Monday, July 31, 2017

Venezuelans vote, international condemnation (July 31, 2017)

Venezuela's embattled government pushed through with an election yesterday to choose a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. The government claimed a turnout of nearly 8.1 million voters, or 41.5 percent -- a number the opposition claims is fraudulent, reports the Washington Post, which notes that Venezuela is known for high electoral participation.

An exit poll by Torino capital put the number at 18.5 percent participation. "The numbers are entirely unverifiable because this time around the National Electoral Council (CNE) dispensed with fourteen of its normal audits and protocols. In addition, it allowed voters to vote in alternative centers, did not use indelible ink, had no independent electoral observation, and did not allow journalists anywhere near the electoral centers," writes David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.

Reporters noted few lines at polling centers around the country, according to the New York Times.

Allies of the Socialist Party won all 545 seats in the new assembly, which will have the power to dissolve state institutions -- including the opposition-led National Assembly -- and oust dissident state officials. First in line is the office of the dissident chief prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Díaz, reports Reuters.

"The result effectively liquidates the Venezuelan political opposition and leaves the left with complete control over a country that remains deeply divided," according to the NYT.

President Nicolás Maduro insists the goal is to move power from the hands of politicians to the hands of citizens, but critics say it will nullify opposition influence.

The government responded harshly to protests -- shock troops firing volleys of tear gas and storming squares in Caracas and around the country, according to the Washington Post. Those citizens who did vote came under the watchful gaze of 326,000 national guards and police. At least 10 people were killed in protests yesterday.

A new Datanalisis poll found that 72 percent of the population opposed the new constituent assembly.

Maduro insisted that the newly elected body will bring peace after months of protests, and mocked U.S. protests that the election was a violation of democracy. 

The opposition called for protests to continue today, reports the Guardian.

Growing international condemnation could increasingly affect Venezuela diplomatically, notes Smilde. Countries could refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the constitutional assembly's decisions, explains Mariano de Alba at Prodavinci.

Latin American countries joined the chorus of condemnation yesterday, along with Spain and Canada. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that his country would not recognize the vote, while Mexico and Panama said they would collaborate with U.S. sanctions. The EU said the constituent assembly could not be part of the negotiated solution to the country's crisis, noting it was elected under doubtful and often violent circumstances, according to Reuters.

"If these other countries don’t recognize Venezuela as a democracy, it will be hard for them to look like a legitimate power,” WOLA's David Smilde told the NYT.

U.S. sanctions, however, are not the way to go, argue Smilde and Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, noting how these actions have consistently backfired over the years.

Upping sanctions is of dubious "legitimacy and legality," argues Mark Weisbrot in The Hill. And Venezuelans overwhelmingly oppose such a course of action, he notes. "Most academic research shows that sanctions are generally ineffective, especially when they are being used to coerce another government to change its behavior. A recent study by Thomas Biersteker of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva found that sanctions were effective in such cases just 10 percent of the time. This is not surprising since most governments don’t like to be seen as being pushed around by foreign states."

A U.S. immigration lawyer who was close to former President Hugo Chávez has joined a chorus of chavista critics of the Maduro government, reports Bloomberg. Eva Golinger joins a growing group of dissent, though without necessarily supporting the opposition.

News Briefs
  • Haiti's decision to reconstitute its armed forces -- disbanded more than 20 years ago -- has raised concerns that the military's violent and antidemocratic history could repeat. Politicians say the efforts are targeted at reducing illegal trafficking. But critics say the real motivation might be political, reports Insight Crime, pointing to the ruling party's links to the country's traditional Duvalierist and militarist groups.
  • Nicaragua's government is promising to revive a $17 billion damage claim made decades ago over U.S. support for contra rebels in the 1980s, reports the Associated Press. Nicaraguan politicians are retaliating against the Nica Act bill advancing through the U.S. House of Representatives, which would add conditions to the provisions of aid from international financial institutions to the country add conditions to the provisions of aid from international financial institutions to the country, in demand for "free, fair, and transparent elections." (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Brazil's lower chamber of congress is set to vote this week on whether President Michel Temer should go to trial on corruption allegations. The government seems to have a solid majority to defeat the measure, which would suspend him for six months, reports Bloomberg. Temer opponents need to round up two-thirds of the Chamber of Deputies in order to put Temer on trial.
  • "Regardless of the outcome of House proceedings, political turmoil appears certain to continue – and Temer’s conservative policies will continue to aggravate social divisions," writes Fábio Kerche at the Aula Blog.
  • The sentencing of popular former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should have been Operation Car Wash's pinnacle of success -- proof that the corruption investigation is above politics. But instead the probe is fighting for its life, reports the Atlantic. In the face of a concerted effort by politicians to undermine the investigation, "Operation Car Wash is kept alive by the media (including, to their credit, some conservative outlets), very small leftist parties, and parts of the judicial system. Business leaders who supported Operation Car Wash before Rousseff´s impeachment have gone oddly quiet. Yet the Operation remains wildly popular: an IPSOS poll from March shows that Sergio Moro, the judge who convicted Lula, has an 63 percent approval rate. But this widespread support has not yet translated into effective political action. This is partly due to political polarization. Supporters of Operation Car Wash on the left and on the right are not willing to march side by side. That is why it’s too soon to divine the meaning of Lula’s conviction. No one can be sure that it is part of a complete overhaul of the system. In fact, Lula might actually manage to avoid punishment amid some kind of general amnesty concocted by his adversaries," writes Celso Barros.
  • The Brazilian military has begun deploying 10,000 troops in the state of Rio de Janeiro to help the fight against organized crime, reports the BBC. The state is being squeezed by a budget crisis affecting public finances and an increasingly intense gang problem, reports the Financial Times.
  • Honduras must do more to protect its human rights defenders, said U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, at the end of a three-day visit to a newly established U.N. human rights office in the country. Among the groups with whom he met was the Organization of American States' Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), as well as the National Commissioner for Human Rights.
  • Mexican polls show President Enrique Peña Nieto and his traditional PRI party are in free fall ahead of next year's elections. Outsider Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is a presumed front-runner and "could capitalize on this discontent and lead the country in a fairer and more democratic direction," writes Christy Thornton in a Washington Post opinion piece. She writes about a massive sinkhole that opened suddenly in a newly inaugurated Mexico City expressway, making the case that its an apt metaphor for the government. "For all of its promises to lead Mexico to a bright new future, the PRI is likely to be swallowed up into a sinkhole of its own making. And while the billboards may have been removed, everyone knows they have the president to thank."
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) said Argentine social activist Milagro Sala must be released from jail. The precautionary measure said that the government must comply immediately, reports CELS. Sala has been arbitrarily detained since January 16, 2016, when she was arrested over a protest. The precautionary measure was requested by Amnesty International, Andhes and CELS.
  • Economists say Argentina's economy is growing -- but consumers aren't feeling it, and it could impact the ruling party's odds in the upcoming mid-term elections, reports Bloomberg.

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