Tuesday, March 20, 2018

More U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, crisis continues to deepen (March 20, 2018)

News Briefs
  • The U.S. government broadened sanctions against Venezuela yesterday. Four more government officials were blacklisted, and a cryptocurrency aimed at circumventing sanctions was banned, reports the New York Times. The sanctions will have little practical effect (the petro was launched a month ago, but remains sketchy), but serve as a political warning to the Maduro administration. The White House emphasized the country's devastating crisis and said it would hold the government responsible for creating the conditions that have led to widespread suffering in the country. The Trump administration said any investment in the digital currency should be viewed as "directly supporting this dictatorship and its attempts to undermine democratic order in Venezuela," reports the Miami Herald. However, experts warn that sanctions of this kind often backfire. The NYT quotes Cynthia J. Arnson, the director of the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program who notes that they can make the government dig in its heels. The latest Washington move avoids oil sanctions, which would have a more significant effect on the economy, though officials say the option remains on the table.
  • A potential military option also remains on the table, though David Smilde warns that it would be a disastrous move. "Having a military option on the table hardens the Maduro government’s discourse and validates what it has always been saying: that the revolution is under violent threat from the outside," he said in an interview with De Standaard. "What is more, having a military option on the table divides the opposition among those who think there is a political solution to the crisis and those who have for over a decade sought foreign military intervention."
  • Smilde also emphasizes the importance of opposition unity in the face of upcoming elections. Currently there is a division between the MUD coalition that advocates boycotting due to lack of electoral guarantees, and Henri Falcón who is attempting to oust Maduro at the ballot box in May. While the opposition has attempted to minimize Falcón's influence, "it looks quite different when you realize that the most recent numbers show that Falcón is actually the second most popular opposition figure and is more popular than the MUD itself. What is more, his support comes from a more centrist segment than the rest of the opposition and has the potential to grow in both directions: into the traditional opposition, and into “light Chavismo.” So his candidacy has the potential to provoke a significant realignment."
  • Indeed, most Venezuelans want to vote, according to former MUD secretary general Jesús Torrealba, who proposed a Falcón transitional government with a MUD cabinet in Efecto Cocuyo.
  • A new survey conducted by Venezuela's opposition led National Assembly gives data backing up witness accounts that hospitals in the country are unable to provide even the most basic services. The poll carried out with the independent Doctors for Health Organization went directly to doctors in 104 public and 33 private hospitals in 22 of 25 states, reports the Washington Post. It found that drug shortages increased 33 percent over the past five years, reaching 88 percent in 2018, and that only about 10 percent of hospitals have fully functioning emergency and operating rooms. Doctors in 79 percent of hospitals said water is frequently unavailable and in 96 percent saying their kitchens cannot adequately feed patients. These findings come even as the government refuses international aid. Seventy-nine percent of hospitals said they lacked basic surgical supplies such as gauze, gloves and compresses, and 84 percent reported having no catheters and tubes.Ninety-four percent reported a frequent absence of X-ray equipment; 86 percent said they often could not perform ultrasounds; 96 percent said they often couldn’t offer CT scans; and 100 percent said their laboratories were not fully functioning given the scarcity of reagents.
  • Tuberculosis is making a comeback in Venezuela, along with other formerly controlled diseases like malaria, diphtheria and measles. They are affecting a Venezuelan population weakened by poor nutrition and rising stress, and with a collapsed health care system, reports the New York Times. In the case of tuberculosis, the crisis has forced families into increasingly crowded homes, speeding transmission. And experts fear that a potential epidemic could spill over Venezuela's borders along with the increasing numbers of refugees seeking to escape the country.
  • In a stirring New York Times op-ed film, Venezuelan violinist Wuilly Arteaga tells of his abuses in a Venezuelan jail and appeals to the international community to help his compatriots.
  • Refugees are increasingly facing difficult conditions abroad as well though, reports the Miami Herald. Neighboring countries are unprepared for the influx of Venezuelans, who are having trouble finding work and making new lives.
