Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ongoing diplomatic negotiations Venezuela - Colombia (Sept 1, 2015)

Venezuela bolstered its military presence and started taking a census yesterday in towns along the border with Colombia as part of a diplomatic spat that has seen more than 1,000 Colombians deported, reports AFP.

Diplomats gathered yesterday in Washington for an emergency meeting to discuss the Venezuela-Colombia border crisis. But the call for an official OAS meeting came one vote short of approving the Colombian proposal for an urgent meeting, reports Reuters. A meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) foreign ministers was postponed due to complications with Venezuela's foreign minister's schedule. 

"It was the continent that was defeated," Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said in a press conference shortly after the voting.

Venezuela accused the United States and the European Union of hypocrisy after both bodies criticized the deportations, reports Z.C. Dutka at Venezuela Analysis. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez accused Washington of intervening in the country’s affairs, via Twitter. "Venezuela is one of the few countries internationally recognized for having an immigration policy that is deeply respectful of human rights," she stated. 

Venezuela is the leading country in the region offering refuge to displaced Colombians fleeing the conflict and poverty that plagues their country, Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) said yesterday, according to TeleSur. The ambassador said that of the over 14,000 Colombian citizens which have been given refugee status, 5,700 are political refugees.

The United Nations has confirmed that not one of the 173,600 Colombians with refugee status has been deported from Venezuela.

The kerfuffle is part of Maduro's efforts to manipulate the playing field ahead of legislative elections slated for December 6, argues Mike McCarthy at AULA, echoing opposition claims.

"Maduro's political objectives in declaring the state of exception are obvious – to reset the political agenda in line with a government narrative of external threats.  This security rationale appears greatly exaggerated, suggesting he's more interested in scapegoating Colombia for the sorry state of affairs in Táchira than in sparking a diversionary armed conflict.  He also recently escalated an historic border dispute on his eastern flank with Guyana after Exxon discovered oil in Guyanese territory claimed by Venezuela.  So far, Maduro’s actions have not seemed to threaten the soft truce between Washington and Caracas, which has led to a toning down of mutual recriminations.  ...  The real implications of the emergency decree are internal to Venezuela. Maduro's state of emergency not only raises human rights concerns in the affected territories; it suggests the specter that the government will resort to increasingly desperate measures to maintain control as its credibility, like the economy, collapses."

McCarthy notes that "Operations for the Liberation and Protection of the People" (OLP) have been deployed in the area, forcibly deporting undocumented Colombian migrants. Yesterday the Associated Press reports on concerns about the Venezuelan government's crime-fighting initiative launched in July, Operation Liberate the People. It has already seen police shoot and kill more than 80 suspected criminals, according to an AP tally based on officials' statements to the media. There have been no reports of police injuries or deaths during the blitzkrieg-style operations aimed at taking back neighborhoods over-run by gangs.

In the meantime, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accused Colombia's government of giving its consent to a plan to assassinate him, reports the Associated Press

In other Venezuela news, seventeen people have been killed and another 11 injured in a fire at a prison near Valencia. Prisons in Venezuela are notoriously overcrowded and violent. Pressure group Venezuelan Prison Observatory says more than 300 inmates were killed in 2014, reports the BBC.

News Briefs
  • Mexicans are among the world’s most reluctant readers, but the National Council on Culture and the Arts is taking steps to turn youngsters onto books, reports El Daily Post. The most recent UNESCO survey on reading for which full details are available showed that Mexico came in 107th out of 108 nations in terms of average number of books read per year per person. Mexicans read less than three books per year, whereas Spaniards read 7.5 and Germans read 12 books per year.

  • U.S. courts continue to debate aspects of Argentina's legendary sovereign debt default over a decade ago. In the latest update, a court decision yesterday determined that creditors owed billions by Argentina can't seize the assets of its central bank. That's a reversal of a district-court ruling that would have opened Argentina's reserves to hedge funds, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Argentina's electoral front-runner, Daniel Scioli, will seek to be a conciliatory leader he said in an interview with the Associated Press. "The people are looking for a leader like me who seeks to integrate ... And I did just that in every position I was trusted with in Argentina. People know of my ability to search for what Pope Francis calls the meeting points," he said. Scioli said he does not seek big economic changes -- one of the reasons his opponent, who promises to eliminate currency limits, is a favorite of the business community.
  • Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo identified another child abducted from left-wing political prisoners during military rule between 1976 and 1983, reports the BBC. The woman, now in her thirties, is was the daughter of communist activists seized in 1977.
  • Mexico's newest session of Congress, the 63rd, starts today -- President Enrique Peña Nieto will deliver his State-of-the-Nation Address, reports El Daily Post
  • Bad economic news across the region:
  • Ecuador announced that it's producing oil at a loss. It costs the OPEC nation $39 to produce a barrel of oil for which it only receives $30, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil and Mexico are competing for oil investments -- they will hold auctions only a week apart (Sept. 30 and Oct 7) at a time the price rout is prompting spending cuts, reports El Daily Post
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's economic team submitted a 2016 budget proposal to Congress yesterday. According to the Wall Street Journal it "exposed the extent of the country's financial and political disarray" as it "does nothing to pay down the soaring national debt." The government forecast a primary deficit of 30.5 billion reais ($8.4 billion), equal to 0.5% of gross domestic product. That means the budget forecast assumes no savings will be made and debt will likely increase, explains the WSJ. The proposal for 2016 has also been described by government officials as an attempt to show lawmakers that immediate action is required to avoid a deeper crisis. Congress has rejected government attempts to cut costs.
  • Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis has issued an executive order banning the development of hydroelectric power plants along the country's Pacuare and Savegre rivers for the next 25 years. The goal is to protect natural resources, such as rivers, reports EFE.
  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala asked Congress to approve a budget for 2016 that would be 6 percent bigger than this year's budget estimate. It appears that economic growth this year and next will be weaker than previously expected, reports Reuters. Peru's inflation rose this month, bringing the rate over the past year to just over 4 percent, well above the target inflation rate of 1-3 percent, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • The Guardian has a feature on the Paraguayan's People's Army (EPP), a self-professed Marxist rebel group that has terrorized the northern part of the country for the past twenty years. As guerrilla groups around the region are on the wane, this one continues strong, reports the piece. Paraguayan officials blamed rebels yesterday for a power outage that affected some 750,000 people in the country's north, reports the Associated Press.

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