Thursday, February 28, 2019

Nicaragua talks proceeding (Feb. 28, 2019)

Nicaragua's government and representatives of an opposition coalition agreed to a negotiation framework consisting of nine -- unspecified -- points. The first day of discussion between the Ortega administration and the Alianza Cívica concluded, yesterday, without opening to questions from the press. The secrecy enshrouding the proceedings raised suspicions, according to Confidencial.

About a hundred political prisoners were released from jail yesterday, ahead of the talks. Most were apparently granted a form of house arrest or released to care of family, reports Confidencial. Human rights activists warned that their legal position is unclear and that the trials against them must be annulled. (Confidencial) Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos (Cenidh) president Vilma Núñez de Escorcia warned against using political prisoners as bargaining chips, emphasizing that freedom for all the 770 estimated political prisoners should be a precondition to negotiations. (Confidencial)

The OAS could serve as a guarantor to talks, said Secretary General Luis Almagro yesterday. (Confidencial)

Yesterday the pro-Ortega National Assembly approved measures increasing taxes on big companies, a move likely to worsen the country's economic malaise said business lobbies. (Confidencial)


Venezuela at the U.N.

The U.S. proposed a U.N. Security Council resolution urging “the peaceful restoration of democracy” in Venezuela, free and fair presidential elections, unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid to all people in need. It is expected to be voted on this afternoon -- but would likely be vetoed by Russia. Russia was expected to propose a negotiated solution to Venezuela's crisis. (New York Times and Associated Press)

Venezuela's foreign minister suggested talks with U.S. government, which he accused of trying to overthrow Nicolás Maduro's government. Speaking at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Jorge Arreaza suggested Maduro and U.S. President Donald Trump meet to iron out their differences -- a proposal the U.S. immediately rejected. (Reuters)

National Assembly leader and presidential challenger Juan Guaidó is out of Venezuela at the moment, after crossing to Colombia over the weekend in an attempt to bring in U.S. donated aid supplies. Venezuela's opposition says he could likely be arrested if he returns to Venezuela -- though Guaidó promised yesterday on social media that he will return soon to Caracas. (Wall Street Journal) He's set to meet with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro today. (Reuters)

Guaidó isn't the only one left stranded -- Venezuela and Colombia broke relations over the weekend, and it's not clear when the border will reopen. Colombia's attempt yesterday was rebuffed, reports the Miami Herald.

The humanitarian crisis continues unabated in the meantime: Infant mortality in Venezuela has soared by roughly 50% during the prolonged political crisis in the country, said the UN’s political and peace building chief, Rosemary DiCarlo in a Security Council briefing yesterday. (Guardian)

More for Venezuela
  • An international military intervention in Venezuela appears to be off the table for the moment, notes the Venezuela Weekly. (See Tuesday's post.) Nonethless, the topic is somewhat of a constant lately. Adam Isacson susses out what a U.S. military intervention might look like. He argues "that it would probably last quite some time: perhaps first as intense hostilities, then as a drawn-out insurgency ..." Indeed, most likely scenarios involving a U.S. military invasion result in negative outcomes writes Jeremy McDermott in Semana. He particularly notes that invading forces would confront "a veritable plethora of armed and anti-American armed groups."
  • Venezuela's humanitarian crisis will only get worse if U.S. sanctions continue, argues Mark Weisbrot in The Nation. "There are no estimates of the death toll from the sanctions, but given the experience of countries in similar situations, it is likely in the thousands or tens of thousands so far. "
  • Venezuela's government has somewhat offset U.S. sanctions on its crude oil by shifting some exports to India and Europe, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The much photographed aid from the U.S. was blocked from entering Venezuela this weekend, but not all humanitarian assistance has been rejected -- BBC Reality Check has a roundup of the aid situation in Venezuela.
  • A musical news wrap-up from the Arepita -- Masita informativa by Ricardo del Búfalo.
News Briefs

