Monday, March 18, 2019

Maduro to reform cabinet (March 18, 2019)

Embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro asked his entire cabinet to resign yesterday. The move comes ten days after a blackout affected much of the country and led to extensive chaos and looting in some areas. (Efecto Cocuyo) It might be an attempt to shore up internal support, according to the Miami Herald.

This weekend  Maduro promised to restructure state power company Corpoelec and promised to create a unit in the armed forces focussed on protecting key infrastructure from cyber attacks. The government maintains that outages were caused by sabotage, though most experts agree agree that worn out infrastructure is to blame. (Reuters) And blackouts are only likely to increase in frequency and intensity in Venezuela say technicians who point to chronic underinvestment and significant brain drain. (Wall Street Journal)

In the meantime, presidential challenger, National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, is on a nation-wide tour dubbed "operation liberty." (Efecto Cocuyo)

More from Venezuela
  • Cuban doctors who participated in a Venezuelan government health program say medical services were used as a political tool, reports the New York Times. The investigation is based on interviews with 16 members of medical missions to Venezuela, a key element of the relationship between the two countries.
  • Reporting on Venezuela is also hyperpolitical, and it is often difficult for outside readers to trust the Venezuela portrayed in different media versions, writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed that lauds the efforts of independent Venezuelan media outlets: Efecto Cocuyo, Armando.info, Runrunes, El Pitazo, Crónica Uno, Tal Cual, Correo del Caroní.
  • Guaidó suggested that Spain is a good destination for Chavista officials who want to defect from Maduro in support of a transition. The U.S. and Spain have apparently had conversations in that vein. (EFE)
  • Sanctions against Venezuela are hurting the country's most vulnerable who have long been struggling to access enough food and medicine, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Close to 1,000 security officers -- military and police -- have fled to Colombia this year, according to Colombian authorities. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Press workers denounced paramilitary harassment of journalists covering a protest in Lara. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • The Trump administration is considering sanctions against third countries that facilitate shipment of oil from Venezuela to Cuba, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Venezuela may try to divert U.S. bound oil to Russia. (Reuters)
News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • U.S. financial dominance in the region is eroding in favor of a more multi-polar world that includes significant trade with East Asia, writes  Leslie Elliott Armijo at the AULA blog. "... South American countries probably will try to find the right balance between embracing and rejecting the declining yet still dominant hegemon to the north and, as in the case of Venezuela, developing their own strategic vision, forging unity among themselves, and putting some muscle behind an agenda that prepares them for the future."
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will meet with U.S. President Donald Trump tomorrow -- both sides are heralding alignment between the ideologically similar, controversial leaders. This will be Bolsonaro's first visit as head of state, but critics say too warm a relationship with the U.S. could hurt Brazil's standing with its biggest commercial partner, China. (Guardian)
  • Steve Bannon will be Bolsonaro's special dinner guest tonight, reports McClatchy.
Brazil
  • Bolsonaro is doubling down on plans to loosen gun regulations in Brazil, even as the country reels from a school shooting incident last week in which 8 people were killed. (Wall Street Journal)
Guatemala
  • Accusations that former Guatemalan attorney general Thelma Aldana faked a consultant hire are false -- the Public Ministry did commission a report from a Washington consultant. But though the work was carried out, the cost and quality raise questions, according to Nómada.
Colombia
  • Attempts to reform the 2016 peace accord with the FARC could be disastrous, warns Humberto de la Calle. (El País)
Migration
  • Human smugglers have developed a new method of direct bussing migrants across Mexico, delivering Central American families directly at the U.S. border where they surrender to authorities and initiate asylum claims. U.S. authorities say the "conveyer belt" has contributed to increases in large groups of families attempting to enter the U.S. (Washington Post)
  • The U.S. State Department's reports on human rights abuses in the world highlight government repression in Nicaragua -- even as the Department of Homeland Security has sought to eliminate protection a temporary residency program for Nicaraguan nationals in the U.S. (New York Times)
  • Many descendants of small community in northern founded by African Americans fleeing slavery in the U.S. in the 19th century are now looking for work on the other side of the border. (Washington Post)
El Salvador
  • Jucuapa in El Salvador is home to a thriving coffin industry, that caters to victims of the country's violence epidemic. (Bloomberg)
History
  • A new history book, El Norte, revises 600 years of North American history to account for the mostly ignored Spanish impact on the United States' development. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Friday, March 15, 2019

Alianza Cívica demands release of political prisoners (March 15, 2019)

Nicaragua's Alianza Cívica called on President Daniel Ortega to free political prisoners as a sign that negotiations are advancing. The opposition alliance has been in on-and-off discussions with the government to seek a way out of a political crisis, but organizations of civil society are increasingly unwilling to continue unless political detainees are liberated. 

