Dec 3, 2018 RICARDO HAUSMANN Venezuela’s problems will not be solved without regime change. And that could – and should – happen after January 10, when the international community will no longer recognize the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro's presidency.

Venezuela crisis: Trump, Putin new Geo-political playground ?

A student demonstrates in front of a line of riot police during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's government in San Cristobal, Venezuela, on February 12, 2015. George CASTELLANO/AFP/Getty Images
A student demonstrates in front of a line of riot police during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government in San Cristobal, Venezuela, on February 12, 2015.
 George CASTELLANO/AFP/Getty Images
Trump, Putin conflicting dealings with Venezuela and why China and Turkey are standing with Maduro as well—in the US’s backyard – Cimson Tazvinzwa, AIWA! NEWS INTERNATIONAL

In a piece ‘Venezuela goes from bad to catastrophe’ published by TIME magazine , June 6, 2016 Ian Bremmer made an alarming new find about the troubled once rich South American country: “.No more coca-cola for Venezuela – there is not enough sugar. Diet coke is still around – until the country runs out of aspartame – but the disappearance from store shelves of an icon of globalization’ was the latest blow for an economy that was fast teetering towards economic abyss.

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Venezuela debt crisis: Russia, China, Turkey provide relief for Venezuela, Wall Street 'vultures'
YouTube//Venezuela debt crisis: Russia, China, Turkey provide relief for Venezuela, Wall Street ‘vultures’

In April of the same year, the country’s largest private company, Empresas Polar SA, which makes 80% of the beer that Venezuelans consume, closed its doors. The government now rations water, so Venezuelans have begun stealing it from tanker trucks and swimming pools.

Electricity is also in short supply, and President Nicolás Maduro has ordered public offices to conserve energy by remaining open just two days a week. An ongoing drought only makes matters worse. About 65% of the country’s electricity is generated by a single hydroelectric dam that’s now in serious trouble. Blackouts, scheduled and otherwise, have become common.

Venezuela crisis is economics on the surface; but it is geopolitics at play as Russia flexes muscle for global outreach

The crisis in Venezuela appears to be shaping up like a Cold War-style confrontation: The Kremlin is throwing its support behind embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, while Washington backs Juan Guaido, the self-proclaimed interim president.

The story at first glance seems to have all the elements of a spy thriller. In recent days, rumors have swirled about Russian mercenaries, massive bullion shipments and murky assassination plots. Maduro has cast himself as a latter-day Fidel Castro in this drama.

Image result for russia turkey china venezuela

Dieselgasoil.comVenezuela divide: Turkey, Russia, China stand against Washington, its Latin America allies

In an interview with Russia’s state-owned news agency RIA-Novosti, Maduro hinted at a US-backed attempt on his life, saying, “Without a doubt, Donald Trump gave the order to kill me, told the Colombian government, the mafia of Colombia to kill me.”

READ RELATED: Russia Is Now Venezuela’s Only Hope

That sounded like an episode ripped from one of the CIA’s failed plots to kill the Cuban leader. And the crisis carries echoes of the Cuban Missile Crisis: Late last year, Russian bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons flew to Venezuela, signaling that Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to play in America’s backyard.

So are we about to watch a Netflix-era remake of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion?

Is Venezuela another arena for proxy conflict between Russia and the United States, much like the way Moscow and Washington back opposing sides in the Syrian civil war?

Certainly, Maduro’s conspiracy theories — and his language about resisting American neocolonialism — are reminiscent of the old contest between the US and the USSR in Latin America. But Russia is not backing his government in Venezuela to spread the ideology of Marxism.

For starters, Moscow sees Venezuela in large part as a business proposition. Russia’s state-controlled oil company Rosneft has been a major backer of Maduro’s government, and Russia and Rosneft have provided billions in loans and lines of credit for cash-strapped Venezuela.

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U.S. Troops Killed By Blast In Syria; Islamic State Claims Responsibility

President-elect Donald Trump calls on a reporter during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President-elect Donald Trump calls on a reporter during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

|AIWA! NO!|NPR|American troops were killed in an explosion in northern Syria, the spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State says. The ISIS extremist group has claimed responsibility.

“U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today. We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time,” Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a statement.

