Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Venezuela's National Assembly will seek change or Maduro's ouster (Jan. 6, 2015)

Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly was sworn in yesterday in a raucous session that delighted long-frustrated opponents of the Socialist party (PSUV) government that has held power since 1998.

The inaugural session, in which the Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) took power included lots of slogan chanting and crossed accusations between the two main blocks. But the main spectacle were the accusations against the PSUV and the new MUD-led presidency of the National Assembly, reports Reuters
Journalists were allowed into the chamber for the first time in years, notes the New York Times, ending a period in which only government controlled media could cover the sessions live. And portraits of former president Hugo Chávez were taken down. 

Opposition legislator Henry Ramos Allup was elected the new head of Congress (see Monday's post) and flaunted his new power -- cutting of one PSUV deputy's diatribe against the opposition when he ran out of time and brushing off another's procedural complaint. 

"Take it easy, congressman, things have changed here," he said, according to Reuters.

In his inaugural speech he promised to end President Nicolás Maduro's administration within six months, reports the Los Angeles Times. "We will recover our autonomous power, pass laws of amnesty and national reconciliation and look within six months for a constitutional, democratic, peaceful and electoral means of ending [Maduro's] administration," he said.
Opposition leaders said they expected changes by July or else would use constitutional mechanisms to push Maduro from power, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The leadership vote concluded with a brief spate of pushing and shoving, notes the New York Times, as legislators from both sides shouted over whether an opposition legislator should be allowed to make a speech after the leadership vote. (Check out Caracas Chronicle's play-by-play.)

The socialist bloc walked out in protest of what they said was a violation of procedural protocol, a sign of legislative gridlock ahead, according to the WSJ.
But it wasn't necessarily a very successful day for the MUD. Over at Caracas Chronicles Daniel Cadena Jordan argues that there are still many uncertainties that must be seen: such as whether the two sides will be able to coexist in the National Assembly and whether they will actually have the two-thirds majority.

The ultimate question of whether the opposition will have a critical two-thirds majority remained unclear yesterday. They won 112 seats of the assembly's 167 in December (see Dec. 7th's post), but four lawmakers -- three from the opposition -- were barred from taking their seats yesterday pending a Supreme Court review of a PSUV election results challenge. The opposition is adamant that the remaining deputies will be sworn in soon, reports the Caracas Chronicles.

While Maduro's PSUV has been engaging in maneuvers to limit the power of the National Assembly (see Monday's and Dec. 23rd's post) he called for a peaceful transition to the opposition-led Assembly, and he dispatched soldiers to defend the area around the the capitol building and separate sympathizers from both sides and no major incidents were reported on yesterday.

"We have to quickly get used to the country's new political dynamics," Maduro said in a phone call to state television last-night. He promised to announce a new cabinet today.

New phase notwithstanding, the National Assembly has few tools to resolve the economic problems that brought voters to support them, according to Reuters. Instead opposition legislators have said they will focus on an amnesty law to free jailed opposition activists and to grant property titles to those who received homes from the government.

News Briefs

  • Haiti will hold its postponed presidential run-off elections on January 24. (See Monday's and yesterday's briefs.) International attention is on the country as accusations of fraud in October's presidential and legislative elections threaten to the already weak democratic institutions. U.S. State Department envoys will meet with top election officials, President Michel Martelly and the two top presidential candidates today, reports the Miami Herald. The United Nations, the U.S. government and representatives of other nations making up the "Core Group" that monitors Haiti have urged state institutions and political actors to "take all steps necessary to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected president" by the Feb. 7 deadline for the handover of presidential power, reports the Associated Press. A U.N. statement said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was concerned about the "prolonged election process" and urged Haitians to ensure it was "concluded as soon as possible in a transparent, inclusive and credible manner."
  • Revelations that police tortured a key witness in the investigation into the abduction and presumed slaying of 43 students from a teachers college in 2014 add to the doubts surrounding a probe riddled with problems, reports the Wall Street Journal. But in a country where 98 percent of serious crimes go unpunished, the government switched gears and asked a team of experts assembled by the Organization of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to help the national attorney general's office carry out a new probe. It's the first time Mexico has allowed foreign help in a major criminal investigation according to the piece.
  • New York Times editorial criticizes Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, specifically focusing on his human rights record and calling for the president to grant the Iguala investigation access to military personnel stationed near the site of the disappearance. "More than three years into his presidency, it seems more likely that he will be remembered not as the transformational leader Mexicans thought they had elected, but as a politician who skirted accountability at every turn. On Mr. Peña Nieto's watch, the Mexican government has swiftly and systematically whitewashed ugly truths and played down scandals."
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales said last week that he will seek for the United Nations to decriminalize trade in coca leaf, the raw material of cocaine, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • The Daily Beast has a colorful piece on Colombia's new coca production boom and its potential causes.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff could seek to change pension, tax and labor laws in order to the country's economy without abandoning the austerity drive her government has been pursuing for the past year, according to Reuters
  • Chile's tax agency announced that it is seeking to initiate a criminal investigation of President Michelle Bachelet's daughter-in-law, Natalia Compagnon, for tax crimes, reports Reuters.
  • Four Chilean police were charged with violently attacking a 14-year-old boy during a 2014 student demonstration in downtown Santiago, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. Prosecutors said the youth was abusively attacked by the police, after first being searched.
  • A beloved statue of Jesus was touted as a potential Guatemalan army general candidate, until Church and government representatives stepped in. Oddly enough, it would not have been It would not have been Jesús de la Merced's first military promotion, reports AFP. In the 1800s, in the midst of devastating cholera outbreaks, the statue was given the rank of army colonel and marched around the country.
  • NACLA has a piece focusing on Central America's quiet refugee crisis: "The UN reports a nearly fivefold increase, since 2008, in asylum-seekers arriving to the United States from the Northern Triangle region of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which has the world’s highest murder rates. ... Although no official figures exist, it is thought that at least 70,000 migrants and refugees have gone missing in Mexico since 2006."
  • A broad coalition that includes a group seen as the political arm of the Shining Path rebels is seeking to take part in the 2016 Peruvian elections, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. The would-be political organization urges an amnesty for people convicted of crimes in connection with Peru's 1980-2000 armed conflict.
  • An interactive oral history project in Peru is gathering the stories of the hundreds and thousands of people -- many poor and indigenous -- who underwent forced sterilization under the government of Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. The sterilizations, most of which were carried out on women occurred under a government family planning program, reports The Guardian. The program targeted poor, indigenous Quechua-speakers, who were often told they would not receive food or other support if they, or their husbands, did not consent to be sterilized.

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