Across the world, from the Philippines to Hungary to Venezuela, nations have embraced authoritarian rule in recent years, in many cases with significant popular support. What is the enduring appeal of authoritarianism, what has the pandemic done to accelerate its growth, and how susceptible is the United States to its sway? Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum joins Ian Bremmer on GZERO World to investigate the allure of these anti-democratic movements and to shed light on their unlikely champions.
Listen: From the Philippines to Hungary to Venezuela, countries across the world have embraced authoritarian rule, in many cases with significant popular support. What is the enduring appeal of authoritarianism, how susceptible is the United States to its sway, and what has the pandemic done to accelerate its growth? Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anne Applebaum joins Ian Bremmer to discuss.
Colombian President Iván Duque earlier this week announced that as many as 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants currently in Colombia will now be authorized to live and work legally in the country for ten years.
As humanitarian gestures by world leaders go, it's hard to find something on this scale in recent history.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's fateful "Wir schaffen das" (We can do this) decision in 2015 allowed up to one million refugees to apply for asylum. Duque's move, by contrast, welcomes nearly twice that number of people to stay for at least a decade.
Bold as it is, it could also be deeply unpopular. To refresh, Colombia has received almost a third of the roughly 5 million Venezuelans who have fled economic collapse and political chaos in their home country in recent years. That's more than any other country, by far.
And while many Colombians were initially welcoming to their neighbors in need — in part because in the 1980s and 1990s Venezuela was a refuge for millions of Colombians fleeing violence themselves — attitudes have hardened over time.
Two thirds of Colombians now oppose Venezuelans staying in Colombia, and three quarters say the Venezuelan border should remain closed even after pandemic-related entry restrictions are lifted, according to a January survey by the Medellín-based pollster Invamer.
In part that's because of economic concerns: with the official unemployment rate at close to 16 percent, many Colombians worry about competition to find jobs. Social media-fueled rumors about Venezuelans being responsible for crime spikes in Colombia's big cities have added to the stigma, even though — like most social media rumors — they've been disproven.
Normalizing the status of 1.7 million people will doubtless add to those pressures, while also potentially encouraging more refugees to come if they think there will be further amnesties of this kind in the future.
So why is Duque — struggling with a mere 36 percent approval rating — doing it? For one thing, there are moral and even international legal arguments for the obligation to protect refugees. But there is also a very strong practical one: what's the alternative?
While some Venezuelan refugees have opted to return home — as GZERO media found last July — the overwhelming majority will stay.
Giving them a way to do so legally makes it possible for them to join the formal economy, where they can earn normal wages, receive benefits, and pay taxes. And it gives the state the ability to better keep track of who is in the country and where. Importantly, once they have status, they will be eligible for COVID vaccines — a subject of some recent controversy when Duque said that undocumented Venezuelans wouldn't get the jab.
The alternative is to leave close to two million people in a state of legal and financial limbo, increasing their desperation, making it easier for them not only to undercut Colombian workers, but to be targeted and recruited by criminal groups.It's by no means an easy decision, and Duque could yet pay a steep political price. What would you have done if you were Duque? Please let us know.
The exodus of Venezuelan nationals is currently the world's second largest refugee crisis, exceeded only by the one in Syria. Of the close to 5 million Venezuelans currently living outside their country, more than 80 percent are located throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, with the lion's share hosted by neighboring Colombia. How might Colombian President Iván Duque's move to grant all of them temporary legal status affect other nations' policies towards Venezuelan migrants and refugees? We take a look at which other Latin American countries have sizable populations of Venezuelans at the moment.
Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics on this week's World In (More Than) 60 Seconds:
Number one, why did Colombia's president grant legal status to 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants?
Well, because they have them, first of all. Because given the extraordinary economic collapse and the human rights abuses of Venezuelans under the Maduro presidency, not to mention the coronavirus crisis making their lives even worse, they've been fleeing, and most of them have ended up in Colombia. Not providing legal status means they can't work, means they have no path for a future. Some of them have even fled back to Venezuela or returned to Venezuela, and again just shows just how critically difficult their life has been. It's a humanitarian gesture of pretty staggering degree. It makes an enormous difference in the lives of these people. Think about how the United States under Biden now preparing to accept 125,000 refugees per year, up 10 times from what it was just a year ago, the world's most powerful country. The wealthy countries never get overwhelmed with refugees the way the poorest countries do. It's states in Sub-Saharan Africa and it's South and Southeast Asia and it's Latin America, and in the Western hemisphere, it's been Colombia.
Venezuela has been the biggest humanitarian crisis and catastrophe and the Colombian government has had to deal with millions of Venezuelan refugees and now they're taking responsibility. And the United States should be fully supportive and should provide humanitarian aid to help the Colombian government deal with this very significant lift, and also to try to reduce the level of anti-Venezuelan sentiment. Because, of course, when you have that many refugees, they're not doing very well. There's going to be domestic criticism, that it's an eyesore, that they're criminals, that they're bringing, they're spreading disease. And the more capable the Colombian government is to actually economically integrate these people and to get them into positions where they can take care of themselves. They can provide for themselves, their family, the better it'll for everybody. So quite some good news in an environment that desperately needs it.
