Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Venezuelan opposition clears another referendum hurdle (Aug. 2, 2016)

Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) approved the first of two petitions needed to carry out a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro.

The much postponed decision was far from certain, and represents at least a modest win for the opposition, according to the Wall Street Journal. (See last Wednesday's post.)

The decision recognizes the MUD opposition coalition as a valid mediator to request the referendum, explains Efecto Cocuyo.

But the opposition promised to resume marches and protests as the CNE refused to provide firm dates or assurances that the referendum will happen this year, reports the Miami Herald.

Yesterday's decision was an approval of a petition with the signatures of one percent of the country's electorate. Next, the opposition must formally request permission from the CNE to hold the referendum. The opposition has 48 hours to do that, and the CNE has 15 days to respond. The opposition must then collect nearly 4 million signatures -- 20 percent of the electorate -- over a three day period. Analysts say that will likely occur in September.

Time is of the essence: the opposition aims to hold the recall this year, which, if successful, will trigger a new election to select Maduro's successor. If the referendum is held next year, it would merely replace Maduro with his vicepresident for the two years remaining of his mandate.

Government supporters allege wrongdoing on the part of the oppositions efforts, and say that the process has been riddled with irregularities, including fraudulent signatures in the first step of the petition process, report Efecto Cocuyo and the Miami Herald.


Brazil beefs up Olympics security operation

The issue of a potential terrorist attack on the Olympics Games is of increasing concern for authorities. The Brazilian government is working closely with American counterparts to identify and thwart potential threats, reports the New York Times. Fears have been spurred by Portuguese language propaganda from the Islamic State and calls for Portuguese speakers.

About 85,000 security officers will be deployed in the city -- including Rio de Janeiro state police, Brazilian military and out of state police. They will use more than 3,000 vehicles and three blimps transmitting high-resolution images in real time, reports CNN. Additional security measures announced yesterday include 24-hour security for the Christ the Redeemer statue and 634 officers to reinforce units in the city's favelas, according to USA Today.

Deutsche Welle reports on the deployment of military troops as part of the security detail. "Throughout the international airport, near metro stations, outside Games venues and even on street corners, camouflaged soldiers stand guard, rifles pointing downward."

The actual threat of an ISIS attack is relatively low, according to experts interviewed by the Cipher Brief. But the threat level is increasing, notes Igarapé research director Robert Muggah in the piece. And security forces are prepared for a coordinated attack, though changing terrorist tactics now favor an asymmetric attack led by a so-called ‘lone wolf’ who has been remotely radicalized,” he said. “Brazil is confronting these kinds of threats at a time when the threats themselves are growing and expanding globally.”

Authorities detained ten members of a group that had apparently sworn allegiance to ISIS and was talking about an attack a couple of weeks ago. (See July 22's briefs.) Brazilian investigators revealed that the FBI played an instrumental role in that operation, a fact that shows the thaw between the two countries, after a low point when leaked National Security documents showed U.S. spying on Brazilian politicians, notes the NYTimes.

Acting President Michel Temer is more likely to leave such issues behind, and veer towards a closer intelligence relationship with the U.S., notes Muggah in the Cipher interview.

But Brazil's diplomatic policy of neutrality when it comes to Middle Eastern conflicts worries some American experts, according to the NYTimes. Some U.S. leaders worry that could make Brazil a target (though why that would be the case is not fully clear).

On the other hand, last year, President Dilma Rousseff signed antiterrorism legislation criticized by human rights groups as potentially infringing on civil liberties. And several experts question whether the men detained last month can really be considered terrorists and whether the government overstepped its reach in keeping them in maximum security prison, notes the NYTimes.

Miami Herald piece looks at the profile of one of the detained -- a teenager accused by the government of forming part of a would-be terror group, but merely an internet obsessed kid looking to aggrandize himself in virtual reality, according to his family.

On the subject of "regular crime" prevention, public security forces will be implementing a new crime analytics tool based on the identification of crime hotspots this week, reports the Igarapé Institute, which helped develop the platform, that will allow Public Security officials to visualize and analyze high-crime areas across the state of Rio de Janeiro. The technology permits a graphic visualization of the exact date and location in which each crime occurs. It integrates various databases into a single map aiming at better prevention planning. “Crime is extremely concentrated in terms of how it is represented across time and space. And, in general, the same individuals commit the majority of crimes. These factors could be indicators of a future homicide which could be prevented,” explains Florencia Robalinho, an Igarapé researcher.

Police lethality in Brazil is an ongoing issue. WOLA has a piece focusing on the deaths of afro-brazilian young men at the hands of police, an issue that policy makers have largely ignored. Though Rio is often focused on, the problem is even more pressing in the country's northeast. For example in Recife, young whites are killed at a rate of 13.9 per 100,000, while young blacks are murdered at a rate of 185. In Maceio the number for whites is 24.3 while their black counterparts are killed at a rate of 327.6. The piece looks at a number of recent reports on the issue, including one by Human Rights Watch. (See also last Friday's briefs on Amnesty International's campaign against police violence during the games. The organization says that 40 people have been killed in this month alone by Rio police, an increase of 135 percent over the same period last year and that young, poor, black people are particularly at risk of getting killed by security forces.) 

Operação Lava Jato note: Earlier today two more people were arrested in relation to the ever-broader Petrobras corruption investigation. Authorities say the Olympics will not hinder the giant process, but will reduce the amount of police officers available for raids and arrests, reports Reuters.

News Briefs

  • Rio de Janeiro is already gridlocked, four days before the Olympics officially start. Generally bad traffic was made worst by lanes reserved for Olympics vehicles, and the new subway line won't be open to the general public until late next month, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's post.)
  • U.N. diplomats are failing to finalize a 22-page draft agreement on how to commit to helping refugees. The U.S. is refusing to sign onto a commitment for countries to not to detain undocumented children arriving at their borders, and Western European countries and Russia are resisting a pledge to resettle 10 percent of people fleeing war and persecution, reports the New York Times.
  • A Mexican mayor and four local police officers have been detained in connection to ten people who were killed and burned burned, reports the Associated Press. The victims were arrested on the Michoacán state mayor's orders, apparently in relation to street-level drug sales.There is little to deter governments from acquiring and utilizing software that permits them intercept voice calls, text messages and emails, reports the Associated Press. The piece focuses on the example of Peru, where last year media reports found that the national spy agency had collected data on hundreds of influential Peruvians. "The scope and sophistication revealed in the Peru documents [obtained by the AP] approximates, on a small scale, U.S. and British surveillance programs catalogued in 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden."
  • Mexican police say eight people were killed in Acapulco this weekend, and another three bodies were found in a shallow grave, reports the BBC.
  • A French company has received permission from the Cuban government to import Indian workers for construction work its carrying out in Havana, prompting outrage about exceptions to a policy that usually requires foreign companies to hire local workers through state labor agencies, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Families of victims of Argentina's 1994 bombing of the Jewish center AMIA are seeking to reopen a case that accused former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of trying to obstruct an investigation into the attack that killed 85 people, reports the New York Times. The case was brought by prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who subsequently died in mysterious circumstances. The accusations that Fernández and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, were secretly negotiating with Iran to shield former officials accused of carrying out the attacks, were dismissed last year by a judge and two instances of appeal. (See post for May 14, 2015.)

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