Opposition groups say 767 people are political prisoners, while the Nicaraguan government recognizes 340 in relation to anti-government protests since April of last year. (Confidencial)

The U.S. supports calls for liberation and early elections. (Confidencial)

The European Parliament criticized Nicaragua on human rights and called for sanctions, yesterday. (Associated Press and Confidencial)

News Briefs

El Salvador
  • Salvadoran president-elect Nayib Bukele hopes to strengthen his country's relationship with the U.S., which he called "our greatest ally, our greatest friend." He promised to fight what he calls "forceful migration" -- people spurred to leave El Salvador to escape violence or lack of economic opportunity. Bukele also reiterated a promise to create an international anti-impunity commission, with the OAS or the U.N. (Daily Signal)
  • Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington accused China of not playing by the rules. “They develop projects that are not feasible, leaving countries with huge debt that cannot be paid back and use that as financial leverage ... They are not a democracy, but they intervene in your democracy." The comments come as Bukele contemplates rolling back El Salvador's recent diplomatic recognition of China over Taiwan. The Chinese government objected to his comments. (Reuters)
Venezuela
  • Most of Venezuela has electricity again, but it will be a long time before service returns to normal after the outage that impacted much of the country over the past week. (Guardian)
  • At least 300 people have been detained in protests and disturbances in relation to the blackout. (Reuters)
  • Venezuela's second largest city, Maracaibo, has been in havoc and devastated by looting in the week-long power outage. (Guardian)
  • Year-on-year inflation as of February is running 2.3 million percent, according to the opposition-led National Assembly. It slowed down last month however, due to the brutal crisis that is impacting consumption. (Miami Herald)
  • As Venezuela crumbles, Nicolás Maduro increasingly relies on paramilitary groups -- armed, motorcycle-riding "colectivos -- to terrorize protesters, reports the Washington Post.
  • The U.S. is looking at sanctions that would prohibit credit cards from processing transactions in Venezuela. (Reuters)
  • Greece backed Bolivia's call for a negotiated settlement to Venezuela's crisis. (Associated Press)
  • Military intervention is not a solution to Venezuela's crisis, Colombian President Ivan Duque said in an interview. (Reuters)
Guatemala
  • The U.S. suspended some military aid towards Guatemala yesterday, citing repeated misuse of Washington-donated armored vehicles. (Associated PressNómadaReuters and El Periódico) The U.S. donated jeeps figured prominently last year circling outside the CICIG headquarters and the U.S. embassy when President Jimmy Morales announced he was terminating the U.N. backed anti-impunity commission. (See post for Sept. 3, 2018.)
Colombia
  • The U.N. warned Colombia not to unravel the 2016 peace deal with the FARC, after President Iván Duque announced he would seek to reform aspects of transitional justice legislation earlier this week. (AFP)
  • Homicides in Colombia's municipalities increased by 49 percent in 2018, and the level of impunity is alarming, according to the U.N. (El Tiempo)
  • Duque's government wants to return to aerial eradication of coca with glyphosate, but the cancer-linked herbicide isn't the solution to the country's war against illicit crops, argues InSight Crime.
Brazil
  • Assassinated Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco has become a symbolic antithesis to Brazil's dominant political forces -- her killing "also injected a life-or-death sense of urgency into the rights movements she espoused," reports the New York Times.
  • Brazil's Supreme Court ruled that corruption cases involving illegal campaign donations should be handled by electoral courts. The move threatens to undermine the country's crusade against corruption, warned some prosecutors. (Reuters)
  • Brazil's central bank could better target inflation if guaranteed autonomy by law, according to new head Roberto Campos Neto. (Bloomberg)
  • President Jair Bolsonaro will embark on a world tour. Visits will include Washington DC, where he'll meet with President Donald Trump -- both leaders are known to share a strong affinity for one another. Expect the earth to shake, promise some. (Washington Post and Americas Quarterly)
  • Then he'll head to Israel, where he will likely not be able to deliver on a promise to move Brazil's embassy to Jerusalem, reports Reuters.
Mexico
  • Mexico's Congress gave final approval to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's plan to create a militarized National Guard. (Reuters)
  • A series of strikes in Mexico's Matamoros maquiladoras has gotten workers in many U.S. owned factories wage increases and bonuses. And the 20/32 movement, as it's known, is spreading to other maquiladoras in cities around the country, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Ecuador
  • Ecuador announced its departure from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and requested the return of the organization's main building, which is in Quito and has an estimated value of $40 million. (UPI)
Peru
  • Peru's unexpected president, Martín Vizcarra, has proved stronger than believed when he took office a year ago. And seems to be opening a space in Peru for a liberal political project, argues Carlos Monge at the AULA blog.
Argentina
  • Former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been angling for a comeback in this year's presidential elections, and is wooing the so-called "moderate" Peronists in an attempt to broaden her voter base, reports Reuters. Her candidacy would only help President Mauricio Macri who is also expected to run for reelection.
  • Argentine authorities say record-high drug seizures and arrests since 2015 mean Macri's security strategy is a success -- but critics say the figures don't translate into significant gains against criminal organizations. (InSight Crime)
Women
  • Motherhood is sanctified in Latin America, and obstetric violence is rife. Perhaps it's because patriarchal societies believe women's only true calling is being a mother, writes Vanessa Barbara in a New York Times op-ed.
Journalism
  • Alma Guillermoprieto spoke to the Columbia Journalism Review at length, including how "Twitter freed perfectly nice people to be horrible. It is like a road rage. Twitter rage is like road rage where perfectly nice people suddenly find themselves free to say loads of things that they don’t even mean."
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Guatemala amnesty law delayed (March 14, 2019)

