Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Venezuela vote questioned (Aug. 2, 2017)

The U.S. will hold Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro personally responsible for two opposition leaders seized from their homes this week and taken to military prison, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma. U.S. President Donald Trump also called for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, reports the BBC. UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein also voiced concern, and called on authorities "not to make an already extremely volatile situation even worse through the use of excessive force." The two leaders violated the terms of their house arrest by calling on citizens to protest against the government. (See yesterday's post.) 

The pro-government Supreme Court said the two had plans to flee. Other opponents of the government have been targeted by security forces, and several human rights activists have gone into hiding since Friday following repeated raids on their homes, reports the Guardian. Two of the alternative Supreme Court magistrates named by the National Assembly have sought protection in the Caracas Chilean embassy, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See July 24's post.)

López’s family tweeted a video yesterday that was made for release in the event he was seized, reports the Washington Post. Sitting with his wife in their home, he called on the nation to continue the fight. And he announced that his wife is pregnant with their third child.

The opposition MUD coalition has called for a protest tomorrow, #3Ago, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

The members of the newly elected Constituent Assembly are set to takeover the National Assembly building tomorrow, reports the Washington Post. Outgoing members of the opposition-dominated legislative branch held a session yesterday condemning the election as a "farce" and denouncing fraud. (See yesterday's post.) 

Turnout numbers were manipulated up by at least one million votes, said a technology company that has worked on Venezuelan elections since 2004. Smartmatic, which has provided electronic voting technology for elections around the world, was able to detect the overstated officially announced turnout because of Venezuela's automated election system, reports Reuters.

Increasing voices of dissent: Three members of the Socialist block in Congress broke with the party to establish a dissident group, reports Efecto Cocuyo, separately. Among them is Eustoquio Contreras, the husband of chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega, who has become the voice of Chavista criticism towards the Maduro government.

What is the much discussed Constituent Assembly anyway? "Venezuelan constituent assemblies have the authority not only to change the constitution but also to dismiss existing officials and institutions," explains Jennifer McCoy in the Washington Post. "The newly elected assembly is expected to dismiss the rebellious attorney general and perhaps even the opposition-dominated legislature. On Sunday night, Maduro called on the assembly to lift the immunity of legislators and to hold them accountable via a new Truth and Reparations Commission. This has led to fears of yet more recrimination and repression. Theoretically, the Constituent Assembly could assert yet more power and even cancel the presidential election next year." 

International unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of the newly elected body could pressure the government to negotiate a transitional government, but "the government and opposition will need guarantees that they will not be targeted by the other — including with judicial witch hunts or political and economic exclusion. The chance of success will increase if other countries provide emergency aid and monitor the negotiations as well as compliance with any agreement," she emphasizes.

On the issue of international dissent: the European Union is evaluating diplomatic measures against the Venezuelan government, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

News Briefs
  • Brazil's chamber of deputies is debating whether President Michel Temer should face trial for corruption allegations. El País has live coverage. (See yesterday's post.) Though Temer is likely to duck suspension, observers are watching to see the size of his political base in congress, explains El País separately.
  • Brazil's worst recession on record over the past two years has left a "lost generation" of youths who are unemployed, reports Reuters. Joblessness among teenagers between 14 and 17 years old already in the labor force has soared to 45 percent, contributing to an overall unemployment rate of nearly 14 percent. And millions who took advantage of expanded opportunities for higher education find themselves unable to turn those diplomas into a career, reports the piece.
  • Remittances from the U.S. to Mexico reached a new record high in the first half of this year, reports El País.
  • Trump's America First policies have earned him few friends on the international scene -- but in Mexican tech-hubs, like Jalisco State, authorities are celebrating an opportunity to compete for global talent and are offering tax incentives and cooperation to sweeten the deal, reports the New York Times.
  • Two lawyers involved in human rights cases in Mexico are the latest on the list of attempted hacks using government-owned spyware. Karla Micheel Salas Ramírez y David Peña Rodríguez received fishing messages from the Pegasus program in 2015, reports Animal Político. (See July 11's post, for example.)
  • "Nicaragua’s total ban on abortion is putting women and girls’ health and lives at risk," according to Human Rights Watch. "The country’s 2006 law punishing abortion – without any exceptions, even if pregnancies are life-threatening or resulted from rape – has driven abortions underground. The ban has not stopped abortion, but has made it more unsafe." (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • "Lawrence A. Pezzullo, an American diplomat who in 1979 negotiated the abdication of Anastasio Somoza DeBayle as leader of Nicaragua and the demise of the dictatorial dynasty that had led the country with Washington’s sponsorship for four decades, died" this morning, reports the New York Times.

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