Another push to depose Maduro. This morning, Venezuelans woke up to news of a reported coup attempt against President Nicolas Maduro. In a message broadcast from Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Air Base, opposition leader Juan Guaido called on Venezuelans, especially the military, to peacefully rise up against the Maduro regime. He was joined on stage by some military members and by Leopoldo Lopez, another leading opposition figure who had been under house arrest and said the military had freed him. The Maduro government, for its part, said it was still in control and that it was putting down an attempted coup by a small group of military “traitors” linked to the opposition. Pro-Maduro politicians called for government supporters and paramilitary groups to rally at the presidential palace to defend the embattled president. Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez tweeted that all military units reported normalcy in the barracks and on bases.
Some good news for Europe’s economy. Eurozone economies grew by 0.4 percent in the first quarter (1.2 percent year over year), according to an estimate released Tuesday by the European Union statistics agency. Seasonally adjusted unemployment fell to 7.7 percent in March, the lowest reading since September 2008. Of particular note, Italy emerged from its technical recession, experiencing seasonally and calendar-adjusted growth of 0.2 percent quarter over quarter (0.1 percent year over year), reportedly thanks to higher net exports. Italy’s unemployment rate also dropped by 0.4 percentage points to 10.2 percent, still third-highest in the eurozone. Continuing an ongoing fight inside the Italian government, Italy’s economy minister told Il Fatto Quotidiano that the government will either have to cut spending or raise the value-added tax. The leaders of both ruling parties have insisted they will not abide a VAT hike.
Military spending on the rise. A new report published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows that global military spending reached a new post-Cold War high last year of $1.8 trillion, fueled primarily by higher U.S. and Chinese military expenditures. The next largest spenders were Saudi Arabia, India and France. Eastern Europe saw significant growth in spending compared to 2018: Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania all increased defense spending by between 18 and 24 percent. Poland’s military spending totaled $11.6 billion, an 8.9 percent increase from the previous year. Total global spending, according to SIPRI, is now 75 percent higher than the post-Cold War low in 1998.
Japan joins the 21st-century scramble for Africa. Japan’s government-owned Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (known as NEXI) is planning a partnership with the Kenya-based African Trade Insurance Agency and the Saudi Arabia-based Islamic Development Bank. The three will create trade insurance to fully cover infrastructure-related exports and loans to Africa. An official announcement from the Japanese government is expected next week. NEXI will foot 85-90 percent of the coverage and hopes to have the framework completed by the end of this year. The goal is to encourage Japanese companies to take advantage of business opportunities in Africa, where China and others have already been building up a presence.
Russia sounds the alarm on the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization of the dangers posed by members of the Islamic State who, with no caliphate left in Syria and Iraq, may find their way to Central and Southeast Asia. He noted that Afghanistan, in particular, serves as a springboard for IS in the region. Russian military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have started adopting measures to improve their combat readiness, and Shoigu said Russia was willing to help SCO partners in the region modernize equipment to improve combat capabilities.
- Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is apparently alive and well. He appeared in a video, released yesterday, for the first time since 2014.
- Russian security forces are once again searching the homes of Crimean Tatars, including activists Rolan Osmanov and Dilyaver Bekirov, as well as his son, Ruslan Bekirov.
- A Chinese court in Guangdong province sentenced a Canadian national to death over drug trafficking charges, according to Global Times. Ties between China and Canada have been strained over Huawei and trade issues.
- The Turkish armed forces moved more military equipment, including artillery units, to Hakkari province along the border with Iraq. The move targets the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
- Germany and France stressed that Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo needed to put internal affairs in order before they could think about accession to the European Union.
- The Panama Canal Authority has put in place draft limits on ships passing through the canal in response to the falling water level of Gatun Lake due to lack of rainfall. The limits will affect how much cargo a ship can carry through the canal.
- China’s official Purchasing Managers’ Index, which surveys manufacturing activity primarily at large state-owned firms, slowed from 50.5 in March to 50.1. (A reading above 50 signals expansion.)
- Japanese Emperor Akihito will abdicate his throne today, to be succeeded by his son, Crown Prince Naruhito. It’s the first abdication of a Japanese monarch in two centuries.
- Three Russian warships – the ship Minsk, the frigate Boykij and the corvette Passat – were spotted near the Latvian border. This comes just before NATO is scheduled to hold exercises in Estonia, May 2-10.
- A Russian scientist at the Academy of Sciences Institute of Ecology and Evolution confirmed that the Russian military has the capability to use Beluga whales for military purposes.
- Hong Kong-based port operator Orient International, a subsidiary of China’s state-owned Cosco, has sold its stake in the Port of Long Beach, the second-busiest container port in the U.S., in light of concerns raised by the U.S. security agencies.