A group of Guatemalan lawmakers walked out of a congressional session yesterday, effectively suspending a vote on a controversial amnesty law that would suspend thousands of investigations into human rights abuses committed during the country's long civil war, and free 30 former military officers convicted of crimes against humanity. The session had continued despite an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling yesterday asking Guatemalan authorities to archive the initiative. The Court said the law would impair victim's right to justice and disobeys an earlier court ruling prohibiting this kind of amnesty. (La HoraPlaza PúblicaEl Periódico)

Protesters gathered outside Congress with photographs of victims asking lawmakers to reject the amnesty bill. (See yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's.)

The fight for justice in Guatemala has faced many obstacles over the years, but this amnesty for genocide might be the most brazen assault on the rule of law we’ve seen,” said Daniel Wilkinson, Americas managing director at Human Rights Watch. “If it approves this law, Congress will be violating Guatemala’s legal obligation to ensure justice for the worst atrocities and openly defying a binding order from the Inter-American Court.”


International critics of the initiative include the United Nations, the G-13, the Netherlands, Norway and the European Union. (El Periódico

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights' ruling yesterday also gave Guatemalan authorities one month to report on access to justice in 14 cases related to human rights violations from the civil war. (El Periódico)

More from Guatemala
  • Former attorney general Thelma Aldana's presidential candidacy is in question after authorities say her paperwork proving she is free of judicial cases is not in order. The Movimiento Semilla party said the move is politically motivated to eliminate her from the running. (El PeriódicoLa RepúblicaLa Hora, and El Periódico)
News Briefs