NPR’s Tom Bowman: Now that the U.S. is leaving – and no one is offering a timetable, by the way – the concern is that the Arab and Kurdish forces won’t be able to finish the job on their own. They just don’t have the strength. So ISIS could expand. That’s the main concern. And – or there could be some sort of power struggle among the rebels, maybe ethnic cleansing, a possible bloodbath, one official told me.

NPR

NPR’s Tom Bowman: Now that the U.S. is leaving – and no one is offering a timetable, by the way – the concern is that the Arab and Kurdish forces won’t be able to finish the job on their own. They just don’t have the strength. So ISIS could expand. That’s the main concern. And – or there could be some sort of power struggle among the rebels, maybe ethnic cleansing, a possible bloodbath, one official told me.

Reuters, citing an unnamed U.S. official, reports that four U.S. troops were killed in the attack in Manbij. U.S. forces with the international coalition routinely patrol in and around the town.

A local news site reported that a huge explosion erupted in the city center near a girls’ school and a restaurant. The site reported that both civilians and troops were killed and wounded. ANHA, a news agency in the Kurdish areas in Syria, showed the restaurant’s windows blown out, with the twisted metal frame of an awning hanging off the building.

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights group says that a suicide bomber probably carried out the attack.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. Hassan Hassan, an expert on the Islamic State, says the group has identified the bomber as Abu Yasin al-Shami.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement: “The president has been fully briefed and we will continue to monitor the ongoing situation in Syria.”

The explosion comes shortly after President Trump announced in December that the U.S. would withdraw forces from Syria. The announcement put him at odds with some of his advisers and worried U.S. allies. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, resigned in response to the decision.

At the time, the president claimed the fight against the Islamic State was nearly finished and that U.S. allies could complete the job.

“And by the way, we’re knocking the hell out of ISIS,” Trump said. “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

The Pentagon says the U.S. has begun withdrawing troops, NPR reports.

About 2,200 American troops serve in Syria, working with Arab and Kurdish rebels to defeat the Islamic State, reports NPR’s Tom Bowman:

Now that the U.S. is leaving – and no one is offering a timetable, by the way – the concern is that the Arab and Kurdish forces won’t be able to finish the job on their own. They just don’t have the strength. So ISIS could expand. That’s the main concern. And – or there could be some sort of power struggle among the rebels, maybe ethnic cleansing, a possible bloodbath, one official told me.

NPR’s Lama Al-Arian and Jane Arraf contributed to this report.

Turkey ready for biggest cross-border op in its history – pro-gov’t daily

Some 80,000 Turkish soldiers are ready for the new operation in areas controlled by the Syrian-Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), according to the news outlet.

Some 80,000 Turkish soldiers are ready for the new operation in areas controlled by the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), according to the news outlet.

AIWA! NO!|Turkey has made all necessary preparations for the biggest cross-border operation in the country’s history, into Syria’s Manbij and east of the Euphrates river, pro-government daily Yeni Şafak reported on Monday.

Some 80,000 Turkish soldiers are ready for the new operation in areas controlled by the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), according to the news outlet.

This is double the number of troops required in the 1974 military offensive to take control of northern Cyprus, which still stands as Turkey’s biggest cross-border operation.

Ankara has vowed to clear Manbij and east of Euphrates river region of YPG, which Turkey views as a terrorist group and a threat to its territorial integrity, however, announced a delay to the offensive following the U.S. withdrawal from war-torn Syria announcement on Dec. 19.

“The Turkish Armed Forces will start to clear the areas on the east to the Euphrates River of terrorists at the right time for Ankara, as they had done before in other regions of Syria,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar on Jan. 11 said.

Saudi teen Rahaf Alqunun due to arrive in Canada Thailand for asylum

The 18-year-old left Bangkok airport for Canada, officials confirmed, after her ordeal went viral on social media.

An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family saying she feared for her life has been granted asylum in Canada, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday, as Thai officials confirmed the teen was en route to Toronto.

Rahaf Alqunun's flight comes as Riyadh is facing intense scrutiny over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi [AP]
Rahaf Alqunun’s flight comes as Riyadh is facing intense scrutiny over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi [AP]

MORE ON CANADA

|AIWA! NO!|An 18-year-old Saudi woman who fled her family saying she feared for her life, is due to arrive in Canada on Saturday, after being granted asylum in the North American country.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that Canada had accepted a request from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to take in Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, who grabbed international attention earlier this week after she barricaded herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room to resist being sent home to her family, which denies any abuse.

