Monday, January 14, 2019

Guaidó briefly detained by Sebin (Jan. 14, 2018)

Venezuelan National Assembly president Juan Guaidó was briefly detained by Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (Sebin) agents yesterday. He was apparently detained while traveling on a highway yesterday, two days after declaring he would be willing to temporarily assume Venezuela's presidency until new elections could be organized. The opposition-led National Assembly -- as well as much of the international community -- considers President Nicolás Maduro's second term, which began Thursday, to be illegitimate having been obtained through elections widely denounced as irregular. (See Friday's post.)

A video recorded by a driver stuck in traffic on the highway appeared to show masked, heavily armed Sebin agents pulling a man assumed to be Guaidó from his vehicle and pushing him into a white van before driving away, reports the New York Times.
Venezuela’s Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez said the Sebin officers acted unilaterally -- possibly seeking to embarrass the government -- and will be sanctioned, report Efecto Cocuyo and the Miami Herald. He also suggested the opposition had orchestrated the episode. Guaidó questioned this version of events, and later told the Associated Press that the officers informed him they were carrying out orders from above.

The confusing incident will likely further increase already high tensions between the government and the political opposition, as well as Maduro's international isolation, reports the Associated Press. Opposition leader Leopoldo López, who is under house arrest, suggested that Guaidó's release represents a break within the ranks of Sebin, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Opposition party Acción Democrática suggested the detention was the work of the government's more militaristic faction. (Efecto Cocuyo)

Two international journalists covering the detention -- Osmary Hernández of CNN Español and Beatriz Adrián of Caracol Radio -- were also arrested and held for hours by the Sebin. (Efecto Cocuyo)

In a speech Friday, Guaidó said the constitution grants him the legitimacy to exercise the presidency and call new elections. He called on citizens and the armed forces to stand by his efforts, reports the Caracas Chronicles. He did not actually declare himself the country's legitimate president -- though yesterday he characterized his detention as a coup d'etat, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Nonetheless, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro and Brazil's government responded by recognizing him as Venezuela's transitional leader. Venezuela's exiled former attorney general Luisa Ortega also referred to Guaidó as the "new interim president."

Most other countries struck a more careful balancing act. Geoff Ramsey told the Washington Post the U.S. government exercising caution and is engaged in a “careful little dance” in Venezuela. Though they has said Maduro does not legitimately hold his post, U.S. officials have stopped short of cutting off diplomatic relations. The State Department called for a transition government and said it stands by Guaidó. (Associated Press) Similarly, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera offered Guaidó full support, and called on Maduro to transfer power to the National Assembly president.

Guaidó is calling on citizens to focus their efforts in a massive outpouring on Jan. 23. In recent days he has tried to rekindle small protests by holding rallies in diverse cities, reports the Wall Street Journal.

News Briefs

International Relations
  • Maduro's government in Venezuela, and Brazil's rightward swing under new President Jair Bolsonaro make confrontation between the two -- including the potential for military escalation -- increasingly likely, according to the Washington Post. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • The New York Times reports on a safe house in Costa Rica where 50 Nicaraguan political fugitives have taken residence, just a fraction of the 23,000 who have fled their country's political repression since last April.
  • Former Nicaraguan Supreme Court magistrate Rafael Solis told the New York Times he regrets his 2009 ruling permitting President Daniel Ortega to run for reelection, but has few illusions that his defection last week will have a major impact on Nicaragua's political crisis. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • A new migrant caravan is forming in Honduras, organized through social media, much like the ones that grabbed headlines last year. This time, the new Mexican government said it is preparing to help migrants enter "in a safe and orderly way." (Washington Post) But U.S. President Donald Trump is doubling down on his narrative of migrants as security threats, and maintains that a border wall with Mexico is the only solution. (New York Times)
  • A member of the October 2018 caravan was killed after being deported back to Honduras by U.S. authorities who rejected his asylum claim. (Guardian)
  •  Halfway through its four-year mandate, the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) has scored some important successes but confronts growing sabotage from segments of Honduras’s political elite determined to undermine the Mission’s work, reports American University's Center for Latin American & Latino Studies.
  • The internet -- and greater access to it -- is giving Cuban activists space to debate in a country where political freedoms are limited, writes Yoani Sánchez in a New York Times Español op-ed recounting her work to breach digital censorship over the past decade.
  • Seventeen people died and 12 more were injured at a fire in a drug rehabilitation clinic in Guayaquil, after patients set fire to their mattresses in an attempt to break out of the unlicensed facility. (Reuters)
  • Giant spiders hanging out in Minas Gerais skies seem terrifying, but are apparently not dangerous at all. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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