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Can the 2018 Elections Truly Reshape Mexico?

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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On Sunday July 1st Mexican voters headed to the polling stations oh what has been the largest election in Mexican contemporary history: Over 3400 seats were out for grabs at local, state, and federal levels, including the president of the country and the whole Congress.

This election should also be remembered for other aspects equally pressing: Personal backbiting from all political parties, and the second one leaving 113 candidates from all political parties murdered prior to the Sunday elections. An unprecedented event yet unaddressed throughout the political campaigns by every candidate. Mexico is also has the lowest levels of faith in democracy.

An approximate of 62% of electorate turned out to vote in this past elections. While still a decent figure, it still shows that winners in recent elections have been unable to attract a significant number of the electorate in Mexico. The total of the nominal list for this 2018 election was 85, 953,712 million people; 63.45% of those turned out to cast their votes. (54, 537, 000 million people approximately) The virtual winner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) obtained 52.96% of the votes, which mean 28, 359,567 million people elected the future president of the country, not even a third of the total nominal list. This is a result that has been present in the last 4 presidential elections and that should not be dismissed at all.

What is evident though is that this result brought to the forefront of the political agenda that Mexican voters are so fed up with the ruling class that they have decided to take a chance the only option that was left trying. This, again, should not be taken lightly, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) and its candidate AMLO did not win supporters and votes because of his proposals for national policies. A large portion of the people that casted their vote for him did it as a punishment vote out of sweeping, profound frustration to the last 3 administrations.

AMLO’s victory ushers a four-year old party into the presidential seat with practically little governing experience and whose outsized leader has promised to radically and peacefully transform the country. Among his campaign promises are prevalence of the rule of law and democracy; rule with honesty and end privileges and immunities; decentralisation of ministries; fix the prices of agricultural products; deal with the energy crisis; eliminate corruption; fight insecurity and poverty; economic development controlled by the state; guaranteed jobs and access to free education to youngsters with a monthly stipend; paid apprenticeships to those currently not studying nor working; increase the pension of the elderly; guarantee 100% admission rates to university studies; and live humbly.

While on paper, these policies look certainly promising, AMLO has made seemingly contradictory statements throughout his political career and during his campaign. He has also steered clear of declaring a firm stance on many matters and avoided going into concrete ideas as to how he plans to achieve his campaign promises. While he has claimed to be in favour of transforming Mexico radically, his post-election speeches hint that he will hardly pursue a rapid and revolutionary upheaval to shock the system to the core. One of those contradictions is that whilst he has promised repeatedly that he will uproot corruption and live humbly, he has send signals he refers to everyone else but himself and his inner circle: He is backed by the multimillionaire Alfonso Romo; he postulated former mining union leader Napoléon Gómez Urrutia accused of stealing millions of pesos from workers to the Senate, and various family members of former Teacher’s Union Elba Esther Gordillo are among MORENA’s supporters.

While this is indeed a seismic change, it is still to early to brand it as the final step in the consolidation of Mexican democracy and the end of party rule as we know it, or at least the end of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The same was argued after the elections of 2000 and 2006, and the party was able to canalise the errors of the back then incumbent administration. Secondly, MORENA as a political organisation, despite claiming it is not a political party, it resembles in every way one, and in many aspects emulates the practices of the former hegemonic PRI party: one man at the top – AMLO, and dubious, non- transparent practices to select their candidates to governmental positions. Thirdly, there is no real ideological party affiliation in Mexico – Majority of the Mexican electorate do not vote for concrete political parties ideologies, as the election of AMLO shows, they voted for him because there was nobody else they considered better to vote for. Lastly, the long-criticised clientelism, nepotism and opacity that characterised PRI for 71 years are present not only in the rest of the political organisations but in society as a whole. Many of MORENA members were previously affiliated to other political parties and decided to get on MORENA’s bandwagon in search of a governmental post they considered unattainable with their former political parties. The old authoritarian system has been preserved out of convenience and this is the main hurdle to overcome.

How will a Mexico ruled under AMLO look like? That is one of the most pressing questions in the immediate aftermath of the elections. There are still many open-ended questions as  to which AMLO will govern: The pragmatist or the firebrand one. It is still up in the air whether some of the inconsistencies, incongruencies,  flip flops, ironies, choice of candidates, and lack of clarity regarding his policies were an electoral tactic or a worrisome trait. It will not be until he takes office that we will be able to grasp a more granular understanding  of his ruling style.

