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Starved for Loyalty in Venezuela

Starved for Loyalty in Venezuela

Let’s imagine that you are hungry. Very, very hungry. So hungry, in fact, that you have lost more than 20 pounds over the past year because of a political and humanitarian crisis caused by your government.


Now let’s imagine that a representative of that government shows up with boxes of food. You can have one of the boxes, but only if you can prove — by scanning your national ID card — that you voted in the last election, which they rigged to keep themselves in power.

This dystopian scenario is currently playing out daily in Venezuela, where the government of President Nicolas Maduro has harnessed the power of technology to turn food into an instrument of repression.

At the end of 2016, Maduro launched the Homeland Card (Carnet de la Patria) a government-issued ID — developed by the Chinese tech giant ZTE — that details its holder’s socioeconomic status, benefit entitlements, and participation in elections. About half of the country’s 30 million citizens carry them so far.

In principle, this system makes it easier to prevent electoral fraud and target benefits to those who need them, particularly among poorer people who lack other forms of identification. But in practice, the government has used it to enforce loyalty and, critically, to boost turnout ahead of what will be a manifestly unfree presidential election in May, which the fractured opposition has chosen to boycott.

Using scarce food to coerce loyalty from a starving population is neither new nor unique to the 21st century Bolivarian revolution, of course. (Here’s a video of it happening in Syria last week.)

But the Venezuela story shows how technology can increase the efficiency of repression when it’s in malevolent hands. A harrowing reminder that the benefits of surrendering personal data to governments (or companies) extend only so far as the good intentions of the people who control it.

Carbon has a bad rep, but did you know it's a building block of life? As atoms evolved, carbon trapped in CO2 was freed, giving way to the creation of complex molecules that use photosynthesis to convert carbon to food. Soon after, plants, herbivores, and carnivores began populating the earth and the cycle of life began.

Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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