Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Venezuelan protests head into 7th week (May 17, 2017)

Venezuela's state prosecutor's office announced three more protest related deaths yesterday, bringing the toll up to 42 as the demonstrations enter their seventh consecutive week, reports Reuters. The opposition blames the bloodshed on state security forces using excessive force and on groups of armed, pro-government civilians known as "colectivos," reports the Associated Press.

At least 90 people were arrested during clashes on Monday. 

The numbers are stark: The opposition counts at least 13,000 wounded in the 40 days of protests, 1,286 in Caracas, reports Efecto Cocuyo

The opposition has called for a march of lights tonight, in honor of the fallen, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

President Nicolás Maduro extended a state of economic emergency for the seventh time, permitting him to take decisions without consulting the National Assembly for another two months, reports Efecto Cocuyo. The decree permits him to impose tougher security measures, according to the BBC.

Security officers in Venezuela -- about 100,000, mostly in their 20s -- are increasingly exhausted by the protests."The security forces’ once fierce loyalty to Mr. Maduro’s charismatic predecessor Hugo Chávez has largely given way to demoralization, exhaustion and apathy amid an economic collapse and endless protests," reports the Wall Street Journal based on interviews with eight security officers from different forces and locations.

In the piece opposition protesters describe a war of attrition, with control of Caracas' city-center at the heart of the territorial struggle. "The opposition says the increasingly isolated government is scared of losing control if a rally breaches its stronghold."

"Most days follow the same pattern: An initially peaceful demonstration disintegrates into violence as security forces fire tear gas and rubber bullets to block the protesters’ advance. The bulk of the demonstrators then flee, leaving the field to hundreds of hooded youths who call themselves the Resistance, build barricades and battle officers into the night."

The United Nations Security Council will analyze the situation in Venezuela on Wednesday in an informal closed-door meeting, at the request of the U.S., reports EFE.

The time has come for regional governments to more forcefully isolate Venezuela and push for regime change, argues Aquiles Esté in a New York Times Español op-ed in which he details the country's historic commitment to democracy in the region. In particular he points to neighboring Colombia and Brazil as having interest in stabilizing Venezuela and preventing a flood of medicine and food seeking refugees, he writes.

News Briefs
  • Cuban activists are denouncing new methods of repression by the island's government. Cuba is headed for a political transition next year when President Raúl Castro has promised to step down, and it is not clear what policy U.S. President Donald Trump will adopt towards the island, notes the Miami Herald. In the meantime, the government seems more jittery than usual with the domestic opposition. "Authorities have expelled students from universities, arrested dissidents who want to run in the next elections and forced others into exile. The phones of dissidents and human rights activists also are tapped, making communication with journalists abroad difficult — all part of a campaign to crush criticism at a crucial time."
  • The Caribbean has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world, according to a new Inter-American Development Bank study based on victimization surveys. Nearly 1 in 3 citizens has lost someone to violence, and individuals are more likely to be a victim of assault or a threat than anywhere else in the hemisphere. The Miami Herald notes the juxtaposition between the idyllic settings pushed by the tourist industry and the violence faced by residents. The study also noted a high tolerance of domestic violence.
  • An Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) from last week condemned Brazil for police violence. Though the case is over 20 years old, it highlights ongoing institutional failures among Rio de Janeiro's security forces, reports InSight Crime. The ruling holds Brazil responsible for failing to properly investigate and punish two separate incidents in October 1994 and May 1995 in Rio's Complexo do Alemão neighborhood, in which police officers raped three women and killed 26 people. It's the first time the IACHR condemns Brazil for police violence. The case was brought by two non-governmental organizations, the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Institute for Religious Studies (Instituto de Estudos da Religião - ISER).
  • Brazil's top electoral court will retake a case that could annul the 2014 presidential election -- potentially unseating President Michel Temer who was elected as vice president to President Dilma Rousseff in that race. Rousseff's Workers' Party is accused of receiving millions of dollars in illegal campaign donations, part of wider graft scheme in order to obtain contracts from state-run oil company Petrobras, explains Reuters. A decision would likely take up to a year. Rousseff denies charges of illegal campaign contributions.
  • Brazil's government is pushing unpopular reforms as the only escape from a deep recession. (See yesterday's briefs.) In this, a government in power only by its predecessor's impeachment is an asset, according to Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles in an interview with the Financial Times.
  •  João Doria, São Paulo’s millionaire, "political outsider" mayor said he'd run for president next year if nominated by his Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), reports Bloomberg. With widespread anger at a political class increasingly implicated in corruption allegations, Brazilian voters are leaning towards an outsider candidate, according to analysts. Doria paints himself as a managerial type seeking to bring a breath of fresh air to the city's administration, reports the Financial Times.
  • A wave of prison breaks in Honduras -- 65 inmates escaped between April 28 and May 11 -- highlights the chronic dysfunction of the country's penitentiary system, according to InSight Crime. The biggest break, in which 23 members of the Barrio 18 gang escaped from the Támara prison, was not reported publicly for two days. Authorities believe some of the inmates might have escaped to avoid being transferred to maximum security prisons. InSight points to overcrowding, "mano dura" policies and a failure to distinguish between convicts and individuals incarcerated before trial as key flaws.
  • A new report by Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières - MSF) found that 68.3 percent of migrants from the Northern Triangle region of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala experienced some form of violence while traveling through Central America and Mexico, reports InSight Crime. The organization said the findings indicate a "humanitarian crisis" along the migration routes north.
  • Colombia must establish clear rules for mining industry developments, say companies concerned over a wave of community opposition to projects and court rulings in their favor, reports the Financial Times.
  • Mexican journalists marched Monday night in Mexico City, protesting a lack of official response to a wave of violence that has killed six so far this year. (See yesterday's post.) "In Mexico they are killing us" was scrawled in front of the Angel of Independence monument, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Seven banks, including three from the U.S., are the focus of a widening investigation into price manipulation in Mexico's bond market, reports Bloomberg.
  • Lenín Moreno was officially declared Ecuadorean president-elect and promised a government of "dialogue" and "solidarity," reports EFE. He will take office next week.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri is in China. Both governments are seeking to restart major joint energy projects that have been stalled with a change in administration in Argentina, reports EFE.

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