Thursday, January 31, 2019

Venezuela's dual presidency crisis deepens (Jan. 31, 2019)

Tensions in Venezuela continue to rise, and the international community keeps raising the stakes in the stand off between Nicolás Maduro -- whose second term is widely considered to be based on illegitimate elections -- and the self-proclaimed interim president, National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó. (Efecto Cocuyo yesterday's escalation in detail.)

Maduro said yesterday he'd be willing to enter negotiations with Guaidó -- a move that came after Venezuelan authorities prohibited the self-declared interim president from leaving the country or accessing his bank accounts. Armed intervention in Venezuela would be worst than Vietnam promised Maduro in the midst of an increasingly tense international showdown. (Washington Post and New York Times. See also Tuesday's post and Monday's.)

Venezuelans are broadly united in a desire for change, writes Guaidó in a New York Times Español op-ed. "The military’s withdrawal of support from Mr. Maduro is crucial to enabling a change in government, and the majority of those in service agree that the country’s recent travails are untenable." He said he has held "clandestine" meetings with members of the security forces. 

Crackdowns against anti-Maduro demonstrators in poor neighborhoods have been carried out by a relatively new specialized force aimed at fighting gangs -- a sign of potential weakening of armed forces support for Maduro say some experts. Rights groups say at least 40 people have been killed in the past 10 days of protests, mostly in night raids in poor neighborhoods, carried out by the Special Actions Force, or FAES, reports the New York Times. (See Tuesday's post and more on protests in "popular" neighborhoods at Efecto Cocuyo)

Two Venezuelan army defectors have asked the Trump administration to arm them, and claim to be in contact with hundreds of willing defectors. (CNN)

Guaidó urged the international community to keep pressuring for new elections, reports the Guardian. The U.S. has encouraged a polarized international stance when it comes to Venezuela's disputed leadership, and most countries are picking sides -- though the strange coalition of Guaidó supporters show the limits of trying to interpret the conflict through an ideological prism, warns the Washington Post. The U.S. appointment of Elliott Abrams as special Venezuela envoy has been particularly seized by critics of the Trump administration's quest to democratize Venezuela by force. The former Reagan administration official is tried to whitewash death squad massacres in El Salvador and helped organize covert Contra funding in Nicaragua -- and "has spent his life crushing democracy," notes The Intercept. (See Monday's post.)

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Guaidó yesterday and U.S. officials are helping Guaidó track down Venezuelan international assets. (Wall Street Journal)

The European Parliament became the latest to join the Guaidó camp, after Maduro rejected the EU's ultimatum to call for new elections by Saturday. (Efecto Cocuyo and Efecto Cocuyo)

But others are pushing for a negotiated way out of the crisis. Mexico and Uruguay are organizing an international summit of neutral countries aimed at jumpstarting dialogue in Venezuela. (Associated Press) This is by far the most desirable outcome argue Federico Finchelstein and Pablo Piccato in a Washington Post opinion piece. A peaceful outcome can only be negotiated by intermediaries that recognize Maduro as a relevant party, they write. (See Luz Mely Reyes' interview with Juan Barreto for more alternative proposals.) Spain is also hoping to mediate, though it has recognized Guaidó's leadership, reports the Associated Press.

Time is on Maduro's side, the longer he weathers the crisis, the more likely the public will lose energy or the opposition will misstep, writes Felix Seijas Rodríguez at Americas Quarterly. However, the opposition has been uncharacteristically united and "has played its cards surprisingly well."

