Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair– Anonymous
Be safe. That’s what we’re always told when we travel. It could be a short drive to another city or a flight to another state. Just be safe.
It’s usually said with about the same emotion as, “good morning”. It’s almost obligatory and carries little meaning. A courtesy. It’s said with a little more sincerity when you’re traveling overseas. The unknown could be dangerous – pay attention, be aware…be safe.
I nod and smile, because what else do you say? What does it really mean to “be safe”? Of course, some things are obvious – don’t go running down the street naked waving a flaming Molotov cocktail in your hand. Check. Keeping your clothes on in public is probably always a good idea. You’re pretty much always safer with clothes.
Don’t hitchhike drunk. Check. Although I did do that once with a friend in Nanjing, China and the friendly (and confused) garbage truck driver picked us up and dropped us off at the foreign student dorms, per our request in broken Chinese. But still, in general, not a good idea.
I generally stifle a giggle at the well-meaning “be safe” when I’m traveling to Asia. For sure, there are incidents against foreigners in Asia; the Abu Sayyaf terrorist incident in the Philippines was shocking. But typically, Americans are much safer in Asia than many large American cities (I’m looking at you Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans). If you accidentally leave your wallet on the table, or your cell phone in the bathroom, most likely a “good samaritan” is not going to turn it into a manager. Being safe means being aware of your belongings, not your actual being.
The urgency to “be safe” was greatly intensified when I told my family, I’m going to Brazil. Be really safe. Like, this time, I mean it.
My dad is a test pilot. When he gets nervous on a plane, I freak: not safe, not safe my brain screams. My husband is in law enforcement, with quite a bit of international experience. Contrary to what you may think, he infrequently tells me to be safe. When he worries, I pay attention. Brazil worried him.
Despite a lifetime of traveling and living abroad, namely in Asia, this is my first time to Brazil. Brazil, more than anywhere I’ve been, including Europe, “looks” like America. Like America, Brazil is an immigrant country. A Multicultural Mecca.
In my attempt to “be safe” I hired a car and a bilingual driver to take me around São Paulo. I hit the jackpot. Before turning 10 years old, Ricardo picked up an English dictionary and taught himself the language. And he didn’t stop there. Given that his Protestant family didn’t believe in TVs he became a voracious reader and spent hours in the library reading political philosophers such as John Locke and Antonio Gramsci. And so it happens that my driver was also a political philosopher of sorts, with a view from the streets (literally) of the Brazilian socio-political landscape.
Everything I learned from my Brazilian driver shed light on the challenges not only in Brazil but also in America and around the world: we have a trust deficit.
There are many similarities between Brazil and the United States, especially in their multicultural heritage, but its geography and history put it on a completely different trajectory.
Brazil’s rugged terrain and lack of viable ports make economic development difficult. As a result, the development necessary to take advantage of Brazil’s agriculture and commodity opportunities needs massive capital expenditures. This higher cost of development meant only the wealthy were involved in setting up towns and plantations. Low-skilled labor was imperative for working plantations, and slavery was the norm.
When slavery was abolished (Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888), low-skilled immigration was encouraged and flourished. Brazil’s Gino Coefficient highlights the income inequality and stark division between the rich and poor that continues to define Brazilian demographics, even into the modern era. It is also visible in its high crime rate, giving Brazil the title of Murder Capital of the World. Brazil has the most cities (17) in the top 50 dangerous cities in the world.
Brazil’s geography shaped its economy and in turn, its politics. The wealth disparity and need to develop the interior were components that eventually led to the rise of a military regime in the 1960s. The regime kept order and was able to command the resources for development through force, if necessary. As the interior developed, there were more opportunities for smaller landholders and a rise in the middle-class – the classic underpinnings for political liberalization.
Under these circumstances, in 1985 the military handed over control to the people in an election. In 1988 a new constitution was written. Thirty years of democratically elected governments later, and many of Brazil’s problems remain. The oligarchs – the powerful and wealthy – prevail. Justice usually reflects who you know and is unevenly applied. A string of politicians, including the current President Temer and past Presidents Lula and Rousseff, among others, have recently been implicated in the huge “car wash” scandal.
