Since being elected, Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina) has not shied away from speaking out on difficult or controversial topics.  Whether or not one believes that the Pope should have a role in speaking on matters related to foreign policy, his opinion is influential and widely reported throughout the world.  Thus far, he seems to want to exercise his role as an international diplomat energetically and has become and outspoken advocate on numerous subjects and enabled dialogue between opposing parties.    

Pope Francis most recently caused waves by referring to the WWI Turkish massacre of an estimated one and a half million Armenians as genocide, a term which President Obama and some other world leaders will not use regardless of lobbying by Armenian-Americans and the Armenian government.  The Turkish government reacted to the Pope’s choice of words with anger and President Erdogan said in a speech, "I condemn the pope and would like to warn him not to make similar mistakes again."  The Pope did not recant his statement and emphasized his belief in “frankness,” even though the Turkish government recalled their envoy to the Vatican. 

On January 12th Blue Star Strategies hosted a breakfast with Managing Director Gabriel Sanchez Zinny to discuss Argentina’s political developments, the state of the economy and the implications for the U.S. business community.

 Would you give Blue Star Strategies’ readers an overview of the upcoming elections in Argentina?

By James Le Grice of London-based Network Partner Insight Consulting Group

 This March marks four years since the start of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) intervention in Libya that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. The intervention, spearheaded by Britain and France, was hailed at the time as Europe taking the lead in protecting the security of its own neighbourhood. Four years on, Libya is a failed state and a potential staging ground for terrorist attacks within the European Union. However, European enthusiasm to tackle the war next door has grown gradually colder despite its threat to Europe growing gradually hotter.

By Vaughan Meyer, Master's Candidate at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service

 In the past year, attacks on companies like Sony Pictures and Target captured attention and alerted the public to the extent of the United States cyber-vulnerability, and cybersecurity rose to primacy in social and political debate. The US government has responded with legislation and policy proposals, but some advocates say these efforts do not go far enough to address this problem’s complexity. However the debate unfolds, cybersecurity will only grow in importance as the economy and the world population become increasingly connected.

The Spanish center-right Partido Popular (PP) won the 2011 election in Spain with almost 50% of the vote, giving them a comfortable majority in Parliament.   This looks set to change in the upcoming electoral year which is expected to undo the post-Franco two-party political system in Spain.  Two recently formed parties, Podemos, which is closely linked to Greece’s ruling Syriza party, and Ciudadanos have entered the scene and both would likely take over 20% of the vote if the general election were held today. 

Barbara Shailor recently joined Blue Star Strategies as a Special Advisor.  Prior to that she was the Special Representative for International Labor Affairs at the Department of State from 2010-2014.  To better introduce her to the Blue Star community we conducted a brief interview on the current state of international labor rights and the impact on US foreign policy with a particular focus on upcoming trade negotiations, the role of multi-lateral organizations, and where the US can have an impact. 

On February 10, 2015 several hundred African migrants died off the coast of Italy while seeking refuge in the European country, marking one of the most significant losses of migrants’ lives at sea and simultaneously signaling the challenge the EU faces in coping with huge inflows of refugees. On October 3, 2013, 366 Eritrean nationals died when their vessel sunk close to the shores of Lampedusa (Italy). International public outrage, indignation, and dissent over the deaths, led to an appeal for a new strategy to address the issue. Mare Nostrum, the Italian refugee relocation project,was designed to patrol the Italian coasts and rescue vessels trafficking immigrants across the Mediterranean. While this project has saved the lives of more than 100,000 migrants in just over a year, it has also put an exhausting strain on Italy's finances, costing approximately 9 million Euros per month.

Although Latin America has aspired to democracy for decades, institutions in many countries remain weak, a trend which is brought into high resolution during elections.  The 2014 elections in El Salvador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil were marred by weak democratic and electoral institutions, lack of social inclusion, and corruption.  The upcoming 2015 elections in Guyana, Haiti, Guatemala, and Argentina seem set to contend with the same challenges.

Last November, Guyanese President Donald Ramotar suspended Parliament via a seldom-used Parliamentary mechanism called prorogation in order to avoid a no-confidence vote brought by opposition parties. Brushing off criticism, President Ramotar maintained that the prorogation was an attempt to avoid further political conflict and seek accommodation between his administration and the opposition. After months of suspension, and severe domestic and international pressure, Ramotar finally announced general elections for May 11.

The conservative Fidesz Party in Hungary has caused concerns throughout EU and NATO countries since it won a two-thirds super-majority in the Hungarian Parliament in 2010.   The party is militantly nationalistic, and the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been accused of restricting freedom of the press and of speech, and has maintained disconcertingly close ties with Russia.  The super-majority enabled Orban’s government to pass legislation with relative facility, and Fidesz’ loss of a seat in a by-election last Sunday will make this more difficult as they no longer have two-thirds of the seats in Parliament.  In addition, it should prevent the government from changing the country’s constitution. 

By Network Partner James LeGrice of London-based Insight Public Affairs

 A settlement on Iran’s nuclear programme is a far more realistic prospect this year than it was in 2014. With a shared threat from Islamic State, the UK working to reopen its embassy in Tehran, President Obama risking a standoff with Congress over new sanctions, and global investors excitedly predicting an Iranian ‘gold rush’, there are good odds that a deal will be reached by the June deadline, and that Iran will be granted sanctions relief. However, a deal is not a guarantor of peaceful relations and regional stability. It could potentially have the opposite effect, and there are some key factors at play within Iran unrelated to the nuclear issue that western policymakers need to consider.

As Qatar prepares to host the World Cup in 2022, scrutiny from the international community over the country’s labor practices is steadily increasing. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other human rights institutions, the demographics in Qatar have changed to the extent that today an astonishing 94 percent of its workers are migrants, and the numbers are expected to soar following the increased demands on the country’s construction industry. Workers, mostly from East Asia and Africa, migrate to the region hoping to support their families with remittances. However, many of them are deceived into working in terrible conditions for very low wages or in forced labor, while being told that they are being held to pay off the debt they have accumulated from the high costs of travel, housing, and living in expensive societies.

While the 2015 State of the Union Address delivered powerful, memorable messages regarding domestic issues namely on higher education, labor rights, and middle-class economics; President Obama also utilized the opportunity to elucidate the direction his presidency will be taking in foreign policy. President Obama reiterated support for U.S. allies in places like Paris and Pakistan in their battle against Islamist extremism and terrorism, touted the broad coalition the U.S. is leading in Iraq and Syria to degrade and destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and spoke on successes in West Africa in the fight against the Ebola virus. He underlined the strength of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its allies in the face of Russian aggression, trumpeted the normalization of relations with Cuba, and addressed the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Overall, the messages delivered did not deviate from previous statements and were unsurprising. Perhaps what was surprising; however, was a lack of commentary regarding the legislative branch and how their support (or lack thereof) will affect the visions he set forth.