Venezuela

  • Following the military coup and counter-revolution, Egypt’s main problem is the restoration of the security state, which is using the judiciary as one of its arms to stifle dissent and ringfence the army’s privileges
  • Russian president Vladimir Putin cancelled construction of a strategically important gas pipeline following opposition from the EU and sanctions, but Moscow will instead develop a gas hub to southern Europe via Turkey
  • Lines of frustrated shoppers have replaced socialist rallies and posters of Hugo Chavez as the most ubiquitous images of Venezuela, with the situation set to worsen after Opec resisted Caracas’s calls to boost the oil price
  • The booming trade in jade in Myanmar – like blood diamonds in Africa – is turning good fortune into misery, as the spoils remain in the hands of the military and Chinese financiers who collude to smuggle the gemstone (NYT)
  • Jihad isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, say disgruntled Isis recruits from France, who complain of iPods not working, being forced to do the dishes – and threats of execution if they attempt to flee (The Independent)

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  • A sea patrol to help cope with a surge in the number of migrants heading for Italy via the southern Mediterranean was launched this month, but at least 100 miles of dangerous water between Lampedusa and Libya will be unpatrolled
  • The apparent murder of 43 students has turned Mexico into a tinderbox of volatile and increasingly violent protests, as scandal fuels a sense of things spinning out of control for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration
  • Ahead of this weekend’s G20 summit, policymakers are competing to describe the global economy in the most apocalyptic terms. Instead they should address big issues like exchange rate management and rising protectionism
  • Mikhail Gorbachev is wrong about a new cold war – unlike Communism, Vladimir Putin’s Russia does not have an alternative ideology to sell. But cold war lessons of patience and resolve should be relearnt, for they add up to deterrence
  • In Venezuela, a crackdown on the black market in regulated goods – which include eggs, powdered milk, detergent and baby diapers – risks alienating some of the poor Venezuelans who were long loyal to President Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez (Washington Post)

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In the land where everything is possible – except often finding toilet paper or medicines – the politically novice daughter of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s late socialist leader, was appointed recently as deputy ambassador to the UN.

Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled president (centre), made his UN debut on Wednesday, and some said the presence of María Gabriela Chávez (right) in New York may help Caracas’s efforts to lobby for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council. Others noted the pressing need to shift Ms Chávez out of the official residence of La Casona, where she has continued to live since her father’s death more than a year ago. Read more

A spike in the cost of government borrowing is raising the spectre of Venezuela defaulting on its more than $80bn of sovereign debt

Italy’s anti-euro, anti-immigrant Northern League party is seizing on the Scottish referendum to relaunch calls for secession of the north of Italy

A meeting between the leaders of China and India next week underscores the slow thaw in the countries’ relations as their economic links strengthen

Isis is recruiting in Istanbul‘s impoverished suburbs, often through religious study groups, to boost its ranks of fighters and populate its self-declared caliphate. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Such is the power of incumbency, that over the past decade no Latin American president who has run for re-election has lost. Juan Manuel Santos, re-elected Colombia’s president on Sunday, has just re-confirmed that trend, although it was close. (An aside:Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who are also aiming for re-election this year, will be relieved.)

The clinchers for Santos, who won with 51 per cent of the vote in a presidential run-off against Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who took 45 per cent, were threefold. All of them have implications for Santos’ next term. Read more

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

In this dispatch, Andres Schipani, the FT’s Andes correspondent, gives his account of a visit this month to Venezuela, where protests over the past month against the socialist regime of president Nicolás Maduro have left at least 33 people dead. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

“We could turn Venezuela into Ukraine!” a student protester shouted in Caracas this weekend. It is striking how similar the situations are in the two countries, despite the significant differences.

There have been many tragic deaths in both countries – although about 100 people have died in Ukraine, versus “only” around ten in Venezuela. This difference is one reason why the troubles in Venezuela has not yet captured the same attention as the protests in Ukraine.

Just because Venezuela lacks Ukraine’s immediate geo-political heft – there are no borders in question in Venezuela; Europe’s energy security is not under threat; nor is the reach of Russia’s power or Vladimir Putin’s reputation – does not mean it lacks wider significance.

Caracas provides important economic assistance to Havana, without which Cuba’s economy would sink. Communist Cuba therefore has a vested interest in what happens in Venezuela, just as Russia does in Ukraine – a situation ripe for Cold War style comparisons. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

First protests; then inevitable casualties and recriminations. Life is getting harder on the mean streets of Venezuela’s cities. But that does not mean that a change of regime is in the offing.

The street protests that left three dead on Wednesday after pro and anti-government forces clashed came after a week of scattered gatherings across the country. The trigger was the arrest on Feb 6 of four students in western Tachira state. Since then relatively small gatherings, coordinated by social media under the hashtag #LaSalida, the Exit, have gathered in provincial cities.

Some of these protests turned violent after the National Guard attempted to disperse crowds. Wednesday’s nationwide protests were of a different scale. Rough estimates suggest the crowd in Caracas reached 20,000 people. Reports suggest pro-government motorcycle gangs attacked them. Either way, it was the worst unrest since President Nicolás Maduro won last year’s election by a whisker after his mentor, Hugo Chávez, died. Read more

John Paul Rathbone

Supporters of Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles protest in front of riot police in Caracas on April 15, 2013 (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters of Henrique Capriles protest on April 15 (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

“I will continue governing the country with its people. Street government.” So tweeted Nicolás Maduro on Tuesday night as Venezuela’s president-elect sought to strengthen his hold on the country amid deadly street clashes, a teetering economy and an angry opposition that has disputed his narrow election victory.

It’s a febrile atmosphere: seven people died in riots overnight, 60 were injured and 170 arrested. Back in Europe, fresh from a recent trip to Caracas, many have asked me: is this country nuts?

One way to imagine yourself into the Venezuelan mindset is to picture yourself in an old fashioned American automobile – a yank tank – cruising along one of the rain-stained concrete flyovers that define Caracas’ cityscape. Towering sky-scrapers, built during the 1970s oil boom and now thick with grime, flit by on either side. You have a full tank of gas (it cost just $3 to fill up). It’s tropical hot, and the car’s air-conditioning is broken and unfixable because the spare parts needed to repair it are imported and thus unobtainable due to currency restrictions. No matter: the windows are open. Other cars are jouncing along at high speed in the adjacent lanes. The atmosphere is exhilarating – although you are just making a regular trip to the airport, a half hour drive down to the coast, and your suitcase is in the back.

When I made that trip on the Friday before the election, our way was momentarily blocked by an accident. Think of what follows as just another regular day in Caracas. To avoid the traffic back-up, a white SUV with blue tinted windows was bucking over the concrete lane divider, and then started heading backwards against the traffic towards a slipway a couple of hundred metres behind. Further on, we passed a turning to Ciudad Caribe, a “socialist new town” where earlier that week two police had accidentally shot a child. A furious mob subsequently lynched one of the police officers.

Later, checking in at the airport, I was pulled aside for a routine security check. A bored young soldier rummaged through my suitcase. He found a DVD set of a hit Colombian soap opera I was watching: “Pablo Escobar, Father of Evil”. The badges on his olive green tunic proclaimed him a member of Venezuela’s “National Boliviarian Guard – anti-drugs unit.” His interest perked up, although not for the reasons I expected.

“You know, for me, Pablo Escobar was one of the greatest of men, ever,” he said fingering the DVDs covetously. Read more