Thursday, December 8, 2016

GLOBAL POLITICS: Villains and “Heroes”

WHAT the media gives us, more often than not, we indulge in them like ice cream on a hot August night. It's always been like that—that is why we need to know further and deeper. For example, why is it North Korea's Kim Jong-un or Hugo Chavez (Venezuela's prez from 1999-2013) and Vladimir Putin are often pictured as villainous and mean and weird political leaders by media? Are they really THAT bad? Here are some angles.

          First, the United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations. Sweden acts as the protecting power of US interests in North Korea for consular matters. Since the Korean War, the US has maintained a strong military presence in South Korea (Washington's formidable economic/security ally in the region). What makes Kim a bad leader? Are North Koreans impoverished? NK possesses the structural profile of a relatively industrialized country. The economy is heavily nationalized. Food and housing are extensively subsidized by the state; education and healthcare are free; and the payment of taxes was officially abolished in 1974. Industry and services employ 65 percent of North Korea's 12.6 million labor force. Major industries include machine building, military equipment, chemicals, mining, metallurgy, textiles, food processing and tourism. Iron ore and coal production are among the few sectors where North Korea performs significantly better than its southern neighbor—it produces about 10 times larger amounts of each resource. So there you go. If Kim and Pyongyang ally with the US, more resources to reap profits from.         
          Throughout most of the 20th century, Venezuela maintained friendly relations with most Latin American and Western nations—until the 2000s. Washington tried to unseat power (Chavez time) via a 2002 coup d'état attempt during which Uncle Sam recognized the short-lived interim presidency of Pedro Carmona. Last year, Venezuela was declared a national security threat by President Obama—which proved to be a tactical flaw. The US ties to various Latin American and Middle Eastern countries not allied to the US have strengthened as a result. Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki declared in 2015 that Venezuela was his country's "most important ally.”
          Now is Venezuela's people poor? Let's see. Venezuela has a market-based mixed economy dominated by the petroleum sector, which accounts for roughly a third of GDP, around 80 percen of exports, and more than half of government revenues. Venezuela has the least expensive petrol in the world because the consumer price of petrol is heavily subsidized. Your Citgo heating, by the way, is Venezuelan-owned. Yup, Venezuela is a strong OPEC member. More than that, 60 percent of Venezuela's international reserves is in gold, eight times more than the average for the region. Not a poor country but not very friendly with the US.

          Now, need I talk about Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte and Dilma Roussef etc etcetera? Until these leaders—and their country's resources accede to Washington—they will stay as villains and bad guys. Take the case of Myanmar. Historically, this Southeast Asian country doesn't like the West. In return, the US and European countries imposed sanctions that resulted in the withdrawal from the country of most US and many European companies. Until 2012 when a West-backed pro-democracy party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi gained 43 seats out of a possible 45 in the elections. What does Myanmar got? Among others, Myanmar is the world's largest producer of opium poppies, pharma giants' minefields. Philippines? Brazil? I digress.
          I do believe that the world's superpowers, not just the US, need to redo or regroup their foreign policy and compromise/negotiate for common good. It can happen.

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