Thursday, April 20, 2017

Three killed in Venezuela's "mother of all protests" (April 20, 2017)

Three people were killed in yesterday's massive anti-government protests in Venezuela. Tens of thousands of people marched across the country and battled onslaughts of tear gas in Caracas, reports the Associated Press. Despite government efforts to stop people from gathering , organizers claim more than a million people demonstrated around the country, reports the Miami Herald

At nightfall youths retaliated against riot police with molotov cocktails thrown from makeshift barricades. (Pictures from the clashes.)

Two protesters and a member of the national guard. A 17-year-old boy was shot in the head in Caracas, and a woman was killed in gunfire in Tachira. The opposition said they were killed by pro-government armed groups, reports Reuters. The government said a National Guardsman was killed by a sniper in Miranda.

Provea said 400 people were arrested.

Yesterday's clashes bring the total deaths over the past three weeks to seven, reports the Guardian. Violent protests in 2014 led to over 40 deaths.

The demonstrations show that a sustained anti-Maduro movement might be forming on the streets, according to the New York Times. The opposition called for more protests today.

The latest round of protests was spurred by an attempt to vacate the opposition-led National Assembly's powers, and opposition leaders now demand the government set election dates, free political prisoners and permit legislators to write laws. These goals are more achievable than previous attempts to topple the government, the Inter-American Dialgoue's Michael Shifter told the NYT.

Yet the focus on political issues is a weakness of the opposition, which has failed to find support among the country's poor, even as hunger is decimating Maduro support among traditional loyalist sectors. The protests are protagonized by the middle class, and until the slums rise up, Maduro is not likely to fall, according to the Wall Street Journal

But they might join a call for elections, according to the NYT. This round of protests could be different, argued a New York Times editorial last week, "if Venezuela’s fractious opposition groups agree on a list of concrete objectives and lay out a clear strategy to start addressing the country’s problems with help from the international community. Attempts to build such a consensus on issues like the release of political prisoners, a time frame for elections that have been indefinitely postponed and the distribution of humanitarian aid have failed in the past. But getting concessions from Mr. Maduro may be feasible now that a growing number of regional governments are taking a harder line against the Venezuelan government."
"This is a time of deep economic and political crisis, and it’s no surprise that Venezuelans are choosing to exercise their constitutional right to protest. The vast majority of Venezuelans want to see a democratic path out of economic hardship and political hostility, and are pushing for the establishment of an electoral calendar," said WOLA Senior Fellow David Smilde, yesterday. The organization called on the government to respect non-violent protest.

Maduro -- who characterized the demonstrations as a coup attempt -- said yesterday he welcomes the opportunity to trounce the opposition electorally, but did not give specifics about when that might occur. Regional governorship elections were postponed last year, and general elections are constitutionally mandated for 2018.

Yesterday he appeared on state television dancing and laughing with state officials, reports the Wall Street Journal. "Again, they came out, to break laws, to burn, to carry out violent acts,” he said. “We’re still here governing, governing."

In a sign of potentially growing internal divisions, attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, issued a statement Wednesday urging armed forces to use restraint and to guarantee marchers the right to peaceful protest, reports the Los Angeles Times. Ortega Díaz took the unusual position of publicly criticizing the government a few weeks ago when the Supreme Court attempted to take over the power to approve laws, a determination which it rapidly backtracked on. (See April 3's post.)

Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro condemned the Venezuelan government’s disregard for democracy and human rights yesterday, reports the Miami Herald.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez says foreigners should avoid any interference that could encourage violent extremism, including a coup, reports the Associated Press.

News Briefs
  • Newly released records from the U.S. Federal Election Commission show that a U.S. based subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company contributed $500,000 to Trump's inauguration, reports the BBC.
  • General Motors says its Venezuela plant was seized by the government and promised to pursue legal actions, reports the BBC. The company, which employs 2,700 people in the country promised to halt operations in response, reports the Associated Press.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse announced a project to rebuild the ornate presidential palace destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. Symbolically, many citizens don't feel reconstruction is underway until the collapsed structure is addressed, he said according to the BBC.
  • Mexican public officials' corruption has reached new levels of audacity, reports the New York Times. "Empowered citizens, transparency laws and a freer media are now exposing the schemes that governors have used to siphon public funds for their private use. But though the scrutiny has produced mounting evidence of misdeeds, the governors have rarely faced justice. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Maribel Trujillo, mother of four U.S. born children, became the latest Trump deportee and symbol of a policy that is criticized for indiscriminately focusing on undocumented immigrants regardless of criminal records, reports the Guardian.
  • Trumps immigration policies have reinvigorated the "Sanctuary Movement," even as threats to cut federal funding have dissuaded universities and civil society groups from publicly identifying themselves as such. "Reviving the concept of sanctuary in this political context provides an opportunity to open a debate about the rights and protections that marginalized groups need, and how universities and other institutions that have joined the sanctuary movement in the last months (restaurants, art spaces, among others) can support and extend it," argues Alexandra Délano Alonso at AULA blog.
  • Rock bottom approval ratings, corruption scandals and difficulties passing economic reform have the Brazilian government promising ad funding to media portraying their efforts in a positive light, reports El País.
  • And former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is hitting exactly these weak points as he attempts a startling political comeback in next year's presidential elections, reports the Financial Times. Lula himself has been implicated in corruption allegations, but nonetheless would win the election if it was held today, according to polls. 
  • But popular anger could also usher in a Brazilian Trump-like figure, warns ousted President Dilma Rousseff in an interview with the Washington Post. "Brazil, according to Rousseff, is in the grips of a similar "right-wing tendency" to the ones in Europe and the United States, where economic crises and growing inequality stoked anger at politicians and fueled the rise of demagogic populists."
  • Plea bargain testimony from Odebrecht execs indicates that builders and politicians illegally profited from the construction of stadiums used in the 2014 football World Cup, reports the BBC.
  • A U.S. jury is set to start deliberating over whether a U.S. security contractor must pay damages to as many as 2,000 Ecuadoran farmers who say they were poisoned by the U.S. and Colombian governments' coca eradication campaigns. The legal battle has been going for 15 years, and farmers say their families, animals and crops were collateral damage in recklessly executed aerial spraying efforts using glyphosate, reports the Washington Post.
  • Mudslides continue to take lives in Peru -- five people were killed last weekend, driving the death toll up to 113 since the start of the year, reports AFP.
  • About 80 percent of Peru's timber exports are illegal. But massive U.S. funded efforts to combat illegal logging have been undermined by lack of commitment from the Peruvian government and threats from criminal organizations, according to an Associated Press investigation.

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