Monday, September 10, 2018

U.S. met with Venezuelan coup plotters (Sept. 10, 2018)

Members of the U.S. Trump administration met with coup-plotting Venezuelan military officers over the last year, reported the New York Times this weekend. 

The U.S. officials ultimately decided not to aid the plan, which unravelled after the Venezuelan government cracked down and arrested dozens of plotters. Nonetheless, a covert channel in Washington to discuss overturning a Latin American government could play poorly in a region sensitive to U.S. intervention. And some experts said the 

Venezuela and Bolivian President Evo Morales immediately denounced U.S. participation in a coup attempt. The meetings play into Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's ongoing narrative of U.S. intervention, which have ultimately strengthened the embattled government.

But regional response muted, especially compared to condemnation last year when U.S. President Donald Trump mooted a "military option" to oust the Venezuelan government, reports the New York Times separately. (See post for Aug. 14, 2017.)

Coup-plotters included a former military official on the U.S. sanctions list, who was kept anonymous by the NYT. He said at least three distinct groups within the Venezuelan military had been plotting against the Maduro government. Rebellious factions of the military reportedly sought encrypted radios in order to be able to simultaneously detain Maduro and other high level members of the government.

And the Washington Post notes the hopelessly amateur nature of the plan: "In an era of smartphones and encrypted apps, the request for radios struck other Venezuelan observers as absurd."

Though several experts defended maintaining a backchannel with the military, the results of the report will likely be bad, argues Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. On the one hand, it could strengthen hawks in the U.S. And "as we have said on various occasions, a military coup would be highly unpredictable, and would absolutely not guarantee a return to electoral democracy." Furthermore, it could potentially further weaken Venezuela's fractured opposition, as well as regional consensus to pressure Venezuela's government.

More from Venezuela
  • On Saturday Venezuela's government eased 15-year-old currency controls, but few experts believe the free sale of dollars will ease the country's economic crisis. (Reuters)

Nicaragua - no es normal

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said he's ready to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.N. General Assembly next week, reported France 24 this morning. It will be the first time in years that Ortega attends the U.N. annual event. Last month he kicked out a U.N. human rights delegation, just two days after it issued a scathing report on human rights violations committed as part of ongoing repression of anti-government protests. (See Sept. 3's post.)

Ortega said he was interested in dialogue with his opponents, and had approached Spain and Germany to play a role. (Reuters) Catholic Church mediated dialogue has failed to advance. Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Ortega said reports of excessive force against protesters were wrong, and denied persecution.

The United Nations has estimated at least 300 dead and 2,000 injured since protests against the government started in April and were fiercely repressed by security forces and pro-government paramilitaries.

Yesterday families of detainees marched in Managua asking for the release of political prisoners. Activists estimate that 135 people are detained for their political activities. (BBC)

Businesses around Nicaragua remained shuttered on Friday, part of a 24-hour strike called by the Civic Alliance to demand the release of activists detained by government. Reports said only 7 percent of stores were open, and the opposition alliance said the majority of the business community supported the action. (Guardian and Confidencial)

News Briefs

  • Guatemala is at an existential crossroad: either it ratifies democracy and supports an independent judiciary, or it permits corrupt elites to co-opt the state and awaken ghosts of dictatorships, argues Martín Rodríguez Pellecer in a New York Times Español op-ed. Popular outcry in favor of institutions and the U.N. anti-graft commission will be key in defining the outcome of the current crisis, he writes. (See Friday's post.)
  • Several protests demanded President Jimmy Morales' resignation today, and a big march is being planned for Wednesday by the Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas (CNOC). (El Periódico)
  • Luis Von Ahn responded to allegations agains the CICIG made by Wall Street Journal columnist Mary O'Grady. Writing in Nómada last week he argues that the commission is Guatemala's best chance at getting out of a very deep hole. "I don’t have a specific political agenda about this. Government corruption is the single problem that Guatemala needs to solve before we can move forward as a country. This is not about the left or the right. It’s about the fact that we can’t even have reasonable debates about any other issue as long our leaders break the law or make decisions primarily for their benefit."
  • The U.S. recalled its top diplomats in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama over those countries’ decisions to no longer recognize Taiwan. (Reuters) The U.S. reacted particularly strongly to El Salvador's decision to recognize China instead of Taiwan. (See Aug. 24's post.) Some analysts point to this episode as a possible factor behind the Trump administration's soft response to the Guatemalan government's attack on the U.N. anti-graft commission. (See Friday's post.)
  • An attack against far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro has intensified a polarized campaign season in Brazil. Bolsonaro, who polls first in scenarios that exclude former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is stable, and could be favored by the episode. El País reports his support could be bumped up to 26 percent as a result. That's up from 21 percent before the attack and makes Bolsonaro the clear frontrunner, though he'd likely lose in a second round of voting, reports the Wall Street Journal. The Guardian reports waves of fake news from both supporters and detractors. (See Friday's briefs.) Bolsonaro remains hospitalized, in the meantime two of his sons are campaigning in his stead. (AFP)
  • Brazil's army chief, General Eduardo Villas Boas criticized a U.N. Human Rights committee request that Lula's political rights be respected, saying it was an intervention in Brazil's sovereignty. (Infobae)
  • Widespread dissatisfaction with Brazil's political class has broken a consensus that the military should stay out of politics, reports France 24.
  • The October elections are increasingly billed at the most uncertain since the country's return to democracy about 30 years ago, with Lula's ongoing relevance surprising many observers. (NACLA)
  • A sudden change in airport fees in Brazil is forcing many museums to cancel international exhibits due to prohibitive costs. (New York Times
  • Colombia's ELN guerrillas said the government's requirement that they free all hostages in order to continue peace talks were "unacceptable." President Iván Duque has also floated concentration of the fighters in a certain area as another precondition to continue negotiations. (Reuters)
  • Peace deal commitments to help former FARC fighters start sustainable enterprises have been slow in panning out, and former guerrillas are having difficulties reintegrating into civilian life, reports the Guardian.
  • More than 3,700 Argentines, most of them women, have started formal applications to abandon the Catholic Church, after a failed attempt to legalize abortion last month. Church leadership played a strong role in opposing the bill, and many senators referenced their faith as a reason for voting against it. (Guardian)
  • Argentina could lose about 40,000 jobs in its construction sector in coming months as a result of inflation and austerity economic policies. (Reuters)
  • A mass grave site where Veracruz state authorities said they found 166 skulls last week was the same location authorities found 47 bodies two years ago, reports the Associated Press. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Odebrecht corruption allegations in Mexico go up to the presidential level, but investigations have been hampered by actors in the judicial sector who shielded senior officials, according to a new book by Mexican investigative journalist Raúl Olmos. (EFE)
  • Migrants have had a profound impact in the U.S. but their experiences there have also impacted culture and experiences in the countries they come from. The New York Times reports on how the U.S. looms large in rural Guatemala.
  • Thousands marched to commemorate victims of Chile's 17-year Pinochet dictatorship this weekend. (Telesur)
  • An international tribunal ruled in favor of U.S. oil company, Chevron, in a dispute with Ecuador's government over environmental damages. (BBC)
Climate change
  • Developed nations have contributed far less than promised to help mitigate climate change in the worlds poorest countries. (New York Times)
  • Uruguayans are known for their mate addiction -- thanks to the country's landmark cannabis legalization, they can now drink it infused with CBD! (AFP)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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