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FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attends to a military event in Caracas, Venezuela August 4, 2018.

Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Is Maduro behind a murder in Chile?

On Sunday, Chilean prosecutors said they had arrested a suspect in the murder of Ronald Ojeda, a 32-year-old Venezuelan ex-lieutenant and vocal critic of the government of President Nicolás Maduro, who was found dead in Santiago on Friday. Authorities said the lack of ransom demands and Ojeda's political history means he may have been abducted and killed by Venezuelan agents.

Ojeda had fled Caracas for Santiago in 2017, where he lived as a political refugee. He was charged with treason by the Venezuelan government in January, just weeks before he was abducted by four armed men on Feb. 21. His body was found encased in cement in a suitcase following a nine-day search. The detained suspect is a 17-year-old Venezuelan national.

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Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro addresses supporters at an event, in Caracas, Venezuela January 23, 2024.

REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria

​Venezuela defies the US on elections

Maybe there was never a good enough carrot to get Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to hold a real election, but with his latest move, the “21st-century socialist” strongman seems willing to suffer the stick rather than face his voters.

Last week, his top court disqualified popular opposition leader Maria Corina Machado ahead of presidential elections that must be held later this year. That move violated a 2023 deal with the US in which Washington loosened crippling sanctions on Venezuela’s lucrative oil sector in exchange for a promise to hold a free vote.

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2023's biggest winners and losers in global politics

THE WINNERS

Putin

To be fair, things aren’t great for Vladimir Putin – NATO is still stronger, and his economy is weaker than it’d be if he hadn’t invaded Ukraine. But from a low bar, 2023 was a clear winner for the Russian strongman. Ukraine’s vaunted counteroffensive failed to impress, Western attempts to cap the price of Russian oil faltered, and even an insurrection by his warlord-in-chief only seemed to make him stronger. Putin heads into 2024 happily watching the US Congress squabble over further aid for Ukraine, and who knows, next Christmas might just come early for the Kremlin if Donald Trump can win the US election in November.

Trump

Speaking of which, at the top of this year, the twice-impeached Teflon Don looked like he’d be getting fitted for a prison jumpsuit rather than filing campaign papers. But the bevy of state and federal legal cases against him – some of which were hard for non-lawyers to make sense of – only fired up his base. As a result, he’s not only miles ahead of any GOP challengers for the 2024 nomination, some polls also show him outright leading Joe Biden, who has suffered with voters because of perceptions of his age, inflation, a migration crisis at the southern border, and his controversial handling of the Gaza war.

India

This year, India eclipsed China as the world’s most populous country, defended its title as the fastest-growing major economy, and even landed a spacecraft on the moon. At the same time, PM Narendra Modi used his country’s 2023 presidency of the G20 and his deepening ties with the US to position himself as a vitally important diplomatic bridge-builder between the wealthy G7 countries and the developing nations of the so-called Global South. Popular at home, increasingly influential abroad, and with a flag on the moon to boot, Modi – who faces elections in 2024 – has guided his country to a winner of a year.

Nicolás Maduro

It was a feliz 2023 indeed for the strongman of Caracas. Most of the world quietly stopped supporting his erstwhile rival Juan Guaidó (remember him?), and rising global oil prices forced Washington to rethink its financial stranglehold on Caracas, offering oil sanctions relief in exchange only for some spotty promises that Maduro will hold a free and fair presidential election next year (fat chance.) By the end of 2023, an emboldened Maduro was even feeling frisky enough to threaten to invade his neighbor Guyana.

People willing to play Golf in Saudi Arabia

At first, it seemed inconceivable. Surely the whispers about Saudi Arabia offering golfers hundred-million-dollar contracts to defect to the desert were just fairway gossip, right? But Riyadh made it real when the Saudi-backed upstart LIV Golf absorbed the 107-year-old PGA Golf Tour in June. Critics said the Saudis were just “sportswashing” away an awful human rights record, but supporters said it was time to bust the PGA’s stuffy old monopoly. Meanwhile, the greens look even greener as prize money grows, and even the last-place finishers in LIV tournaments can take home $120,000!

