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 ...

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