Friday, March 31, 2017

Venezuelan court dissolves legislature (March 31, 2017)

Venezuela's Supreme Court seized legislative power on Wednesday night, in a ruling which effectively dissolved the National Assembly. The strongest move yet in the country's slide towards dictatorship, according to the New York Times. It amounts to a the effective dissolution of the legislature, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Supreme Court determined that the National Assembly was in contempt of court for having sworn in three lawmakers accused of electoral fraud. It's been an ongoing issue for the past year, since 2015 elections gave a legislative majority to the opposition. And the court has actually found the AN in contempt several times. Efecto Cocuyo has an analysis of the (rather confusing) legal decision itself, which was tacked onto a decision allowing the government to create private-public oil companies.

Some analysts are saying the decision is ultimately aimed at freeing President Nicolás Maduro to enact economic measures, including take on debt and enact financial policies, without National Assembly approval, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said the move was a "self-inflicted coup," a term which evokes Alberto Fujimori's dissolution of Peru's congress in 1992. He called for an emergency meeting of the OAS permanent council, reports the Miami Herald. Opposition leaders in Venezuela also referred to a coup and called on citizens to protest tomorrow. 

In a speech yesterday National Assembly President Julio Borges appealed to the armed forces several times, reports Efecto Cocuyo, separately.

The Supreme Court decision is also a challenge to regional diplomacy, after an OAS meeting earlier this week to analyzed how to encourage Venezuela to strengthen its increasingly weak democracy. On Tuesday many OAS member states urged Venezuela to free political prisoners and set a date for regional elections. (See Wednesday's post and yesterday's briefs.)

Peru recalled its ambassador to Caracas and the U.S. condemned the move as an attempt to “usurp the powers” of the national assembly, reports the Guardian.

Before the OAS meeting, the Supreme Court stripped congressmen of immunity and asked the government to prosecute lawmakers who have backed anti-Maduro initiatives for treason in closed courts, reports the WSJ.

News Briefs
  • A renovation process for Venezuelan political parties, organized by the oft-criticized national electoral commission -- has been so difficult that only four of 24 parties convoked so far has succeeded in gathering enough signatures to remain legally recognized, according to the Observatorio Electoral Venezolano. The process has been criticized as political, and appears aimed at restricting political pluralism, according to the OEV.
  • "Venezuela’s violent crime epidemic appears to be escalating into a full-blown humanitarian crisis," argue Juan Carlos Garzón and Robert Muggah in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. But it's hard to be precise, because of the long-standing lack of reliable statistics in Venezuela, which makes formulating adequate public policy next to impossible. Attempts to gather oblique data from citizen perceptions point to a sky-high murder rate. Eighty percent of respondents are “very” or “partly” afraid of being murdered in the coming year. And 6 out of 10 Venezuelans reported at least one murder in their neighborhood over the previous 12 months -- nearly double the rate respondents in El Salvador and Honduras reported.
  • Eduardo Cunha -- the conservative political leader who led the push against former President Dilma Rousseff from Brazil's lower chamber of Congress -- was sentenced to more than 15 years in jail, reports the New York Times. He was found guilty by Judge Sergio Moro of taking about $1.5 million in bribes from Petrobras, laundering the money, and hiding it in secret bank accounts in Switzerland, reports the Wall Street Journal. Cunha resigned as speaker of the house last July, and was expelled by Congress in September. He's the highest ranking politician yet to be convicted in the Operation Car Wash probe.
  • The Inter-American Court of Human Rights held two closed door sessions in Guatemala last week -- in which it reviewed the implementation of 14 sentences it handed down between 1998 and 2012 against the state of Guatemala in grave human rights cases related to the internal armed conflict and another to review the status of reparations mandated by the court in the Las Dos Erres massacre case. It also conducted an in situ visit to Rabinal, Baja Verapaz to review the status of symbolic reparations it mandated for the victims of the Rio Negro and the Plan de Sánchez massacres, reports Jo-Marie Burt in the International Justice Monitor. "The eight human rights and victims’ organizations that requested the private session highlighted the continued failure of the state to carry out its obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible in the majority of the 14 cases, as well as its failure to ensure victims’ access to justice." In addition, the judiciary has permitted malicious litigation and in some cases handed down rulings that contribute to impunity.
  • Over twenty years after the massacre of 1,000 civilians put El Mozote on the map, the El Salvadoran locality remains a ghost town, writes Sarah Maslin in The Nation. The community remains riven by divisions, and an example of how the country's civil war has left scars that continue to polarize today. She reviews the recent steps in exhuming victims of the massacre, the search for justice, and lack of psychological support for victims' families. "People no longer talk about El Salvador as a model for truth and reconciliation. Political polarization has repeatedly brought the country to the brink of fiscal crisis—it appears the two sides simply transferred their conflict to the political arena—while gang violence has once again made El Salvador one of the most dangerous countries in the world. At the El Mozote village fair in January 2015, three alleged gang members beat a 22-year-old to death with a rock. He was the first of several gang victims buried that spring."
  • Dean Hinton, who denounced human rights violations in El Salvador as U.S. ambassador there in the 1980s, died earlier this week. Hinton faced off against the Reagan administration, and accused Salvadoran soldiers of being responsible for unexplained killings, reports the New York Times.
  • Women make up around a third of the now demobilizing FARC in Colombia. Rather, as one colorfully puts it, they're "mobilizing politically." And a group of former FARC fighting women seek to strengthen women's rights in rural Colombia, arguing that female members of the guerrilla group enjoy greater recognition and security than those in Colombian society, write Kiran Stallone and Julia Zulver in the Guardian.
  • High level U.S. officials were aware almost immediately that U.N. forces likely played a role in the cholera outbreak that killed more than 10,000 people in Haiti since 2010, according to e-mails revealed by Slate
  • Defending Chile's capital from climate change will require reducing inequality, securing water supplies and strengthening disaster prevention. But it will also require good governance, Claudio Orrego, governor of the Santiago metropolitan region told Reuters

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