against Maduro, the members of the Lebanese militia – that was Imam Khomeini’s “eye – hoisted a poster with Chavez’ and Maduro’s faces alongside that of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Shiite militia.

 Furthermore, the Hezbollah were the first to advertise and make public the US hidden presence in favour of Guaidò in Venezuela.

 The reason for this particular relationship between the pro-Iranian Lebanese Shiites and the “Bolivarian” regime is simple and concrete: right from the start, Chavez and Maduro gave carte blanche for the laundering of Hezbollah’s secret funds in Venezuela, especially through drug trafficking activities.

  Furthermore, the Lebanese group operating in Venezuela collected essential data on international crime, which was useful exactly for Hezbollah to find its place into the global cycles for money laundering and acquisition of illegal funds.

 Even Cuba – which, despite the all-too-touted “liberalization” of the post-Castro regime, kept on serving as air passage of drugs to the United States – used the Venezuelan “Bolivarians” for money laundering activities, as well as a basis for the operational shift of South American drugs to the ever more drug-addicted United States.

 Some Hezbollah’s people also have important positions in Maduro’s government.

 Just think about Tarek el Assaimi, the 28thVice-President of Venezuela and later Oil Minister, who currently “covers” many of the Lebanese from Hezbollah that very easily acquire a Venezuelan passport.

 El Assaimi has also been reported to the US Drug Administration since 2017.

 Why does Iran need Venezuela?

 Firstly, to avoid US trade restrictions. Iran sees the US support for Guaidò as a direct threat to its interests in Latin America, which are manifold and very widespread.

 Coincidentally, the Venezuelan gold – that was said to have so far been exported to Turkey for security reasons -is currently heading for Iran.

Cuba’s drug system has been essential to maintain Castro’s regime as early as the time of Ochoa, who had supported the Medellin cartel in the cocaine shipments to the United States. At the time, however, the proceeds were in the banks of Noriega, the President of Panama who laundered 80% of Cuban illegal cash flows.

 Now the system works in favour of Venezuela, which no longer has the financial controls that were previously unavoidable in a fully pro-American country like Panama.

 Certainly, for Cuba, the Medellin cartel’s drug transfer to the United States was also a purely political operation to plague the American society and make it powerless and unproductive.

  It has largely already succeeded to reach this goal.

 After Noriega’s fall, that network has largely moved to Venezuela and is currently operating at full capacity and in full swing.

 Meanwhile, the Cuban intelligence services were directly connected to the Colombian FARC and later to the Venezuelan security forces, formerly regional leaders of drug trafficking at the time.

 As is the case today, since then the Cuban secret services have trained the Bolivarian intelligence services. In fact, at the time, the former eliminated most of the Venezuelan opposition to Chavez.

 Indeed, after the Cuban training, Chavez’ intelligence services established the Cartel de los Soles(the “Cartel of the Suns”) and in fact the name comes from the “sun” insignia of Venezuelan generals.

 Currently, it is precisely corruption and the illegal drug trafficking led by Maduro’s generals to directly support the regime and to strengthen and fund the fight against Guaidò’s forces.

 The Venezuelan narcomilitaries know all too well that, if they lose power, they will soon be judged by some US or international court.

 This kleptocracy removes from Venezuela’s coffers an officially declared sum worth around 70 billion US dollars, but some Latin American security services speak of about 300 billion US dollars taken away for paying bribes inside the kleptocratic regime in Venezuela.

 Hence an inflation triggered and maintained only by the criminal kleptocracy of those who also organize a highly lucrative drug trafficking, even within the regime and the whole country.

 Furthermore the controls on money and prices, introduced by Chavez in February 2003, quickly turned Venezuela into a Mafia-State.

 At the time of the founder of “Bolivarianism”, the illegal system created by those price controls, was even larger than it currently is.

 It should be remembered that in 2002 a military coup  ousted Chavez from office for 48 hours only.

 With a view to avoiding the return of the military, Chavez delegated most of the State functions to criminal gangs – and also to the very inefficient Armed Forces.

  The illegal gangs were mainly two, namely the Colectivos and the Pranes.

 The Colectivos took power mainly in the suburbs of Caracas.

 Currently, despite having been supported and often created by the government, the Colectivos are not answerable to anyone – much less to the opposition.

 The democratization of kleptocracy.

 They live mainly on extortion and drug dealing.

