Three Stories in the Key of: Vacuums

Vacuums. Great for picking up dust, powering vintage amplifiers, or running a 27-mile long pre-war New York mail delivery system straight out of Jules Verne. But when it comes to political stability or defense of national interests, vacuums can be a challenge. Here’s a look at three spots around on the world where the void is the problem…


In Colombia, the demobilization of thousands of FARC guerrillas under the 2016 peace accords has left a power vacuum in parts of the country that narco-traffickers and other guerrilla groups have hastened to fill. Re-establishing state authority over these areas is indispensable to any serious effort at implementing the peace accords, which are already a deeply polarizing issue in the country as it heads for the second round of presidential elections in June.

In Syria, meanwhile, ISIS has lost almost all of the territory it controlled in the eastern reaches of the country, but no one has stepped in to govern. Notwithstanding its hideous and fanatical brutality, ISIS did run a real “state” replete with ministries, taxes, and even a DMV, as an extraordinary recent investigation showed. With no one around to provide basic services and security, ethnic and sectarian tensions are on the rise — until someone steps in to sustainably fill the power vacuum there isn’t a prayer of seeing stability, let alone peace, in Syria.

Lastly, a vacuum of a slightly different sort as US lawmakers advance new legislation that would substantially increase Congress’s power to review and block foreign investment in critical industries. The move doesn’t explicitly target any particular country, but the intent is clear: Senator John Cornyn sounded the alarm about China’s bid to, in his words, “weaponize investment in order to vacuum up all of our advanced technologies.”

It was inevitable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would make India's elections a referendum on Narendra Modi, and now that the vast majority of 600 million votes cast have been counted, it's clear he made the right call.

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Among the 23 men and women now seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to take on Donald Trump in next year's election, the frontrunner, at least for now, has spent half a century in politics. Former Vice President Joe Biden, first elected to the US Senate in 1972, is the very epitome of the American political establishment.

Yet, the dominant political trend in many democracies today is public rejection of traditional candidates and parties of the center-right and center-left in favor of new movements, voices, and messages. Consider the evidence from some recent elections:

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It's Friday, and Signal readers deserve at least one entirely upbeat news story.

José Obdulio Gaviria, a Colombian senator for the rightwing Democratic Center party, is an outspoken opponent of government attempts to make peace with the FARC rebel group after 50 years of conflict.

On his way into a meeting earlier this week, Gaviria collapsed. It was later reported that he had fainted as a result of low blood pressure probably caused by complications following recent open heart surgery.

A political rival, Senator Julian Gallo, quickly came to his rescue and revived him using resuscitation skills he learned as—irony alert—a FARC guerrilla. CPR applied by Gallo helped Gaviria regain consciousness, before another senator, who is also professional doctor, took over. Gaviria was taken to hospital and appears to have recovered.

Because some things will always be more important than politics.