Friday, June 3, 2016

Two Competing OAS Initiatives on Venezuela (June 3, 2016)

Two Competing OAS Initiatives on Venezuela (June 3, 2016)

Note: This post was prepared by Sarah Esther Maslin, a freelance reporter and researcher based in San Salvador. She'll be doing the Daily Briefing through June 15. Please send links and comments to

Two back-to-back resolutions on the Venezuela crisis competed for attention and support in the Organization of American States this week, the Associated Press reports

On Tuesday OAS secretary general Luis Almagro called for a special meeting of regional representatives to determine whether Maduro's government has gravely undermined democracy. This move -- the first time an OAS head has invoked the so-called "Democratic Charter" alleging violations by a government, as opposed to other actors -- could lead to Venezuela's suspension from the OAS, if 2/3 of member states agree no other solution is possible.

Wednesday's events made a future suspension seem unlikely. After a long debate, the OAS Permanent Council approved by consensus a declaration to make a renewed offer of dialogue to the Venezuelan government, "with full respect for its sovereignty." The resolution was interpreted as a rejection of Almagro's more aggressive approach, according to CNN Español. Tensions were high: EFE reported that the head of the Permanent Council, Argentine ambassador Juan José Arcuri, ended the meeting by denying the microphone to Almagro's representative.

Almagro's invoking of the Democratic Charter could motivate Maduro to take dialogue more seriously. "Being considered a democracy is very important to Venezuela's domestic and international legitimacy," writes David Smilde of the Washington Office of Latin America. But it could have the opposite effect for the opposition: "If they think the application of the OAS Democratic Charter could strengthen their position...they could simply put forward unreasonable demands for even sitting at the table with the government," Smilde writes. Wednesday's resolution by 34 member states will put pressure on both the government and the opposition to be reasonable. 

The only hope for helping Venezuela is a united international front, argues Jennifer McCoy in a blog post that also explains the history of the Democratic Charter. While Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer expressed support for Almagro and noted that calls to dialogue have failed in the past, former Uruguayan OAS ambassador Milton Romani Gerner criticized Almagro's actions in a column for La Diaria. He called himself a "compañero" of both Almagro and Maduro, and said the only way out of this mess is "for both the government and the opposition to sit down at the table together." Meanwhile, the Washington Post's editorial board applauded Almagro for being an "eloquent advocate for democracy and human rights" and called his fellow statesmen "timid."

News Briefs
  • The NYT has a handy Q+A explaining the origins of Venezuela's current crisis, and the LA Times takes a look at the black-market prices of staple goods in Caracas. A separate NYT piece paints a dark portrait of hunger, blackouts and government shutdown. "One thing I haven't seen until now is protests simply to get food," said David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America. A separate LA Times piece suggests the Obama administration is "quietly nudging" the Vatican to help out with negotiations. 
  • Upcoming gubernatorial elections in Mexico highlight uneven progress, reports the Wall Street Journal. A dozen states are up for grabs on Sunday. Most face deep public debt, raising flags for corruption, but some cases are particularly egregious. Veracruz, where the PRI has ruled for 86 years, has become one of Mexico's most dangerous, censored, and indebted states -- and a deadly one for journalists, reports the Guardian
  • A four-judge panel in Argentina convicted and sentenced fourteen former military officers last Friday for their roles in Operation Condor, reports the NYT. For the first time, a court in the region ruled that leaders in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay worked together in a regionwide criminal conspiracy against political opponents during military dictatorships of the 70s and 80s. The defendants face prison terms of eight to 25 years. Critics of new president Mauricio Macri worry that his government won't support investigation and prosecution of past human rights crimes. However, according to the NYT story, Macri recently told reporters, "I believe we're on the right path."
  • The Argentine president announced on Monday that he will repatriate $1.3 million from saving accounts in the Bahamas, using the money to buy Argentine treasury bonds because, according to AP, "he is confident the country's struggling economy will recover." Macri set up a blind trust account for his financial holdings in response to criticism of his role in two offshore companies, which emerged during the Panama Papers leak. 
  • Three journalists kidnapped by Colombia's left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) have been released, reports the BBC. The journalists -- Spanish reporter Salud Hernandez-Mora and two Colombian journalists -- appear to be in good health. The ELN, Colombia's second largest rebel group after the FARC, has recently agreed to enter peace talks with the government. 
  • The 16-year-old victim of a brutal gang rape in Brazil denounced her mistreatment by the police, who have questioned her testimony, blamed her for the crime, and repeatedly bungled the case, reports the Washington Post. The lead investigator was relieved of his role after it was revealed he didn't search the cell phones of suspects being investigated in the case, and doubted her testimony because "she went to the [favelas] often, with direct and intimate contact with drug dealers," he wrote in leaked What'sApp messages. A video of a Washington Post correspondent asking a government minister how it was possible they had identified but not arrested four suspects has been viewed more than 200,000 times on Youtube, demonstrating Brazilians' anger at the police's incompetence. 
  • The Mexican national legislature will debate a potentially ground-breaking anti-corruption law on Mondayreports the New York Times. Central to the proposed law is an initiative called "3 out of 3," which would require government officials to reveal their assets and potential conflicts of interest, as well as prove that they are paying taxes. The initiative was devised and pushed by community groups, following a 2014 change in Mexican law that allowed citizens to propose legislation with the support of at least 120,000 signatures. 
  • Meanwhile, the anticorruption minister of Brazil's interim president Michael Temer resigned on Monday after a secret recording seemed to show him trying to thwart the corruption investigation into Petrobras, the NYT reports. According to the article, "in an increasingly paranoid atmosphere in the capital, Brasília, members of the country's political and business elite are secretly recording one another with the aim of reaching plea deals." Expect more scandals. 
  • An independent commission charged with evaluating Haiti's contested first-round presidential elections concluded that they were such a disaster that the country should start over, reports the Miami Herald. The commission, which audited 25 percent of the results from 13,000 polling stations, found that "the evil started not only within the polling stations, but a little higher in the distribution of [accreditation cards]," which allowed certain individuals to vote multiple times. It is now up to the country's Provisional Electoral Council to decide whether to accept the recommendation to organize new elections. 
  • The World Health Organization announced that there is no public health justification for cancelling the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro due to the Zika virus, reports AP. The statement came in response to an open letter to the agency last week from 150 public health experts urging for the Games to be delayed or moved. However, the WHO said in its statement that "based on current assessment, canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus." 

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