Thursday, February 8, 2018

Venezuelan elections in April, no agreement with opposition (Feb. 8, 2017)

Venezuela's government announced elections for April 22. President Nicolás Maduro is seeking a second term in the midst of a protracted political, social and economic crisis. Most of the opposition's top contenders have been banned from participating, and it is not clear who will run against the government, reports the New York Times. Many opposition parties were also made ineligible by the government, after boycotting municipal elections in December due to alleged fraud and irregularities in an earlier October regional elections.

The upcoming snap presidential elections don't appear to be off to a promising start. The announcement comes as negotiations between the government and members of an opposition coalition -- aimed in part at ensuring free and fair elections -- failed in Santo Domingo yesterday. 

El País reports that the agreement proposed by the government consisted of generic platitudes regarding the importance of electoral guarantees and fair process, but that negotiators refused to consider opposition demands for more time before the vote and of changing the composition of the electoral council, which has been accused of working in favor of the government. Opposition leaders sought a later election date and concrete measure to guarantee equitable access to publicity and  a veto of use of public resources in the campaign.

Efecto Cocuyo reports that the government negotiators didn't even show up after failing to sign an accord on Tuesday. (See yesterday's post.) Opposition negotiators said their demand to free political prisoners was not heard, and government negotiators accused the U.S. of intervening against a pact.

Opposition leader Julio Borges, the MUD coalition's lead negotiator in the Dominican Republic discussions, said there were two potential scenarios moving forward: a full boycott from all opposition parties, in demand of electoral guarantees, or a unified "anti-system" candidate. He said the strategic decision must be taken quickly, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Venezuela's government is required to hold a presidential election this year, but critics note that the short time frame and barring of most of the relevant players in the opposition field mean the exercise is unlikely to result in international recognition. The U.S. and major countries in the region have already announced they would not recognize the results, notes the Financial Times.

Some experts say the top potential opposition candidate would be Henry Ramos Allup, the former leader of the national assembly. His party is still eligible to run. (See post for Jan. 4, 2016)

The government said a window of only three weeks will be allowed for campaigning, between April 2 and April 19.

News Briefs
  • The International Criminal Court has opened a preliminary probe against Venezuela, for alleged crimes against humanity during repression of political demonstrations last year and the arrest and detention of members of the opposition, reports AFP. The process is preliminary, and examines the available information to determine if a full investigation is warranted, explains EFE.
  • Human Rights Watch called on Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to intervene in the case of 61 people detained arbitrarily in Venezuela. Sixty are Colombian citizens, and one is a Venezuelan unfairly expelled from Colombia, according to the organization. Most were detained in a 2016 police crackdown, part of a criticized "Operación de Liberación del Pueblo" which has been accused of human rights violations.
  • Nómada has an in-depth investigation into how Guatemala dramatically reduced its homicide rates from 17 per 100,000 in 2008 to 12 in 2016. "In a violent neighborhood like Central America and Mexico, that a country has reduced its homicides for nine consecutive years should be news. It isn't in Guatemala. Because nobody claims it and because nobody has a convincing answer that explains why at least 4030 lives were saved." The piece explores seven neighborhoods where homicides changed most radically, looks at available data and checks out several hypothesis as to why the reduction happened. In an accompanying editorial, Martín Rodríguez Pellecer and Elsa Cabria focus on the work of the Public Ministry and the CICIG in persecuting "social cleansing" carried out by elite groups of the Policía Nacional Civil.
  • Two years ago, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales took office promising change. Since then, he's "allowed himself to be guided by dark powers and withdrawn his support for anti-corruption efforts in order to save his and his family's necks," writes Paolina Albani in Nueva Sociedad, wading in to the trajectory of the administration over the past two years.
  • Bermuda has become the first country in the world to legalize and then rollback same-sex marriage, reports the Guardian. The governor signed a bill repealing gay marriage, though a supreme court ruling last year authorized it. The government argued that legislation permitting domestic partnerships complies with European court rulings regarding LGBT rights balanced with voter opposition to same sex marriage in a referendum.
  • The British government approved the sale of sophisticated spyware to the Honduran government, shortly before the questioned November presidential elections. Telecommunications interception equipment worth at least £300,000, technology which can be used to intercept, monitor and track emails, mobile phones, and online messaging services such as WhatsApp was sold to Honduras for use by its law enforcement agencies, reports the Guardian, which notes that the country's security forces have a "dismal" human rights record. "At least 40 people have been killed since the elections, and more than 2,000 detained, with many held under a controversial new terrorism law. High-profile activists say they have been harassed and intimidated by security forces."
  • Trump's criticized immigration plan, though in many ways offensive to Mexicans, could have several advantages, if "viewed somewhat cynically from the perspective of strict Mexican national interests," argues Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed. "... The four-pillar plan has inconveniences for Mexico but also many advantages. That it is racist as well as unworthy of the American immigration ideal and inflames the worst demons in American society is another matter. As Mr. Trump says, countries have to look out for their own interests."
  • A São Paulo carnival event -- billed as "Brazil’s largest anti-Communist block party" -- has been criticized for glorifying Brazil's dictatorship past. The carnival event “Dops Basement” is named after the Department of Political and Social Order, a police intelligence agency that tortured dissidents during the 1964-1985 military regime, reports the Guardian. Prosecutors tried to stop the party, but a judge permitted it to go ahead, citing freedom of expression. The debate takes on special relevance in light of the popularity of right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, who is a vocal supporter of the military regime.
  • An Mexican YouTube political satirist was killed in Acapulco this week by gunmen. Authorities say Leslie Ann Pamela Montenegro del Real, better known for her irreverent character "Nana Pelucas," was killed by members of a criminal gang. Her videos also criticized Acapulco's PRD government, notes Animal Político.
  • Illegal fuel taps increased by about 50 percent last year according to Mexican state oil company Pemex. Last year, Mexico’s government estimated that the 2016 thefts cost Pemex about $1 billion for the year, reports the Associated Press. (See briefs for May 15, 2017.)
  • Increasing renewable energy to 80 percent of the energy matrix and expanding cross-border connections, could save Latin American countries "billions of dollars in investments, avoid blackouts and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, according to recent findings by the Inter-American Development Bank." But the main obstacle to energy integration is political, argue Lisa Viscidi and Ariel Yépez in a New York Times op-ed. "Most countries are reluctant to rely on their neighbors for energy, deeming self-sufficiency more important than cost, reliability and sustainability. Rather than pursuing this narrow view of energy security, Latin American countries should embrace the advantages of electricity diversification by interconnecting."
  • Ambitious food regulations in Chile aim to fight the nation's obesity epidemic by limiting how companies can market products, especially to kids, reports the New York Times. In addition to prohibiting cartoon characters from junk food packages, and toys from candy like Kinder eggs, a new measure will require packaged food companies to display black warning logos on items high in sugar, salt, calories or saturated fat. "Strolling through a Chilean supermarket can be visually jarring. Boxes of Nesquik chocolate powder no longer include Nestle’s hyperkinetic bunny. Gone, too, are the dancing candies that enliven packages of M&Ms the world over. Then there are the warning signs that appear on the front of countless items. Cereal bars, yogurts and juice boxes, products long advertised as “healthy,” “natural” or “fortified with vitamins and minerals,” now carry one or more of the black warning labels."

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