Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Venezuela and region brace for more unrest (July 26, 2017)

News Briefs
  • A 48-hour strike started today in Venezuela, in protest of this weekend's scheduled vote for an assembly to rewrite the constitution, reports the BBC. (See Monday's post.) Overall, fewer people appeared to be heeding the shutdown than the millions who participated in a 24-hour strike last week, reports Reuters. (See last Friday's post.) Further protests are also expected for Friday, despite increasingly violent police repression, reports the Guardian. And Colombian authorities say they are bracing for a potential wave of migration from this week's unrest, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Under growing international pressure, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro offered a 45 day delay on the election to the opposition in secret negotiations. In exchange, they would have to recall the alternative Supreme Court magistrates appointed by the National Assembly last week and dial back street protests, reports the Miami Herald based on sources familiar with the talks. Maduro is reportedly also asking the opposition for help in avoiding U.S. oil sanctions, which could further cripple the crisis ridden economy. The opposition apparently rejected the offer. Another source told the Herald that Maduro is also dangling the possibility of holding presidential elections before the end of the year. (See Monday's post.)
  • Yesterday, U.S. Senators. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez asked U.S. President Donald Trump to sanction 10 more high-ranking individuals in the Venezuelan government, reports the Miami Herald. One of the most prominent names on their list is Tibisay Lucena Ramírez, president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, but it also includes members of the Venezuelan military, a potential attempt to fracture the armed forces' support for the government. (See Monday's post.)
  • Venezuelan government leaders accused Rubio and CIA director Mike Pompeo of secretly conspiring against the Maduro administration in order to install a more friendly regime, reports the Miami Herald. They referred to comments Pompeo made at an Aspen Institute security forum, in which he said he was "hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we, the CIA is doing its best to understand the dynamic there ... I was just down in Mexico City and in Bogota a week before last talking about this very issue, trying to help them understand the things they might do so that they can get a better outcome for their part of the world and our part of the world."
  • Two more of the alternative magistrates named to the Supreme Court by the National Assembly last week were arrested by intelligence agents yesterday, reports Reuters.
  • The parents of one young Venezuelan protest victim have requested the Supreme Court open up a case into their son's death seek to sue high ranking officials, who they accuse of covering up security forces' responsibility in the killing, reports the BBC.
  • A lawyer for Colombia's FARC says a criminal gang has offered $1 million bounties for assassins to kill FARC secretariat members, reports Reuters. The FARC, which recently finished handing over its weapons, plans on launching its political party in September. Already killings of social activists and community leaders has become more common in Colombia -- rights groups say 40 have been murdered so far this year. And FARC members fear a repeat of the thousands of killings of members of a leftwing party in the 1980s and 1990s at the hands of rightwing paramilitaries.
  • Colombia's ELN rebel group said yesterday it had proposed a three-month ceasefire to the government, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian swing voters have gone towards the right, after 13 years of Workers' Party government and the subsequent impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, reports the Guardian. "... disillusioned Brazilians are increasingly looking to free-market liberals, evangelical Christians, and populist, rightwing populists." (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Members of the Brazilian House of Deputies will vote on whether to suspend President Michel Temer to face corruption charges. Government ministers say they have the votes to avoid trial, reports the Guardian
  • Hundreds of members of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) have invaded farms belonging to Brazil’s agriculture minister, the former president of the Brazilian soccer association, and a close Temer ally as part of a campaign to pressure lawmakers to vote against the president, reports the Guardian. MST leaders also warn that arresting former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would create widespread unrest and pave the way for his reelection, reports Bloomberg.
  • Brazil's Attorney General's office announced yesterday that it has tripled its 2018 budget for the Operation Car Wash probe into corruption, reports the Associated Press.
  • Chief Brazilian prosecutor Rodrigo Janot noted in Washington this week, there's no putting the genie back in the bottle after the broad devastation Operation Car Wash has wrought on entrenched corruption in Brazilian politics. Nonetheless, international historical comparisons suggest it may take decades for the benefits of accountability efforts to result in less corrupt systems, writes Matthew Taylor for the Council on Foreign Relations. There is also evidence to suggest that anti-corruption gains implemented in recent years could work faster, he notes, referring to countries such as Rwanda and Georgia.
  • The Dominican Republic on Tuesday granted a one-year extension to some 230,000 Haitian migrants trying to renew or obtain residency permits, reports the Associated Press. The issue of undocumented Haitians in the Dominican Republic has been heated for a few years -- since the government announced a plan in 2015 to deport thousands of Haitians without paperwork, many of whom had been born and raised in the DR.
  • The ideas presented at the recent high ranking summit in Miami on Central American development "reflect longstanding, misguided U.S. policies that have bolstered military and corporate interests—ultimately driving the very displacement the conference was ostensibly convened to curtail," writes Lauren Carasik for Boston Review. "The Trump administration’s plan centers on intensified border militarization coupled with a retreat from development assistance. On the ground, this will likely look like an expansion of the worst of Obama’s drug-war and neoliberal policies in the region, such as massive privatization, enforced austerity, the evisceration of labor and environmental protections, and a strengthened military force to back it all up." Though the Trump administration has made it clear it doesn't care about human rights, the human cost in Central America and Mexico will be incalculable, she writes -- and will create blowback. The U.S. government is hoping private investors step in to fill gaps created by reduced budgets for development goals. "But if history is predictive, the model will only inflame instability, not tamp it down. What’s more, this development will be implemented under crisis conditions that are exploited to usher in extreme, opportunistic policies, including the massive privatization of public resources and the evisceration of protections for those affected by the projects, maximizing corporate profits while dispossessing the poor."
  • Trump's proposed cuts to humanitarian aid in Central America has been opposed by Republicans in Congress who see them as harmful to the U.S. exercise of soft power in the region, writes Nancy Hiemstra in NACLA. Their opposition is interesting as an unusually honest indication "the self-serving goals of foreign 'assistance,'" she notes. "The surfacing of the underlying goals of the State Department and foreign aid also offers a rare opportunity for public discussion of fundamental flaws and negative consequences of longstanding approaches to migration and border policing in Latin America. These approaches show continued failure to successfully address the real reasons for migration, such as poverty and violence—which are often linked to past and present U.S. interventions, the favoring private interests at the expense of human rights, and government instability and corruption. Perhaps buried in discussions of soft and hard power is an understanding that the State Department and foreign aid monies ultimately make immigration policing—and dealing with its consequences—cheaper and less messy."
  • Nearly 200 women have been murdered in the first six months of 2017 reported the Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras. Thats one woman every 18 hours, report TeleSUR.
  • Peruvian authorities are cracking down on factories employing forced labor after a warehouse fire last month killed four workers, reports Reuters.
  • Increasing gang violence related to fuel theft in Mexico is likely to harm the international investment the government is seeking in the oil sector, reports Bloomberg.
  • One of the child actors from the acclaimed Brazilian film City of God is a suspect in the killing of a police officer over the weekend in Rio de Janeiro, reports the BBC. (See Monday's briefs.) Ivan da Silva Martins was one of a group of boys from favelas recruited to act in the movie. He is now known as Ivan the Terrible and believed to control drug trafficking in the Vidigal favela.
  • Guatemalans are not just producing great coffee -- they're joining the "third wave" coffee snobbery bandwagon and consuming high end product as well, reports the New York Times.

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