Biden is getting tough on Venezuelan migrants

Plus: The US sanctions Nicaragua’s gold industry, Brazil tightens its fake news safeguards, and peace talks begin in Ethiopia.

Hi there Intriguer. The Little Mermaid was right: sea animals really do talk! Just, ya know, not in English. According to scientist Gabriel Jorgewich-Cohen, 53 species (mostly turtles) previously believed to be non-verbal can actually communicate verbally with one another. He even determined that some egg-bound turtles chat with their mates so they can hatch at the same time. Minds. Blown.

Today’s briefing is a ~4.7 min read:

  • ↩️ Venezuelan migrants: Is Biden reversing course? 

  • ➕ Plus: The US sanctions Nicaragua’s gold industry, Brazil tightens its fake news safeguards, and peace talks begin in Ethiopia. 


Why is Biden getting tough on Venezuelan migrants?

In brief:

  • The Biden Administration is implementing harsher penalties to deter Venezuelan migrants, who have arrived en masse at the United States’ southern border. 

  • The new policy may indicate a broader shift in how countries across the Americas approach Venezuela. 

A group of mainly Venezuelan migrants crossing the Rio Grande river into the United States, June 2021. Source: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Title race

In a major reversal, the Biden Administration announced that it would use a Trump-era migration measure known as 'Title 42' to slow the arrival of Venezuelan migrants. 

  • The policy is already in place for other Latin American nationals, and will allow border officials to permanently expel Venezuelans who illegally cross over land or water. 

  • To soften the impact of this policy, the Administration allocated 24,000 asylum slots to Venezuelans arriving through airports. 

So, what gives? Immigration policy is a salient political issue in the US, and there have been a record number of border crossings during Biden’s tenure. With midterm elections fast approaching, Biden likely wants to be able to counter a key Republican talking point. 

What goes around... 

The policy also tells us two important things about the United States-Venezuela relationship. 

1. 😬 Sanctions can backfire

Venezuela has been under crippling Western sanctions since Nicolas Maduro declared victory in the 2019 presidential election, which international observers decried a sham. 

  • These sanctions added to the impact of natural disasters and an already bruised economy to create the worst refugee crisis in the Western Hemisphere. 

  • Of the nearly seven million Venezuelan migrants and refugees, 150,000 have been apprehended at the US-Mexico border since last October. 

2. 👯 The United States needs a partner

The United States and many of its regional and Western allies have recognised Juan Guaidó, President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s legitimate President since 2019. 

But recognition can’t change the facts on the ground. Nicolas Maduro remains Venezuela’s pre-eminent political actor. 

Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodriguez, writing in Just Security, thinks it's time for a reality check:

“Authoritarian regimes such as Maduro’s are hard to dislodge, and the international community needs to come to terms with th[at] fact... What the United States must do is dramatically reverse a failed sanctions policy that exacerbates the suffering of millions.”

Sweet relief

Things might be starting to change. Some Latin American leaders are frustrated with Guaidó and want to recalibrate their Venezuelan relations.

  • Newly-elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro, whose country hosts 2.5 million refugees, opened the 2,200-kilometre border with Venezuela last month for the first time in three years.

To slow migrant arrivals, the Biden Administration is also considering sanctions relief in exchange for governance concessions from Maduro.

These policy shifts are controversial, and whether or not Maduro agrees to the terms is anyone’s guess. But with millions displaced and the US midterms around the corner, leaders across the Americas seem convinced that the current course is unsustainable. 


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The Americas

🇧🇷 Brazil 

Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court has stepped in to ban "false or seriously decontextualised" social media content ahead of this Sunday’s runoff election. 

  • In the days immediately before and after the election, platforms like Youtube and Instagram will have only one hour to remove disinformation once it's flagged. 

  • Former president and leftist candidate Lula da Silva has maintained his lead over President Jair Bolsonaro in the polls. 

🇨🇴 Colombia 

Colombian cultivation of coca plants, the main ingredient in cocaine, increased by 43% between 2020 and 2021, according to a new UN report.  

  • Despite multi-national efforts to curtail coca cultivation, Colombia remains the world’s largest cocaine producer.

  • Illegal coca farms are a security and environmental hazard, providing revenue for criminal gangs while destroying biodiverse forest land.

🇸🇻 El Salvador  

Over 70% of Salvadorans believe their country’s big bet on Bitcoin was a “failure”, according to a poll by the University of Central America.  

  • El Salvador hoped the cryptocurrency would reduce transaction costs and entice crypto investors to the country. 

  • But Bitcoin has lost more than half its value since President Nayib Bukele introduced the policy in September 2021.

🇳🇮 Nicaragua 

The Biden Administration is targeting Nicaragua’s gold industry in its latest round of sanctions against President Daniel Ortega’s regime. 

  • Over the last few years, Ortega has hollowed out Nicaragua’s judicial system, imprisoned political dissenters, and fostered closer ties with Russia. 

  • The new sanctions will prevent Americans from doing business with the Nicaraguan gold industry, and strip US visas from hundreds of Ortega’s allies. 

🇺🇸 The United States 

The Federal Reserve is expected to proceed with another interest rate hike on 2 November, according to economists polled by Reuters.  

  • Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell is intent on raising rates until inflation (currently hovering ~8%) is cut in half. 

  • A growing number of experts inside and outside the Fed worry that the approach could lead to a recession. 


Cautious optimism in Tigray 

Government forces riding in a military vehicle, May 2021. Credits: [Ben Curtis/AP Photo]

The news: African Union-led peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) kicked off in South Africa this week. 

  • These are the first official peace talks since the Tigray War began in late 2020. 

A horrid affair: Regional governments and multilateral organisations have been pushing for a peaceful resolution to the civil war. 

  • As many as 600,000 people have died, and Ethiopia reported 5.1 million internally-displaced people in 2021.

  • Both parties have been accused of serious human rights violations. 

Hold your horses: While the talks are a welcome development, they’re unlikely to bring an immediate end to the conflict for at least two reasons: 

  1. Eritrea, a major combatant in the conflict, isn’t present at the peace talks.

  2. Only earlier this month, government forces took control of Adwa and Shire, key Tigrayan towns previously held by the TPLF.

As William Davison, senior Ethiopia analyst at the International Crisis Group, explains: 

“Given their military momentum on the ground, the federal authorities may seek a surrender, with Tigray’s leaders pledging to end their armed resistance and substantially demobilize their forces, but Tigray’s negotiators are highly unlikely to accept those sorts of terms as a way to end the fighting.” 


Dusting off that Macro 101 textbook

Okay, maybe we’re all tired of hearing about inflation, but this personal inflation calculator by the FT is actually pretty cool. You input your monthly spending for a select basket of goods and services, and the graph will reflect your personal inflation rate compared to the national average.  

Until the unprecedented-times-that-now-feel-very-precedented, inflation had stayed pretty stagnant in advanced economies over the last two decades. But, as many of you don’t need reminding, that is no longer the case. 

So, get on with it, and see what inflation could mean for you. If you’re anything like Intrigue writer Ethan, you’ve been spending a lot more on... frankfurters? 🤔

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