More from Venezuela
  • The crackdown has extended to press workers -- 10 foreign journalists have been detained in recent days. Three EFE journalists were detained by the Sebin intelligence agency yesterday and have not been permitted access to legal council. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Teens have also been particularly targeted by security forces and the pro-Maduro judiciary, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Guaidó designated diplomatic representatives to countries in the region that have recognized him, as well as the U.S. and Canada. Though their designation is irregular, experts say they will strengthen Guaidó's hand internationally. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • U.S. sanctions against Venezuela's oil sector (see Tuesday's post) will have a huge humanitarian cost for ordinary citizens, argues Mark Weisbrot at Think Progress.
News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • But the U.S. Trump administration's enthusiasm for regime change in Venezuela is just the opening salvo in a push to exert greater influence in Latin America, reports the Wall Street Journal. Many Trump officials believe Cuba is a national security threat. They also seek to counter increasing Russian, Chinese and Iranian influence in some countries.
  • The Cold War is over -- and it's time for Cuban and U.S. leadership to recognize that the island's future will be defined by youths who don't buy into the last generation's manichean worldview, writes Ben Rhodes in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • The U.S. began returning Central American asylum seekers to Mexico to await their court cases -- though so far it has only applied to one person. The drastic change in migration policy still has a host of unanswered questions, including how Mexico will guarantee their safety while they wait, and how they will access U.S. legal council, report the Washington Post and New York Times. (See last Friday's post.)
  • Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador likely worsened the country's gas crisis this month by ending imports of U.S. light crude oil, according to the Wall Street Journal.
El Salvador 
  • Salvadorans head to the polls on Sunday, and outsider candidate Nayib Bukele is leading thanks to widespread dissatisfaction with the country's two traditional political parties. Though Bukele has not presented a clear government program, he has said he would be in favor of an international anti-impunity commission, notes The Nation, exploring the U.S. factor in the elections.
  • Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was not granted permission to attend his brothers' funereal, and a temporary leave from jail was granted too late for him to visit the deceased's body. (Reuters)
  • Brazil's latest mining dam collapse raises questions over whether mining companies are spending enough to build and maintain tailings dams, reports the Wall Street Journal separately.
  • Six people have been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for the 1982 death of Chile’s former president Eduardo Frei Montalva by poisoning. It's a historic ruling in the highest profile assassination from Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. (Associated Press and New York Times)
Environmental corner
  • A landmark U.N. backed project aims to help Peruvian coffee farmers produce better and more profitable yields, reports Reuters.
  • The population of monarch butterflies wintering in central Mexico is up 144 percent over last year, reports the Associated Press.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

New U.S. sanctions hit Venezuelan oil sector (Jan. 29, 2019)

 The U.S. Trump administration announced new sanctions against Venezuela's state owned oil company, blocking the majority of oil sales to the United States in stages, reports the Miami Herald. The sanctions represent one of the most significant economic moves against Nicolás Maduro's government, which obtains as much as 70 percent of its income from the oil sector. The move will immediately block access to $7 billion of PDVSA assets, and cost an estimated $11 billion in export proceeds over the coming year. 

Over 40 people have been killed in clashes with security forces over the past week, according to United Nations human rights office estimates. Record numbers of people have been detained since National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó declared himself Venezuela's interim president and called for massive protests against Maduro. (See last Thursday's post.) More than 700 people have been detained in the past week. Human rights activists said the death toll increased sharply in recent days, and expect further intensification with two large protests scheduled for this week. (Wall Street Journal and CBS)

Guaidó himself appears to be shielded from Maduro's reach by international support, and has moved freely around Caracas even as security forces crack down on dissent, reports the Associated Press.

The U.S. measures give Guaidó access to at least $500 million in Venezuelan assets, a number that could increase if other countries join sanctions against Venezuelan state companies. Guaidó told the Wall Street Journal that the funds could be spent on humanitarian aid, and lessen the impact of the sanctions on Venezuelan's hard hit citizens. It could also undermine military support for Maduro. (See also Associated Press.)

The Venezuelan crisis is increasingly geopolitical, and U.S. national security advisor John Bolton said the new sanctions are in part intended counter strategic threats from Cuba and Iran, reports the Guardian. "All options are on the table," said Bolton yesterday. Bolton spoke to the press yesterday holding a yellow legal pad reading "5,000 troops to Colombia," -- it's not clear whether the disclosure was intentional or what it means exactly, reports Reuters.

In the midst of increasing diplomatic polarization over Venezuela, Uruguay and Mexico have maintained a middle ground. The two were scheduled to take a dialogue proposal to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres yesterday. (Observador)

A little more in depth in The Nation, Greg Grandin explores the difficulties of evading polarization on the Venezuela issue, but also why its critical to do so.

Venezuela's consular official in Miami switched allegiance to Guaidó, the latest foreign service officer to defect from Maduro, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's post.)

