Tuesday, February 5, 2019

VENEZUELA — A NATION DIVIDED AND A LONG-STANDING CRISIS COMING TO A HEAD



The dramatic crisis that is unfolding in Venezuela has formed part of the international news cycle since mid-January, but it has been in the making for nearly a decade. And it finds its roots in the controversial popular authoritarian regime of Comandante Hugo Chávez, who ruled the country from the previous decade, until his death in 2013.

The late Comandante Hugo Chávez...where it all began

In this latest chapter, a nationwide crisis has been sparked over who, indeed, is the legitimate president of the country. This constitutional crisis took shape when, in early January, the National Assembly, in which the opposition holds a majority, pointed to alleged election tampering and declared the 2018 re-election of leftist authoritarian Nicolás Maduro null and void.
In Maduro’s stead, the Assembly named opposition candidate Juan Guaidó to serve as acting president until new elections could be called. The pro-Maduro Supreme Tribunal of Justice (Venezuela’s supreme court) has declared the National Assembly’s de-authorization of Maduro and the appointment of Guaidó to be unconstitutional. This is where the battle-line has been drawn separating the two diametrically opposed sides in the crisis—a test of strength between the legislature and the judicial branch of government.
The National Assembly, for its part, is responding to the Supreme Tribunal by quoting the very Constitution enacted under Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, as backing its authority to question the legitimacy of the elections and to appoint an interim president. The specific constitutional passages that the opposition is invoking include Article 333 and Article 350.
The first of these states that the Constitution “shall not be rendered invalid through any act of force or because it is repealed by any method other than that (legally) provided for.” It goes on to say that “should this happen, every invested citizen shall have the duty to cooperate in the re-establishment of its effective validity.”
Embattled president Nicolás Maduro 
Article 350, meanwhile, states that “the Venezuelan people, in keeping with their republican tradition, (and) with their struggle for independence, peace and freedom, shall not recognize any regime, legislation or authority that might run counter to these democratic values, principles and guarantees, or that undermine human rights.”
International support for one side or the other in diplomatic circles has divided along what might be considered logical lines, with Russia and its allies supporting Maduro and the US and Europe pledging their backing for Guaidó. US President Donald Trump—who, in other instances, has often indicated his admiration for authoritarians—has demonstrated vehement opposition to the Maduro regime and has imposed economic sanctions against Maduro’s government. Although the European Union and the Trump-era United States see eye-to-eye on very little these days, in terms of the Venezuelan crisis they are both clearly siding with Guaidó and the National Assembly and against the continued presence of Maduro as head of state.
Where the US and EU disagree is on Trump’s openness to possible military action in Venezuela should it be necessary to wrest power from Maduro’s hands by force. Most European leaders agree that this course of action would not only be inadvisable, but also potentially disastrous and counterproductive. Considering the checkered history of US intervention in Latin America, many observers feel any direct action by Washington in Venezuela would quickly sour the mood of other South American countries that are currently pleased that the US has joined them in bolstering democracy by welcoming Guaidó and censuring Maduro. US military action in any South American nation would very likely be considered an attack and a renewed act of imperialism by the United States on South America as a whole, and would thus be more likely to help rather than hurt Maduro’s standing.  
The current national socioeconomic crisis, with Maduro as its focal point, has been brewing since 2010, beginning, briefly, under Hugo Chávez but intensifying under Maduro. Venezuela’s economy has long been largely dependent on oil revenues, which at one time made it the wealthiest country in Latin America. Comandante Chávez drew his vast support as a populist authoritarian from the re-distribution of oil profits, without seeking diversification of the country’s economy. But when the bottom fell out of the international oil market, it also fell out from under his presidency, which Maduro inherited on its way down following Chávez’s death. Maduro’s ineffectiveness in dealing with this crisis led to extreme hyperinflation (over a million percent) and severe shortages of everything, including basics such as food and medical supplies, with the standard of living for average Venezuelans plummeting—in many cases, to the point of starvation. Through the “magic” of hyperinflation and prices pegged to international currency, there were cases of bottled water or a single trip to the grocery store costing as much as or more than many Venezuelans made in a month.