  • Haiti's government cancelled Carnival celebrations this year, in the wake of violent protests that paralyzed the country earlier this month, in which at least seven people were killed, reports AFP.
  • The news comes as the country's tourism sector is already taking hits in the wake of political instability: JetBlue is reducing flights and Air Canada suspended service through April. Earlier this month travel site Expedia and its subsidiaries Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire and CheapTickets blocked travelers from booking flights to the island. (Miami Herald)
  • In the wake of a still unclear incident involving heavily armed U.S. citizens detained in Port-au-Prince (see last Friday's briefs), Haiti Libre reports that there were at least 250,000 illegal firearms in circulation in the country in 2015 (latest info available), including handguns and large caliber weapons. 
  • Homicides dropped in Brazil last year -- 51,589 people were murdered in 2018, a 13 percent decrease over 2017. Nonetheless, the homicide rate remains high -- 24.7 per 100,000, reports Globo.
  • Police killed killed 160 people in Rio de Janeiro in January, an 82 percent increase over December. The alarming increase correlates with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s and Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel’s first month in office. Police say the new administrations' support for hardline security policies has given them more freedom of action, reports InSight Crime.
  • Brazilians are not fans of pension reform, but generally approve of Bolsonaro thus far. (Reuters)
  • Thousands of immigrant children held at U.S. government-funded detention facilities complained of sexual abuse in recent years -- and complaints increased while the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the border was in place, reports the New York Times. Justice department records detailed allegations that included harassment and assault of children by adult staff members -- including rape -- and cases of suspected abuse of children by other minors.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to increase safeguards for journalists -- but five have been killed so far this year, one despite participating in an official protection program. (BBC)
  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is implementing a hardline policy against gangs -- but is less eager to tackle drug trafficking cases involving his inner circle, including family members, reports InSight Crime.
  • An 11-year-old Argentine girl was forced to give birth, after authorities refused to allow her a legally permitted abortion. She underwent a c-section at 23 weeks of pregnancy, and the baby is unlikely to survive. "Lucia's" pregnancy resulted from sexual abuse from her grandmother's 65-year-old partner. The case demonstrates the pitfalls of last year's anti-abortion campaign aimed at pushing girls to carry pregnancies to term, say activists. (Guardian)
  • Greenpeace activists blocked access to a waste site used by companies that extract oil and gas from Argentina's Vaca Muerta shale formation. (Reuters)
  • Guatemala's indigenous Xinka are protesting against a Canadian owned silver mine and government agencies they accuse of ignoring a court order to suspend operations at the Escobal mine. (Al Jazeera)
  • Peru's government reached an agreement with members of the Mayuriaga indigenous community, allowing state-owned energy company Petroperu to repair an oil pipeline in the Amazon. (Reuters)
Drug paths
  • Latin American organized crime groups are shifting shipments of illegal drugs to Pacific Ocean routes, InSight Crime explains why.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Ortega released group of political prisoners (Feb. 27, 2019)

Nicaragua's government released a group of political prisoners early this morning, ahead of scheduled discussions between the Ortega administration and the Alianza Cívica coalition of opponents.  It was not immediately clear how many inmates were released, they were transported to their homes in official vans. A source told the Comisión Permanente de Derechos Humanos that the 777 people considered political detainees might be released. Since talks were announced last week, trials of 14 political prisoners have been suspended. Two journalists detained in December, Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda Ubau, might be transferred to house arrest, reports Confidencial. (See also Associated Press.)

The dialogue process set to start today has raised hopes that Nicaragua's prolonged political crisis might be resolved, but critics fear it will bring oxygen to President Daniel Ortega. (See last Friday's post.) The opposition coalition's primary demands focus on the release of political prisoners, restoration of media freedoms, electoral reform and early presidential elections, and a justice plan for the estimated 325 protesters killed in a government crackdown last year, reports the Associated Press.

The goal for today is to set the framework for talks, as well as the role of mediators and potential international guarantors of the negotiation. (Confidencial

It's not clear whether Ortega or his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, will participate. The Alianza Cívica delegation includes six businesspeople, two students, two academics, a politician and a feminist lawyer -- but has been criticized for leaving out the farmworkers movement that supported anti-government protests last year. Students and women have not been fairly represented say some.

Sanctions against the Ortega administration and Venezuela's economic implosion have affected the government and pushed it to the negotiating table, according to the Alianza Cívica. (Bloomberg) U.S. sanctions on Nicaraguan-Venezuelan oil company Albanisa could be devastating for the country's economy. (Confidencial, see Jan 29's post and briefs on how the Venezuela sanctions affect Nicaragua.)

The government has jailed 777 people considered political detainees, torture is inflicted regularly, reports el Confidencial.

