Thursday, April 27, 2017

Venezuela to quit OAS (April 27, 2017)

Venezuela will quit the Organization of American States, the hemisphere's oldest regional alliance, reports the Washington Post. The move comes after OAS member states voted to convene an emergency meeting to discuss the worsening humanitarian, political and economic crisis besieging Venezuela. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has led a regional charge against the government, which he has criticized as authoritarian.

Venezuela denounced the resolution as meddling in the country's internal affairs, reports the Wall Street Journal. But, the unprecedented exit points to the country's increasing isolation, according to the New York Times.

Protesters continue to pressure the government from the streets. Three more people were killed in clashes with security forces yesterday, bringing the total death toll up to at least 26 in recent weeks of protests, reports the Miami Herald. The AP put the number at 29.

Should Venezuela leave the OAS it would join Cuba, which was kicked out in 1962, as the only non-member in the hemisphere, notes the WP. It's departure could risk a rupture in the organization if allies like Nicaragua and Bolivia follow suit, notes Christopher Sabatini in the WP.

And in another twist to regional diplomacy, the CELAC bloc -- which excludes the U.S. and Canada -- set an emergency meeting for next week in response to a Venezuelan request. That international body could also be crippled if other Latin American countries boycott the forum.

Nonetheless, the OAS exit involves a two year process, which potentially be blocked by Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly or reversed if Maduro is unseated in general elections next year.

The window of time for exit gives the OAS room to continue discussions with Venezuela, notes David Smilde in the NYT.

Almagro said exit would require Venezuela to pay a debt of $8.7 million under O.A.S. rules.

In the meantime, fake news is taking Venezuelan social media by storm, reports El Confidencial.

An aside: There have been reports on how the latest spate of protests is different from the 2014 unrest which was largely confined to middle-class demonstrations. A post at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights looks at protests last week in a traditional Chavista stronghold in Caracas. "With the passing of time, President Nicolas Maduro’s inability to respond to the multiple demands of this sector and the recent revival of the massive protests by the opposition have turned the slums of Caracas into places where violent protests could potentially break out due to the rising levels of frustration," writes Yesman Utrera.


Labor reform sails through Brazilian lower house ahead of 24-hour strike tomorrow

Brazilian President Michel Temer's labor reform passed the lower chamber of congress with an ample majority: 296 to 177. The victory was expected, and is a boost for Temer's economic program, even as he battles extreme unpopularity. The proposal, which relaxes the country's restrictive labor laws, is a main plank of his attempt to revive an economy in deep recession, reports Reuters.

It's the biggest overhaul to labor laws in 70 years, according to El País. It would reduce or scrap mandatory union dues, make it harder for workers to sue their employers, and expand the scope for flexible work arrangements and temporary employment contracts, explains the Wall Street Journal. Supporters say the end result would be to make the country more competitive for manufacturers hampered on a global stage by worker protections.

But critics say the reform attacks long established workers rights. And The Intercept found that as many as a third of the bill's reforms came directly from business associations.

The bill is fiercely opposed by unions, and the vote came on the eve of a massive general strike tomorrow, reports El País. The mobilization -- the first since plea-bargain testimony from former Odebrecht execs implicated many members of the administration and congressional allies -- aims to influence lawmakers against the reform. A recent IPSOS poll put Temer's popularity at 4 percent, a fact protesters hope to leverage against his reform bills.

The vote was largely seen as a bellwether for the upcoming vote on pension reform, which will require the support of three-fifths of lawmakers (308 votes) as it alters the Constitution. 

Brazil is angling to join the OECD as soon as next month, a move the Temer administration hopes will help attract foreign investment, reports Reuters.

Having trouble keeping the hundreds of Brazilian politicians under investigation for corruption straight? A new Chrome plug-in promises to highlight the names when they pop-up in your browser and to summarize the allegations in question, reports the Guardian.

