Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Trump hits against Venezuela at U.N. (Sept. 26, 2018)

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would be willing to meet with his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro. Entering the U.N., Trump said all options are on the table when it comes to Venezuela. (Reuters

Yesterday he declined to answer reports' questions regarding potential intervention, saying he doesn't reveal military strategy. (Associated Press)  But, in a press conference with Colombian president Iván Duque, Trump appeared to encourage a military coup, saying "it’s a regime that frankly could be toppled very quickly by the military, if the military decides to do that." He also joked about the Venezuelan military's reaction to an attempted drone attack against Maduro in August, reports the Miami Herald. Troops participating in a military parade ran from the scene in reaction to sounds of explosions. (See Aug. 6's post.)

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza fired back, saying it was "grotesque" for Trump to talk about "coups and assassinations" at the United Nations. Maduro said the sanctions were an honor coming from an ideological foe like Trump, reports Reuters. Other reports say Maduro called Trump a coward for targeting his family. (Associated Press)

The statements come amid an escalation in international pressure against Venezuela. The U.S. announced sanctions against top Venezuelan officials yesterday, including Maduro's wife, Cilia Flores. (See yesterday's post.) The Associated Press analyzes the latest round of sanctions against Venezuelan leadership -- which deviates from a previous strategy of sparing key leaders like vice president Delcy Rodríguez, in hopes of sowing division within the government. The piece quotes David Smilde who says broad sanctions against all the Maduro leadership could unify the government. In the Miami Herald, Andrés Oppenheimer argues that Trump's statements at the U.N. yesterday were counterproductive and undermine regional efforts to restore Venezuelan democracy.

A military option for Venezuela remains a distinctly fringe view, and yet has been discussed with increasing frequency since Trump unexpectedly mentioned the possibility last year. (Business Insider) OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro has said a military intervention cannot be ruled out, inciting debate over whether it would be legal under international law. (See last Friday's and Thursday's briefs.) Earlier this month the New York Times reported that Trump administration officials met with Venezuelan coup plotters. (See Sept. 10's post.) And yesterday Axios reported that a former senior Trump administration official, speaking at a Wilson Center event in Washington, said the White House National Security Council drafted a step-by-step “program of escalation” for Venezuela after Trump took office, including the grounds for military intervention.

However, the Trump nominee to lead U.S. military operations in Latin America said yesterday that there is no planning under way for any kind of military option to address the economic and political crisis in Venezuela. (Reuters)

Other countries in the region have strongly condemned a military option, as has Human Rights Watch. Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra was the latest to speak out against military solution in an interview with Reuters yesterday.

On a parallel track of international pressure, several governments in the region will present a request today to the International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela’s government for crimes against humanity. (See yesterday's post.)

The Venezuelan crisis does not yet justify a military solution, and the international community must exhaust all other options on the table before contemplating one, writes Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed. He points to oil sanctions, which have been avoided thus far because they will likely increase shortages causing widespread suffering in Venezuela. 

Guatemala maintains battle against CICIG

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales used his U.N. General Assembly address yesterday to the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), telling the gathered heads of state that the agency was a "threat to peace" in the Central American nation. (Associated Press and La HoraLa República has highlights from the speech.

"In essence, the CICIG has become a threat to peace in Guatemala. The CICIG has created a system of terror, a system wherein those who think differently are persecuted," he said, accusing the commission of abuses of power, violations of human rights and politicizing justice in Guatemala. He especially singled out CICIG head Iván Velásquez, who he banned from reentering Guatemala last month, and who's continued barring is the subject of what many consider to be a constitutional crisis. (El País and Nómada)

Though the Guatemalan constitutional court has insisted Velásquez be allowed to continue his work unimpeded, the Guatemalan government reiterated yesterday that he will not be permitted back into the country for now. (Associated Press) The court's decisions are legally binding. Nómada has the nitty gritty details.

In his U.N. speech, Morales attempted to blame deaths on the CICIG, saying that it had caused fatalities by pressuring judges to deny five unidentified suspects in custody proper medical treatment. (El Periódico and La Hora fact-checked the speech, including his (false) affirmation that the Morales administration hasn't been investigated for corruption.)

He also lashed out at U.N. Secretary-general Antonio Guterres, saying he showed “indifference and passivity” when presented with the Guatemalan government’s concerns about CICIG. Nonetheless, the two met yesterday behind closed doors, and foreign minister Sandra Jovel said there is goodwill to find a solution to the Guatemalan government's concerns. (El Periódico and La Hora)

Hours after Morales' speech yesterday, former attorney general Thelma Aldana called on him to "stop lying and submit to justice." (La República)

A former member of Morales' cabinet told Nómada that the president has been swayed in the CICIG crisis by officials who seek to duck corruption investigations.

In a recent interview, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú said Guatemala's current crisis is reminiscent of the 1980s, but emphasizes that mobilized citizens will not allow a backwards slide. (Nómada)

News Briefs

  • Latin America is in the throws of a migration crisis -- and refugees increasingly wind up in cities. Though municipal services are overwhelmed in many cases, cities are "comparatively well positioned to assist refugees", argues Robert Muggah in the Conversation.
  • The Mexican government disarmed Acapulco's local police force, in response to to suspicions that the city police force had been infiltrated by organized crime. Two police commanders were arrested on homicide charges and the rest of the force will face investigation. The Guerrero state government cited the city's rise in crime and "null" reaction of the municipal police. The resort city's security will be taken over by federal and state police forces, with the backing of the Mexican Army. (Animal Político and New York Times)
  • The Mexican National Commission of Missing Persons published photos of personal possessions found in a Veracruz mass grave, with hopes that it will allow people to identify missing loved ones, reports Al Jazeera. (See Sept. 7's briefs.)
  • Four years after 43 students were forcibly disappeared in Iguala, the Ayotzinapa case has become symbolic of collusion between Mexico's security forces and criminal gangs. But it's not clear whether the incoming government will be able to tackle the problem, reports InSight Crime.
  • Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez denounced the lack of investigation into the death of a man who died in police custody, in relation to the Ayotzinapa case. (Animal Político)
  • A Mexican government body acknowledged for the first time that the massacre of student protesters at the capital’s Plaza of the Three Cultures on Oct. 2, 1968, was a "state crime." (Associated Press)
  • Official statistics from last year show common crime increased in 2017. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Brazil's heated election campaign is rife with misinformation. In an effort to fight fake news, 24 media organizations – ranging from national newspapers and television networks to specialist and local publications – have joined forces under the name Comprova, or Prove It. The Guardian reports.
  • Colombian President Iván Duque has backed off from a campaign proposal to unify the country' highest courts into one single court. But his mentor, Senator and former president Álvaro Uribe, has presented a bill in Congress for the reform, which critics called authoritarian. (Semana)
  • Peru and China could update their bilateral free trade agreement by 2020. (Reuters)
More from the U.N.
  • Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez accepted an invitation to visit Cuba. (EFE)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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