Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Venezuelan gov't releases five political prisoners (Nov. 1, 2016)

The first result of a Vatican mediated dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the political opposition appears to have been an agreement to tone down the heated rhetoric used by both sides, reports the Associated Press. At a six hour meeting Sunday evening participants also said they would immediately create committees to address the economy, electoral schedule, human rights and the rule of law.

Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon arrived yesterday, to show support for the dialogue, which is also being mediated by former presidents of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic. His arrival may "spur negotiations," according to Reuters. Bilateral talks have failed before, and many are concerned that the latest iteration is a stalling tactic on the part of an increasingly unpopular government.

The U.S. is resisting calls for unilateral action against Venezuela, and is promoting diplomacy while taking a stronger stance in the OAS, reports the Miami Herald.

The next meeting is planned for Nov. 11, but the opposition says it will go ahead with a demonstration planned for Thursday, demanding a recall referendum aimed at ousting President Nicol√°s Maduro.

In a hopeful sign for dialogue, yeseterday the Venezuelan government released five people considered political prisoners by the opposition, reports the BBC. They had been held on charges ranging from allegedly carrying an explosive device to "harming armed forces' morale." Human rights groups say over 100 people are being held for political reasons, and their release is a key opposition demand.

Opposition leaders had demanded signs of goodwill from the government in order to continue withe the dialogue. (See yesterday's post.)

Venezuela asides
  • Chaos in Venezuela is having a ripple effect across the Brazilian border in the small Amazonian community of Pacaraima. The town is in the midst of an economic boom selling food supplies to Venezuelans. But an influx of approximately 30,000 migrants now threatens to overwhelm local services, reports the Guardian.
  • The government has hired the U.S.'s supplier of currency paper supply the country's new bills, needed to keep up with soaring inflation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
News Briefs
  • Officially El Salvador's police have had 459 "shootouts" with street gangs, in which 424 gang members were killed. But many people suspect that in reality police are simply killing alleged criminals, reports the Washington Post. The piece cites InSight Crime's observation that the rate of confrontation between criminal groups and security forces is higher in El Salvador than in Mexico or Colombia. And also references El Faro's investigative reporting on cases of alleged extrajudicial killings.
  • Rampant violence in Central America's Northern Triangle puts journalists at risk, dangers compounded by state indifference and media companies' lack of safety protocols, reports EFE.
  • The son of a prominent Honduran activist was killed yesterday, the latest in a spate of ongoing murders related to human rights defenders in the country, reports TeleSur.
  • The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said activist Milagro Sala has been improperly jailed and called on the Argentine government to release her immediately, reports the Associated Press. Sala was arrested in January, accused of inciting criminal acts and later of embezzling public funds through her social movement. But the U.N. panel concluded that there are no legal elements to justify Sala’s pre-trial detention and that the principle of judicial independence in the case is being violated.
  • The first phase of tax amnesty plan in Argentina has already brought some $4.6 billion in cash into the banking system, reports Reuters. The next phase will focus on formalizing an estimated $400 billion held in assets abroad by Argentine citizens.
  • Hundreds of schools in Brazil, focused on Parana state, have been occupied by students protesting cuts in education funding since mid-October. Now the testimony of one 16-year-old to senators, defending the student rights has gone viral, reports the BBC. Ana Julia Ribeiro's speech to the Senate Human Rights Commission comes as a conservative, right-wing organization, the Movement for Free Brazil (MBL), and some parents and teachers have demanded the protesters leave.
  • Despite the increasingly permissive regulations on trade between the U.S. and Cuba, U.S. companies say the reality is far more complicated, reports the Associated Press.
  • In its own tax amnesty program, the Brazilian government has collected $15.8 billion in taxes and fines, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Climate change may be threatening Rio de Janeiro's famed beaches, which were swamped this week by a record storm, reports the Guardian.
  • Paraguay's ruling party wants to change the constitution to permit presidential reelection. The plan faces opposition, reports the Associated Press.
  • Activist groups in Costa Rica are fighting to improve traffic conditions and tear through government red tape, reports the Guardian.
  • The expansion of Mexico's avocado orchards has caused more deforestation than previously believed, reports the Associated Press.

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