Venezuela
  • There's been much debate over the massive electrical outage in Venezuela -- whether it is the fault of aged infrastructure with inadequate maintenance, or potential sabotage aimed at undermining Nicolás Maduro's government. Both are possible, though the former is far more likely according to most experts. (GuardianVenezuela Weekly) In fact, it's somewhat surprising the grid hasn't failed massively before this, notes David Smilde. 
  • A World Bank arbitration panel awarded ConocoPhillips over $8 billion in a dispute of an expropriation carried-out by Hugo Chávez -- approximately the same amount as Venezuela's total foreign reserves, writes Smilde in the Venezuela Weekly.
  • The United States is preparing to impose “very significant” Venezuela-related sanctions against financial institutions in the coming days, U.S. special envoy Elliott Abrams said earlier this week. (Reuters)
  • Several bills in the U.S. House of Representatives express a growing resistance by lawmakers to "the repeated, reckless threats of U.S. military intervention, which are roundly failing to advance a solution to Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis," according to WOLA. Indeed, threats of invasion only strengthen Maduro and critics of Venezuela's opposition. Instead WOLA recommends supporting the International Contact Group and large-scale humanitarian operations in Venezuela in cooperation with multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.
  • Washington's sanctions against Venezuela aim at regime change, but the coalition of countries backing the efforts are hardly disinterested argues Mark Weisbrot in The New Republic. In a similar vein, Jesse Jackson decries the Trump administration's policies towards Venezuela in the Chicago Sun Times: "Fomenting regime change — by a soft coup, by economic sabotage, by fostering a military revolt — is likely to lead to more violence and more suffering."
  • Venezuela's foreign minister said the U.S. and Colombia are responsible for the harm caused by illicit drugs in the region. Speaking before the U.N.'s Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna he suggested state collusion in the problem. (EFE)
  • Numerous representatives from Lima Group and European countries left the room in protest while he spoke. (EFE)
  • A week after shutting down due to lack of power, the Caracas Metro partially reopened, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Venezuela has been hyperinflationary since 2016, a long run that has residents resorting to dollars and barter to get by, reports the Guardian.
  • A U.S. judge threw out a lawsuit that alleged bid-rigging by oil traders against Venezuela's state oil company, Pdvsa. (Wall Street Journal)

Haiti
  • Weeks after seven security contractors -- several U.S. citizens -- were arrested driving in unmarked cars in Port-au-Prince with a cache of weapons, the episode remains shrouded in mystery. (See Feb. 22's briefs.) A new CEPR report reconstructs the available facts, linking a U.S. owned company, the Haitian Central Bank, businessment with close ties to the ruling party, and the U.S. governmetn: "The chain of events initiated by the detention revealed the weakness of the nation’s justice system and the precariousness of the current Haitian administration; it exposed the close ties between criminal networks and the ruling party; and casts doubt on the idea that this was a simple security operation gone wrong."
Mexico
  • Reporters Without Borders asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the murders of 102 journalists in Mexico from 2012 to 2018. The organization called the killings a crime against humanity, reports AFP.
  • Masked gunmen kidnapped 19 migrants, believed to be from Central America, who were traveling through northern Mexico by bus last week. Their whereabouts are unknown, but it's not a unique incident -- 25 migrants were pulled off a bus in similar circumstances last month. The episodes highlight the dangers faced by migrants in Mexico, who are increasingly targets of organized crime groups that kidnap and extort them, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Colombia
  • Negotiators of the 2016 peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government warned that President Iván Duque's plan to reform the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) will seriously damage the accord. Delegates from the FARC and the government of former president Juan Manuel Santos sent a letter to UN chief Antonio Guterres expressing concern over the government's attempt to reform the transitional justice system that forms the agreement's backbone, reports AFP. (See Monday's briefs, and Tuesday's for Human Rights Watch's objections.)
  • Indigenous activist Alexánder Cunda was killed last week in Colombia's Cauca region -- the latest in ongoing attacks against social leaders that have claimed 20 lives so far this year. (Democracy Now)
Brazil
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is under increasing pressure to explain his family's alleged links to Rio de Janeiro paramilitary groups. This week a photograph surfaced of Bolsonaro with a former police officer detained in relation to councillor Marielle Franco's killing last year. Police also confirmed that one of Bolsonaro’s sons had dated the daughter of the other murder suspect, reports the Guardian. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Though two suspects of actually carrying out the murder were detained this week, activists say finding the intellectual authors of the crime is tantamount. "Finding out who ordered Marielle’s murder is key to the most important political cause of our time: stopping authoritarianism in Brazil," writes lawmaker David Miranda in the Guardian. "With that comes the possibility of a democratic movement which can help us overcome the current state of affairs."
  • At least 10 people died in a school shooting in São Paulo yesterday, raising concerns in the midst of a push to loosen Brazil's gun regulations, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs and the Guardian)
  • Prosecutors are investigating more than 100 high-risk dams in Brazil -- they say they doubt the legitimacy of safety audits carried out for mining companies in the wake of a deadly collapse in January. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Brazil's government plans to have a pension reform vote in the lower house of Congress by end of May. (Reuters)
Uruguay
  • Uruguayan President Tabaré Vásquez dismissed the country's army chief after he questioned how local courts have handled cases of military dictatorship era human rights abuses. (Associated Press)
Ecuador
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno was elected on a progressive agenda, but then pivoted towards neoliberal economic policies that threaten to unravel the country's social gains, argues Timm Benjamin Schützhofer in NACLA.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Venezuela looks for blackout scapegoats (March 13)

