Dear Council Leaders, Supporters, and Friends:
Foreign affairs hit closer to home more often than we think. And while our mental maps are expanding to allow for more serious examination of events at and near our southern border, it seems to me that the sheer number of World Affairs Council programs that focus on great powers and economies of Europe and Asia, or on the tribulations in the Middle East, significantly outnumber those having to do with the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, Alaska brings us greater awareness of the Arctic, while the other pole tends to be forgotten.
Let’s try to change that. First, events in Venezuela rightfully demand our attention. Fifteen member states of the EU today joined earlier recognition by the U.S., Canada, and several Latin American nations of opposition chief Juan Guaidó as interim leader.
Guaidó, the leader of the democratically elected national assembly, and President Nicolas Maduro both headed rival massive street protests in Caracas on Saturday. The stakes are high for Venezuelans, who have seen their once prosperous country descend into chaos, corruption, and poverty under Maduro, the socialist successor to Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013.
While international diplomatic pressure and more stringent U.S. sanctions targeting the oil sector may squeeze the Maduro regime, they could also harm the people fighting it and fleeing from it. President Trump has not ruled out a “military option.” The geopolitical stakes are high, too, as Maduro has drawn support from Russia, China, and Turkey – portending much for great power rivalries and authoritarian challenges to democracy.
As for what happens in Antarctica, it certainly won’t stay in Antarctica. The enormous cavity detected by scientists beneath the continent’s Thwaites Glacier will impact sea levels globally. Understanding the science, the impact of growing tourism, the nature of increasing Chinese interest, and the sustainability of marine resources are all worthy topics for Councils to cover.