Friday, June 2, 2017

Venezuelans report abuse at hands of security forces (June 2, 2017)

More than 2,700 Venezuelans have been arrested in relation to ongoing protests over the past two months, and many have described mistreatment and abuse at the hands of security forces, reports the Miami Herald. The government has denied systemic abuse, but the Venezuelan Penal Forum says authorities are using a number of tactics to intimidate and abuse arrested protesters, including, at least in one case, forcing detainees to eat pasta covered in human excrement. 

On Wednesday Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said that 19 law enforcement officials had been charged with crimes including homicide and "cruel treatment."

President Nicolás Maduro announced that his partner, Cilia Flores as well as his foreign minister and other top aides will lead a slate of candidates competing for seats in an assembly that will rewrite the country's constitution, reports the Associated Press. He also promised to hold a referendum on the constitution produced, in response to criticisms that it is a thinly veiled power grab, reports Reuters. Ortega this week criticized convening a Constituent Assembly without a previous plebiscite.

Yesterday she requested the Supreme Court review a decision convening a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the national constitution, reports CNN Español. She noted that the new process represents a regression for human rights and doesn't recognize the participative nature of the current constitution, passed in 1999. In a press conference held outside of the Supreme Court, Ortega said she asked for clarification regarding the top court's recent ruling that it is not necessary, or a constitutional obligation, to have a referendum for the convening of a constituent assembly, reports TeleSUR.

And the opposition, which has promised to boycott the process, says it's an attempt to avoid elections the government would probably lose. (See yesterday's briefs.) 

The Constituent Assembly delegates would chosen with an electoral map favoring the rural areas where the government is strong, and through social groupings where the government would likely also be favored. "This way, with a vote of just 20 percent, the government could obtain a majority in the conformation of the new National Constituent Assembly. Only thus could they guarantee themselves a victory," explains Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed.

Venezuela announced it will participate in the June OAS General Assembly meeting, though foreign minister Delcy Rodríguez said it will be only to ratify the country's intention to leave the regional organization and to defend it from "interventionist pretensions," reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See yesterday's and Wednesday's briefs.)

A prominent Venezuelan judge was killed and robbed in Caracas late Wednesday, though it's not clear if he was shot by common criminals or targeted for political reasons, reports the Guardian. "The judge’s death – and the conflicting accounts of his murder – highlight how divided Venezuelan society has become, and how the protests have exacerbated the country’s crime problem."

A couple of opinion pieces on Venezuela: The international community has an urgent obligation to respond to Venezuela's humanitarian and economic crisis, argues Jared Genser in a New York Times op-ed. The international human rights lawyer advocates an International Criminal Court investigation into "Maduro and other senior government officials with regard to whether they have culpability in crimes against humanity." An underlying problem is the nature of Venezuela's political system, which concentrates power in the executive branch and lacks serious checks and balances, argues Francisco Rodríguez, former chief economist of the Venezuelan National Assembly in a Financial Times op-ed.

Investors aside: with potential debt default or regime change potentially imminent in Venezuela, investors are scrambling to make a killing -- the Financial Times explains the myriad trades and bets going on. Earlier this week, the opposition accused Goldman Sachs of propping up the government by buying $2.8 billion worth of bonds. (See Tuesday's post.) The opposition has said it might not respect debts incurred by this government, but few experts believe the threat, according to FT.

News Briefs
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued updated guidelines for investigating unlawful killings around the world. The guidelines - known as the Minnesota Protocol - make clear that investigations must be prompt, effective and thorough, as well as independent, impartial and transparent. "Investigations are the key to accountability. But all too often lives are taken with impunity because proper investigations have not been done; whether they are individual people found dead in the gutter, or an entire section of the community subject to summary executions," said UN High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
  • Gubernatorial elections this weekend in Mexico State are being closely watched as a proxy for what might happen in next year's presidential elections. The left-wing National Regeneration Movement (Morena) is neck-to-neck with the powerful PRI party that has governed the state for the past 90 years. The Morena campaign close was dominated by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is expected to run for president a third time next year, reports the Los Angeles Times. A win for his candidate, Delfina Gómez, would make him a favorite for the 2018 vote.
  • Mexico and the U.S.'s electoral calendars -- mid-term for the U.S. next year and presidential for Mexico -- should serve as incentives to rapidly wrap-up NAFTA renegotiations, according to the Mexican economic minister, reports Reuters.
  • A U.S. program offering Haitians temporary refuge in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake was never meant to be in place until Haiti reached advanced levels of political and economic stability, argued U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. In a visit to Port-au-Prince this week, Kelly recommended Haiti's government start preparing to bring the approximately 58,000 Temporary Protected Status recipients home, by issuing travel documents and identification, reports the Miami Herald. "TPS was granted based on the [2010] earthquake," he said. "Things in Haiti were tough for decades prior to the earthquake, and will be tough for decades to come. But the reason TPS was granted was because of the earthquake." It should not, he said, have "to remain in place until Haiti is a completely functioning economy with no problems." TPS is scheduled to end in January of next year, but critics say Haiti is not prepared to reabsorb those people, and depends on remittances they send home. (See yesterday's and Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Paternity and child support for children in Haiti allegedly fathered by U.N. peacekeepers will be among the legacies of the 13-year stabilization mission due to end later this year, reports Reuters.
  • Former dictator Manuel Noriega, who died earlier this week, was "the most sinister" character produced by Panama, according to La Prensa's editor Roberto Eisenmann Jr. In a New York Times Español op-ed he details the bloody and cruel repression of the regime's enemies. "The U.S. invasion which deposed and captured Noriega was highly criticized internationally, but most Panamanians catalogued it as a 'liberation' by foreign troops ..." the same ones who trained dictators around the region, including Noriega. "The invasion liberated Panama from a vicious narco-dictatorship and from a typical Latin American tyrant supported by the most powerful country in the world to achieve 'stability' in the anti-communist struggle of the era."
  • Guatemalan police rescued 22 children in raids on shops and food stalls in Guatemala City this week, part of a crackdown on child-labor, reports Reuters.
  • Human Rights Watch called on the Colombian government to exercise moderation and proportionate use of force in response to an ongoing civil strike in the port city of Buenaventura, where residents have been protesting for three weeks demanding a government response to poverty and years of violence from armed groups.
  • More than 100 Brazilian diplomats protested the government's use of force against protesters recently. In an open letter titled "Diplomacy and Democracy," they said Brazil's leaders should choose dialogue over "authoritarian temptations," reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil's economy is crawling out of recession, but gains could be threatened by political turmoil, reports the Financial Times.
  • Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord puts the U.S. on a list of just three countries not participating in the agreement. But comparisons with Nicaragua are unfair, argues Peter Holley in the Washington Post. "Nicaraguan leaders said they declined to enter the Paris agreement not because they didn’t want to abide by new emissions standards but because those standards weren’t strict enough and didn’t require enough sacrifice from wealthier countries with larger economies." Despite not signing, the country is on track to obtaining 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. (See yesterday's briefs on Nicaragua and the climate accord.)
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet promised new infrastructure investments and gay marriage for her last year in government, in yesterday's state of the union address, reports Reuters.
  • Immigrants from around the region are attracted to Chile in hopes of better economic opportunities. Instead "finding poverty, exclusion and a precarious home in [Antofagasta's] growing temporary slums," reports Reuters.
  • Lastarria, "a well-heeled belle epoque-style residential district at the edge of downtown," is where everybody wants to be when in Santiago de Chile, according to the New York Times' travel review.

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