Monday, August 21, 2017

Venezuela's ANC sidelines Congress (Aug. 21, 2017)

Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly (ANC) essentially voided the country's legislature on Friday. The newly elected pro-government body assumed "the ability to legislate over matters directly related to guaranteeing peace, security and sovereignty," among other areas. And effectively side-lines the opposition-led National Assembly, the only branch of government not controlled by President Nicolás Maduro's allies, reports the New York Times.

The decision was criticized by opposition leaders, who said the ANC lacked legitimacy for such a move. Several regional governments and international bodies have criticized the ANC, and refuse to recognize its decisions, notes the BBC. Lawmakers said they would not recognize the ANC decision, which doesn't dissolve the body outright, and asked for international supporters to remain firm, according to the Miami Herald.

The actual practical effects will be few, as the government has sought to neuter the National Assembly since the 2015 election that gave opposition parties a majority there, reports the Guardian.  

And, the dubious legal standing of the ANC's decisions could affect the ultimate aim of displacing the legislature, which is accessing international loans, according to the Wall Street Journal. Legislators say 

Friday's decree follows an aborted attempt in March for the Supreme Court to usurp legislative power. That was met with widespread anger, and -- though the decision was rapidly recanted -- spurred months of protests that have left over 100 people dead.

And in the midst of a crackdown on opposition leaders, prominent Chavista dissident Luisa Ortega and her husband, Germán Ferrer, fled to Colombia, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See last Thursday's post.) Colombian authorities said they arrived in Bogotá on Friday afternoon aboard a private plane traveling from Aruba.

Her access to information in her previous post could make her a formidable enemy for the government, notes the Guardian. Ortega said the government's persecution of her is in fact due to her investigations regarding Odebrecht bribes to officials in Venezuela, reports Efecto Cocuyo. She spoke via video link to a regional summit of prosecutors and said her investigation involved Maduro and close associates. Members of the Public Ministry, which she led until her ousting earlier this month, have been subject to official harassment, and 74 national prosecutors specialized in corruption have been prohibited from leaving the country, she said.

A recent report from shows that Maduro received 35 million from Odebrecht in the 2013 presidential campaign. His opponent, Henrique Capriles, also received funding, 15 million. Both were in exchange for the understanding that the government would respect existing public works contracts awarded to the Brazilian construction giant. The report is based on leaked plea bargain testimony from Euzenando Azevedo to Brazilian prosecutors.

Aside: A new film, La Soledad, explores Venezuela's social ills from the vantage point of an old patrician house now inhabited by a working-class family, reports the Guardian.

News Briefs
  • Nafta negotiators should incorporate a strong human rights chapter into a revised free-trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, argues Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed. Significant human rights abuses in Mexico -- as well as a growing number in the U.S. -- require strong pressure from abroad, he writes. "What better way to achieve this than with a binding and detailed human rights chapter in Nafta, with teeth: enforcement provisions and trade-related sanctions for noncompliance. The argument that free trade alone would automatically bring human rights improvements has not proven true over time."
  • The Guardian profiles a U.S. volunteer group that roams the Cabeza Prieto desert on the U.S.-Mexico border. They "search on foot in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the United States in the hope they’ll find migrants alive so that they can give them water and call for help. Often, though, they’ll find their bodies or bones. The only hope they have then is that they can successfully repatriate their remains with their families, giving grieving relatives some kind of closure."
  • Arizona State's "Tent City" jail -- compared to a concentration camp by advocates and critics -- is finally closing down after 20 years. The outdoor prison, just 10 minutes away from Phoenix, was used by Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, for up to 200 undocumented immigrants in recent years, reports the Guardian. The space has been the subject of multiple lawsuits from former prisoners, public outrage, and criticism from rights groups, including Amnesty International.
  • A year after the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, three favela inhabitants reflect on the security crisis facing the city and how it's affecting their communities. Their pieces in the Guardian  (and here, and here) discuss a war against crime, including deployment of thousands of troops, and the failure of the UPP project.
  • The future of Brazil's much debated pension reform bill remains uncertain, amid the political hits President Michel Temer has taken this year and with a rapidly approaching election year that will make legislators unwilling to back unpopular measures such as this, reports the Economist. Though Temer is now expected to finish out his term, he has already made concessions regarding the timeframe in which the age of retirement would be raised, and will likely have to cede in other areas. "The result may provide just half of the savings originally hoped for. That is worrying: even the original proposal would not have been enough to stop Brazil’s public debt rising."
  • Fast food chain Burger King is purchasing animal feed produced on land taken from tropical rainforests in Bolivia and Brazil, reports the Guardian. Environmental group Mighty Earth produced a report, based on aerial drones, satellite imaging, supply-chain mapping and field research that shows a systematic pattern of forest-burning in order to grow soybeans for Cargill and Bunge.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IAHCR, has condemned the conditions of Argentine social activist Milagro Sala's house arrest, arguing she is being subjected to "annihilation by the State," reports TeleSUR. After numerous international criticisms of her ongoing pre-trial prison detention, judicial authorities ordered her transfer to a vandalized house lacking in basic amenities, a switch Francisco Eguiguren, IAHCR's head, called a "change from one prison to another prison."

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