Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Venezuela and Colombia to normalize border (Sept. 22, 2015)

Venezuela and Colombia have agreed to "a progressive normalization" of their borders.

The countries' two presidents, Nicolás Maduro and Juan Manuel Santos, met yesterday in Ecuador agreed to normalization, but did not set a date for the border reopening, a month after Maduro first ordered a border crossing closure as part of a major anti-smuggling campaign, reports the BBC.

The two countries will immediately return ambassadors to each others' capitals and will continue talks supported by Uruguay and Ecuador, with a follow up meeting of ministers scheduled for Sept. 23, reports TeleSur.

"Common sense, dialogue and peace between our peoples and our countries have triumphed today," said Maduro yesterday. Santos said: "I agree that criminal organizations working in the border area are a big problem, but the best way to deal with it is by working together."

Maduro also agreed to investigate allegations that Venezuelan jets violated Colombian air space earlier this month.

More than 1,500 Colombians living illegally in Venezuela were evicted as part of the anti-smuggling operation, which was launched after three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian were killed in an attack near the border. Another 20,000 undocumented Colombian migrants are estimated to have left Venezuela fearing deportation.

According to the United Nations, the mass migration spurred a "critical humanitarian situation" in Colombia, that is already dealing with more than 6.4 million internally displaced citizens, says Colombia Reports.

Human rights organizations criticized Venezuela's actions and critics say it's an electoral ploy to help Maduro's party in the upcoming December parliamentary elections. 

Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights' David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz published a border crisis Q and A last week. It is likely that the government sincerely believes that the crackdown will help stem the flow of low cost basic goods across the border, helping alleviate shortages in Venezuela, they say. They give a great overview of the situation in Venezuela and conclude that: "If the border closing proves popular with the broader population, works to reduce shortages and effectively complicates opposition campaigning in the region, the State of Exception and border closing could well be prolonged until after the elections."

