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What We’re Watching: Elections in Chile & Venezuela, Modi blinks, Chinese buffet ban

An extreme choice for Chilean president. Chileans go to the polls on Sunday for the first round of the presidential election. The two frontrunners are former lawmaker José Antonio Kast, a rightwinger who pines for Augusto Pinochet, and former student leader Gabriel Boric, who's moderated his positions from his more far-left days but still wants to spend big on social programs. Kast, who's benefited from rising anti-migrant sentiment, is currently leading in the polls, while Boric hasn't been able to campaign for two weeks after getting COVID. Still, Kast probably won't get 50 percent of the vote, meaning that things will go to a December runoff in which Boric is projected to have a slight edge. Just months ago, Chileans elected a largely left-leaning assembly to rewrite the Pinochet-era constitution following mass protests over rising inequality in late 2019. The next president will want to have a say in that process.

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New Venezuela talks: Maduro won, so what’s there to talk about?

You'd think that when a country suffers the worst peacetime economic collapse in modern history or generates the world's second largest refugee crisis, it would stay in the news for a while.

Not so with Venezuela, which, for all its struggles over the past three years, has fallen from global headlines.

Now's a good time to take a fresh look at this story, because later this week, the government of Nicolás Maduro will sit down with the opposition, still led nominally by "interim president" Juan Guaidó, to negotiate a path forward after nearly four years of political and economic crisis.

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What We're Watching: Modest hopes for Venezuelan talks, Israel-Poland diplomatic spat deepens, Ebola in the Ivory Coast

Will fresh talks help Venezuela? For just the fourth time in half a decade, the Maduro regime and opposition forces have met for fresh talks to try to chart a path forward for crisis-ridden Venezuela. The negotiations, held last week in Mexico City, were attended by both President Nicolás Maduro as well as opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who in 2019 declared himself interim president after an election widely viewed as rigged was met by mass protests. What's the aim of these talks? Well, depends who you ask. For Guaido's camp, the focus is on free and fair elections, the release of political prisoners, and human rights. (Maduro has shown some goodwill in recent days by agreeing to release opposition politician Freddy Guevara.) Maduro, on the other hand, is desperate to have crippling US sanctions lifted so Caracas doesn't have to rely as heavily on China, Russia and Iran. But because Maduro has refused to give up power, analysts say, the opposition's immediate goal now is to pave the way for local and regional elections in November, as well as to boost the COVID vaccine rollout. The next round of negotiations has been set for next month.

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What We're Watching: Indian farmer revolt, EU vs vaccine makers, Myanmar saber-rattling, Maduro's miracles

Angry farmers take Indian fort: In a major and violent escalation of ongoing protests over new agriculture laws, thousands of Indian farmers broke through police barricades and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi on Tuesday. At least one protester died in the chaos, while the government shut down internet service in parts of the capital. Farmers and the government are still deadlocked over the new laws, which liberalize agriculture markets in ways that farmers fear will undercut their livelihoods. The government has offered to suspend implementation for 18 months, but the farmers unions are pushing for a complete repeal. Given that some 60 percent of India's population works in agriculture, the standoff has become a major political test for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling BJP party.

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Returning Cuba to terror list is an 11th hour move by Pompeo and Trump

Does Cuba belong back on the US's State Sponsors of Terrorism list? The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board showed their support for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's decision on this issue in a recent opinion piece, "Cuba's Support for Terror." But in this edition of The Red Pen, Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analysts Risa Grais-Targow, Jeffrey Wright and Regina Argenzio argue that the WSJ's op-ed goes too far.

We are now just a few days away from the official end of Donald Trump's presidency, but the impacts of his latest moves in office will obviously last far beyond Joe Biden's inauguration. There's the deep structural political polarization, the ongoing investigations into the violence we saw at the Capitol, lord knows what happens over the next few days, there's also last-minute policy decisions here and abroad. And that's where we're taking our Red Pen this week, specifically US relations with Cuba.

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What We’re Watching: Hong Kong crackdown, Maduro tightens grip in Venezuela, WHO out of Wuhan

China cracks down (again) on Hong Kong democracy: In the largest crackdown since China introduced its Hong Kong security law six months ago, police arrested 53 members of the city's pro-democracy movement. The detainees — who had helped organize an unofficial primary vote for opposition candidates ahead of elections later this year — are accused of trying to overthrow the city's pro-Beijing government. One of those jailed is a US lawyer and American citizen. In the same operation, police also raided the home of Joshua Wong, a prominent activist who is already serving a one-year prison term for standing up to China's takeover of Hong Kong. China says the activists are backed by foreigners who want to use Hong Kong as a base to undermine China's stability and security, while the opposition argues that China is just using the new law to silence legitimate dissent. Now, with most pro-democracy figures behind bars or in exile, the mass street protests that prompted the passage of the security law are unlikely to return, and the future of democracy in the city is bleak.

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A turning point for Venezuela?

For nearly two years, two men have claimed to be president in Venezuela. But after legislative elections over the weekend, one of them may finally lose out.

President Nicolás Maduro's sweeping victory in Sunday's vote will cement his grip on power, while raising big questions about the future of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized by the US and other democracies as "interim president" since 2019. Guaidó and his supporters had gambled on boycotting the election because they said it would be rigged. But now, as a result, he has lost his perch as speaker of the National Assembly, and with it, his legal claim to the presidency.

What does the aftermath of the election mean for the two men vying to rule the country?

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What We're Watching: Putin recruits Maduro, Lebanon's new prime minister, Rwandan "hero" arrested

Caracas looks for volunteers to test Russian vaccine: Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro is looking to recruit volunteers to test Russia's controversial COVID-19 vaccine. The Venezuelan government, which relies on billions of dollars in loans from the Kremlin, says it will take part in Russia's clinical trial despite the fact that the drug has been broadly criticized by the scientific community for not going through adequate phases of testing to ensure its safety and utility. After announcing in late August that he would offer up some 500 Venezuelan volunteers to participate in the drug trial, Maduro, whose government has been increasingly isolated after dozens of countries recognized Juan Guaidó as the country's legitimate leader in 2019, was scrambling on Monday to recruit enough guinea pigs to avoid disappointing Vladimir Putin, one of his (very) few remaining allies. Maduro also said he would be first in line to take the Russian drug when mass vaccinations start in October. We'll be watching to see if he keeps his pledge.

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