News Briefs

  • The new U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan oil immediately affect Albanisa, a joint Venezuelan and Nicaraguan oil company, reports El Nuevo Diario.
  • Prominent Nicaraguan journalist Carlos F. Chamorro, a fierce critic of President Daniel Ortega, fled his country after threats to his life. From Costa Rica, where he is continuing his independent journalism, Chamorro spoke to the Wall Street Journal about his struggle to report Ortega's human rights violations and his family history.
  • Student protesters blocked a major road in Tegucigalpa and called for President Juan Orlando Hernández to resign. Police responded with tear gas, a day after security forces clashed with a political opposition march, reports AFP. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Honduran opposition lawmaker Maria Luisa Borjas will be tried on defamation charges, a move she characterized as political persecution in response to her long track record battling corruption, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian authorities arrested five people, including two mining company senior managers, in relation to the Brumadinho dam break on Friday. At least 65 people have died, and the death toll could be in the hundreds. (See yesterday's briefs.) Investigators also issued seven search warrants, on suspicion of murder, falsification of documents and environmental crimes. Anger in Brazil is growing against mining company Vale SA. And yesterday Brazil’s top prosecutor said she would pursue criminal charges against Vale executives. (ReutersBBC and Wall Street Journal)
  • Fatal accidents in the mining sector have actually decreased in recent years, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • But it's the second deadly accident in a Vale owned mine in recent years -- another dam accident in 2015 killed 19 people and created an ecological disaster. Part of the reason is poor regulation of how miners use water resources, reports the Guardian -- and President Jair Bolsonaro has promised to further ease licensing for new projects.
  • Bolsonaro's goals for his new government include easing agricultural regulations, expanding gun access, reforming pensions and implementing conservative educational reform. And he's likely to get his way reports Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly.
  • The assassination of Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco last year galvanized minority groups who are fighting back. Last year over 1,000 black women ran for electoral office in Brazil, a 60 percent increase over 2014. Many won, and promise to push back against Brazilian politics' shift to the right. (Americas Quarterly)
  • A tornado struck eastern Havana and killed three people late Sunday, reports the Associated Press. Over 170 people were injured and the power grid was severely damaged, reports the Miami Herald. (Video)
  • A Mexican woman convicted of homicide after suffering a miscarriage in a department store bathroom was freed after a court determined the evidence used in the case was flimsy. Women who suffer obstetric complications in Mexico are often criminalized reports the Guardian.
  • Americas Quarterly has a primer on Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador -- everything from his rise from rural southern Mexico to his reading list.
  • Authorities have frozen 221 bank accounts and detained 558 people as part of AMLO's month-old crackdown on oil theft. (Animal Político)
  • Colombia's ELN guerrillas call for peace, but carry out human rights violations that make it impossible, writes Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco in El Tiempo.
  • Colombian cocaine production increases are likely a factor in a strong uptick in cocaine seizures in European ports, reports InSight Crime.
Human trafficking
  • Argentina and Ecuador have improved conviction rates in human trafficking cases, in part due to new legislation and social support programs. (InSight Crime)
  • Check out this history of the Kingdom of Hayti, "the Wakanda of the Western Hemisphere." (Conversation)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Monday, January 28, 2019

Guaidó tries to sway military (Jan. 28, 2019)

The standoff over Venezuela's leadership, between Nicolás Maduro -- whose second presidential mandate is based on what has largely been considered a sham election -- and National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó who last week declared himself the country's legitimate president, continues. (Efecto Cocuyo's timeline of the political crisis.) Venezuelans fear that the outcome won't be clear anytime soon. And the longer the crisis -- which is playing out on a heavyweight international stage -- the more dangerous the situation is likely to become, reports the Associated Press. (See Friday's post.)

Guaidó has called for further demonstrations against Maduro on Wednesday and Saturday, report Efecto Cocuyo and Reuters. He also plans to test Maduro's control over Venezuela by bringing in food aid, Guaidó told the Washington Post.

Over the weekend Guaidó and supporters focused their efforts on turning military rank and file against Maduro. (Efecto Cocuyo) Members of the opposition canvased military bases, handing out copies of a draft amnesty law protecting security forces who defect from the government. (Guardian and Efecto Cocuyo) On Saturday Venezuela's top military envoy to the U.S. defected, and called on other military offices to back Guaidó. (Guardian and Wall Street Journal)

The New York Times reports that many officers want Maduro out, and others are struggling over what side to support.

In an interview with the Guardian, Guaidó pointed to signs of "emerging" support among troops, but admitted that "we have yet to consolidate these [gains] in order for us to really be able to execute the process that will lead us to a transitional government and, ultimately, to fresh elections." 

The potential for violence is significant, particularly if the military starts fragmenting in its allegiances, Moisés Naím told the Guardian.

And it's not just about ousting one strongman, Maduro heads broad network of corrupt officials who control food distribution, exchange rates, armories and bribes, reports the Washington Post.