News Briefs

  • A U.N. Security Council meeting yesterday on Venezuela became something of a "diplomatic brawl," reports the New York Times, with Russian and U.S. diplomats trading Cold War-style barbs.
  • About 350 Venezuelan soldiers have defected, most over this weekend, asking for sanctuary in Colombia. But the desertions are a far cry from the mass defections opposition leader Juan Guaidó was hoping would materialize and support his interim presidency claim. (New York Times)
  • Soldiers leaving Venezuela say lower ranks are suffering the same food and medical deprivations as ordinary Venezuelans, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The OAS said the transition may not be "immediate" or "spectacular," but that it will come about through diplomatic pressure, reports EFE. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Maduro's VP, Delcy Rodríguez, will meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow today. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro's potential collapse poses a significant economic threat to Cuba, which depends on an oil-barter scheme, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Cold War
  • Speaking of Cold War, Scott Wallace's photographs show the impact of the era's proxy wars in Central America. (New York Times)
  • Colombia's government appointed at least nine officers credibly implicated in extrajudicial executions and other abuses to key positions of the army said Human Rights Watch yesterday. At least three of the officers are under investigation, and prosecutors are investigating killings by forces under the command of the other six. (See also Associated Press.)
  • Mexican officials say the López Obrador administration's labor reforms will assuage U.S. lawmakers' concerns over ratifying the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). (The Hill)
  • President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's plan to replace Prospera, a widely lauded conditional cash transfer program, raised concern that the "conditionality" part of the program is in jeopardy, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazil's education minister scrambled back from a controversial directive asking schools to film students saying President Jair Bolsonaro's campaign slogan: "Brazil above everything, God above everyone." Apart from the ideology, school administrators pointed to the difficulty of fulfilling such a request in the midst of severe staffing and infrastructure deficits. (Guardian)
  • Argentina's chief rabbi was attacked in his Buenos Aires home this week -- raising concerns that the violence is anti-semitism related. (Guardian) A verdict is expected in the AMIA bombing cover-up trial tomorrow. Former president Carlos Menem, former judge Juan José Galeano, and a former intelligence chief are accused of covering up evidence and paying off witnesses in the case of the 1994 Jewish center bombing that killed 85 people. (Infobae
  • A group of Guatemalan sex workers are unionizing in hopes of reducing the violence that afflicts the industry. (NACLA)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Int'l community against Venezuela military intervention (Feb. 26, 2019)

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced further sanctions against Venezuelan officials on Monday. Pence met with Venezuela's self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó -- who is recognized as the country's legitimate leader by a chunk of the international community -- in Colombia, and attended a meeting of the Lima Group. (New York Times)

It amounted to a relatively moderate response, in the midst of mounting support among the Venezuelan opposition for a military intervention, reports the Miami Herald. Internationally however there is little support for armed intervention in Venezuela, notes the Guardian. Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Peru among others ruled out supporting any sort of invasion yesterday, as did Spain, Germany, and the European Union. (See yesterday's post.)

The Lima Group meeting in Bogotá yesterday said it would take Venezuela's legitimacy challenged President Nicolás Maduro to the International Criminal Court, but stopped short of announcing further steps or alternatives to diplomatic pressure, report the Miami Herald and the Wall Street Journal.

"The unlikelihood of a military intervention at this stage likely leads the Maduro government to take the threat less seriously, lessening its impact," writes Felix Seijas Rodríguez in Americas Quarterly.

A group of leading human rights organizations from Venezuela and the region urged Lima Group countries to commit to protections for Venezuelan migrants, and to abstain from using aid "for anything other than humanitarian purposes." The particularly called to reject the criminalization of humanitarian workers in Venezuela. The organizations also called for "a peaceful solution to the crisis, by rejecting the use of force in favor of coordinated multilateral diplomacy."