  • Along the Venezuelan border, about 300 Brazilians in Roraima kicked a group of 50 Venezuelan refugees out of an abandoned school and burned their belongings, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Human Rights Watch's Tamara Taraciuk writes about Venezuelan journalists in exile in Univisión, many of whom continue exercising their profession from abroad.
  • Marielle Franco's assassination catapulted her from the local scene into a global symbol of racial oppression, reports the Washington Post. Evidence increasingly points to a hit by corrupt police officers. At home, the interpretations of why she was killed demonstrate divisions in how Brazilians choose to view race in a society that tends to think of itself as post racial. Critics however say such a perspective makes it impossible to discuss deep rooted inequality and violence. "Franco was targeted, her backers insist, because taking the life of a black woman is less risky in Brazil, especially in a state where only 1 in 10 homicide cases results in a conviction." As Human Rights Watch senior researcher César Muñoz put it: "To dare to murder someone with a profile as high in Rio de Janeiro as Councilwoman Marielle Franco takes a lot of confidence that there will be no justice." The Washington Post piece cites Igarapé Institute statistics showing that last year, 1,124 people died at the hands of police, the highest number in a decade. In recent years, nearly 80 percent of those killed by police were black or mixed-race. Every day, 112 blacks or mixed-race Brazilians are killed. They make up 54 percent of the national population, yet 71 percent of all homicides. Between 2005 and 2015, the proportion of blacks and mixed-raced Brazilians killed rose by 18 percent, while the figure for whites dropped by 12 percent.
  • Trump heads to the Summit of the Americas next month, a potential diplomatic minefield in a region where views of the U.S. are particularly low, argues Ben Raderstorf in a New York Times op-ed. He recommends the president stick to script and focus on the meeting's anti-corruption theme. "There is always more that the United States can do to support Latin America’s continuing fight against corruption. The Trump administration should develop a list of new commitments to bring to the table on Day 1. That, more than anything, would go a long way toward improving United States-Latin American relations. In short, to make his first Latin America trip worthwhile, the president just needs to follow three simple guidelines: Listen first. Talk softly. And do your homework."
  • U.S. policies that treat MS-13 like an international drug cartel are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Salvadoran street gang and are destined to fail, argues InSight Crime co-director Stephen Dudley in the Conversation. MS-13 has a violent presence at least a half-dozen countries on two continents, but does not have a significant role in the international drug trafficking market he explains -- though it has tried to establish itself in the business. "One reason MS-13 has failed so roundly at becoming a drug cartel is that it is more of a social club than a lucrative criminal enterprise. Its members benefit from the camaraderie and support that comes with membership – not the heaping monetary rewards that never arrive. ... Perhaps more critically, MS-13 is a decentralized organization with no clear hierarchy. The gang is broken into local cells called “cliques” – or “clicas” in Spanish – that are more loyal to each other than to the various leadership councils that operate around Central America and the U.S. Put simply, it has no leader. So what looks on paper like a tremendous built-in infrastructure for moving illicit products across borders is actually a disparate, federalized organization of substructures with highly local, even competing, interests."
  • Evangelical churches are increasingly having impact on politics in Latin America, writes Carlos Malamud at the AULA blog. "The line between religion and politics is getting increasingly blurred in Latin America as evangelical churches grow in strength and candidates try to curry the support of – or at least avoid confrontation with – the faithful," he writes.
  • A U.S. border patrol agent will go on trial today for the deadly shooting of a Mexican teenager on the Mexican side of the border, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico and Syria are the world's deadliest countries for journalists. Twelve journalists were murdered last year in Mexico. Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa has aroused considerable anger by suggesting the deaths are a product of increased press freedom, reports the Guardian. "The fact that more than 100 journalists were murdered is, in grand part, to be blamed on the freedom of the press today, which allows journalists to say things that were not permitted previously. Narcotics trafficking plays an absolutely central part in all of this," he said. Press advocates criticized in particular his failure to acknowledge the aggression from public officials, political parties, and security forces. Bonus track: this weekend Vargas Llosa said feminism is literatures most determined enemy.


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