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 ...

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