Europe/Americas update: November 2 2018



Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters at a news conference on Friday that he too wants out of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Poland joins the United States, Hungary, and most recently Austria and the Czech Republic in either withdrawing from the accord or expressing an intent to withdraw.


Spain’s State Attorney’s office announced on Friday that it is no longer planning to try Catalan independence leaders who have been jailed for their role in last year’s referendum on rebellion charges. Instead it will charge them with sedition, a lesser crime. Rebellion convictions would have carried with them a maximum 25 year prison sentence, but for sedition the maximum penalty is about half of that.


Voters in the French territory of New Caledonia will vote on an independence referendum on Sunday. It’s expected that the “remain” side will win easily, perhaps by a wide enough margin to preempt any future calls for a repeat referendum. The campaign has exposed some strong lingering colonial resentments on the part of New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanak people, who have found themselves dispossessed of land and political power in favor of the descendants of French colonists:

New Caledonia’s referendum is the climax of a 30-year process to repair ethnic tensions between French descendants and the indigenous Kanak people. In 1988, a three-way peace treaty — involving the French state, anti-independence and pro-independence separatists — was signed to end a bloody civil war, referred to as “the Events” by locals.

The accord delineated a transfer of some powers from France to New Caledonia and a steady path toward an independence referendum.

But for tribal chiefs such as Kawa, the deep fractures left by colonialism are difficult to overcome without Kanak sovereignty.

“They talk about a common destiny,” Kawa said. “But how can you have a common destiny without first recognizing us, the people of this land?”


The British and Irish governments appear to have made some sort of breakthrough in talks over a backstop Brexit arrangement to avoid reimposing a hard Irish border, and both said Friday evening that a Brexit deal may actually be at hand. Whatever arrangement they’re talking about also seems to meet with the approval of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which holds a veto over anything Theresa May’s minority government does. Details are sketchy at this point but the agreement seems to revolve around a customs agreement for the entire UK that would keep it in alignment with the European Union and eliminate the need for customs checks at the border. This is supposed to be a fallback position in case the EU and UK can’t negotiate a better arrangement for Northern Ireland. What isn’t clear is whether this backstop will be acceptable to Brexit hardliners in May’s party, who could oust her as PM if they don’t like where these talks are heading.



The World Bank issued a report on Friday calling on the Colombian government to quickly legalize the roughly one million Venezuelan refugees who have crossed the border into Colombia. The report argues that the economic benefit of allowing those migrants to obtain jobs would more than make up for the costs associated with providing them with public services.


The Cuban government on Friday criticized the Trump administration for its decision to add more than 20 new Cuban firms to the already extensive list of Cuban entities sanctions by the United States. That announcement was part of John Bolton’s
“Troika of Terror” speech in Miami and came after the United Nations General Assembly voted yet again to condemn the US embargo of Cuba. The UNGA does that from time to time, but as with pretty much everything the UNGA does it’s unenforceable and therefore only symbolically important.

Meanwhile, the Russian government is reportedly about to float Cuba a €32 billion loan for the purposes of buying some swanky new Russian military hardware. Moscow is also talking about making infrastructure investments in Cuba, like building it a facility that allows the island to access Russian GPS satellites. I don’t know about all of you but I’m excited to be living in a giant facsimile of the 1950s. I missed them the first time around so I can’t wait to see how they went.


Hey, somebody at the White House must have very carefully explained the concept of “crimes against humanity” to President Trump:

President Donald Trump on Friday backtracked from his suggestion a day earlier that American troops sent to the U.S. border with Mexico would be free to fire on migrants who throw rocks at them, saying that rock-throwers would only be arrested.

“They won’t have to fire. What I don’t want is I don’t want these people throwing rocks,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “If they do that with us, they’re going to be arrested for a long time.”

I still think there’s a disturbingly high chance he orders US soldiers to fire on the caravan whenever it arrives at the border, but I guess it depends on whether one of his handlers can talk him down before he does.


Finally, at TomDispatch William Hartung writes about the Trump administration’s militarization of the US economy, cloaking a massive military buildup under the guise of a plan to boost manufacturing:

The essence of the Pentagon’s scheme for making America safe for a never-ending policy of war preparations (and war) is to organize as much of the economy as possible around the needs of military production. This would involve eliminating what Navarro describes as the “300 vulnerabilities” of the defense economy — from reliance on single suppliers for key components in weapons systems and the like, to dependence on foreign inputs like rare earth minerals from China, to a shortage of younger workers with the skills and motivation needed to keep America’s massive weapons manufacturing machine up and running. China figures prominently in the report’s narrative, with its trade and investment policies repeatedly described as “economic aggression.”

And needless to say, this being the Pentagon, one of the biggest desires expressed in the report is a need for — yes, you guessed it! — more money. Never mind that the United States already spends more on its military than the next seven nations in the world combined (five of whom are U.S. allies).  Never mind that the increase in Pentagon spending over the past two years is larger than the entire military budget of Russia.  Never mind that, despite pulling tens of thousands of troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, this country’s spending on the Pentagon and related programs (like nuclear warhead work at the Department of Energy) will hit $716 billion in fiscal year 2019, one of the highest levels ever. Face it, say the Pentagon and its allies on Capitol Hill, the U.S. won’t be able to build a reliable, all-weapons-all-the-time economic-industrial base without spending yet more taxpayer dollars.  Think of this as a “Pentagon First” strategy.

As it happens, the Pentagon chose the wrong 300 experts.  The new plan, reflecting their collective wisdom, is an economic and security disaster in the making.


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