Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Venezuelan legislature passes amnesty law - president promises veto (Feb. 17, 2016)

An addendum to yesterday's post on the crisis in Venezuela.

Yesterday lawmakers in the opposition dominated National Assembly approved an amnesty for jailed foes of President Nicolas Maduro, who has pledged to veto the bill, reports AFP. The amnesty bill seeks the release of 75 jailed dissidents.

Efecto Cocuyo has the insider baseball key moments of the debate yesterday, including the speech by the pro-government former National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello who said the law might be approved, but that the "law of impunity will not be executed." It's the first time the pro-government faction of the Assembly participated since the current session was inaugurated last month.

Venezuelan opposition leader Antonio Ledezma faces charges of conspiring to destabilize the country through violence, announced the national public prosecutor late Monday. Ledezma, a former mayor of Caracas who was arrested a year ago, could be sentenced to 26 years, reports Deutsche Welle.

Caracas Chronicles is reporting that opposition leader Henrique Capriles will be announcing the activation of a recall referendum today, as a unilateral measure from his Primero Justicia party. A recall referendum requires about 3.9 million signatures of registered voters. In order to succeed it would require at least 25 percent turnout and receive an equal number of votes to those Maduro got in his first election: 7.5 million. "Pretty doable," according to the Chronicles.

But that is just one of four options on the table at the opposition MUD coalition, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Other options include calling for a constitutional reform or a constitutional amendment. (See last Thursday's post.)

Last week InSight Crime reported on the level of control that some Venezuelan gangs hold over their territory. Part of the reason these criminal bands continue to have a measure of popular support however lies with the failure of officials and police to provide adequate security in communities.

More details on Venezuela's upcoming bond payments (amid rumors of imminent default, see yesterday's  and Thursday's posts) at Caracas Chronicles.

News Briefs
  • It's a big week for the ongoing U.S.-Cuba thaw: the two countries signed an agreement yesterday in Havana that will allow for regularly scheduled commercial flights, reports theMiami Herald. U.S. carries are expected to scramble for route rights to serve Havana -- there will be a cap of 20 round trips per day from the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. "This being Cuba, even a significant diplomatic announcement has a back story involving old wounds, confiscated properties and uphill legal battles," reports the New York Times, which has a piece on the exiled pre-revolutionary heir to the Havana airport and Cuban national airline.
  • And yesterday Cuba's Foreign Trade Minister spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He leads the largest delegation of Cuban officials to Washington in decades, notes the Miami Herald. Officials are meeting with U.S. counterparts in the second round of U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue.
  • Pope Francis' Mexico visit will wind up today, with the headliner Ciudad Juárez Mass on the U.S. border. He won't set foot in the U.S., but will send a strong message in the midst of a heated debate about immigration, reports the New York Times. The day will include a visit to a prison, just days after a riot in a different penitentiary in Mexico caused 49 deaths, reports theAssociated Press. (See last Friday's post.) Ciudad Juárez "embodies all the travails the pontiff has deplored during his tour: the inequality, poverty and gang violence that sets thousands on the migrant trail," according to the Wall Street Journal. The Los Angles Times has two touching features on migrants mobilized for the pope's visit.
  • Yesterday the Pontiff urged Mexico's youth to value themselves and resist the siren call of joining criminal gangs, reports the New York Times. He spoke in Mexico's gang-heartland, Morelia, and told young people that Jesus would never ask them to be "hit men," reportsReuters. Francis told church leaders to resist the temptation to give up the fight, notes the Wall Street Journal.
  • A report from Mexican investigative newspaper Zeta reveal widespread police corruption in Tijuana using allegations collected from detained drug traffickers and local authorities. If these turn out to be true, it means corruption is deeply embedded in the border city's municipal and state police forces. But that's only part of a wider problem of steadily worsening security conditions in Tijuana, reports InSight Crime.
  • A feature in The Atlantic by Raymond Bonner traces how a junior officers in the U.S. embassy in San Salvador in the 1980s tracked down the killers of four American women who were killed by the Salvadoran military at the beginning of the country's civil war. "It is the tale of an improbable bond between a Salvadoran soldier with a guilty conscience and a young American diplomat with a moral conscience. Different as they were, both men shared a willingness to risk their lives in the name of justice."
  • Zika concerns formed the backdrop for this weeks Caricom meeting in Belize, reports the Miami Herald.
  • In a cool-headed warning, one of the world's leading virologists has warned against public hysteria surrounding the Zika virus, saying public panic over epidemics can cause more damage than the diseases themselves, reports the Guardian.
  • As if combatting Zika-spreading mosquitos weren't hard enough as is, Brazilian authorities are frustrated by the spread of rumors ascribing the virus to a plot by global elites to depopulate the earth or that the birth defects believed to be associated by Zika are in fact due to use of an insecticide. Though many of the conspiracy theories are born abroad, Brazilian mistrust of government provides fertile ground for them to grow, reports the New York Times.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is collaborating with Brazilian medical researchers on the suspected link between Zika and microcephaly in newborns, reports theWall Street Journal.
  • The upcoming Rio Olympics could mean a surge in activity for the polemic Pacifying Police Units (Unidad de Polícia Pacificadora - UPPs), which for years have occupied favelas in order to reduce crime. "But continued police violence, dipping confidence in the program and the criminal groups' own evolution may mean the government should rethink its strategy," according to an InSight Crime analysis by Lloyd Belton.
  • Brazilian authorities are expected to reach an agreement with the mining companies responsible for the disastrous dam colapse in November that has been described as the country's worst environmental catastrophe, reports the Wall Street Journal. The deal would settle a $5 billion civil lawsuit filed by Brazil's attorney general against the companies and would include rebuilding a village and restoring some 400 miles of rivers in the Rio Doce basin that were flooded with mud and heavy metals.
  • The ongoing heated debate over which is Latin America's most murderous city (admittedly, it's wonky) has a new installment from Igarapé Institute's Robert Muggah and Katherine Aguirre, published in Open Democracy. They say the recently released (and widely cited) ranking by the Mexican think tank Seguridad, Justicia y Paz is wrong in fingering Caracas as the murder capital of the region, saying the tragic victory instead belongs to El Salvador's capital, San Salvador. "The measurement of lethal violence - whether homicide or conflict death - is an imperfect science. Nevertheless, careful measurement is essential to generate a true accounting of the burden of violence around the world. It is a political and moral imperative. El Salvador is suffering from a major crisis that is tantamount to outright warfare. Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela are not far behind. An accurate measurement of the problem is the first step to doing something about it." (See Jan. 28's briefs, as well as last Feb. 2'sFeb. 5's and Feb. 8's.)
  • Contradictory testimony regarding the death of four more alleged gang members in San Salvador, at the hands of the police, has once again focused attention on extra judicial killings by Salvadoran security forces, reports Oscar Martínez for El Faro (translated by InSight Crime).

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