Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Venezuelan talks break down (Dec. 7, 2016)

Venezuelan opposition leaders skipped a scheduled dialogue meeting with the government yesterday, saying earlier promises of permitting foreign aid and replacing the national electoral authority had not been kept. (See yesterday's briefs.)

Yesterday mediators sought to revive discussions between the two sides, though hopes of successful dialogue have always been slim, reports Reuters. Technical meetings will continue until Jan. 13, said Vatican envoy Claudio Maria Celli. Both sides will meet with mediators.

In the meantime, Celli asked politicians to avoid decisions that could further polarize an already heated situation, reports Efecto Cocuyo. The plea could be aimed at stopping both a political trial of President Nicolás Maduro in the opposition-led National Assembly, and the appointment of new members of the National Electoral Commission by the Supreme Court, sidestepping the National Assembly, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

The opposition MUD coalition is expected to meet today to discuss how and whether to continue the dialogue, reports Efecto Cocuyo separately.

News Briefs
  • Brazil's Supreme Court will meet later today to defuse a potential constitutional crisis between the judiciary and the Senate. On Monday a Supreme Court judge ordered the Senate president, who was indicted for embezzlement last week, to step down from his post which puts him second in line for the national presidency. Renan Calheiros refused to do so yesterday, saying the judge was interfering with separation of powers. (See yesterday's post.) His refusal was endorsed by the entire Senate leadership, which comprises members of major parties, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Senate posturing puts the Supreme Court in a difficult position, and justices could already issue a warrant for Mr. Calheiros’s arrest, explains the New York Times. The standoff comes as the Senate is due to consider a constitutional amendment to limit spending for the next twenty years, and if Calheiros steps down, the Workers Party would fill the presidency, potentially delaying the measure's approval, explains Reuters. The whole episode is a sign of how Temer has failed to tame political instability in the seven months he has held office, according to El País.
  • Roman Catholic authorities in Rio de Janeiro have promised an inquiry into clashes in which police fired rubber bullets at protesters from a church, reports the BBC. (See Nov. 17's briefs.)
  • Members of Venezuela's opposition have started a sit-in outside the Vatican demanding the government free political prisoners. The wife and mother of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López chained themselves in St. Peter's Square on Sunday, and are now huddled with a few supporters near the square, where they say they will stay until the Venezuelan government frees 108 political prisoners, reports Reuters.
  • A PDVSA subsidiary asked a U.S. court to order compensation from two businessmen accused of carrying out a "staggering" bribery scheme that cost the company $600 million in losses. It's the first time the Venezuelan state-run oil company has intervened in the U.S. Justice Department investigation into bribery of company officials, reports Reuters.
  • President Nicolás Maduro announced a new agreement with Russia, for economic and military cooperation, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to send wheat in order to stabilize prices from "sabotage," he said.
  • The latest form of currency arbitrage in Venezuela involves mining for bitcoins using the country's cheap (though sometimes interrupted) electricity, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • More than 100 Cuban small business owners sent U.S. president-elect Donald Trump a letter asking him to continue the current policy of engagement with the island. "As a successful businessman, we’re confident that you understand the importance of economic engagement between nations," wrote the entrepreneurs, according to Reuters.
  • Twenty suspected criminals were killed in shootouts with the police and military troops in the Mexican state of Veracruz over the weekend and Monday, reports the Associated Press.
  • This week marks the ten year anniversary of Mexico's militarized war on drugs -- "but while many criminal leaders have been captured or killed, a decade of confrontation has failed to substantially improve the nation's security situation," according to InSight Crime.
  • Mexico's auctioning off deepwater oil reserves means a heightened risk for environmental disaster, argues Woodrow Wilson Center fellow Christopher Sellers in a New York Times op-ed. He points to difficulties for government agencies seeking to enforce regulations, and calls for greater cooperation with the U.S. on the issue in order to avoid another accident like Deepwater Horizon. "Best practices, training and resource sharing are critical steps needed to help the government regulators manage the looming challenge of a greatly expanded oil-and-gas sector. If they don’t, Mexico may soon find itself a poster child for the failed environmental state."
  • Bolivian prosecutors detained the head of the LaMia airline for questioning regarding the plane that went down last week with most of the Chapecoense soccer team, reports the Associated Press. The investigation could easily turn into a manslaughter case, according to Reuters.
  • A man from a prominent Bogotá family was charged with the kidnapping and murder of a 7-year-old girl from a poor neighborhood by Colombia's attorney general. The crime has outraged citizens and shows the city's deep socio-economic divisions, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Guy Philippe's election to the Haitian senate is "an illustration of the perverse disconnect between the law and its lawmakers in that island nation," according to InSight Crime. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Interesting feature piece in the New York Times looks at a Brazilian justice program that brings the legal system to far-flung Amazon outposts using a river boat.

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