“Canada is a country that understands how important it is to stand up for human rights, to stand up for women’s rights around the world, and I can confirm that we have accepted the UN’s request,” Trudeau told reporters.

The decision is likely to exacerbate Canada’s already poor relations with Saudi Arabia, which last year barred the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh after Ottawa criticised Saudi authorities for detaining female activists.

Alqunun had arrived in Bangkok on January 5 and was initially denied entry, but she soon started posting messages on Twitter from the transit area of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport saying she had “escaped Kuwait” and her life would be in danger if forced to return to Saudi Arabia.

Following a 48-hour standoff at Bangkok airport, some of it barricaded in a transit lounge hotel room, she was allowed to enter Thailand and was then processed as a refugee by the UNHCR.

The UNHCR welcomed Canada’s decision and also acknowledged Thailand had given Alqunun a temporary refuge.READ MORE

Canada grants asylum to Saudi teenager Rahaf Alqunun

“Ms Alqunun’s plight has captured the world’s attention over the past few days, providing a glimpse into the precarious situation of millions of refugees worldwide,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

Alqunun has accused her family of abuse and has refused to meet her father and brother who arrived in Bangkok to take her back to Saudi Arabia.

“It was her wish to go to Canada,” Thailand’s immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told reporters. “She still refuses to meet with her father and brother, and they are going to be travelling back tonight as well … They are disappointed.”

Her case has drawn global attention to Saudi Arabia’s strict social rules, including a requirement that women have the permission of a male “guardian” to travel, which rights groups say can trap women and girls as prisoners of abusive families.

A Korean Air flight carrying Alqunun left Bangkok for Seoul on Friday night at 11:37pm local time (16:37 GMT), an airport official told Reuters news agency.

OPINION

Putting the spat between Saudi Arabia and Canada in context

Bill Law

by Bill Law

Alqunun was expected to board a connecting flight to Toronto from Seoul’s Incheon airport before arriving in Canada on Saturday morning.

Trudeau brushed off a question as to whether Canada’s move might make it harder to repair ties with Saudi Arabia.

“Canada has been unequivocal that we will always stand up for human rights and women’s rights around the world,” he said.

Amid increasing domestic political pressure, Trudeau said last month that his Liberal government was looking for a way out of a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Riyadh.

Alqunun’s flight has emerged at a time when Riyadh is facing unusually intense scrutiny from its Western allies over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October and over the humanitarian consequences of its war in Yemen.

Canada has repeatedly said Khashoggi’s murder was unacceptable and has demanded a full explanation.

US-led coalition against the Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria

In this file photo taken on Dec. 30, 2018, a convoy of U.S. military vehicles drives near Syria's northern city of Manbij. (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)
In this file photo taken on Dec. 30, 2018, a convoy of U.S. military vehicles drives near Syria’s northern city of Manbij. (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S.-led coalition says it has started Syria withdrawal
The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, a spokesman said on Friday, indicating the start of a U.S. pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from Washington.

KEY POINTS

  • President Donald Trump announced last month the decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops who have deployed to Syria in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia in the fight against Islamic State.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the withdrawal would not be scuppered despite the Turkish threats.

|CRIMSON TAZVINZWA, AIWA! NO!|The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, its spokesman said on Friday, affirming the start of a pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from U.S. officials.

PREMIUM: Syrian Democratic Forces ceremony - Syria SDF

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), trained by the US-led coalition, participate in the graduation ceremony of their first regiment in al-Kasrah, in the suburb of eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor, on May 21, 2018.DELIL SOULEIMAN | AFP | Getty Images

President Donald Trump announced last month the decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops who have deployed to Syria in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia in the fight against Islamic State.

The coalition “has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria. Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements,” Colonel Sean Ryan said.

Washington’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria fear the withdrawal will open the way for Turkey to mount a long-threatened offensive against their area. Turkey views the dominant Syrian Kurdish groups as a national security threat.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested on Tuesday that protecting the Kurds would be a pre-condition of the U.S. withdrawal, drawing a rebuke from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who called his comments “a serious mistake”.

But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the withdrawal would not be scuppered despite the Turkish threats.

  • President Donald Trump announced last month the decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops who have deployed to Syria in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia in the fight against Islamic State.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday the withdrawal would not be scuppered despite the Turkish threats.