Friday, June 17, 2016

Venezuela-caused OAS rift marks Almagro's first year in office (June 17, 2016)

Venezuela's political problems are affecting the Organization of American States, reports the Washington Post. The Washington-based multilateral organization held a general assembly meeting in Santo Domingo this week, and member states are deeply divided regarding a rift between Secretary General Luis Almagro and the Venezuelan government. (See Tuesday's post.)

Almagro has accused Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro of acting like a "petty dictator" and seeks to accuse the government of violating the OAS Democratic Charter which requires member states to uphold democracy. (See May 19's and June 3's posts.)

On Wednesday Venezuelan Foreign Minister Darcy Rodriguez received a round of applause when she urged the OAS General Assembly to limit Almagro's actions, which she characterized as a "lynching," notes the Washington Post.

In the meantime, Venezuela has urged member states to meet with international mediators who are seeking to resolve the country's political crisis, reports AFP. The OAS permanent council has scheduled a session with the three former leaders who are working with the government and the political opposition: former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and former presidents Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic and Martin Torrijos of Panama.

The meeting convoked to discuss suspending Venezuela from the OAS will take place later next week, on June 23.

Almagro's combative stance represents a departure from his predecessor's low-key, conciliatory approach to regional politics, notes María Carasquillo in an AULA Blog post. It's part of a move to "rejuvenate" the organization and bring it into the 21 century, as he promised when he assumed office last year.

"Being an “activist” Secretary General in the case of Venezuela entails great risks; his predecessors were criticized both for getting too directly involved in the country’s internal affairs and for remaining passive in the face of growing authoritarianism in Caracas.  It seems, moreover, as though Almagro has often acted alone, and the tone of his letter to Maduro was uniquely strident.  A great deal is on the line for the OAS.  If Almagro’s activism works, it will enhance the organization’s leadership on a range of issues confronting the hemisphere, but it may also put the OAS in the middle of future conflicts in which failure would bring a loss of institutional credibility," she writes.

