What We're Watching: A fracas in Caracas

A fracas in Caracas – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido was voted out as speaker of the country's Congress over the weekend after soldiers stopped him from entering the building. (He tried to jump a fence, but was stopped by soldiers with riot shields.) That allowed an ally of strongman Nicolas Maduro's government to claim the post instead. Guaido, whom the US and several other countries have recognized as Venezuela's legitimate leader, won a second vote by lawmakers who gathered at the offices of an opposition newspaper, and he's contesting what some people are calling a "parliamentary coup." Guaido called the fracas "another blunder" by the regime and pushed through the military cordon on Tuesday onto the floor of Congress, where he and his supporters chanted "here, the people rule!" Still, the duelling claims to the speakership are yet another blow to his sputtering anti-Maduro insurgency.


John Bolton – On Monday, President Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton issued a statement that "if the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify" in the Senate impeachment trial. That's a potentially big deal, because Bolton, formerly a key player in Trump's foreign policy team, is widely respected among Republicans, and many Democrats believe his testimony would prove deeply embarrassing, and perhaps politically damaging, for the president. Bolton will testify only if 51 senators—and, therefore, at least four Republicans—vote to make it happen. We'll be watching to see if Bolton is called to testify, what the White House might do to try to stop him, how Bolton's testimony is shared with the public, and exactly what he has to say.

Spain has a (fragile) government – After nearly a year of caretaker government, Spain's socialist leader Pedro Sanchez secured a (very) narrow parliamentary majority on Monday, allowing him to form the first coalition government in modern Spain's history. Sanchez's Socialist party, which finished first in two inconclusive elections in 2019, was finally able to form a government thanks to the backing of smaller regional parties, including a grouping of Catalan separatists. With his coalition partner, the left-wing Unidas Podemos party, Sanchez will push for tax increases for high-income earners and other new policies. But in the highly fractious parliament, the government will need to negotiate with other parties to pass legislation – including those disgruntled separatist lawmakers who want a binding independence referendum in Catalonia. Will Spain's protracted political stalemate come to an end, or will it be deadlock as usual?

What We're Ignoring

The Pentagon's "mistake" – After 17 years of gruelling combat and painstaking negotiations, the US presence in Iraq appeared to be coming to an end. So said a message on US Army letterhead delivered to Iraqi military officials on Monday before making its way to the American media. "We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure," it read, responding to the recent Iraqi parliament vote ordering the expulsion of US forces from its country. But the memo's veracity was undercut in less than an hour when the Pentagon said that release of the letter – a draft – was a "mistake." Soon after, another Pentagon official said it was actually fake, calling it "active disinformation." We're ignoring this confusion because we're pretty sure that if the US decides to pull out of Iraq, we'll hear about it first from President Trump on Twitter.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Read our roundup of COVID-19 themes and stories from around the globe.

Europe skirts US sanctions to help Iran: While the US insists on tightening the sanctions noose around COVID-stricken Iran, European countries are now sending medical equipment. To do so, they are using for the first time a system called INSTEX, a back-channel financial mechanism created a year ago that allows Europe to maintain trade ties with Iran despite US sanctions. Recall that in 2018 the US pulled out of the multilateral Iran nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions – the Europeans stayed in the deal and have tried to salvage it. To date, Iran has suffered more than 3,000 deaths from COVID-19, one of the highest tolls in the world. Some say that Iran's failure to contain the contagion has been complicated further by US sanctions, which have thwarted the Islamic Republic's ability to fund medical imports. Tehran has urged the US to ease sanctions to no avail, but Ayatollah Khamenei has also, citing some wild conspiracy theories about the coronavirus' origin, refused medical aid from Washington.

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Laid-off hospitality workers tell their stories in their own words.

Ian Bremmer breaks down the massive economic toll the COVID-19 pandemic is taking on the hospitality and service industries in America and around the globe. In the U.S. alone, millions could face unemployment as businesses struggle to stay afloat.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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