Venezuelan High-Stakes Poker for Global Powers

(Bloomberg) --

The world is waiting to see if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro can hold onto power amid a newly invigorated opposition and fresh street protests. With the largest reserves of oil of any nation and strategically important, there are very big powers with interests there.

The U.S. is leading the charge against Maduro, endorsing National Assembly leader Juan Guaido and dangling the prospect of sanctions on the country’s petroleum exports. Venezuela has been a fiercely socialist regime for two decades, mostly under Hugo Chavez, who was a persistent irritant for his northern neighbor. Successor Maduro has similarly focused on ties with China and Russia.

China buys oil from Venezuela and has provided it more than $62 billion, mostly in loans, since 2007. Russia has also been a financial benefactor.

If China and Russia continue to back Maduro, it might embolden him to dig in. But if he loses the support of his military, then foreign allies could be tempted to open backchannel conversations with Guaido’s camp. They wouldn’t want to be relegated to the backseat in a new administration that pivots to the U.S.

The risk is Venezuela becomes a pawn in a bigger geopolitical game. That’s something ordinary Venezuelans struggling to get by in a shattered economy can ill-afford.

Click here for a photo from this week’s opposition rally in Caracas and other compelling political images from the past seven days.

Venezuelan High-Stakes Poker for Global Powers

Global Headlines

Promising signs | New negotiations between Senate leaders and the White House are providing fresh hope for a deal to break the impasse over President Donald Trump’s insistence on border wall funding, which has shuttered parts of the government for five weeks. The development follows the Senate’s rejection yesterday of competing Republican and Democratic funding bills.

Police state | At the heart of China’s Belt and Road trade and infrastructure program lies Xinjiang, one of the world’s most heavily policed states, where shopkeepers wield clubs and up to 1 million Uighur Muslims are interned. Peter Martin spent 10 days inside the far western region, finding that while Xi Jinping's economic ambitions drive the anti-Muslim crackdown, it could end up further tarnishing his efforts to present China as a defender of international rules.

Venezuelan High-Stakes Poker for Global Powers

Avoiding no deal | The campaign by business and lawmakers to avoid a catastrophic no-deal Brexit got a boost today from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Philip Hammond, who has been speaking to nervous executives in Davos, declined to rule out quitting Theresa May’s government if she pursues the chaos option. The pressure on the prime minister from her own Cabinet is building as she heads into a series of crunch votes on Tuesday.

Sailing by | U.S. Navy warships sailed through the disputed Taiwan Strait, a challenge to China days before the next round of high-profile trade talks between the two sides begin in Washington. China said it had “expressed concerns” to the U.S. over its first known show of force since November near the democratically run island, which Beijing considers a province.

Underground economy | Mexico’s president was elected last year on a pledge to clean up corrupt institutions. And he’s started out by targeting its most important company – Petroleos Mexicanos, which loses an estimated $3.5 billion a year to thieves. Amy Stillman and Nacha Cattan take an inside look at the deadly business of stealing fuel to show why Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador risks a blacklash.

What to Watch

  • The Greek parliament holds a historic vote today on the agreement with the Republic of Macedonia over the latter’s name.
  • Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has proposed a wealth tax on Americans worth more than $50 million, a pitch aimed at satisfying the eagerness of progressive voters to confront income inequality.
  • Two Chinese deputy ministers will arrive in Washington on Monday to prepare for high-level trade talks led by Vice Premier Liu He, Bloomberg reports exclusively.
  • The Trump administration’s case to end a program that protects almost 700,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation comes before a federal appeals court today, with the young immigrant “Dreamers” a potential bargaining chip in the shutdown dispute.

And finally... One of the best-kept secrets in the U.K. is what the Queen makes of Brexit, which is why the media is eager to divine meaning from her every utterance. At a speech to the Women’s Institute, the monarch might have had a message for her Parliament, at war over the split from the European Union: “I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture.”' Squabbling lawmakers, take note.

Venezuelan High-Stakes Poker for Global Powers

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