Connect with us

Emerging Markets

Colombia’s Uribe on Venezuela: ‘Tyranny has established itself’

Published

on


During his two terms as president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe was the US’s closest ally in Latin America, railing against the revolutionary socialist government in neighbouring Venezuela. 

Now, with the Venezuelan opposition in disarray and its leader, Juan Guaidó, having failed to unseat Nicolás Maduro as president, Mr Uribe said that US sanctions against Caracas have not worked and he fears Venezuela is fast becoming another Cuba.

“Tyranny has established itself,” Mr Uribe told the Financial Times in a video interview from his wife’s family ranch near Medellín.

“When my generation was young, every year we’d say ‘this year the Cuban revolution will fall’ and it never fell,” said Mr Uribe, still Colombia’s most powerful politician at the age of 68. “It stabilised and we’ve lost three generations. It pains me to think history might repeat itself in Venezuela.”

Mr Uribe said at one point he believed Venezuela’s military might abandon Mr Maduro and support Mr Guaidó. “But the problem is that a lot of top people in the armed forces have been bribed by the government,” he said.

Mr Uribe said there are many reasons why the Maduro regime has proved so resilient, not least because “the economic sanctions [imposed by the US] haven’t worked”. 

“While Russia and China are giving financial support it’s very difficult [to have change]”, he added.

US officials believe Venezuela’s leaders have diversified their sources of foreign exchange to make up for the loss of dollars from oil exports, exporting illegally mined gold to the Middle East and facilitating drug shipments to the United States. The once-wealthy economy, having cratered over the past five years, has plunged to subsistence level for most of the population. 

“Unfortunately the dictatorship in Venezuela has stabilised,” Mr Uribe said. “I see a very worrying future for Venezuela and a lot of risks for Colombia.”

Since leaving the presidency, Mr Uribe has remained centre stage and still dominates Colombia’s political landscape with a personality that polarises the country. He led a successful referendum campaign against the 2016 peace agreement which his successor, Juan Manuel Santos, signed with the Farc, saying it was too generous to the guerrillas. In 2018, he was instrumental in propelling Colombia’s current leader, Iván Duque, to the presidency.

Malcolm Deas, a historian and expert on Colombia who taught Mr Uribe at Oxford university in the 1990s, says Colombian opinion is divided “over the provisions of the peace accord, over Duque, even over Uribe”.

“Uribe left office in 2010 with extraordinary ratings in the polls, of 70 per cent and above,” Mr Deas said. “Since then his popularity has fallen . . . his reputation has suffered from the scandals inherent in eight years of government, his feud with President Santos and prolonged legal vendettas.”

In 2022, Colombia will choose a new president. Conservatives — along with many foreign investors — fear that if the left wins it could turn the country into the next Venezuela.

That may seem unlikely. Colombians have witnessed Venezuela’s collapse at close quarters and suffered its consequences, including the arrival of nearly 2m poor and hungry migrants. Some 93 per cent of Colombians have an unfavourable view of Mr Maduro, one recent poll found. 

But radical leftist candidate Gustavo Petro, who finished second in the 2018 election, is determined to run again. He is polling consistently well in a country that has suffered from the wave of discontent that swept through the Andean region late last year, which has been subdued in 2020 only because of the pandemic.

Mr Uribe warns that the far-left could take power and wreck Colombia’s economy which, before coronavirus, was among the fastest growing in the region.

“The extreme left doesn’t threaten expropriation, but then neither did [late Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez,” he said. “But when they get into power, they either expropriate companies or they asphyxiate them with taxes and regulations.”

He acknowledged Colombia will end this year “with worrying levels of debt, deficit, poverty and unemployment” and advocated modest tax hikes to raise money to help the poor. At the same time, he said, “the important thing is not to lose investment grade status or the confidence of investors”.

Where Mr Uribe will be in 2022 is a matter of debate. His most vociferous opponents want him behind bars, having long accused him of links to far-right paramilitary death squads, charges he vehemently denies. He is under investigation for alleged witness-tampering and bribery and recently spent two months under house arrest on the orders of a judge.

