Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Venezuela's crisis deepens even more (Aug. 21, 2018)

Venezuela devalued its crumbling currency, the Bolivar, yesterday. The government slashed five zero's off the currency, which will now be known as the Strong Bolivar. The new bolivar will be pegged the recently launched "petro" crypto currency, which is based on oil prices. Yesterday was declared a holiday and traffic was light in Caracas. Businesses were uncertain over how to confront the new economic measures. (Los Angeles Times and Efecto Cocuyo)

It's all part of an economic plan President Nicolás Maduro promised will revitalize the hyper-inflation plagued economy. The plan, which Maduro said was concocted without "experts," involves raising taxes, petrol prices and the new currency. The minimum wage will soon be increased by 3,000 percent. (Guardian) Maduro also said the new currency will have new system to determine the exchange rate, though the mechanism wasn't clear, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Economists say the measures are unlikely to improve an economy where inflation is expected to hit one million percent this year. (For those who are unsure of how hyperinflation works, there's a cool Guardian explainer -- before the changes one chicken was worth about 14 and a half kilos of banknotes, representing 14.6 million bolivars.) In fact, the government has no plan to stop printing currency, a key issue undermining the bolivar's value, reports the Washington Post.

The political opposition called for a 24-hour strike today -- though even that decision is subject to internal fractures, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Business leaders who have joined the call say they cannot face the wage increases announced by Maduro. (Los Angeles Times)

The measures could worsen what is already a migration crisis in the region -- the amount of people fleeing Venezuela could soon surpass that of the Syrian exodus. (Economist) An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015, mostly for Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. (Guardian)

Ecuador instituted new rules last week, requiring Venezuelans crossing the border to hold valid passports -- an difficult requirement in a country where bureaucratic inefficiency has combined with corruption and paper shortages. Authorities were not strict about enforcing the rule with migrants who sought to cross on foot anyway, but they will have trouble buying transportation tickets and eventually exiting the country, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's briefs.) Peru, the target destination of many of the Venezuelans crossing into Ecuador, will institute a passport requirement this week. (BBC)

Yesterday Brazilian authorities promised to keep the border with Venezuela open, despite attacks by locals in Roraima state against Venezuelan migrants, reports Deutsche Welle. (See yesterday's briefs.) On Sunday President Michel Temer announced an increase in troops to defend the border crossing and will accelerate relocation of migrants to other states in Brazil. A Brazilian army spokesman said about 900 Venezuelans were expected in the state of Roraima yesterday, a steep rise in the daily average, reports the BBC.

In response to a Colombian request, the U.S. is sending a Navy hospital ship to attend to refugees off the Colombian coast. (ABC)

In a Washington Post op-ed, former Caracas city council member Diego Scharifker says it is impossible for the opposition to stand up to government oppression by itself, and calls for more international pressure on the regime.

More from Venezuela
  • U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips reached an agreement with Venezuelan state oil company Pdvsa regarding a $2 billion judgment handed down by an International Chamber of Commerce tribunal. Pdvsa will be allowed to pay over nearly five years, but seems unlikely to meet those terms, reports the New York Times.
News Briefs

  • On Saturday a few hundred Costa Ricans demonstrated against Nicaraguan migration to the country -- violence flared and 38 Costa Ricans and 6 Nicaraguans were arrested. The Costa Rican government rejected the demonstrations. It appears anger was stoked by false social media posts depicting Costa Rican flags being burnt and that Nicaraguan refugees would receive full college scholarships, among other rumors. (ConfidencialTico Times, and Voice of America)
  • At least fourteen people were killed in Rio de Janeiro during security forces' operations in favelas. The military command in charge of the city's security said 4,200 soldiers, backed by armored vehicles and aircraft, entered the Alemao and Mare favela complexes in a crackdown on drug trafficking, and confirmed eight deaths, reports AFP.
  • Jailed former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has increased his lead in opinion polls to 37 percent, and would win October's presidential election if he was allowed to run, according to CNT/MDA and Ibope poll. About half of his voters would transfer their votes to his running mate, Fernando Haddad, if Lula is prevented from running, reports Reuters.
  • A new Ibope poll shows that far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro has a solid lead if Lula is excluded from the race: he has 20 percent, and his closest competitor, environmentalist Marina Silva, has 12, reports Reuters. Business favorite Geraldo Alckmin is trailing, with 7 percent.
  • Brazilian electoral authorities will likely block former Lula from running for presidency in October. This is a mistake, argues Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Having Lula on the ballot will strengthen democracy in Brazil, which is a necessary, though insufficient, condition for the rule of law." He argues that the accusations against Lula are too weak, the alleged crime so minor, and the sentence so disproportionate, that democracy's concerns must overrule those of the rule of law. "In an ideal world, the two go hand in hand, and, no doubt, don't crash into each other. In Brazil they do. I am with democracy, with everything, and its defects."
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights emphasized that repression against protesters in Nicaragua continues. The newest phase of repression focuses on judicial persecution, and the special monitoring group of experts has been thwarted in its attempts to monitor proceedings, reports Confidencial. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Berta Cáceres' daughter called for international observation of the trial of her alleged killers next month -- noting important irregularities and lack of judicial will to confront the criminal structure behind the 2016 murder of the environmental and indigenous activist. (EFE)
El Salvador
  • El Salvador severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan on Tuesday in order to establish ties with China, reports the New York Times.
  • The "Cuadernos de la Corrupción" case, detailing an alleged extended corruption network related to public works contracts under the Kirchner government's could be the start of Argentina's own Lava Jato -- but it will be difficult argues journalist Hugo Alconada Mon in a New York Times Español op-ed. Legal issues are part of the obstacle, but so is the current government's unwillingness to punish companies that are allegedly involved, out of fear of impacting the economy.
  • Connectas reports on Bolivia's San Pedro jail -- an overcrowded facility largely run by inmates who charge their fellows for everything from hospital transfers to better cells. 
  • Mexico's outgoing and incoming governments promised to cooperate for a peaceful transition despite political differences, reports the Los Angeles Times.
What is a "regime?"
  • How to characterize Venezuela's government -- and Nicaragua's and Honduras', among others in the region -- is a test of the writers' biases. While the media often refers to the Maduro regime in Venezuela, Honduras' government almost never gets the epithet. In Fair, Gregory Shupak analyzes the divergent treatments and concludes that in the mainstream media: "a country’s political leaders are likely to be called a “regime” when they do not follow US dictates, and are less likely to be categorized as such if they cooperate with the empire."
Fake News
  • Facebook suspended, and later reinstated, TeleSUR's English language page earlier this month -- and failed to give a good reason for the interruption. "Even if you were to assume the worst about Telesur — that it exists to parrot the opinions of repressive regimes — and even if you could come up with an argument that Telesur in fact ought to be suspended for one reason or another, it’s hard to imagine an argument that Facebook has no obligation to explain its actions in a manner that could be described as even mostly coherent, if not transparent," argues Sam Biddle in The Intercept
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

No comments:

Post a Comment