THE LOSERS

AI Cassandras

In March, Elon Musk and a group of artificial intelligence leaders published an open letter warning that AI systems posed “profound risks to society and humanity” and called for a “public and verifiable” six-month pause in “the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.”

It didn’t happen. Increasingly complex and powerful AI systems may indeed pose existential dangers for the human race (alongside their tremendous benefits), but a global pause in any form of technological progress – let alone one this pervasive, powerful, or flat-out entertaining – is impossible to enforce. For the Ancient Greeks, it was Cassandra’s fate to be ignored. But wasn’t it also her destiny to be correct? 2024 will be a huge year for AI.

Benjamin Netanyahu

The wily rightwinger returned to power in Israel late 2022 despite his ongoing legal troubles, but it’s been downhill since. All summer, he faced massive protests over his plan to weaken Israel’s courts. Then, the biggest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust occurred on his watch, prompting fierce domestic criticism of the failures of intelligence and strategy that enabled Hamas to attack on Oct. 7. Israeli society broadly supports Bibi’s stated aims of defanging Hamas and bringing home the hostages (two goals that may in fact be in conflict), but a majority of Israelis still want him to resign.

Migrants on the move

This year the political winds began to shift swiftly against migrants and asylum seekers seeking new lives in the world’s leading economies. In the EU, the number of migrants neared levels not seen since the Syrian refugee crisis in 2016, boosting anti-immigrant politicians and forcing the EU to tighten asylum rules in a long-debated migration policy reform. Meanwhile, in the US, record numbers of undocumented migrants crossed the southern border, empowering Republicans in Congress to hold up funding for Ukraine for tighter border policies. Expect tough talk on migration to play well in the EU Parliament elections next June and the US presidential election in November.

Imran Khan

The hugely popular former Pakistani Prime Minister – who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in 2022 – went from looking like he might sweep back to power in elections this year to being locked up in prison, forced to use an AI replica to get his message out. He was imprisoned in August on corruption charges that he and his followers say are bogus, and the elections that were supposed to return him to power were postponed until next year. His legal troubles may keep him off the ballot entirely. Still, he remains an immensely potent force in Pakistani politics, making a 2024 comeback impossible to rule out.

People who opposed coups in Africa

On the heels of coups last year in Mali and Burkina Faso, this year saw governments deposed in both Niger and Gabon. Niger’s democratically-elected government was overthrown by soldiers from the presidential guard in July. Similarly, Gabon military officers seized power in August, unseating the longtime president shortly after he was declared the winner of a contested election. The recent coups come amid a larger trend of increasingly frequent coups in the region – nine over the past three years – which have harmed economic well-being and raised concerns about regional security.

​The very biggest losers: Anyone who didn’t subscribe to the GZERO Daily Newsletter

A no-brainer right here. Anyone who wasn’t getting the Daily in 2023 lost out on the best daily dose of global politics that’s out there – delivered right to your inbox with insight, kindness, and humor. The good news is you can still subscribe – sign up here, and you’ll already be a 2024 winner before the year has even begun!


Colombia hosts meeting on Venezuelan political crisis.

Reuters

Colombia convenes new Venezuela summit

Representatives from about 20 countries, including the US, gathered in Bogotá on Tuesday as part of the Colombian government’s push to restart talks between Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro and the fractious opposition. Neither side has sent representatives, but both say they support the event.

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Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro.

Reuters

Maduro’s not going anywhere. What comes next for Venezuela?

Just four years ago, most observers would have bet good money that Nicolás Maduro’s days at the top were numbered.

In 2018, Venezuela’s strongman president had declared himself the winner after a reelection battle that was broadly considered to be rigged. Maduro’s subsequent crackdown on anti-government protesters made him one of the world’s most reviled and isolated leaders.