 Currently, however, they have been essential to repress Guaidò’s insurgency and make some areas of Caracas  support Maduro again.

 The Pranes are instead criminal gangs operating within the Venezuelan prison system.

 However, they have also expanded outside prisons, in collaboration with the so-called megabandas.

 The “peace zones”, reached after a long negotiation between criminal gangs and what remains of the police, are just eight in Venezuela.

 Nowadays, the most widespread illegal activities among criminal gangs are those relating to the smuggling of subsidized fuel to Brazil and Colombia.

 There is an ever more limited market for this fuel in the countries of arrival and an increasing number of buyers in Venezuela, which experiences the paradox of being a huge oil producer, but with empty pumps for its citizens.

 Other key sectors, left in the hands of the bandas, are the smuggling of food and pharmaceutical products. This was the reason why the Red Cross aid could not work at the beginning of the crisis.

 In Caracas people die very easily: 89 murders per 100,000 people a day.

 In 2017 there were 26,616 murders – over 5,535 of which carried out by the security forces, while the others were carried out by the gangs of the Operativos para la Liberacion del Pueblo.

 A network created exactly by Maduro.

Furthermore, as already seen, Venezuela is the favorite base for the Colombian narcocrime, while the hungry e Venezuelan proletariat is pushed right out of the cities of Bolivarianism towards Colombia, where the Venezuelan poor people become members of the “cartels” or victims of them.

 In just one year, the last for which we have complete statistics, namely 2017-2018, at least one million Venezuelans fled to Colombia alone, with a rate of at least 37,000 citizens of the Bolivarian State who crossed the border with the territory of Bogotà everyday.

 Panama, which now has no interest in the survival of Maduro’s “Socialist” regime, also included 37 “big shots” from the current Venezuelan regime into a “high-risk list” for money laundering, including Maduro himself, as can be easily imagined.

 That list also included Diosdado Cabello, the No. 2 of Venezuela’s regime and Party, as well as other figures, well known to the Venezuelan public, such as Gustavo Gonzales Peres, the former Head of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service.

 Panama is also part of the “Lima group”, an organization of 14 Latin American countries in the region, which is above all opposed to maintaining the Maduro system in Latin America.

 Even the European Union – with its well-known quick decision-making in foreign policy – imposed personal sanctions on figures such as Interior Minister Nestor Revarol, the President of the Supreme Court, Maikel Moreno, and even the Head of the External Intelligence Service, Gustavo Gonzales Lopez and, finally, to the aforementioned No. 2 of the regime’s Party, Diosdado Cabello.

  They can no longer travel to EU countries and their bank funds deposited there will be frozen.

 The appeal for a general upheaval that interim President Juan Guaidò had announced on the morning of April 30th – together with the recently-released military Leopoldo Lopez, and with a military group from La Carlota air base – seems to have failed.  In a country like Venezuela, the “Arab Spring” model does not work at all.

 US intelligence services’ greater intellectual imagination would be needed.

 Meanwhile Lopez has recently taken refuge at the headquarters of the Spanish embassy in Caracas, while the Spanish government has declared it will never release Lopez to the Maduro government.

  25 other rebel military applied for asylum at the Brazilian embassy, but it should be noted that Lopez had previously addressed to the diplomatic offices of Chile, although he declared – after being accepted by the Spanish diplomacy in Venezuela – he had never asked for political asylum.

 Nevertheless many Venezuelans have anyway agreed to take to the streets, where two other young people have recently died, thus rising to 55 the number of victims of Maduro’s repression since the beginning of this year.

 Meanwhile, the opposition denounced a toll of other 74 severely injured people, followed by 168 arrests, including at least a dozen journalists.

 Meanwhile Guaidò goes from one hiding place to another, but he was seen by the crowd on May 1stwhen he called for a strike of all Venezuelan workers in the short term.

 Maduro responded to Guaidò’s call to strike only the day after, but it was a clearly recorded TV broadcast.

 Shortly afterwards, in his official capacity as Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton – an old heir to the neocon foreign policy – informed the international media that Defense Minister Valentin Padrino Lopez, Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno and the Director of the DG for Military Counterintelligence, Ivan Hernandez Dala, had negotiated directly with the USA to oust Maduro.

 Instillation of suspicions in Maduro’s elite, or also truth? Hence evident psychological war or US indecision between the choice of staging a coup inside Maduro’s Party, with some US trusted elements, or the reaffirmation of US trust in Juan Guaidò?