That decision caused uproar in Colombia, testament to the strength of feeling Mr Uribe still arouses. Thousands of people took to the streets in protest. Others did so in celebration.

With 18 months to go before the election, Mr Uribe was reluctant to say whom he will back, but whoever wins his support is likely to be a leading contender.

“A consummate politician and communicator, Uribe is by no means a spent force,” Mr Deas said.



Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Emerging Markets

Ukraine accuses Russia of blocking talks to ease military tensions

Published

on

By


Kyiv has accused Moscow of blocking attempts to begin talks aimed at calming military tensions sparked by the deployment of tens of thousands of Russian troops close to the Ukrainian border.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has not received a response to his request for a telephone call with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, his spokesperson said, amid concerns from the US and other European powers that an escalation in military deployments could result in full-blown conflict.

More than 14,000 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine since 2014 in fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine’s army for control of Donbas, a region in the east of the country bordering Russia. The fighting first erupted after Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

“The request has been forwarded from the office of the president of Ukraine to the office of Vladimir Putin to have a conversation, a telephone talk. And we have not received an answer yet,” Zelensky’s spokesperson Iuliia Mendel said on Monday.

“The office of the president of Ukraine hopes that it doesn’t mean that Vladimir Putin refuses to have a dialogue with Ukraine,” she said, adding that the request was made on March 26.

Separately, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Russia had refused to engage “in consultations aimed at reducing security tensions” and boycotted an OSCE meeting on Saturday where the troop build-up was scheduled to be discussed.

Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky (above) made a request for a telephone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on March 26 © Gints Ivuskans/AFP/Getty Images

Putin’s spokesperson responded by saying that he was not aware of any recent requests for talks from Zelensky.

“In recent days, I have not seen any requests. I am not aware that there have been any requests in recent days,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“In terms of defusing tensions and preventing a potential war, Vladimir Putin always has something to say,” he added, when asked whether Putin had anything to say to his Ukrainian counterpart. “We hope that political wisdom will prevail in Kyiv, and the matter will not take a serious turn.”

Mendel said Russia had stationed more than 40,000 troops on the eastern border area and sent another 9,000 to Crimea, in addition to the 33,000 troops already there.

That build-up, supplemented by tanks and other armed vehicles, has led to accusations that Moscow plans some form of military intervention. The Kremlin said it is permitted to station its soldiers wherever it likes, and that they are no threat to any other country.

Both Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in Donbas accused the other side of sporadic violations of a ceasefire agreement over the weekend.

Kyiv says 28 of its troops have been killed so far this year, more than half the number who died over the whole of 2020.

Russian officials have dramatically increased their belligerent rhetoric towards Ukraine in recent weeks. Putin has warned that the situation could provoke a repeat of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, while his deputy chief of staff said any escalation by Kyiv would be “the beginning of the end” for the country and provoke from Russia “not a shot in the leg, but in the face”.

Ukraine has responded by calling on Nato to speed up its membership application, while US president Joe Biden has pledged his support to the country.

In addition to the US and European powers, concerns over the military build-up have drawn in regional power Turkey, which lies across the Black Sea from Crimea. The Nato member has deepened ties with Russia in recent years but opposes Russia’s annexation of the peninsula and in 2019 sold military drones to Kyiv.

Zelensky on Saturday held talks with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, who called for dialogue and for a peaceful resolution
in line with Ukraine’s “territorial integrity”. Those talks came a day after a telephone call between Erdogan and Putin, in which the Russian leader accused Ukraine of “dangerous provocative actions”.

Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Ankara



Source link

Continue Reading

Emerging Markets

Technology will save emerging markets from sluggish growth

Published

on

By


The writer, Morgan Stanley Investment Management’s chief global strategist, is author of ‘The Ten Rules of Successful Nations’

Emerging economies struggled to grow through the 2010s and pessimism shrouds them now. People wonder how they will pay debts rung up during the pandemic and how they can grow rapidly as they did in the past — by exporting their way to prosperity — in an era of deglobalisation.

