Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Maduro heralds talks with the U.S. (Sept. 28, 2016)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called for a new era of relations with the U.S. -- a marked shift from his usual allegations of coup plots from the imperialists to the north. Speaking on Venezuelan state television yesterday, Maduro lauded a meeting in Colombia with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, reports Reuters.

Maduro also said Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon would soon visit Venezuela, a follow-up to a June visit, which has not yet produced apparent results, according to the Associated Press.

Kerry and Maduro sat down on the sidelines of the Cartagena peace pact signing ceremony on Monday, though the meeting had been arranged two weeks earlier, according to the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.) The State Department said Kerry used to opportunity to express concern over economic and political tension in Venezuela.

But the 40 minute conversation doesn't herald a thaw in relations, but rather reflects international concerns that Venezuela is heading towards political and economic collapse, according to the NYT. 

The meeting also comes as Venezuela is increasingly isolated regionally -- from the Mercosur trade bloc, which will review its membership, and as rightward leaning governments from Argentina to Peru use the country to signal their human rights commitment. (See, for example, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's U.N. General Assembly speech, last Wednesday's briefs.)

Referendum aside: Venezuela's opposition called for mass rallies on Oct. 12 to push the government to hold a recall referendum this year. Pushing back against a National Electoral Council  (CNE) time-table that would have citizens vote on ousting Maduro next year, the MUD coalition called for daily protests against "unconstitutional" requirements for signature gathering efforts to validate the recall initiative, reports Reuters. The opposition aims to have the recall referendum this year, which, if successful, would trigger a new election to select Maduro's replacement. The CNE announcement last week set a timeframe that would push it to next year, but also demands that validation signatures be gathered from 20 percent of the electorate of each state, while the opposition argues that it should be of the national electorate. (See Monday's briefs, as well as last Friday's and Thursday's.)

Prodavinci has a historic vision of the 2004 referendum aimed at ousting then-president Hugo Chávez.