Electricity has been restored in Caracas, but much of western Venezuela is in the sixth day of a massive blackout that has left residents desperate for food and water. Watchdog groups say 19 dialysis patients have died since power went out last Thursday, and an additional 24 hospital patients died from complications related to the outage. Looters ransacked businesses in Maracaibo, reports the Wall Street Journal.

And the embattled Maduro administration announced that it is investigating National Assembly leader and presidential challenger Juan Guaidó for alleged sabotage of the power grid. He is unlikely to be detained, say analysts, instead the Maduro administration may be making a play for time. He is also accused of instigating looting during the blackout. (New York TimesGuardian and Washington Post.)

Maduro announced a special technical commission, backed by Russia, China and Iran, to investigate the causes of the blackout. (Efecto Cocuyo)

Journalist Luis Carlos Díaz -- also accused of playing a role in the blackout -- was released after more than a day of detention by the country's feared intelligence agency -- on the condition he not speak publicly about his case. He was charged with inciting violence, reports the Guardian. It's part of a growing crackdown on the press -- more than 35 journalists, locals and foreigners, have been detained by security forces this year. Most of them were later released or deported, reports the Washington Post.

Independent journalists have struggled to report on the country's crisis, in the midst of harassment and attacks, writes Efecto Cocuyo's Luz Mely Reyes in a New York Times Español op-ed that calls for more international support for their efforts, in order to raise the political costs of interfering in freedom of the press.

More from Venezuela
  • Where might Maduro go if he eventually relinquishes power? Americas Quarterly analyzes possible havens, including Cuba, Turkey and Russia ... and even staying in Venezuela with an amnesty.
News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador met with El Salvador's president-elect, Nayib Bukele, yesterday. Bukele spoke in support of AMLO's proposal to counter migration with significant development plans for Central America and southern Mexico. Bukele said the U.S. is a natural partner in such efforts. Though Mexico has maintained neutrality on the Venezuelan legitimacy crisis, Bukele characterized Nicolás Maduro as a dictator. (Aristegui NoticiasReformaLa Hoguera)
Mexico
  • AMLO triumphantly celebrated his first 100 days in office (see yesterday's briefs), but some of his self-proclaimed successes are a little off. Animal Político particularly points to his statement that threatened citizens and journalists are being protected. Since AMLO took office on Dec. 1, three journalists have been assassinated in relation to their work, and 11 activists -- rates comparable to those of the previous administration.
  • AMLO is concentrating power in an already top-heavy executive system argues Shannon O'Neil in a Bloomberg piece accusing him undermining Mexican democracy.
  • An army of bots, semibots, trolls and fans attack AMLO's critics on social media. A new report by Signa_Lab ITESO identifies their strategies. (Animal Político)
  • Mexican senators elected Yasmín Esquivel Mossa to the Supreme Court. The new justice is anti-abortion, but said her personal beliefs won't interfere with the application of the law. She also questioned whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt. And civil society groups marked a potential conflict of interest -- her husband is a businessman with close ties to AMLO. (Animal Político)
Guatemala
  • Critics of a new anti-impunity law Guatemalan lawmakers are considering say it will undo years of fighting impunity in the country, writes Jo-Marie Burt in Americas Quarterly. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Should the law pass, it will put Guatemala in disobedience of numerous Inter-American Court of Human Rights rulings, reports Nómada.
  • A Constitutional Court decision yesterday blocks Zury Ríos' presidential candidacy, literally interpreting a constitutional clause blocking dictators' offspring from running -- she vowed to push forward anyway. (Nómada
  • Eco-traffickers are thriving in the poorly defined border area between Guatemala and Belize, reports InSight Crime.
Haiti
  • Carnival music in Haiti is an exercise in political commentary -- but festivities were cancelled this year, leaving artists without a platform, reports PRI. The theme of most of this year's releases? Petrocaribe corruption.
Brazil
  • At least nine people -- including five children -- were killed in a school shooting in São Paulo today. (Reuters)
Cuba
  • Civil society, in heated debate over constitutional reform, marked a new chapter in Cuba last year, according to a new Inter-Press Service report.
China
  • Chinese investment in Latin America has evolved from an initial focus on extractive industries to a broader focus on services, reports Americas Quarterly.
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica's Limón port is increasingly used by cocaine smugglers transporting wares to Europe, reports InSight Crime.
  • Costa Rica's first lady wants to wean the country off fossil fuels by 2050 -- a plan that would prove small countries can be leaders in solving major world problems. (New York Times)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Sebin detains journalist Luis Carlos Díaz (March 12, 2019)