This crisis also led to rampant murders, abductions and other crimes, turning Venezuela’s cities into some of the most dangerous in the world. This situation led not only to violent street protests in which casualties have numbered in the hundreds on both sides, but also to the election of an opposition majority in the National Assembly for the first time since 1999, when Chávez took over as the country’s flamboyant leader. But the lame duck pro-Maduro Assembly quickly stuffed the Supreme Tribunal with Maduro allies in order to have that institution act as a counterbalance to the opposition’s legislative majority. Not content with that, the Maduro government also managed to strip three opposition leaders of their seats in the Assembly, citing “irregularities” in their election. This kept the opposition from gaining a super-majority, by which it would have had the constitutional power to pose a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority.
Maduro’s friends in the Supreme Tribunal invented and granted extensive new powers to him in 2017. Armed with this increased authority, Maduro mounted a so-called Constituent Assembly, with the aim of drafting a new Constitution to replace the one enacted by his predecessor in 1999. Members of this Constituent Assembly were not elected to it but were appointed from within the ranks of Maduro supporters.
This drew worldwide attention since it indicated a bid by Maduro to remain in power indefinitely. In diplomatic circles it was deemed important by many to take a stand against increasing authoritarianism in Venezuela, and scores of countries made it clear that they would not recognize the Constituent Assembly. On the domestic front, however, in the face of a virtual opposition boycott of these government moves, the Constituent Assembly was handed an inordinate quota of power. It became the body that guaranteed non-interference with measures “in solidarity” with the presidency. For all practical purposes, this meant that, between the power of the Supreme Tribunal and the all-pervading power of the Constituent Assembly, the legitimately elected legislative branch of the Venezuelan political system was stripped of any power that it had managed to retain until then.
Due to oil-price instability, an under-diversified economy and Maduro’s clear lack of ability to deal with the economic situation, the once wealthy Venezuela has been plunged into a prolonged crisis described by some economists as being far worse than the Great Depression. This has led to a vast humanitarian crisis in the country. Although less is being reported about it than the crises in Middle Eastern war zones, the Venezuelan socioeconomic situation is no less grave. For several years now, there has been a constant flow of socio-economic refugees hemorrhaging from Venezuela’s borders in search of a better life in other parts of Latin America and the world.
The greatest numbers of displaced persons—over a million of them—have settled in neighboring Colombia. But there are also large Venezuelan diaspora communities in other major countries, such as Argentina. So far, about three million Venezuelans have left the country in search of peace and prosperity. That’s about one out of every ten Venezuelans who has opted to leave.
Provisional President Juan Guaidó
Provisional President Juan Guaidó has called on all Venezuelans to protest against the Maduro government. And over the course of the past month, the response to this call has been enormous, with hundreds of thousands taking to the street again and again in mass anti-Maduro rallies.
Maduro is already suffering defections in pockets of the military. Small groups of active-duty and retired military personnel—some currently living in exile—have vowed to come to the defense of the National Assembly against the Maduro regime should the situation morph into increasing civil strife. There are also defections in the Venezuelan diplomatic corps including Venezuela’s top diplomat in the United States, José Luis Silva, a military man who has, nevertheless, stated recognition of Guaidó as his president. Yajaira Flores, Venezuela’s consul general in Houston, Texas, told Guaidó that she was “at your service and at your disposal to serve my country”, while the top Venezuelan consular official in Miami, Scarlett Salazar, offered her support to Guaidó, “in keeping with my democratic principles and values.” She urged other diplomats to do the same. Venezuela’s Ambassador to Iraq Jonathan Velasco swore his loyalty to the National Assembly and its decision to appoint Guaidó provisional president, saying that the Assembly was “the only government branch attached to ethics, legitimacy and legality.”
At mid-month last month, Venezuelan intelligence agents loyal to Maduro detained Guaidó after intercepting the car in which he was traveling. The BBC claimed it was an ambush created to intimidate opponents to the regime. But Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro was quick to call the arrest “a kidnapping”, and US Secretary of State Mike Pampeo decried it as an “arbitrary detention”. The government ended up releasing Guaidó within 45 minutes and reprimanding the arresting agents.
OAS chief Almagro was among the first leaders of organizations and governments to lend official support to Guaidó. Brazil quickly followed suit. Spain and most of the rest of Europe swiftly concurred. And the plethora of support for the decisions and democratic legitimacy of the Venezuelan National Assembly continues to burgeon.
With sanctions levied on his oil exports, a freeze placed by the Bank of England on Venezuelan gold reserves in its vaults and three quarters of all Venezuelan imports coming from countries that now recognize Guaidó as the country’s president, Maduro is being backed ever tighter into a corner. It can only be hoped that his patriotism will overcome his authoritarian ego and that he will withdraw quietly and with no further bloodshed in a country that has suffered far too long under his pernicious regime.


