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Global Pulse: Putin’s best Christmas gift ever, the Saudi Crown Prince deserves sanctions

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The wave of corruption scandals across Latin America is gravely damaging Peruvian democracy, while Chile has just elected a centre-right leader. Vladimir Putin made the smartest investment this year, for which he is now reaping the rewards. Mohammad bin Salman, the renegade Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, should be sanctioned.

Putin’s Christmas gift

Vladimir Putin is the Warren Buffet of geopolitics: the investor of the year, writes Thomas Friedman in The New York Times.

“A recent report in The Washington Post, quoting intelligence sources, said Putin may have spent less than $500,000 to hack our last election and help (though Hillary helped much more) Donald Trump become president. And Putin’s payoff is Trump’s first year: a president who is simultaneously eroding some of our most basic norms, undermining some of our most cherished institutions and enacting a mammoth tax bill that will not make America great again.

If you assume, as I do, that Putin wants to see an America that is not an attractive model for his own people or others to emulate, and that he wants an America run by a chaos president who cannot lead the West, then Trump is his dream come true, whether or not there was any collusion between them,” he writes.

“On norms, we’ve grown numb to a president who misleads or outright lies every day.”

“In terms of institutions, Trump has personally disparaged the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the Justice Department.”

“But this erosion of institutions is not all on the White House — the G.O.P. congressional leadership went along for the ride, spurning proper congressional oversight of the tax bill.”

“Even Putin surely could not have imagined that Trump would be this foolish and the G.O.P. this cynical. It’s just the extra dollop of caviar on Vladimir’s Christmas blini.”

Penalise the Prince

In celebrating Mohammad Bin Salman’s domestic reforms, many seem happy to gloss over the young prince’s more problematic track record, writes Akshaya Kumar in The Washington Post.

“The war in Yemen, and Prince Bin Salman’s prominent role in it as defense minister, fits poorly into a narrative of a visionary young reform-oriented leader. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of Arab countries against the Houthi armed group, which controls much of Yemen. There has been nothing bold or transformative about his coalition’s relentless bombing of Yemen’s civilians while denying to hold any of his own forces accountable for their war crimes. As restrictions on imports push millions of Yemenis further into famine and aid the spread of normally treatable diseases, Prince Bin Salman shouldn’t be getting a free pass. Instead, he and other senior coalition leaders should face international sanctions.”

“But so far, the United Nations has taken a lopsided approach to Yemen’s conflict. The Security Council imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Houthi leaders responsible for abuses and on their erstwhile ally Saleh. The United Nations has information that points to the need for similar individual sanctions on coalition members, including military leaders in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. But mostly because of the power of Saudi Arabia’s allies — the United States, France and the United Kingdom — the Security Council hasn’t acted. Despite the worsening humanitarian situation, it’s been six months since the council said anything on Yemen, emboldening the coalition on its destructive path.”

“Continuing to shield the Saudis will abandon millions of Yemenis to further death and misery. The Crown Prince shouldn’t be able to paper over abuses abroad with talk of reform at home,” he writes.

A win for the conservatives in Chile

Chile’s centrist leaning has been reaffirmed with the centre-right Sebastián Piñera winning the presidential election in Chile, writes The Economist. 

Piñera’s victory has jolted the centre-left. Alejandro Guillier ran as successor to the erstwhile President, Michellet Bachelet, whose tenure saw important leftist reforms, but was also beset by scandal.

“By contrast, Chile Vamos ran a united, disciplined and well-funded campaign. A centrist message of economic growth, coupled with more handouts for the needy, appealed to voters outside its heartland. Mr Piñera, a 68-year-old billionaire businessman, seemed a safer pair of hands than Mr Guillier, whose ambiguous manifesto and increasingly left-wing rhetoric may have put off many Chileans.”

Piñera is not immune to controversy, however. He also promises to keep Bachelet’s left reforms, much to the conservatives’ dismay.

“Although Mr Piñera’s mandate looks strong, Chile Vamos lacks a majority in congress. He will therefore have to rely on other parties—probably the centrist Christian Democrats and independents—to pass laws. This helps explain his moderate tone.

Yet moderation is also what Chileans want. Despite the more radical left’s strong performance, Chile still looks most comfortable in the centre: at once pro-market and socially aware. Although less egalitarian than European social democracies, it wants to resemble them. Chileans will reward politicians who grasp this.”

Peru plagued by corruption

Peru is also deeply entrenched in a corruption scandal because of Odebrecht, a construction company, writes the Washington Post. 

“The corruption scandal that has disrupted governance in Brazil for nearly four years has been slowly spreading across Latin America, thanks to the confessions of a construction company that paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes in more than a dozen countries. The vice president of Ecuador was sentenced to six years in prison last week for accepting payoffs from the Odebrecht construction company, and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has been accused by a company official of taking campaign contributions in exchange for contracts.”

“Nowhere has the damage been greater, however, than in Peru, where two former presidents have been charged with crimes — and a third may be removed from office this week. What makes the trouble worse is that President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the target of an opposition-led impeachment vote scheduled for Thursday, has not been shown to be guilty of any wrongdoing, other than misleading the public.”

Odebrecht has admitted to paying Peru $29 million in bribes. “Mr. Kuczynski, who was serving in a previous government during some of the contracts, says he had recused himself and did not know about the work. He says he was involved in only one transaction, for consulting on an irrigation project, while he was out of office.”

Last week, Kuczynski’s opponent, Keiko Fujimori (who is herself under investigation for taking Odebrecht money) launched an impeachment motion against the president “n grounds of “permanent moral incapacity,” a charge that requires no tangible demonstration of wrongdoing, much less a trial.”

“Mr. Kuczynski has handled the Odebrecht affair poorly, but his removal would do only more damage to Peruvian democracy. Having been fairly elected, he would be ousted at the initiative of his defeated opponent on vague grounds after a week-long process. The constitution says his term should be completed by one of his two vice presidents. But Ms. Fujimori, who has already orchestrated the removal of three cabinet ministers and is targeting several supreme court justices, appears intent on dismantling the government piece by piece. That is not corruption fighting; it is abuse of power,” editorializes the Post.

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