“The lack of conversation between those who believe in climate change and those who don’t worries me,” Merkel said. “It’s almost worse than in the Cold War. We must overcome it.” Her spirited defense of multilateralism and shared responsibilities was enthusiastically cheered by the liberal internationalists in the Davos crowd.
Though Merkel bemoaned a lack of conversation between leaders, there was no lack of it from them at Davos. To close out the week, here are a few snippets overheard by Today’s WorldView.
The man of the moment
The most dramatic appearance Thursday at Davos belonged to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who defied a travel ban placed on him by the government of President Nicolás Maduro and headed to Europe. At home, he and his allies face constant and “genuine risk,” as he put it. But at the forum, he was among friends. It was in Davos a year ago, after all, where a slate of foreign leaders recognized Guaidó — the leader of the country’s legislative assembly — as Venezuela’s lawful president.
Things haven’t gone swimmingly since. An attempted uprising last year fizzled when key elements of the Venezuelan military refused to turn against Maduro, who remains in power and, this month, used his security forces to try to shut Guaidó and his allies out of the assembly.
To rapturous applause, Guaidó appealed to the Davos crowd for help in defeating Maduro and the “criminal band” in command of the country.
“More people have left [Venezuela] than Syria,” he said during a speech, speaking of the more than 5 million Venezuelans compelled to quit the country as its economy was hollowed out. “We’re not at war, there are no bombs, but we do feel the weeping of our people.”
In a closed group session with a handful of journalists, including Today’s WorldView, Guaidó suggested that Maduro’s grip on power was weaker than it seemed. Maduro “thinks he’s strong, but he can’t leave Caracas,” he said, reflecting the view that the regime is consolidating control in the capital, while essentially abandoning other parts of the country.
The way forward is unclear. Guaidó called for increased sanctions on Maduro and a number of his key allies but demurred when asked whether he thought more should be done to curb the country’s export of oil, much of which now goes through the Russian oil giant Rosneft. He indicated that he didn’t want to see any foreign military intervention in the country’s affairs and that his movement’s chief goal was a transparent and free election.
Such a vote is unlikely for now. Guaidó spoke wistfully of his country’s collapse and the demagogic populism he blames for leading it down the path of ruin. Democracy is “delicate,” he said, adding that the steady “erosion of institutions,” including the undermining of independent media, the business community and trade unions, “unpicked” the “fabric” of Venezuelan society.
Now, Guaidó is not even sure what will happen to him when he returns home. “It was a high-risk undertaking for me and for my family” to leave the country, he said, adding that many of his friends and allies had been forced underground. “I do hope I can get home safe and sound.”
China’s loyal friend
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan spoke of his government’s austerity measures — his trip to Davos was paid for by a number of prominent Pakistani business executives, not state funds — as he tries to refashion his debt-ridden country into a successful welfare state.
Khan aired his oft-repeated grievances about Pakistan’s urban elites and the “skewed development” that left much of the country poor and only a few rich. Better, he suggested at a Thursday breakfast meeting, to develop like China, “which proved that, if you raise the standard from the bottom,” the whole nation thrives.
On Wednesday in a discussion with journalists, Khan also went to bat for Beijing, deflecting criticism of China’s persecution and detention of possibly more than a million Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim ethnic minority, in the country’s far-western Xinjiang region.
“As far as the Uighurs … as far as China is concerned, China has helped us,” said Khan in a conversation where he had just attacked India for its harsh emergency rule in Kashmir. “China came to help us when we were at rock bottom. And so we are very grateful to the Chinese government. And we decided that whatever issues we would have with China, we will deal with them privately. We will not go public on that.”
In a conversation with another small group of journalists Thursday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani scoffed at Khan’s insistence that key elements of the Taliban no longer operate in Pakistan. “One can also say that the earth does not revolve around the sun,” he quipped.
Ghani, whose administration is displeased with how U.S.-Taliban negotiations are being carried out, looked elsewhere for possible sources of hope. “The elephant in the room in South Asia,” he said, “is the environment, even more than conflict.” The effects of global warming have been particularly grim in countries like India and Pakistan, where melting glaciers and the warming oceans have led to extreme weather events and devastating flooding.
But collective regional action on the environment, Ghani suggested, “could do for South Asia what the Community of Steel and Coal” — the initial bloc that went on to become the European Union — “did for Europe.”