Monday, October 24, 2016

Venezuela's increasingly polarized political battle (Oct. 24, 2016)

Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly declared yesterday that President Nicolás Maduro staged a coup by blocking efforts to oust him through a recall referendum.

In a "raucous" session, legislators vowed to put the president on trial after the national electoral council delayed a signature drive scheduled for this week, reports the Associated Press. (See Friday's post.)

They also approved a resolution asking world leaders to step in to "protect the people’s right to democracy by any means necessary."

Red-shirted government supporters burst into the session at one point chanting that "congress will fall." Opposition lawmakers said there were injuries, reports Reuters.

Legal actions against Maduro will likely fail as his supporters dominate the courts, notes the AP. The Supreme Court has itself ruled the National Assembly to be operating illegitimately after swearing in three members whose elections are contested.

On Friday opposition leaders called for citizens to take to the streets in protest of the government postponement of the referendum signature drive, reports the New York Times.

In turn Maduro has called the referendum movement a coup attempt. The opposition has considered it the only legal recourse to ousting Maduro. 

Venezuela asides:
  • Colombian airline Avianca temporarily cancelled flights to Caracas after a Venezuelan Air Force jet intercepted one of its planes, but resumed full service after talks with  both governments, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Wall Street Journal has a feature on Venezuelan oil production, which is falling fast due to mismanagement, at a time when the country can ill-afford a drop in revenue.
News Briefs
  • The Haitian government is determined to coordinate efforts to remedy Hurricane Matthew devastation in the country, largely in response to the international aid group dominated response to the 2010 earthquake. Interim President Jocelerme Privert told the New York Times that this time around the government is seeking to implement sustainable solutions -- salvaging communities, rather than having them move to temporary housing, for example. But the country is also fighting other legacies of 2010 -- such as donor fatigue that have kept funding at a fraction of what is needed, and a resurgence of cholera, brought by U.N. peacekeeper after the earthquake. But the government's priorities may be unrealistic in light of the emergency situation, say some aid groups. For example, the interior minister has refused to distribute tents for hundreds and thousands of homeless people. But in the meantime, people have no shelter and the rainy season will soon begin.
  • At least 150 Haitian inmates remain on the run after a mass prison breakout this weekend, reports the BBC.
  • Chile's conservative coalition, Vamos, was the big winner in yesterday's municipal elections, reports Reuters. The right-leaning group won dozens of mayoralities and got slightly more votes than President Michelle Bachelet's left-leaning Nueva Mayoría coalition. Conservative gains were especially marked in key swing cities, including Santiago, a potential signal for next year's presidential elections. The results are a victory for conservative former president, Sebastián Piñera who is favored in next year's race. But low voter turnout and the popularity of some independent candidates also shows popular anger with the political establishment, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Colombian government and FARC negotiators met in Havana on Saturday for the first time since voters narrowly rejected a peace deal hammered out between the two. Both sides reported optimism in reaching a new agreement, according to Deutsche Welle. On Friday the government expected that a new pact could be reached rapidly, reported the Wall Street Journal.
  • Mexican authorities captured the former municipal police chief in charge in Iguala when the 43 students from Ayotzinapa disappeared two years ago. Felipe Flores Velázquez has been at large since then, reports the New York Times.
  • The case of Veracruz governor Javier Duarte, who resigned his post early and is now wanted on charges of racketeering and money laundering, is unusual not because of a corrupt official, but because he might be called to justice, reports the New York Times. Of course, that would require finding him -- after he fled authorities last week. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • A political race in Brazil's Belo Horizonte city -- in which two soccer associated candidates are competing in a mayoral runoff -- is an example of voter fatigue with traditional politicians in that country, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's powerful evangelical bloc, which has veered politics to the right, is only set to become more powerful and influential, reports the Financial Times. An evangelical conservative is poised to win the mayorship of Rio de Janeiro this weekend.
  • A local environmental official was gunned down in front of his family in Brazil's Pará state, a sign of increasingly violence against environmental activists in Brazil, reports the Guardian.
  • The OAS postponed a decision on whether to fund the region's two main human rights organisms: the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The human rights organisms had requested a duplication in regular funding from member states, to make up for a fall in voluntary contributions which made up half of their operating budget, reports AFP. A decision is expected next week.
  • OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said political pressures and verbal attacks on El Salvador's Supreme Court and Attorney General are a serious threat to independence of powers in the country, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Former Guantanamo bay prisoner Jihad Diyab has reportedly received an offer for asylum in an unidentified Arab country, and has given up his 68 day hunger strike. He received asylum in Uruguay in 2014, but struggled to adapt and has demanded to be reunited with his family, reports the BBC.
  • New U.S. regulations for trade with Cuba announced last week imply real change, reports the Miami Herald. "A restaurant franchisor or a U.S. distributor of tires could negotiate a future contract in Cuba. A U.S. engineering or architecture firm could work on a public transportation project or new Cuban hospital. An American traveler to Cuba can load up on premium cigars and bottles of high-end Santiago or Havana Club rum."

  • Read more here:"
  • Femicides in Argentina "are the end result of small, daily acts of machismo," writes #NiUnaMenos collective member Soledad Vallejos in a Guardian op-ed. She calls for effective public policies, but also individual responsibility for private behavior. A massive march last week to draw attention to the phenomenon, the third in a year and a half, contrasts with headlines today of a "triple femicide" in Mendoza province, where a martial arts expert killed his girlfriend, her aunt and grandmother, and wounded his 10-month old baby and another child. "They made me lose my temper," he explained, according to La Nación. (See last Thursday's post.)

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