Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Venezuela's opposition to begin collecting signatures of recall referendum (April 27, 2016)

Venezuela's National Electoral Commission (CNE) released documents that would allow opposition politicians to begin a referendum attempt to finish President Nicolás Maduro's mandate early yesterday.

They CNE had previously resisted handing over the papers, which are needed to collect the signatures of one percent of eligible voters, the first step in setting off a recall referendum, reports the New York Times.

The MUD opposition has 30 days to deliver the next batch of 197,978 signatures, representing one percent of eligible voters in each state in support of the referendum, explains the Caracas Chronicles. The geographic requirement was only made clear this week, and other hoops include a requirement that signatories then validate their signatures at the local CNE office.

Another Caracas Chronicles piece rather colorfully describes the effort as: "a showdown so unbelievably lopsided that David and Goliath should both file injunctions for copyright infringement, and then sit together while weeping softly to Enya. Today's signature drive will be but the first in what is sure to be a long string of bouts consisting basically of CNE kicking us in the balls and then expecting us to thank them."

If the opposition is successful, the following step requires 20 percent of voters would have to agree to the recall. Finally, Maduro's opponents would have to garner more votes than the President obtained in the election which brought him to power, nearly 51 percent.

Should the opposition succeed in winning a recall referendum this year, the result would trigger a new presidential election. If a recall succeeds in ousting Maduro next year, his vice president would serve the remaining two years of the term. This is one reason the government seems to be stalling the process, as it would likely lose at the ballot box, according to an expert cited by the NYTimes. Efecto Cocuyo has details on the referendum initiation process.

The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, expressed his satisfaction towards the CNE's decision to hand over the recall paperwork, reports the Caracas Chronicles.

All electoral posts can be subject to recall referendums once half the term is up, explains Efecto Cocyuo. The last presidential recall attempt was led by the opposition in 2004, against former President Hugo Chávez. The signature gathering effort for that was lengthy, taking up most of 2003, with several technical difficulties regarding the validity of the signatures.

The move comes as the country's Supreme Court stymied another avenue the opposition wanted to use to oust Maduro: a constitutional amendment reducing the presidential term in office. (See yesterday's briefs.)

The country is facing an acute energy crisis due to a drought that has nearly shut down the country's largest dam, El Guri, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)

The latest in Venezuela's increasingly desperate energy saving measures, is a further reduction in public employee's hours. The public sector will now work for four hours on Monday and another four on Tuesday, reports the Caracas Chronicles.

Public employees account for more than a third of Venezuela’s formal labor force, notes the WSJ.

Schools will also shut down on Fridays. Other measures include rolling blackouts across the country, which have prompted some protests, a half hour time change to maximize daylight working hours, a reduction in mall hours and government urging that citizens reduce use of energy intensive home appliances, reports Reuters.

Last night residents of Maracaibo, the country's second largest city, looted bakeries and blocked streets with burning tires in protest against shortages of basic services in blackout affected shantytowns, reports the WSJ.

Press workers protested yesterday, saying journalists are suffering aggression in covering anti-government protests. Specifically against 13 journalists covering a protest by legislators at the CNE last week, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

In general, Venezuela is the most vulnerable of oil producing countries, which are facing the effects of a dramatic slump in crude prices, reports the Guardian. Energy accounts for almost all of Venezuela's exports and pays for vital imports.