It’s now been 10 years since Maduro, the foreign minister at the time, was handed the top job, and his power is more entrenched than ever. How has the Venezuelan despot survived and what might this mean for the country's politics and its people?

Meet Maduro. A former bus driver from Caracas, Maduro got his political training as a young man in Cuba. Upon returning to Venezuela, he became a big shot in the union movement and in leftist politics as a member of the United Socialist Party.

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Luisa Vieria.

Stories we overlooked in 2022

A handful of stories – the war in Ukraine, China’s zero-COVID policy, and US elections – have dominated much of the media coverage this year. Meanwhile, many other crucial global stories have been woefully undercovered. We take a look at four of them.

Venezuela: The challenge of migrating again

Since strongman President Nicolás Maduro responded with an iron fist to widespread protests in 2014 over shortages of goods and sky-high inflation, Venezuela has been subject to more severe US economic sanctions that have put its already-struggling economy on life support. (One of the first sanctions was imposed by the Bush administration in 2006 over Caracas’ failure to crack down on drug trafficking and terrorism.)

As a result of the economic and political crises gripping the country, more than 7 million Venezuelans have fled since 2015, making it one of the world’s largest migrant crises. For those who stayed behind, their quality of life is abysmal: Joblessness is rife, the medical system is in tatters, and more than 67% live in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, most of those who fled sought refuge in Latin America, mainly in Colombia, where they have struggled to find jobs – forcing many women to resort to sex work or even to sell their hair to survive.

But 2022 brought fresh challenges for Venezuela's migrant population. Global inflation has disrupted Latin America’s gig economy, which many Venezuelan migrants rely on to get by. As a result, thousands have been forced to uproot their lives – again – resulting in new migration routes to North America.

Consider that in the first 10 months of this year, Venezuelans accounted for 70% of people who trekked through the Darien Gap, a perilous crossing between Colombia and Panama that’s submerged in dense jungle and swarming with drug cartels and guerrilla groups. The US recently lifted some sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector in a bid to offset losses from Russia. But Washington is still a long way off from reaching any agreements with the Maduro regime that would rescue Caracas’ economy.

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January 6th Committee votes on criminal referrals against Trump.

Reuters

What We're Watching: Jan 6. panel's final report, Japan's nuclear U-turn, Fiji's unresolved election, Venezuela's opposition shakeup  ​

Jan. 6 committee suggests Congress ban Trump from office

After an 18-month inquiry, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol has released its final report, blaming Donald J. Trump of a “multi-part conspiracy” to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and of failing to stop the insurrection when he knew the situation was spiraling out of control. The report also points fingers at some of Trump’s former wingmen – such as Mark Meadows, Trump’s final White House chief of staff, and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani – naming them as potential “co-conspirators.” So what now? The report lays out steps to prevent this sort of calamity from happening again, including a proposal to strengthen the 14th Amendment's ban on insurrectionists that would prevent Trump and his enablers from ever holding office again. Though the report – which Trump has called “highly partisan” – carries no legal weight, it sends a powerful message to the US Justice Department, which is conducting its own investigation into the Jan. 6 attack.

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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Reuters

Why Washington is chatting up Nicolás Maduro again

You can isolate some of the oil-rich strongmen all of the time, or all of the oil-rich strongmen some of the time, but that’s about it these days, as Joe Biden is quickly learning.

Last week, it emerged that the White House is exploring ways to relax certain sanctions against the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro. Under a proposed deal, Washington would allow US oil major Chevron to resume exporting oil from the country while Maduro, for his part, would agree to restart talks with the opposition about free and fair elections.

As a reminder, a 2018 crisis brought on by Maduro’s repression and economic mismanagement drove millions of Venezuelans abroad. It also landed the country under “maximum pressure” financial and energy sanctions from the US, which were designed to squeeze Maduro — the heir to “21st Century Socialist” Hugo Chávez — from power.

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