Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tensions in Venezuela ebb, but quickly heat up again (Nov. 2, 2016)

There have been ups and downs in a temporary cooling off of tensions between Venezuela's government and opposition parties this morning.

Yesterday, Venezuela's opposition called off a protest planned for tomorrow. Opposition leaders say they were heeding Vatican calls to defuse tensions, and the announcement came after U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon met with representatives from both sides, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's post.)

The march to Miraflores presidential palace tomorrow was a potential flashpoint, and many commentators feared it would spur violence. Opposition forces have been barred from the area since a protest there in 2002 ended in 19 deaths and a brief coup against then President Hugo Chávez. (See Monday's post.)

Instead of demanding an immediate recall referendum, the opposition is now proposing general elections be held early, according to the WSJ. The next general elections are scheduled for late 2018.

In another nod to dialing back rhetoric, opposition politicians are delaying a political trial of Maduro in Congress until after the next meeting with the government, scheduled for next week. However the opposition is wary of the negotiations being used as a delaying tactic, reports the Associated Press.

Earlier this week the government released four political prisoners, though the opposition demands the release of about a 100 jailed activists, reports Reuters. The demands must be met quickly, say opposition leaders.

But tensions rose again, reports the BBC, after Maduro called an opposition politician a criminal for wanting to maintain tomorrow's protest. 

Yesterday, in a televised broadcast Maduro praised start of a dialogue, but then called the opposition Popular Will party terrorists for refusing to join the proceedings. Popular Will founder Leopoldo López is one of the most prominent jailed opposition leaders.

MUD opposition coalition executive secretary Jesús "Chuo" Torrealba said the statements were contrary to the dialogue efforts being carried out, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

New York Times Español has the full version of an op-ed published earlier this week by David Smilde. The text includes criticisms of the opposition's "weak commitment to electoral democracy." (See Monday's post.)

"Not only did they orchestrate a coup in 2002, they claimed fraud in the 2004 recall referendum and abstained from participating in the 2005 legislative elections when it became clear they would lose them. With few exceptions, they did not involve the population, nor did they hear their problems, nor present concrete alternatives to chavista policies."

Nonetheless, Smilde notes on his Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog that "the 800 lb gorilla in Venezuela right now is the government. It has blatantly violated the rules of the game. The opposition’s coordination failures pail in comparison."

Venezuelan authorities denied a Washington Post correspondent entry to the country on Monday, the latest in a series of international journalists prevented from covering opposition protests.

Venezuela aside
  • Jury selection is set to happen today in a U.S. trial against Maduro's wife's nephews, who are accused of conspiring to smuggle large amounts of cocaine, reports Reuters. The funds would have been used to fund political campaigns last year, according to the prosecution, though both men have pleaded not guilty.
News Briefs
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is set to name a close ally to the new post of independent prosecutor. Critics say that the appointment undermines the corruption-targeting reform to the attorney general's post, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Senate confirmed Raúl Cervantes as attorney general, but a legal overhaul that will likely be approved next year would automatically make him the first independent prosecutor, an appointment that cannot be revoked by the president. Cervantes would be in office through 2026, potentially shielding Peña Nieto long after he leaves power in a couple of years. A recent WOLA analysis emphasizes the impact of the new post in the "investigations of cases of disappearances, torture, crimes against migrants, organized crime, and citizen trust to denounce crimes and in the results of penal investigations." A key point emphasized by WOLA is the need to appoint a suitable candidate ...
  • A group of Mexican politicians are pushing for shows focused on on drug cartels be shown only after midnight, to shield youths from the gratuitous violence and lavish lifestyles portrayed, reports the Guardian. A joint statement by the presidents of the radio, TV and cinema commissions of the senate and chamber of deputies accused "narconovelas" of weakening Mexico’s social fabric "by promoting false values and aggressive social behaviour, which provides regrettable feedback to organized crime."
  • A teenage boy was killed in a clash between Haitian protesters demanding aid and police, reports the Associated Press. It's the second death in a week occurring as desperate groups demand better distribution of relief supplies after a devastating tropical storm.
  • Nicaragua's first lady, Rosario Murillo, will most likely be elected vice president in this weekends elections, in which her husband, Daniel Ortega, is predicted to win a third reelection. Her rise has critics accusing the couple of unfairly clinging to power in a country with an uncomfortable history with dynasties. But over the past decade she has played an increasingly central role in Ortega's administration, and she is credited for implementing widely appreciated social programs, reports the Associated Press.
  • WOLA analysis by Geoff Thale and Geoff Ramsey and Maureen Meyer argues that U.S. perspectives on Nicaragua continue to be tainted by Cold War biases. They point to real social advances -- especially poverty reduction -- that form the basis for Ortega's continuing popularity in Nicaragua. The country has also had more success than its neighbors in controlling crime and violence. Nonetheless, they note an "alarming pattern" of "gradual erosion of democratic institutions." The bulk of the report focuses on these negative aspects of the administration, and the potential for the U.S. and international pressure to exacerbate or help revert the worrisome trend.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos continues to assure the press that "substantial progress" is being made on a new peace deal with the FARC, reports Reuters.
  • Demobilized FARC fighters, in a sort of limbo since Colombian's rejected the peace pact last month, are mobilizing peace vigils, emphasizing their commitment to an accord, reports La Silla Vacía.
  • The Miami Herald has a report on Colombia's "Ciudad de Mujeres," a community run by women fleeing the violence of the country's long-running conflict.
  • Salvadoran prosecutors raided businesses related to former President Antonio Saca in relation to corruption charges against him, reports the Associated Press. (See Monday's briefs.) The attorney general's office is investigating whether $246 million were funneled from state coffers into the bank accounts of close collaborators, reports El Faro, which notes that the movements occurred without any state organisms noticing and possibly occurred with their collusion.
  • Interesting review of various factors holding up economic reform in Cuba in the Conversation. Bert Hoffman notes that backtracking on certain reforms is due to a combination of Venezuela's reduction in oil shipments to Cuba, fear of losing control in the context of rapprochement with the U.S. and the need to address the distorting effects of the dual currencies in the economy. Though there has been a strong reform strategy in recent years, it has been undermined by the existence of two disparate currencies -- one local and the other tied to the dollar. "Since Cubans need to buy more and more everyday items – from cooking oil to shampoo – in the convertible currency, the chasm with their peso salaries widens. This is not only damaging the economy but also tearing apart the island’s social fabric," he writes.

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