AMLO will also have to rule a country mourning over 150,000 people murdered over the last 18 years and face a tightening grip over oil pipelines by criminal organisations as well as the uncontrolled spiral of violence in the country.  His administration will coincide with the increasingly fragile and deteriorated relations with the United States, and many of AMLO’s proposals to deal with security may be further tied up by Trump, especially if he is unable to curb down insecurity in the short term. The Mexican government still relies on the US intelligence data to catch criminals.  Mexico’s next president needs to fully understand the motivations behind Trump’s view of Mexico. For him it is a personal issue imbued by a political electoral dynamics crucial to mobilising his base. Arguing that the strategy should be to make Trump respect Mexico is not only a Panglossian attitude but it is doomed to failure. Both leaders stand today at crossroads and they can either be partners in success or accomplices in failure.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is an IR lecturer and PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East.

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Americans fear punishment for Afghan war crimes

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Lo and behold! Looks like the “great and terrible” United States can be scared to the point of hysteria. Another myth about American omnipotence is being debunked before our very eyes now that the big shots in Washington are dreading the prospect of being held accountable for the crimes their soldiers have committed in Afghanistan.

Well, it’s been a long time since the Yankees have last been scared of anyone anywhere, save, perhaps, for Soviet missiles. Still, the challenge they now have thrown out to the International Criminal Court (ICC) has laid bare their cowardice for the whole world to see. And all this under the guise of threats and warlike rhetoric, of course.

Washington saw red when, in November 2016, Foreign Policy journal wrote that “the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is ready to initiate a full investigation of a range of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, including some by US personnel.” Washington was incensed even more after the very same publication wrote that “the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will seek to initiate an investigation,” and that “the prosecutor’s office repeatedly called attention to alleged abuses of detainees by US personnel between 2003 and 2005 that it believes have not been adequately addressed by the United States.”

The ICC report noted that “crimes were allegedly committed with particular cruelty and in a manner that debased the basic human dignity of the victims.” 

Shortly afterwards, US officials visited The Hague where the ICC was meeting to discuss the potential investigation and to express concerns about its scope in what was seen as their first attempt to intimidate the court.

A report by the UN mission in Afghanistan added fuel to the flames of the ICC probe. According to the report, in 2016 alone, 11,418 civilians died there at the hands of all the warring sides, including the Taliban (banned in Russia). Still, the main culprits are US invaders and their NATO allies.

Despite the mounting pressure, the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of Gambia persisted with the investigation. Washington then ramped up the pressure by simply revoking her entry visa to the United States. Simple as that.

Bensouda’s office said she had an “independent and impartial mandate” under the Rome statute governing the ICC, and described Washington’s move as an attempted attack on the ICC by the US Administration bringing a sigh of relief from “law-abiding” Americans. And no one in the “free and independent” US media raised his voice against this arbitrary practice.

Such voices of disagreement came from the European Union and the United Nations though, with the UN Secretary General’s official spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressing the hope that “the United States government will continue to comply with its obligations… and that the prosecutor, when she needs to come to the United Nations, will be afforded a visa for work done at the United Nations,” where Fatou Bensouda was to present a report to the Security Council on the progress of ongoing investigations into the events in Libya.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini likewise backed the ICC: “We will continue to fully and strongly support the ICC and its work,” she said.

It has also been said that Washington’s disregard for the ICC, which comprises 123 countries (excluding Russia and the US), is fraught with an international scandal. However, President Trump will hardly bother to worry about trifles like this. Responding to the start of the investigation into the crimes committed by the Americans in Afghanistan, the US State Department vowed to revoke or deny visas to ICC staff “seeking to investigate alleged war crimes and other abuses committed by US forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere.” 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened “to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change its course.”

Washington reserves the same treatment also for the ICC staff investigating alleged crimes by the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and President Trump has confirmed this. Paraphrasing George Orwell, all people are equal before the ICC, but some people are more equal than others.

However, here the Americans’ strength turns into weakness and uncertainty. President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton threatened prosecutions and financial sanctions against ICC staff, as well as against countries and companies assisting in ICC investigations of US nationals. If this is not a sign of panic, then what is?

