Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Maduro chased by angry pot-banging crowd (Sept. 6, 2016)

News Briefs
  • A pot-banging crowd of protesters yelling that they were hungry chased Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro during a routine political event on Friday, just after a massive opposition demonstration in which thousands of citizens demanded a recall referendum, reports the New York Times. (See last Friday's post.) Videos uploaded to social media show him attempting to placate a group of angry protesters who surround him, in Villa Rosa on Isla Margarita. Rights group Foro Penal says 20 people were arrested after the protest, including the director of a news website called Reporte Confidencial. 
  • In the near total collapse of Venezuela, foreign bondholders -- specifically the New York distressed bond investors, derided as "vulture funds" -- seem to be the only group expected to do quite well, reports the Financial Times. "One might think Bolivarian socialism would not bend the knee to those openly planning for its demise, but up to now Venezuela hasmade every payment due to holders of bonds issued by the republic and PDVSA, the national oil company." The piece notes that holders of some issues have earned returns of over 25 percent this year.
  • Five former military officials were sentenced to at least 23 years in prison over the 1985 massacre of 71 villagers in Accomarca. Several soldiers also face charges in the case which occurred in the framework of confrontation between government forces and the Shining Path guerrilla movement, reports Reuters. While soldiers went to the town searching for rebel material, but found no ammunition, explosives or propaganda, according to a truth commission.
  • The issue of transitional justice for crimes committed during Colombia's FARC conflict is at the heart of the campaign against the peace deal. "No" advocates say it's letting people who committed human rights violations off easy, and some rights groups, have similarly said peace cannot be built on such a faulty foundation. (See for example Aug. 25's post.) But Chris Stone urges a less dichotomous perspective. "The only alternative to amnesty or impunity cannot be jail," he said in an interview with El Espectador recently. "What constitutes an appropriate punishment is something that can vary in each society, but we know that sending people to prison for long periods can, contrary to what is hoped, worsen problems in many unexpected ways." Stone says that increasing prison sentences as a way of reducing crime is often "an act of desperation of governments who are unable to increase arrest rates," a far more effective dissuasive.
  • Honduras and Guatemala are the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists, writes Erica Guevara Ross, Amnesty International's Americas director, in an IPS op-ed. The most emblematic case, of course, was the killing of Berta Cáceres earlier this year. Since then "Honduras has become a no-go zone for anybody daring to protect natural resources such as land and water from powerful economic interests," she writes. "The toxic cocktail of threats, bogus charges, smear campaigns, attacks, killings and crumbling judicial systems incapable of delivering justice has made the legitimate business of defending basic human rights a nearly impossible one. Crimes against activists are rarely properly investigated, which perpetuate further violence. The authorities often blame their country’s weak institutions for the shocking injustice, but conveniently fail to ignore the fact that the absolute lack of political will to protect and support these activists is often what puts them in mortal danger in the first place."
  • A new digital museum in Cuba seeks to redefine the term "dissident," a term which carries a heavy negative load in Cuba where the label can mean exclusion from public jobs and arbitrary detentions, reports the New York Times editorial observer Ernesto Londoño. The couple behind the project includes Fidel and Raúl Castro in their list of those who have opposed governments in Cuba, along with prominent opponents of the current government. "The project carries an implicit message: The current ruling class, which seems so rigidly entrenched, will most likely be replaced one day." In the meantime, one of its founders has been fired from her job at a Ministry of Culture magazine and is challenging that decision in court.
  • Municipal services in Havana are failing in many parts of the city, and citizens are expressing their anger. Writers from Havana Times – an English-language blog that describes itself as “open-minded writing from Cuba” – say there are "serious environmental problems in the city. Problems with garbage collection, sewage overflowing pits, air pollution,” reports the Guardian.
  • São Paulo police used tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades to stop vandalism after an initially peaceful anti-government protest on Sunday, reports the Associated Press.
  • Just when everybody felt the drawn out impeachment drama in Brazil might finally have come to its sad end, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, or PSDB, filed a petition with the Supreme Court, arguing that a second vote after Rousseff's ousting last week was invalid. Pro-Rousseff Senators managed to split into two issues the impeachment and right to run for political office. While Rousseff lost the first, the motion to suspend her right to hold public office for eight years did not pass. Now some judges are condemning the decision to split the issues, reports the Wall Street Journal, raising the specter that the impeachment vote will also be invalidated and will have to be redone. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • Yesterday Brazilian police said they were investigating allegations of fraud of up to $2.5 billion at the country's four largest pension funds, all linked to state-controlled companies, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Reuters reports that the largest Latin American weapons manufacturer, Brazil's Forjas Taurus SA, sold 8,000 guns to a well-known Yemeni arms smuggler who redirected them to his country's civil war. The case could mean legal scrutiny for the company which supplies weapons to Brazil's security forces and military, as well as a significant portion of the U.S. handgun market.
  • Less than a week to go for the Rio Paralympics Games to begin, and organizers are asking for a tax payer bailout to fill the last-minute budget shortfalls, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Thousands of Argentines heeded union calls to  protest government job cuts, the elimination of subsidies and other policies of President Mauricio Macri, last week, reports the Associated Press.
  • Last week's meeting between Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and U.S. Republican nominee Donald Trump -- much criticized by Mexicans who feel their president failed to stand up for their interests. (See last Thursday's post.) Former President Vicente Fox said Trump's diplomacy is "as fake as a $3 bill," in a Guardian op-ed. Now some legislators are proposing a bill that would protect NAFTA by threatening to revise all of the two country's bilateral treaties if the next president attempts to revoke the free trade agreement. Additionally, the proposed bill would forbid official cash to be used in building the oft-mentioned wall that Trump wants to use to divide the two countries, reports the Financial Times.
  • Trump's Latin American advisors -- those whose names can be gleaned anyway -- specialize in energy and military issues, but very little in the region itself, write Christopher Sabatini and Mishella Romo in Latin America goes Global. The tongue-in-cheek piece concludes that though his advisors are essentially unknown, in the words of Trump himself "I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain, and I’ve said a lot of things… But I speak to a lot of people, but my primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff."

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