Last Week in Foreign Affairs (October 22 - October 28)
Far-Right Demagogue Jair Bolsonaro Wins Brazilian Presidential Elections
Jair Bolsonaro came into the Brazilian presidential elections on Sunday as a heavy favorite, and the projections proved right yesterday evening. Bolsonaro’s campaign, which had been marred by violence and coordinated efforts of fake news, was unprecedented in its heated rhetoric and extremist policies. The win comes as no surprise though, considering another major candidate, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was arrested and jailed during the campaign on charges of corruption. These charges stemmed from a sprawling investigation implicating almost all of Lula’s Workers Party, whose policies had lifted millions out of poverty but had simultaneously created a massive corruption racket. This lead to the paradoxical situation where Lula, who left office with an impressive 83% approval rating, was barred from running for president, and the unpopular Workers Party was forced to replace him almost at the end of the campaign. This confluence of events, along with Bolsonaro’s scorched earth policies against immigrants, perceived corruption, minorities, and gays, and overall nationalist zeal, created the perfect storm wherein a relatively unknown far-right populist won the presidency in Latin America’s largest country.
North and South Korea Agree to Demilitarize Joint Security Area
The DMZ has always been a border of high tension and high risk. Nowhere was that tension more clear than at the Joint Security Area, where North and South Koreans have stood for decades patrolling merely feet apart with loaded weapons. Last week, however, the two nations officially demilitarized the area also known as Panmunjom Truce Village. The removal of all weapons and ammunition from the village is heavily symbolic, seeing as it has been described as ground zero for a potential restart of hostilities and dubbed “the scariest place on earth” by former president Bill Clinton. This is the first step in fully demilitarizing the entire DMZ, which has been hailed by leaders from both countries as an important goal. While the strategic concerns of a North-South conflict do not necessarily change as a result of the perceived lessening of tensions, these are nonetheless useful steps taken by the two regimes to be able to legitimately consider reconciliation.
Italian Budget Rejected by EU Commission
The Italian budget recently put forward by the new ruling coalition consisting of right-wing populist parties the League and the Five Star Movement was rejected by the European Commission on Tuesday. This is the first time in the almost 20 years since the eurozone was created that the commission has had to reject a member state’s budget. The main reason for the denial was the country calling for massive spending increases as compared to previous years, with little to no plan for actually paying for any of it. The proposal was estimated to push their debt-to-GDP ratio to 2.4 percent, three times higher than what was expected if the coalition had maintained the previous spending budget. While this does not cross the 3 percent threshold the European Union has in place for its members, that ratio is expected to balloon as spending compounds year over year, potentially setting Italy on a collision course with a major recession. The central bank of Europe controls all borrowing within the eurozone, and if Italy refuses to acquiesce, the bank has the power to cease borrowing at the near-zero rates Italians currently enjoy. If this happens, the Italian bond market would most likely sink into junk status, which would carry harsh implications for international trade and tourism. Italy’s ruling parties must act carefully to ensure their country does not follow the same path as Greece.
Over 30 Rockets Fired into Israel from Gaza Over Weekend
The complicated and deadly struggle for power in the Middle East took another turn as over 30 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza over the weekend. The Israeli Defense Force has claimed that Iran supplied the rockets, training, and incentives to Gaza militants. Israel immediately responded with airstrikes of their own, claiming to target weapons manufacturers and leadership positions. The Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system, was supposed to have shot down dozens of the missiles, with the rest causing no casualties or injuries. The escalation seemed to stop there, as Egypt helped reinstate the tenuous ceasefire between Gaza and Israel. This all happened as seven more Palestinians were killed by IDF forces, along with almost 200 more injured by live fire, at the protests that have occurred near the border fence separating Palestine and Israel. Even with the resumption of oil shipments to Gaza, which had been blockaded by joint Israel and Egyptian forces to the point where most of the two million residents lived without power, there is little love lost between the two sides. With Iran funneling supplies to the rebels and Israel taking a hardline against protestors as usual, a lasting peace agreement seems far out of reach.