People are fed up with the corruption. And now, many are looking for a political “outsider” to shake up the establishment.
In this fraught landscape emerged Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro started his career in the military while the military still held power. He is neither a land-owner nor a peasant, and to many, is seen as a “vote for change”, outside of the elite power structure. Sound familiar?
He is the Brazilian Trump.
His fame is growing, and people show up en masse to hear him speak. His focus is a return to law and order in a country that seems out of control. Bolsonaro’s message resonates at a time when there are an increasing number of people nostalgic for the order under the former military government.
Rounding out the similarities, Bolsonaro, like Trump, has been called out for scandalous behavior, which hasn’t dampened his support. In 2014 he told a Congresswoman that he wouldn’t rape her because “she didn’t deserve it”. This is the little quip seen here in the anti-Bolsonaro propaganda picture. Note the cartoonish Hitler‘s tache too.
The allure of more right-wing traditionalists, nationalists and populists is a global trend in a world rapidly changing. Whether due to the growing individualism leading to the breakdown of social cohesion in the United States, the growing anti-immigrant sentiment and the resulting Brexit in England, or the ubiquitous corruption in Brazil, wistful notions of stability and order are endemic.
As these and other like forces continue to restructure the global order–politically, economically and socially – no one gets out unscathed. Perhaps the United States is best able to weather the storm, given its unique mix of geography, strong institutions and resources. The Brazilian economy, however, is largely dependent on high commodity prices and Chinese demand. As structural demand trends downward, and the Chinese face their own internal and external struggles, a variety of crises threaten multiple countries, like Brazil.
Further, a Brazilian characteristic – lack of trust – creates its own challenges. The lack of trust in American institutions is also at an all-time low, but as Ricardo reminds me, the American government was formed by the people to serve the people. In contrast, in the Brazilian system, the people are there to serve the state.
In the current climate, despite disparate trajectories, America and Brazil now share some of the same trust issues. As we explored this idea of trust and our distinct cultural experiences further, we came up with a rough theory. America’s free market capitalist economy generates trust. Although there are many currently disillusioned with capitalism and growing income inequalities, which in part is what is generating momentum in the more “right-wing” camps worldwide, consider the aspect of competition. When there is competition, the markets hold corporations accountable. If a company makes a poor product, it loses market share. In an economy like Brazil, based more on elite relationships than competition for gaining market share, this built-in accountability is lost. Trust never has a chance to develop.
By contrast, trust in America did develop, but to a certain degree, has been lost. However, there is a foundation for trust. The question is, can it be regained?
Despite many factors portending some rough patches ahead, Ricardo is hopeful. He doesn’t have any affection for Bolsonaro, but believes corrective measures are necessary to address inherent corruption – after all, the pendulum must swing in the opposite direction before slowing its cadence to a more sustainable groove in the middle.
The “Trump Trend” (and its European predecessors) is not an isolated event, but rather a reaction to global disorder, similarly affecting countries with diverse geopolitical histories; it is a symptom of our trust deficit and truth decay. Further, different political parties worldwide hold their own claims on the truth, making trust more elusive. Confusing the issue, in an internet era replete with fake news, truth and trust alike have become valuable commodities. Hold onto them.
Finally, levels of trust are generally inversely correlated to crime statistics, so… be safe!
Leftists make a comeback in Latin America
In Argentina and Uruguay, leftist candidates won the elections and Evo Morales could maintain his position as the president of Bolivia, but in Chile, people have protested against the U.S.-backed president.
The failure of the U.S.-backed candidate in the Argentinean election in recent days was a sign of the U.S. failure in Latin America. Leftist Alberto Fernandez, an opponent of U.S. interventionist policies, won about 48 percent of the vote in general election and was announced as the new president in the first round.
This is while countries such as Venezuela and Cuba have maintained their anti-U.S. sentiment. Although the U.S. has made an unceasing effort in the last two years to overthrow the current regime in Venezuela, it has not succeeded.
