Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Venezuela crisis looms large at 46th annual OAS assembly (June 14, 2016)

Representatives from 26 nations convened in the Dominican Republic yesterday for the Organization of American States' 46th General Assembly, the Associated Press reports. Attendees of the annual regional congress, titled "Institutional Strengthening for Sustainable Development in the Americas," include United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez. Though it is not officially on the agenda, the political and economic crisis in Venezuela has loomed large so far during the three-day meeting, provoking statements from several of the attendees (see below). 

Other topics on the table include:

• The disputed sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, which comes up every year. A resolution is likely to call for dialogue and negotiation between Argentina and the United Kingdom, TeleSur reports.
• Indigenous rights. After 17 years of negotiation, the OAS is expected to approve the "American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" and acknowledge the rise in regional conflict targeting Latin America's indigenous populations, including loss of land and natural resources, according to TeleSur. Bolivia and Mexico's delegations are leading the charge.
• The financial crisis facing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which will be forced to dismiss 40% of its staff if it doesn't meet budget needs by July, The Guardian reports. The regional human rights body has only received $2.9 million in voluntary contributions from 34 members states in 2016. OAS head Luis Almagro has proposed switching to a quota system.

OAS secretary-general Luis Almagro insisted that it was "impossible and unnecessary" to debate the Venezuelan crisis during this week's assembly, given that he has called for a special session of the Permanent Council to begin June 23 in Washington, AP reports. However, Venezuela was discussed during meetings between country representatives and civil society, including one meeting in which a 25-year-old Venezuelan participant petitioned for medicine to be allowed into the country, according to AFP. Venezuelan ambassador Bernardo Alvarez responded by reiterating the government's rejection of humanitarian aid, calling it a threat to the country's sovereignty. 

Secretary of State John Kerry said in a session Tuesday that Venezuela's situation was "deeply troubling" and called on the government to release political prisoners, alleviate shortages, and demonstrate respect for freedom of expression and assembly, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Peru's president-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski stated that Maduro's government should accept economic aid from the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, where Kucynski once worked, Clarin reports. Dominican president Danilo Medina expressed support for a Unasur initiative to seek dialogue between the opposition and the Venezuelan government, to be led by the ex-presidents of Spain, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. Manila also called on the OAS to issue a resolution apologizing for supporting the 1965 U.S. military invasion of the island, which was intended to stop an armed movement to reinstate ex-president Juan Bosch, who the U.S. feared would spark a communist resolution, AP reports.

On Monday, LGBT activists demonstrated in Santo Domingo to urge OAS member states to take "clear" and "decisive" actions to stop homophobic attacks in their home countries after Sunday's massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the Latin American Herald Tribune reports. 

News Briefs
  • Pollution has returned to Mexico City as the urban hub has relaxed environmental measures and accommodated itself to cars, the New York Times reports. After a hustle to clean up the city in the 1990s, anti-pollution efforts stalled. Now 20 million people and more than five million cars are facing an environmental emergency, and authorities are clamping down with limits on driving and new emissions inspection rules, which seek to detect "dirty" vehicles. 
  • Two months after the April 16 earthquake in Ecuador that killed more than 650 people and left entire towns in ruins, thousands are still struggling put their lives back together, El Pais reports. More than 7,000 houses remain to be built and more than 20,000 jobs have yet to be reinstated. Meanwhile, international aid is dwindling.
  • As the Organization of American States meets in Santo Domingo, Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles is making the rounds in South America to rally support from leaders and urge them not to be "indifferent," reports El Pais. He met with presidents Horacio Cartes in Paraguay and Mauricio Macri in Argentina, and will now travel to Brazil. The Venezuelan opposition criticized Macri for initially supporting Almagro's invocation of the Democratic Charter, and then backing away and proposing a less aggressive solution (see June 3 briefing). However, Capriles' comments following his recent meeting with Macri were cordial, according to the article. 
  • Six hundred Mexican police officers were sent to suppress an uprising in the overcrowded Barrientos prison, El Pais reports. Reports of the uprising, which does not appear to have resulted in any deaths, recalled images of February's gruesome riot in the Topo Chico prison, in which 49 prisoners died. That riot, which was apparently sparked by a fight for control between the Zetas the the Gulf cartel, highlighted the Mexican government's tenuous hold on prisons; it's likely the full-fledged response to the Barrientos riot was an attempt to prove otherwise. 
  • Sunday's shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando seems to have hit the LGBT community of Ponce (Puerto Rico's second largest city) particularly hard, the Associated Press reports. At least five of the victims were from there; 200 mourners clutched candles and posters at a vigil Monday night. Puerto Rico's governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, declared Friday a day of mourning. The 49 lives lost at Pulse were mostly young, gay, and Latino, the New York Times reports in an article about the victims. 
  • Haiti's parliament will vote today on the fate of interim President Jocelerme Privert, the Miami Herald reports.  June 14 is the deadline set in a Feb. 5 political accord created by Privert and then President Michel Martelly after Haiti failed to elect a successor amid allegations of voter fraud. Last week the Provisional Electoral Council announced a re-run presidential election scheduled for October, while a coalition of Privert's opponents and Martelly's supporters called for nationwide protests today to remove Privert from office. 
  • Peru's third-place presidential candidate Veronika Mendoza rejected any possibility of a coalition between her left-wing party and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's new government, TeleSur reports. Though most analysts agree that the support of Frente Amplio for Kuczynski in the run-off gave him the edge he needed to beat Keiko Fujimori, Mendoza said her party would remain the opposition in Congress, because "our visions for the country are completely different." 

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