Monday, January 28, 2019

THE SHUTDOWN IN RETROSPECT



On the whim of a president who only cares about the image he reflects among his largely bigoted base, some 800,000 government workers this past week marked a month without pay. It wasn’t until the weekend that Trump announced he had reached a temporary agreement with Congress to reopen the government after the longest shutdown in US history. But federal workers will face similar uncertainty within the next three weeks if congressional Democrats and the Executive Branch fail to reach a permanent agreement on border security.

Trump is already threatening to shut the government down again if he can’t extract a deal from Congress to fund his much-heralded wall between the US and Mexico. Or failing that, he has indicated, he may try to invoke “emergency powers” that the presidency has in case of a “national crisis” in order to get his wall built. It’s hard to see how the president could deem immigration a “national crisis”, however, especially since immigration levels have dropped steadily in recent years and the “caravans” allegedly bringing countless hoards from Central America to overrun the US border, seem to have slipped from the news cycle and from reality—ephemeral smoke and mirrors designed to stir up the Trump base and get them demanding a wall to save America from a “barbarian invasion”, they seem to have unceremoniously disappeared.
During the early days of the shutdown, Trump insisted that “most” of the government workers who were either furloughed or forced to work without pay were “with him” on the issue of the wall and knew that this sacrifice was worthwhile and necessary in order to force Congress to act in his favor. But as the days wore on, it became increasingly clear that this was not true, and that being forced to make sacrifices because of a virtual federal lockout was not the same as volunteering to do so on the basis of conviction.
So it was that we were “treated” to the spectacle of government workers and contractors who live from paycheck to paycheck finding themselves in a personal state of crisis imposed, through no fault of their own, by the powers that be. Those who had worked through the first days of the shutdown crisis in the belief that it probably wouldn’t last long eventually started staying home from work because they could not only not meet vital payments like electricity, gas, water and mortgages, but because they literally couldn’t afford to fill their gas tanks in order to get to work. Some found that they couldn’t even afford groceries, and ended up resorting to food stamps and soup kitchens in order to be able to keep eating.
By the end of the month-long lockout, government workers interviewed by major news media demonstrated themselves to be highly disillusioned and clearly felt that the president and Congress, whom they blamed almost equally for their plight, should have their backs instead of using them as pawns in a game of Washington in-fighting. They seemed to feel, in the end, that their lives simply didn’t matter to anyone in government. This showed in poll figures in which the president’s popularity lost ground to such an extent that it appeared to have eaten into his base as well as further polarizing independents.
Many federal workers take those jobs precisely to ensure themselves of steady work, a regular paycheck and good job benefits. Working for the government is supposed to be the life of a bureaucrat, which has typically unfolded along flat lines of non-events and stability from entry to retirement. But one of the lessons learned from Trump’s shutdown caprice is that, in today’s world, nothing is stable and everyone is vulnerable to the whims of the rich and powerful. It is, in short, a rich man’s world, and everyone else is basically disposable.       
This should have deeply shamed the Trump camp, whose most loyal base is the paycheck to paycheck white working class. But it didn’t. The president himself suggested that the abandoned workers should talk to their creditors, who, he was sure, would be sympathetic to their temporary situation—a suggestion that seemed almost as naïve as it was cynical and cruel. Perhaps they could also, the president suggested, do maintenance on the buildings where they lived en lieu of rent for as long as the shutdown lasted. And besides, not to worry, because they would get their back pay once the government reopened. But that was small comfort to thousands of workers who depend for their living on government paychecks and found themselves facing immediate obligations that they couldn’t cover.
The president wasn’t the only one, however, in the upper circles of power to demonstrate how clueless he was with regard to the realities of working class people. At a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law (and son Eric’s wife) basically told suffering government workers to suck it up for the good of the country (in Trumpspeak that means for the good of the Trumps and their campaign to remain in power for another four years).
In an administration in which nepotism runs rife, Lara Trump in one of the president’s “re-election advisers”. It was in that capacity that she told federal wage-earners furloughed or working without pay that, in the end, they would realize it had been worth it. She said that federal workers’ “children and their grandchildren will thank them for their sacrifice right now.” She added that she realized “it’s a little bit of pain, but it’s going to be for the future of our country.”

