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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
February 19, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Chavez’s Return Raises Questions

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez returned to Caracas (LAHT) early Monday after spending two months out of the public eye for cancer surgery in Cuba, announcing his return to his four million followers on Twitter. The government said that he had been taken to a military hospital to continue with his treatments, but gave no new details on his health or images of his arrival (AP). Chavez, who has served as president for fourteen years, was reelected for another six-year term in October 2012, but has yet to be sworn in for his new term. Analysts say that doubts remain (BBC) about whether his health will allow him to return to active politics.


"Among the political factors at work, analysts said Monday, is the 46% devaluation of Venezuela's currency ordered this month by Chavez's designated political heir, Vice President Nicolas Maduro. The move could carry political costs in the long term that would make it expedient for Chavistas to hold quick elections if the president is too ill to govern," write Chris Kraul and Mery Mogollon for the LA Times.

"Until now, the government has studiously avoided talking about the possibility of holding an election to replace Mr. Chávez. But on Monday, a government-run newspaper, Correo del Orinoco, ran a banner front-page headline saying that Mr. Maduro, who is Mr. Chávez's designated successor, would win an 'eventual presidential election' — a shift in tone that analysts viewed as particularly significant," writes William Neuman for the New York Times.

"Whoever winds up replacing Mr Chávez will face a daunting economic test. GDP is expected to stagnate in 2013, while inflation continues to rise. Even though exporters will benefit from a slightly cheaper bolívar and the right to keep a greater share of their foreign-currency revenues in dollars, the government still thwarts their efforts with a thicket of red tape," writes the Economist.



China Responds to Hacking Claims

China lashed back against a report by Mandiant Corp., a U.S. computer security firm, which accused a group attached to the People's Liberation Army of stealing large amounts of data (WSJ) from U.S. companies over a seven-year period.

CFR's Adam Segal discusses China's hacking scandal in this article.

JAPAN: Former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday to prepare for a possible visit (JapanTimes) by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.



Karzai Bans NATO Air Strikes

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, agreed to comply with an intended order by President Hamid Karzai that prohibits Afghan forces from requesting NATO air strikes (WaPo) on residential areas. Karzai announced the decree on Saturday after ten civilians died in one such air strike Tuesday night.

NEPAL: Nepal selected the country's Supreme Court justice as an interim prime minister (TOI) before fresh elections in June, potentially breaking a five-year political deadlock.



Obama May Consider Arming Syrian Opposition

The Obama administration could reopen the debate (NYT) on providing weapons to the Syrian opposition, according to the New York Times. So far, the American program of nonlethal assistance to the opposition and $365 million in humanitarian aid has yet to break the impasse that has claimed roughly 70,000 lives.

Expert Matthew Levitt discusses the Hezbollah connection in Syria and Iran in this CFR interview.

YEMEN: A Yemeni military plane crashed (AP) Tuesday in Sanaa, killing at least nine people in a neighborhood close to the main city square that was the epicenter of Yemen's uprising in the past two years.



ANC Rejects New Party

South Africa's ruling African National Congress dismissed the launch of a new party by former businesswoman Mamphela Ramphele, who started the Agang party (BBC) as the ANC is seeking to extend its nineteen-year rule in next year's election.

NIGERIA: An Islamist group linked to al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for kidnapping seven foreigners (IOL) in an attack on the compound of a Lebanese construction firm in Jama'are.



Armenian President Claims Reelection

Armenia's President Serzh Sarksyan clinched a second five-year term (Reuters) in an election that international vote monitors said lacked real competition. Sarksyan faces challenges to prevent tensions with Azerbaijan from increasing over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

GERMANY: German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet has approved plans to send up to 330 German soldiers to Mali (DeutscheWelle).

CFR's John Campbell asks what's happening with the ECOWAS force in Mali in this blog post.



Correa Cruises to Reelection Victory

Ecuador's incumbent president, Rafael Correa, won an easy election victory on Sunday with 58 percent of the vote, entitling him to a third term (LAT). His third term will be his last under current law.



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