sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Friday, January 12, 2018

Here and There

Cause and Effect

Much of what I do these days deals with the cause and effect of various people and events outside of the USA and that can't happen in a vacuum. Just about everything impacts the USA to a greater or lesser degree because in this hemisphere particularly, the US calls many of the shots. The price of oil in Venezuela and the price of export coffee in Honduras are small things to the US but are big things in those countries. Chinese militarization of the South China Sea, while disturbing to the US, is of major interest to Vietnam, The Philippines, and Japan. From time to time I post a few updates just because there is very little in the news media beside incessant criticism of President Trump.

However, the US Stock Market is up across the board, creating another $500 billion in wealth since Christmas. The ripple of that is driving investment across the globe, and creating questions of how long that can last. Foreign investment in the US creates stability for us because anyone who has your money is also your friend. And anyone we owe a couple trillion to is an ally whether they like it or not because crashing the US crashes themselves. President Trump understands this, but the corrupt, venal, sly, elite media doesn't seem to get it.


Two sets of stories showcase the contrasts in Venezuela. In the Dominican Republic on 11 January, Venezuelan government negotiators met representatives of the opposition Democratic Unity Committee for talks about ending the political and economic crisis.

Today, international observers will join the talks. They include Dominican Republic President Medina and officials from Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Nicaragua.

The political issues have not budged in over a year. President Maduro insists that the National Constituent Assembly, which is composed of Maduro supporters, is the law of the land. He also says that the troubles are not the result of his socialist policies, but are caused by the US which is waging economic warfare against Venezuela.

The opposition Democratic Unity Committee insists that the National Assembly, which the opposition controls, shares power with the presidency, under the constitution, and that Maduro should step down.

Economics have become internal security. On 11 January, mobs ransacked a food collection center and a supermarket in Merida. They also reportedly slaughtered cattle. An opposition legislator said four people died and 10 were injured in food riots in Merida in the past two days.

On the 9th, looters emptied five stores in Ciudad Guayana. In Guanare on the 10th, a teenager was shot dead when hundreds of people looted trucks carrying flour and chicken.

The political discussions and the issues are surreal against the backdrop of cattle rustling and slaughter, frequent looting, increased food smuggling from Colombia, the rise in public health diseases, unemployment, runaway inflation and shooting deaths over food.


On 7 January, the political opposition, led by Salvador Nasralla, rallied thousands of demonstrators in San Pedro Sula, who demanded new presidential elections. This has been a festering wound in Honduras and has occupied the nation for the past month or so.

On 10 January, Honduras experienced the effects of an offshore earthquake that registered a magnitude of 7.6. No property damage or loss of life have been reported, but no additional political demonstrations took place.

The price of coffee is expected to decline because Honduras reported a surprise bumper crop of coffee beans, according to the Financial Times. The US Department of Agriculture expects Honduran coffee exports in 2018 will set a new record.

Seismic events, public health conditions and weather tend to disrupt political activity and sap political ardor with little warning. 


Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Manila will lodge a diplomatic complaint with China if it is confirmed that the facilities on Fiery Cross Reef have been militarized. 

Imagery aired by China Central Television (CCTV) on 30 December showed details of the air base on Fiery Cross Reef. 
China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, answered a question on 9 January about the Reef. “Of course, China also needs to construct necessary defense equipment for its territory. The relevant equipment is not directed at any particular country.”
The reef now covers 677 acres and has a hospital with more than 50 doctors, high-speed mobile connections and an airport with a runway of 3,160 meters (10,367 feet) to serve what Beijing calls a “weather station” equipped with radar. It has hardened shelters for air defense missiles, hangars for 24 combat aircraft and accommodation for four larger aircraft.

This is a pro forma protest because the Philippine government knows China built military facilities and air bases in the Spratly Islands, including on islands claimed by the Philippines. CCTV has aired imagery of construction on Fiery Cross Reef regularly in the past two years, including after dredging began in 2015 and construction work when it began in 2016. 

Last May, commercial imagery showed that construction of the air base on Fiery Cross Reef was completed. The Chinese have converted the island into a stationary aircraft carrier that can handle Chinese H-6 bomber aircraft.

What prompted the Philippines to protest is the recent program aired by China Central Television. The diplomatic protest is a face-saving gesture because the TV program suggested China was violating assurances it made to the Philippines to not militarize the island. 

China still insists that the construction of military facilities does not constitute militarization. Civilian airliners landed on Fiery Cross Reef at least twice in 2016. However, Fiery Cross Reef is the southern military hub for supporting China’s claims in the South China Sea.

President Duterte has made contradictory statements about Philippine claims and relations with China. Chinese leaders have cherry-picked those that are congenial to Chinese interests and have proceeded with their own plans. 

Relations will not deteriorate. China will reassure the Philippines that the facilities are defensive and not militarized. The Philippine Foreign Secretary already issued a public assurance that China is not performing additional dredging activities in the Spratlys, as promised.