However, the mere fact that an official investigation has been launched against the United States is unprecedented in modern-day politics. When even a Gambian national can see that a global superpower is losing strength and is vulnerable, one can only imagine what will happen if everyone else in the world realizes this too.

Fully aware of this prospect, the Americans have applied all levers of political and economic pressure available to them and showed everyone that they are still a power to be reckoned with. On April 12, the ICC  unanimously (sic!) rejected prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request to investigate criminal offenses allegedly committed by NATO coalition forces against civilians in Afghanistan on the very dubious grounds that such an investigation at the present time “would not serve the interests of justice.”

The ruling states that the prosecutor’s request “establishes a reasonable basis to consider that crimes within the ICC jurisdiction have been committed in Afghanistan and that potential cases would be admissible before the Court.” However, the Chamber noted “the time elapsed since the opening of the preliminary examination in 2006 and the political changing scene in Afghanistan since then, the lack of cooperation that the Prosecutor has received and which is likely to go scarcer should an investigation be authorized hampering the chances of successful investigation and prosecution, as well as the need for the Court to use its resources prioritizing activities that would have better chances to succeed.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is happy: “I am very pleased that the ICC made this decision today. It is the right one. When Americans misbehave, whether it’s our military, intelligence officers, we have a robust democratic process that holds them accountable. You’ve seen us do that for those that misbehaved. There is in no way or any need for the ICC to intervene,” he said.

This is a striking example of national legislation taking precedence over international law – especially in critical situations.

President Trump was equally pleased hailing the ICC’s refusal to consider the actions of the US military in Afghanistan as “a major international victory not only for these patriots, but for the rule of law (?)”. He reiterated US reservations about the Hague-based ICC, saying that its “broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers” present a threat to US sovereignty. Which means that Yankees are immune from prosecution – something we should all keep very much in mind.

The whole situation turned out to be pretty ambiguous: the Americans got scared, but the ICC ended up bending under Washington’s pressure. It still looks like the days of America’s complete domination are over, just as the current scandal proved beyond any reasonable doubt.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Russia in Venezuela

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Russia´s interests and presence in Latin America is not new. We should remember Russian activities in Cuba during the Cold War, which almost generated a nuclear war between Moscow and Washington. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it was quite clear that Central and South America were not among the top priorities of the Russian Federation.

Anyway, at the beginning of the 21st century Russia returned to that region and Venezuela and other Chavist anti-imperialist (mainly understood as anti-American) populist governments were eager to deep their diplomatic, economic and military relations with Moscow.

From the Russian side we can identify a general objective, which is to gain influence in Latin America at the expense of the United States and a particular one: to secure lucrative economic opportunities in the oil and gas sectors.

A marriage of convenience between Venezuela and Russia was born at that time. Moreover, it lasts until today.

In the case of Venezuela, after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the reduction of the international oil prizes and the mismanagement of the national economy generated a crisis that began as economic, then social and finally political.

In this situation of institutional weakness, foreign powers as Russia, China, and the United States intended to gain influence and to get benefits for their companies. However, since Maduro continued its anti-American rhetoric were mainly Russian and Chinese companies those that obtained the lion´s share. It is important to note that according to international studies Venezuela has larger oil proven resources than Saudi Arabia, which helps to understand the interest of those extra regional powers in that south American country.

The regional and international pressure on Maduro´s government and the growing domestic opposition lead to a political and economic isolation of Venezuela. As a consequence of that the government increased its dependence on Russia and China.

Russian oil and gas companies are very active in Venezuela and the main interest of Putin´s administration is to secure their interests and protect their investments. More than investments, Venezuela is highly indebted to Moscow and Beijing since during the last five years those two countries were the only external creditors to Maduro´s government.

Behind the so-called strategic partnership, there is pure economic and geopolitical interest.

The main problem that face Russia (and China) is how to convince to the Venezuelan opposition, headed by Juan Guaidó, to recognize their position in the case of changes on the government. Due to the determined support received from Washington it is not clear that Moscow and Beijing will get what they want. Washington want a new beginning, to begin from scratch and not any kind of compensation or share with Russia and China. From our perspective, those are extreme positions (Russia and China from one side and United States on the other side) and diplomatic channels could open the ground for negotiations and compensations.

