Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Maduro proposes constituent assembly (May 2, 2017)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has called for a constitutional assembly to redraft the country's constitution -- an attempt to avoid the immediate elections demanded by a political opposition that has led massive street protests over the past month.

Opposition leaders called the move a ploy to distract from the national crisis besieging Venezuela, and pledged to intensify demonstrations, reports the Wall Street Journal. Over 29 people have died so far in protest related clashes.

The last constituent assembly was gathered by Maduro's predecesor, Hugo Chávez, who reformed the constitution in 1999. It is not clear how the assembly would be put together.

Maduro said the deep reform was needed to bring "peace to the republic," reports the Miami Herald.

Many see the move as a ploy to avoid elections which the governing socialist party would likely lose by a landslide, reports the NewYork Times. But supporters urged the path as a way out of an increasingly polarize situation. 

Some experts say Maduro is playing for time, while others say its a way of deepening a coup d'etat, according to Efecto Cocuyo.

On Sunday Maduro said delayed regional elections would take place this year, reports Reuters. The opposition has called for general elections -- constitutionally mandated for 2018 -- to be brought forward and joined with the governor and legislative elections that should have taken place in 2016.

News Briefs
  • International media bias against Maduro notwithstanding, Venezuela is clearly in crisis, writes Greg Gandin in The Nation. "Maduro has responded to extremists in the opposition by assuming everyone in the opposition is an extremist, presiding over an ineffective and incoherent mix of distributivist carrots and repressive sticks, aimed not so much at consolidating his personal power as at digging in a besieged and out-of-touch revolutionary bureaucracy. The country is locked into an impasse, which might only be broken, many fear, by civil war." The piece offers up perspectives from the "ad-hoc Committee to Save Venezuela," who are critical both of the government and the opposition. One calls for immediate elections as a way of isolating the more extremist factions of the opposition, for example, and recommendations to scale back the extreme polarization that has been exacerbated by international actors. And Naomi Schiller, an ethnographic filmmaker and assistant professor of anthropology at Brooklyn College says "It is vital to understand that few poor communities have joined recent opposition protests not because they are too hungry or because they fear government repression, as mainstream media outlets insist. Hunger and fear are undoubtedly real. Yet, the decisive factor undermining popular support for recent protest is the opposition’s anti-poor discourse." (Several pieces recently have argued that poor communities joining in protests is a sign of a turning point against the Maduro administration, see yesterday's briefs and last Thursday's post.) In the same piece CEPR's Mark Weisbrot calls out mainstream media for not noting the incongruity of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro's demand that Venezuela violate its own constitution by calling general elections early. "With a major international effort under way to topple the Venezuelan government, it is easy to miss the fact that it is 100 or 1,000 times more dangerous to be a human rights defender or journalist in US allied-countries like Mexico, Colombia, or Honduras than it is in Venezuela."
  • The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously sided with Venezuela in an oil rigs claim dispute, reports Reuters.
  • Tens of thousands of Haitians living in the U.S. will become vulnerable to deportation when their temporary protected status expires in July, unless the government extends it. The acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, James McCament has recommended the temporary protected status be continued through next January. But that perspective ignores the "fitful recovery" Haiti has had from the devastating 2010 earthquake, and, more recently the destruction of Hurricane Matthew last year, argues the New York Times Editorial Board. Sending 50,000 migrants back could potentially deepen instability, worsen poverty and subject people to pointless cruelty, write the editors, who advocate letting the Haitians stay. (See April 24's briefs.)
  • Uruguayan authorities will open up a registry for citizens and permanent residents to purchase recreational marijuana in pharmacies, reports AFP. Sales will begin in July, the final phase of implementation of a groundbreaking 2013 law legalizing cannabis. Access through self-cultivation and cannabis clubs is already in practice.
  • Mexico's lower chamber of Congress passed a bill legalizing cannabis for medical and scientific purposes -- the measure was passed by the Senate in December and will now go to President Enrique Peña Nieto for signature, reports Reuters. Peña Nieto has advocated for a "public health" approach in the international community's drug strategy.
  • Leftist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has accused Peña Nieto of ordering a smear campaign against him, reports EFE.
  • In a Washington Post op-ed, AMLO criticizes the Trump campaign and administration's stance towards Mexico, and defends the positive role of migrants in the U.S. "Regardless of Trump’s decision to stir up xenophobia and racism, we think the best way to defend migrant workers is to offer them opportunities for a decent life in Mexico so that they will not be forced to leave. To do this, Mexico must restart economic growth, create jobs and improve general living conditions. This means taking steps to reenergize agricultural production, boost the productive sectors and raise wages if we hope to make a dent in the migrant flow." Obtaining resources for such policies will require battling corruption, notes AMLO. "... We call for a harmonious relationship between our two countries, one based on cooperation for development. When we work together, everyone wins. But in confrontation, the United States and Mexico will both lose."
  • Tens of thousands of Mexicans marched on Monday to demand more labor rights, while Peña Nieto touted unemployment rates at a decade-long low, reports EFE.
