Thursday, June 29, 2017

Venezuela coup attempt/telenovela?

There's still no consensus on what exactly happened in Venezuela with the "Chopper Coupster" helicopter attack on government buildings on Tuesday evening. (See yesterday's post.) 

The government called it a terrorist attack -- though nobody was killed or injured. And later officials said it was part of a CIA sponsored coup with the help of retired Gen. Miguel Rodríguez Torres, who broke with the administration earlier this year, reports the Wall Street Journal

Some wondered, briefly, if it signaled the beginning of a break within the armed forces. Many people suspect the whole episode is a government ruse to cover up increasing encroachment on the opposition-led National Assembly and the critical attorney general. 

The fact that the special forces member suspected of carrying out, Oscar Pérez, is also a part time actor just makes the whole thing more confusing and suspicious. However, one prominent journalist says Pérez's actions were genuine, though isolated and possibly a bit mad, reports the Washington Post

"My sense is what happened [Tuesday] was so bizarre that most Venezuelans don’t know what to make of it or know who to blame," WOLA's David Smilde told the New York Times, noting that Venezuelans do not in general favor military coups. "In the current context, most Venezuelans prefer an electoral solution to the crisis," he said. 

(Bonus track: check out Perez's Instagram account, featuring videos of him parachuting with a German shepherd and helping children with cancer obtain medication."

News Briefs
  • Venezuela's Supreme Court has banned attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz from leaving the country and froze her assets yesterday, reports the BBC.
  • A young asylum seeker who was tortured in Venezuela is no longer facing deportation from the U.S. reports the New York Times.
  • A new report by Igarapé Insitute found that over 67 percent of Haitians were made homeless or forced to temporarily relocate after Hurricane Matthew last year. Their findings, based on three household surveys taken in October and December of last year and this February, show that women were disproportionately affected and were more likely than men to have experienced ongoing displacement. The surveys show how households were forced to resort to survival strategies to meet their food needs. Additionally, the report highlights the lack of information before the storm. Just 15 percent of respondents heard about the impending storm from radio, school and church announcements, community loudspeakers, social media and text messages while most heard by word of mouth, family, or friends. And just 5.7 percent of households evacuated before the cyclone made landfall.
  • A new World Bank study questions health priorities in Haiti, and calls on government and donors to better coordinate efforts and focus on primary and preventive healthcare and not hospitals, reports the Miami Herald. The study found that Haiti has significantly more hospitals than many countries but spends less on healthcare per capita than its closest neighbors. Also on the issue of Haitian healthcare, a Pulitzer Center report looks at controversy over a cervical cancer screening procedure with questioned efficacy.
  • Brazilian President Michel Temer lost another bit of support yesterday when senate leader Renan Calheiros quit his post and declared the government to be "discredited." Calheiros is a rival of Temer within their PMDB party, and wants to distance himself ahead of a reelection campaign next year, according to  the Guardian. In fact, reelection campaigns could eventually erode Temer's support within Congress, where many members face corruption investigations of their own, notes the Washington Post. Though he is expected to survive an initial vote to put him on trial, his base may start cracking if requests pile up over the next few months. "By that point, the congressional members, who face elections next year, may bow to mounting public pressure to oust Temer." (See yesterday's post.)
  • Brazilian authorities have suspended the issuing of new passports because of a budget crisis, reports the BBC.
  • Caribbean migrants are an increasingly contentious issue in Chile ahead of November's presidential elections, reports the Guardian. Already the more than 50,000 Haitians and 15,000 Dominicans in the country face discrimination and outmoded immigration policies that consider them potential subversives. They are confronting ingrained racial discrimination in a country that until recently had a small black population. The leading right-wing candidate, former president and billionaire businessman Sebastian Piñera, has promised to follow the example of his U.S. and Argentine counterparts and crackdown on undocumented migrants -- an estimated 150,000 in Chile.
  • Three senior opposition leaders in Mexico were also apparently targets of spyware owned by the government, according to a report by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab. It's the same software that has been use to spy on activists and journalists, reports Reuters. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • "As implementation of the Colombian peace process moves forward, violence against human rights defenders continues," notes a WOLA update from yesterday. "June was a particularly difficult month for Afro-Colombian organizations and their leaders after Bernardo Cuero Bravo, leader of the Association of Internally Displaced Afro-Colombians (Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados, AFRODES) was murdered in his home in Malambo, Atlántico. Human rights defenders, trade unionists, Afro-Colombians, and indigenous and other community leaders carrying out vital efforts to secure peace in Colombia continue to be under threat." (See yesterday's briefs on the Colombian peace process.)
  • A minimum wage hike in El Salvador increased maquila worker wages by nearly 40 percent - the sector represents nearly 10 percent of the work force, mostly women. But "the wage increase has provoked a strong backlash from what has been described as El Salvador’s “rabidly anti-union private sector”, with business lobbies issuing legal challenges, factories firing workers and other businesses threatening to relocate to countries with cheaper labour costs," reports Equal Times.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto praised telecommunications reforms that significantly expanded access to cellular phones and internet, even as the overhaul faces a major challenge from billionaire Carlos Slim in the Supreme Court, reports Reuters.
  • A secretive attempt to permit presidential reelection and the violent protests it spurred seem to have been rapidly left behind in Paraguay -- at least according to international press coverage. But the conflagration over a constitutional issue -- an a strange alliance between left and right wing parties -- indicates deeper problems with Paraguay's rural landownership based political economy, argues Laurence Blair in World Politics Review.
  • The founder of Peru's Shining Path rebel group, already serving a life sentence for terrorism, refused to answer prosecutors' questions over a 1992 car bombing this week, reports EFE.
  • "Social acupuncture," alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders, and investments in public space, education and social services drastically reduced homicides in Medellín and Bogotá. "Why has the rest of the region failed to grasp these lessons" asks Igarapé Institute's Robert Muggah in the Conversation. "Rather than replicate these experiences, Latin American governments have responded to rising violence by sinking more money into police forces, prosecutors and prisons."

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