Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Venezuelan government resorts to shenanigans ahead of opposition parliament (Dec. 23, 2015)

Venezuela's opposition accused the ruling PSUV of a "judicial coup" as the government seeks to block 22 lawmakers from taking office in January.

The head of the opposition coalition, Jesus Torrealba, said the PSUV had filed a request to the Supreme Court that they prevent the lawmakers from taking office on Jan. 5, when the next Congress convenes, but did not give details on what grounds the request was made, reports Reuters.

The opposition won 112 seats out of 167 in the National Assembly,  a two-thirds majority that allows it to shake up institutions and fire government appointees.
In another move opposition lawmakers say is an attempt to circumvent them, the outgoing lame duck Congress has given initial approval to the appointment of 13 Supreme Court justices. If approved they would fill the places of justices who retired early rather than risk a balancing of the staunchly pro-government high court, explains the Associated Press.

The Miami Herald also notes the creation of a "Communal Parliament," which had been on the books since 2010 but never functioned. It is intended to "regulate the social and communal life" of Venezuelans, though the government insists it won't affect the power of the National Assembly. 

In the meantime, the already desperate economic situation is growing worst, according toBloomberg, as cheap oil prices leave it potentially unable to meet a $1.5 billion debt payment in February.

In the Huffington Post Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga, the former president of Bolivia, has an extremely long piece reviewing the situation in Venezuela, focusing specifically on jailed political figures, who he says are on the "right side of history."

And several Pepsi factory employees who were detained last week on charges of halting operations have been freed, reports Reuters. The company blamed the production pause on a lack of raw materials. 

In Forbes Paul Coyer becomes the lates to join the celebratory chorus of Latin America's rightward swing, saying that the Venezuelan electoral results -- and the election of Mauricio Macri in Argentina -- give "a sense that a new birth of freedom, not to mention hopefully more competent economic management, is blowing across South America. In the case of Venezuela, the fight for freedom appears to be just getting started."

On the other side of the political spectrum, at TeleSur, Michael Albert reviews the reasons for the PSUV's electoral loss and analyzes how it might make a comeback. He points to a muddled ideological platform for the PSUV, programs that failed to keep economic deprivation in check and a failure to engage with opposing viewpoints.

News Briefs

  • Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree yesterday legalizing the growing and sale of marijuana for medical purposes. The new policy is a dramatic shift in a country more traditionally associated with U.S. backed war on drugs policies, reports the Associated Press. The measure contemplates licenses for the possession of cannabis seeds and cultivation for medical and scientific purposes, reports the BBC. Santos said the new regulatory framework was long overdue given that Colombians had been consuming marijuana and marijuana-based products in a legal void for years. The country is the latest to join a regional trend towards legalization and decriminalization, notes the AP piece, mentioning the examples of Chile and Mexico. (See Nov. 5th's post and Oct. 13th's briefs, for example.)
  • Brazil's new finance minister, Nelson Barbosa, is attempting to convince investors that the country is emerging from the economic recession and political storm battering the country. Yesterday he reiterated that the government will maintain the same fiscal policies intended to shrink the budget deficit and cut debt that were favored by his predecessor, reports the Wall Street Journal. But analysts said investors are tired of talk and want results. Barbosa is under extraordinary pressure to establish his credibility, according to the New York Times.
  • But the political situation isn't helping. "Brazil's Congress is now the chaotic center of an unpredictable and explosive political crisis," writes the Los Angeles Times.
  • An important legislator on the Brazilian Congressional budget committee has recommended the approval of the 2014 accounts of President Dilma Rousseff's government.Rousseff's governing coalition has a majority of the seats on the committee, and if they approve the accounts it could undermine her opponents' case for impeaching her, reports Reuters.
  • As if all of that wasn't enough, Brazilian health authorities have declared a national emergency as they battle the fast-spreading Zika virus, linked to thousands of cases of infant brain damage and 40 related deaths this year, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Two Cuban exile organizations published an open letter to U.S. President Barak Obama complaining that his new policy towards Cuba over the past year "has amounted to little less than a string of unilateral concessions to a totalitarian dictatorship that has tirelessly repressed the Cuban people for the past 56 years," reports the Miami Herald.
  • In The Guardian Mohamed El-Erian argues that Argentina's new government needs to act quickly to fix the economy. He points to Macri's "audacious – and highly risky – " liberalization plan and says it has been implemented in a risky sequence. Yet its success or failure could be an important example for the region. "To revive the Argentinian economy in a durable and inclusive manner, Macri’s government needs to act fast to mobilise sizable external financial assistance, generate additional domestic resources, and implement deeper structural reforms. If it does, Argentina’s bold economic strategy will become a model for other countries, both now and in the future. But if the approach falters – whether because of incorrect sequencing or a surge of popular dissatisfaction – other countries will become even more hesitant to lift controls and fully liberalise their currencies. The resulting policy confusion would be bad for everyone."
  • Illicit financial flows might conjure up images of drugs and arms trafficking, but in reality the most important offenders are more prosaic: multinationals and the import-export sector that under declares commercial income in order to increase earnings and reduce tax obligations, reports the BBC. Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela rank high among the world's top offenders, according to the piece.
  • A gay Mexican immigrant, who was deported for entering the U.S. illegally won a federal court case that would allow him to stay due to fear of persecution for his sexual orientation, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A renewed wave of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the US border has new facilities popping up to house them in southern border towns, reports The Guardian. In October and November over 10,000 children crossed the border through Mexico without their parents, more than double the amount in the same months last year and overflowing existing detention centers.

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