Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Venezuela's government and opposition tussling over recall referendum (July 27, 2016)

Things are heating up in Venezuela over the recall referendum. Yesterday, the national electoral board (CNE) was supposed to announce the validation of a signature gathering process that would permit the opposition MUD coalition to continue a process of requesting a recall referendum on President Nicolás Maduro's mandate. They postponed the decision, saying they will discuss the issue next Monday, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

There are reports that the signatures have already been validated, in which case this could be interpreted as a delaying tactic. (See last Wednesday's post.) The opposition is angling to have the recall referendum occur this year, at which point a vote to oust Maduro would trigger a new presidential election. The government aims for the referendum to happen next year, when the vice president would complete Maduro's mandate if voters reject his continuity. 

Government supporters have lodged more than 8,000 legal challenges against the referendum, notes AFP. The government also argues there is not enough time to organize the vote this year. CNE must validate the signatures collected -- which represent 1 percent of the country's registered voters in each state, reports Reuters.

Instead of CNE results, yesterday a Socialist Party leader lodged a complaint against the MUD, saying the party included 11,000 signatures of dead people and 3,000 minors in the recent signature drive to request the referendum. Jorge Rodríguez, Maduro's designated aide to follow the recall process, said he's requesting the invalidation of the MUD's registration as a political party, due to the irregularities detected by the CNE, reports the Caracas Chronicles. The opposition rejects the charges, reports AFP.

The opposition plans a rally today demanding the CNE approve the signatures and permit them to go on to the next step in the process -- collecting the signatures of 20 percent of the electorate. Leaders say its the only way to push authorities to keep moving on the issue, reports the Miami Herald.
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But the head of the CNE said she considers this an act of pressure against it, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

The CNE has an arsenal of rules with which to drag out the process, notes the Miami Herald. For example, if the signatures are validated, the MUD will then have to formally request a recall in a letter that the CNE will have fifteen days to process.

News Briefs
  • The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) presented its annual report yesterday, estimating an 8 percent recession in the country's economy, the worst contraction in the continent, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Reuters reports on opaque dealings within Venezuela's state run oil-firm PDVSA. "... Sources described a culture of corruption that ranges from the trivial - giving a gift to a secretary to land a meeting with a top PDVSA executive – to the systemic, such as funneling kickbacks in return for large contracts."
  • The U.S. will substantially expand a program accepting Central American refugees, reports the New York Times. In an announcement yesterday the White House said many people fleeing violence have been left with no recourse by the current system. The program allows unaccompanied minors to enter the U.S. as refugees and allows their families to qualify as well. The broader criteria could multiply applicants to the program which has attracted 9,500 candidates in two years.
  • Conspiracy theory buffs will enjoy InSight Crime's series on who was behind the killing of Guatemala's prison king, inmate Byron Lima Oliva. (See July 19's post.) InSight Crime carried out several interviews with Lima this year. The piece looks at one theory, that ties the killing of the former army captain with close ties to former President Otto Pérez Molina (himself now jailed as he faces corruption charges). The piece looks at explanations that tie Lima's death to a military network targeting Attorney General Thelma Aldana and the anti-corruption initiatives carried out with the CICIG that have upended the country's political establishment. But there are flaws with that hypothesis, writes Stephen Dudly, who notes that Lima's "list of enemies was as long as it was sordid. And the central question is as much who did it, as who wins with Lima's bloody inglorious end inside prison walls."
  • And the more murder mystery minded should look at a Daily Beast piece on two Dutch tourists who disappeared in Panama in 2014. Some fragmented bones were discovered nine weeks later, far away from the hiking trail they were last seen on. The piece looks at all the holes in the official government story, that they died of natural causes, and promises more insight as to the cause of death gleaned from analysis of the leaked case file, to come in more installments. The piece notes that the Panamanian government was criticized for its handling of the case.
  • Mexican opposition lawmakers criticized the national statistics agency for changing the methodology it uses to measure poverty. Statistics published using the new system seem to suggest income among the country's poorest residents increased by a third, reports Reuters.
  • On the ongoing issue in Brazil of pursuing social media and messaging communications for judicial investigations, Igarapé Institute research director Robert Muggah was interviewed by Epoca, and notes the near impossibility of the government cracking Whatsapp encrypted messages. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • While the media narrative emphasizes safety and security issues in Rio, a Bloomberg opinion piece argues that the city has never been safer, as it's "saturated with police, soldiers, intelligence operatives and explosive experts in the run-up to the summer games." The piece quotes Muggah who agrees the city is safer than ever.
  • Suspended President Dilma Rousseff said she will stay away from the Olympics opening ceremony, eschewing a "secondary position," reports Al Jazeera.
  • Housing for Olympics delegations has been handed over without proper checks -- leading some delegations such as Argentina and Australia to pick up camp, complaining of toilets that don't flush, no hot water and exposed electrical wiring, reports the Wall Street Journal. The athlete's village will later be converted to luxury condos, with units selling for as much as $700,000. Still, even critics note that the grounds of the project are impressive.
  • A Brazilian fighter jet collided with another jet during a military exercise and crashed into the ocean off Rio de Janeiro's coast, reports the Wall Street Journal. The pilot ejected but has not yet been found.
  • Honduran authorities said that eight babies have been born with the severe birth defects associated with the Zika virus, reports the Associated Press.

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