Monday, August 6, 2018

Maduro attacked by drones (Aug. 6, 2018)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he was the target of a drone assassination attempt on Saturday, at a military parade in Caracas. The government said seven people were injured in attacks from drone-like devices carrying explosives. Authorities detained six people suspected of using two drones packed with one kg of explosives, aimed at decapitating the government, reports the Associated Press. Attorney general Tarek William Saab said two of the suspects were caught in the act, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Witnesses confirmed a drone and apparent explosion, though some accounts say it wasn't related to an attack.

The New York Times describes a chaotic scene -- including the panicked response of soldiers who scrambled for safety when they heard explosions. (Videos here.) In another piece the New York Times calls it "an attack that seemed scripted for Hollywood: Off-camera explosions. Low-flying drones exploding midair. The president and first lady ducking for cover. Thousands of soldiers in a military parade suddenly fleeing in a stampede that was broadcast to the country, live."

The government quickly blamed a Colombian-Venezuelan exile alliance for the alleged attacks. "I am alive and victorious," Maduro said in a bellicose televised address. "Everything points to the Venezuelan ultra-right in alliance with the Colombian ultra-right, and that the name of Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack." Santos, whose term as Colombian president ends tomorrow, denied the allegations, saying he has more important things to do. (See briefs below on Santos.)

A little known right-wing group -- Soldados de Franelas -- claimed involvement in the attack on Twitter, saying snipers succeeded in downing the drones before their reached their target. 

Some observers wonder whether the attack was real at all, reports the Wall Street Journal. The NYT, for example, notes the lack of special security measures in the area yesterday.

But many others, such as WOLA senior fellow David Smilde said the attack was likely real, noting the chaotic images of the scene which reflect unfavorably on the government and that the attack appeared "amateurish." (Guardian and New York Times) Regardless of the veracity of the attack, it will likely be used to justify further repression and unify government supporters, said WOLA expert Geoff Ramsey. Opposition leaders have warned the alleged attack could spur a political crackdown, reports the Guardian.

Earlier this year, a cop turned actor who staged a helicopter attack on government buildings last year was killed by security forces. (See Jan 17's briefs.)

News Briefs

  • Iván Duque will swear in as Colombian president this week, and already faces his first major political crisis: whether to uphold the national institutions or his political mentor, Álvaro Uribe, writes César Rodríguez Garavito in a New York Times Español op-ed. (See last Thursday's post.)
  • Outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos leaves behind a fairer, more modern, and safer country -- but the country is divided and many of the gains are in danger of not consolidating, writes Juanita León at la Silla Vacía.
  • Semana columnist María Jimena Duzán compares Santos to a Shakespearean hero in an interview with la Silla Vacía.
  • The Workers' Party named former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva its candidate for October's presidential elections. The popular leader is in jail serving a corruption sentence, which will likely disqualify him from running. It's not clear who the PT will replace him with should that occur, reports the Guardian. Even if he can't run, Lula will likely be a defining factor in the upcoming race, notes the New York Times. The PT is hoping to generate popular pressure on courts to free him to campaign -- Lula's supporters say the case against him is politically motivated.
  • Brazilian far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro chose a controversial former general as his running mate yesterday.General Antonio Hamilton Mourão was removed from his post as army finance chief after remarks last year pressuring courts to punish corrupt politicians and saying the military could take over if Brazil is in chaos. (Reuters)
  • Brazil's Supreme Court is holding its second day of hearings on the issue of abortion. Brazilian abortion laws, which prohibit the procedure with few exceptions, are challenged as being at odds with constitutional protections. On the first day of hearings on Friday, most speakers spoke in favor of decriminalizing abortions, reports the New York Times.
  • The Argentine Senate's leanings ahead of the big abortion vote on Wednesday remain too close to call, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The U.N. human rights council ruled in favor of a prominent Mexican journalist who exposed a network of corruption and child exploitation allegedly involving public authorities and recognized businessmen. The resolution found Lydia Cacho was arbitrarily detained by police, subjected to torture and gender violence and had her right to free expression violated. Cacho's case was represented by the Mexican chapter of Article 19. The U.N. resolution rebukes Mexico's protections for journalists, and calls on eight states to scrap laws criminalizing calumny and defamation. More than 100 media workers have been killed in Mexico since 2000. (Guardian and Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas)
  • Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will review security agreements with the United States, including the $2.9 billion Merida Initiative. He wants to refocus aid to social and economic projects said Alfonso Durazo, who will head a new public security ministry under the incoming government. (Reuters)
  • The Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) says it has closed its offices in the country after receiving threats. (BBC)
  • Nicaragua is in chaos, and international observers are denouncing widespread human rights violations. But the events aren't happening in a vacuum, violations against women, human rights defenders and indigenous tribes have been ongoing, though the international press has been largely silent regarding Nicaragua in recent years -- writes Cynara Medina in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Carlos Mejía Godoy, a well loved former Sandinista musician turned Ortega critic, has fled Nicaragua, claiming he feared assassination, reports the Guardian.
  • Nicaragua's political crisis has ravaged its tourism industry, reports the Guardian.
  • Cuba has come a long way since it was infamous internationally for mistreatment of gay men in the 1970s. "These days Cuba is one of the most tolerant societies in the world when it comes to sexual difference," thanks in large part to Mariela Castro's efforts, writes Rubén Gallo in a New York Times Español op-ed. A new constitution, expected to pass early next year, will provide a legal framework for Cuban society's achievements in recent years, he argues.
  • Hundreds of women expressed interest in joining Ecuador's army, which will recruit 200 women in the first phase of mixed gender volunteer military service. (EFE)
  • Bolivia's President Evo Morales has become the world's first head of state to publish the details of his bank account online, according to the government. (TeleSUR)
  • Bolivia is on the verge of producing bioethanol at a mass scale, reports EFE.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse named Jean Henry Ceant to be his next prime minister. (AFP)
  • Paraguay officially eradicated malaria in June, the first South American country to do so. Its example is important as cases in neighboring countries grow and climate change threatens to spread the disease, reports the Guardian.

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