- Political Events -
Conclusion of Mueller's Probe
After nearly two years of investigations, special prosecutor Robert Mueller delivered his report to the Attorney General William P. Barr, marking the conclusion of the investigation into the 2016 US Presidential Elections. Below are some of the main highlights from the investigation and surrounding events:
Sources: NYT | Guardian
AMLO's First 100 Days
AMLO’s presidency is new and radical. From the beginning of his campaign, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador declared that his government was going to be Mexico’s Fourth Transformation, in other words, a political movement so strong that would change the nation in ways only the independence and the revolution previously had. What started out as a promising trajectory, winning with 53.19% of the votes – marking the highest number of votes in Mexican democratic history – quickly turned out to be one of the most speculative and unsure democratic as well as economic times for the country. His first 100 days have been characterized by the elimination of the last term’s most important reforms, what has yet to be determined as an ecological win or an economic tragedy, migration scandals, and showmanship.
His first huge political move was the popular referendum he ran in order to ask the population whether they agreed or disagreed with the construction of Mexico City’s new airport, the NAICM (New International Airport for Mexico City), a 13 billion dollar project already 30% development. With what was accused as an illegal consult that only counted 1% of the votes of the population, AMLO declared that the population saw it unfit and decided to terminate the project. Although there were a lot of advocacy groups that called out the ecological cost of the project, the cancellation of the project has proved to be much more costly to the country. The cancellation cost approximate 12 billion MXN, and the interest rate the government will have to pay to investors has been calculated to be over 5 billion MXN. The legal costs have been successfully reduced due to the fact that the government rebought 800 million dollars of bonds from the MEXCAT real estate trust fund.
After this decision, the Mexican peso suffered its worst devaluation yet since the day after Donald Trump was elected. This event established an environment of distrust and economic insecurity for national and foreign investment in Mexico. Although AMLO has been severely criticized for his decision, there is a lot of national support from his followers under the pretense that the Texcoco Lake, the site where the airport was being built, was saved by this decision. However, AMLO’s concern for the environment is seriously questioned due to his upcoming project called the Mayan Train. The Mayan Train is a 948-mile railroad that would cover the Yucatán Peninsula, going through major touristic spots and traveling from the city of Palenque to the ultimate vacation destination Cancún. After AMLO made this proposition, a group of academics from the National University wrote a letter pleading him not to go forward with the project for it would constitute an ecocide. AMLO responded by doing a pre-hispanic ritual in which he asked the earth permission to build the railroad, to which the earth granted him permission.
Another major concern in investment analysis has been caused by the reorientation of the energy strategy to strengthen Pemex (Petroleos Mexicanos), Mexico’s public oil company. Pemex is currently undergoing a crisis in which the number of oil barrels being extracted has been the lowest it has been in the last 30 years. AMLO’s plan to fix this crisis consists of rerouting fiscal resources to the incorporation of 20 new exploration sites, 16 of which are in shallow-water deposits. It also consisted in a military strategy to stop another phenomenon affecting the oil crisis in Mexico called “huachicoleo” a colloquialism that refers to stealing motor fuel. The military intervention resulted in a national 2-week fuel shortage and international consulting firms like JP Morgan, Standard & Poor, and Moody have heavily criticized his financial plan.
A very important part of AMLO’s campaign rhetoric was that he, as opposed to Enrique Peña Nieto, the former president, would stand his ground against Trump’s verbal abuse and dismissive attitude against Mexico. However, the tone set by AMLO’s government has been of collaboration, especial with regard to immigration. For example, the Department of Homeland Security has announced that Mexico will serve as a third safe country for asylum seekers, and even though Mexico denied this, there has been no direct confrontation whatsoever to the administration’s claim. Another issue in which AMLO’s government has been criticized for acting softly has to do with the disappearance and separation of migrant children in the American border. Mexico's reaction has been to allow its consular network to seek for the children, but there has not been a public outcry on behalf of the government against the Trump administrations practice.