Leading human rights groups, including WOLA, Conectas, and Dejusticia, called for coordinated diplomatic efforts for a peaceful return to democratic order in Venezuela on Friday.

International support has been a key factor differentiating this opposition attempt to wrest power from Maduro, writes Virginia López Glass in a New York Times op-ed last week. (Washington Post has the latest on what's going on in the recognition tug-o-war.)

And the diplomatic battle over Venezuela's leadership continued over the weekend. The U.S., Europe, and Latin American supporters of Guaidó clashed with Maduro's foreign minister, who was supported by Russia and China. Jorge Arreaza accused Washington of being in the "vanguard of the coup d’état," while U.S. Secretary of State said China and Russia are "propping up a failed regime in the hopes of recovering billions of dollars in ill-considered investments and assistance made over the years." (Wall Street Journal and Miami Herald)

Most significantly, Britain, France, Germany and Spain said they will recognize Guaidó as interim president unless fresh elections are called by next Saturday. (Washington Post) Maduro dismissed the demand, and Russia, called it "absurd."

Maduro is also supported by China, Cuba, Bolivia, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority. Cuban support, diplomatic and strategic, has been critical in Maduro's holding onto power thus far, reports the New York Times, but some say it will not be decisive moving forward.

Maduro did back down from an initial demand that the U.S. retire all embassy personnel by Saturday, extending the deadline for a month. While Maduro broke relations with the U.S. last week, U.S. diplomats insist they will stay and work with Guaidó. (New York Times) On Friday the U.S. recognized a business attache nominated by Guaidó. (Efecto Cocuyo)

Amid hopes of change in Venezuela, critics point to the inconsistencies of U.S. and international support of Guaidó, and the dangers of a potential military intervention to back his claim, reports the Guardian. (See this opinion piece by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, for example.)

U.S. support was a critical factor in Guaidó's move to seize power, but has raised hackles in a region wary of foreign intervention. (Guardian and New York Times) The situation was hardly helped when the U.S. appointed Elliot Abrams, a neoconservative with a controversial history in Latin America dating back to the Reagan administration, to lead the country's efforts with Venezuela. The new special envoy for Venezuela was tried to whitewash death squad massacres in El Salvador and helped organize covert Contra funding in Nicaragua. (GuardianEfecto Cocuyo and CNN)

More from Venezuela
  • Russia denied sending mercenaries to Venezuela to protect Maduro. (Guardian and EFE)
  • Holding free and fair elections will be no easy task -- Transparency International said the current system has been corrupted, and offered assistance. (EFE)
News Briefs

  • Thousands of Hondurans protested against President Juan Orlando Hernández yesterday. Police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators, who included former president Mel Zelaya, reports AFP. Zelaya denounced beatings against protesters as well. (BBC)
  • Mexican authorities said it will allow people seeking asylum in the U.S. to await resolution of their cases in Mexico, but called the Trump administration's move "unilateral" on Friday. (See Friday's post.) Mexico's government said it doesn't agree with the policy, but will grant migrants a yearlong visa allowing them to live and work while they await a U.S. court hearing. Mexico and the U.S. have agreed the hearings will take place within a year, but a backlog of over 800,000 cases could make the timetable hard to achieve, reports the New York Times.
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno's xenophobic response to a femicide committed last week by a Venezuelan migrant belies the country's lack of justice for victims of gender violence, writes María Sol Borja in a New York Times Español op-ed.
El Salvador
  • Former San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele leads polls for next Sunday's presidential elections. The potential win by an "outsider" candidate is a massive upset for El Salvador's long-time two party system -- but the young candidate has done little to clarify how he would govern a polarized country with deep structural problems, writes Roberto Valencia in a New York Times Español op-ed. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • A flood of mud from a broken mining dam killed at least 58 people in Brazil's Minas Gerais state on Friday. Yesterday at least 305 people were still missing when Brumadinho residents had to evacuate because of another potential dam collapse. Rescue operations resumed today. (New York TimesWall Street JournalGuardianWashington PostVideo)
  • President Jair Bolsonaro's loosening of gun laws could increase already pervasive violence against women, reports the Guardian. (See Jan. 16's briefs.)
  • Amid worsening relations between Cuba and the U.S. historian Tony Perrottet recalls initial stateside infatuation with the revolutionary Fidel Castro in a New York Times op-ed that's part of the Revolución 60 series.

