As we enter March of 2014, the year is shaping up to be the Year of the Revolution.
Political unrest has been rocking the globe, and it isn’t limited to any one region. Unrest in Ukraine has spread beyond its borders as Russia has started to mobilize troops into the Crimean region, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela has deteriorated to the point of no return under Maduro’s regime, and Thailand’s government protests are likely to continue despite the protester’s successful movement for a new election.
Open rebellion is ongoing in Syria after failed peace talks and ethnic violence has broken out in South Sudan. Meanwhile, North Korea has officially been accused of crimes against humanity by the United Nations, and Uganda has enacted punitive legislation for being gay, or simply knowing gay people without reporting them to the authorities. In a nutshell, the world has gone haywire.
The next few years will help make history, not just for the nations in turmoil, but also for the rest of the world. In order to understand how these global revolutions will change the world, we’ll take a closer look at the events in Ukraine, Thailand, and Venezuela.
If you haven’t been following the events in Ukraine, here’s a quick catch-up: the regional divide in Ukraine between the pro-European Union west and the pro-Russian east and Crimean regions caused Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country to Russia. Yanukovych fled after widespread violence was perpetrated against the protesters who took over various government buildings. The remnants of the Ukrainian Parliament have demanded that Yanukovych and other government officials stand trial for their part in the mass killings of the protesters, but Yanukovych has denounced the protestors under the protection of Vladimir Putin.
Now, Russia has pushed troops into the Crimean region of Ukraine, with the future possibility of either an indefinite presence or outright military invasion into Ukraine to restore Yanukovych to power. Putin and Russia play a major factor in the development of the Ukrainian unrest and a push for Crimean independence from Ukraine is much more likely with Russia’s visible presence. Ukraine heavyweight and resistance leader, Vitali Klitschko, has given orders to mobilize troops against Russia, but one of the warships has already defected to the Russian side.
But what does Russia have to gain from Crimean independence? The Crimean portion of Ukraine is hardly self-sufficient—most of its power and food come from the mainland and the region gets very little rainfall, which essentially makes the region a negative asset. A bid for Crimean independence would make certain that Crimea would ultimately fail and quite possibly annex to Russia.
If Russia pushes further into Ukraine, it will only be to see how far they can go before any direct action is taken. Putin may be aggressive, but he is also smart, and he knows that none of the superpowers wants to begin a full-fledged military conflict. Unfortunately, Putin has a better poker face than the rest of the table at the G8.
After President Obama has failed to enforce multiple political ‘red lines’ in situations like Syria, the bark of the G8’s top dog has proven to be much worse than its bite. To top it off, United States troop morale is quite low after the deterioration of the political situation in Iraq, and the troops shuffling home from a long tour in Afghanistan probably weren’t looking forward to another urban warfare redeployment. Regardless, someone needs to do something or we may face an age of neo-imperialism. If Russia manages to successfully annex Crimea without repercussion, it will bolster other nations to solve their territorial disputes without global oversight.
While the bulk of Ukraine’s problems come from being a political pawn between two superpowers, Thailand’s unrest is mostly self-inflicted. The protest movement in Thailand has been led by Suthep Thaugsuban, who stepped down from his position in government to lead protests against Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Suthep’s major grievance with Yingluck’s regime stems from a political amnesty bill, ostensibly aimed at the return of Yingluck’s brother, the disgraced and corrupt Thaksin Shinawatra, who spends his days in self-imposed exile in Dubai. Thaksin Shinawatra was charged with corruption after a sale of state land was made to one of his sisters at an extreme discount.
Yingluck Shinawatra faces the same sorts of problems as her brother, and the pattern Shinawatra family nepotism has not yet changed. Yingluck’s problems with the Thai protesters partially stem from the political amnesty bill, but the Prime Minister is also faced with corruption charges relating to a mishandled rice subsidy plan which could result in Yingluck’s removal from office along with a five year ban from politics.
Unfortunately for the Thai people, no matter who wins the reins of the country, a significant portion of the population will be severely misrepresented. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban may be able to foster support for an already dissatisfied population, but the former government official also has a sizable rap sheet of his own. If Suthep manages to gain power, there is a danger that the rural population of Thailand will be ignored and left to stagnate.
The drastic regional differences in politics have raised calls for Thailand to split into two states, an outcome which is unlikely to occur, but unbefitting for a nation which managed to maintain its national identity during the entirety of the Colonial Era. Even though Thai culture has endured through difficult times, Thailand’s politics are a completely different story. In the past century, the Thai government has experienced 18 military coups, 11 of which were successful in replacing the regime.
No matter who wins control of Thailand, the rest of the world needs to keep an eye on the country and encourage real political reform. Instability in Thailand also represents a greater instability in the majority of Southeast Asia, especially since Thailand is one of the key members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Similar events have already been occurring in Cambodia, ASEAN member and one of Thailand’s immediate neighbors.
Venezuela has been left in an interesting situation after the death of longtime leader, Hugo Chavez. Chavez’s charisma managed to unite Venezuela under a common cause, namely oil. Chavez’s handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, is struggling to maintain the unity of Venezuela and less than a year into the Maduro regime, protests and riots have broken out across the country.
To be fair, Maduro inherited a significantly weakened Venezuela from Chavez in the form of social disparity and a vastly inflated currency. However, while Maduro’s policies echo the sentiments of his former mentor, his voice doesn’t carry the same strength and reach as Chavez. Maduro has even accused the United States of attempting to rig Venezuelan politics through media coverage of the Venezuelan protests, which resulted in the paranoid leader expelling three U.S. Ambassadors and revoking CNN’s press access from the country.
Venezuela’s opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was arrested for his involvement in organizing the Venezuelan uprising, and his position as a political martyr has helped galvanize the anti-Maduro protesters who are continuing to march on Caracas. So far, there have been 18 deaths and hundreds injured during the course of the Venezuelan unrest.
Interestingly, the opposition is not demanding a complete regime change. The protesters have called for certain government officials to resign due to human rights violations, a release of political prisoners, opening up the media to the public, and halting foreign oil trade programs until Venezuela can recover economically.
Venezuela is not the only South American country in the midst of turmoil. Argentina has also been dealing with huge amounts of inflation, and Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa is facing shaky ground as opposition members have wrested major districts away from Correa’s party.
The future of Latin America may rest on how Venezuela and its allies handle their problems with governance. Venezuela has allies in Argentina, Ecuador, and Bolivia, but Chile, Peru, and Colombia have managed to stay out of the situation thus far. The three neutral countries are also members of the Pacific Alliance, a free trade consortium of Latin American countries which also includes Mexico and Costa Rica.
Venezuela has condemned the Pacific Alliance as U.S. backed economic propaganda intended to stamp out socialist policies. Ironically, the Pacific Alliance has the power to create a strong and unified South America that could rival the political and economic power of the European Union and the United States due to its vast amount of available resources. Ultimately, Venezuela and the rest of Latin America will have to carve out its own history as the United States is too busy dealing with problems halfway around the world.