Sources: ASCOA | Informador | BBC | Reuters | Time | Jornada | Proceso | Animal
- Macroeconomic Events -
Venezuela's March Madness
March 4th: In spite of the recent misfortunes, the start of the month is characterized with the return of Juan Guaidó, who had left to Colombia and other countries to gather support for humanitarian aid to Venezuela. Though there were concerns of the Maduro administration arresting Guaidó, the interim president entered without incident preceding his five-country tour. Guaidó proceded to call for more nationwide rallies to empower the debilitated Venezuelan population.
March 7th: Around evening on Thursday, Venezuela faced the first of its many significant power outages this month. The 20-hour blackout affected 21 out of the 23 states. The attack paralyzed the Venezuelan economy and made it hover around 3% of its normal activity, only peaking at 5% during noon the following day. Maduro's Regime blamed the incident this perturbing incident on electromagnetic attacks on the Guri Dam, Venezuela's main source of energy (roughly 80%). However, it has become clear that poor maintenance has been the real cause of the electric malfunctions. Additional blackouts hit Venezuela later that week, immobilizing the country for a full 4 days, causing many of the residents to panic. The Maduro regime claims it tried to restart the dam’s turbines numerous times, but it was met with little success. In turn, mass looting of stores in Venezuela followed, and many residents of San Agustin flocked to the heavily polluted Guaire River to collect water. The death of 21 Venezuelans has been directly linked to the 4-day blackout.
March 18th: A report detailing how Chavistas used doctors to manipulate past elections is published. For example, testimony about Maduro’s most recent election came to light. In this, it was described how many doctors were told to put off life-saving treatment for patients until it was closer to election day. This same day, a young doctor was the third to be removed from his job this week for “serious lack of respect” for higher ups [TWT]. This goes to show the level of corruption during past elections and the level Maduro's presidential illegitimacy.
March 21st: Roberto Marrero, respected lawyer and key advisor to Juan Guaidó, is arrested by intelligence officials belonging to the SEBIN who broke into his house around 2am. He was soon thereafter placed in one of Venezuela's harshest prison which houses many political prisoners. Charges against Mr. Marrero include terrorism and conspiracy against the regime. The U.S. has criticized the arrest and demand his release.
March 23rd: Two Russian military aircraft land in Caracas along with 100 troops and 35 tons of military equipment on the ground. This comes as a part of a military pact between Russia and Venezuela aimed at protecting from the ‘coup d’etat’ that according to Maduro, the U.S. has been fomenting. The U.S. has sanctioned many of Venezuela’s industries, most notably its oil sector, and lobbied its allies to cut ties, but there remains no evidence that it is actively staging a military overthrow. As the western world continues to isolate Maduro, Russia has continued to invest into Venezuela’s crumbling oil sector and feeds the hungry population with wheat.
March 27th: Fabiana Rosales, a journalist and Guaidó's wife, after saying she would meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Washington on Wednesday, surprised everyone by stopping at the White House to present herself to the POTUS. Donald Trump spoke with her about the Venezuelan crisis and pledged to “fix it”. During the meeting, Trump called out Russia for supporting the Maduro Regime and said they had to "get out" [NBC]. The meeting is reminiscent of a past surprise meeting with the wife of detained Leopoldo Lopez at the beginning of Trump’s term. The earlier meeting was characterized as a turning point for Trump, who then began concentrating pressure and resources against Maduro.
March 28th: Maduro bans Guaidó from holding public office for 15 years on the basis of alleged financial improprieties. However, Guaidó still insists he will serve under interim capacity until free and fair elections can be held in which Leopoldo Lopez, Guaidó’s mentor who is currently under house arrest, is also expected to run.
Sources: Herald | BBC | CNN 1 | CNN 2 | Reuters | Guardian | TWT | NYT | Bloomberg | Yahoo | NBC
- Culture & Markets -