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

Friday, January 25, 2019

Venezuelan military stands by Maduro (Jan. 25, 2019)

At least 28 people have been killed this week in anti-government protests, killed by security forces or armed, pro-government civilian groups, according to Efecto Cocuyo. U.N.human rights chief Michelle Bachelet condemned the killings and called for an investigation into potential undue use of force, and expressed concern that the Venezuelan crisis could rapidly spin out of control with "catastrophic" consequences. (BBC)

Yesterday, the Venezuelan military, headed by defense minister Vladimir Padrino, stood by President Nicolás Maduro. (Guardian and Wall Street Journal) It's a severe plan to attempts to oust the leader whose legitimacy has been severely questioned by opponents in Venezuela and countries around the world. On Wednesday National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president and was rapidly recognized by the U.S. and countries in the region. (See yesterday's post.) Persuading military officers to support Guaidó's bid for a transitional government is a key aspect to effectively removing Maduro.

In an interview yesterday Guaidó offered Maduro and his inner circle an amnesty if they step down and permit a peaceful transition, referencing previous such pardons in Venezuela and Chile as examples. (Guardian)

The dual power situation raises all sorts of practical consular and economic issues. And international recognition of Guaidó should not be confused with de facto power, warns WOLA Assistant Director for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey

Opposition unity behind Guaidó is a positive sign -- and a radical departure from characteristic fragmentation, writes Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Outreach to dissident factions of Chavismo, which Guaidó has engaged in, is another critical step.

Mexico has offered to mediate in Venezuela, but only at the request of both sides and without violating citizens' right to self determination, said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Mexico has not recognized Guaidó and has not subscribed to Lima Group statements calling Maduro illegitimate, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See yesterday's post.) 

U.S. President Donald Trump's challenge to Maduro is a departure from his anti-interventionist stance, and tendency to befriend autocrats around the world. And his sudden support for what amounts to regime change carries significant diplomatic risks as Maduro digs his heels in, reports the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal reports that Guaidó's decision to declare himself president came after the U.S. explicitly promised to back him up.

Though U.S. support for Guaidó has fed a narrative of an imperialist coup among Maduro supporters, the large number of countries in the region and around the world that rapidly followed suit softens parallels with past U.S. supported military dictatorships in Latin America, according to the New York Times.

And despite serious saber rattling this week, there appears to be no immediate plan for U.S. military intervention, reports the Guardian. Non-essential U.S. embassy personnel and families left Caracas. Senior staff remains and are bracing for Maduro's response, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.) Maduro ordered the recall of all Venezuelan diplomatic staff from in Washington.

The European Union is debating a unified response to the current crisis, but seems likely to demand Maduro hold elections, without yet recognizing Guaidó's claim to authority, reports EFE and EFE again.

Russia has been particularly vocal in denouncing U.S. interventionism against Maduro -- behind the posturing is concern over losing a significant financial investment in Venezuela, according to the Washington Post.

The Venezuela crisis could have significant impact on the international oil market, reports the Guardian. Venezuelan oil exports are critical for U.S. production, but the cash is vital for Venezuela, leaving Maduro without leverage, reports the Washington Post separately.

More from Venezuela


Remain in Mexico

U.S. authorities will start sending asylum seekers crossing the country's southern border back to Mexico while their cases are processed. The drastic change in migration policy will be implemented starting today at the San Ysidro crossing, but will eventually be scaled up the entire Mexico-U.S. border, reports the Washington Post. The Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), informally dubbed "Remain in Mexico," aims to curb increasing numbers of Central American migrants, often traveling in family groups, who apply for asylum due to violence at home, reports Reuters. Critics say the policy, first announced in December, violates international asylum laws and could be challenged in court. (See Dec. 21's post.)

Its not clear how Mexico will deal with thousands of migrants, whose asylum claims could take years to process in the U.S. Mexican authorities were informed yesterday of the implementation.Many areas of the Mexican border with the U.S. are also violent and dangerous for migrants. In December two Honduran teens were murdered in Tijuana while moving between migrant shelters, for example. (See Dec. 19's post.) “Make no mistake — Mexico is not a safe country for all people seeking protection,” said Amnesty International Executive Director Margaret Huang in December.

Advocates are also concerned that asylum seekers will not be able to access lawyers to represent them in U.S. courts.

More on Migration
  • In addition to all the other issues with Trump's proposed border wall, the negative environmental impact would be significant, reports the New York Times.