The New Left movement in Latin America, which was formed by the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chaves, has put Venezuela in many troubles but reduced U.S. influence in the region to the point that even experts suggested that Washington has lost its backyard.
The New Leftist governments emerged in Latin America in the late 20th century. Leftist leaders have distanced from some of traditional principles, but maintained the fight against American hegemony, just like their predecessors. Latin America, with rich sources of oil, gas, and uranium, as well as great opportunity for investment, has been of particular importance from a geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic perspective. The U.S. has put control over Latin America on its agenda since 1823 when then president James Monroe offered his plan known as the “Monroe Doctrine”.
The Monroe Doctrine emphasized that as long as the U.S. had not achieved real power and growth, it cannot be considered as an active element and main actor in world politics, thus it should obtain necessary economic growth in Western Hemisphere. The doctrine also stated that South America and Caribbean are areas with high security priority whose fate is tied to the U.S. fate, and the U.S. must have a strong influence in the region to provide its own growth and development.
In the late 20th and early present century, Latin America has witnessed new developments, including the New Left movement. The New Left in Latin America was founded and developed as leaders such as Chavez in Venezuela, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua came to power.
Opportunities and threats
The U.S. is concerned about the presence of its rivals, especially Russia and China, in Latin America and the cooperation of these two countries with leftist states in the region. To counter China and Russia’s influence, the U.S. has launched various plans to undermine leftist governments through economic crises and put its allied right-wing figures into power.
Washington’s comprehensive effort to topple the Maduro administration in Venezuela is an example. On the other hand, China and Russia’s approach to Latin America and the tendency of New Left countries to ally with Beijing and Moscow can be a major deterrent to the implementation of the U.S. plan in the region.
This is while the Trump administration is trying to redefine U.S. role and position in Latin America. From Trump’s point of view, the wrong policies of previous governments and developments have caused the U.S. to lose its control over Latin America and the Caribbean, and instead increased the influence of U.S. rivals, including China, in the region.
In an interview with Foreign Policy, following his recent visit to Colombia, Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein said that the Trump administration is making a push to strengthen alliances across Latin America as part of an effort to counter rising Chinese and Russian influence in the United States’ backyard.
Goldfein said Colombia and other Latin American countries risked being locked out of U.S. and allied operations if they stopped buying military hardware from the United States and turned to other markets instead.
China has invested heavily in the region to reach Latin America’s oil reserves. Beijing has now become the largest trading partner of some Latin American countries, including Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Uruguay.
Russia also continues to sell billions of dollars in arms to Latin American countries. Unlike China, which seeks to use Latin American natural resources for its economic growth, Russia’s interests in this region are more strategic.
From our partner Tehran Times
Democrats take a gamble on Trump’s impeachment
Despite all ups and downs, Democrats finally brought impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump to the House of Representatives, a move which made Trump’s prediction come true.
The House of Representatives passed a resolution on Thursday to launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump, thereby making formal investigations against him possible. The resolution was approved by a vote of 232 to 196.
Accordingly, the House of Intelligence Committee carries out the investigations into the impeachment and reports its findings to the Judiciary Committee that comments on the process of impeachment.
Trump has said that the House will get enough votes to impeach him, but he is certain that the Senate will acquit him of charges.
Investigations into Trump’s impeachment began on September 24 following the official order of Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
The order came after reports about Trump’s telephone call with Ukrainian president for investigation into his possible rival Joe Biden.
During the conversation Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor”. He pressured Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, his possible Democratic rival for the 2020 presidential election, and his son Hunter Biden who was on the board of a Ukrainian oil and gas factory. At the time, Trump had suspended $400 million military aid to Ukraine as a quid pro quo.
Why Nancy Pelosi risks?
It should be noted that some Democrats have called for Trump’s impeachment since his first months of his presidency. The impeachment inquiry was popular among Democratic voters, with a recent poll showing that %73 of them favoring the impeachment.
