Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Venezuela's "Zero Hour" (July 18, 2017)

Venezuela's opposition leaders have called on supporters to escalate street protests -- which have already been occurring daily for over three months -- and to hold a national strike on Thursday. A coalition of about 20 parties gathered yesterday and called for a “zero hour” campaign of civil disobedience, reports the Guardian.

They are specifically working before an election for members of a constituent assembly on July 30. The government backed plan to rewrite the constitution was rejected by more than 7 million voters in an informal plebiscite held by the opposition on Sunday. (See yesterday's post.) Opposition leaders say its the last opportunity to save the country's democracy from a naked power grab and authoritarian government, reports the Washington Post.

In a statement last night U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose economic sanctions on Venezuela if the government follows through with its plan for a constituent assembly, reports the Associated Press. Though he did not specify what measures would be taken, his warning that President Nicolás Maduro is ""a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator," and a promise that the "United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles," dramatically raises the stakes, according to the AFP. Canada, Mexico, Brazil, ColombiaPeru and the European Union have also come out against the effort.

Yesterday Maduro ratified his intention to continue with the constituent assembly plan, however, and rejected calls from international leaders as imperialist meddling, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Opposition leaders said they were working on a government of national unity that could include dissident chavistas, reports the Wall Street Journal. It would theoretically be set up tomorrow and raises the specter of a parallel government, according to the BBC and the WSJ. On Friday lawmakers in the opposition controlled National Assembly will nominate magistrates to replace Maduro loyalists on the Supreme Court. 

Potential defections from the ruling Socialist party could force Maduro to rethink the constituent assembly plan -- though continued army loyalty could be a more relevant factor, according to the Miami Herald.

Some criticisms of the opposition's handling of the informal referendum over the weekend at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. While congratulating the millions brave enough to face possible consequences of visibly opposing the government, David Smilde notes that the opposition leadership could have crafted the questions asked of the population better to potentially include dissident Chavistas. And the involvement of the armed forces in the second question is polemic.

On the international front, reports yesterday that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos travelled to Cuba to discuss a united diplomatic strategy with regards to Venezuela were downplayed by the Colombian government, reports the Herald. (See yesterday's post.) 

News Briefs
  • Over the weekend former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva again insisted on his innocence -- after being sentenced to nearly a decade of jail on corruption charges. In a press conference on Saturday, his second since the conviction, he assured supporters he will still seek the presidency next year, reports the AFP. (See Friday's post.)
  • Brazilian voters point to corruption as a key concern for their country. But despite allegations (and now conviction) against Lula, he continues to lead in opinion polls. "This is because, in the face of the recession, the unemployment and the unpopular labor and pension reforms, there is nostalgia for the years of economic growth and political stability of his eight years of government, when 40 million Brazilians left poverty," writes Mauricio Santoro in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Among his voters, there are many who believe he is innocent. Others believe he might be guilty, but that corruption is disseminated between Brazilian politicians and at least Lula did good things for the country. There are also those who consider that justice is much more rigorous against the former worker than with members of traditional elites accuse of similar or graver crimes ... That is to say: the environment of generalized mistrust in parties and institutions and the ideological polarization in Brazil make the personal positions of voters on corruption more complicated than what is suggested by the discourse that everybody is united against crime." (See Friday's post.)
  • Homicides in Rio de Janeiro are high, as is police violence. "It is now impossible not to notice that the city’s Police Pacification Units (UPP), once a much-vaunted anti-violence force, have all but collapsed," writes Silvia Ramos in the Conversation. She presents data on their failure, and how the military police's disregard for intelligence now leaves officers at the mercy of "encroaching gangs" in the city's favelas. "People know what needs to happen first: the police must stop shooting. Then, to dismantle not just the gangs but also the gang mentality burgeoning among Rio’s police, the city must invest in intelligence. The answer is not new, but it is globally tried and true: to reduce violence, reform the police."
  • U.S. President Donald Trump notified Congress that will again suspend a section of the Helms Burton act that would permit former owners of commercial property expropriated by Cuba to sue foreign companies and the Cuban government for using or “trafficking” in those confiscated holdings, reports the Miami Herald. In suspending the lawsuit provision for another six months, Trump follows the lead of his predecessors dating back to the 1996 law. It was the first action on Cuba since Trump announced his new direction on U.S.-Cuba relations during a June 16 speech in Miami, notes the Herald. (See June 19's post.)
  • Recruitment for Haiti's new army opened up yesterday and attracted a long line of youths interested in joining up, reports the Miami Herald
  • The New York Times profiles an activist undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles, Lizbeth Mateo, who is also an immigration lawyer. "Allowing undocumented immigrants to work as lawyers is a sign of just how far the acceptance of such immigrants has come in places like California."
  • Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) could potentially allow outsiders to compete for the party presidential candidate nomination, in a bid to escape corruption scandals, reports Reuters. The change could potentially benefit Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade. (See June 30's briefs.)
  • Indeed the country's political and social elite are desperate for a "Mexican Macron," a mythic figure to "unite the country, fend off populism and impose pragmatic, centrist rule," according to the Washington Post.
  • Ecuador suspended work on a wall along the border with Peru that was causing a diplomatic ruckus, reports Reuters. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Climate change in Chile "has now become an issue of profound concern on numerous fronts, from melting glaciers to conflicts over water rights between big agricultural businesses and small farmers," reports NPR.
  • Marijuana goes on sale in Uruguayan pharmacies this week, the culmination of a landmark cannabis legalization law. Though former president José Mujica is generally credited with pushing through the bill, it also owes its passage to a long progressive national history, argues Sylvia Colombo in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • A 116-year-old Salvadoran man may be the oldest person in the world, reports the BBC. Juan Pablo Villalobos was born in 1901 and had 39 children over the course of his life -- he's survived 14 of them.

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