Gay Brazilian lawmaker goes into exile after death threats

Brazilian lawmaker Jean Wyllys said he is giving up his seat in congress and will stay outside the country in response to death threats. Wyllys is openly gay and has been a fierce LGBTQ advocate. He has been the target of threats for years, but said they intensified after the murder of his ally, Rio de Janeiro councillor Marielle Franco, last year. (New York Times)

In an interview with Folha de S. Paulo, Wyllys mentioned recent reports linking President Jair Bolsonaro's son to a death squad suspected in Franco's killing. (See Wednesday's briefs, and see below) "I have to stay alive. I don’t want to be a martyr," said Wyllys.

From Davos, Bolsonaro tweeted “Great day!” and a thumbs-up emoticon. Many supporters responded with homophobic comments. 

Brazil's LGBT community has increasingly been targeted by homophobic attacks, especially during last year's campaign -- Wyllys cited examples in his interview. In 2017, at least 445 LGBT Brazilians died as victims of homophobia – a 30% increase from 2016. (Guardian)

More from Brazil
  • Flavio Bolsonaro is implicated in a corruption investigation that threatens to tarnish the new Bolsonaro administration -- but there are other indications that its politics as usual in Brasilia, reports the New York Times.
News Briefs

  • The U.N. Security Council expressed concern over the "about the persistent pattern of assassinations of community and social leaders," in Colombia. Seven leaders have been killed so far this year.
  • Guatemala's congress is considering a blanket amnesty for military officials accused of international crimes related to the internal armed conflict, in which an estimated 200,000 lives were lost, report Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada in the International Justice Monitor.
El Salvador
  • Former San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele could win El Salvador's presidency outright on Feb. 4's elections, according to three out of four polls. But there are signs that conservative candidate Carlos Calleja, who heads an alliance that includes the traditional ARENA party, is gaining support, reports AS/COA.
  • A sign of changing times? Roberto Valencia analyzes Calleja's security platform, which emphasizes human rights and -- on paper! -- diverges significantly from Arena's traditional "mano dura" stance.
Orange economy
  • Latin America has huge potential to grow its creative, or orange, economy -- but piracy, often with links to transnational crime, threatens to stifle artists and inventors according to the latest issue of Americas Quarterly. Piracy costs Latin America’s software industry 60 percent of its potential revenues and as much as a third of the region’s medicines are pirated.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, January 24, 2019

U.S. recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president (Jan. 24, 2019)

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans around the country protested against President Nicolás Maduro yesterday. Clashes after two nights of violent demonstrations in Caracas left at least 16 dead and dozens of wounded, according to an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights estimate yesterday evening.

National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president, yesterday, taking an oath of office before masses of demonstrators in Caracas. He is acting on a constitutional clause that says a presidential vacancy is to be filled by the legislature's head until new elections are called -- the opposition and many international actors say Maduro's second term, which started earlier this month, is illegitimate. (See Jan. 11's post and Jan. 16's briefs.) He was quickly recognized as Venezuela's legitimate leader by the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Costa Rica, and Argentina, as well as the OAS.

Maduro promised to stay in office. Guaidó does not control state security forces, raising the question of how Maduro's administration will proceed said experts. Some expect attempts to arrest Guaidó and other opposition leaders, and efforts to intimidate protesters. (Guardian)

A lot hinges on how the military reacts. Yesterday Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino emphasized loyalty to Maduro, tweeting that "the soldiers of the Fatherland do not accept a president imposed from the shadows of dark interests or illegally self-proclaimed." But cracks are starting to appear among the military rank and file, reports the Associated Press. Earlier this week an attempted military uprising in Caracas spurred protests. (See Tuesday's post.) InSight Crime reports that military participation in illegal economies is spurring soldiers to reject the government.

Events in Venezuela are moving fast this week. (See yesterday's post.) Though experts are divided over whether Maduro's government will crumble quickly or cling to power with Chinese and Russian help, notes the Washington Post

Guaidó's move comes after weeks of contact with the U.S. administration, reports the Wall Street Journal. U.S. recognition could potentially enable Guaidó to access Venezuelan assets frozen by the U.S. government -- and eventually oil assets, such as Pdvsa's U.S.-based refiner, Citgo. The economic impact could be significant, report the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The diplomatic fall out from Guaidó's declaration and international recognition of his legitimacy is complicated but not unprecedented. Miguel Ángel Santos and José Ignacio Hernández suss out some of the details in a New York Times Español op-ed.

