Monday, April 10, 2017

Venezuelans protest banning of opposition leader (April 10, 2017)

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched on Saturday, protesting decision that would sideline opposition leader Henrique Capriles from political participation for the next fifteen years, reports the Financial Times. (See Friday's briefs.) Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters in Caracas, part of a 10-day crackdown against anti-government demonstrators, reports the Guardian

The march crowned a series of protests over the past 10 days, since the Supreme Court attempted to invalidate the opposition-led National Assembly. (See last Friday's briefs and Wednesday's post.)

Capriles himself led a march on Saturday, in which demonstrators called for general elections to be held immediately, reports the Los Angeles Times.

On Saturday a group of demonstrators attempted to set fire to the Supreme Court, a move denounced by opposition leadership who said the government was fueling unrest, according to the Guardian.

According to the decision by the Venezuelan comptroller, Capriles allegedly broke contracting rules and misused public funds as the governor of the populous Miranda state, reports the Wall Street Journal. He has denied the charges, and said he will not leave his post as governor, according to the New York Times.

Government officials have since announced the detention of a "fascist terrorist" who allegedly received payment from Capriles to generate violence with his 40 person gang, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

The ruling makes Capriles the latest in a series of leading opposition figures to be sidelined, and removes a leading opponent to the government from the running in general elections to be held next year, reports the BBC. Opposition leader Maria Corina Machado was disqualified in 2015 for failing to declare food coupons, while opposition leader Leopoldo López has been jailed for inciting violence in protests in 2014.

Rights organizations say banning opposition politicians on minor or trumped up charges has helped Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, remain in power, according to the WSJ. "One by one, the Maduro administration has taken all their prominent political rivals out of the game—either by convicting them without evidence or by arbitrarily barring them from office," said José Miguel Vivanco, Human Rights Watch's Americas director.

Capriles, who narrowly lost to President Nicolás Maduro in 2013, was seen as a leading contender for general elections to be held in 2018, reports the New York Times. The move is intended to remove him from the running, and also to demoralize the opposition, reinvigorated by the international condemnation of the Supreme Court decision, according to the Eurasia Group, cited in FT.

The result could be to strengthen more radical factions of the opposition, according to David Smilde, cited in the WSJ. "This is just going to accelerate the conflict."

The banning, indeed all of the government moves over the past 10 days, indicate an ever more pronounced slide away from democracy, notes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in a New York Times Español op-ed. He recalls the stacking of the Supreme Court in December 2015, shortly after the government lost in legislative elections and before the opposition-led National Assembly was sworn in -- and he reviews the ins and outs of the battle for the country's governing institutions over the past year and a half. 

"After the parliamentary elections of 2015, the Maduro administration realized an enormous post-electoral fraud. Ballot box losses were recouped with dark maneuvers, controlling public powers. The ruling party has turned democracy into a big scam. It has transformed institutions into bands of judicial hitmen, destined to liquidate its political adversaries. That is why Venezuelans are in the streets."

International pressure is increasingly looking like an important ally for the opposition's push to rein in government excesses. But "some of those in Venezuela who are seeking help from outside have tended to expect too much too soon from abroad, however," notes Abraham F. Lowenthal of the Inter-American Dialogue and the Wilson Center in a New York Times op-ed.

But "the indispensable step to secure constructive international involvement is for domestic opposition leaders to strengthen their cause. This requires developing an attractive vision of Venezuela’s future, as was done compellingly by the opposition to Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and by Nelson Mandela and the African Nation Congress in South Africa. Opposition forces need to do much more than denounce the incumbent government. They must overcome personal rivalries and fashion a unified coalition, not only to gain power but to govern. They also must maintain popular backing and keep a sharp focus on preserving the constitution," he writes.

Over at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Smilde hails the piece, noting that "unflinching" international support of the Venezuelan opposition "does no favor to Venezuela’s political process as this opposition has some longterm issues that need to be addressed if they are to be effective."

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, the OAS Permanent Council approved a resolution condemning the TSJ decisions and committing to “undertake as necessary further diplomatic initiatives to foster the restoration of the democratic institutional system." Though Secretary General Luis Almagro still lacks the two-thirds majority needed to suspend Venezuela, his "activism has set an important precedent in rallying a majority of states in the Americas to come together to discuss a member’s erosion of democratic principles and institutions – and to condemn the non-democratic actions of a democratically-elected government.  This is a first for the organization, and it is a big step toward fulfilling the original purpose of the drafters of the Inter-American Democratic Charter," according to  Stefano Palestini Céspedes at Aula Blog.

News Briefs
  • Argentine police forcefully evicted a group of teachers building a tent classroom in front of the national Congress as part of an ongoing wage negotiation that has stalled classes around the country, reports La Nación. The move was an attempt to draw attention through alternatives to strikes, and harkens to a long-running "white tent" protest in the late 90s. Police officers threw tear gas and physically clashed with protesters, most of whom were women, reports Página 12. Teachers unions have called for a 24 hour strike tomorrow in response, reports La Nación. In the meantime, President Mauricio Macri continues to criticize unions, saying they continue to implement strategies that have failed in the past, reports Página 12.
  • A Colombian soldier was killed and four others wounded in an attack the army blames on dissident FARC rebels, reports the BBC.
  • Uruguay will begin sales of cannabis in pharmacies in July, the last stage in a landmark legalization of the substance, reports the BBC.
  • Russia's government is increasing its presence in Nicaragua, echoing Cold War history thirty years after the country served as a battleground between the Kremlin and Washington, reports the Washington Post
  • Brazil's Supreme Court determined that police don't have the right to strike. The decision last week affects federal and civil police officers as well as firefighters -- military police were already banned from striking, reports the BBC. (See Feb. 8's briefs on a police strike in Espirito Santo earlier this year that led to a sudden spike in violence.)
  • Students and youths have taken the lead in protests against an attempt to allow presidential reelection in Paraguay, a rare instance of political activism among college and secondary school students, reports the Guardian.
  • New European regulations will force tech companies to take into account the "extreme risk" that tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold mined in countries like Colombia and Peru falls afoul of human rights and environmental concerns, reports the Guardian. While most laws regarding conflict minerals have focused on the Democratic Republic of Congo, the new rules will focus on all "conflict-affected and high-risk areas."
  • The former governor of Mexico's Tamaulipas state was arrested in Italy. Tomás Yarrington has been on the run for almost five years, accused of taking millions of dollars from drug cartels in return for ignoring their activities, reports the BBC. He is also wanted in the U.S. on charges of racketeering, international drug trafficking, money laundering, bank fraud, tax evasion and fraud, reports the New York Times.
  • Uncertain funding and difficult implementation challenges mean Trump's wall might never take form as such. But the Guardian has a clever review of the constructors' bids so far " in a militarised beauty pageant worthy of one of Trump’s own reality TV shows. ... From a first look at some of the entries, it’s hard to tell which ones are spoofs. Alarmingly, on closer inspection, it turns out that very few are. Instead, they are the fever dreams of America’s small-business contractors writ large, which makes them a fascinating window into the lurid anxieties of middle America."

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