Lara Trump...clueless
In what can hardly be seen as anything but a condescending and hypocritical message, Lara Trump said, “Listen, it’s not fair to you, and we all get this, but this is so much bigger than any one person.”
Well, apparently not bigger than her, her husband or any of the other members of the Trump clan who populate the president’s entourage and who are not affected in the least because they are ridiculously wealthy. Not bigger than the appointed staff in the West Wing, either, or than legislators in Congress, all of whom continued to collect their benefits despite the shutdown.
Another “let them eat cake” moment was when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross—another of the multi-millionaires with whom Trump has staffed his cabinet—said that he’d heard government workers were eating at food banks and couldn’t understand it. Why, he wondered aloud, didn’t they just go to their financial institutions and take out loans on which to live until the crisis was over? Sure, they might have to pay some interest, but what they heck?
“The idea that it’s paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea,” Ross said. “There’s no reason why some institution wouldn’t be willing to lend.”
The question that must have sprung to the minds of many wage-earners all over the US, whether government-employed or not, was “Why on earth should federal workers take out loans on which they would have to pay interest when the only reason they couldn’t meet their monthly obligations was because the very government that employed them was holding them hostage on a political whim and failing to pay them in a timely manner for their service to the country?”
Wilbur Ross...a billionaire's answer
This added insult to injury, since 20,000 of the 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed or working without pay were in the direct employ of Ross’s bureau. Ross further disrespected federal workers by seeking to make them seem insignificant within the greater economic picture. He downplayed the effects of the shutdown by arguing that the 800,000 job posts affected were only “a third of a percent on our GDP. So it’s not like it’s a gigantic number.”
What he failed to weigh, however, was just how crucial some of the job descriptions involved were to the economy and security at large. Federal air traffic controllers, for instance, who by the end of the month-long lockout were calling in sick in massive numbers, so much so that scores of flights were being cancelled or greatly delayed. Airport maintenance was another area undermined meaning that radar systems were not being properly monitored and maintained. And then too, there were TSA agents, the front line of air travel security, who also started skipping work as they struggled to meet their obligations. And these were by no means the only strategic areas of national security that were affected, as attested by former and current security agents.
Mexican politician Braulio Guerra and friends sit atop a section
of the US border fence.
There were also effects on more internal areas of government that few ever see but that are of vital importance. Journalists John Roberts and Gillian Turner, both identified with the president’s news channel of choice, Fox News, indicated that not enough was being said about how the shutdown imposed by the president was affecting US cyber-security defenses. Turner said that one federal source had told her that in the week before the shutdown ended, the government was more vulnerable to cyber-penetration and online terrorism than at any other point in history. Roberts echoed Turner saying that “a mutual friend of ours was saying if you were going to attack the United States, if you were a terrorist during the shutdown, now would be the time.”
Beyond security concerns, there was a not-so-subliminal message in all of this with regard to the Trump administration. It was that, despite all the talk about this being a “popular” government that had the working person’s back, the truth was plain to see during the shutdown—namely, that Trump’s government was an elitist political machine tacitly representing the upper one percent, an administration that had placed millionaires and billionaires in key decision-making posts, people who had no idea what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck and people with such a low level of human empathy that they were also unwilling to find out. 


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

ORWELL REVISITED



US President Donald Trump is once again engaging in a tactic used by authoritarians the world over: namely, inventing “national emergencies” and creating the illusion that the country is under attack as a means of bolstering personal power and circumventing the legislative branch. 
In his now classic novel, “1984”, British writer George Orwell imagines a world in which countries have basically ceased to exist, with rule of the planet being divided among three major powers: Eastasia (China and its satellites) Eurasia (Russia and its satellites), and Oceania (the merged US and UK and their satellites). All of these powers, it can be inferred, apparently have similar authoritarian systems governing them. And if Oceania (where the novel is set) is anything to go by, each uses the other as a “boogey man” with which to frighten their respective peoples into submission by holding out the probability of imminent invasion (while, in fact, no such threat exists since the so-called “perpetual war” among these powers is a three-way series of skirmishes that take place in a buffer zone bordering on the territories of all three states which are too evenly matched for any to vanquish the other). 
Big Brother—the omniscient, omnipresent leader of Oceania—is pictured as the great protector, ever watching over his people and protecting them from immediate external and internal threat. He, they are led to believe, has their back. In reality, however, the powers that be, in Orwell's dark, oppressive, fictional world, are watching their subjects' every move and weeding out the slightest sign of subversion, before the perpetrators have a chance to create a following. Oceania is a nation of sheep kept in line through constant fear of internal and external threat. And it is this constant state of fear that takes the minds of the common people off of their ever more enslaved and repressed existence. 
Orwell may have gotten it right. He just got the date of initiation wrong by three and a half decades.

