Friday, September 1, 2017

Venezuelan protests die down (Sept. 1, 2017)

Five months of street protests in Veneuzela, often featuring violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces, have died down, reports the Wall Street Journal

In the short term, the power grab of the National Constituent Assembly seems to have benefited the government that now concentrates all state power -- though it remains to be seen whether that control is sufficient in the long term, WOLA expert David Smilde told the WSJ. Protesters are demoralized by the failure to prevent the Constitutional Assembly, and frightened by prison stints and security forces abuse.  

(See Wednesday's briefs on how regional elections in October have also helped dissipate opposition protests and a U.N. report that found the security forces had committed extensive and apparently deliberate human rights violations in repressing anti-government protests.)

News Briefs
  • Venezuela's legislative speaker called on Pope Francis to intercede with the government to allow food aid into the country, reports AFP.
  • Authoritarian trends bely right-left categorization, argues Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly, focusing on threats to democracy in Central America. He focuses on Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's consolidation of power in his country, including the courts. "Ortega’s major critics today are Sandinista stalwarts, who say the president has turned into just another strongman who seeks to establish a family dictatorship.  His wife is vice president and de facto chief of staff, and several children occupy key positions in government. With the electoral route increasingly less of an option for an orderly transition, any post-Ortega scenario will be marked by an unpredictable power struggle. The president is 72 years old and rumors about his health are rampant in Managua." And in Honduras, President Juan Orlando Hernández is seeking to extend his mandate, despite strong legal restrictions on reelection. "Indeed, while the battle between left and right dominates the public debate in Latin America and elsewhere, most visibly in the debate about Venezuela, it is generally overlooked that the greatest threat to democracy these days – unrestrained executive power – transcends normal ideological boundaries."
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales was elected as an outsider candidate by an electorate sick of widespread corruption. But he rapidly proved to be similarly beholden to corrupt mafias, reports the Economist in a great recap of the politically critical situation in the country. In the two years since then-President Otto Pérez Molina was ousted by a CICIG investigation, the U.N. backed commission has extended its scope of investigation and could affect broad swathes of the establishment. This has consolidated opposition to the efforts to route out corruption, and also strengthened support for the group. "Just who will win the tussle between the frightened establishment and the 80% of Guatemalans who back CICIG is not clear. “If you elect a clown, expect a circus,” read banners carried by CICIG supporters at its headquarters in Guatemala City. But they encountered bigger groups of Morales backers, who blocked diplomatic cars from leaving."
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Salvadoran government to conduct a swift and credible investigation of escalating online and physical threats against journalists at Revista Factum and El Faro. Journalists at the two outlets told CPJ they believed the threats were in response to an article published on Revista Factum's website that same day about an elite anti-crime unit's alleged involvement in criminal activity including three extrajudicial killings, sexual assault, and extortion.
  • Argentine social activist Milagro Sala was released from prison after a year and a half of pre-trial detention that was widely criticized by international rights organizations, reports Reuters. The OAS called for her release, and the IACHR called on the government to grant her house arrest. However, she was transferred to a house converted by the provincial authorities into a sort of high surveillance facility, denounce her lawyers, who say she is effectively in another jail, reports Página 12
  • A march demanding answers about disappeared Argentina activist Santiago Maldonado is expected to gather 200,000 people in Buenos Aires today, reports La Nación. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced it had awarded contracts to build several prototypes of a concrete barrier -- the first step towards President Donald Trump's polemic border wall. Though funding for the project remains uncertain, the companies will build prototypes in the San Diego area about 30 feet high so that Homeland Security can evaluate which barriers are most effective, reports the New York Times. Contracts to build prototypes in other materials -- Trump at one point mentioned transparency would be a good feature -- will be announced next week, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto denied allegations that he pressured an ally to silence criticism of his administration, reports the New York Times. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Peña Nieto likened leftist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador to Hugo Chávez, suggesting he could unleash economic chaos if elected, reports Reuters. The ruling PRI party has sought to link AMLO's Morena party to Venezuela since earlier this year.
  • A U.S. federal judge ordered the extradition of former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli to face charges that he illegally orchestrated a spying mission against his rivals while using a government-funded surveillance system, reports the Miami Herald.
  • An activist campaign against sexual abuse of children in Ecuador helped shine a light on widespread abuse in the country, and invited the scorn of people who say it attacks traditional family values, reports the Globe and Mail.
  • The last Brazilian peacekeeping soldiers to Haiti have officially wrapped up their 13-year U.N. military mission to Haiti, reports AFP.
  • A Chilean government decision to block a $2.5 billion iron-ore project in northern Chile for environmental reasons led the cabinet's economic team to resign in protest, reports Bloomberg. The debate was split between environmental concerns and the desire to revive investment after years of slow economic growth. But the disagreement also allowed politics to seep into technical decision making, criticizes Bloomberg in a separate piece.
  • Researchers identified a form of malaria parasite that spread from howler monkeys to humans in Brazil, raising concerns for eradication of the disease, reports the Guardian.
  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels end their first political conference today with a concert and speeches in Bogota’s central square, reports Reuters. They will now go by Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, preserving the FARC acronym.
  • Pope Francis will meet with victims of Colombia’s armed conflict in his visit to that country next week, reports EFE.

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