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Today we've got a restoration (of sorts) in Bolivia, a border wall in Greece, and a big economic bounce-back in China. Bonus: which country is home to most of the world's most polluted cities?

Alex Kliment

MAS appeal in Bolivia

Alex Kliment

Call it a counter-counter revolution at the ballot box. One year after mass protests over election irregularities drove Bolivia's long-serving leftist populist President Evo Morales from office, his preferred candidate has won the presidency — possibly by a landslide.

But can the country's new leader, a soft-spoken economist named Luis Arce, move the country beyond the political trauma of the past year?


The back story. Morales, the first indigenous leader of majority-indigenous Bolivia, held power for 14 years, using the country's lucrative natural gas exports to lift millions out of poverty. But his efforts to sidestep term limits dented his support. After charges of fraud in last fall's presidential vote prompted widespread unrest, the military forced him out of office and into exile. Many on the left called it a coup and were outraged when right-winger Jeanine Áñez took over as an "interim" leader and moved quickly to overturn Morales policies, while riot police repeatedly clashed with his supporters. Áñez flirted with a presidential run of her own, but she backed out in order to unify support behind the right's candidate, former President Carlos Mesa.

On Sunday, Arce, the candidate of Morales' Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, won the election. While official results aren't out as of this writing, independent studies suggest it was a walloping, driven by massive support for MAS in the countryside. Áñez has already publicly congratulated Arce on the win, reducing the likelihood of protests or rejection of the results by Mesa's supporters. For the Morales camp, the result offers political vindication after a year of upheaval and uncertainty.

Who is Luis Arce? As Morales' minister of finance and economy, the 57-year-old Arce was in the cockpit during the years when Bolivia's poverty rate dropped from two thirds of the population to less than 40 percent, and GDP soared.

But he's hardly Evo 2.0. Arce has none of the combative charisma of Morales, a highlander who grew up as a llama herder and once headed Bolivia's powerful coca growers union. A technocratic type from an urban middle-class family who studied economics in the UK, Arce's political style is basically "the polar opposite" of Morales, according to Oliver Stuenkel, a prominent regional analyst.

The challenge ahead. "We will govern for all Bolivians," Arce said Sunday, as he pledged to form a "unity government." It remains to be seen what that means, given that MAS has likely reinforced its strong control over Congress.

Regardless, to reunify a country deeply polarized along political, economic, and racial lines, Arce will need to craft a vision that appeals both to the predominantly rural, indigenous-dominated areas that are the MAS support base, as well as to the urban centers that align with the political right.

He'll also have to shake the suspicion that he's a stalking horse for Morales. During his campaign, Arce was careful to distance himself from Morales, and MAS party leaders now say they think Morales' time has passed. But he remains an influential figure who merits close attention, particularly if Arce opens the way for him to return from exile in Argentina.

The pandemic rages. Bolivia has suffered one of the highest COVID-19 death rates per 100,000 people in the world, in part because political uncertainty undermined the public health response. Meanwhile, the pandemic-driven collapse in demand for global commodities like natural gas and precious metals — which make up 80 percent of Bolivia's exports — has plunged the country into its worst economic crisis in decades, threatening to reverse the progress that Morales and Arce made in reducing poverty.

Bottom line: Arce's convincing victory shows that the left remains the dominant force in Bolivian politics. But after a year of trauma, can the mild-mannered successor to one of the region's most charismatic and visionary populists move Bolivia past its bitter polarization?

PUPPET REGIME: A "viral" US presidential endorsement

There aren't many undecided voters left, but in the latest Puppet Regime, a very influential player in US politics makes a long-awaited presidential endorsement. Who will benefit: Biden or Trump? See it here.

What We're Watching: Greek border wall, China’s economic rebound, US overtures to… Syria?

Carlos Santamaria

Build that wall... in Greece: The Greek government has finalized plans to build a wall along part of its eastern border with Turkey to prevent migrants from staging mass crossings to reach European Union territory. The move follows a March standoff between Athens and Ankara when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared he was "opening" the border because Turkey could no longer cope with so many migrants fleeing Syria. Since then, migrant flows via Turkey to the EU have declined dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic and tougher policing, but Greeks and Turks (as always) remain at odds over what to do with the migrants: Greece wants Turkey to do more to stop migrants crossing, while Turkey says Greece is sending back migrants who arrive at Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. As the two sides continue to bicker over this issue — and over energy rights in the Eastern Mediterranean — the only thing that's clear is that Greece won't demand that Turkey pay for the wall.


China's economic recovery: As most of the rest of the world grapples with a pandemic-fueled recession, the country where COVID-19 began is doing quite well. China's GDP grew 4.9 percent in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2019. That's slightly less than expected but still an impressive feat for a country whose economy contracted by a whopping 6.8 percent during the first quarter as China shut down the entire city of Wuhan and halted most economic activity to contain the coronavirus. Can Chinese consumers sustain the economic recovery — until now largely driven by a massive government stimulus program for state-controlled firms and online shopping — by spending more on brick-and-mortar retail and services? In the longer term, we're watching to see how the world's second largest economy will deal with long-term declining demand for its products in many of its major export markets.

An American in Damascus: The Wall Street Journal has reported that Kash Patel, the Trump administration's top counterterrorism official, recently traveled to Syria for secret talks with an unidentified official representing the Bashar al-Assad government. If true, it's the first known meeting between a senior US official and the Assad regime since the start of Syria's civil war a decade ago. The US halted diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012 in response to Assad's brutal crackdown on Syrian protesters and civilians. Patel's reported goal in Damascus was to win the release of some or all of (at least) six Americans held hostage by Assad's government. Trump's supporters will say this effort is a reminder that the president will talk with anyone to advance US interests, while his critics will call it a cynical last-minute attempt to boost his re-election chances. But we're watching this story, not to judge its political motivations or implications, but to see whether these talks can reunite hostages with their families.

Red Pen: Trump didn't break US foreign policy

Donald Trump has wrecked US foreign policy beyond repair, according to a recent Washington Post column by Josh Rogin. But in this week's Red Pen, Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group's Jeffrey Wright argue that the institutions are more resilient than Rogin thinks, and that Trump's America First approach reflects deeper domestic misgivings about America's global role that will outlast his presidency. Watch the video here.

Hard Numbers: Nagorno-Karabakh truce, US gun sales, toxic Indian air, Sudan's US payout

Carlos Santamaria

4: Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to a humanitarian ceasefire in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is suffering its worst violence in decades. It took just four minutes for the Armenians to accuse the Azeris of violating the truce by firing artillery shots and rockets. Azerbaijan, of course, sees things differently.


29 million: Instability and social unrest continue to drive US gun sales. The FBI conducted 29 million background checks for this year's arms sales through September, outpacing the number conducted in all of 2019. Keep in mind that neither gun companies nor the US government provides complete data on gun sales.

14: Of the world's 20 most polluted cities, 14 are in India. As seasonal air pollution worsens, irritating eyes and lungs, that could spell even more respiratory trouble for a country that has already suffered more than 7 million COVID-19 cases.

335 million: US President Donald Trump announced on Monday that he will remove Sudan from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism after Khartoum agreed to pay $335 million in damages to US terror victims. Removal from the list means Sudan will be eligible for much-needed international development assistance funding.

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This edition of Signal was written by Alex Kliment, Carlos Santamaria, and Willis Sparks. Spiritual counsel from Gabrielle Debinski in the mountains.

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