Monday, December 10, 2018

THE PRESIDENT'S 'SMOCKING' HABIT





“Democrats can’t find a Smocking Gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia after James Comey’s testimony. No Smocking Gun...No Collusion.” @FoxNews That’s because there was NO COLLUSION. So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution,...



Friday, December 7, 2018

THE DANGER OF GOING WITH GUT OVER SCIENCE



Donald Trump all too often leaves reasonable people with their mouths hanging open. So much of what he does and says seems, to the logical mind, utterly incredible and audaciously inappropriate. How, for instance, can a president of the United States repeatedly declare himself opposed to and in conflict with his own intelligence community, his own party, his own attorney general, his own cabinet? These are all firsts on the US political scene that have many people shaking their heads in disbelief.
A trick-photo joke is too close to true to be funny, when it 
comes to Trump's environmental policy.
But it’s not all that hard to understand Donald Trump’s stance. He is not the president of all Americans, despite currently occupying the post of President of the United States. Trump is the president of “Trump”, chief executive of his own brand. Narcissist that he would appear to be, that brand, that trademark, that name, is all that he is loyal to. Everything else is expendable—friends, contacts, allies, his cabinet, members of the media, the general welfare of Americans and America, even the future of the planet as a whole. In Trump’s world, nothing is true unless it fits the Trump narrative.
We witnessed another patent example of this phenomenon this past week when Trump rejected out of hand a US government report that spoke in no uncertain terms about the dire threat posed by global climate change and underscored the need to act now to try to keep it from growing any worse. The congressionally mandated government report, known as the National Climate Assessment, predicts that climate change will cost the US economy 400 billion dollars, in current terms, by the end of the century. The report says that increasingly frequent wildfires that, to date, there is no effective way of controlling or combating, are already seriously affecting air quality in the Western states, and with air growing ever hotter and drier, the problem only stands to become wider-spread in the future.
 The report says that "climate change is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us."
According to the report, this includes worsening air pollution causing heart and lung problems, an increasing variety of diseases transmitted by insects, and potential for increasing fatalities as a result of heat waves and increasingly severe allergies. It also indicates that, on our current course, the kind of ever more extreme weather events that we are experiencing can only get worse.
The report is periodic and mandated by law. It is based on hundreds of previous research studies and is carried out by over a dozen government agencies and scores of independent climate, economic and health professionals. It is a highly comprehensive study that details how global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas is hurting each region of US, and how it impacts different sectors of the economy, including energy and agriculture.
The report wasn’t supposed to be released until this month, but the Trump administration quietly leaked in on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, when Americans flock to shopping centers and go on line en masse to take advantage of post-Thanksgiving deep discounts). According to a quote from an international policy expert at the World Resources Center, the earlier release on a date when the general public would be distracted was actually an attempt by the administration to bury the study.
Following publication of the assessment, Trump said that he has seen it, “read some of it” and “didn’t believe” that climate change would bring any serious economic impact.
Just as, in the past, Trump has claimed that he “knows more than the generals” when it comes to US strategic military interests, in this case, he appears to know more than the climate scientists, government economists and specialized federal agencies as well.
The president has several times indicated publicly that he trusts “his gut” over science. For the sake of his grandchildren and other future generations, he’d better hope that he’s not mistaking (greenhouse) gas for brain waves emanating from his gut.     

