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What We’re Watching: Guatemala slips into crisis, Bibi slips into Saudi Arabia,Trump slips out of Open Skies

A demonstrator gestures after demonstrators set an office of the Congress building on fire during a protest demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, in Guatemala City, Guatemala November 21, 2020.

Guatemala in crisis: In the latest unrest to hit the streets of a Latin American capital, a group of demonstrators — angry about a controversial new budget — set fire to the Guatemalan parliament building over the weekend. The budget, negotiated largely in secret while the country reels from the impact of the pandemic and back-to-back hurricanes, cuts funding for healthcare, education, and human rights organizations while boosting money for infrastructure and — get this — adds more than $50,000 for lawmakers' meal stipends. The mostly peaceful protesters, along with the Catholic Church, are demanding at a minimum that President Alejandro Giammattei veto the budget, but some on the streets are calling for him and his whole government to step down entirely. Vice President Guillermo Castillo has offered to do just that, but only if the president jumps ship with him. Can Giammattei find a solution or is this a rerun of 2015, when mass protests unseated the government of then-President Otto Perez Molina? With its economy battered by the pandemic and natural disasters, Guatemala can ill afford a prolonged crisis.


Bibi goes to Saudi: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly travelled to Saudi Arabia over the weekend for direct talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Although Riyadh has formally denied that any meeting took place, the reports come as speculation swirls about the possibility of a normalization of ties between the two countries. Israel and Saudi Arabia have grown closer in recent years, in part because of a shared interest in containing Iran, but Riyadh's formal position is that it cannot establish formal ties with the Jewish State until Israel and the Palestinians reach a peace accord. In recent months, Israel has pulled off a flurry of normalization deals with Arab states — the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan — but a pact with Saudi Arabia would be a much more dramatic achievement, given the country's size, economic clout, and its role as the custodian of Islam's holiest sites.

Trump closes Open Skies: Six months after giving notice, the US has now officially exited the Open Skies treaty, a 30-year old agreement with Russia that permits both sides to conduct unarmed reconnaissance flights over each other's territory. The pact was intended to increase transparency and reduce the risk of war by giving each side a window into the other's military movements, but the Trump administration had complained that Russia wasn't living up to its side of the bargain, by refusing US access to certain areas in the former-Soviet sphere. US President-elect Joe Biden, for his part, has said he supports maintaining the Open Skies treaty and would prefer to address Russia's violations via the agreement's dispute resolution mechanisms. But even if he wanted to rejoin the treaty after he becomes president in January, he'd have a problem: the Trump administration is retiring the specialized surveillance planes that are used in the program, and stripping them for parts (paywall). If you are in the market for a highly sophisticated wet-film surveillance camera, call the Pentagon.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

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Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

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Now that Joe Biden is officially US president, leaders from around the world would like a word with him — but where will he make his first international trip?

After a tumultuous four years, many countries are now clamoring for a face-to-face with President Biden. That includes allies who felt abandoned by Trump's "America First" presidency, as well as adversaries with thorny issues on the agenda. We check in on who's pitching him hardest on a near-term state visit.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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