Friday, January 19, 2018

Venezuelan talks postponed (Jan. 19, 2017)

Venezuela's opposition refused to sit down yesterday for the latest round of peace negotiations. In part this was in response to a government official's allegations that opposition leaders helped track down Oscar Pérez, an isolated rebel opponent who was killed by security forces this week, reports the Washington Post.  (See Wednesday's briefs.)

Nonetheless, the talks being held in the Dominican Republic will likely continue, according to Efecto Cocuyo, which says Mexican and Chilean foreign ministers' not being able to attend was a more likely reason for the opposition's absence. It's not clear when the ongoing talks might resume. Earlier this week, Geoff Ramsey reviewed the ongoing negotiations between the opposition and the government at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The talks are accompanied by Dominican Republic president Daniel Medino and the foreign ministers of Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The opposition is angling to ensure free and fair presidential elections this year, as well as permit humanitarian aid for Venezuelans and free political prisoners, while the government seeks to ease international sanctions.

The Venezuelan Episcopal Conference (CEV) said the police operation that killed Pérez earlier this week as a massacre, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Some rights groups and members of the opposition have characterized the encounter as a summary execution, in response to social media videos uploaded by Pérez saying he wished to surrender. The bodies of Pérez and the six people killed along with him on Monday have not been released to their families, and will be cremated, against regulations, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

And the Minister of Communications said Pérez was planning to assassinate President Nicolás Maduro as well as several other government leaders, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

News Briefs
  • Venezuela's drop in oil production over the past year is massive -- but there's some debate over just how bad it is, reports Bloomberg. While secondary sources estimate a 14 percent drop over the past year, Venezuela says the reduction was of 29 percent. Official estimates for production decreased particularly dramatically in December, which could be strategic, explains Liam Denning. In November the government named Major General Manuel Quevedo to head state-oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA. The drop could soon revert and be chalked up to his success, according to analysts. A sad corollary? The increase in world oil prices is in part due to Venezuela's troubles. (See yesterday's briefs for the WSJ's take on the situation.)
  • The EU agreed to add Venezuela's interior minister and six other senior officials to its sanctions blacklist yesterday, reports the AFP.
  • Two former FARC fighters were killed in Colombia while campaigning for a congressional candidate for former guerrillas' political party, reports the Associated Press. The FARC said the men are just two of 30 ex-fighters who have been killed by people hoping to destabilize the peace process, according to Reuters.
  • Colombia's FARC guerrillas have indeed disbanded, but the FARC Mafia days are just beginning, writes Jeremy McDermott at InSight Crime. He is discussing dissidents, groups within the FARC that have chosen not to disarm and are focused on more economic than political goals. Specifically they are involved in illicit economies, largely drugs. He delves into the issue of the FARC's hidden "militiamen," believed to outnumber the guerrilla fighters themselves by about three to one. Most of these former fighters remain firmly entrenched in the illicit economy, he argues. "We believe that well within 20 years from today the drug trade will be dominated by a mafia run by former members of the FARC."
  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández invited defeated opponent Salvador Nasralla to dialogue, after a much questioned electoral process observers say was tainted by irregularities. Nasralla however said he would only participate if electoral fraud is included in the points of discussion, reports La Prensa.
  • OAS member states will wait until after Hernández is sworn in for his second term to ratify an Observer Mission report pointing to "grave irregularities" in the election, reports TeleSUR. Secretary General Luis Almagro has sought to have member states approve the report, putting foreign ministries in the region that have already recognized Hernández in a tough position, reports EFE. These include Mexico, the U.S. and Colombia.
  • The Mexican town of Tancítaro appears to be an island of peace in the violence torn Michoacán state. Militias paid for by avocado growers keep cartel violence out of the town, but essentially form a sort of warlord state, write Amanda Taub and Max Fisher in the New York Time's Interpreter column. "Mexico is neither a failed state nor close to becoming one. But in some pockets of the country its institutions have broken down enough to reproduce conditions that partly resemble state failure. That includes the area around Tancítaro, which is rich is natural resources. The people who have access to those resources used them to achieve a monopoly on violence, creating enough stability to sustain their access to those resources. They became warlords."
  • The PRI outsider candidate for this year's presidential elections, José Antonio Meade, was supposed to help Mexico's ruling party shed the taint of corruption. But instead Meade finds himself struggling to avoid accusations of misuse of government funds at ministries he headed, reports Bloomberg. Meade is polling third, behind leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador and left-right coalition candidate Ricardo Anaya.
  • The wall just never seems to go away: U.S. president Donald Trump insists his views on a proposed (and largely rejected) border wall between the U.S. and Mexico have never changed. This directly contradicts his own chief of staff, who earlier this week said the president's perspective had changed, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil's House Speaker, Rodrigo Maia, said the popular Bolsa Familia social program "enslaves" families who receive financial aid in exchange for ensuring their children attend school and are vaccinated, reports Folha de S. Paulo. (The program has been credited with halving Brazil's extreme poverty.)
  • Pope Francis accused sex abuse victims of slandering a bishop they accuse of shielding a pedophile priest. The slander accusation threw off his efforts to repair damage from the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Chile and marred his visit there this week, reports the New York Times.
  • Pope Francis married two members of a cabin crew in a flight between Chile and Peru this week. The two had been married in a civil service but had to cancel their religious ceremony in the wake of a 2010 earthquake, reports the Guardian.

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