News Briefs
  • U.S. asylum requests from Venezuelans have soared this year, reports the Associated Press. Venezuelans climbed to second place among nationalities submitting asylum requests in March of this year, second only to China. Applications accelerated after December of last year, as more and more seek relief from an economic crisis and food and medicine shortages. However, a vast majority of these people are middle-class Venezuelans, who do not qualify as refugees from political persecution, according to one NGO source quoted in the piece.
  • Venezuelan schoolchildren have missed as much as 40 percent of class time so far this year, according to parent group estimates. Teachers are cutting class to stand in food lines and kids are frequently robbed on the premises, sometimes by other teens, reports the Associated Press.
  • The U.S. has recognized Haiti's interim president Jocelerme Privert as the country's leader, but the State Department's special coordinator for Haiti also stressed that the National Assembly must act soon to clarify the situation, after Privert's 120-mandate expired earlier this week, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.) The U.S. official's statement is relevant, according to the AP, as the political opposition insists that Privert is unlawfully retaining his office.
  • A Senate investigation into the American Red Cross management of funds donated for Haiti after a devastating 2010 earthquake found that about 25 percent of the $488 million raised for Haiti relief on administrative costs and fund-raising, notes a New York Times editorial. The charity's top officials also attempted to skirt congressional investigators and released incomplete information to the public, reports NPR. The report released this week also criticizes the downsizing of the organization's ethics board, down to three employees from 65 a decade ago. "The most important thing [from the report] is an unwillingness to level with the people exactly where the money went," said Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley who led the investigation. "There's too many questions in regard to how the money was spent in Haiti ... it gives me cause to wonder about other money being donated for other national disasters."The Senate investigation was based on a scathing report published last year by ProPublica and NPR that denounced a lack of action on the ground with the funds raised. Among other failures, the organization relied on foreign staff that had little on-the-ground knowledge, and didn't even speak French or Creole. Projects focusing on housing were endlessly delayed due to lack of know-how, according to the piece, which used on internal documents and e-mails as sources.
  • A group of U.S. lawmakers is calling for the U.S. to suspend all military aid to Honduras until the country addresses its human rights violations, reports Democracy Now. In a scathing letter to the Miami Herald, Senator Patrick Leahy challenges Senator Marco Rubio's characterization that the Honduran government is on the right path. He criticizes the country's "endemic corruption" and human rights violations of government critics like Berta Cáceres.
  • Brazil's month-old interim government is increasingly embroiled in corruption allegations. (See yesterday's briefs.) Yesterday Tourism Minister Henrique Alves resigned after plea bargain testimony accused him of soliciting about $450,000 in campaign funds from the Petrobras corruption scheme under investigation. Alves is the acting government's third cabinet member to step down due to corruption allegations, notes the Associated Press. Alves denies the charges, as does acting President Michel Temer who was also implicated, reports Reuters. Temer yesterday dismissed allegations that he solicited about $432,000 in campaign donations in exchange for Petrobras related contracts, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Temer's government is likely to relegate cooperation with BRICS countries to second place, a test of the five nation bloc, according to Chinese state media cited in by PTI.
  • A Greenpeace report says the projected construction of 40 major dams in the Brazilian Amazon would destroy the core of the world's largest rainforest, severely affect indigenous groups and is economically unjustified, reports the Guardian.
  • The Miami Herald has a piece on how Colombia's FARC plans to turn its boots in for ballots, and turn its 7,000 fighters into a political force after reaching a final peace accord with the government.
  • A former top supplier to Venezuelan state-run oil company, Pdvsa, pleaded guilty yesterday in a U.S. court to charges involving bribes paid to win contracts from the firm, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • U.S. airlines have started selling tickets for commercial flights to Cuba, reports the Wall Street Journal. The flights are expected to start in September.
  • VICE has a haunting piece on the children of Ciudad Juárez and the scars they bear from the drug war.
  • About a 150 armed men raided the village where Sinaloa cartel drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's mother lives, and pillaged her house. Three people were reported dead in the events by local media. The retaliation against Guzmán in the village considered his stronghold could point to a loss of influence by the jailed strongman, according to the Guardian.
  • Argentine supporters of President Mauricio Macri are growing tired of Pope Francis' "constant meddling" in the country's internal politics, argues Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. His piece comes after the pontiff rejected a donation of about $1.2 million from the Argentine government for his Scholas Occurrentes charity, reports Deustche Welle.
  • In the meantime, Argentine citizens are captivated by a corruption case straight out a B movie: a former public official who was caught trying to hide seven bags of cash and jewelry in a monastery housing nuns outside of Buenos Aires this week. Unsurprisingly, former Public Works Secretary Jose Lopez, who was carrying  a .22 caliber rifle, attempted to bribe the police officers who caught him tossing the goods over a fence, reports El País. Authorities found more than $7 million at the cite, reports Reuters.
  • Corruption charges lobbed between outgoing and incoming governments and politicians is a long-standing Argentine tradition, explains Uki Goñi in a New York Times op-ed. "...When corruption and lurid accusations become so pervasive, a point is reached where they barely raise eyebrows. In Argentina, that juncture was passed long ago. Today, the glacially slow federal courts are honeycombed with judges often as corrupt as the politicians they investigate, says a leading anti-corruption crusader, Luis Moreno Ocampo. 'It’s a system of judges,” he says, “who cover up corruption instead of investigating it.' And the corruption thus enabled creates deep cynicism throughout the society."
  • A proposed tax evasion amnesty bill in Argentina is being criticized by journalists, who say that it could lead to the arrest of reporters who disclose names and information of people who could be involved in crimes of money laundering and tax evasion, reports the Knight Center's Journalism in the America's blog.
  • The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean said this week that foreign direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean fell 9.1 percent compared to the previous year, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • And a UNDP report released earlier this week said up to 30 million Latin Americans are at risk to backslide back into poverty due to economic slowdown and lack of consistent public policies, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.

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