Monday, October 31, 2016

Fears of escalation in tension between Venezuelan gov't and opposition (Oct. 31, 2016)

Talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition parties kicked off last night, mediated by the Vatican, and former presidents of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic. The meeting lasted over six hours, until dawn today, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Five opposition leaders, including coalition secretary-general Jesus Torrealba and opposition governor Henri Falcon, attended yesterday, reports Reuters.

The main demand of the opposition is a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro to be carried out this year, as well as freedom for political prisoners, humanitarian aid amid an unprecedented economic downturn, and respect for the opposition-led National Assembly.

The government says it seeks to avoid street violence and urges its critics to reject neo-liberal economic policies.

But critics say the discussions are merely a stalling tactic for the government, which seeks to deflect pressure from its unpopular government. And fifteen parties of the MUD opposition coalition boycotted the talks, reports the Associated Press.

"For an eventual dialogue to take place it has to be very clear from the outset that the aim is agreeing on the terms of a democratic transition in the remainder of 2016," the parties said in a statement.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, a Vatican envoy to the talks, urged both sides to make concessions in order for the talks not to falter like the previous attempts. (See Friday's post.)

Efecto Cocuyo has details on the ins and outs of reaching the meeting last night -- especially who wanted to sit down and why.

Opposition-oriented Caracas Chronicles shows the opposition fear that the government is just playing for time. Francisco Toro hypothesizes that the opposition representatives sitting down at the table are also concerned that demonstrations will end violently. He also criticizes the opposition's lack of unity on the issue. (See Friday's post.)

The opposition, in the meantime, is ramping up pressure on the government this week. It has called for a protest march -- demanding a recall referendum -- that will go up to the Miraflores presidential palace. That's a symbolic flashpoint in Venezuela, the opposition hasn't been near it since a brief 2002 against then President Hugo Chávez, according to the AP.

The Financial Times characterizes Thursday's planned demonstration as a face-off between an increasingly radicalized opposition and government supporters who will fiercely resist the march.

"The scheduled march of November 3 “to Miraflores,” is potentially the most dangerous step by the opposition," argues Hugo Pérez Hernaíz at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. "The government has been quick to establish parallels with the failed coup attempt against the late President Hugo Chávez on April 11, 2002. On that day the coup was triggered by violence in Caracas when a huge crowd by the opposition, originally gathered in the east of city, attempted to reach the presidential palace. Even independent journalists are concerned about the eerie parallels with the 2002 events and the strategy the opposition is now setting."

Avoiding the march is on the agenda of both the government and some factions of the opposition who are anxious to avoid street confrontations, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

Also the National Assembly, operating on a symbolic plane since the Supreme Court declared it in contempt ten days ago, is advancing with a political trial of Maduro -- though it lacks the constitutional power to impeach him. In the meantime, Maduro has threatened to arrest legislators if they move forward with the show trial.

Excellent New York Times op-ed by David Smilde, which says that "Chavismo has come full circle. From a movement that showed how nonelite actors could use the instruments of electoral democracy to upend an entrenched elite, Chavismo has itself become an entrenched elite preventing those same instruments from upending it."

Smilde argues that there is a real threat of violence, and cautions that while vital, international pressure must work intelligently. U.S. sanctions up until now have backfired, for example. 

"Effective international engagement must be multilateral, preferably working through existing institutions. While Venezuela has long dismissed the Organization of American States as an imperialist tool, Secretary General Luis Almagro’s invocation of the Democratic Charter in June seriously got their attention. That initiative needs to be taken up again. The Union of Southern Nations does not have the institutional strength the O.A.S. has, but it has the government’s ear. Venezuela has embraced its role in the United Nations and would find it difficult to deflect a special envoy. Perhaps the only thing the opposition and the government have agreed on this year is the desirability of Vatican mediation in Venezuela," writes Smilde. "Any dialogue that occurs should not be seen as an alternative to the referendum but should focus primarily on restoring the people’s right to choose their leaders. Debate regarding the economy, education and crime would serve only as a red herring for a government that is doing whatever it can to prevent change."

A chilling note in the piece refers to the large circle of acquaintances who have lost significant weight, a sign of the widespread food shortages that have been widely reported on.

