Friday, October 28, 2016

Little support for strike in Venezuela (Oct. 28, 2016)

A general strike called by Venezuela's political opposition drew spotty support today, reports Reuters

But some stores and schools closed, and rush-hour traffic was "noticeably lighter" today, according to the Associated Press.

Efecto Cocuyo notes that the strike was felt more in Caracas' western side than eastern.

Among the factors dissuading participants were government threats to expropriate businesses that closed. Government officials also threatened major business leaders with potential jail-time for joining the strike aimed at pressuring the government to permit a recall referendum.

The pressing issue of shortages also kept people on the streets, notes Reuters. 

Yesterday Maduro raised the minimum wage 40 percent, the fourth increase so far this year, reports the Wall Street Journal. Experts say the measure was targeted at sapping support for the opposition led protests calling for a recall referendum. The president also announced that public sector Christmas bonuses will be paid out on Monday. Nonetheless, the new wage still only covers a quarter of the basic monthly food basket. 

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has come out strongly against the Venezuelan government this year, and urged member states to invoke the organization's democratic charter to suspend Venezuela's membership. But no concrete steps have been taken in light of the most recent developments, reports a despondent Miami Herald.

Yesterday Peru's Congress approved a motion petitioning President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to protest diplomatically and to convoke the OAS to invoke the diplomatic charter, reports La República. PPK in turn promised to bring it up at this weekend's Cumbre Iberoamericana de Cartagena, reports El Comercio.

On the issue of a Vatican mediated dialogue between the government and the opposition -- scheduled to start Sunday, though it's unclear whether opposition leaders will attend (see yesterday's post) -- Human Rights Watch urged Pope Francis to ensure that the talks effectively address "head-on the Venezuelan government’s authoritarian practices." The letter emphasizes the imprisonment of political leaders, and their subjection to flawed judicial practices. It points to an imbalance of power between the government and the opposition, and says that an effective dialogue would require the Maduro administration to: stop arresting and abusing opponents, release political prisoners, allow the National Assembly to operate, allow the referendum process to move forward immediately, acknowledge it's facing a humanitarian crisis and seek international aid.

Venezuela briefs
  • Venezuela's Supreme Court blocked a congressional investigation that found Rafael Ramirez, the former president of state oil company PDVSA, was responsible for corruption and malfeasance that cost the firm $11 billion, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. prosecutors allege the nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's wife were attempting to carry out a multi-million dollar drug deal in order to fund political campaigns, reports Reuters.
News Briefs
  • The crisis brewing at the Mexico-U.S. border is not about security, rather a potential humanitarian emergency, according to a new WOLA report based on research and a field visit to El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico earlier this year. "At a time when calls for beefing up border infrastructure and implementing costly policies regularly make headlines, our visit to the El Paso sector made clear that what is needed at the border are practical, evidence-based adjustments to border security policy, improved responses to the growing number of Central American migrants and potential refugees, and strengthened collaboration and communication on both sides of the border," write Maureen Meyer and Adam Isacson and Carolyn Scorpio.
  • Mexican homicides are on the rise -- the total number of homicides during the first three quarters of 2016 reached 15,201, a more than 20 percent increase in comparison to the same period last year. But a new study found that increasingly these murders are related to criminal organizations, pointing to an even more disturbing trend, reports InSight Crime. The new homicide ranking that results points to the Mexican states with the most violence. In absolute numbers, Guerrero takes the cake, followed by Mexico, Michoácan, Chihuahua and Sinaloa states.
  • A person was killed in Brazil every nine minutes in 2015. The country had a total of 58.383 homicides, coming up to an average of 160 per day, according to a new report by the Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública. The numbers obtained by the group thanks to an access to public information law show that between 2011 and 2015 more people were killed than in the same time period in Syria, reports O Globo. And about nine people per day, on average, were killed by police, according to the same report, notes Agencia Brasil
  • The 1,200 people displaced by the massive Samarco mining waste flood last year in Minas Gerais remain in temporary housing, waiting to be moved to new homes, reports the Associated Press. Most are still waiting for reparations. The company is facing manslaughter and environmental charges for the accident, which killed 19 people and contaminated an extensive chunk of the Brazilian province. But the region also depends on mining income, and has been affected by the closure of the mine in the past year.
  • The Colombian government cancelled the opening ceremony for peace negotiations with the ELN, scheduled for yesterday evening in Ecuador. President Juan Manuel Santos is demanding the release of their last political hostage before discussions can formally begin. Some reports say the release of Odin Sanchez is already in motion, reports the Associated Press. And talks could begin within the next few days, according to Reuters.
  • Interesting InSight Crime comparison of the presidential corruption scandals in Brazil and Guatemala. Among the many relevant points brought up in the piece: while judges in both countries have spoken of "systemic corruption," in the case of Brazilian politicians "appears to be more closely linked to political incentives than the desire for personal enrichment on the part of the participants, though the latter certainly played an important role. ... In Guatemala, on the other hand, the evidence suggests personal enrichment trumped political expediency as the primary motivation for the graft." Another point is that corruption in Brazil appears to have been more decentralized, whereas former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and his VP Roxana Baldetti ran more of a mafia-style operation that took a cut of illegal activities.
  • Nicaraguan voters go to the polls next weekend to pick a president, vp, and legislators. President Daniel Ortega, running for third consecutive reelection, is slated to win handily -- a recent poll predicted he'll get 65 percent of the vote, reports the Economist. The political opposition, which has accused President Daniel Ortega -- running for third consecutive reelection -- of using the courts to block opponents. Though he blocked international monitoring of the election, an OAS delegation was invited to attend this week, reports Deutsche Welle
  • Experts say that the U.S. embargo against Cuba can only be lifted by Congress. But in a Hill op-ed trade attorneys Stephen Heifetz is a partner and Peter Jeydel argue that the outmoded legislation could be undone by executive action. The embargo law essentially permits the Treasury Secretary to permit trade in areas that haven't been specifically prohibited by Congress. "... This leaves open a wide range of activities that can be authorized.  For example, the Treasury Secretary could authorize U.S. manufacturing and energy companies to begin operations in Cuba," they write. "In the dwindling days of the President’s term, an Administration that wanted to be really bold could go even further.  The President could declare that the specific congressional prohibitions, such as the ban on tourist travel to Cuba, contravene the President’s authorities unless these prohibitions are interpreted to permit presidential waivers.  The President, in the exercise of his constitutional powers, should be able to waive restrictions on commerce that are inconsistent with U.S. foreign policy interests.  This is a view with strong scholarly support." The time for such a bold action -- which would, of course, anger many members of Congress -- is now, in the president's lame-duck period.
  • Obtaining water in Haiti nearly three weeks after Hurricane Matthew remains a tricky proposition, with many families forced to carry out arduous treks or use up meager savings in order to obtain uncontaminated supplies, reports the Associated Press.

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