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

ANOTHER TRUMP (AMERICA) FIRST



At the G20 summit held this year in Buenos Aires, Argentina, US President Donald Trump racked up yet another first. He was the only major world leader to indicate that he didn’t believe in climate change and would do nothing to combat it.
That’s right. When the Group of 20 signed a joint statement closing the summit last Sunday, a major issue was a renewed commitment to actively combatting global climate change in accordance with the Paris Accord, but final approval was not unanimous. Only 19 of the 20 major economies committed once more to fighting climate change. The only hold-out...You guessed it.
The US also flatly objected to use of the word “protectionism” in the final draft of the agreement in the section covering flaws in the current world trading system. Resistance from Washington was so great that the word ended up being censored from the final text.
But this was also consistent with the Trump administration’s policies, since if the international trade system has gone from being flawed to heading for a complete breakdown, the shift can only be attributed to the US president, who has levied tariffs on friends and rivals alike, sparking a major trade war with China that has thrown the international economy into a tizzy and prompted worldwide confusion and trade insecurity.
Protectionism is precisely what Trump is attempting to engage in (though he refuses to call it that). But he has failed to realize that the global economy is now so interconnected that it is impossible to impose protectionist tariffs against another major world trading power like China, or such a close trading partner as Canada, without shooting yourself in the proverbial foot. The best example? The closure of five General Motors plants in the US because tariffs imposed on imported parts have made it cheaper for the auto giant to produce cars elsewhere.  
Delegates from other countries attending the G20 meeting would later reveal that negotiations had been grueling and that the US had been the lone hold-out on nearly every issue included (and not included) in the final agreement. The Trump administration has been openly critical of the World Trade Organization, which is at odds with Trump’s America First (America Alone) policy that has his administration implementing unprecedentedly aggressive trade policies targeting not only China but also US allies in European Union and elsewhere.

Friday, November 30, 2018

HOSTAGES TO THE G20


Argentine President Mauricio Macri was very obviously elated at being the master of ceremonies and center of attention at the start of the G20 summit of major industrialized nations, which this year was being held in Argentina’s capital city on November 30 and December 1. After a decade of isolationism and “bad company” under the populist Kirchner regime that preceded his government, Macri has, in all fairness, bent over backwards to lift Argentina out of its former pariah status on the Western stage, and this G20 meeting is clearly a crowning moment for the country’s president—though not so much for many of his people.
Trump fumbles with the earpiece then throws it to the floor.
Macri’s first meeting on the opening day of the conference was with US President Donald Trump, slated for 7 a.m. As per Trump’s custom —dramatic planned late entrances—the US president didn’t arrive at Government House from his hotel until 7:23 a.m., thus making a show of his disregard for everyone else’s schedule at a conference attended by practically all major world leaders. He showed further disdain for the host country by only reluctantly accepting an earpiece so that he could hear the simultaneous English interpretation of Macri’s welcoming speech, and only then merely holding it up to one ear instead of putting it on. When Macri had finished speaking, Trump said, “I think I understood you better in your language than I did on this, but that’s OK,” and then tossed the earpiece to the floor.
Macri made reference to the long relationship that his own multi-millionaire family has had with billionaire Trump and his family for decades. Trump, meanwhile, recalled how he had told the Argentine president’s father, businessman Franco Macri, that he was sure Mauricio would one day be president and congratulated himself for making the right call.
Macri said, “...It took us 30 years to convince you to come, Donald...We had to wait for you to become president and for me to become president to manage it, but we Argentines are really very happy to have you here in our country.” 

Clearly, there are many Argentines who would beg to differ. 

As in many other parts of the world, Trump is a less than popular figure here among a very large segment of the population. He is often seen as a bully, when not as a buffoon, and as a danger in his role as the most powerful leader on earth, due to his America First (America alone) policy, his contempt for traditional US allies, his unpredictable and often belligerent foreign policies, his fostering of a worldwide trade war and his disregard for the basic tenets of democracy and for the science behind efforts to rein in global climate change. Add to that Argentina’s previous negative experiences with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and foreign business and banking under the former military regime (1976-1983) and under the 10-year reign of elected President Carlos Saúl Menem (1989-1999), as well as the extraordinary and massively disruptive security efforts surrounding the G20 summit itself, and the mood among a major portion of the population is anything but positive surrounding either Trump’s visit or the summit as such. 