Venezuela's feared intelligence service agents detained a prominent journalist, Luis Carlos Díaz, who has been reporting on the country's political crisis and prolonged electrical outages. He is being held in the infamous Helicoide political prison, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Venezuela’s National Press Workers Union said agents raided Díaz’s home shortly before dawn, seizing computers and pen drives as the handcuffed journalist looked on. Luz Mely Reyes, said repression against the press by embattled leader Nicolás Maduro has been growing, in the midst of an acute legitimacy crisis. “I think one of the things [Maduro] is trying to achieve is to intimidate [journalists] and ensure the stories about what is going on in Venezuela are not told,” Reyes told the Guardian.

Tensions between the Maduro administration and the U.S. continue to increase. Maduro accused the U.S. of sabotaging the country's electricity production with an imperialist “electromagnetic attack," reports the Guardian. (Most experts say the blackout is the fault of aging infrastructure, but a cyberattack is not so far fetched according to this analysis in Forbes.)

Yesterday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said U.S. embassy in Caracas will be vacated, due to safety concerns and because diplomats' presence "has become a constraint on US policy." Venezuelan authorities said they had informed U.S. personnel yesterday that their diplomatic privileges would be revoked. The Washington Post reports that fears of a failed state scenario are growing. (State Department protocol mandates that classified documents and special equipment are to be destroyed or taken out of the country, reports the Washington Post separately.) The move is a setback for the U.S. Trump administration which kept diplomats in the country in a bid to strengthen presidential challenger, National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, reports the New York Times.

Well into the fifth day of power outages in some areas, Venezuelans are developing new survival strategies to living without electricity -- areas of particular concern are food and medicine, which were already scarce and are spoiling without refrigeration, reports the Guardian. Water in particular is scarce and has some Venezuelan's turning to contaminated sources such as the river Guaire, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

As Maduro remains in power, questions are mounting over the human toll of international sanctions against the government, mostly put in place by the U.S., reports the Miami Herald.

More from Venezuela
  • The story of aid trucks supposedly set on fire by Maduro's security forces last month is a classic example of incendiary (literally) fake news used to fan potential bellic action, writes Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept. The story was debunked by the New York Times, which analyzed video footage and found that the truck was likely set on fire by an anti-government protester's molotov cocktail. (See yesterday's post.) But independent journalists made the same point at the time, and were ignored by mainstream media criticizes Greenwald.
  • Guaidó's vision of Venezuela to come is more of a throwback to an elite dominated past, according to NACLA.
  • It's very possible to criticize Maduro without subscribing to U.S. backed regime change, writes Alejandro Velasco for In These Times. "For progressives abroad, solidarity with Venezuelans requires embracing rather than eliding a complex and fast-moving political landscape—a multi-pronged approach aimed at addressing both the immediate threat and the longer-term barriers to social justice in the country, foreign and domestic. That begins by loudly and unequivocally rejecting U.S. intervention."
News Briefs

