Thursday, May 19, 2016

Venezuela's opposition clashes with riot police (May 19, 2016)

Thousands of protesters attempting to reach the electoral authority's headquarters in Venezuela clashed with riot police yesterday. Anti-government protests are picking up, yesterday's was the third this week. Demonstrators demanding a recall referendum were blocked by police and a small group was tear gassed when it tried to break through, reports the Associated Press.

Efecto Cocuyo has details of the events and pictures.

Seven people were arrested for allegedly participating in violence that wounded five police officers, reports Efecto Cocuyo. They are accused of being part of groups convoked by jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López in 2014.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said government supporters infiltrated the ranks of the demonstration in order to create disturbances, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

President Nicolás Maduro warned yesterday that he might declare a "State of Internal Commotion" if cases of "golpismo" come up, reports Efecto Cocuyo. He said yesterday that the country finds itself in an "exceptional state" that requires "exceptional actions" to maintain the peace.

Speaking yesterday, Maduro appeared to give an expiration date for the opposition-led National Assembly, questioning whether it will last until October when it has to present the budget, reports Efecto Cocuyo separately. (See yesterday's briefs.)

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro made diplomatic waves yesterday with a strongly worded letter to President Nicolás Maduro, telling him that to deny people the opportunity to vote in a recall referendum this year would make him "just another petty dictator, like so many this hemisphere has had," reports the Wall Street Journal.

Almagro said he might apply the OAS's Democratic Charter to Venezuela, as requested earlier this week by Human Rights Watch, and earlier by the National Assembly. Such a move would be a step towards an emergency meeting of the multilateral organization's General Assembly and the potential suspension of Venezuela from the OAS.

The harsh tone of Almagro's letter, was celebrated by government opponents (see Caracas Chronicles for a particularly warm reception) but could also work against resolving the impasse. Experts say it ups the ante between Venezuela and the multilateral organization, and could ultimately work against diplomatic resolution, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Another colorful international condemnation came yesterday from former Uruguayan President José "Pepe" Mujica, who said he respects Maduro, but he's "crazy like a goat," reports Efecto Cocuyo.

On the subject of mediation, the upcoming visit of the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States has been cancelled for reasons external to the Holy See, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See yesterday's briefs.)

But former Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is apparently in Caracas as a link between the opposition and the government. Though he has maintained a very low profile, he has apparently had several meetings with Maduro and the opposition MUD coalition, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

Vigilante justice against alleged thieves is becoming increasingly common in Venezuela. The public prosecutor opened 74 investigations into vigilante killings in the first four months of this year, compared to two all of last year, reports the Associated Press. And polls show that most of the population supports mob retribution as a form of self-protection.

Belt tightening due to lack of dollars is already forcing the country to go through IMF style austerity measures, without the benefit of the actual loans, argues Pedro Rosas Rivero in the Caracas Chronicles.

News Briefs

  • New York Times video report looks at abortion in Brazil, and how the Zika virus is creating even more challenges for women in a country where access to legal abortions is already severely restricted. Not that it stops women from getting the procedure: Last year, the number of women who sought medical attention for botched abortions outpaced the number of women who received legal abortions by nearly 100 to one, according to Health Ministry estimates.
  • New Yorker piece looks at the Brazilian impeachment process within the context of the wider political crisis. "Brazilian politics suffers from chronic dysfunction.  ... Three decades after the military ceded power to a civilian government, Brazil’s latest experiment with democracy is facing yet another identity crisis," writes Alex Cuadros.
  • In the meantime, the Workers' Party insists that President Dilma Rousseff was the victim of a coup and announced a campaign to "remove" Acting President Michel Temer, reports EFE.
  • Two of Brazil's biggest unions rejected an invitation to meet with Temer, saying they don't reject his government's legitimacy, reports the Associated Press.
  • Time for a renewal of political paradigm in Brazil, argues Matías Bianchi in Asuntos del Sur. He notes "the contrast between current institutional politics and emerging social sectors who are exploring new frontiers, who are designing collaborative logics, who are including new issues on the public agenda and carrying out democratic practices that are completely innovative ..."
  • Argentina's Congress approved a bill last night that would double the cost of laying off private and public employees. President Mauricio Macri, who is expected to veto it almost immediately, has said it will spook investment and destroy jobs, reports the Wall Street Journal. But the legislative defeat also raises questions about Macri's ability to get legislation through Congress where his party is in the minority in both houses, and signals an opposition-set political agenda.
  • Macri launched a renewable energy plan yesterday designed to attract billions of dollars in investment over the next ten years, reports the Wall Street Journal. The first phase started yesterday, and is an that calls for companies to bid on contracts to produce 1,000 megawatts of power from renewable sources including wind and solar energy.
  • An ongoing doctors' strike in Haiti's public hospitals show the desperate state of affairs in a crumbling health system, reports AFP.
  • The secretary general of Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori's party stepped down yesterday, in an attempt to quell an uproar following media reports that he is linked to money laundering, reports Reuters. (See Tuesday's briefs.)

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