But Republicans are strongly opposed to impeachment, and the country generally relies on Republicans. That is why Nancy Pelosi and other leading Democrats were first reluctant to officially begin an impeachment. Their calculations have so far revealed that impeachment against Trump will not have much effect on the opinion of Republicans and his supporters, a situation which will make it more difficult to remove him from the 2020 election.
Trump has described the impeachment as “fake”. Pelosi said that Trump has affirmed that he had asked the Ukrainian president to take actions in favor of his political position, claiming the measures of Trump’s administration were undermining U.S. national security.
“The release of the notes of the call by the White House confirms that the president engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office he holds and our national security,” Pelosi said in a statement.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff also said that the president should prioritize national interests rather than his personal interests. Schiff added that they will study whether Trump has exploited military aid to Ukraine to meet his demands.
Consequences of Trump’s impeachment
Experts argue that Trump’s impeachment and lack of a decisive leader will make the U.S. more vulnerable to other countries’ plots. As Robert W. Merry recently said in The National Interest magazine, “When the president is weakened at home, then America is weakened abroad.”
However, Washington’s friends and enemies consider U.S. foreign policy insignificant due to political infighting at home. Instead, the great power players are seeking to limit the influence of the country rather than cooperating with it.
The recent accusations against Trump can be easily stated as a national security issue, which needs to be reformed immediately. Theoretically, military aid will be provided only if U.S. officials become convinced that they can achieve main security objectives of Washington. Therefore refusing to provide aid because of political reasons is a serious wrongdoing, showing that the personal interests of the president is superior to U.S. national interests.
Will the impeachment inquiry get the necessary vote?
Now that the House has launched an impeachment inquiry into the president, the Senate will play an important role in the process. In this case, the Senate will act as a court that decides on Trump’s dismissal or survival.
To oust Trump, the votes of 67 members of the Senate is needed, which would be two-thirds of their population. Currently, there are 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats in the Senate. Therefore, Democrats need the support of 20 Republican senators.
Since the Republicans have not supported Trump’s impeachment, it is highly unlikely that Trump’s impeachment leads to his dismissal.
Impact of the impeachment on the 2020 presidential election
The impact of Trump’s impeachment on the presidential election depends on his defense and the credibility of accusations against him. Democrats are well aware that accusing Trump of corruption and incompetence will not affect American voters. Democrats probably knew that those allegations were not strong enough to undermine Trump, but on the contrary they would undermine their positions.
By stating an issue related to U.S. national security, Democrats took the risk of impeachment. To make the impeachment strategy successful, Democrats should prove that the president has endangered U.S. national security and he may do the same in future. This claim can go beyond party politics and put unbearable pressure on Trump, Republicans and uncertain voters.
From our partner Tehran Times
Russian Involvement in Venezuela is Troublesome for Western Hemisphere
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) “projects that natural gas consumption in Asia will continue to outpace supply.” With the future growth of natural gas consumption concentrated in Asia the EIA “expects ‘non-OECD Asia’ to consumer 120 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) by 2050, outpacing regional production by 50 Bcf/d.” China’s natural gas consumption will “triple between 2018-2050.” Most long-term natural gas infrastructure, global liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal(s) import and export, and demand projections are based on Asian growth.
Late October reporting in Russian media confirmed Russian energy conglomerate, Rosneft had plans to consolidate Venezuela’s National Oil Company PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela) under Rosneft’s corporate structure in exchange for debt relief. This counters U.S., Canadian and Mexican oil and natural gas firms from satisfying natural gas demand from non-OECD Asia. Additionally, it allows Moscow to use Rosneft acquiring Venezuelan natural gas as a geopolitical, soft power coercion tool by acquiring some of the largest recoverable oil and natural gas reserves in the world.
Venezuelan government sources, Rosneft and the Kremlin all denythe potential for a takeover of PDVSA energy assets to satisfy Russian bank loan requirements to the Madero regime. Russian energy experts have visited PDVSA to analyze the possibility of merging with Rosneft. The Russian energy giant buying out Venezuela’s best source of hard currency and domestic economic driver illustrate the “hard-hitting impact of U.S. sanctions.” The Venezuela regime-based economy predicated on oil and natural gas production is on the verge of collapsing.
