Top of the Agenda: Chavez's Health Raises Questions About Venezuela's Future
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is facing respiratory failure following his latest cancer operation in Havana. His government warned against a "psychological war" (ElUniversal) by the opposition and media (BBC) to destabilize the regime. But opposition activists have speculated about a split between Vice President Nicolas Maduro, whom President Chavez named as his preferred successor, and National Assembly Head Diosdado Cabello, who the constitution decrees should temporarily take over power should Chavez die. Chavez is due to be sworn in on January 10.
"We can only assume that the looming power vacuum is what drew National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello to Havana on Thursday, joining Vice President Maduro at Mr Chavez's bedside," writes Sarah Rainsford for the BBC.
"Some recent news stories have raised questions about whether contacts between U.S. and Venezuelan diplomats could potentially lead to an improvement in long-strained relations if Chavez's health continued to worsen," writes Jorge Rueda for the Associated Press.
"The possibility of violence would be particularly high if Chavez died or announced his resignation for medical reasons after being reelected," writes Patrick D. Duddy in a CFR Contingency Planning Memo.
Japan Sends Envoy to South Korea
Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a special envoy to meet with South Korean President-elect Park Geun-hye on Friday in an attempt to soothe diplomatic ties (Yonhap) aggravated by fresh disputes over the Dokdo/Takeshima islands.
NORTH KOREA: South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman confirmed a report that Google Inc. Chairman Eric Schmidt is planning a trip to North Korea (Bloomberg) despite opposition from the U.S. State Department.
CFR's Scott Snyder examines the new year's speech by North Korea's Kim Jong-un and the potential for a shift in relations with South Korea in this blog post.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Malala Yousafzai Released From Hospital
The Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban last October for her campaign for girls' education has been discharged (Telegraph) from a British hospital. Malala Yousafzai is scheduled to undergo cranial reconstruction surgery later this month.
CFR's Isobel Coleman highlights Yousafzai's role in women's rights in this blog post.
INDIA: India has ordered more women police (HindustanTimes) to be recruited to the capital of Delhi following national outcry over the gang rape of a young woman last month.
Abbas Allows Fatah Rally
Tens of thousands of Palestinians marched Friday in Gaza in a rare rally (Reuters) staged by President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party to celebrate the 48th anniversary of the movement. It signaled warming ties with Hamas, the rival faction that has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007.
EGYPT: Egypt's Prosecutor General Talaat Abdallah has ordered an investigation into a claim by Egyptian lawyers that the Muslim Brotherhood took $1.5 billion from the U.S. government (al-Arabiya).
M23 Rebels Threaten to Quit Peace Talks
The Congolese M23 rebel group has threatened to pull out of peace talks (BBC) with the Democratic Republic of Congo government unless President Joseph Kabila signs a cease-fire agreement.
This CFR Interview with expert Jason Stearns discusses the Democratic Republic of Congo's weak peace process.
SUDAN: Leaders from Sudan and South Sudanese are set to meet (SudanTribune) in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa to accelerate discussions on their disputed border and the resumption of oil exports by South Sudan.
Hungary Court Voids Election Law
Hungary's constitutional court struck down a controversial electoral law (Reuters) that critics said would have favored the governing Fidesz party. The ruling could be a major blow to conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who swept to power in 2010 parliamentary elections.
FRANCE: Russian President Vladimir Putin granted citizenship (France24) Thursday to French actor Gérard Depardieu, who has waged a campaign against the French government over the 75 percent tax rate for millionaires that President Francois Hollande has proposed.
British Tabloid Weighs in on Falklands Row
The Sun, a British tabloid, took out an advertisement in an Argentinean newspaper reasserting British sovereignty (Guardian) over the Falkland Islands. It was a response to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron that claimed ownership of the islands, accusing Britain of colonialism.
Immigration Fight on the Horizon
The Obama administration's executive order to ease visa requirements for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants this week is another signal of the coming "uncertain political fight over a far-more-sweeping legislative package" on immigration expected in Obama's second term, reports the Washington Post.
In this new op-ed, CFR's President Richard N. Haass says the U.S. presidential election had many consequences, but few may be as profound as its impact on the likelihood of immigration reform.