Security for the two-day summit alone will cost Argentine taxpayers an approximate 43 million dollars at a time when adherence to IMF guidelines is imposing a cruel austerity program on the population at large. Since taking office, Macri has also scrapped former subsidies on basic services such as privatized electric power, natural gas, water and sewage, etc., causing utilities to skyrocket, while permitting concession-holders to pretty much dictate their own prices. A free-floating exchange rate and free-market price policy has significantly raised retail prices for basic necessities in dollar terms, while, additionally, new and increasingly onerous taxes have been imposed on a population already stretched thin, while pay increases and social security are being severely restrained by the Macri administration.
Ramped-up security for the summit has prompted a veritable shutdown of the entire country. Mobility has been so severely restricted for the Friday and Saturday summit that the government saw fit to declare an extraordinary national holiday on Friday, and there has been a nationwide shutdown of domestic air services. Long-distance bus services have also been suspended, as have subway and train services for Buenos Aires and the Greater Buenos Aires area and maritime services in the Port of Buenos Aires. Local bus services were being maintained on a restricted basis. In short, Buenos Aires and indeed much of the country as a whole were being held hostage by the G20. 

A vast number of Argentines tend to tremble whenever world leaders get together with their own government to decide their fate. This is not surprising, considering the country's checkered foreign policy and economic  history. Many tend to figure that any time world leaders gather behind closed doors, the purpose will be to figure out how to divide up the world’s wealth, power and resources, and that, in the end, the common people will always lose. Judging from their own experience, the people of Argentina may very well have a point.

With regard to how certain local experts view Argentina’s hosting of the G20 summit, the opposition newspaper Página 12 asked Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, professor of international relations at Argentina’s Universidad Di Tella, to provide an opinion on what the benefit to Argentina would be of hosting the G20 here and of subordinating its foreign policy to the whims of Washington.
The Government is composed of an elite that believes that some of the Menem administration’s recipes worked,” Tokatlian told the daily. “But (Macri) doesn’t know the level of financialization that has taken place in the world and that it’s not possible to go back to the '90s. That world doesn’t exist anymore.”
According to the Universidad Di Tella professor, “They (the Macri government) are not intellectually sophisticated. They have a logic of interrelationship between the political world and the economic world more typical of the '90s, which doesn’t exist today within the domestic internal dynamics of the United States. So they opt for the third way, which is to believe that security issues are going to be what will open other economic doors. Then they look for the path to see how to get the Southern Command into to the DEA, into the FBI. This shows ignorance.”
Tokatlian went on to say that, “in addition to their ignorance, they have a very optimistic view of the world, of globalization, of the free market, of the flow of investments, of the attraction posed by the arrival of a government different from (the earlier) Argentina and of the end of what they call populism. When optimism meets ignorance, the balance is a catastrophic cocktail.” The fear, he said, was that Argentina would overreact. “Then,” he said, “we go from ignorance and optimism to naivety and to voluntarism. That is a very bad reading of the United States.”

Macri got a taste of this new, non-'90s realpolitik on the first day of the summit when Trump laid down a new rule. Basically, you're either with China or with the US. There's no in between.  
Last Sunday, I arrived back in Argentina after almost a month away in my native United States. I had nearly five hours to kill in the Jorge Newbery metropolitan airport before catching my domestic flight to Patagonia. After checking my bag, I decided to cross the street in front of the airport to walk a while along the beautiful coast of the River Plate. But instead of the usually lovely view I found blocks and blocks of what looked like a miniature replica of Donald Trump’s ´proposed border wall—solid sheet metal nine feet tall, topped by endless coils of razor wire. At first I couldn’t imagine why this romantic and iconic Buenos Aires attraction had been so monstrously violated. And then I realized that this was the ugly face of the upcoming G20 meeting.


Disheartened, I walked along the barrier dragging my carry-on behind me, unable to get even a glimpse of the miles-wide, lion-colored waters of the River Plate until, abruptly, passing the main security area of the airport, the wall ended and a familiar and welcome sight unfolded: the inveterate anglers who daily fish the waters of their city’s river from the sidewalk behind the flood wall. This was where they had all re-grouped, squeezed up the coastline by the aggressive new barrier, but undeterred from their beloved enterprise. There was the lady who sold bait, coffee, sandwiches and churros. There too was the food wagon that sold sausages, hamburgers, fries and drinks. And then the fishermen themselves, with their rods lined up along the flood wall, enjoying what had turned out to be a truly fine spring day. It was passive resistance, a reminder that the coastline was a long one and that the government wasn't going to be able to fence them out of all of it.
I found a place to sit and watch them for a while, and as I did, I had to smile. The razor wire and security wall would always represent the unassailable power of the rich over the common people. But the anglers represented the simple truth that people adapt and find a way to work around the government, no matter what gets thrown at them. Life goes on, governments and policies change. The only thing that was constant, I realized, was this, people in the pursuit of happiness...against all odds.