Monday, June 4, 2018

Venezuelan political prisoners released -- 300 remain behind bars (June 4, 2018)

The Venezuelan government released 39 political prisoners on Friday, and another group of 21 on Saturday. Authorities said it was a gesture of goodwill, in the midst of increasing international pressure against the Venezuelan government, including sanctions against key officials.

Foro Penal disputes the exact numbers of freed political prisoners, saying some had been previously released or were in jail for common crimes, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Former mayor of San Cristóbal and opposition leader Daniel Ceballos was among those freed under strict conditions that include checking in once a month with authorities and a prohibition from press interviews and social media commentary reports the New York Times.

Constituent Assembly President Delcy Rodríguez promised this will be the first round of other prisoner releases. And opposition governor Laidy Gómez said discussions with the government are aimed at stopping political persecution. (See Friday's briefs.)

Nonetheless, rights groups say over 300 people detained in the country should be considered political prisoners. And Foro Penal director said he feared this will be the beginning of a new round of illicit detentions of opponents.

Foro Penal also criticized the procedural terms under which the liberations happened -- technically prisoners have been released from prison, but the penal cases against them continue, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

On Friday members of the opposition controlled Nation Assembly, which has been systematically undercut by the Maduro administration over the past few years met in the border city of Cúcuta, Colombia, with lawmakers from around South America, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Venezuela's exodus
  • Venezuela "is suffering one of the most dramatic outflows of human talent in modern history ... Vast gaps in Venezuela’s labor market are causing a breakdown in daily life, and robbing this nation of its future," reports the Washington Post.
  • And the New York Times Lens column features the work of Mariana Vincenti who captures the rooms of those who have left the country seeking more opportunity.
  • The New York Times published a piece on the generation of youths who have chosen to stay in Caracas to hone their crafts -- notable because it was published without a byline in order to protect the reporter's safety.
Funny money
  • Venezuela said it will postpone a currency overhaul to remove three zeroes from the devalued bolivar to August, two months later than planned, reports Reuters.
  • Forbes estimates Venezuela's yearly inflation as of May 31 at 27,364 percent -- more than double the IMF’s year-end inflation forecast.
News Briefs

  • The OAS begins its general assembly meeting today in Washington DC. The U.S. will seek to have Venezuela suspended, and is lobbying for Caribbean countries which have traditionally allied with Maduro to switch sides, reports Efecto Cocuyo. U.S. ambassador to the OAS Carlos Trujillo said they have the votes necessary to get the topic on the agenda and passed. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will deliver the strong message at a reception with allies where he will promise to take notice of countries who don’t stand with the U.S., reports the Miami Herald.
  • Chilean President Sebastián Piñera joined calls for the OAS to take action in "recovering" democracy in Venezuela, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales criticized the move as "interventionist," reports TeleSUR.
  • Human Rights Watch called on member states to address the Nicaraguan crisis during the meeting, reports EFE. The U.S. is also pushing to include the issue on the agenda.
  • The latest polls have leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) still firmly in the lead for the presidential elections, with over 50 percent voter support, reports Reuters.
  • Should he win, AMLO's economic proposal depends on saving $20 billion from the current budget in order to increase social and infrastructure spending without increasing taxes. Experts say it isn't realistic, reports the Wall Street Journal. The plan would be led by Carlos Urzúa, who aims to find the funds by trimming the bureaucracy, seeking government efficiency and fighting corruption.
  • One issue that has been largely absent from the political campaign has been that of international relations, especially those with the U.S. The reason is that Trump's aggressive rhetoric is mostly abstract, and all of the candidates are uniformly critical of the U.S. president, reports the New York Times.
  • In fact, last week when the White House announced a 25 percent tariff on Mexican steel imports, there wasn't much of a political outcry. Just the announcement of a round of previously drawn up counter-tariffs, reports the New York Times separately.
  • A key issue will be the fate of structural reforms passed by the current Peña Nieto administration in 11 policy areas, including education, according to the Economist
  • Ahead of the July 1 vote, Animal Político reports on the electoral institute's plan to ward off cyberattacks.
  • Hundreds of displaced people from Chenalhó, in Chiapas, have asked authorities to set up special ballot boxes near their camps, arguing they face mortal danger if they return to their community to vote, reports Animal Político.
  • Rampant corruption has discredited Brazil's mainstream political parties. Now "an unprecedented wave of new candidates [is] running for office in Brazil at both the local and national level," reports the New York Times. Corruption tops the list of voter concerns ahead of October's presidential elections, and trust in political parties is at an all time low. While outsiders may not create a major political shift, they could lay the groundwork for future evolution, say experts.
  • A top Petrobras exec resigned Friday, in the wake of government promises to subsidize fuel, reports the New York Times. The move signals disagreement with the new policy, and will likely affect investor interest in the Brazilian oil market.
  • The decision was however politically necessary -- most Brazilians supported a truckers strike that paralyzed the country last week demanding lower fuel prices, among other things, notes the Economist.
  • The Barbados Labour Party won recent House of Assembly elections by a landslide, reports the Economist.
  • At least 25 people were killed and 300 injured in Guatemala's Fuego volcano's most violent eruption in the past four decades, reports the Guardian. Ash reached Guatemala City and forced its international airport to temporarily shut down.
  • Last week Chile approved the region's most stringent limitations on plastic bags -- a total ban to be implemented in six months for large retailers and in two years for smaller businesses, reports the New York Times.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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