Thursday, July 6, 2017

Venezuelan lawmakers attacked (July 6, 2017)

Violence has gone from Venezuela's streets into the National Assembly. A session held yesterday to mark Venezuela's independence day was interrupted by pro-government armed groups wielding wood sticks and metal bars who wounded four politicians, reports the Associated Press

Photographs from inside the chamber showed lawmakers slumped in chairs with blood-soaked shirts, and bloody handprints smeared across the walls, reports the Miami Herald.

Several opposition lawmakers were severely beaten, and some 300 congressional workers and journalists sought protection by barricading themselves for several hours inside the assembly, reports the Wall Street Journal

The attacks were carried out with the apparent acquiescence of security forces, reports the New York Times. Video footage shows attackers coming into the grounds unimpeded, reports the Washington Post. Journalists said their equipment was stolen by attackers.

About 100 people formed part of the attack, reports the BBC. The crowd had been rallying outside the building for several hours before breaking into the grounds. Security forces eventually cleared them out of the building with tear gas and fire extinguishers.

The episode marks "a dangerous new escalation of violence against opponents of the leftist government," according to the Washington Post.
Nonetheless, Venezuelan lawmakers approved a plan to hold a symbolic referendum on July 16, that will give citizens an opportunity to weigh in on President Nicolás Maduro's plan to convene an assembly to rewrite the constitution.

An official election will be held on July 30 to elect the constitutional assembly.

Are troops' loyalties wavering? At least 123 members of Venezuela's armed forces have been detained since anti-government unrest began in April on charges ranging from treason and rebellion to theft and desertion, reports Reuters based on military documents it gained access to.

Aside: An investigation by Venezuelan group, Una Ventana a la Libertad - UVAL, found evidence of overcrowding, torture and illegal detention in two prisons administered by the country's national intelligence service, reports InSight Crime.


Mexico's drug war resurgence

A shootout between rival drug cartel factions in Mexico's Chihuahua state has left at least 26 dead,  reports the Guardian. Later reports lowered the tally to 14, reports the Washington Post.  It's the latest episode of violence in a country where violence is surging back to drug war highs, after a few years of declines.

Mexico reported 11,155 homicides in the first five months of the year -- after several years of waning, "the drug war has come roaring back to life, reports the Wall Street Journal.  "The pace of murders—about one every 20 minutes—represents a 31 percent jump from a year earlier, and, by year-end, could rival 2011’s 27,213 homicides for the worst body count in Mexico’s peacetime history." Homicides in May topped previous records and analysts point to a changing cartel landscape. (See June 21's and 22's briefs.) 

The opioid epidemic in the U.S. has pushed up demand, and cartels are squabbling over territory as their leadership is targeted by law enforcement. The Guardian points to marijuana legalization in several U.S. states as another reason for cartels to turn to heroin, which has led to a wave of violence in Guerrero state. But it could also be the result of voters ousting corrupt PRI leaders, leading to the breakdown of "pax mafiosa," according to the WSJ. The Washington Post points to fractures in cartels and corruption within the various levels of government that allows crime to flourish.

Aside: Mexico's journalists have been hit particularly hard by the violence -- seven have been killed so far this year, most by gunmen in broad daylight. The BBC reviews the situation.

News Briefs
  • Colombia's Constitutional Court is set to review legislation creating the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, part of the peace accord with the FARC. Human Rights Watch called on the court to limit a broad provision allowing FARC guerrillas to seek or hold public office even while serving sentences for grave abuses. Such a change should ensure that sanctions against them are carried out fully and unconditionally. The Constitutional Court should also fix the amendment’s narrow definition of “command responsibility” –the basis on which military commanders can be held criminally responsible for crimes committed by their subordinates. The definition in the amendment is inconsistent with international law, Human Rights Watch said, and could allow senior officers of the Colombian Armed Forces to escape justice.  
  • Fundación Ideas para la Paz has a report on the first five months of the government's program to help farmers substitute illicit crops. The Programa Nacional Integral de Sustitución de Cultivos de Uso Ilícito (PNIS) is the most visible part of the implementation of the accords, and at heart raises the question of whether the state has the capacity to transform and integrate territories affected by illicit crops, according to the report. La Silla Vacía reports.
  • Dissident FARC rebels freed a U.N. contractor taken hostage while he was working on a crop substitution program, reports Reuters.
  • Environmental damage -- especially deforestation -- is on the rise in areas previously controlled by the FARC, reports La Silla Vacía. The now-demobilized guerrilla force imposed rules on their territory, including prohibitions on cutting trees, hunting and fishing for profit, and throwing garbage in the water. Their enforcement, which included fines and extortion, was questionable, but had the long term effect of preserving swathes of jungle under their control. Environmental issues aside, the aim was to make it easier to avoid detection from the army.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer submitted his defense against corruption allegations to the lower chamber of Congress yesterday, eight days ahead of schedule. His allies hope to have the house vote quickly on whether to accept the charges, while opponents hope to draw out the process and increase their odds of suspending the unpopular leader, reports the Associated Press. (See June 28's post.)
  • A recent reform in Costa Rica makes it easier for people with criminal convictions to wipe their records clean if they acted in a situation of vulnerability -- giving them improved chances for reintegration after getting out of jail. "In Costa Rica and other countries, available evidence shows that more than 90% of women who violate the law do so for reasons associated with their situations of poverty and vulnerability, and that the majority are the main source of income for their households. Criminal records are an obstacle for them to be able to gain employment, take on family obligations and thereby break the link between poverty and crime. This is the main reason why this law will have a positive impact, both for people who committed a crime for the first time as well as for repeat offenders," according to a new report WOLA released with the Costa Rican Association for Research and Intervention in Drugs (Asociación Costarricense para el Estudio e Intervención en Drogas, ACEID).
  • Land access remains a major issue for Paraguayan indigenous communities, said Senate leader and former president Fernando Lugo. He promised to use his new position to defend indigenous needs, reports TeleSUR.
  • Cuban entrepreneurs are already feeling the impact of Trump's changed Cuba policy -- namely the restrictions on individual travel, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Former Chilean President Sebastian Piñera is leading in polls for November's presidential election. He has about 31 percent of intended votes Two journalists on the left are competing for second place, with 15 percent and 13 percent, reports Reuters. Piñera handily won a primary election held last weekend, in which the vast majority of voters chose him. The results are a challenge to the country's left, which must recalibrate its narrative to appeal to a contemporary audience, argues Patricio Fernández in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Peruvian prosecutors are seeking a second arrest warrant for former President Alejandro Toledo, which they hope will help persuade the United States to detain and extradite him, reports Reuters.
  • Land trafficking in Peru is common as illicit groups take advantage of state absence in managing urban sprawl, reports InSight Crime.
  • About 1,000 Peruvian police raided illegal mining camps on the edge of an Amazon nature reserve, in a bid to protect the rainforest. Authorities  say they found women and minors held captive in the camps, reports Bloomberg.

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