Europe/Americas update: May 29 2018



Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who had to flee to Ukraine in 2016 in the face of death threats because of his criticism of the Russian government, died on Tuesday in Kiev of natural causes. Well, “natural causes” for a critic of Vladimir Putin–he was gunned down outside his apartment building. An investigation is underway so it would be incredibly premature for anybody to speculate that he was murdered by someone on Putin’s payroll, and we don’t engage in such speculation around here.


Former Georgian President, former Ukrainian politician, and current Georgian and Ukrainian exile Mikheil Saakashvili demanded on Tuesday that European countries sanction Ukraine over the way he was treated by Kiev. Saakashvili says that the Ukrainian government’s actions last year in stripping him of his citizenship and forcing him to leave the country violated international law. Saakashvili is challenging the government in the Ukrainian judicial system, but that could take a while and in the meantime for some reason he thinks that European governments actually give a rat’s ass about his plight.


Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb leader who has been raising eyebrows with his Serbian nationalist rhetoric and his ongoing effort to build himself a private army with Russian assistance, said on Tuesday that he plans to stand for the Bosnian presidency in October’s election. The Bosnian presidency is an unwieldy three-person operation consisting of one Serb, one Croat, and one Bosniak. Dodik is barred from running for a third term as president of Republika Srpska, so even though he inherently rejects the notion that Bosnia and Herzegovina should even exist he needs the Bosnian presidency in order to keep himself in power.


After leveling off a little when President Sergio Mattarella named economist Carlo Cottarelli as interim prime minister on Monday, Italian politics resumed circling the drain on Tuesday when Cottarelli failed to get even a whiff of support from any major parties. It looks increasingly like he won’t even both trying to take office and Mattarella will instead order new elections, though now instead of August they’ll likely be pushed up to July.

Because of the drama that led up to it, the new election, whenever it’s held, will heavily feature the euro and the pros and cons of Italy’s continued participation in it. The NYT’s Steven Erlanger writes that it’s bad timing for the European Union to have to deal with a referendum on the euro playing out in a major European nation:

For the European Union, another Italian election would be terrifically bad timing.


Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, a linchpin of the bloc, is weakened; she needed six months to form a government after a rough election of her own last year that was marked by a far-right, populist surge. Spain’s government could face a no-confidence vote as early as this week and possible new elections as well.


However unlikely an Italian withdrawal from the eurozone may be, the mere prospect is more dangerous to the future of the European Union than the bailout of Greece, whose economy is dwarfed by Italy’s; Britain’s vote to leave the bloc; or the squabbles over the rule of law with Hungary and Poland.


A prison inmate out on temporary leave killed two police officers and one civilian in Liège on Tuesday before himself being killed by police. Islamic radicalism is believed to have been his motive and early theories suggest he was radicalized while serving time on drug charges.


Emmanuel Macron is planning to fight fake news by giving the French government more power to take down “fake” stories via the judicial system. If you have concerns that this might lead to the French government taking major liberties when it comes to freedom of expression, well, you’re not alone:

Paradoxically, this new instrument may not only be impractical but could be a dangerous tool in certain circumstances. The constantly changing definition of fake news can give candidates and political parties a judicial weapon aimed at preventing the release of disturbing information during an election. If an overly broad interpretation of fake news is used, there is a risk that governments would have a tool to control public debate, putting at stake not only the right of citizens to be informed but also leading to judicial overreach, which would put at stake the very foundation of democracy.



Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes wants to resign his office so that he can assume his new job as a senator. This seems incongruous, but Cartes’s term is ending in August anyway and he was elected to the senate–which is being sworn in at the end of June–back in April. He decided to run for senate after his bid to amend the constitution to allow himself to run for a second term led to mass riots last year. All former Paraguayan presidents get to serve in the country’s senate in an ex oficio, non-voting capacity, but because Cartes was elected he’ll have voting rights. Congress now has to debate his resignation and decide whether to accept it.


Lame duck Brazilian President Michel Temer says that despite a nine-day and counting national trucker strike that’s caused shortages of basic necessities all over the country, he’s not worried about the possibility of a military coup:

Some striking truckers are calling for a coup, a hotly debated topic on social media, and fringe groups who want the military back in charge have been a constant presence during anti-corruption protests in recent years.


“There is zero chance of military intervention,” Temer said through a translator. “What I see is a rejection both in the Ministry of Defense and throughout the military forces to any kind of military intervention.”


But polling shows that Temer is Brazil’s least popular president since the country’s 1964-85 military junta ended. He also remains under investigation amid allegations of graft.

Temer has promised to lower the price of diesel as a concession to the striking truckers, but his government has yet to actually implement a cut.


Al Jazeera reports on the ongoing protests and government crackdown in Nicaragua:


Another reporter was found murdered in Mexico on Tuesday:

The body of Hector Gonzalez Antonio was found Tuesday morning in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of the state that shares a border with Texas. Authorities responded to call about a dumped body and only identified Gonzalez later. He was beaten to death, according to a statement from prosecutors.


As the correspondent for a national outlet, Gonzalez’s most recent stories reflected the violence and corruption present in Tamaulipas state. Prior to joining Excelsior, Gonzalez had worked for local newspapers in Ciudad Victoria.


More than 30 journalists have been killed in Mexico in the past 5 ½ years.


Police now believe that one of the two suspects in Friday’s bombing of an Indian restaurant in the city of Mississauga may be a woman. Authorities had earlier said that two men were believed responsible. Fifteen people were injured in the blast, for which no motive has yet been found. The hunt for the bombers is ongoing.


My goodness:

An estimated 4,645 people died in Hurricane Maria and its aftermath in Puerto Rico, according to an academic report published Tuesday in a prestigious medical journal. That figure dwarfs Puerto Rico’s official death toll of 64, which the article’s authors called a “substantial underestimate” of Hurricane Maria’s death toll.


“These numbers … underscore the inattention of the US government to the frail infrastructure of Puerto Rico,” authors from Harvard University and other institutions wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.


The official death toll in Puerto Rico has been the subject of substantial controversy since Hurricane Maria hit this island, a US territory, on September 20. CNN and other news outlets have used government statistics and extensive interviews with families of the deceased and funeral home directors to question the Puerto Rican government’s official tally of deaths.


Previous estimates suggested Maria contributed to about 1,000 deaths.

Just stunning. On the list of evils we’ll tally up when Donald Trump’s time in office has mercifully come to an end, surely the shoddy, callous way his administration butchered the recovery to Maria will rank near the top.

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