  • Chile's Christian Democrat party voted to skip primaries and go straight to the presidential election in November. The decision means a break in the ruling Nueva Mayoría coalition and increases the chances that former President Sebastian Pinera will win the presidency, reports Reuters. Union leaders warned yesterday that there is a real threat of a right-wing government winning the elections, reports EFE. (See last Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a favorite among voters for next year's presidential election, despite facing five separate corruption trials, reports Reuters. Should he run, a new Datafolha poll shows him winning in first round, with 30 percent. Current President Michel Temer, who has said he has no intention of running for office, polled at 2 percent. However in the case of a run-off, Lula polled at a statistical tie with with Marina Silva, a former senator who came in third in Brazil's past two presidential elections, and anti-corruption federal judge Sergio Moro, who has said he would never enter politics. Voters are angered by corruption scandals that have engulfed much of the country's political elite, opening up the doors for a potential anti-establishment candidate. Brazilian politics have generally taken place in backroom deals among the 35 active political parties. But the Lava Jato corruption scandal has complicated the "intricate system of alliances and favor trading on which the various coalitions depended" and which allowed them to "ignore voters in presidential elections and still wield significant power in Brasilia," according to the Washington Post. The latest survey which captured a significant increase in the popularity of right wing, law-and-order congressman Jair Bolsonaro, whose support rose to 15 percent in a first-round vote, compared with 4 percent in a December Datafolha survey. (See post for April 18, 2016, on Bolsonaro's praise for military dictatorship torture in Brazil.) São Paulo mayor João Doria, a millionaire outsider candidate, is also considered a potential favorite for 2018. But Brazilian legislators are wily. They have attempted to pass legislation that would shelter them from corruption charges, and have passed a bill that would limit prosecutors' powers against them. (See last Friday's briefs.) And now they are exploring a measure that would a closed-list voting system, which would require voters to cast a ballot for a list of politicians generated by each party, rather than for an individual candidate, explains the WP. "The system ... would shelter politicians involved in the corruption probe from the public’s ire by sandwiching them in a list of clean politicians. It would also give party leaders greater say over who can run, neutralizing the risk of outsider candidates."
  • Temer's May Day speech defended sweeping labor and pension system reforms that have been heavily criticized by unions, reports the Financial Times. "The new law guarantees rights not only for full-time jobs but also for temporary and outsourced work,” he said. (See yesterday's post and last Thursday's.)
  • Brazilian farmers seem to have attacked an indigenous community with machetes, cutting off the hands and feet of some of their victims, reports the Guardian. Thirteen members of the Gamela community were hospitalized after the assault by ranchers armed with rifles and machetes in the municipality of Viana late on Sunday.
  • Remember Zika? Scientists are looking at cases of twins whose mothers were infected to suss out why some fetuses are affected and others not, reports the New York Times. But the struggles faced by affected families show much more than the extent of the devastating virus: "Their story reflects struggles with poverty and lack of education; health care resources so scarce that people have to travel long distances just to get basic, low-tech services; the need for friends and acquaintances to take on ad hoc roles as substitute caregivers for children in crisis," writes Pam Belluck.
  • Peru's government has proposed significantly rolling back air quality rules, a move that could facilitate the sale of an infamously polluting poly-smelter in La Oroya, reports the Guardian. (See March 14's briefs.)
  • Guatemala's judicial system protects the country's most powerful and contributes to a sky high impunity rate, according to the International Commission of Jurists. The group expressed "concern" on Sunday over impunity in Guatemala, three weeks after Canadian mining firm Hudbay Minerals' former head of security was acquitted of murder and assault charges involving nine Indigenous leaders, reports TeleSUR.
  • Bondholders filed suits against Puerto Rico yesterday, after a freeze on lawsuits expired. They are expected to be among several filed as bondholders seek to recover the money they invested in Puerto Rico government bonds, reports the Associated Press.
  • Five people were arrested for vandalism during a general strike and street protests against austerity in Puerto Rico yesterday, reports EFE.
  • Femicides are on the rise this year -- in Argentina, where activists are stunned by the killing of a feminist who battled gender violence, and in the region in general. An essay by Gabriela Weiner in the New York Times Español argues that its time for men to join the conversation and discuss how to reduce violence against women. "We are witnessing a grisly reactionary wave of machismo to the push and potence of the world-wide feminist movement. As organization among women has increased, so have reprisals against them.  ... Why do machos rape? The fear of losing privileges, of losing spaces where harassment is legitimized as compliments, where machista jokes are trangressive humor, where non-consensual conjugal sex is shielded by having signed a paper, where the objectification of women's bodies is permitted because it sells, where the beating is justified "because you are mine," where pornographic coitus is the only sex they know."
  • An Argentine prosecutor has accused President Mauricio Macri's family company of attempting to empty the accounts of Argentina's postal service, which it ran years ago, reports AFP.
  • Madres de Plaza de Mayo celebrated their 40 year anniversary this weekend, reports AFP. (See last Friday's briefs.)
  • The latest South American super food is: açaí. The New York Times reports on the wending path of "the coveted berry," as it goes from the Amazon River Basin to New York fashion.

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