But the U.S. move is geopolitically fraught -- it could force escalating measures and, perversely, strengthen Maduro in a region suspicious of U.S. intervention. For some the U.S.'s quick recognition harkened back to dark episodes from Latin American history, reports the Associated Press. Experts, including David Smilde, warn of the potential negative effect of U.S. military action in Venezuela.

The U.S. has floated a potential military response in Venezuela. Yesterday U.S. President Donald Trump said: "we’re not considering anything but all options on the table. All options, always, all options are on the table." And Vice President Mike Pence later clarified that while Trump dislikes entangling the U.S. military internationally, he considers intervention in Latin America more warranted. "The United States has a special responsibility to support and nurture democracy and freedom in this hemisphere and that’s a longstanding tradition."

Maduro responded to the U.S. by cutting off relations with the U.S. and ordering all U.S. diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours. Guaidó in urged foreign embassies to keep diplomats in Venezuela, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. would recognize Guaidó's directive. (Guardian)

Maduro and his international allies portray the opposition move as U.S. infringement on national sovereignty. "They intend to govern Venezuela from Washington," Maduro said in a speech yesterday. "Do you want a puppet government controlled by Washington?"

Russia and China said today that they back Maduro's government. Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov warned against external intervention, and said U.S. military action would be "catastrophic." Turkey and Cuba and Bolivia have also offered their support for Maduro. (Guardian)

Mexico maintained its principle of non intervention and, joined by Santa Lucia and Guyana, did not adhere to the Lima Group's declaration of support for a democratic transition aimed at holding new elections as quickly as possible.

Mexico and Uruguay urged all parties -- Venezuelan and international -- to try to reduce tensions and avoid an escalation of violence, reports the Associated Press.

Unrest turned into violent clashes in Caracas and around the country. National Guardsmen threw tear gas at hundreds of youths congregated in the Altamira neighborhood, while demonstrators nearby attacked a group of guardsmen, reports the Associated Press. Three Caracas deaths yesterday were related to disproportionate use of force and tear gas, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Four demonstrators were killed by gunfire in the western city of Barinas as security forces were dispersing a crowd. Three others were killed amid unrest in the border city of San Cristobal.

Three Venezuelan lawyers are asking the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to grant precautionary measures to protect opposition leader Juan Guaido, his wife and his daughter, report the Associated Press and EFE.

Guaidó swore on battered copy of the Venezuelan Constitution sporting the image of national liberation hero Simón Bolivar, a sign that the freedom fighter lionized by Chavistas remains a key symbol, reports the Guardian.

More from Venezuela
  • Americas Quarterly interviews exiled former mayor David Smolansky, who formed part of Voluntad Popular with Juan Guaidó.
News Briefs

  • Mexican authorities said more than 10,000 Central American migrants requested humanitarian visas at the country's southern border, which will permit them to transit through Mexico, but also work there. The number of migrants surpasses last year's headline grabbing caravans, but the Washington Post notes that this group is less organized and has a high potential for dispersal within Mexico. The new visa policy is part of the López Obrador administration's promise for a more humanitarian approach to migration. Experts say its a drastic change that could push migration to Mexico, though most migrants still aim for the U.S.
  • Already the scene at the Mexican border with Guatemala is vastly different than under the previous administration: the fence is open, there are no police officers deployed, and immigration officers hand out water to people waiting turns to apply for visas which now take just five days to process, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Mexican rights organizations propose creating a Truth Commission and an international anti-impunity commission, among other measures aimed at truth, justice, and reparation for human rights victims. (Animal Político)
  • The latest from El Chapo's trial: a former top Sinaloa Cartel lieutenant said Joaquín Guzmán's wife played a key role in the kingpin's 2015 jailbreak. (Guardian)
  • CNN is launching a Portuguese language channel in Brazil -- but The Intercept looks at the track records of those behind the project, calling into question their credibility.
  • A Christian missionary has endangered a Brazilian uncontacted indigenous group by entering the area in which the Hi-Merimã tribe lives. Incursions into protected areas expose isolated tribes to potentially deathly diseases. Experts warn of increased danger of such missions since President Jair Bolsonaro appointed an evangelical preacher to the cabinet's indigenous affairs post. (Guardian)
  • Not everything should be recycled. Used buses phased out of U.S. cities often find a second life in Guatemala, where emissions standards are lower, reports the Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...