News Briefs

  • Protesters in Guerrero attacked the local prosecutor's office in the state capital, the beginning of what might be a wave of social unrest ahead of the anniversary of the disappearance of 43 students from the state last year. A major protest march is planned for Saturday, the one year anniversary of the students' disappearance, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • U.S. border arrests of undocumented underage migrants traveling alone or with their mothers in August went up 52 percent compared with last year, reports El Daily Post. Its not clear whether the uptick (after numbers went down considerably compared to 2014) is the beginning of another wave of child migrants or simply an anomaly.
  • Murders are still on the rise in Mexico, reports El Daily Post's Alejandro Hope. Last month homicide victims totaled 1704, a 21 percent increase over the same month last year and the worst month since June 2013. The reason murder is so common? It's relatively unpunished, says Hope. "There is very little effort to find, capture, and prosecute murderers because homicide victims tend belong to politically marginalized groups. They are mostly young, poor, and uneducated, living in fringe urban areas. Not exactly the most vocal sectors of Mexican society. By contrast, kidnapping hits the upper and middle classes disproportionately. That is one reason there is an antikidnapping czar and not an antimurder czar. There are special funds for antikidnapping units, not for homicide investigators. About a third of all reported kidnapping cases are dealt at the federal level. Very few homicide cases get the same treatment."
  • Two men accused of stealing a car were beaten and burned to death in Mexico's Chiapas state, reports the Associated Press.
  • A former treasurer for Brazil's governing Worker's Party, João Vaccari Neto, was sentenced to more than fifteen years of jail yesterday. He was found guilty of taking over $1 million in bribes in relation to the Petrobras kickback scheme, reports the Associated Press. Petrobras' former head of corporate services, Renato Duque, was sentenced to more than 20 years for funneling cash to Vaccari and taking more than $9 million in bribes. Informants have testified to federal prosecutors that some of the bribes funneled to Vaccari allegedly funded President Dilma Rousseff’s two presidential campaigns, but the party has denied all wrongdoing, reports theWall Street Journal. Yesterday authorities made another arrest in relation to corruption, this time at the state-run oil firm Eletrobras. The partner of a construction company was detained on charges of bribing officials at Eletrobras' nuclear generation unit, Eletronuclear, reports theWall Street Journal.
  • Amid the ongoing corruption scandals that are rocking the entire Brazilian political establishment, the country's Supreme Court banned corporate donations to candidates and parties in future elections, last week. The judges declared that the rules allowing companies to donate to election campaigns were unconstitutional, reports The Guardian. This is bound to be a game changer: about 76 percent of funds donated to last years presidential campaigns came from corporate entities.
  • Rousseff's government rejected the appointment of a former settlement director as Israel's ambassador to that country, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. Brazilian social movements questioned whether Dani Dayan had violated international law in Palestinian territory and pressured Rousseff to reject his credentials.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales defended his country's record in combating drug trafficking, after the U.S. declared last week that the country had "failed demonstrably" to do enough to fight drug-trafficking and "decertified" it. (See last Wednesday's and Thursday's briefs.) The Bolivian Minister of Interior emphasized that almost 10,000 anti-drug operations were carried out over the past four years, leading to the seizure of about 22 tons of cocaine and the destruction of 15 landing lanes used to transport drugs, reports TeleSur.
  • A piece in Deutsche Welle looks at the issue of corruption in Latin American governments and how the recent events in Guatemala have raised questions over how to combat the phenomenon. While there are protests around the region calling for more accountability for leaders, the fight against corruption has more to do with judicial expertise say experts quoted in the piece. Many experts and citizens are calling for independent investigative committees against impunity, like Guatemala's CICIG. The piece notes that former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda wrote an op-ed in El País calling on the U.S. to focus funding on anti-corruption instead of anti-drug policies.
  • There's a lot of news about El Salvador's critical gang problem -- and the violence and homicides it entails for the country. The New York Times has a piece on a Salvadoran businessman who hires ex-gang members, offering them a way out. The piece notes that a recent UNDP report found that young people join a gang for acceptance and status. "From being just another scared kid in the neighborhood, the gang member gets a network that supports him and even though it demands his loyalty and his life, it rewards him with an identity, power and economic support," according to the report.
  • In another example of how the region is leading the way in transgender rights (see August 12's briefs) Argentina's most populous province, Buenos Aires, passed a law requiring that 1 percent of local government employees be transgender. The measure is intended to help this traditionally marginalized group to access employment and has been lauded by human rights organizations, reports VICE.
  • The Argentine national government lifted a ban on gay men donating blood last week, the result of more than a decade of campaigning by LGBT organizations for "blood donation equality," reports the Huffington Post. Argentina joins countries such as Chile, Mexico, Spain and Italy, where blood donors are assessed on individual risk rather than sexual orientation. The U.S., France and Germany continue to have blood donation bans against men who have had sex with men, though the piece said they are considering revision of the policies which date to the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.
  • Argentine officials are creating a channel for citizens to give opinions on new genetically modified seeds to be introduced to the country, reports EFE.
  • Last week over 650 kilos of marijuana were found hidden in a shipment cigarette boxes of a company belonging to Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, reports TeleSur.
  • Final thoughts from the Pope in Cuba: At the Brookings Institution blog, Ted Piccone looks at the potential impact of the papal visit to Cuba, saying that it's another step along a road of gradual soft change for the island and its relationship with the U.S. He notes that the Cuban government launched its annual campaign for the U.N. vote agains the embargo this week. TheNew York Times has a piece on old-guard Miami exiles who have come back to the island for the first time, pushed by the desire to see the Pope and moving beyond the anger at the Fidel Castro's communist government. In his Holguín Mass yesterday, Francis built on the theme of change and overcoming one's past. He told the Cubans that they, too, should allow themselves "to slowly overcome our preconceptions and our reluctance to think that others, much less ourselves, can change." Today he celebrated mass at the sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre, the country's holiest shrine and one also venerated by non-believers and practitioners of various syncretic Afro-Cuban religions. The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the melding of African and Catholic beliefs in Cuba. Pope Francis ends his Cuba trip with a direct flight to the U.S., "a potent symbol," notes the Associated Press, while Reuters says he's "figuratively connecting the two longtime Cold War adversaries who have reached detente with the help of his mediation."

Note: I won't be posting tomorrow in observance of the Yom Kippur holiday.

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