News Briefs
  • The Brazilian electorate expressed anger at the country's mainstream politicians, and elected conservatives and fringe candidates to mayoral posts this weekend, reports the Wall Street JournalMarcelo Crivella, a senator and evangelical bishop won the mayorship of Rio de Janeiro. And in Belo Horizonte the former president of a local soccer club narrowly beat out a former player, in a campaign that emphasized his lack of political credentials. The elections emphasize the fall of the Workers' Party and the rise of evangelical Christian parties, notes the Guardian.
  • Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua's first lady, is almost sure to win the post of vice president in this weekend's elections. Her husband, President Daniel Ortega, is running for his third consecutive reelection. And some critics have pointed to the husband-wife ticket as a sign of increasing centralization of power. (See last Friday's briefs, for example.) But others say it is in fact a recognition of the de facto role Murillo already plays in government. "Ms. Murillo, 65, is already a de facto cabinet member, deeply involved in every aspect of the government. She is the one who gives daily news briefings about the latest earthquake or damage from an industrial fire. If a child has Zika, Ms. Murillo knows the boy’s name and might just call the parents herself. She meets regularly with municipal leaders and makes it clear that decisions cannot be made without her approval," reports the New York Times. (See also Aug. 3's post.)
  • Representatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will travel to Mexico in November to verify the state of the Ayotzinapa investigation, reports El País. Over two years after the 43 students disappeared in Iguala, it will be the first international supervision of the case since the IACHR's interdisciplinary group of experts left the country earlier this year after heavily criticizing the government's handling of the case. (See April 25's post, for example.) The committee will be implementing a year-long "mechanism" following the case and will advocate for the implementation of the GIEI's recommendations, reports Deutsche Welle.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos promised a new peace accord with the FARC by Christmas, in an interview with the Observer. "I hope that Uribe will also come on board because we want as large a consensus as possible," said the president. But he continued: "If [Uribe] decides not to join the bandwagon, then he will simply be isolated and we will continue with the other people [who previously opposed the accord] because we cannot simply stop the process – because it will come to an end if we do not continue it."
  • El Salvador's murderous hostilities between street gangs have shifted into a war between gangs and the state, reports the Washington Post. "Soldiers and police are being linked to human rights abuses and assassinations, an echo of the civil war between leftist guerrillas and the U.S.-backed government fought a quarter-century ago. The conflict is prompting massive population flight." And creating a simmering resentment in communities where heavy handed police tactics kill alleged gang members.
  • Former Salvadoran president Elias Antonio Saca was arrested on charges of stealing millions of dollars in government funds, reports the BBC. The former president was detained at his son's wedding, and is accused of diverting more than $18 million from government coffers to the private accounts of acolytes, reports El Faro. Four of his closest officials were also arrested this weekend, as were three current government functionaries.
  • El Faro has a new report on videos that appear to show negotiations between the governing FLMN party and El Salvador's three main street gangs. In one of the videos appears to show a current cabinet member, Arístides Valencia offering to create a fund of $10 million for the gang leaders to administer and carry out a microcredit project for gang members.
  • Argentina is once again facing its classic dilemma: economists recommend austerity to rein in inflation, but in the meantime poverty increases and discontent along with it. President Mauricio Macri has already backpedaled from last year's "zero poverty" campaign promise. The government estimates that about a third of the population is living beneath the poverty line, and efforts to cut subsidies have worsened the impact of 40 percent inflation, reports the Associated Press
  • Nonetheless, insecurity is topping Argentines' list of concerns. Macri has declared war on the drug traffickers who have turned the country in to a transit route for cocaine. But experts warn that the militarized approach he seems to be adopting repeats the failures of a policy increasingly rejected in the region, reports the Financial Times. "It is ironic and tragic that Argentina has not learnt from this regional and international debate, and is now reverting back to [militarised] policies that have failed," says Coletta Youngers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.
  • American ballet in Cuba -- another area favored by detenté, reports Reuters.
  • Mezcal is turning into a slow-food celebrity, but the popularity is threatening the Mexican alcohol's reputation and the small rural communities where it's produced, reports the Guardian.
  • Happy Halloween: Mexico celebrated the Day of the Dead with a parade in Mexico City, for the first time ever. It was partly inspired by the James Bond movie Spectre and organizers hope to bring tourism to the country, reports the Guardian.

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