News Briefs
  • InSight Crime and Revista Factum broke a story yesterday linking a prominent Salvadoran businessman to planes that appear to be used for smuggling drugs into the U.S.  José Enrique Rais, who is politically connected at home, is under investigation in the U.S. in relation to four aircraft that could be used for drug smuggling. K9 units detected drugs in at least one of them, though Rais has not been formally charged with crime in the U.S. and denies the allegations. He is a priority target for the DEA and "subject of international investigation for his ties to to the organized crime groups, shell companies, cartels, and corrupt politicians," according to a Florida sheriff's petition filed with a U.S. judge. Separately, one of the journalists who reported the piece has denounced personal attacks by Rais' lawyers, reports InSight Crime.
  • Yesterday Salvadoran security forces carried out raids parts of the capital as part of a new crackdown on gangs, reports AFP. The raids  were carried out by a new taskforce made up of 800 police officers and soldiers focused on urban missions. (See March 31's post.)
  • El Faro has a more detailed account of a human rights case opened by El Salvador's prosecutor's office against security forces, who allegedly carried out two massacres last year. (See yesterday's briefs.)The cases were initially reported on by El Faro (San Blas, see post for July 23, 2015) and La Prensa Gráfica (Pajales).
  • Nómada reports on how Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and the G-8 (a group of the country's most powerful family corporations) are facing off against the Public Ministry and CICIG efforts to 1980's human rights violations and more recent tax evasion. "...R etired generals and big corporates, seem to be driving the two-month recently installed president to go up against the AG-CICIG and the US Ambassador," according to the piece.
  • The issue of reintegrating the FARC's child soldiers into society is a crucial element for a lasting peace deal, reports the New York Times. "If poor or botched reintegration programs fail to offer opportunities to former child combatants, Colombia’s powerful paramilitaries and trafficking groups may offer them a tempting alternative," WOLA's Adam Isacson told the NYTimes. The feature focuses on the difficulties former child fighters face after leaving the guerrilla group.
  • Thousands of protesters gathered in Mexico City yesterday, demonstrating against the government's apparent mishandling of the investigation into the 43 disappeared teachers' college students in 2014. About 2,000 people were led by the parents and relatives of the victims, who carried small torches and black and white photos of the missing students, reports Reuters. The families are also angry about the government's treatment of an independent group of experts reviewing the case, whose mandate ends this week. On Sunday the panel, known as the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), said it had been repeatedly blocked in efforts to obtain evidence from Mexican authorities and said the attorney general's office did not let its members re-interview detainees accused of the crime. (See yesterday's and Monday's posts.)
  • The IACHR-backed group of international experts investigating the Ayotzinapa disappearances did "not conclusively establish what happened to the students. But it’s impossible not to interpret [their second report on the issue delivered on Sunday] as an indictment of Mexico’s notoriously corrupt and often brutal justice system," argues a New York Times editorial. And the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement that the office is "concerned about the many challenges and obstacles reported by the experts," including the ability to examine other lines of investigation such the possible roles of the military and other officials in the case, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's and Monday's posts.)
  • There is increasing evidence showing the regular use of torture by security forces in Mexico. The issue persists because of a lack of accountability of security forces to anybody else, argues El Daily Post columnist Alejandro Hope. Interesting fact: a recent survey found that 29 percent of Mexican adults agree that torture is sometimes necessary and acceptable to protect the public.
  • The prosecutorial team behind Brazil's wide-ranging Operation Car Wash probe into corruption at state-owned oil company Petrobras will continue, assured a prosecutor yesterday. He was attempting to assuage fears it could be shut down by a new government coalition would replace President Dilma Rousseff's administration if she is impeached, reports the Wall Street Journal. While Rousseff hasn't been implicated in the massive Petrobras corruption scandal -- though she was chairwoman of the company during much of the alleged wrongdoing -- her eventual successor, Vice President Michel Temer, has. So have the leaders of the House and Senate.
  • Brazilian authorities said they repatriated $125 million last year from funds sent to to foreign bank accounts by corrupt officials, politicians and businessmen, reports the BBC. It's a record figure over eight times what was recovered over the past decade, and was made possible by a policy of negotiating plea bargains with suspects has helped them recover assets, according to the Justice Ministry.
  • A lawyer for Mexico's Gulf Cartel who was gunned down in Dallas in 2013 was an informant for law authorities and living legally in the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. Lawyers in the murder trial which started yesterday said a rival cartel boss hunted down Juan Jesus Guerrero Chapa using a sophisticated tracking operation, reports the Guardian.
  • An Alabama tractor company is angling to become the first U.S. business to set up shop in Cuba, and is about halfway through a long approval process, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who played a key role in bringing about Cuba and the U.S.'s diplomatic detente, is retiring, reports Reuters. Only the second Cuban to be made Cardinal, Ortega was a sometimes polarizing figure, reports the Miami Herald. Critics felt he should have been a more outspoken defender of human rights and freedom on the island.

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