Friday, May 18, 2018

Venezuelans vote Sunday - sort of (May 18, 2018)

Venezuelan head to the polls Sunday -- at least some of them. President Nicolás Maduro is expected to win another term in an exercise criticized for lack of electoral guarantees. Though some polls show opposition candidate Henri Falcón in the lead, "the government’s willingness and capacity to manipulate the voting process and results to its own advantage" and a call by the country's main opposition parties to boycott the vote makes a Maduro win likely, explains Geoff Ramsey in a helpful Q&A at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.

Obstacles to a free election have been in place for months, and include the barring of principal opposition parties and leaders from participating. Lack of electoral guarantees include lack of electoral software auditing, a rushed registration period, and lack of indelible ink to prevent multiple voting, notes Ramsey. The election date was set hastily, and gave the opposition little time to organize primaries, notes the International Crisis Group.

As Human Rights Watch's Tamara Taraciuk and Provea's Rafael Uzcátegui noted in a recent New York Times Español op-ed, the Maduro administration has called for citizens to use a sort of social security card when voting, provoking many to fear their access to scarce supplies could be cut short.

There is also about 20 percent of the population that supports the government, notes Reuters.

Whether to vote or not has been a subject of heated debate among those who oppose the government. For Javier Corrales, "The correct question to ask is not whether voting is ideal — it certainly is not. We should be asking whether voting is better than doing nothing," he writes in a New York Times op-ed arguing in favor of participating, despite the massive irregularities. "The more the opposition votes, the more the regime will be forced to either cheat on Election Day or acknowledge publicly its electoral weaknesses, both of which will weaken Mr. Maduro within his own movement."

On the other side, in another New York Times Español op-ed, Elizabeth Núñez argues that participating legitimizes an illegitimate vote

Falcón's long-shot candidacy has injected a measure of debate into the electoral process, though the boycott-favoring opposition parties say his candidacy lends a veneer of legitimacy to a sham vote, notes the New York Times. And many suspect that even if he somehow wins, he won't be allowed to assume office, notes the Associated Press.

The U.S., the E.U. and several Latin American countries have said they will not recognize the results. This will likely lead to more sanctions in the short-term and further isolation of Venezuela, said international expert Mariano Alba in an interview with Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Earlier this week the E.U. foreign policy chief suggested that Cuba could help broker dialogue, reports Reuters.

The election takes place in a country that "is fast becoming a failed state," reports the Washington Post. "Armed gangs and Colombian guerrilla groups are operating unchecked on Venezuela’s borders. Pro-government militias are terrorizing urban areas, while police stand accused of extrajudicial killings. Four of the 10 most dangerous cities in the world are now in Venezuela, according to a 2017 study by the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank that studies violence."

According to the Wall Street Journal, the military has become a pressure cooker of discontent and the Achilles' Heel of the government. But conspirators have been thwarted by intelligence operations and doubts whether the opposition can be counted on for support, according to the piece.

Moving forward, a negotiated transition of some sort is the likely path out of the crisis, recent high-profile calls for a military coup notwithstanding. David Smilde notes that there is little guarantee that a military intervention would lead to more democracy. WOLA calls for meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition. "This is partly because we support solutions that fully restore the rights of Venezuela’s people while avoiding bloodshed. But it is also because we are realistic about the current power dynamics in the country. We know that any meaningful solution will have to be a negotiated one, as political elites in Venezuela are unlikely to cede power without some kind of guarantees—however difficult these may be."

  • Relatives of political prisoners in the Helicoide prison, which was taken by inmates on Wednesday, said they lost contact yesterday afternoon, when authorities supposedly recovered control of the facility, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Confusion remains over what is happening in the prison and the fate of prisoners, including U.S. citizen Joshua Holt, reports the Miami Herald.
News Briefs

  • The U.S. and Mexico are exploring an agreement that would force asylum seekers to petition Mexico for refuge rather than the U.S. The "safe third country" agreement would allow U.S. authorities to legally turn away asylum seekers who cross Mexico to reach the U.S., reports the New York Times. But critics say Mexico's asylum system is already overwhelmed, and would be ill-equipped to deal with the sudden surge in petitions that would result from such an agreement. The carrot for Mexican officials would be exemption from steel and aluminum tariffs and flexibility with NACLA negotiations reports Apro
  • Independent candidate Margarita Zavala announced her withdrawal from the presidential race earlier this week, potentially boosting the odds for second-place runner Ricardo Anaya, reports the Wall Street Journal. The former first lady said she is open to discussions with Anaya as well as the lagging PRI candidate, José Antonio Meade, reports Animal Político.
  • Frontrunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador extended his lead to 19 percentage points in May, reports Reuters.
  • A mayoral candidate for the Juntos Haremos Historia coalition was kidnapped in her Michoacán state municipality yesterday, reports Animal Político.
  •  Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) is suing a Dutch development bank in relation to the controversial Agua Zarca dam project. The family of assassinated Copinh leader Berta Cáceres is joining the organization's suit, which alleges the FMO failed to observe the human rights of local people affected by the project and disregarded warnings about human rights violations perpetrated in the area, and raised by Cáceres before her death in 2016, reports the Guardian.
  • Right-wing candidate Ivan Duque is in the lead for Colombia's upcoming presidential election. Thirty-five percent of voters said they planned to back him in the most recent poll, reports Reuters.
  • Thirty-four Chilean bishops have offered to resign in the wake of a sexual-abuse cover up scandal. It is not clear whether Pope Francis will accept some or all of the resignations, reports Reuters.
  • Several Latin American countries have rushed to follow the U.S. lead to open Jerusalem embassies. Though Paraguay, Honduras and Guatemala all have large evangelical Christian populations and long-standing ties to Israel, the reason is more likely related to currying U.S. favor, writes Rick Noack in the  Washington Post.
Soap operas
  • A mostly white cast on a soap opera set in the Brazilian state of Bahia, where most of the population identifies as black or mixed race has raised hackles. The national Labour Prosecution Service issued a recommendation to O Globo to review the cast, reports the Guardian.

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