Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Venezuelan opposition councillor dies in custody (Oct. 9, 2018)

A Caracas councillor died in government custody yesterday -- authorities said he killed himself jumping from a tenth floor window in the intelligence agency headquarters, the Sebin. But government opponents challenged that version and said Fernando Alban of the Primero Justicia party was murdered. Family members demanded the corpse last night outside the morgue, as rumors on social media said the government was planning to cremate Alban to hide signs of torture. It is not clear what happened between Alban's Friday detention and death yesterday.

The autopsy was conducted with the presence of four prosecutors from the Public Ministry, but family members will not have access to the report until they file the paperwork for a death certificate, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Alban was detained on suspicion of participating in a failed alleged assassination attempt against President Nicolás Maduro in August, involving explosive laden drones at a military parade. More than two dozen people have been detained in relation to the case. The government maintains that Primero Justicia founder Julio Borges, who is in exile in Colombia, is behind the attack -- with the support of the U.S. and Colombia.

Attorney General Tareq Saab said Alban asked to use the bathroom and flung himself out the window. And Interior Minister Nestor Luis Reverol said he had jumped from a window while waiting to be brought to court. But Borges and Henrique Capriles, another Primero Justicia leader, said the death was an assassination. Allies pointed to Alban's Catholic faith, saying it was unlikely he would commit suicide. Opposition activist Sergio Contreras, who spent time in Sebin detention, tweeted that he had never been permitted to use the bathroom without custody and never one with windows.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, known for his critical stance towards the Venezuelan government, said it was “the direct responsibility of a torturing and homicidal regime.” And Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is in Venezuela for meetings with Maduro and his opponents, called Alban's death while in the government's custody "disturbing." 

The U.N. human rights office said yesterday that it will investigate the case as part of its investigation into human rights abuses in Venezuela. And the European Union asked for a rigorous and independent investigation into Alban's death and reiterated a call for the government to free political prisoners.

More from Venezuela
  • Venezuelan consumer prices rose 488,865 percent in the 12 months according to an opposition estimate. (Reuters)
  • The latest IMF calculations put Venezuela's economic crisis among the worst of recent decades. (El País)
Brazilian election
  • Brazilian voters now face a drastic choice in October 28's run-off vote between far right candidate Jair Bolsonaro -- who won nearly half of the votes on Sunday's election -- and Workers' Party candidate Fernando Haddad. What is at stake is more than an electoral victory -- it's democracy, argues El País in an editorial. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Haddad must now "un PT" himself, after spending the first part of the campaign attempting to channel former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's popularity. (El País)
  • Bolsonaro on the other hand has no plan to moderate his combative rhetoric, reports the Guardian.
  • The market welcomed Bolsonaro's strong showing. (El País)
  • El País has an interesting map showing electoral evolution in Brazil since 2002. Sunday's election showed a country that shifted drastically towards the right, reports the Washington Post. Sunday was the most sweeping political shift since Brazil's return to democracy, writes the New York Times.
  • The "conservative tsunami" swept Bolsonaro supporters into office across the country, upsetting many pre-election predictions, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Bolsonaro's strong showing in Sunday's election was a surprise, but not the only one. The Associated Press highlights the first indigenous person to win a legislative seat in over thirty years, and the first first transgender to be elected a state representative.
  • If you thought Temer was bad for the environment, see what a Bolsonaro presidency has in store according to the Guardian.
  • Evangelicals and Pentecostals played a key role in Bolsonaro's strong electoral showing on Sunday, argues Vox.
  • In the Guardian, Jeffrey Rubin analyzes the similarities between Bolsonaro and Trump's supporters and how the backlash against civil rights advances may have contributed to their rise.
News Briefs

  • The death toll from a weekend earthquake and aftershock in Haiti rose to 17 yesterday, and the number of injured people doubled. Citizens expressed frustration at the government's slow response, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department has warned banks to be wary of potential flows from Nicaraguan corruption due to increased instability in the country. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Former Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison for involvement in a fraudulent state contract to decontaminate a major lake, reports the Associated Press.
  • NACLA has a photo essay on Guatemala's anti-impunity protesters.
  • The U.N. observer mission for the Colombian peace treaty published a report criticizing the lack of resources committed to reintegrating the FARC. (DPA)
  • Mexico's Morena party, which has a majority in both chambers of congress, will seek to decriminalize abortion. However, the measure does not have the unanimous support of the party -- president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador hasn't publicly supported the effort, and has suggested a plebiscite in the past. (El País)
  • AMLO announced the end of a campaign promise to hold forums around the country allowing victims of the war on drugs to give testimony as part of shaping a new security policy. The incoming security minister said the forums would be cancelled -- 16 have been held so far -- due to lack of time, reports El País. But the forums' coordinator said the conditions to receive testimony were not appropriate, reports the Huffington Post.
  • This weekend AMLO said the government was paying too much for medicine and urged pharmaceutical companies in the country to keep prices down. (Reuters)
  • Separately this weekend, AMLO said he'd would consider legalizing certain drugs as part of a broader strategy to fight poverty and crime, reports Reuters.
It's the economy
  • The International Monetary Fund predicted that Argentina's deeper-than-expected recession and Brazil's slower growth will weigh on the economic performance of Latin America this year and next. (Bloomberg)
  • An Oxfam report signaled out Uruguay's strides in reducing inequality. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

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