Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Venezuela's takeover (Oct. 26, 2016)

Venezuela's opposition has called for massive street protests today in response to the government's indefinite postponement of a recall referendum effort, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post, and Monday's.) 

The "Takeover of Venezuela" as organizers are calling it. Already today there were reports of roadblocks by security forces delaying entrance into Caracas, and of shuttered businesses, reports Reuters

In the western part of the country protesters clashed with security forces for a second day. And Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino spoke dressed in camouflaged fatigues and surrounded by the top military command urging dialogue but calling on the opposition to respect the constitution, reports the Associated Press.

He also rejected the opposition's characterization that Maduro has staged a coup, reports EFE. As a "strictly professional" institution, the military remains "unconditionally loyal" to the head of state and commander in chief, Padrino said.

Opposition legislators in Venezuela started proceedings yesterday to put President Nicolás Maduro on political trial. They argue that Maduro has forsaken his duties as president by causing the deepest recession in the country’s modern history, reports the Wall Street Journal. The move is largely symbolic, as the National Assembly has been declared null by the Supreme Court. And the National Assembly doesn't have the power to impeach the president in Venezuela.

Maduro, speaking at a rally Tuesday, accused opposition lawmakers of behaving like members of a "circus" and trying to carry out a "parliamentary coup," reports the Associated Press.

Note: Yesterday's post mentioned a piece by Mark Weisbrot in Truthout and incorrectly characterized the author as "defending Chavista policies through 2014." While the piece does say that the "Bolivarian experiment did pretty well until 2014," the author notes that the central problem of multiple foreign exchange rates began well before that, in 2012. And the focus of the piece is mostly on that issue and it's negative impact on the Venezuelan economy, as well as how that might be rectified moving forward.

News Briefs
  • U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, said the organization's refusal to accept responsibility for Haiti's cholera epidemic is a "disgrace." In a scathing report delivered yesterday to the general assembly, he said that flawed and unfounded legal advice provided by the UN lawyers was preventing it from accepting responsibility for the outbreak, reports the Guardian. He linked the U.N.'s legal stance to U.S. pressure, reports ReutersHe said the United States seemed to believe that the United Nations "must follow American legal practice, which generally takes the view that legal responsibility should never be accepted when it can possibly be avoided because one never knows the consequences for subsequent litigation."
  • The U.S. State Department and certain members of Congress will likely face-off over more than $50 million in aid for Honduras, reports the Los Angeles Times. Approval of the aid package, part of the Obama administration's $750-million aid package for Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle, hinged on the countries demonstrating improvement on human rights issues. The State Department has certified Honduras' commitment. But several members of Congress, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, point to the country's dismal human rights record over the past year -- including the deaths of several prominent environmental activists.
  • An Oxfam report on the dangers human rights activists increasingly face in Latin America hits on several broad -- timely -- topics. Homicides against defenders are increasing. The murder of Berta Cáceres in Honduras is emblematic, but there have been dozens of cases in the region so far this year. Oxfam "believes that this situation is linked to an economic model that creates extreme inequality and undermines people’s fundamental rights. Other key factors include the cooptation of state institutions by powerful groups and the scant attention paid by governments to fulfilling their obligations to respect, protect and promote human rights." But the report also the financial crisis faced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court for Human Rights (see Monday's briefs). "Oxfam draws attention to three significant factors in order to understand the nature and scope of this rising tide of violence in the region: first, violence experienced specifically by female human rights defenders due to the prevalence of a patriarchal culture; second, the link between the expansion of extractive activities and projects and the increase in human rights violations in these areas; and third, the cooptation of state institutions in favour of de facto power which is exercised outside of formal channels (i.e. which does not necessarily coincide with the state apparatus)."
  • On the subject of the patriarchy, the Conversation has Mexican Ariadna Estévez's exploration on the subject of femicide in Latin America, looking at the history of the term, the incredibly high female body count in Mexico and the link between physical violence against women and the phenomenon of #MiPrimerAcoso. The Brazilian initiative that encouraged women to share stories of their first harassment experience, spread around the region and shows how "this type of abuse is so systematic and widespread that women have learnt to live with it. They, we, see it as normal."
  • Indigenous groups in Colombia are dismayed by the expansion of the Cerrajón coal mine, an operation they say is jeopardizing their health, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazilian voters are fed up with traditional politicians -- and expressing their anger at the ballot box. The ruling PMDB has little chance of gains in the upcoming final round of municipal elections this week, and the PT already lost heavily in the first round of voting this month, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Zika has left a puzzling path of damage in its spread across the Americas since last year. About 650,000 people have been infected in the region in the past nine months since it was declared a global health emergency. But 75 percent of Zika related fetal malformation has been concentrated in Brazil. Scientists believe this could indicate a secondary causal factor, reports the Washington Post. In the meantime, summer is coming in the southern hemisphere, and getting a mosquito net installed in Buenos Aires seems to require several weeks of waiting already.
  • Argentina's government is on a borrowing bonanza -- bringing a flood of foreign currency in to boost the economy, but raising questions over a high level of debt, reports the Financial Times. Investors are loving it, but say fiscal austerity will need to be implemented after next year's midterm elections if it's to be sustainable.
  • The Roman Catholic Church will release archives from Argentina's dictatorship era, making digitized documents available to victims and their relatives, reports the Associated Press. The decision has been taken at the request of Pope Francis "in the service of truth, justice and peace," reports the BBC.
  • Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is under constant surveillance by masked guards while in jail, a situation that is impacting his mental health, said his girlfriend to the Mexican National Human Rights Council, reports the BBC.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is increasingly reviled by his electorate. In a plea for positive thinking and in defense of his government, he said “I don’t think presidents get up, nor have they got up thinking, and forgive me for saying it, how to screw Mexico,” using the word “joder”, a vulgar term with a variety of colloquial uses across the Spanish-speaking world, reports Reuters.

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