Rosneft’s offer is the best way outside of western help for Venezuela to mitigate damaging sanctions, and “debt relief for a country that owes over $156 billion to external parties – and Venezuela’s debt is 740% higher than the value of its exports.” This is four times more than what is typical in emerging markets and economies according to The World Bank.
U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams has pointed to Rosneft having joint projects with PDVSA where it took leading minority stakes, and how these ventures do not “breach” U.S. sanctions. This is positive news for average Venezuelan citizens suffering under economic malaise. Caracas’ debt to Moscow seemingly is being forgiven under the auspices of U.S. blessing. However, the Trump administration has been clear in its maximum pressure “sanctions policy towards Venezuela” that mirrors the sanctions-strategy towards Tehran. Retaliation from the U.S. could be the future of Washington-Moscow-Caracas tri-lateral relations if Rosneft tries to liquidate PDVSA assets, and release thousands of employees to skirt U.S.-led western sanctions.
The Maduro regime will also need to navigate the “$20-$60 billion in debt owed” to China. Will the Chinese have a stake in PDVSA? If so, how does that play into the current U.S.-China trade negotiations? What these geopolitical decisions points towards is a Rosneft-PDVSA merge bringing up more questions than answers.
It makes sense for Russia to be the power broker in Venezuela. This is similar to how Russia is the safe diplomatic choice in the Middle, post-Syrian civil war. According to Foreign Affairs, Russia is now “the Indispensible Nation in the Middle East.” Military troops and hardware were used to save the Assad regime, and now in Venezuela it will be oil, natural gas and petrochemicals that gives Russia a solid foothold in the western hemisphere. PDVSA is one of the “world’s most prolific oil companies” with the largest extractable oil and gas reserves in the world – estimated at 300 billion barrels and PDVSA’s estimated worth is “approximately $186 billion.”
Putting this energy portfolio under Kremlin influence gives Rosneft and other energy firms aligned with Moscow solid footing to control price and supply for global oil and petrochemical markets. The Maduro government wants to stay with previous joint venture contracts between PDVSA and Rosneft, and if the merger takes place, wants to “hand control over to Rosneft without having to go through privatization.” Financial questions arise from this arrangement; who is responsible for terms of debt, how is China able to value the deal, and would equity be defined as a public, private or some form of public-private entity? These are some of the larger issues that would need to be resolved.
Maduro can possibly work around these issues when he took over Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice. This allows Maduro to ignore the democratically elected Legislature, the opposition-controlled National Assembly, and its leader, Juan Guaido. Mr. Guaido claims he is the legitimate leader of Venezuela, but likely Rosneft with Moscow’s backing will only negotiate with the Maduro government. The Supreme Tribunal of Justice can overrule the Assembly to assist the merger towards completion. Debt repayment is important to the Maduro regime, and return to financial health.
Citgo, a U.S. based company that is a valued asset for PDVSA is another area of concern for the proposed merger in tandem with U.S. sanctions.
American officials have implemented a freeze on all Venezuelan assets based in the U.S. Washington implemented an executive order coinciding with sanctions protecting “bondholders and other parties” mulling asset sales and seizures for unpaid debts. The international desire among government and financial officials is this move by the Americans facilitate diplomatic solutions over asset seizure. The downside is it strengthens Maduro over the elected Venezuelan legislature and Assembly leader Guaido.
Debt holders who own Citgo then have to negotiate with Venezuela and Rosneft. This will be tough for bondholders to receive repayment, or will it, as this could mean tougher going for international credit markets to lend money for future Rosneft/PDVSA projects. A Moscow-Caracas alliance is something Washington could believe will increase geopolitical tension between all three countries. Debt relief for Caracas, and control over the world’s largest oil reserves are likely to be the final push for Rosneft to acquire PDVSA over escalating tensions between Moscow and Washington with Caracas stuck in the middle.
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