Russia´s deployment of troops has to do with media more than with a military need. We can argue that those forces are there to protect Russian interests (Russian infrastructure and investments) not Maduro´s government.

Any military clash would be hard to sustain for Russia due to the impossibility to maintain a logistic chain and the financial costs involved. It is more rational to consider the deployment of troops as an insurance for its interests and a leverage for any potential negotiation.

At that moment, nor the United States nor any other South American country (mainly Colombia and Brazil) is eager to a violent regime change in Venezuela and a military intervention. If Washington (and Guaidó) recognize the interests of Russia and China, Maduro´s government will lose its main political and economic supporters and will be open to a transition. In the meantime, the Venezuelan people is trying to survive. Venezuela has generated more refugees than Syria. Just to note it.

Russia’s deployment of troops in Venezuela has caused a new standoff between the U.S. and Russia with the U.S. accusing Russia of intervening in Venezuela’s internal affairs. But is the U.S. really in the “moral high ground” of such accusation given its history of intervening?

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The Only Way To Solve America’s Immigration Border Crisis Without Losing Its Humanity

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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The United States of America is under unprecedented turmoil these days over its border crisis problem with Mexico, more with the political forces at work both for, and against, erecting a wall, cracking down and jailing and removing illegal aliens, giving more authority to local law enforcement to work with federal law enforcement in these efforts, as well as more scrutiny and hammering down of immigration applications of all types.

Truly there is a fury of activity within the United States with allegations of “racism” and “xenophobia” being thrown around, responded to with “national security” and “safety” being hurled back.

There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight because the Republicans and the Democrats are locked in a fight to the death, with neither side willing to budge or even negotiate a way out of this mess.

Suffice it to say that one of the main origins of this now boiling over immigration border crisis lay with the people that elected Donald Trump to be President – more commonly known as “Nationalists,” or “America Firsters.”

These people are characterized as being staunchly against Globalism, or Internationalism, and share many commonalities with their cousins across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, otherwise known as the supporters of “Brexit,” who wanted to pull away from both the European Union and the globe in general.

But the problem lies in the fact that for at least the past 70 years, the United States and Europe have literally operated on an “Ordo Ab Chao” (“Order out of Chaos”) approach, destroying and starving other nations and their sovereignty with outright war, terrorism, election overturning, sanctions or just cutting them off from the global economy.

The “blowback” of these interventionist policies of the past 70 years has resulted in incidents such as September 11 and other terrorist acts in its most violent form, but also in mass illegal immigration as another form of blowback, albeit much less violent but still just as disruptive to the economy, safety, health, and cohesion of the United States.

This is also happening in Europe wherein the people of those countries that they destroyed, are now flowing back into theirs, through the millions of refugees created by the unforgivable, wilful, wanton, and intentional destruction of their infrastructure, waterways, electrical grids, arable land, cities, hospitals, schools, everything.

One of the major reasons that the Establishment in both America and Europe were so vehemently against the Presidency of Donald Trump, or the people behind Brexit, is because they were still not finished with that “Ordo” portion of the phrase, only finished with the “Chao” part, wherein they were still right in the middle of massive project finance, foreign loans through the World Bank and IMF, public and private massive investment and international business, as well as other mechanisms designed to replace foreign nations with leaders, infrastructure, and cultures that were more amenable and in line with this Establishment.

Now that Trump is in office, he has surrounded himself with other like-minded people who simply don’t care about the thousands of private and public international agreements, treaties, loans, funding, relationships, or understandings by and between the U.S. and foreign nations/leaders, and simply thinks that these countries can either “take care of themselves,” “save their own people,” “pay their fair share,” and other isolationist principals – but in reality, after 70 years spent destroying those nations and making them promises, this type of abrupt “cutting off” policy, while disallowing them to enter or do business with the USA, is nothing short of a slow motion genocide of the world’s people.

To that end we as a nation, if we are to begin to solve this endless illegal alien immigration crisis, must bite the bullet and forge/build relationships (and even provide funding) to those nations where the majority of these people are coming from, so that this sieve is turned off, as much as possible.

Merely building a wall, while turning away or denying all immigrants their basic human rights, is simply not enough.

The USA (and Europe) has had a significant role in destroying those nations from where these illegal immigrants have come from, and must do more to assist those nations in controlling their own “emigrant” problem, so that the USA (and Europe) does not have to.

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