The freshest of many answers to this riddle is the fast-spreading digital revolution. Emerging nations are adopting cutting-edge technology at a lower and lower cost, which is allowing them to fuel domestic demand and overcome traditional obstacles to growth. Over the past decade, the number of smartphone owners has skyrocketed from 150m to 4bn worldwide. More than half the world’s population now carry the power of a supercomputer in their pockets.

The world’s largest emerging market has already demonstrated the transformative effects of digital technology. As China’s old rustbelt industries slowed sharply over the past decade, and ran up debts that threatened to explode in crisis only a few years ago, the booming tech sector saved the economy.

Now, often by adopting rather than innovating, China’s emerging market peers are getting a push from the same digital engines. Since 2014, more than 10,000 tech firms have been launched in emerging markets — nearly half of them outside China. From Bangladesh to Egypt, it is easy to find entrepreneurs who worked for Google, Facebook or other US giants before coming home to start their own companies.

As well as the so-called Amazon of China, there are Amazons of Russia, Poland, Latin America and south-east Asia. Local firms dominate the market for search in Russia, ride-hailing in Indonesia and digital payments in Kenya. 

By one key metric, the digital revolution is already as advanced in emerging economies as developed ones. Among the top 30 nations by revenue from digital services as a share of gross domestic product, 16 are in the emerging world. Indonesia, for example, is further advanced by this measure than France or Canada. And since 2017, digital revenue has been growing in emerging countries at an average annual pace of 26 per cent, compared with 11 per cent in the developed ones.

How can it be that poorer nations are adopting common digital technologies faster than the rich? One explanation is habit and its absence. In societies saturated with bricks-and-mortar stores and services, customers are often comfortable with and slow to abandon the providers they have. In countries where people have difficulty even finding a bank or a doctor, they will jump at the first digital option that comes along. 

Outsiders have a hard time grasping the impact digital services can have on underserved populations. Nations lacking in schools, hospitals and banks can quickly if not completely redress these gaps by establishing online services. Though only 5 per cent of Kenyans carry credit cards, more than 70 per cent have access to digital banking. 

The “digital divide” is narrowing in many places. Most of the big countries where internet bandwidth and mobile broadband subscriptions are growing fastest are in the emerging world. Last decade, the number of internet users doubled in the G20 nations, but the biggest gains came in emerging nations such as Brazil and India.

The digital impact on productivity, the key to sustained economic growth, is visible on the ground. Many governments are moving services online to make them more transparent and less vulnerable to corruption, perhaps the most feared obstacle to doing business in the emerging world.

Since 2010, the cost of starting a business has held steady in developed countries while falling sharply in emerging countries, from 66 per cent to just 27 per cent of the average annual income. Entrepreneurs can now launch businesses affordably, organising much of what they need on a smartphone. Lagos and Nairobi are rising as local fintech hubs, where leading executives vow to raise Africa’s “digital GDP” by widening access to internet financing.

It’s early days, too. As economist Carlota Perez has shown, tech revolutions last a long time. Innovations like the car and the steam engine were still transforming economies half a century later. Now, the fading era of globalisation will limit the number of emerging economies that can prosper on exports alone, but the era of rapid digitisation has only just begun. This offers many developing economies a revolutionary new path to catching up with the living standards of the developed world. 



Source link

Continue Reading

Emerging Markets

China’s wolf warriors refuse to back down

Published

on

By


Late last month the EU, acting in concert with the US, UK and Canada, imposed sanctions on four obscure Chinese officials for alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Muslims have been systematically detained over recent years.

China retaliated immediately, imposing counter-sanctions on 10 European individuals, including five EU parliamentarians from five different political parties.

In doing so President Xi Jinping’s administration threatened a contentious trade deal provisionally agreed on last year between the EU and China, despite US opposition. The sanctioned parliamentarians’ parties are now reluctant to start reviewing the deal unless Xi’s counter-sanctions are lifted.