News Briefs
  • U.S. President Barack Obama nominated Havana embassy chief, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, as the first U.S. ambassador to Cuba in 50 years, reports the Miami Herald. But U.S. lawmakers opposed to normalization of relations with Cuba have promised to block the confirmation, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • An in-depth New Yorker piece by Jon Lee Anderson evaluates Obama's policy of opening up Cuba "by using seduction instead of force." The novel approach, which has led to a diplomatic thaw and a slow normalization of relations between the Cold War enemies over the past year and a half, built on a sea-change in Miami's exile community, he writes. The policy was based on three premises, said Obama. "No. 1 was, Cuba is a tiny, poor country that poses no genuine threat to the United States. No. 2, in this era of the Internet and global capital movements, is that openness is a more powerful change agent than isolation. ... No. 3 was the belief that, if you are interested in promoting freedom, independence, civic space inside of Cuba, then the power of things like remittances to give individual Cubans some cash, even if the government was taking a cut, that then allowed them to start a barbershop, or a cab service, was going to be the engine whereby individual Cubans—not directed by the United States, not directed by the C.I.A., not through some grand conspiracy, but Cuban people—who now have their own little shop and have a little bit of savings can start expecting more." The piece reviews some of the background to the actual dialogue between Obama and Castro, and how Obama's visit earlier this year provoked a backlash among the Communist leadership on the island. "It’s not a cure-all. It’s a start. And if U.S. policy then simply repeats some of the mistakes of the past, it has no force, then it just looks like cosmetics and manipulation. If, on the other hand, what we do seems to reflect examination of our own past and where we’ve been right and where we’ve been wrong, then the possibilities of more allies, more support, stronger pro-American sentiment are a whole lot greater. And one of the things that you can’t always measure but I’m absolutely confident is true is that world opinion matters. It is a force multiplier," said Obama.
  • Mexico's attorney general's office has racked up more debts than achievements in the investigation into the 43 Ayotzinapa students' disappearance. On the second anniversary of the crime, the PGR recognizes that it still lacks a confirmed line of investigation, and that it's handling of evidence and treatment of witnesses is questionable (to say the least), reports Animal Político. (See Monday's and yesterday's briefs.)
  • On Monday thousands of people rallied in Mexico City, a rally that served as a focal point for broader protests against human rights violations, reports EFE.
  • NACLA has a series commemorating the students, two years after their disappearance. The first piece features a piece by the mother of one of the students. "Now I have lost all of that: the work, the corn harvest, the bread sales. Now I search for my son and I search for justice for the past two years without him," says Cristina Bautista, the mother of Benjamín, one of the missing Ayotzinapa students.
  • Far from improving since the disappearances two years ago drew national and international attention to Iguala, violent crime in the northern Guerrero municipality has increased. Last year, under the watch of federal and state police, homicides increased by 45 percent, and so far the trend this year is on track to surpass that, reports Animal Político.
  • The rise in homicides affects the entire country, but has been accompanied with a drop in common crimes like robbery and extortion, reports the Wall Street Journal. Households last year spent 18 percent more than in 2014 to protect themselves, and the overall cost of crime and insecurity was estimated at 1.3 percent of gross domestic product.
  • Mexican leftist presidential candidate Andrés López Obrador portrays himself as an honest figure in a playing field of corrupt politicians. But in recent assets declarations he failed to disclose two Mexico City apartments he bought during his tenure as the city's mayor, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Part of the FARC's move to a peacetime organization includes plans to invest in rural economic development, including secret, but already functioning, communal farms, reports Reuters. FARC leadership doesn't want to publicize existing projects, out of fear that they will be seized for victims' reparations, but they include a milk processor and a bean farm. Future business plans involve factory projects and tourism initiatives.
  • There has been much praise of the U.S. role in helping Colombia and the FARC reach a peace accord, but not enough recognition in U.S. media of the role played by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, argues Greg Grandin in a fiery The Nation article that lambasts the Washington Post's coverage in particular. (See Sept. 19's briefs.) Praise of Plan Colombia's role in bringing the FARC to the negotiating table elides an important factor in how the two sides successfully reached a deal, he says, emphasizing negotiations and concessions between the government and the state's sworn enemy. (Leaving aside the U.S. media criticism, Martín Granovsky makes a point in Página 12 about how the pact reflects regional efforts -- from most of the Colombian political spectrum, to the Castro brothers and Hugo Chávez, and including Chilean support of the Havana talks. He also notes the importance of the U.S. and Norwegian support though. See yesterday's post.) 
  • Haitian authorities called of an LGBT Afro-Caribbean cultural festival, citing numerous threats of violence, reports the Associated Press. Co-hosts, including FOKAL, were threatened with arson and other attacks, but hope to hold the event at a later date.
  • The Financial Times profiles an unlikely candidate in Brazil's upcoming municipal elections. José Afonso Pinheiro was fired from his janitorial job in a beachfront tower, after testifying that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was given a luxury apartment by a construction company in exchange for Petrobras contracts. Now he's running for municipal councilor in Santos, on a platform of honesty and competence.
  • Argentina's largest public sector employee unions held a strike yesterday, demanding higher wages to counter inflation and tariff increases that have decimated their purchasing power, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Human rights groups say more than a thousand people have been internally displaced in El Salvador since the beginning of 2015 due to threats -- mostly from gangs, but in some cases from authorities. The numbers do not include the thousands who have fled the country, reports the Associated Press.
  • Former Peruvian spy chief Vladimir Montesinos was sentenced to 22 years in jail for the forced disappearance of a professor and two students in 1993, reports the BBC.
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet promised to send a bill legalizing gay marriage in the first half of next year. She spoke at an LGBT rights panel at the U.N. last week, and promised that the bill "will also consider governmental support for several measures destined to strengthen the rights of the LGBT community, including reforms to anti-discrimination laws," reports Reuters.
  • Speaking at a Woodrow Wilson Institute event last week, Bachelet said women in politics are held to a higher standard, reports People's World. She also said former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment was easier because she was a woman, according to Brazil 247
  • Panama formally requested the U.S. extradite former President Ricardo Martinelli in connection to illegal alleged phone taps of dozens of business, opposition and labor leaders, reports the Associated Press.

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