Monday, May 16, 2016

Venezuela's new state of emergency, U.S. intelligence fears violence (May 16, 2016)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro declared a 60-day state of emergency on Friday afternoon, reports the Guardian. However it is not clear what powers the decree grants to him, notes Reuters. He also extended a state of economic emergency to protect the country from foreign and domestic "threats." Maduro blamed the situation on plots from within the OPEC country and from the U.S. to topple his leftist government.

The country is in the grips of an acute economic crisis, with a predicted contraction of 8 percent this year, a forecast of 700 percent inflation. Shortages of price-controlled food, medicines and imports have led to protests around the country. Energy shortages have led to a reduced official work week and rolling blackouts. (See April 28's post, for example.)

U.S. intelligence officials said on Friday that the U.S. is increasingly concerned about the potential for an economic and political meltdown in Venezuela, reports Reuters. The officials, who briefed a small group of journalists, worry the country's worsening crisis could lead to violence, reports the Wall Street Journal

Maduro is unlikely to complete his term, which ends in 2018, said the senior officials, who expressed doubt that Maduro would allow a recall referendum this year. They did not rule out the possibility of a military coup, though they said there was no evidence of any active plotting or that he had lost support from the country's generals.

They said another possibility for his ouster could be a "palace coup" led by associates close to him, notes the WSJ.

On Saturday Maduro threatened to use the new emergency decree to seize idle factories, reports the New York Times. "An idle plant is a plant the people will take," he reportedly said at a rally. "We will take all the actions necessary to activate production, which is being paralyzed by the bourgeoisie."

Today Venezuela's Vice-President Aristobulo Isturiz ruled out the possibility of a recall referendum against Maduro, reports the BBC. He said the opposition had "acted too late, had done it wrong and had committed fraud." (See April 27's post and May 3's briefs.)

A demonstration last week demanding the Electoral Commission move forward in the verification of signatures demanding a recall ended in stone-throwing and tear gas. (See last Thursday's briefs.)

The economic crisis is a domestic matter, said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman when asked about the possibility of aid for the South American country, reports Reuters. Venezuela has received about $50 billion in Chinese financing since 2007. Investors hope for financial relief from China or an easing of the terms of a major loan pact by which Venezuela borrows money and repays in shipments of oil and fuel.

The crisis has had an acute effect on the health system: the death rate among babies under a month old in public hospitals increased by a hundred percent since 2012, to 2 percent. New mothers die at almost five times the rate they did a few years ago, according to a government report cited in the New York Times. The piece vividly portrays the desperate effects of a health system that is out of supplies, from paper and water, to medicine.

Efecto Cocuyo analyzes what the last state of emergency wrought in Táchira, Zulia, Apure and Amazonas last year when certain civil rights were suspended for 120 days.

News Briefs
  • Partial results from the Dominican Republic's presidential election yesterday seem to indicate an easy reelection for President Danilo Medina, reports Reuters. Results from 18 percent of polling stations show him leading with 62 percent of the vote. Voters seem to have been swayed by a surging economy and social projects, despite accusations of corruption. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Negotiators for the Colombian government and the rebel FARC group announced an agreement to immediately demobilize child soldiers under 15 years of age, and to develop an exit program for those between 15 and 18 years of age, reports the New York Times. The minors will be part of a special program to ease their transition into civilian life, and will also be assisted by Unicef and the International Organization for Migration, reports the BBC.
  • At la Silla Vacía, Juanita León analyzes the changing discourse of FARC negotiator Iván Márquez and how that evolution points to a nearing final peace deal.
  • Colombian authorities say they have seized about 8 tons of cocaine, the biggest such capture in the country's history, reports the Associated Press.
  • An Argentine judge indicted former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as well as prominent officials from her administration, on charges of manipulating the nation's Central Bank during the final months of her mandate, reports the New York Times. She is accused of the crime of "unfaithful administration," reports the Wall Street Journal. They are accused of entering into contracts to sell the Central Bank's dollars at below-market rates to shore up the Argentine peso, which allegedly cost the country billions of dollars. The criminal complaint that led to proceedings was filed by lawmakers in the governing coalition of the new president, Mauricio Macri and Kirchner has dismissed the case as political.
  • Kirchner has been indicted, Chilean President Michele Bachelet's ratings are plunging, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's been suspended to face impeachment proceedings: what's happened to South America's powerful women, asks a New York Times piece. "Gender, analysts say, is not the cause of the leaders’ current problems. But, they add, the collective decline of the three women points to a persistence of macho attitudes in the region, especially within the political establishment."
  • The lead up to Rousseff's impeachment trial has cast an international spotlight on the Brazilian Congress, which a cast of nearly 600 characters. More than half of the members of Congress face legal challenges, from cases in auditing court involving public contracts to serious counts like kidnapping or murder, according to Transparency Brazil, a corruption monitoring group, reports the New York Times. Part of the problem, according to the piece, is the country's chaotic party system. "... Most of the parties embrace no ideology or agenda and are simply vehicles for patronage and graft. In a typical four-year term, one in three federal legislators will switch parties, some more than once."
  • Though Brazil's acting President Michel Temer says his main goal is to stabilize the country's economy in order to attract investment (see Friday's briefs and Thursday's post), he must also salvage the upcoming Olympics and convince international observers of the country's seriousness, reports the Washington Post.
  • The Cuban town of Viñales is thriving with "cuentapropistas" thanks to a tourism boom, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The so-called "Queen of the Pacific," cartel leader Sandra Ávila Beltrán, is out of jail and gives insight into the workings of the drug trafficking world in an interview with the Guardian.
  • In a CityLab piece I analyze how organized crime is increasingly taking over municipal governments or threatening them. The piece quotes InSight Crime's Jeremy McDermott who blames the trend on the spread of organized crime throughout the region. Violence against mayors is a particular problem in Mexico, where over the past decade, 37 mayors, seven mayors-elect, and 31 former mayors have been assassinated.
  • The world's smallest porpoise, the vaquita, is edging closer to extinction. There are only about 60 of them left. They are the collateral damage of a booming illegal market for the swim bladder of a large, endangered fish called the totoaba, which is considered a delicacy in China. Though the Mexican Navy has been working to preserve the porpoise, it has been no match for the international traffickers who have collaborated with local organized crime groups to pay fishermen thousands of dollars for each totoaba bladder, reports the New York Times.


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