Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Venezuelan opposition organizing "mother of all protests" (April 18, 2017)

Venezuela is gearing up for the "mother of all protests" convoked by the political opposition for tomorrow, a national holiday marking the start of Venezuela's independence struggle in 1810. The government has called on supporters to counter-demonstrate tomorrow as well, setting a potentially combustible scene that follows weeks of violent protests.

A group of 11 countries from the region called on Venezuela's government to guarantee the right to peaceful protest. In their joint statement, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay rejected the violence, which led to the deaths of six people during the recent demonstrations, reports the BBC.

Maduro's Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez on Twitter called the statement from the 11 countries "political selectivity," accusing the group of endorsing "the violent vandalism of the opposition."

Both the protesters and the government blame recent violence on each other.

Yesterday Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino declared the army's loyalty to President Nicolás Maduro and ordered troops into the streets ahead of the mobilizations, reports AFP.

And Maduro has promised to repay loyalty with loyalty. Speaking to militia members yesterday, he said it was it is time for Venezuelans to decide if they are "with the homeland" or against it, reports the Associated Press. Maduro said he will expand the number of civilians involved in armed militias up to half a million members, and provide each participant with a gun.

In the meantime, the humanitarian crisis is spilling over the border with Brazil, Human Rights Watch said today. "Latin American governments need to apply strong pressure on the Maduro administration to address severe shortages of medicine and food in Venezuela that are causing Venezuelans to leave the country." (See March 15's briefs, for example.)

"Brazil is struggling to meet the urgent needs of Venezuelans who are victims of a humanitarian crisis for which the Maduro administration is largely to blame," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "Brazil and other regional governments will ultimately have to press the Venezuelan government to stop denying the crisis and to take adequate steps to fix the problem."

Venezuela's crisis has been an ongoing topic for months and years. For those who got lost in the most recent flow, Deutsche Welle has a review of the causes, including the Supreme Court attempt to cancel the National Assembly, hyper inflation, and long-running food scarcities that have impacted most of the population in some way.

News Briefs
  • Paraguayan President Horacio Cartés said he would desist from a reelection bid next year, in response to a wave of violent protests after an attempt to amend the constitution to permit multiple presidential terms last month, reports EFE. (See April 3's briefs.) Cartés said he had been inspired by Pope Francis's call for peace and dialogue, reports the BBC.
  • OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has been criticized for an overly antagonistic approach towards Venezuela. In Nicaragua, however, he's taking the opposite approach, and holding private, bilateral talks with the government on the myriad problems identified by the organization in relation to the country's democratic institutions, reports Univisión. "Some of the terms of those Nicaragua talks have been made known, specifically that the OAS will send observers to monitor the country's municipal elections in November. But other efforts to "perfect" Nicaragua's representative democracy and "judicially strengthen the application of constitutional norms" remain undefined and unknown to the public. Many in Nicaragua's opposition think Almagro is making a mistake by negotiating behind closed doors with President Daniel Ortega—a wily politico who has made a career out of hatching secretive pacts with opponents, then devouring them alive."
  • The Miami Herald refloats the story about the illicit issuing of Venezuelan passports in the Middle East. The scheme was apparently led by current Vice President Tareck El Assaimi, and was reported on by CNN earlier this year. (See Feb. 14's post.) The accusations were used as evidence of El Assaimi's links to Middle Eastern terrorism, but were based largely on rumors, noted David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey in an interesting fact check. (See Feb. 21's post.)
  • There's been a sweep of protests in LatAm recently -- spanning Venezuela's leftist crisis-ridden government to massive strikes against Argentina's austerity minded government. Analysts point to the end of the super-commodities boom, limiting government spending, and a more politically engaged citizenry with less patience for corruption. Other also point to increased polarization, making democratic transitions more difficult, reports the Washington Post.
  • Criminal groups have quickly moved into previously FARC controlled areas of Colombia in the wake of guerrilla demobilization, reports the Guardian from the town of Argelia. There residents, who depend on illicit coca crops for survival are targets for combatting illegal groups. In the meantime, the government must overcome local suspicion of crop substitution programs and state security forces.
  • Plea bargain testimony from Marcelo Odebrecht says the company contributed $3 million to the campaign of former Peruvian president Ollanta Humala, reports the Associated Press.
  • All three major ratings agencies -- Fitch, Moody's, and Standard and Poor's, downgraded confidence in El Salvador, after the country failed to meet pension bond obligations last week, reports El Diario de Hoy. The default -- which was caused by a political stalemate -- related only to local debt, and posed no risk to foreign investors, said government officials, according to Bloomberg.
  • Hondurans head to the polls in November, in a presidential election that brings the country's 2009 back to the fore, reports the Economist. President Juan Orlando Hernández is running for reelection against Xiomara Castro, wife of former President Mel Zelaya, who was ousted for merely planning a referendum that might change the constitution that forbid reelection.
  • A journalist was gunned down in Mexico -- the fourth in the past six weeks, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called the situation in Mexico a “crisis” of freedom of expression.
  • "For those who believed the removal of Rousseff and the leftist Workers’ Party from power was all that it would take to restore Brazil’s swagger, the last 12 months have proved a slow and painful lesson. The country’s GDP is forecast to grow a meager 0.4 percent this year even after the central bank cut benchmark borrowing rates by three full percentage points since October. Frustrated by a seemingly endless corruption scandal and the government’s austerity program, patience with Brazil’s political establishment is growing thin ahead of next year’s general election," according to Bloomberg's grim review of Brazil's situation.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuzynski's approval ratings have bumped up after six months of declines thanks to a well-perceived response to massive flooding that caused widespread damage, reports Reuters.
  • Mercosur aims to sign a trade agreement with the EU later this year, according to Argentine president Mauricio Macri, reports Reuters.
  • Much of flak NAFTA has gotten from U.S. critics focuses on manufacturing moving to Mexico. But U.S. agriculture is favored by the current agreement. Renegotiation is providing an opportunity for other producers in the world -- notably Argentina and Brazil, who are angling to close agreements with Mexico -- as well as to stimulate domestic production, argue Cecilia Tortajada and Asit Biswas in the Conversation.
  • Latin America's most technologically advanced port opened earlier this month in Mexico, but plans for Lázaro Cárdenas to work as a back door importers to the U.S. seeking to avoid congested West Coast ports are under threat by Trump's America First policies, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by a group of Central American asylum seekers who sought to clarify the constitutional rights of people who the government has prioritized for deportation, reports Reuters. The group of 28 women and 33 children ages 2 to 17 from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, hoped to have their expedited removal orders reviewed by a federal judge.
  • A meeting of Cuban activists, writers, academics and entrepreneurs of African descent who met at Harvard show the diversity of approaches and projects targeting racism on the island, reports the Miami Herald
  • Chile's Supreme Court ordered the government to pay a total of $3.2 million to 71 former political prisoners who'd been held by the military dictatorship of 1973 to 1990, reports the Associated Press.
  • A new Spielberg produced documentary, "Finding Oscar," depicts the search for a survivor of the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in Guatemala. Human rights investigators track down a boy who survived an onslaught that wiped out most of the town and seek justice for victims, reports the New York Times.

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