Brazil
  • Two former police officers were arrested and accused of killing Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes a year ago. Prosecutors say Franco was summarily executed in retaliation for her political activity and that the assassination was meticulously planned for three months. Friends and family say the investigation has taken too long and still has no answers to the critical question of who ordered the killing. While the hashtage "WhoKilledMarielle" has been used to demand justice for the past year on social media, this morning users were instead tweeting: “#WhoOrderedMarielle’sMurder.”  (GuardianAssociated Press)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is in a "fake news" mess of his own making. He's been lambasted by that country's bar association and top investigative journalism group, Abraji, for misleading tweets about a journalist . On Sunday Bolsonaro tweeted that Constanca Rezende of the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo had been caught on tape saying that she wanted to aid in his impeachment and “ruin the life” of his son Flavio, a senator under investigation for money laundering. Instead the audios show an interview in English with Rezende explaining how corruption cases have put Bolsonaro in a bind and could lead to his impeachment. Abraji and the OAB bar association said in a joint statement on Monday that Bolsonaro was trying to “intimidate media outlets and journalists.” (ReutersGuardianAssociated Press)
  • Bolsonaro will visit the White House on March 19 and is expected to discuss subjects including the situation in Venezuela with U.S. President Donald Trump, reports Reuters.
Nicaragua
  • The OAS might mediate in stalled negotiations between Nicaragua's Ortega administration and the opposition Alianza Cívica, reports Confidencial. (See yesterday's briefs.)
Colombia
  •  Colombian President Iván Duque’s partial veto of a transitional justice bill could undermine and delay progress toward justice for wartime atrocities, according to Human Rights Watch. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The U.S. backed Duque's move against the transitional justice bill, reports BLU radio.
  • Duque has permitted generals accused of grave human rights crimes to serve in top positions, raising concerns that he is whitewashing the past to serve a hardline national security strategy, reports InSight Crime. (See Feb. 27's briefs.)
Guatemala
  • Guatemalan lawmakers are set to vote tomorrow on an amnesty bill that would ree more than 30 former army officers, soldiers and civil defense patrolmen within 24 hours and halt investigations into thousands of cases of war crimes committed during the country's 36-year civil war. (New York Times)
Mexico
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is going strong 100 days in office -- with stratospherically high approval ratings and promises that his revolutionary transformation is underway. His first few months have combined symbolic alterations of presidential action and a plethora of policy proposals. (New York TimesAssociated Press)
  • AMLO's promises have generated great expectations, but he hasn't actually achieved much yet -- and the country's realities might force a reckoning sooner rather than later, writes Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • AMLO is wooing residents of traditional cartel fiefdoms, such as Sinaloa state. (Guardian)
Peru
  • Salvador del Solar, actor and former culture minister, is Peru's new prime minister, a bid by President Martín Vizcarra to shore up slipping approval ratings, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Peruvian authorities sent troops to stop illegal mining in the Madre de Dios region -- but it's just the latest in a string of ill-fated attempts according to InSight Crime. (See March 6's briefs.)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, March 11, 2019

#Apagón (March 11, 2019)

Venezuela is struggling through a fourth day of power outages that have affected much of the country -- though lights started flickering on in some areas over the weekend. The government blames U.S. sabotage, while the opposition says 21 people have died as a result of the blackout -- six of them infants. (Guardian) The impact could severely worsen the humanitarian crisis the country is already facing, reports the Wall Street Journal.

While some members of the government said the problem was largely resolved, residents in areas around the country contradict that narrative -- Efecto Cocuyo has details and reports on an electrical transformer explosion in Baruta. It is not clear when the Guri hydroelectric dam that caused the outages will be back online -- brain drain has contributed to the technical problems it faces -- and workers at the affected electricity plant were told to stay home today, reports the New York Times.

Citizens are struggling to find food and water, while hospitals are essentially paralyzed, reports the Washington Post. And there are fears that complications could spur unrest that would be repressed by security forces. There were reports of looting in at least two states yesterday, reports the Guardian. Transportation and cell phone services have also been severely affected. Internet connectivity bottomed out at 2 percent at the worst part of the blackout, reports the Miami Herald. (Images from the Guardian and the Washington Post.)

Dueling demonstrations in support of presidential challenger Juan Guaidó or legitimacy-challenged President Nicolás Maduro jammed the streets of Caracas and other cities on Saturday, many walking for several hours as there was no metro service. Clashes between Guaidó supporters and police attempting to barricade the city center were reported, but anti-government protesters were eventually allowed to pass. (GuardianNew York TimesWashington PostEfecto Cocuyo)

Nonetheless, despite weeks of unrest Maduro's government has managed to stay in power, thanks to military loyalty. Experts are saying that the amnesty law opposition lawmakers are analyzing is insufficient to sway officers who are heavily implicated in illegal activity. (Washington Post and see last Tuesday's post.) As U.S. sanctions complicate the country's already weak economy, Venezuela's future may soon resemble that of Cuba, Iran, Syria or Zimbabwe -- countries where authoritarian governments have survived despite deep economic and political crisis, Luis Vicente León told the Washington Post.

