Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Venezuelan opposition gearing up for massive march on Thursday (Aug. 30, 2016)

Venezuela's opposition is planning a massive demonstration on Thursday, aimed at pressuring the national electoral council (CNE) into pushing forward the time table for a referendum on President Nicolás Maduro's mandate. Holding the election this year would trigger a national election for his successor, while holding it next year means the vice president will finish Maduro's term if he is ousted.

A wave of thousands of Venezuelans are descending upon Caracas ahead of Thursday's march, reports the Wall Street Journal. It might be the last opportunity to force the election that would likely oust Maduro. The opposition says that government control of the judiciary and the CNE have left it with no choice but to take to the streets to push for their demands to be met.

But the current pace of the referendum process leaves little hope of an election being held this year, notes Geoff Ramsey on Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. If that is the case, the question will remain how the opposition proceeds.

In the meantime, "The Taking of Caracas," or 1S, as it's being called, is gearing up to be an intense battle between the two sides.

The government has called for counter-protests, and banned private planes and drones in Caracas airspace this week. Yesterday El País reported that the government has also scheduled sales of scarce food supplies for that day and reiterated threats to fire government employees supporting the opposition demands.

Venezuelan officials are denouncing a U.S. sponsored coup attempt, after the State Department called for the release of opposition leader Daniel Ceballos, who was taken to prison by state intelligence agents on Saturday, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.) The former mayor of San Cristobal was imprisoned for a year, and transferred to house arrest last year due to health concerns. While authorities say they had information that he was planning to foment violence on Thursday, human rights groups say he is a political prisoner.

Venezuela's journalists' union said authorities are expelling an Al Jazeera crew who arrived yesterday to cover the protest, reports AFP.

News Briefs
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto fired the federal police commissioner yesterday, in response to a human rights commission report that found the force was responsible for 22 summary executions in a raid last year. (See Aug. 19's post.) Though the official version is that the suspected gang members were killed in a protracted gun battle, the dismissal opens the path into an investigation into allegations that police carried out a massacre, with many victims shot at close range from above or behind, and then altered the evidence at the scene of the crime, reports the New York Times. Interior minister Miguel Osorio Chung said the removal was aimed at permitting a transparent investigation, reports the Associated Press.
  • Peña Nieto did indeed plagiarize chunks of his law thesis, confirmed his university. But the failure to adequately credit the texts did not violate the institutions rules at the time, and the case will not be subject to any action, reports the Associated Press. (See Aug. 22's post.)
  • Today is the international day of the disappeared -- a column in Al Jazeera looks at the situation across the region -- from the estimated 16,000 Peruvians who disappeared in violence in the 1980s and 90s, to Argentina's 30,000 dictatorship disappeared, to more recent disappearances in Colombia and Mexico. "Across Latin America, the process of uncovering the truth about the fates of legions of disappeared people has generally been characterized by a great deal of inertia and antagonism on the part of authorities. ... In many places, the state's reluctance to dig up the crimes of the past has to do with the state's own complicity in many of those crimes," writes Belen Fernandez.
  • The Toronto Star has a piece looking at a few of the 28,000 cases of disappearances in Mexico in recent years, emphasizing that many of their families will never really know what happened to their loved ones.
  • An in-depth investigative piece by Buzzfeed examines the shadowy world of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), essentially binding binding arbitration on a global scale, drawn into trade treaties in order to provide a mechanism to settle disputes between countries and foreign companies that do business within their borders. The results have been so expensive for countries that even the threat of an ISDS suit can be enough to force governments to roll back internal regulations or drop criminal charges. The piece looks at several examples from around the world, including a village in El Salvador suffering from crushing lead poisoning from a nearby factory -- the owners fled to the U.S. and used the threat of ISDS to push the Salvadoran government to an easier settlement, according to the Buzzfeed investigation.
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's speech defending herself at a Senate trial yesterday is unlikely to change the likely result of her impeachment, but she successfully presented her case that she is innocent of the charges and maintained that the proceedings against her amount to a coup against a democratic government, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.) In the question session that followed her 45 minute speech yesterday, most senators were critical of her administration, and maintained the legality of the proceedings. The session was relatively calm, with proponents of impeachment seeking to avoid an appearance of victimizing Rousseff, according to the Guardian.
  • Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrande Aristide made a rare public appearance yesterday, urging support for his longtime spokeswoman and pick for the upcoming presidential election, Maryse Narcisse, reports the Miami Herald.
  • After a bilateral cease-fire officially began yesterday between the Colombian government and the FARC, the guerrilla force's fighters began the process of congregating forces and notifying monitors of their locations, reports the Wall Street Journal. Government officials explained yesterday that the FARC will first gather together far-flung units, and then move them to the concentration areas agreed on for disarmament.
  • Vice News reports on a curious side-effect of the Colombia-FARC peace deal, the elimination of a widely used cover story for undercover DEA agents in cases targeting suspected terrorists, drug dealers, and other criminals all over the world.
  • A new bill in Uruguay's Congress would automatically provide information on bank accounts held by Uruguayans and foreign citizens to the country's tax bureau, effectively killing the country's bank secrecy. The move could have important ramifications for the estimated $3.3 billion held by Argentines in Uruguay, reports the Buenos Aires Herald.
  • Two men have been detained in connection to the murder of Brazilian journalist João Miranda do Carmo, who had received threats because of his work reporting on local politicians, drug dealers and criminals, reports the Guardian. The second arrest came last week, after the UNESCO director general demanded an investigation into the case.
  • Reuters profiles an innovative school meal program in Brazil that contracts with family farmers and cooperatives to provide food for public schools.
  • Public unrest over Chile's dictatorship era private pension system could drag the issue of reform into the country's presidential election next year, risking extreme solutions, reports Bloomberg, based on an interview with the head of a presidential reform commission.
  • Peruvians are upset with their new president's self-described British humor, reports Reuters.

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