Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Venezuela's political schism heating up again (Dec. 14, 2016)

Tensions between Venezuela's government and the opposition seem to be heating up even further, after a brief pause for Vatican mediated dialogue.

Yesterday MUD opposition coalition's legislators made a declaration ruling that the socialist president bore "political responsibility" for the crisis and urged state attorneys to investigate him with a view to prosecution, reports Reuters. The move had been suspended as a gesture of goodwill towards negotiations between the opposition and the government last month, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Government supporters argue that the legislative move itself is not supported constitutionally.

And the Supreme Court ratified two members of the national electoral council, who were supposed to have been replaced by National Assembly candidates, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Yesterday the government released four jailed activists, but opposition leaders say the gesture is insufficient and demand the release of 100 people they say are political prisoners, reports Reuters.

In Latin America Goes Global Christopher Sabatini slams the dialogue efforts, comparing the opposition to a battered wife seeking mediation with an abusive husband. "While necessary to cool the tensions, what the Vatican/UNASUR and their enablers in the U.S. State Department did was effectively get the opposition to give up their one remaining democratic channel and a democratic right to get no rights restored in return."

News Briefs
  • Venezuelans rushed to exchange 100 bolivar notes at banks yesterday, ahead of its withdrawal from circulation today, repots the Wall Street Journal. (See Monday's post.) The measure, ostensibly aimed at curtailing transnational gangs, has paralyzed the county. People have been standing in long lines at banks to deposit stacks of the about-to-be obsolete bills, worth about 3 U.S. cents on the black market. And in remote areas of the country businesses have opted to close rather than accept the bills in these days. The accumulation of bills across the border in Colombia speaks to the hoards of Venezuelan's crossing to buy basic goods they can't obtain at home, explain experts.
  • In the meantime, Venezuela has officially crossed the hyperinflation threshold, reports the Miami Herald. Though the term is often tossed around, it technically indicates that monthly inflation has passed fifty percent for over 30 consecutive days, and is quite rare. Prices double in about 18 days in Venezuela, which is actually a "mild" case of hyperinflation, according to experts.
  • Washington Post piece that got left out of yesterday's post on China's bid for closer economic relations with Latin America minimizes the potential impact. Latin Americans are mostly interested in China's economic opportunities but don't seek deeper cultural or political ties, writes Luis Schenoni. However, there is some evidence that as developing countries become more dependent on Chinese trade, they side with the country in multilateral organization votes on human rights and other issues.
  • Trump's nominee for U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has accrued a formidable amount of experience dealing with international governments as Exxon Mobil chief executive. Of course, his agenda as head of U.S.'s largest oil company has often clashed with that of the country, reports the New York Times. In Latin America, the standout is Venezuela -- where the Chávez administration expropriated the company's assets in 2007 after Exxon refused to cooperate with government demands for renegotiation.
  • The outgoing U.S. administration hopes to convince the incoming one to maintain the Cuba engagement policy, reports Reuters. Security advisor Ben Rhodes said the administration has sought to make the policy "irreversible," and that a rollback, such as the one Trump has threatened, "would be very damaging."
  • Cuban-American business leaders supporting the engagement policy were divided by a U.S. government request to work directly with Cuban state-run enterprises, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The union between Venezuela and Cuba -- based on the exchange of Venezuelan oil for Cuban doctors -- is fraying Venezuelan oil exports fall, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The recently approved peace accord in Colombia aims to end five centuries of armed conflict in the country -- but it also comprehensively seeks to address root social and economic causes behind the fighting, writes United States special envoy to the Colombian peace process Bernard Aronson in a New York Times op-ed. "More than in any previous conflict negotiation, Colombia put victims at the center of the process," he writes, arguing that the U.S. interests in the region would be best served by continuing to support the peace process by approving $450 million in funding for Obama's "Paz Colombia" plan.
  • Colombia's constitutional court green-lighted a legislative fast-track for peace accord related reforms, giving the process a critical piece of support, reports La Silla Vacía. The judges determined that Colombia’s elected lawmakers possess the requisite “democratic legitimacy” to approve the deal without the need for a new referendum. The ruling clears the way for the FARC to officially start demobilization and laying down of weapons, explains the Washington Post. Had the court ruled otherwise, the reforms would have had to take a slower route through Congress, a risky proposition for a fragile cease-fire, according to President Juan Manuel Santos.
  • Yet the demobilization effort is already delayed, reports La Silla Vacía, thanks to logistical issues that also relate to how the former fighters will reorganize after laying down arms.
  • In the meantime, negotiations with the second largest guerrilla force in Colombia, the ELN, will likely be hindered by the group's increasing demobilization rate, which suggests the leadership is incapable of controlling troops, reports InSight Crime.
  • Legislation aimed at strengthening the United States’ engagement with the Caribbean region unanimously passed the U.S. Senate, reports the Miami Herald. The bill, sent to Obama for approval, would create a multi-year strategy on issues of concern to the region such as security, energy, diplomacy and increased access to educational opportunities.
  • Trump Hotels announced it will remove its name from a Rio de Janeiro luxury hotel after prosecutors announced a criminal investigation into investments in the property, reports the Washington Post. The decision comes after president-elect Trump tweeted that his sons, who will manage the company's overseas investments while he is in office, wouldn't launch new deals in that term.
  • Demonstrators in cities around Brazil protested yesterday after the senate passed a 20 year government spending freeze. Dozens were arrested in Brasilia and in São Paulo they attacked the iconic Federation of Industries headquarters, reports the New York Times. The Temer administration has defended its austerity measures as critical to lifting the national economy out of a deep recession. Nonetheless various senators from his coalition refrained from voting, notes the NYT. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Former Odebrecht SA chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht told prosecutors that that Brazilian President Michel Temer asked for a $3 million political contribution from the company, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico's Senate overwhelmingly approved a medical marijuana bill yesterday, reports Reuters. The measure, which now passes to the lower chamber, would permit use of products with both CBD and THC chemical components, and would also allow for production of marijuana for scientific and medicinal purposes. The initiative was proposed by President Enrique Peña Nieto in April of this year, but postponed by senators in July due to lack of consensus, reports Animal Político. Senators removed a measure in the bill that would have increased the amount of cannabis considered for personal use, and legislators in favor of legalizing recreational use say this is only a first step.
  • A vigilante group in the Guerrero state town of Totolapan kidnapped a local gang boss' mother, along with two dozen suspected gang members. They demand the release of several inhabitants of the town who were kidnapped by the "Tequileros" last week, reports the Associated Press.
  • Feminist activists in Peru are fighting against a government decision to shelve claims by thousands of women who say they were forcibly sterilized in a mid-90's program promoted by then-President Alberto Fujimori. Last week the government's public prosecutor closed its investigation into complaints by 77 women, while another investigation into more than 2,000 other women was closed this past summer, reports Reuters.
  • A Médecins Sans Frontières obstetrical hospital in Haiti can be the difference between life or death in the country with the region's worst rates of death in childbirth and neonatal mortality, reports the Financial Times in a holiday appeal piece.
  • Archeologists are challenging long-held beliefs that human society in the pre-colonial Amazon was limited to small nomadic tribes. Discoveries including giant land carvings, remains of fortified settlements and even complex road networks have some experts hypothesizing larger, more complex cultures, reports the New York Times.
  • The Guardian has an in-depth piece on "Latin America's Schindler," Roberto Kozak who saved thousands from General Augusto Pinochet's secret police.

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