Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Colombian court approves plebiscite for peace, Venezuelan opposition jumping hurdles to recall (July 20, 2016)

Colombia's Constitutional Court approved government plans to plebiscite a peace deal with the FARC. The decision gives the green light for President Juan Manuel Santos' plan to have citizens approve (or reject) a peace deal hammered out over the past four years in Havana, reports the Associated Press.

Government and FARC negotiators have committed to abiding by the results of the popular vote on the agreement. Though there are no set dates, the final accord could be signed within weeks and the vote held before the end of the year, reports Reuters.

The decision came after eight hours of deliberation, according to AFP. It gives Santos' government a maximum of four months to put the case before the Colombian electorate. More than 13 percent have to vote in favor for it to pass, explains Colombia Reports

The relatively low threshold, which is part of what the court approved on Monday (see below), could be key for getting the deal past bitter political opposition, according to Colombia Reports. "Considering the low threshold, the odds are indeed stacked in favor of Santos being empowered to sign the final agreement for cessation of hostilities."

La Silla Vacía goes into depth on what the decision means and specific aspects of the case: 
  • It will be technically a plebiscite, rather than a referendum or consultation.
  • It will be one question, to which voters will respond with a yes or a no. Though opposition figures, such as former President Álvaro Uribe called for specific points of the accord to be voted on, the government argued the deal must be taken as a block.
  • 4.5 million votes will be needed to approve the peace deal.
  • It's not clear what will happen if voters reject the proposal.
  • Voters will not have the option to vote in blank.
  • Public officials will be permitted to campaign.
  • But campaigns cannot promote political parties.
  • The government must do extensive campaigning to publicize the accords.


Venezuela opposition leaders said yesterday that the National Election Board (CNE) validated nearly 400,000 signatures requesting a referendum to recall President Nicolás Maduro this year. If true, that is more than double the amount needed to clear the first hurdle in the byzantine process, reports Reuters

These would be the results of the "audit of the verification of its first audit" asDavid Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights put it. Between June 20 and 24 over 400,000 citizens had their fingerprints taken at CNE machines to validate their signatures on a recall petition earlier this year.

Next the opposition will have to gather 4 million signatures in support of a recall.

It's worth noting that timing is everything. The opposition is angling to have the recall referendum this year, which, if successful, would trigger a new presidential election to replace Maduro. If the recall referendum were to be held next year, there would be Chavista continuity, as the vice president would finish out Maduro's term in office.

Smilde reviews some of the issues so far with the referendum drive and how CNE decisions have been dragging the process out. For example, the verification of fingerprints was done manually against the CNE biometric archives -- instead of using a real-time comparison system like the one employed in the electoral process. There also appears to have been difficulty with the location of the fingerprint scanning machines: they were skewed towards geographical areas where less signatures had been collected, meaning less machines in areas where more people were waiting to verify their data.

Verification of the next step, which is 20 percent of the electorate, would have to take place in just three days. That could be impossible without a better placement of fingerprint scanning machines, say opposition experts cited by Smilde.

A dozen prominent Chavistas, including former lawmakers and top officials under former President Hugo Chávez, have joined the recall referendum demand, according to Fox News. “It wouldn’t be good for the country if the Electoral Power blocks the people’s right for a referendum,” the group wrote in an open letter to the CNE.

The Miami Herald reports on a Venebarometro poll that found 58 percent of the country's electorate would be willing to sign a recall referendum, up from 40 percent in February. And 65 percent said they'd vote to oust Maduro, given the option.

Worrisome reports from Reuters and AFP that 1,250 signatories of the recall petition have been purged from government jobs.

Venezuela conspiracy theory: Wall Street Journal columnist Mary O'Gradyattributes Maduro's move last week to have the Defense Ministry coordinate all government response to food shortages -- which she says is a "self-coup" -- to the president's "Cuban handlers." (See last Wednesday's post.) The U.S. is doing little to stop Maduro, which will please the Castros, she says.

Notes on shortages: 
  • Womens groups have joined a case before the country's supreme tribunal in defense of human rights to life and health, arguing that difficulties in obtaining contraceptives are endangering women's right to exercise reproductive autonomy, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • "The U.N. human rights office is expressing concern about deteriorating human rights, growing violence and "severe shortages" of food, medicine and basic goods in Venezuela," according to the Associated Press. The office "called on Venezuela to consider accepting "humanitarian aid" to ensure food and medicine supplies were distributed," reports the BBC.

