Thursday, January 12, 2017

Venezuelan intelligence detains opposition activist (Jan. 12, 2017)

Venezuelan intelligence officials detained an opposition party activist yesterday and accused him of planning violence. Gilber Caro, a substitute legislator for the hardline Popular Will party, was arrested on yesterday at a roadway toll in Miranda state, reports Reuters. His party said weapons were planted in his vehicle to frame him. The arrest announcement was made by newly appointed Vice President Tarek El Aissami who heads a newly created "anti-coup" unit. The group is targeting what it calls opposition attempts to destabilize the government, reports the Associated Press

Opposition leaders have characterized the arrest as a "kidnapping," reports Efecto Cocuyo. Popular Will representatives say two more party activists were detained in a similar fashion recent months, and accused the government of violating parliamentary immunity, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The move is counter to the recent freeing of several detained opposition activists, a key demand in the Vatican mediated dialogue process.

The opposition has demanded the release of more than 100 political prisoners in order to sit down at the negotiating table. The next meeting was scheduled for tomorrow, and the opposition coalition is divided over whether to attend, while other advocate returning to street protests against the unpopular administration. (See Tuesday's post.)

It's not clear whether the two sides will meet tomorrow as planned, but the list of unmet conditions on both sides is long, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

The Supreme Court continues to consider the National Assembly in contempt, Efecto Cocuyo explains

News Briefs
  • A prominent Cuban dissident, Oscar Elías Biscet, was detained yesterday by state forces, and released later in the afternoon with a warning about his activities, reports the Miami Herald.  
  • Odebrecht revelations are rocking Peru. Authorities said yesterday that inflated contracts from the Brazilian construction giant cost the country at least $283 million. Odebrecht was involved in in 23 public works projects since 1998 worth at least $16.9 billion. Of the 16 audited so far, potential irregularities, including unjustified cost overruns and forgiveness of penalties for contractual breaches account for the $283 million, reports the Associated Press. President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski called for a "deep investigation" into Odebrecht's illicit activities in Peru. But now a top Justice Ministry attorney said she would like to take testimony from the president, who as prime minister in signed a law passed by Congress permitting Odebrecht to participate in an auction to build two highways despite a ban on it bidding for government contracts at the time because it was facing legal action for irregularities in another project. She also aims to take testimony from former presidents Alejandro Toledo, Alan Garcia and Ollanta Humala. In a plea deal with U.S., Swiss and Brazilian authorities last month, Odebrecht admitted to paying $29 million in bribes to Peruvian officials. The company has already agreed to pay back the country an initial $8.9 million for the damages it caused.
  • The impact of Odebrecht's revelations under the plea deal will impact politicians across the region. For example the head of Argentina's Federal Intelligence Agency apparently received $600,000 from an Odebrecht operator in 2013, reports La Nación. And, in Guatemala the company admitted to paying out $18 million in bribes, reports Nómada.
  • A Guatemalan judge reported a Supreme Court magistrate to the special prosecutor against impunity for allegedly intervening improperly in a corruption case involving her son, reports the Associated Press. Yesterday Attorney General Thelma Aldana and the head of the commission against impunity, Ivan Velasquez, said they had asked the Supreme Court to strip Justice Blanca Stalling of her immunity. Another judge, Giovanni Orellana was also denounced. The case has extensive evidence, including documents and recording, showing how the justice system has been corrupted over the past few years, according to Nómada. Stalling denies exerting undue influence. Her son is among 20 business people accused of bribing government officials for public health contracts. A piece in Plaza Pública reviews several allegations of misconduct against Stalling and family members -- her sister-in-law, also a judge, has been questioned for releasing six suspects in the massive La Línea fraud case.
  • In the ongoing fight to defend the advances of Guatemala's fight against entrenched corruption, the under the radar election of the Colegio de Abogados this month is an important battle, argues Gabriel Woltke in Nómada.
  • The first two formal deadlines of the peace accord with the FARC cannot be met, said the head of the U.N. mission in Colombia yesterday. The Jan. 1 deadline for FARC fighters to concentrate in demobilization areas wasn't met due to logistical problems, and a Jan. 30 for the destruction of unstable ammunition spread in caches also won't be met, reports the Associated Press. However Jean Arnault told the Security Council that he hopes the FARC will begin laying down arms in the next few weeks, and that all parties have expressed their commitment to meeting "the original goal of the comprehensive laydown of weapons by early June." At least 40 new laws will have to be passed through a Congressional fast-track mechanism before June in order to implement the agreement, explains la Silla Vacía.
  • Now that FARC fighters are on their way to concentration zones, formerly cut off areas of Colombia are back on the vacation grid for the first time in decades, reports la Silla Vacía.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he'd pick former national police chief and peace negotiator General Oscar Naranjo to replace his VP, who is expected to step down to pursue a presidential bid, reports Reuters.
  • Jailed Argentine social activist Milagro Sala was condemned in two separate cases in Jujuy in late December. One sentence, which disables her from occupying roles in civil associations for three years, lacks a reasonable legal basis and constitutes an attack on the right to protest, explain human rights lawyers in Página 12.
  • Provincial police in Argentina's Chubut province fired on an indigenous group of protesters in a land dispute, wounding two, reports Página 12.
  • Central American's fleeing gang warfare are increasingly turning to Mexico as an asylum destination, rather than just a transit zone towards the U.S., reports Reuters.

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