Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Venezuelan negotiations foundering (Feb. 7, 2018)

Negotiations between the Venezuelan government and the opposition ended dramatically yesterday, but still without an agreement over how to guarantee free and fair elections. Dominican President Danilo Medina, who is serving as a mediator, said the discussions could continue today, reports Efecto CocuyoTelam reports that negotiations were continuing this morning. (See last Thursday's post.)

The Venezuelan government signed a "final" accord, at a table set with two pens, but failed to get their counterparts to agree report the Associated Press and  EFE. The two sides have been negotiating in the Dominican Republic regarding how to exit Venezuela's political crisis. The current focus is on guaranteeing free and fair elections, to be held before May.

The Venezuelan government accused the U.S. of sabotaging the discussions, and said all the details had been ironed out on Monday in Caracas. Lead opposition negotiator Julio Borges denied receiving instructions from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to jettison an accord.

Yesterday Borges said he would not sign an agreement that jeopardized the country's democracy, reports Efecto Cocuyo separately. Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz, who was serving as a guarantor in the discussions, said opposition delegates were under enormous pressure to sign an agreement that did not include adequate guarantees for the upcoming presidential elections.

In Bogotá yesterday, Tillerson said the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is a top priority for the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. On Sunday he said the U.S. is considering limiting oil sales from Venezuela, reports the Associated Press. While he has focused on obtaining regional support for further sanctions in his LatAm tour this week, he merely voiced support for free elections yesterday.

But Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos spoke harshly, saying Maduro will "never accept going to free and fair elections because he knows he will lose," reports Efecto Cocuyo. Santos said that given the conditions in Venezuela, it was unlikely that Colombia, and the rest of the regional block known as the Lima Group, would be able to recognize the results of presidential elections that will be held before May.

As the country seems likely headed into elections that will not be free, fair or transparent, opposition voters are increasingly looking at business leader Lorenzo Mendoza, reports Americas Quarterly. However, while he is well regarded, political considerations in a deeply divided opposition movement whose most popular leaders have been prohibited from running might well complicate his candidacy, writes Seijas Rodríguez.

Venezuela aside: Caracas residents were hit by a major power outage last night, reports the BBC. Government officials blamed "sabotage."

News Briefs
  • In Colombia Tillerson praised Colombian efforts to reduce cocaine production, but warned that the U.S. is seeking to see results, reports the Associated Press. Santos noted that efforts to reduce U.S. demand for illicit drugs are also critical.
  • U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, said that Salvadoran extraordinary measures to isolate imprisoned gang members are aimed at dehumanizing prisoners and must be stopped immediately, reports El Faro. (See yesterday's briefs.) Despite previous U.N. condemnation, the Salvadoran government is seeking to extend exceptional measures permitting restrictions on rights of incarcerated suspected gang members. (See Jan. 30's briefs.)
  • A new Mitofsky poll puts San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele ahead of opinion polls for next year's presidential elections. Outsider Bukele has a strong lead over the main ARENA and FMLN would-be candidates, with nearly 50 percent support, reports Contrapunto.
  • The OAS anti-corruption mission in Honduras has proof linking former President Porfirio Lobo to a powerful drug smuggling group, who in turn benefited from state hydroelectric contracts, reports El País. MACCIH investigators, along with Honduran prosecutors, are investigating Lobo, his wife, and several officials from the ruling party. Sources in the piece say the investigations are what spurred government attempts to limit MACCIH's investigations, the so-called "impunity pact." (See Jan. 24's post.) "If officially confirmed, the latest allegations against Lobo would illustrate how the MACCIH’s support — and that of the international community — has empowered the Attorney General’s Office to go after Honduras’ most powerful elites even in the face of strong resistance to anti-corruption efforts," according to InSight Crime.
  • The mother of a Chilean woman who says her daughter was driven to suicide by an abusive boyfriend is lobbying for a law to penalize causing suicide through extreme physical and psychological aggression, reports the Guardian.
  • Two dueling New York Times Español op-eds pose different views of the Ecuadorian referendum on Sunday that reinstated presidential term limits, among other things. (See Monday's post.) Citizen support to rollback indefinite reelection, which would have permitted former president Rafael Correa to run for a fourth term in 2021, spells out political death for the charismatic leader, argues María Sol Borja. She also notes the relevance of another referendum question, that will allow President Lenín Moreno to restructure a Citizen Participation committee with power to name important government officials. Not so fast, warns Soraya Constante. Correismo obtained nearly 37 percent of votes, making it a relevant political actor that is attracting dissidents from the governing Alianza País. And the referendum itself does not strike at the heart of many of the institutional reforms carried out by Correa, she argues, including the media law that allowed the government to silence opposition voices.
  • An InSight Crime and American University investigation questions the Trump administration's attempts to link migration with the U.S. expansion of Salvadoran street gang MS-13. "While there is clearly some communication, coordination and, in some instances, intent to commit criminal acts across borders, there is little to suggest that the migration of members and potential recruits is controlled in a top-down, coordinated fashion. And while there appears to be a disproportionate number of UAC’s involved in recent gang activities, they represent a tiny fraction of the total UAC [unaccompanied alien children] population.
  • Attempts by migrants to cross into the U.S. from Mexico fell last year, but the number who died doing so increased, according to the International Organization for Migration. Last year, 412 migrant deaths were recorded on either side of the border, up from 398 a year earlier, reports the AFP.
  • Mexico is one of the wold's most dangerous countries for journalists, forcing dozens to give up their lives and families and go into hiding in an attempt to avoid hitmen, reports the Los Angeles Times. Many seek refuge in the U.S., but have been denied asylum.
  • The latest Mexican opinion poll has Andrés Manuel López Obrador still firmly in the lead, with 38 percentage points. His rivals are closing the gap slightly though, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian police arrested 13 members of a religious sect suspected of forcing followers into enslavement, reports the BBC.
  • Two children were killed by gunfire in two separate incidents in Rio de Janeiro, just days before the emblematic Carnival celebrations. Nine people were also killed between Friday and Sunday, and police were forced to shut down three major highways, reports the Guardian.
  • Violence, ever more pronounced in Brazil, is fueled by criminal organizations and their struggles to defeat each other, writes Calorina Sampó in Nueva Sociedad. She catalogues the country's main gangs, including Primeiro Comando Da Capital (PCC) and Comando Vermelho(CV). Earlier this month, a piece in Americas Quarterly examined the rise of the PCC over the past quarter decade, "from a union of inmates seeking better treatment in Brazilian prisons into a multinational mafia with a global reach."

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