Welcome back! Thanks for helping make this a wonderful year for Axios World, and for me.
Situational awareness: The Senate just confirmed Stephen Biegun, the current U.S. special representative for North Korea, as deputy secretary of state with a 90-3 vote.
Maduro on the balcony of the Miraflores Palace on the day Guaidó declared himself president. Photo: Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images
The Trump administration and the Venezuela opposition believed — insisted, in fact — that 2019 would be the year President Nicolás Maduro would fall.
The big picture: For a time it seemed Venezuela would be the international story of the year — an unfathomable economic collapse, a refugee crisis fast becoming the world’s gravest, and an international drive for regime change involving threats of military force.
How we got here:
Between the lines: Maduro has never again looked as vulnerable as he did that day, but U.S. officials continued to declare his ouster “inevitable.”
The flipside: The Venezuelan opposition has begun to fray and was recently hit by a corruption scandal. Guaidó himself — once portrayed in almost messianic terms — is becoming less popular and drawing ever-smaller crowds.
“Maduro has an incredible escape valve that he’s figured out, which is to allow everyone who doesn’t like him to flee. That is a win-win for him: Not only do you get the crowds down, but that’s less people you have to worry about not having food and medicine,” Cutz says.
Guaidó at the National Assembly. Photo: Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images
Over lunch at his stately Washington residence, Ambassador Francisco Santos told reporters Wednesday that Colombia is struggling to cope.
Still, Santos rejected the suggestion the U.S. should reconsider a sanctions-first strategy that has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. "We need to keep the pressure on," he said.
The bottom line: Santos acknowledged that change in Venezuela had not come as fast as many hoped.
"We hope that 2020 will be the year."
South Korea's constitutional court rules on President Park Geun-hye's impeachment, 2017. Photo: Kim Min-Hee/Pool/Getty Images
President Trump may only be the third American president to be impeached, but a quick look around the world might give him comfort.
By the numbers: “Since 1990, at least 132 different heads of state have faced some 272 impeachment proposals in 63 countries,” per the Economist. Most leaders survive attempts to remove them from office, as Trump almost certainly will.
The history: The roots of impeachment date back to ancient Germany, but the first known instance came in England in 1376 with the removal of ministers to King Edward III, according to the Economist.
The criteria vary: “In Tanzania, the president can be impeached if he has ‘conducted himself in a manner which lowers the esteem of the office of president.’ Honduran presidents can be impeached for incompetence. In Ghana, disrepute, ridicule or contempt of office suffice.”
So do the procedures: In most countries, the final verdict comes from a court or constitutional council.
Worth noting: I looked at the Newseum's gallery of global newspapers this morning to see how the world was covering Trump's impeachment, and I was a bit surprised to find it wasn't even mentioned on most front pages. A healthy reminder that the world doesn't revolve around Washington.
Yuting Zhang of China competes at Maurice Richard Arena, Nov. 10, Montreal, Canada. Photo: Minas Panagiotakis — International Skating Union/International Skating Union via Getty Images
1. Senators Rick Scott and Josh Hawley have called on NBCUniversal, which has broadcast rights for the Olympics, to refuse to air the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, in a letter obtained exclusively by Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.
2. Tunisia is the first Arab country to provide a sex education program for elementary and middle school students, the Washington Post reports. The country is known for being relatively progressive compared to its neighbors.
3. The Canadian Supreme Court today ruled in favor of Alexander Vavilov, the Toronto-born son of two Russian spies, and said he has the right to Canadian citizenship, the Washington Post reports.
Yemeni children attend a bombed-out school in Sana'a. Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The Council on Foreign Relations asked experts to rank 30 potential or ongoing foreign policy conflicts based on how likely they are to occur or escalate, and how directly they affect the U.S.
Top risks for the U.S. in 2020 include:
Why it matters: "President Trump has so far managed to avoid a really big foreign crisis on his watch as so many of his predecessors faced in their first term. His luck may hold but he shouldn’t bank on it," says CFR's Paul Stares.
Mark your calendars: Big events coming up in the new year.
Begging police not to harm young protesters in Hong Kong. Photo: Laurel Chor/Getty Images
The Economist’s annual Country of the Year designation goes to....
"Three years ago Uzbekistan was an old-fashioned post-Soviet dictatorship. ... Its regime allegedly boiled dissidents alive, and certainly forced legions of men, women and children to toil in the cotton fields at harvest time."
Honorable mention: New Zealand (for responding to terrorism with inclusion and new policies), North Macedonia (for choosing progress over nationalism in changing its name), and Sudan (for toppling a vile dictator).
So what was the international story of the year? Some options that come to mind:
Photo: Ozkan Bilgin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
"The Wakanda information should have been removed after testing and has now been taken down."— The USDA on why Wakanda — the fictional setting of "Black Panther" — was included on its website as a free trade partner of the U.S.