Opinion

Ian Bremmer

This is not Ukraine: Venezuela will erode, not explode

Ian Bremmer
Feb 28, 2014 17:13 UTC

Presidents beleaguered by mass protests seem to use the same phrasebook. After protests turned exceptionally violent in Ukraine, the security agency waged an “anti-terrorist operation” in retaliation. Within days, President Yanukovich’s support had crumbled, he had fled, and the “radical forces” he disparaged had seized power. In Venezuela, President Maduro has dubbed the billowing unrest a spree of “fascism” aiming to “eliminate” him; he urged the opposition to halt its acts of “terrorism.”

But Venezuela is no Ukraine, and it’s unlikely that Nicolas Maduro will soon suffer Yanukovich’s fate. Here’s why.

Things have not been going well for President Maduro, with massive protests stemming from a steady rise in economic turmoil, crime and inflation. A weak opposition initially made progress through electoral channels: former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles came within 1.5 percent of beating Maduro during last year’s semi-rigged election.

But the prospect of waiting until 2018 to take their next lawful whack at Maduro has left the opposition demoralized and increasingly radicalized. The opposition could try to force a recall referendum sooner, but the Maduro government would make it exceedingly difficult to proceed. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has called for Venezuelans to take their disapproval to the streets. When the regime accused Lopez of — what else? — terrorism and murder, Lopez turned himself in (after an impassioned speech, of course). That has only solidified his support, and puts Maduro between a rock and a hard place: release Lopez to lead future protests, or incite the opposition with his imprisonment.

Maduro is a weak president, to be sure, and these protests represent by far the most severe challenge to his authority to date. But Maduro holds many cards that Ukraine’s Yanukovich did not. He retains control of (and loyalty from) the key apparatus of the state — military, police and security forces, parliament, and state-owned oil company PDVSA (Venezuela’s main source of revenue). There is no unified command within the security forces that could turn against him in an organized fashion, and the security forces are much more willing to repress and support the regime than they are in Ukraine.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Feb 24, 2014 20:35 UTC

Political risk must-reads

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie — presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

More Money, More Power for Asian Militaries” — Trefor Moss, Wall Street Journal blog

Last year, Asia Pacific accounted for a quarter of the more than $1.5 trillion spent on defense worldwide (according to a review of annual defense budgets by IHS Jane’s). Global defense spending has been in a five-year slump, but is expected to rise modestly this year. China is leading the charge, with annual defense spending growth of approximately 10 percent. In the early 2000s, Taiwan’s defense budget was half of China’s. Today, at $14.8 billion, it’s one-tenth.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Feb 14, 2014 18:33 UTC

Political risk must-reads

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie — presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

Cancer ‘tidal wave’ on horizon, warns WHO” — James Gallagher, BBC News

The World Health Organization predicts that by 2035, global cancer cases will rise from 14 million to 24 million. Are economic growth and a more robust social safety net in developing countries driving these alarming gains? What could best prevent the surge in cancer?

Is the China-Japan relationship ‘at its worst’?

Ian Bremmer
Feb 11, 2014 22:58 UTC

At the Munich Security Conference last month, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying said the China-Japan relationship is “at its worst.” But that’s not the most colorful statement explaining, and contributing to, China-Japan tensions of late.

At Davos, a member of the Chinese delegation referred to Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong Un as “troublemakers,” lumping the Japanese prime minister together with the volatile young leader of a regime shunned by the international community. Abe, in turn, painted China as militaristic and overly aggressive, explaining how — like Germany and Britain on the cusp of World War One — China and Japan are economically integrated, but strategically divorced. Even J.K. Rowling has played her part in recent weeks, with China’s and Japan’s ambassadors to Britain each referring to the other country as a villain from Harry Potter.

Of course, actions speak louder than words — and there’s been no shortage of provocative moves on either side. In November, Beijing declared an East Asian Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) — which requires all aircraft to follow instructions issued by Chinese authorities, even over contested territory, which pushed tensions to new highs. The following month, Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine — a site associated with Japanese World War militarism that makes it an automatic lightning rod for anti-Japanese sentiment among Japan’s neighbors.

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