Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Venezuela's spiraling crisis (April 19, 2017)

Venezuelan's are gearing up for an intense day of protests today. (See yesterday's post.) 

Yesterday President Nicolás Maduro announced the implementation of the civil-military Plan Zamora in phase green, aimed at "defeating the coup d'état," reports Efecto Cocuyo. While it's not clear what the plan implies, it is believed to involve controlling access to Caracas and securing government buildings.

The MUD opposition coalition reiterated its call to protest, despite Maduro's characterization of the mobilization as a coup attempt, reports Efecto Cocuyo separately.
Already this morning Efecto Cocuyo has live blogged that there are anti-mutiny troops and restricted access to Avenida Libertador and closed metro stations in Caracas.
While demonstrations against and for the government are common -- and have failed to spur significant change in recent years -- the Guardian points to the crisis wracked economy and a definitive shift in regional support as factors that might point to a different result this time.

Venezuela's economy shrunk by 18 percent last year, and about unemployment is set to surpass 25 percent this year, according to new IMF predictions. Inflation predictions actually decreased: to 720 percent, reports CNN.

Observers are referring to a humanitarian crisis -- there are estimates that 85 percent of basic medications are unavailable or difficult to obtain, notes a Council on Foreign Relations background report from this week.

A new study found that in the past year, 74.3 percent of the population has lost weight -- an average of 8.7 kilograms per person -- due to food shortages, reports Americas Quarterly. By the end of this year, 380,000 children will suffer of malnutrition.

Women unable to find steady supplies of birth control are increasingly turning to sterilization to avoid pregnancies, according to the Miami Herald. Infant and maternal mortality rates have shot up, as have incidences of malnourishment in children. (The sterilization issue was reported on several times by different news outlets last year, such as Reuters in August.) 

Protesters arrested for allegedly committing violent acts have been labelled terrorists in the government discourse, but  Foro Penal rejects the terminology, pointing out that it doesn't fit into international treaties and hasn't been used to formally charge detained demonstrators, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Foro Penal's figures show that 538 people have been arrested in relation to protests since April 4, and the current total of political prisoners is 144.

News Briefs
  • Those who were flummoxed at a Washington Post opinion piece earlier this week (see Monday's post) -- which posited that the U.S. has studiously avoided interference in Venezuela over the past four administrations -- will enjoy David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey's response at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. They emphasize in particular the Bush administration's support for a 2002 coup attempt. "...It is remarkable that Diehl’s appropriation of history leaves out major, well-known events that would call into question his “U.S. laissez-faire” narrative. ... The events of April 11-13, 2002 are treated by Chavismo as its defining moment (this was on full display in recent remarks by Maduro). And U.S. support is a key prism through which the present is seen ..." Given the regional aversion to U.S. intervention, they note the importance of other countries in the region taking a lead in diplomatic pressure this time around. (They did not comment on Diehl's characterization of U.S. Central America policy in the 1980s as using "economic and military leverage to force democratic change," however.)
  • U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a senior member of the Senate’s armed services committee, told reporters its time for stronger economic sanctions against Venezuela, which he called an "economic basket case," reports the Miami Herald
  • Brazilian congressional security forces faced off against federal police unions who tried to invade Congress yesterday in protest of a pension reform bill that would reduce their benefits. Protesters broke through glass doors, and were violently pushed back, reports the Guardian. (See last Friday's briefs on pension reform.)
  • A recount of nearly 1.3 million votes in Ecuador confirmed Lenín Moreno's victory in the presidential run-off election earlier this month. The recount slightly boosted his margin over rival Guillermo Lasso, who demanded a full recount, reports the BBC.
  • Honduran investigation reports from 2009 and 2011 detail how police officials at the highest level ordered the assassination of anti-drug crusading officials, reports the New York Times Español. But the reports have not been sent to the public ministry, implicated officials have not been removed and some have even been promoted by the government. (See post for April 6, 2016, when the story of police involvement broke.) A commission to purge the force of corruption has reviewed over 2,200 cases and separated officers in 67 percent of cases, including 364 in leadership positions, reported La Tribuna last year. (See briefs for Dec. 20, 2016.) But the commission's mandate was scheduled to end this month, and the officials implicated in the murder investigations have not been affected and remain influential. The New York Times piece goes into great detail over who was involved in the murders of General Julián Arístides González and Alfredo Landaverde and the officials' participation in a drug cartel, as well as their subsequent impunity.
  • Salvadoran street gangs are seeking to portray themselves as victims and are behind recent international criticisms of the country's mano dura policies, according to Justice and Public Security Minister Mauricio Landaverde. He accused international think tanks of falling prey to gang influence, in response to a critical Crisis Group report earlier this month which said many security measures were counter productive, reports La Prensa Gráfica. (See April 7's briefs.)
  • U.S. federal agents deported an undocumented migrant who was protected under the Obama era DACA program in February, believed to be the first "Dreamer" to be deported by the Trump administration, reports the Guardian.
  • Asylum applications in Mexico have soared by 150 percent so far this year, as increasing numbers of Central Americans seek alternatives in their flight from violence, reports the Guardian. Trump's tough on immigration stance has deterred would be migrants from their traditional destination: the number of detentions along the south-western US border has fallen about 4 since his election.
  • Trump made a classic bully's error in picking Mexico as a punching bag earlier this year -- he underestimated the backlash his comments would generate, and the harm Mexico could inflict on the U.S., according to the Atlantic's Franklin Foer. Though China has made big inroads in the region in recent years, Mexico has remained the exception to that expansion, and is one place where heavy Chinese presence could alarm the U.S., writes Foer. And that has raised the possibility of the "China Card," the threat of alignment with the U.S.'s greatest competitor, a potential extreme retaliatory threat. "Not so long ago—for most of the postwar era, in fact—the United States and Mexico were an old couple who lived barely intersecting lives, hardly talking, despite inhabiting the same abode. Then the strangest thing happened: The couple started chatting. They found they actually liked each other; they became codependent. Now, with Trump’s angry talk and the Mexican resentment it stirs, the best hope for the persistence of this improved relationship is inertia—the interlocking supply chain that crosses the border and won’t easily pull apart, the agricultural exports that flow in both directions, all the bureaucratic cooperation. Unwinding this relationship would be ugly and painful, a strategic blunder of the highest order, a gift to America’s enemies, a gaping vulnerability for the homeland that Donald Trump professes to protect, a very messy divorce."
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is touting the arrest of former governor Javier Duarte -- a member of his own PRI party -- as a message that corruption will not be tolerated, reports the Associated Press. It's a marked turnaround for the man once heralded by Peña Nieto as the country's future. But the arrest of Duarte and another fugitive former governor, Tomás Yarrington, over the past two weeks is almost too expedient, and highlights the lack of progress against endemic state corruption, reports the Financial Times.
  • An ongoing 43 day strike at Chile's La Escondida mine -- which accounts for a fifth of national copper production and almost 2 per cent of gross domestic product -- is threatening to send the economy into recession and could push the country rightward in November's presidential elections, according to the Financial Times.

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