Mike Pompeo, Trump’s Secretary of State and former CIA Director, also stated that Maduro was already on a plane to Cuba, immediately after the May 1st demonstrations, but that Russia harshly ordered him to stay in Venezuela.

 Could the reason underlying the US support to Guaidò’s attempted coup – which is now not matched by the same support it had gained at the beginning of the insurgency – beoil, as usual?

 With the oil barrel price around 50-60 US dollars, the price of Venezuelan oil is still acceptable, but we are talking about heavy hydrocarbons, which need successive and obviously expensive further refining.

 Exxon-Mobil is still trying to acquire the Essequibo extraction area, where sovereignty over it is still being discussed between Venezuela and Guyana.

 In Venezuela, there are still 15 billion barrels a day of not extracted oil, in addition to as many as 42 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

 It should be considered that Venezuela is still the second country – if not the first, depending on explorations- in terms of oil and gas reserves available.

 The USA, however, is mainly exploiting its national basins and is selling natural gas and oil, by sea, even to some European countries.

 Hence, currently for the United States the issue of Venezuelan oil and gas is not to acquire them – although the oil barrel production cost in Venezuela is still lower than the shale oil and gas of the US Permian basin – but above all to prevent those oil and gas reserves from being used by China and the Russian Federation.

 In fact, in the years of the sharp drop in the oil barrel price, until 2016, Maduro chose to assign as much as 49.9% of a PVDSA subsidiary, namely CITGO, to Russian Rosneft – in exchange for a loan against the transfer of the company shares to the tune of 1.5 billion dollars directly to the Venezuelan State.

 Also Russia, however, is a net exporter, and Goodness knows how powerful that country is in terms of oil and gas, with a primary focus of its markets on the EU.

 In this case, however, for Russia the Venezuelan oil could be a strong way to put pressure on the United States – exactly due to the lower price of the Venezuelan crude oil – with a view to reducing the negative impact of the US (and EU) sanctions on Russia for the Ukrainian issue.

 Hence, by spending a relatively little sum, namely 1.5 billion US dollars, Russia became the true arbiter of Venezuelan oil to use it as a leverage over the United States – indeed, really for purposes of blackmail against the United States.

 In fact, it is by no mere coincidence that, in February 2018, a group of US investors of unclear complexion tried to buy back the Russian shareholding of CITGO, asking the Venezuelan government to accept payment to them of the remaining Russian loan and also asking Rosneft to transfer the remaining amount of the loan already granted in Venezuela to the new CITGO.

 Needless to say, the offer was declined.

 As always happens in these cases, the United States is also operating with economic pressures and embargoes.

 It is imposing a further embargo for Petroleos de Venezuela SA, namely the whole PDVSA, which legally began in early January 2019.

 This means that the proceeds from Venezuelan oil will be very limited, as if Venezuela were an economic hostage.

 With a view to favouring – even among the elites of the “Maduro system” – the shift to the US camp, instead of remaining within the sphere of Russian economic control (and of Iranian control for the non-oil criminal economy).

 President Trump’s desire to invade Venezuela is now well-known to the international public, at least based on his statements of June 2018, when, at a meeting in the Oval Office, President Trump expressed that clear desire to the then Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, former President of Exxon-Mobil, and also to the then National Security Adviser, General MacMaster.

 It should be clarified that neither of the two advisors was favourable to the operation.

 In late 2018,Maduro – increasingly under pressure as a result of the international economic crisis and of the huge internal crisis, particularly heavy for the oil-dependent countries – gave to the companies of the strong Russian mining sector access to the Venezuelan gold mines – those that had created the myth of Eldorado in Spain in the  seventeenth century.

In Venezuela there are also mineral reserves of nickel, diamonds, iron, bauxite and aluminum.

  Clearly, however, Latin America’s new strategic and political positioning – especially after Bolsonaro’s victory in  Brazil – is fully in favour of the United States and, specifically, of President Trump, while the assets in favour of the Russian Federation are diminishing.

   This means that Russia, along with its traditional allies, such as China, will keep Venezuela very close, especially for geopolitical purposes and ever less for strictly economic ones.

  While the real strategic variable will soon be China. Will it accept to participate in Russia’s very interested support for Maduro’s regime, taking what remains of the Venezuelan economy, or will it accept the US proposal of taking a large part of Venezuela after breaking China’s ties with Russia, at least in Latin America?

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