Friday, September 2, 2016

Opposition takes Caracas (Sept. 2, 2016)

Thousands of Venezuelans gathered on the streets of Caracas yesterday to demand authorities permit a recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro this year. The demonstration, dubbed "the taking of Caracas," was the largest this year. Protesters filled up more than 10 miles of eastern Caracas, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Miami Herald said there were hundreds of thousands of protesters.

The buildup this week was tense: the government detained a few opposition leaders, accusing them of planning violence, and deported several international journalists planning to cover the protests. (See Tuesday's post and Wednesday's briefs.) 

Ahead of the protest, police set up roadblocks to enter the capital and interrogated people seeking to enter about their motives, reports the New York Times. The lines at the city's main highway entrances stretched for miles, and several subway stations were closed, notes the WSJ. Caracas Chronicles has images of people entering the city on foot.

The image was one of a national strike, with shops and businesses closed to allow their employees to participate, according to the Miami Herald.

But citizens responded peacefully to the government's hardball, reports Efecto Cocuyo. That in and of itself is important news, emphasized the opponent oriented Caracas Chronicles.

Opposition leaders promised to maintain an agenda of demonstrations in coming weeks. Later in the evening some neighborhoods responded to the MUD coalition's call for a "cacerolazo" -- a protest of banging pots and pans, reports Efecto Cocuyo separately.

Though the protests were organized to pressure authorities to permit the vote to occur this year -- which would trigger an election to select Maduro's replacement if he is ousted -- the discontent participants expressed surpassed political frustrations, and included lack of food supplies, work, rampant violence and lack of state services, reports the New York Times.

An already difficult situation has become steadily worst throughout the year: electricity shortages have forced the government to pare down the work week, and food shortages mean supplies are transported under armed guard, reports the NYTimes.

WOLA put out a statement ahead of the protests, saying the government "appears to have chosen to pave the way for deeper confrontation by intimidating and harassing opposition figures ... At a time when the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans want solutions, this hostility is both unjust and counterproductive.”

But the government's stance might have drummed up more support for the opposition cause said several analysts, including political analyst Dimitris Pantoulas in the Associated Press

Caracas Chronicles has a piece a by Francisco Toro similarly argues that "by raising the stakes ahead of the protests, by going all out to intimidate and threaten protesters, the government amplified the volume of the signal their participation sent. Marching in Caracas today was the polar opposite of 'cheap talk.'"

Speaking to a far smaller crowd, Maduro told supporters that opponents are planning a coup, similar to the one that briefly toppled his predecessor Hugo Chávez in 2002. Authorities arrested people planning to fire on crowds dressed in national guard uniforms, he said.

​Photo Credit: @luifergarcia (Efecto Cocuyo)

News Briefs
  • The timing of the Colombian vote on the peace deal, combined with the U.S.'s difficult national budget approval system, could jeopardize the U.S. Peace Colombia plan. U.S. President Barak Obama's pledge to send $450 million in aid for implementing the peace accords could be left for the next administration to address, reports McClatchy.
  • A five month long, punishing doctors' strike in Haiti ended after the government agreed earlier in the week to satisfy pay demands and improve conditions, reports the Associated Press.
  • The U.N. may have admitted responsibility for Haiti's cholera epidemic, but medical teams on the ground are more concerned over lack of funding, reports the AFP.
  • In the muddled aftermath of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to Mexico, the Mexican government reiterated that the country will not pay for the border wall that features prominently in the candidate's campaign, reports Reuters. The visit was widely seen as a political defeat for President Enrique Peña Nieto, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Bolivia's government moved to strengthen controls over the country's mining cooperatives after violent strikers last week beat a high-level government official to death, reports the Wall Street Journal. The presidential cabinet approved five emergency decrees regulating their operations, including forcing them to comply with labor regulations, including the right of workers to form unions, and report their annual earnings to authorities, reports the Wall Street Journal. The moves also outlaw the use of dynamite in protests, a common practice. 
  • New York Times op-ed by Juliana Barbassa notes the relatively muted reaction to Dilma Rousseff's impeachment this week -- the capstone on a decade of Worker's Party rule, but, more broadly another step in the long and exhausting unraveling of "a period of growth, political stability and optimism during which working-class Brazilians had felt truly represented in power and had dared to expect more for themselves, their families and their country," she writes. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Lingering anger over the impeachment however could affect President Michel Temer's ability to get support for measures aimed at reviving the country's economy, reports the Wall Street Journal. Wednesday night thousands of Rousseff supporters took to the streets protesting her impeachment, and Venezuela and Bolivia recalled their ambassadors.  
  • Rousseff's ousting based on relatively minor charges, in the context of widespread and high-level corruption in the country's political class, seems to be the result of "a battle being waged by Brazilian political and economic elites, particularly by members of the political opposition who have come under investigation," according to InSight Crime.
  • Earlier this week Paraguay identified remains of disappeared prisoners of the country's 1954-1989 Stroessner dictatorship, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Former Guantanamo Bay detainee Abu Wa'el Dhiab said he's planning a hunger strike to demand he be allowed to leave Uruguay, where he was resettled. Dhiab caused a kerfuffle earlier this year when he left Uruguay for weeks and resurfaced in Caracas. He is seeking to reunite with his family in Turkey or elsewhere, reports the Associated Press.
  • The IMF praised Argentina's revamped statistics agency and saying its revised data meets international standards. But it will wait for a November report before making a final decision to lift its censure on Argentina, reports Bloomberg.

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