Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Venezuelan authorities push referendum to 2017 (Aug. 10, 2016)

Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) announced yesterday that it projects a recall referendum vote for early February, if the opposition alliance pushing for President Nicolás Maduro's ouster submits all the paperwork on time. CNE President Tibisay Lucena estimated yesterday that the opposition will probably be authorized to start collecting petition signatures from 20 percent of the country's voters in late October, reports the Associated Press.

Efecto Cocuyo has an analysis of the next steps for the referendum process and the probable timeline in light of yesterday's decision. While the CNE will be following regulations to the letter, it will be taking the maximum amount of time permitted for each step, explains Efecto Cocuyo in a separate piece.

The timetable favors the Maduro administration by putting an eventual vote after the January 10 midway point of the president's mandate. If citizens terminate Maduro's government before that deadline, his successor would be picked in a new election. But should they oust him afterwards, he would be replaced with the vice president. At stake is the continuity of the current government's economic and social policies, which critics say are responsible for a deepening economic crisis with acute food and medicine shortages.

The announcement will likely continue to increase tensions in an already polarized situation, notes the AP. The opposition must also respond to accusations of fraud in the first signature collection in support of the referendum process, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

The opposition alliance pushing for the recall referendum accused the CNE of delaying the recall in favor of the government, and has vowed to take to the streets to force a vote this year, reports the Wall Street Journal. The MUD coalition has called for a Sept. 1 rally to demand the vote, but similar demonstrations in recent months have had anemic turnout, notes the WSJ.

News Briefs
  • The Brazilian Senate voted 59 to 21 in favor of putting President Dilma Rousseff on trial on charges of breaking budgetary law, in what Sky News describes as a "raucous 20-hour session." The trial is expected to last about a month, and an impeachment vote would require a two-thirds majority of the 81 person chamber -- 54 votes. The vote, which took place early this morning shows a slight strengthening of the anti-Rousseff movement since May, when senators voted 55 to 22 to suspend her. That fact will likely strengthen acting President Michel Temer as he seeks to implement unpopular fiscal policies in hopes of improving the country's recession hit economy, according to Reuters.
  • A Brazilian judge ruled that expelling Olympics spectators for political protests violated their right to free speech, paving the way for political chants and messages at games, reports the Wall Street Journal. Temer has been the main focus of protests during the opening days of the Games, leading to about a dozen protesters getting expelled. Though the federal government initially appealed the ruling, it desisted yesterday. Olympics organizers promised to honor the ruling, though they appealed yesterday, reports Reuters. A similar restriction of political protest in World Cup games in 2014 was upheld by the Supreme Court. Olympic venues are targets of protest almost every time the games are held, note experts quoted in an NPR story on the case. Vida Bajc, a sociologist and author of "Surveilling and Securing the Olympics, From Tokyo 1964 to London 2012 and Beyond" notes the potential long-term impact of foreign intelligence services, international military advisers and trainers who are involved in securing the games. "These people train local agents in particular strategies, with particular kinds of equipment," she says. "They may change the surveillance technologies they've been using, they may change their approach to the local populations." Such strategies could affect how protests are handled in Brazil long after the games are gone.
  • U.S. Democrats are increasingly questioning the Rousseff impeachment process, notes The Intercept's Glen Greenwald. This week Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said the process resembled a coup, while last month a group of 40 Democratic members of the House of Representatives published a letter "expressing ‘deep concern’ about threats to democracy in Brazil." But their concern doesn't seem to be shared by the Obama administration. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry still hasn't answered the letter from Congress, but he lent legitimacy to the Temer administration by meeting with his Interior Minister, José Serra during his current trip to Brazil, argues Mark Weisbrot in The Hill.
  • Security officials are looking into whether an Olympics bus line -- carrying eleven reporters -- was struck by stray bullets, in an incident that injured one foreign reporter with shattered glass, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Claiming asylum in the U.S. requires showing provable political persecution at home. But that category doesn't account for the violent conditions spurring thousands of Central American migrants to flee persecution from criminal groups, explains a New Yorker piece that looks at some of the terrifying cases of asylum seekers from Latin America and the difficulties they face in making their cases. The piece focuses on the work of Central American Legal Assistance in New York, a group that provides legal counseling to clients fleeing"violence so widespread and severe that ... it should change how U.S. courts define warfare, and expand the definition of what is considered to be political persecution in asylum cases," say members of the organization.
  • A Colombian court cancelled a six-year old ban on former senator and human rights activist Piedad Cordoba from holding office, saying accusations linking her to the FARC were unfounded, reports TeleSUR.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is taking a diplomatic approach to combatting illegal gold mining in the Amazon. He is holding talks with industry representatives, and aiming for a conciliatory approach to restart major mining projects stalled by community opposition during his predecessor's administration, reports Bloomberg.
  • Newly declassified U.S. documents pertaining to the 1976-1983 Argentine military dictatorship (see yesterday's briefs) show that former secretary of state Henry Kissinger's close relationship with military rulers hindered the Carter administration's efforts to crack down on human rights abuses, reports the Guardian.
  • Chile is facing a construction slump that could add to a three year copper downturn affecting the country's growth, reports Bloomberg.
  • A wistful walk down Ipanema: searches for the 1960's classic "The Girl from Ipanema" surged in popularity after being featured last week in the Olympics opening ceremony accompanying super-model Gisele Bündchen, reports the New York Times.

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