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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: Afghanistan's progress, Venezuela's opposition boycotts, EU vs "illiberals"

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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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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