Okay, number two. What are the political ramifications of Netanyahu's corruption trial?
Here, we're talking about a sitting prime minister in Israel who has been indicted for corruption charges and is now facing a trial. And just yesterday, he sat in the docks and left after about half hour and he says, "It's a witch hunt." He says, "The judicial system is rigged." It's actually very analogous to the way that former President Donald Trump has treated his own two now impeachment cases in the United States. Some would say that the Israeli legal system works well because even a sitting prime minister can be forced to stand trial. Lots of other people think that the level of Netanyahu refusing to take seriously the claims and the cases undermining it in public and social media, the fact that most of Netanyahu's supporters agree that it's rigged, just as kind of most of Trump's supporters believe that the last election was stolen, it's actually undermining rule of law in the one government across the Middle East that has been the strongest consolidated democracy in terms of legitimacy of political institutions and unrest. And yes, I know we're not talking about the Palestinians in the occupied territory, but we are talking about everybody, including Palestinians and Arabs and the rest that are living inside Israel proper under Israeli law. And what's happening right now in Israel, I think is creating more polarization and is starting to delegitimize the institutions in that country. Netanyahu's trying to get another delay in the case and the calling witnesses until after elections at the end of March. Of course, elections are happening now in Israel every few months. So, extend and pretend, that's what Netanyahu's strategy is and he has proven to be quite a survivor on the Israeli political stage.
Finally, what is going on with Elon Musk and Bitcoin?
Well, damned if I know, because Elon Musk, in addition to being the most wealthy person in the world, also has a fairly insane social media feed and frequently writes about and tweets about anything imaginable on his mind, which given how many followers he has and given how much money he has puts him in a position of pretty extraordinary power. Now, look, I personally think that when the world's wealthiest man decided to tweet out in favor of GameStop with his tens of millions of followers, a stock that had virtually no underlying value, and therefore individually did more to pump up that stock and as a consequence put enormous numbers of rank-and-file retail investors at risk because they believe Elon. I think that's irresponsible. It's not illegal. There's nothing illegal about it, but it's incredibly irresponsible. I tell you, it bothers me that the wealthiest man in the world, and therefore one of the most powerful men in the world, has so limited regard for civil society, has so limited regard for the wellbeing of his fellow citizens, both in the United States and globally. And we can say he's doing fantastic things as an entrepreneur. And by the way, I do think that Elon Musk as an entrepreneur, as a technologist has been staggeringly successful, and I am thankful for that. In terms of not just electric vehicles, but also his willingness to invest in space and his willingness to set up prizes to get better development and advanced technologies and the Hyperloop and all of these things. Some of which will work, many of which will not, but we need people taking risks like that.
But that is very different than his public presence on issues of policy, on issues that affect the average human being, where I think he has been one of the most irresponsible forces in the country and that deeply bothers me and it's why the fact that he's putting an enormous amount of money into Bitcoin, his company has, Tesla, where he's a 20% owner and he is also putting Bitcoin symbol in his bio on social media. Oh, see this is what's going on, Dogecoin, everyone should invest in Dogecoin going to the moon. It doesn't mean anything. It's completely speculative. It moves a lot of money. And maybe it's just a game to him and maybe it's just a game to Dave Portnoy over at Barstool Sports. But these people are hurting people and they're hurting people just as much as the folks that are promoting fake news on the left and on the right in the mainstream media and the trolls on social media. And I think that with that kind of money and that kind of influence, you should take some responsibility. There's a reason why I personally don't buy stocks and currencies, and frankly it's because as someone who is a public figure with nowhere close to the level of reach and influence that someone like Elon has, I don't want the conflicts of interest. I want people to view my perspective as having authenticity and I think that there's some responsibility behind that and you can't be, if you're talking your book or if people think that you're talking your book, it undermines it.
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.
EU threatens vaccine export controls: Fed up with delays in vaccine supply, the EU is threatening to impose export controls on the jabs unless pharma companies hand over more doses. The threat comes after Italy threatened to sue Pfizer for cutting the amount of vaccine doses it would supply, and AstraZeneca — whose jab has yet to be approved for use by EU health regulators — announced it'll cut supplies to the bloc by 60 percent. That nuclear option will likely be met with strong pushback from the pharmaceuticals, and may delay delivery of EU-made jabs bound for non-EU countries. Brussels is running out of options to ensure the 27 EU member states get enough vaccines to ramp up immunization as the continent suffers a third wave of the pandemic, and before new COVID strains potentially render the vaccines less effective. We're watching to see how the drug makers react to the threat of export controls, and whether the problem drags on and thus sets back the EU's plans of achieving herd immunity in a few months' time.
