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.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.

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China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.

Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.

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Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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