However other experts -- including WOLA's Geoff Ramsey -- hypothesize that there is back-channel negotiations taking place between the dueling political factions, that could lead to a peaceful resolution. (Guardian)

The opposition-led National Assembly was scheduled to meet today, and Guaidó said he would ask lawmakers to declare a state of "national alarm." (Efecto Cocuyo)

More from Venezuela
  • Images from a few weeks ago of much needed food aid on fire seemed to symbolize Maduro's cruel stance towards humanitarian assistance. But it appears that a truck attempting to carry aid from Colombia to Venezuela was accidentally set alight by an anti-government protester's Molotov cocktail, reports the New York Times.
  • International commentary on Venezuela has been severely polarized over the course of the country's crisis -- WOLA responds to a group of academics who challenged the organization's support for a European Union led mediation effort.
News Briefs

Nicaragua
  • Nicaragua's opposition Alianza Cívica said it will not continue negotiations with President Daniel Ortega until the government frees political prisoners and stops repressive actions against activists. It was not clear whether the demand encompasses all of the 770 people considered political prisoners, reports the Associated Press.
  • The negotiations, announced last month, entered an impasse after Nicaragua's Episcopal Conference of Catholic bishops refused an invitation to act as witnesses to the dialogue process on Friday, reports Confidencial. (See last Friday's post.)
Colombia
  • Colombian President Iván Duque will ask lawmakers to revise legislation implementing the 2016 peace accord with the FARC -- specifically articles establishing a transitional justice system dubbed the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). (Reuters)
  • Duque asked the country's constitutional court to revisit a 2017 regulating aerial dispersion of glyphosate in coca eradication. Expansion of the crop threatens to derail the country's peace process, said Duque, asking the court to loosen regulations of the herbicide which has been linked to cancer, reports Reuters. Duque's predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, discontinued the practise due to health impacts. But manual eradication is both more expensive and less effective said Duque asking the court to expand his arsenal of policy responses. Both spoke last week before the Constitutional Court, reports the BBC. Several lawmakers spoke out against the proposal to resume use of glyphosate, reports Caracol. (More on glyphosate safety at El Espectador.)
  • The government argues that aerial eradication comes at a lower human cost than forced eradication, which has led to dozens of deaths and grave injuries. But that calculation focuses on eradication rather than crop substitution, explain FIP researchers in La Silla Vacía.
Guatemala
  • Former Guatemalan attorney general Thelma Aldana was nominated to run for president by Movimiento Semilla. Aldana focused her acceptance speech on the fight against corruption, which was a hallmark of her tenure as chief prosecutor, but also poverty, impunity and migration. Economist Jonathan Menkos, executive director of the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) will be her running mate. (NómadaRepúblicaAssociated Press)
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran president-elect Nayib Bukeele has agreed to pay $50,000 to a former government minister who sued him for slander, reports the Associated Press.
Mexico
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to tackle the country's rampant fuel theft problem with tactics that seek to reduce violence rather than increase it, reports The Nation.
Migration
  • U.S. authorities secretly tracked activists, journalists, and social media influencers related to a migrant caravan of Central Americans last year. In some cases the government placed alerts on their passports, reports NBC. (See Feb. 11's briefs.)
Brazil
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is preparing an overhaul of mining sector regulations that will include opening up indigenous reserves to mining, according to his mines and energy minister. (Reuters)
Peru
  • Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra will name actor and former culture minister Salvador del Solar as his new prime minister today, according to Reuters. Cesar Villanueva stepped down from the post Friday, amid calls for Vizcarra to shake up his cabinet and shore up popularity ratings, reports Reuters separately.
Cuba
  • Despite extraordinary foreign subsidies, the Cuban economy has performed terribly -- victim of an inefficient model of centralized planning. The only way out of the crisis is to deepen market-style reforms argues Carmelo Mesa-Lago in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...