Before Beijing imposed sanctions on the EU MPs, it was expected that the European parliament would eventually ratify Xi’s geopolitical coup, which had strong backing from France’s Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

But when Merkel and Xi spoke on Wednesday, China’s official account of the call did not mention the trade deal or Xinjiang.

“We had seven years of negotiations for the deal,” said Joerg Wuttke, head of the European Chamber of Commerce in China. “Now it looks like it will take another seven years.”

The Xinjiang sanctions exchange is just the latest diplomatic dispute that Xi’s pugnacious “wolf warrior” foreign ministry officials are embroiled in. Chinese diplomats are sparring with countries and organisations that Beijing enjoyed relatively good relations with during Donald Trump’s one-term presidency. But they are expressing no regrets.

Chinese vessels anchored at Whitsun Reef off the Philippines’ Palawan Island © Philippine Communications Operat/AFP

Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, set the tone for Beijing’s clashes with a long lecture to his US counterpart on March 18 in Alaska, where he told Antony Blinken that no country would ever again “speak to China from a position of strength”.

Victor Gao, a former Chinese diplomat who worked for Yang, said his former boss’s diatribe was “groundbreaking”. “Chinese leaders believe they have momentum and time is on their side,” he added. “Nothing can stop their rise.”

Chinese state media contrasted Yang’s comments with paintings of foreign colonial powers lording it over late Qing dynasty officials, who were repeatedly humbled in a series of conflicts with European, Japanese and American enemies.

The country’s “century of humiliation”, according to the Chinese Communist party, ended only after its revolutionary victory in 1949.

“China today is not the China of 1840,” Xu Guixiang, a senior party official in Xinjiang, said last week. “The days of Chinese people being bullied by the west have passed. We are not an easy target any more . . . We will fight tooth for tooth until the end.”

Many Chinese officials viewed Trump’s years in office as an unprecedented “strategic opportunity” to build bridges with Washington’s frustrated allies. But analysts said that, like Trump, those officials also believed that the Chinese Communist party could benefit domestically from diplomatic confrontations.

“Heated nationalism is good for strengthening the legitimacy and authority of the central government and [Xi],” said Yun Sun, a Chinese foreign policy expert at the Stimson Center in Washington.

“It all comes back to [Xi’s] mentality and the course he has charted,” she added, especially as the CCP prepares to celebrate the centennial of its founding in July. “The party needs to demonstrate its strength and achievements. A soft approach is not going to work.”

Last week Beijing challenged comments by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization director-general who had previously been criticised for his reluctance to confront Beijing. Tedros said that Chinese officials had withheld information from WHO experts investigating the origins of coronavirus.

“After coming under pressure from the Europeans, Canadians and Americans, Tedros didn’t want to give China a pass because that would have provoked a crisis with the west,” said a diplomat involved in the WHO’s deliberations.

“Meanwhile the Chinese had to stick to their rhetoric that ‘[Covid] is a bigger problem, we had it and we dealt with it, but now we have to look elsewhere [for its origin]. They have bats in Myanmar and Laos, too’,” the diplomat added.

“It also has to be seen in the context of what had just happened in Alaska where they said don’t lecture us and don’t talk down to us.”

Chinese diplomats have recently clashed with Manila, too, over an alleged incursion of Chinese fishing vessels in Philippine territorial waters, as well as Tokyo over Japan’s concerns about the Xi administration’s policies in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, warned his Japanese counterpart on Monday not to join US efforts targeting China.

“A certain superpower’s will does not represent the international community,” Wang said. “As a neighbour Japan needs to show at least a modicum of respect towards China’s internal affairs.”

Steve Tsang, director of the Soas China Institute in London, sees no end to such disputes. “Xi has said multiple times that Chinese officials and diplomats must unsheathe swords to defend the dignity of China,” he said. “The wolf warriors are just acting on Xi’s call to arms.”

Additional reporting by Xinning Liu in Beijing



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending