Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Venezuela/Colombia Border Crisis (August 25, 2015)


The crisis along the Colombia and Venezuela border intensified yesterday as Pres. Maduro gave a press conference where he accused former Pres. Uribe of being a "promotor del narcotráfico y cómplice de asesinatos," according to Venezuela's El Universal and Colombia's Semana. After Venezuela closed down two border crossings, there have been calls in Colombia to call back their Ambassador from Caracas, according to Semana

If you can only read one article on this, it should be WOLA's Venezuela's blog that puts things in chronology and is packed with links for more details. Another good piece is from El Espectador (from Colombia) which puts the whole affair into the electoral context that both countries are engaged in.

The Wall St Journal reports that 1,000 Colombians have been deported from Venezuela (the Guardian says the number deported in recent days is equal to almost half the 1,772 expelled all of last year) while that country's army is increasing their presence at the border. "For years, residents along the border region trafficked goods subsidized by Venezuela such as baby formula, rice and gasoline to Colombia, where they are sold for handsome profit."  In his press conference, Maduro suggested that Venezuela has been "inundated by more than 100,000 Colombians in recent months," according to the LATimes.

The OAS has offered to mediate this crisis but that seems unlikely as Maduro also took time in the press conference to explain why the OAS is nothing but a yanqui tool.  "Beware of a self-coup ('auto-golpe')," warns the Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer who suggests that Maduro is not taking any chances in the elections.  In Buzzfeed fashion, TeleSur offers the Top Ten phrases from the Maduro press conference including: "we love Colombians so much that we have 5 million of them living in Venezuela." 

A meeting between Foreign Ministers is expected next Wednesday. 

  • Though the Obama administration has employed a more "inclusive, multilateral approach" with Latin America, it has increasingly less and less leverage in Latin America, according to a piece in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. Though Pres. Obama has not only talked about “a new chapter of engagement” and an “equal partnership" but has also delivered, according to the article, with Cuba, initiatives to help Central American governments battle drug-related crime and the Caribbean to overcome energy shortages.  The region has undergone "dramatic changes in Latin America, which have inevitably reduced the United States’ influence."  China's role in the region is an important reason why the U.S. isn't getting as much traction, according to Michael Reid, the author of the story. Last week, Inter-Press Service reported on China's relationship with Latin America and led with Costa Rica’s new national stadium, "donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007." Another huge Chinese investment is the new canal in Nicaragua, although a recent Bloomberg piece questioned its progress.
  • 21 Congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Hank Johnson and Jan Schakowsky, are calling on the Obama administration to stop funding Honduras’ security forces, according to an essay on CEPR's blog. The blog notes that though the congressional letter has had little coverage in the US (here's something from Miami's El Nuevo Herald), Honduran media have paid attention including Proceso and Tiempo.  El Libertador publishes a Spanish version of the letter with all the co-signers.
  • Latin American currencies sank to 22-year lows yesterday, according to Bloomberg while a series of articles wondered whether the Brazilian real will reach 5 to US$1 (Estadao), questioned the fluctuations of Venezuela's bolivarianos (El Mundo), and worried about Black Monday in Mexico (Proceso).
  • How Bolivia successfully rejected the U.S. model of illegal drug control is the focus of a WOLA podcast interview with Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network (44 minutes). Yesterday the Dialogue's Daily Advisor asked: Are Improved U.S.- Bolivia Relations in the Near Future?
  • Facing increasing pressure to resign, Guatemala's President Pérez Molina has turned to attacking the CICIG and the business community, according to Prensa Libre, which uploads audio of Sunday's 5-minute presidential address. Adding to his woes, the Ministers of Finance and Communications have resigned, reports Reuters; three other ministers stepped down over the weekend. Though CICIG's tweets seem have gone silent since Aug 21, their website offers a round up of local headlines including the recent arrest of the Vice-President.
  • Peace talks between the Colombian government and the ELN are set to move beyond their "exploratory" stage, according to El Espectador. Peace talks with the FARC have an eye toward getting a blessing by the Pope during his visit to Cuba, according to Spain's El Pais. Still, it's two steps forward, one step back as a FARC commander finally admitted that their forces assassinated AfroColombian leader Genaro García, according to El Tiempo. "There will be justice," Commander Pastor Alape tweeted
  • Venezuela and Ecuador are caught up in the global price drop in oil that adds to the "fears of unrest," according to the NYTimes. Venezuela is in a tighter crunch as it has very little foreign exchange reserves.
  • Half of babies born to 15- to 19-year-old Hondurans are the result of rape, where emergency contraception was banned six years ago, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
  • Mexican newsweekly Proceso dedicates its cover story to the narco-invasion of the United States.  Separately a Texas "soccer mom" was really a Mexican drug dealer, according to the Dallas Morning News. "She was sentenced on Monday to 9 years in federal prison in Fort Worth for a money laundering conspiracy."
  • The New Yorker reports on the pollution in Guanabara Bay which will be used for sailing competition in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. "The Brazilian sailor Lars Grael, a two-time Olympic medalist, told the Times last year that he has seen human bodies on four separate occasions."
  • 14 gang members have been killed in a prison in the north of El Salvador, according to the BBC. "Officials said the bodies of the men, who were all members of the country's notorious Barrio 18 gang, were discovered in two separate locations during a routine inspection of the prison in Quezaltepeque."
  • 1% of Brazil's population owns 50% of the land, according to a feature in this morning's Morning Edition on NPR.
  • Mexico is hosting the first conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), "a pact to regulate the trade that took force in December but has yet to agree fine print on how it will be implemented," according to Reuters. They have not yet agreed on transparency rules for publishing arms sales, "a contentious point that arms control lobby groups say has met with resistance from some European exporters." The International Committee of Red Cross says the illegal transfer of weapons is rife, according to a related video press release.
  • The NYTimes offers an editorial essay on how Cuban dissidents have been faring with the evolution of US/Cuban relations. In general, it's thumbs up for the new policies. Says one dissident, "repression has increased, but not because [of] the new policy ... it has increased because every day there’s more activism and courage and the regime fears it will lose control." Separately, the executive director of the 'Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation' calls for renaming the Cuban Embassy’s D.C. address as No. 1 Oswaldo Payá Way, in an op-ed in the Washington Post.
  • And then there was this: Colombia's Semana reports on actor Tom Cruise visiting troops in the department of Amazonas.  In turns out he will play an ex-CIA agent who collaborated with Pablo Escobar in a film slated for a 2017 release.

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