Vietnam receives US presidential visit:
US President Barak Obama made his first state visit to Vietnam on May 23, to lift the US arms embargo on the country in place since the Vietnam War, in which Vietnam is estimated to have lost 2-3 million people while the US lost more than 58,000 soldiers and the war itself. Obama’s agreement to sell weapons to the ostensibly Communist regime reflects a strategic move to counteract Chinese moves which the US considers militarily expansionist. This includes the occupation by China of disputed islands in the South China Sea and construction of military infrastructure on them. China and Vietnam have historical enmity dating back to before Christ. This is another diversion from orthodox US diplomacy of the last thirty years, in line with Obama’s intent to tackle old taboos such as reestablishing relations with Cuba and achieving a nuclear deal with the Iranians. He spent six dollars on a meal at a local restaurant which caused a media sensation. The world will miss Obama.
Venezuela in Meltdown:
The situation in Venezuela seems at a breaking point (no beer can be found in Caracas)and the rule of Nicolas Maduro, the successor to the Hugo Chavez initiated Bolivarian socialism, is being severely tested. There have been weeks of protests and to purchase anything requires waiting in interminable lines for basic necessities that sometimes quickly run out. A reporter recently back from the country found cases of even middle class people having to cut down on calorie intake due to shortages and economic chaos. Despite having the world’s largest oil reserves, a rich territory with a relatively small population, there has always been widespread poverty in Venezuela, with a small elite wholly hoarding the revenues from oil (Venezuela was an original founder of OPEC in 1960.) This explains the rise of Chavez, a charismatic army colonel who had tried to overthrow the government in a 1992 coup, but won the presidential election in 1998.
He articulated a socialism for the 21st century and the fact that the price of petroleum steadily climbed from US$6 a barrel in 1998 to over US$100 in 2008 helped finance an extensive reorganization of the economy encapsulating the socialist principles espoused by Chaves and his Chavista colleagues. This benefitted the poorer sectors of society, which being the majority would elect him president repeatedly. Chavez’s death and the radical drop in oil prices exposed this economic model, this time overseen by the uncharismatic and seemingly incompetent Maduro, as well as its ultimate inability to sustain itself. Things will change there one way or the other.
Europe sleepwalking towards fascism:
The runoff in the Austrian election pitted an establishment politician formerly a member of the country’s Green Party, Alexander Van der Belien against the far-right Austrian Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer which the former won by a mere 0.6% on May 23. This caused relief since it would have been the first time since the Second World War that a far-right politician led a European country. Austria mirrors the rise of right wing parties in other countries of the continent, feeding on economic uncertainty and an influx of Arab immigrants escaping the chaos engulfing most of the Middle East. Vowing to shut their borders and prioritize Christian Europe, these leaders stoke the anger felt by those workers left out of the global economy whose formerly well-paid manufacturing jobs have been shipped to China or Mexico. With false promises and nationalistic rhetoric, leaders such as Marine Le Pen in France (likely to win the first round of the French presidential election next year) try to sanitize their bilious ideology in terms that sound reasonable to certain sectors of the population. It is good to remember that Hitler was considered a joke in the beginning.