Coup in Myanmar? More than ten weeks after Myanmar held only its second national election since democracy was "restored" less than a decade ago, the outcome is still in limbo over objections from the party backed by the military. The now-dominant National League for Democracy has claimed a landslide win in the December vote. But the generals — whose party ran the show until 2015 — have alleged voter fraud, and ominously warned they may "take action" if the election commission doesn't fully investigate. Under the 2008 constitution, the military-backed party is entitled to a quarter of all seats in parliament and the national security portfolios in the cabinet, but the military has long aimed to become a viable alternative to the NLD, which is headed by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Until now, Suu Kyi has kept the generals at bay by sharing some power, but in Myanmar — where the military has ruled for most of the country's post-independence history — Suu Kyi needs to watch her back.
What We're IgnoringMaduro's "miracle" drug: Finally, a cure for COVID! Easy to take! No side effects! Tastes great! Gives your hair a luscious sheen, acts as a mosquito repellent, and might just help you find the perfect parking spot! Forgive us for ignoring Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's claims that he has hit upon a miracle treatment for coronavirus. He claims that the new drug, Carvativir, was tested for nine months in a Caracas hospital but he has offered no scientific evidence for his claims. We are skeptical, but — but! — if Maduro is willing to throw in a free bottle of Original Orinoco Snake Oil as part of the package, we'll take the plunge and order up a case of Carvativir anyway.
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.
The Trump administration this past week declared Cuba a "state sponsor of terrorism." Just to remind you, the Obama administration removed Cuba from that list in 2015 as part of a broader opening with the communist country. The Wall Street Journal editorial board is a big fan of the decision to put it back on the list.
Cuba has problems when it comes to human rights and suppression of political opponents, plus close ties to countries that the United States hardly friendly with, like Iran and Venezuela. But we think this op-ed actually goes too far, as does Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's parting shot of putting that nation back on this list.
So, let's get to it. First, The Editorial Board writes that "Cuba will attempt to coax Joe Biden to resume Mr. Obama's courtship, but the regime never honored its promises at home or abroad."
Well, Cuba wasn't really given a chance, and that wasn't the point. Trump started to roll back Obama's policies immediately after becoming president. Obama intended to engage the Cuban population and encourage economic opening with the United States as a way to bring about political change. The policy was never about the communist regime's "promises."
Next, the Wall Street Journal argues that Cuba is responsible for the "collapse of Venezuela's democracy." Maduro "survives in power thanks to Cuba," and Venezuela has become a "base for transnational crime and terrorism."
Now, it's true, Cuba has and does support the Maduro regime. So have Russia, Turkey, China, and Iran. US sanctions have also deepened Venezuela's crisis. And the United States doesn't seem so concerned about Venezuela being a terrorist base since Venezuela is not actually on the terrorist list itself.
The op-ed also states that Cuba has "deepened and broadened its commitment to terrorism," and that the nation harbors terrorists and criminals wanted by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
By this standard it's true, but many US allies would also need to make the list. Saudi Arabia for example, has long harbored people suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks. France refuses to extradite its own citizens to face US courts. And by the way, the United States has harbored many anti-Castro exiles who have committed acts of violence in Cuba.
Now Cuba is far from being blameless, but that's not the point. Why put Cuba back on this list now? The decision has a lot more to do with the US political calendar than anything Cuba has done. The 11th hour move is intended to complicate Biden's Cuba plans, nothing more.
It was Ronald Reagan who first added Cuba to the terrorism list back in 1982, and the US had embargoes in place with Cuba for nearly 50 years. Communist government is still in power and still repressive.
What makes Trump, or the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, think this time around is going to be any different? It feels more like another mess to toss at the incoming president and his administration.
Add it to the growing pile.
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.
Maduro takes over parliament in Venezuela: Following recent elections largely boycotted by the opposition, allies of Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro officially took control over the country's National Assembly this week. For the past several years the Assembly had been the only part of the government not in Maduro's grasp. During that time, the body was headed by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who in 2018-2019 led mass protests over the authoritarian drift and economic incompetence of the Maduro regime, and was recognized as "interim president" by the US, EU, and most Latin American democracies. Since then, Guaidó's star has fallen – Maduro held his ground, the streets got tired, and the opposition couldn't unify. Now, Guaidó is left heading a shadow assembly that will still meet but has no real power, and his foreign backers will have to reassess whether continuing to support him is the best way to advance their interests in Venezuela.Wuhan cover-up 2.0? World Health Organization experts investigating the origins of the coronavirus have been denied entry to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the initial outbreak of COVID-19 was reported over a year ago. China and the WHO — which for some were too cozy early in the pandemic — have been negotiating for months over this mission, which aims in part to assess whether the virus in fact came from a meat market or elsewhere. After taking flack for covering up the initial outbreak in Wuhan, Beijing had promised to be more forthcoming, but keeping WHO fact-finders out of Wuhan shows that Xi Jinping is still wary of any probe or evidence that might undermine China's international reputation — especially at a time when Beijing is deploying its COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy to win arms and minds in dozens of developing countries. But the world wants to know more about what happened in Wuhan, will credible answers ever emerge?