News Briefs

  • Colombian authorities say they will not allow further temporary crossings from Venezuela, demanding instead a permanent border opening, reportsReuters. Over 100,000 Venezuelans have crossed to Colombia in temporary border openings over the past two weekends, searching to buy goods that can't be obtained in their country. The borders were closed by the Venezuelan government last year as part of a crackdown on smuggling of subsidized goods to Colombia. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Haiti's interim president, Jocelerme Privert, ordered citizens to the polls on Oct. 9, in a redo of last year's botched presidential and legislative elections. The country cannot afford to miss another election deadline he said, according to the Miami Herald.
  • Mexico state authorities say they will fire seven or eight prosecutor's office investigators and suspend 22 more for misconduct related to the so-called 2014 "Tlatlaya Massacre," in which a dozen suspected gang members were executed by the army, according to Animal Político. More than 50 officials were under investigation for alleged abuses committed during the cover-up of the killings at a grain warehouse, reports the Associated Press. The army initially said that 22 suspected gang members were killed in a gunbattle. But the national human rights commission found that up to 15 of the suspects surrendered but were shot anyway. The commission also found evidence that the scene had been altered. So far seven military members accused of the executions have been freed, notes Animal Político.
  • Anti-poverty groups in Mexico accused the government of tampering with how poverty is measured in order to minimize its occurrence. The statistics agency defended the changes, saying they aim to tackle the widespread issue of underreporting income, and account for sources of unconventional income such as handouts, odd jobs, or help from relatives, reports the Associated Press. The changes increased estimates of all household income last year by 11.9 percent nationwide and raised estimates of income among the poorest households as much as 33.6 percent. But they also make comparison with previous years impossible.
  • Guatemalan attorney general Thelma Aldana said she believes a recent threat against her is a reaction by organized crime to her work rooting out corruption. In an interview with the Associated Press, she specifically mentioned "La Línea" case, which details an alleged fraud network involving bribes at the state customs agency involving former President Otto Pérez Molína and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti.
  • Salvadoran government officials are unhappy with a Supreme Court ruling last week that overturned a 1993 amnesty law for crimes against humanity committed during the country's 12-year civil war. The decision potentially paves the way for former FMLN guerrilla leaders, now heading a civilian government, to be tried, though the bulk of atrocities were committed by the army, reports Vice News. "The ruling wants us to be in conflict with the army, they want to pull apart the army," Roberto Lorenzana, a former guerilla commander who is now a top presidential aide, said on Monday. "The ruling wants to push us into a cycle of retaliation and revenge."
  • Peruvian president-elect, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, named sociologist Carlos Basombrío to head the interior ministry in his incoming government. He tweeted that he knows the ministry, which is in charge of the sensitive issue of citizen security, from top to bottom, reports La República.
  • Victims of authoritarian president Alberto Fujimori's forced sterilization program in the late nineties await a decision from the prosecutor's office over whether their human rights case will be allowed to proceed. Some 300,000 mostly poor, Indigenous, rural women were forcibly sterilized between 1995 and 2000, reports TeleSUR.
  • A great piece by Glen Greenwald in The Intercept, arguing that Folha de São Paulo framed a poll so as to boost interim President Michel Temer's popularity ahead of an imminent Senate vote on whether to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. He notes a total lack of credible polls since April. Which only heightens the relevance of this week's Datafolha poll that found that half of Brazilians want Temer to remain in the presidency until 2018. A surprising departure from April data which showed that 60 percent of Brazilians wanted Temer to resign after Rousseff was impeached. The discrepancy is explained by the limited set of questions respondents were offered in the latest poll, he said. Significantly, the poll did not ask citizens whether they would favor a new election, a real possibility that has been argued for by Folha's editorial page. To present the data as Folha did is beyond misleading he says. And "it’s hard to overstate the impact that this hyped poll has had. It’s the only poll from a credible firm that has been published in months. It was timed right before the final Senate vote. And it contained the extraordinary announcement that half of the country is eager for Michel Temer to remain president through 2018: a headline as sensationalistic as it is false."
  • The Facebook owned Whatsapp messaging service was again suspended by a judge in Brazil for not turning over user data, only to be restored a few hours later by the country's Supreme Court, reports the New York Times. This is the third such episode in less than a year and forms part of a "broader debate worldwide about when law enforcement officials and governments should have access to the digital data kept by tech companies." (See July 5's briefs.)
  • Half of Brazil's citizens oppose hosting the Olympics in three weeks according to a new poll, reports AFP. Three years ago 64 percent of the country approved.
  • Uruguay held a Cannabis Cup, in which marijuana growers competed in indoor and outdoor growth categories, reports the Associated Press.

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