Friday, March 2, 2018

Venezuelan elections postponed to May (March. 2, 2018)

Venezuela's government postponed snap presidential elections by a month, until May 20. Authorities also said international observers would be allowed to participate, and that elections for regional councils would be held simultaneously. The main political opposition coalition, the MUD, said it will maintain its call to boycott the vote. But several smaller opposition parties said they would run, reports the New York Times. The deadline to register candidates was extended to this afternoon.

Government officials made the announcement at the national electoral council, and signed an agreement with small political parties backing the candidacy of former Lara governor Henri Falcón. "While the agreement falls short of the specific concessions sought by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition during the failed talks in the Dominican Republic, they do include some significant improvements," according to Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. These include asking for a U.N. observation mission, technical audits of the electoral system, voting centers moved in last year's questioned elections would be returned to their original locations, supposed "equity" in access to public and private media.

Prominent MUD leaders criticized Falcón for legitimizing an electoral process they say lacks guarantees of fairness. And government officials touted the limited agreement as evidence of a reconciliatory spirit in the Maduro administration, reports Reuters.

But experts say at least four to six months are needed for international observers to adequately prepare, according to NYT. And the participating opposition parties don't have the capacity to carry out the technical audits agreed upon, and would need to depend on the MUD, which has promised to abstain, notes Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.

News Briefs
  • U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, plans to resign from her post in May, the latest in a long string of high level State Department departures, reports the New York Times. The move comes as relations between the two neighbors are tense, Mexico's president cancelled an upcoming visit to Washington after again fighting with U.S. President Donald Trump over a controversial border wall he wants Mexico to pay for. (See Monday's post.) And Trump has demanded that Mexico do more to stop alleged Salvadoran gang members migrating to the U.S. Jacobson's departure could further strain the relationship between both countries. Trump administration is looking to name Edward Whitacre Jr., a former chief executive of General Motors and AT&T, according to the Washington Post. Jacobson had extensive experience in the region. Should the next ambassador push Trump's favorite themes of illegal immigration and the wall, Mexico will likely react poorly.
  • Political posturing aside, however, diplomatic work between the two countries remains robust, reports the Washington Post.
  • Allegations of police human rights abuses against Mexico's Veracruz state officials "show all the signs of the human rights abuses of Mexico’s notorious anti-guerrilla counterinsurgency campaigns of the 1960s and 70s," according to the Associated Press. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • El Salvador's armed forces are denying allegations by the country's attorney general that high level officers were involved in commanding and covering up extrajudicial killings of alleged gang members. (See Wednesday's briefs.) Phone conversations intercepted by the attorney general's office show how a secret death squad commanded by three top officers carried out extrajudicial killings. "Although there have been many documented cases of executions, assault and extortion by security forces across the country, the Attorney General’s Office’s evidence is the first to clearly single out high-ranking military officials," notes InSight Crime. This week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted a precautionary measure for attorney general Douglas Meléndez Ruiz, in light of ongoing threats to his life, despite protection from the government.
  • Two years after Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated there have been few advances in identifying the perpetrators of the crime, a fact that underscores "the widespread impunity enjoyed by Honduran elites amid mounting questions about the future of an international body meant to help tackle the issue," reports InSight Crime.
  • Guatemala's government dismissed the head of police and his top advisors, in a move apparently aimed at shielding the Morales administration from criminal investigations. But the country's most important business association called the decision “inconvenient," a rare rebuke and a sign that Morales' efforts to protect himself might be alienating powerful private sector groups, reports InSight Crime. The U.S. Embassy also voiced support for the outgoing police chief Nery Ramos.
  • VIP prisons in Guatemala have succeeded in protecting powerful inmates whose lives might be in danger, but it hasn't stopped them from conspiring to commit crimes from behind bars, reports Nómada. (InSight Crime in English.)
  • A Guatemalan judge approved an investigation into former President Alvaro Colom, in a corruption case centered on bus concessions, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • On March 11 Cuba will hold elections for the National Assembly, the first step in choosing the first non-Castro president in six decades on April 19. Nonetheless, it's not likely that this heralds the first step towards democracy. "A more realistic reading is that Cuba is heading for more of the same: undemocratic one-party rule," argue Javier Corrales and James Loxton in a New York Times op-ed. They analyze the Communist Party dominance, along with the continued Castro family influence, including Raúl Castro's son and daughter who are active in island politics. And Cuba's military is firmly entrenched in the economy, making liberalization hard, they note. "After the succession, Cuba’s regime will remain cornered by the Castro family, the military and by a regulatory system designed to restrict the growth of business and political organizations, minimizing the pressure to democratize."
  • Peruvian prosecutors searched the offices of Peru’s largest business association yesterday, part of an investigation into Odebrecht corruption in the country, reports Reuters. And the country's main political leaders are lining up to deny allegations that they received Odebrecht donations in the 2011 presidential campaigns, reports Bloomberg.
  • In January a well-known Colombian journalist wrote about how she was sexually abused by a former boss.  Speculation is rampant that the assailant is former President Álvaro Uribe, who denies the allegations. Claudia Morales said she kept silent about the rape out of fear of the repercussions, and that outing aggressors isn't an option for many women in Latin America who are victims of gender violence. (See Jan. 26's briefs.) "It is no exaggeration to say that in Colombia reporting an abuser is far more dangerous than abusing a woman," writes María Antonia García de la Torre in a New York Times op-ed. "The consequences of reporting abuse cannot be overstated. The government must do whatever it takes to ensure the physical and psychological integrity of women who report sexual assault."
  • The annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), released yesterday, emphasizes prevention and treatment policies, reports InSight Crime.
  • Increasing numbers of Haitians migrate to Chile, but are finding that opportunity there is more limited than they had hoped, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Brazilian prosecutors say a mining company knew about a potential dam collapse months before it happened, killing 19 people and unleashing the country's worst environmental disaster, reports the Guardian. A previously unreported internal company document warns that a maximum possible loss from a "liquification break" could mean up to 20 deaths, cause serious impacts to land, water resources and biodiversity over 20 years, and cost $3.4 billion.
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva vowed to keep fighting corruption charges against him, and believes the Supreme Court will clear him in time to run for president later this year, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil said it would retaliate against potential U.S. steel tariffs, reports Reuters. (So did Mexico, see yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian law officials accused Argentina's spy chief of receiving $850,000 as part of a money-laundering scheme. Its the first time a senior Macri administration official has been accused as part of Brazil's Lava Jato corruption investigation, reports the New York Times. The current phase of the investigation focuses on payments made by a São Paulo trash collection company to front companies submitting false invoices. Gustavo Arribas denies the allegations.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri gave a conciliatory state of the union speech yesterday, at the inauguration of this year's Congress. He spoke of amnesty for informal workers, a sign that he would scale back a labor reform with stiff union opposition, reports Reuters. And defended his government's "gradualist" approach to economic reform, which he says is working. Fact-checking site Chequeado reviewed all of the president's claims live. Macri gave a nod to a congressional debate on abortion reform, though he affirmed that he is "in favor of life," reports the Associated Press.
  • Paraguayan female lawmakers called for gender parity bill for politics, reports EFE.

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