Friday, November 17, 2017

Ortega accuses Maduro of crimes against humanity in ICC (Nov. 17, 2017)

Ousted Venezuelan chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega accused President Nicolás Maduro and other top officials of crimes against humanity. She asked the International Criminal Court to capture and try them in relation to approximately 8,290 deaths between 2015 and 2017 at the hands of officials who received instructions from the government, reports Reuters

Ortega appeared at the Hague-based tribunal, yesterday, to turn over more than 1,000 pieces of evidence including forensic reports, witness interviews and expert testimony linking security forces to more than 8,000 murders since 2015, reports the Associated Press

The accusation refers to incidents of torture, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrest -- some during repression of anti-government protests this year, and others during polemic police raids known as "Operations to Free the People." The AP notes that the ICC receives hundreds of fillings each year, the complaint does not mean the case will be taken up by the court's chief prosecutor.

In two closed-door OAS sessions yesterday, relatives of victims of alleged extrajudicial executions in Venezuela's protests gave testimony. A group of three international experts named by Secretary General Luis Almagro are evaluating taking another case to the Hague, reports EFE. Cases of political persecution -- towards opposition legislators and mayors -- also came up in yesterday's sessions.

Almagro said Ortega's decisión to present a complaint in the ICC strengthens the OAS's case.

Talks with opposition: Though an official dialogue meeting to be held in the Dominican Republic this week was cancelled (see yesterday's post), opposition and government delegations held a preparatory meeting yesterday that both sides considered positive, reports Efecto Cocuyo. The meeting would be held at the beginning of December and aims at guaranteeing free elections. Foreign ministers from Latin American countries would attend the December meeting as guarantors.

In turn, Maduro said he was asking for opposition support in seeking the end to international economic sanctions, reports Efecto Cocuyo separately.

Political prisoners: A former Caracas mayor under house arrest fled to Colombia. Antonio Ledezma travelled overland with his family, reports the Miami Herald. As of this week, there are 342 political prisoners in Venezuela, according to Foro Penal, cited in a separate Miami Herald piece.

Debt: Yesterday, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association has ruled that Venezuela and its state oil company PDVSA have defaulted on their debts, reports the Financial Times. But investors said they did not expect a significant market reaction, as Venezuela is making efforts to pay and holders have so far been tolerant of delays, according to Reuters. (See Tuesday's post.)

While China yesterday voiced certainty that Venezuela would meet its debt obligations, it did not provide refinancing as Russia did on Wednesday, reports El Nacional. (See yesterday's post.)

Venezuela aside: The economic crisis and shortages affecting the country have led university students to drop out in droves and top-professors to join emigrating Venezuelans. But not all schools have been affected equally, and some of the top institutions -- perceived as bastions of the wealthy elites -- appear to have been specifically targeted by the government, reports the Washington Post.

News Briefs
  • Former Nicaraguan VP Sergio Ramírez Mercado became the first Central American to win the prestigious Cervantes prize for literature, reports the Associated Press. Though he was key member of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional and Daniel Ortega's VP between 1985 and 1990, Ramírez doesn't consider himself a "political animal," reports El País in a piece that reviews his literary and political trajectory.
  • Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres' killing has been internationally condemned, but fellow activists in the Copinh organization she co-founded continue to face threats and harassment, reports the Guardian.
  • A group of Haitian government officials and business heads are accused of embezzling $2 billion in Venezuelan oil loans. A special Haitian Senate commission concluded that charges should be filed against two former prime ministers, several ex-ministers and the owners of private firms for stealing funds that left post-earthquake Haiti with unfinished government buildings, poorly constructed housing and overpriced public works contracts, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Colombia's Senate approved a transitional justice law that forms the cornerstone of the peace accord with the FARC, reports Reuters. The lower chamber of Congress is expected to vote next week. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Chileans head to the polls on Sunday. The strong favorite to win is conservative former president Sebastian Piñera, and, journalist Alejandro Guillier is expected to come in second. The two would theoretically face off in a Dec. 17 run-off election, reports Reuters. Piñera promises to revive slow economic growth, while Guillier has promised to deepen current President Michelle Bachelet's tax, labor and education reforms. (A Reuters factbox on the candidates.) The Economist is betting that "Chileans do not want to break with the liberal economic model set up under Pinochet and refined by his elected successors." Turnout in recent elections has been low, notes TeleSUR: only 43 percent of voters participated in 2013's general elections and only 13 percent went to polls for the recent primaries.
  • A general election later this month in Honduras could potentially undermine the work of a police reform commission, reports InSight Crime. While incumbent (and frontrunner) José Orlando Hernández has been a champion of the commission's work, his opponent, Salvador Nasralla has said he would revisit layoffs of police.
  • Cuba's government is turning to scientists in an attempt to disprove accusations that its behind an alleged "sonic attack" against U.S. diplomats on the island, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Many residents of San Luis de Potosi, a Mexican city considered to be a "free-trade miracle" believe they can survive the demise of NAFTA, but other communities are not so sure, reports the Washington Post.
  • Residents in Mexico's Chiapas state took matters into their own hands, and used picks and shovels to restore one of the country's best known waterfalls after it was affected by earthquakes in September. Locals were concerned about potential impact to tourism, which they depend on, reports the BBC.
  • "Democratizing coups," like the one a group of soldiers in Zimbabwe claim to have carried out against despot Robert Mugabe, are largely fiction, warns Argentine scholar Rut Diamint in the Conversation. She says Latin America's history of dictatorship shows that military juntas often claim to be patriotic, they mostly excel at violence. And though the region has made huge democratic inroads in the decades since, "ridding countries of their militaristic culture, though, has been tougher. That’s another lesson for Zimbabwe: After one military coup, civilian control over the armed forces is never again a done deal."

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