The Endgame In Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro faces his toughest test since coming to office in 2013, as a mounting wave of street protests fueled by a newly-energized opposition have plunged the country into political crisis. Maduro was able to weather similar challenges to his power in 2015 and 2017, but there's reason to think he might not be so lucky this time around.


First, a charismatic figure, Juan Guaido, has emerged as a singular voice to lead the previously fragmented domestic opposition to Maduro's regime.

Second, the opposition has vocal external support. The US, along with regional powers like Brazil and Colombia (Mexico is the notable exception), strongly backs Guaido, and most of Europe is now looking to follow the US lead. Yesterday, the US placed sanctions on Venezuelan state-owned oil giant PDVSA, further squeezing the regime's main economic lifeline.

Third, Venezuelans desperately want to end an economic and humanitarian catastrophe that has seen the economy shrink by half since 2015, driven 90 percent of the population into poverty, and is expected to cause another 2 million people to flee the country this year.

But unlocking change in Venezuela will take more than simply sustaining popular protest. The key for Maduro is whether the country's deeply entrenched military remains on his side. Here are three ways the endgame could play out:

The bait-and-switch: Maduro could step down, flee the country, and allow someone else from the military to take over. A senior diplomat tells us that Russia, which has reportedly sent military contractors to protect Maduro, would like to see him flee to Cuba, making way for a suitably anti-American figure to take his place.

A brokered solution: Guaido and the military could strike a deal to oust Maduro and share power, guaranteeing his inner circle protection from prosecution. Guiado has already offered amnesty to soldiers that decide to abandon Maduro.

An opposition-led government: The government could also hold genuine elections – and respect the results. While the US and Europe might prefer this outcome, it remains the least likely. Barring heavy US military support, any new government will require the support of members of the existing regime. That will preclude the opposition from wielding complete control.

The bottom line: The opposition will hold major rallies tomorrow and Saturday. More important than the support of outside actors, the real test for Maduro and Venezuela will be how the military decides to respond.

Wrecking the global economy's hopes for a relaxing late-August Friday, China and the US have taken fresh shots at each other in their deepening trade war.

First, China announced new tariffs on US goods in response to US levies on China's exports that are set to take effect next month.

Trump responded with a vintage tweet storm, lashing out at China and demanding that US firms stop doing business there. The Dow plunged as markets waited for the next shoe to drop. And drop it did: later in the day Trump announced higher tariffs on nearly everything that China exports to the United States.

Why now? Bear in mind, all of this comes right as Trump is leaving for this weekend's G7 summit in France. That gathering already promised to be a testy one – but with the global economy slowing, the impact of Trump's increasingly nasty trade war with China will add fresh tensions to the occasion.

So where are we in the trade war now? Here is an updated list of what measures each side has imposed to date, and what's next. Both sides have a lot at stake, but from the looks of it, the list isn't going to get shorter any time soon.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.