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 ...

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