News Briefs
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's budget proposal involves drastic reductions for to foreign aid, and shifts funding from development to a national security oriented program, reports Foreign Policy. rump aims to merge USAID and the State Department, a move that could lead to the elimination of 35 percent of its field missions and 65 percent of its regional bureaus. Though his proposal will meet with bipartisan opposition to cutting foreign assistance, experts say the final budget will likely contain a decrease. Health programs abroad will also be hit with an estimated 25 percent reduction. And virtually all funding targeted at helping developing countries cope with climate change would be cut by the proposal, as well as 2016 Paris climate agreement commitments. "The cuts are also indicative of the wider push to tie development aid with U.S. national security interests. The budget zeroes out funds for development assistance, which funds 77 countries and regional offices, and redirects much of the remaining funds to the economic support fund, which is tied to specific U.S. political or strategic objectives."
  • The proposed reductions form part of a broader withdrawal from promoting human rights globally, a move which could impact efforts in other countries that can shield themselves with the U.S. example, argues Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed. "Even when the United States puts its full efforts behind human rights and democracy, the results can be disappointing. Countries like Mexico will ultimately be obliged to fix their justice and law enforcement systems on their own. Still, it is better to have the United States, with all its power, on the right side of the equation, rather than on the wrong side, where President Trump is increasingly placing it."
  • Castañeda's piece also makes reference to several key reforms in Mexico that could roll back judicial reforms -- including the presumption of innocence, the inadmissibility of hearsay and testimony obtained under torture, and a prohibition on holding suspects for a long time without trial -- as well as a proposal that would a legal framework for the military’s role in law enforcement. "Many Mexican legal analysts say this could offer the military a blanket amnesty for human rights violations." In the Conversation, Luis Gómez Romero analyzes the armed forces proposal in depth.
  • The U.S. will not unilaterally withdraw from NAFTA according to a White House statement after rumors that Trump would pull out of the landmark trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, reports the Guardian. Instead Trump agreed with his counterparts to advance swiftly in a renegotiation, reports the Financial Times. (The latest issue of Americas Quarterly is dedicated to the relationship between Mexico and the U.S., more details tomorrow.)
  • Sixteen U.S. Senators with the Democratic party sent a letter urging Trump to maintain temporary protected status for 50,000 Haitians living in the U.S., reports U.S.A. Today. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Paraguay's lower house of Congress rejected a bill that would have permitted presidential reelection, after protests against the project turned deadly a few weeks ago. (See April 3's briefs.) The vote comes after President Horacio Cartés said last week that he would not seek reelection, reports TeleSUR. (See April 18's briefs.)
  • In the midst of El Salvador's high levels of violence, the trans community is particularly vulnerable to attacks -- about 16 trans people are killed each year and the life expectancy for a transgender woman in El Salvador is less than 35 years, reports Vice News.
  • Honduras' homicide rate dropped slightly last year, to 59.1 murders per 100,000 people last year, down from 60 per 100,000 in 2015, according to the Observatory of Violence at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. However, the Observatory attributed the drop to a slight increase in the country's population and criticized the government's militarized approach to internal security, reports Reuters.
  • The PRI returned to power in Mexico in 2012, and has sought to distance itself from decades of accusations of stolen and purchased electoral victories. But faced with an unpopular president, corruption allegations and several former governors on the lam, the party is resorting to pressuring voters, reports the Associated Press.
  • New York Times Español op-ed by Diego Fonseca analyzes the broad grin on recently arrested Veracruz governor Javier Duarte's face, linking it to widespread political corruption that perpetually evades justice. While this case has become an attempt by the PRI to show change, in reality the majority of governors accused of corruption are never even investigated. "The general discredit of politicians in Mexican society leads to the supposition that the party system operates like a caste mechanism, where one old class of leaders is supplanted by agreement or by assault, by a new generation that repeats a premodern conception of power: patrimonialism, or the right to use public office to enrich oneself like a feudal overlord."
  • Mexico's federal government loses more than a billion dollars a year to fuel theft, an epidemic feeding a brisk black market around the country and possibly even in the U.S. and Central America, reports the New York Times. The crisis, which the government seems unable to stop, is also affecting efforts to attract foreign investment in the energy sector.
  • Former Peruvian president Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine Heredia were questioned yesterday by a prosecutor who is investigating them for alleged money laundering, reports EFE.
  • Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez met to continue negotiations for a free trade agreement between Mercosur and the EU, reports EFE.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri is set to meet with Trump in Washington later today, reports EFE. Macri is expected to defend his market oriented reforms, despite lagging economic indicators and popular unrest at home, reports the Financial Times.

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