Friday, October 20, 2017

Venezuela's opposition governors blocked from assuming office (Oct. 20, 2017)

Venezuela's government blocked five newly elected opposition governors from assuming office yesterday, replacing them with ruling party substitutes. The opposition refused to swear in the governors before the polemic National Constituent Assembly (ANC) and released evidence it said proves electoral fraud in Bolivar state, reports the Wall Street Journal

Discrepancies in 11 voting machines' results in that state give the ruling-party candidate a slim margin of victory over the opposition candidate. Though opposition claims of fraud might not have much government impact, they could serve to raise international pressure on the government. And there are some signs that it could prove a rallying point for a newly divided opposition.

(See yesterday's briefs on the divisions within the Venezuelan opposition after Sunday's surprising electoral loss.)

But apart from the case in this state, "it seems clear now that the government victory in Sunday’s gubernatorial elections was not the result of vote counting fraud, but the cumulative impact of government dirty tricks, and opposition abstention," wrote David Smilde yesterday at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. His post includes testimony from an opposition activist who helped witness last Sunday's election, shedding some light on how the voting table changes could have impacted the final voting results. 

Washington Post op-ed by opposition commentator Francisco Toro helps explain the apparent paradox to outsiders: an improbable win by a wildly unpopular government. "Venezuela’s opposition has won elections in the past even when the playing field was obviously tilted in the government’s favor. The irregularities we saw on Sunday were blatant, widespread and serious, but they certainly didn’t come as a surprise. ... The grim reality is that the opposition’s morale is at rock bottom. Over the past few months Venezuela has been rocked by a protest movement that resulted in more than a hundred people dead, hundreds of others imprisoned, and the government’s hold on power undiminished. Exhaustion has set in. Millions of people who had turned out to vote for the opposition in the past just didn’t turn out. The government cheated, but it also won. Both things are true." 

Predictions for how elections will turn out are often wrong, and a surprising result doesn't necessarily mean malfeasance. But in this case consistent survey data showed most Venezuelans were inclined to vote against the government. "A sweeping government victory in the midst of profound economic and social unrest, after months of widespread protests against the Maduro government, beggars credulity," write Noam Lupu and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister of the Latin American Public Opinion Project in the Washington Post. "Our analyses suggest that Sunday’s elections were less than free and fair."

News Briefs
  • As conditions on the ground in Venezuela continue to worsen, a wave of immigrants is spreading around the region, reports the Los Angeles Times. Arrivals in Peru have roughly doubled since last year, and similar increases have been reported in Ecuador, Panama and Chile. Argentina’s migration officials say applications for temporary and permanent residence permits are on track to more than triple. An estimated 500,000 Venezuelans have left their country in the last two years.
  • The New York Times has a video series on food inequality in Venezuela -- ranging from dining out in Caracas to feeding a family of eight on scraps.
  • Armed actors are vying for control in former FARC territories in Colombia, fighting for territory and valuable illegal markets. "Grassroots security is crucial to assure the success of the peace process with the FARC as it shifts from a UN-monitored weapons handover to deeper structural reforms of politics and society. Efforts to combat remaining armed outfits are essential, but in so doing the government must not alienate the population and exacerbate poverty in ways that would aggravate the conditions that propel these groups’ growth," according to a new International Crisis Group report. (See yesterday's post on violence in Tumaco.)
  • The U.N.'s 13-year stabilization mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, ended on Monday, with a legacy of civilian repression, cholera, and sexual abuse, writes Edwidge Danticat in the New Yorker. The mission is being replaced with the smaller United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti, aimed at strengthening rule-of-law institutions,policing and human rights monitoring, reporting and analysis. MINUJUSTH "seems like a rebranding effort, an attempt by the U.N. to give itself a clean slate and erase MINUSTAH’s past. But if the U.N. were serious about justice and human rights in Haiti, it would wind down its presence in the country by having minujusth also investigate the damage done to both individuals and entire communities by minustah. Or, better yet, assign an independent body to do so, then offer the warranted compensation for the extrajudicial and civilian killings, the sexual assaults, and the introduction of cholera," he argues.
  • Argentines head to the polls on Sunday for closely watched mid-term elections. President Mauricio Macri's Cambiemos alliance is expected to obtain a few more seats in Congress, but the main headliner is the Buenos Aires province election in which former President Cristina Fern├índez de Kirchner is running for Senate. The race is seen as a bellwether for her potential in the next presidential elections. The week has been one of political tensions, with a judicial onslaught against former Kirchner officials accused of corruption. Yesterday a former high-level official of Kirchner's Ministry of Planning was arrested outside his Buenos Aires apartment. On Tuesday, a corpse was found in a Patagonian river, just 300 meters from where an activist missing for over two months was last seen, in the midst of an indigenous protest repressed by security forces. The body is believed to belong to Santiago Maldonado, who has become a flashpoint in the polarized election, reports the New York Times. Critics say the government was too quick to defend security forces and failed to seriously investigate. Government supporters say the opposition has made political use of a minor case. Now both sides wonder why the body appeared this week, upriver from the repressed protest.
  • Sao Paulo prosecutors have opened an inquiry into a municipal plan to supplement poorer citizens' diets with products made from nearly expired food. Prosecutors have demanded more information about the proposed products' nutritional content -- if any. Critics have compared the resulting pellets to "pet food," reports the Guardian. Mayor Joao Doria announced this week that the "farinata" products would be distributed in schools, surprising the Ministry of Education which had not been informed, reports Folha de S. Paulo.
  • An New York Times Espa├▒ol op-ed by Enrique Krauze reviews the century long relationship between Mexico's revolution and the Bolshevik revolution. "The Mexican Revolution, with its eclectic nationalism, absorbed and domesticated the Russian Revolution, making Mexico in the mid 1980s one of the few countries in the world where Trotskyists had an official presence in Congress.

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