Pence also announced an additional $56 million in aid to the Venezuelan opposition, and said there is no possible neutral ground when it comes to the Venezuela political crisis. The U.S. is playing a key role in the standoff against Maduro, but the Trump administration's belligerent approach has become divisive within U.S. politics, report the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Univisión news anchor Jorge Ramos was detained yesterday while conducting an interview with Maduro. He and his crew were released after two hours. They were deported today, reports Efecto Cocuyo. The government confiscated their equipment, including the memory cards with the interview. Ramos said he was showing Maduro images of children eating out of a dumpster when the leader left the interview. Ramos' detention was rapidly criticized by Human Rights Watch. The Mexican foreign ministry condemned the crew’s detention after their release on Monday night. (New York TimesGuardian)

A notable absence in the Venezuelan crisis is "the people," notes Keymer Ávila in Nueva Sociedad. The crisis is playing out on a geopolitical level, and Venezuela's opposition is more adept at looking outward for assistance than mobilizing masses. "The hawks want war and, paradoxically, the government does too," he writes, saying it would give Maduro officials the cover of martyrdom.

  • The New York Times and the Washington Post have good roundups of the confrontations on Saturday at different points of Venezuela's border with Colombia and Brazil, as opposition volunteers clashed with security forces that stopped them from binging in foreign donations of humanitarian supplies.
  • And the Washington Post reviews the crisis itself -- the legitimacy battle, what different international players say, and what the economic issues are.
News Briefs

  • Cuba's new constitution was approved by nearly 87 percent of voters -- but 700,000 negative votes, together with the 15 percent of the electorate who stayed home, constitute a rare show of opposition to the Cuban government, a sign of growing strength among diverse groups, report the New York Times and the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Reforms included in the new constitution recognize private property and encourage foreign investment, but they are geared towards maintaining the communist status quo, reports Americas Quarterly
  • The vote is the first more or less democratic exercise on the island in half a century, writes Rafael Rojas in a New York Times Español op-ed from last week. It's a symbol of how the Cuban alternative has lost relevance in the region where it was once a beacon, he argues.
  • What is changing is not the government, but Cubans who are pushing forward and demanding civil rights and defying the tradition of self-censorship, writes artist Tatiana Bruguera in another New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Plaza Pública interviewed U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, Luis Arreaga, who emphasized the importance of fighting corruption.
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica launched a plan to "decarbonize" its economy by 2050. (Guardian)
  • A dead baby humpback whale was found washed ashore a remote, forested island in the Amazon River, a long way away from Antartica where the species migrates this time of year. (New York Times)

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

Monday, February 25, 2019

Venezuela's aid clashes kill at least four (Feb. 25, 2019)

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro successfully blocked an attempt by opposition challenger Juan Guaidó -- recognized as the country's legitimate leader by a swathe of the international community -- to bring shipments of humanitarian aid across Venezuelan borders at several different points. But images volunteers lugging boxes of aid repelled by tear gas and rubber bullets fired by security forces backed by pro-government paramilitary groups raise the question of who won the weekend's battle. 

At least four people were reported dead and hundreds injured. Witnesses reported being fired at with bullets and buckshot. Foro Penal reported that there were 58 people injured by bullets, nine people are disappeared, and 32 people were detained in relation to the aid showdown. Colombian authorities reported at least 285 wounded. At least three trucks loaded with aid caught fire, it's not clear how. Opposition lawmakers said they were torched by security forces.

At least 60 border guards deserted their posts and fled into Colombia, but it was a far cry from the mass defections the opposition hoped might permit aid to pass through. Members of security forces who escaped said they are under considerable pressure and their families are under threat if they don't follow orders. Guaidó said today that at least 160 military and police officer had fled so far. And thousands of Venezuelan aid volunteers are now stranded out of their country after Colombia and Venezuela broke off diplomatic relations.

Most of the attention was focused on the Colombian border, but the worst violence by far was at the Brazilian border, where demonstrators attempted to close off roads to stop security forces, reports the Guardian. On Friday a military convoy opened fire on indigenous protesters there, killing one person. (See Friday's briefs.) The opposition-led National Assembly said eight people were killed in Santa Elena de Uairén, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Guaidó snuck across the Venezuelan border with Colombia on Friday, it is now not clear whether he will be able to return. He met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence today in Bogotá, where the Lima Group held a meeting. Pence said the U.S. is "100 percent" behind Guaidó, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Guaidó announced that Venezuela formally joined the regional group opposed to Maduro. And further steps are expected to be announced later today.

The clashes mark a turning point in the crisis, and could be used to support more forceful international reactions. In the wake of Saturday's failure to bring in aid, the opposition led by Guaidó has called on the international community to contemplate military intervention. "The events of today oblige me to take a decision," Guaidó said on Twitter on Sunday, "to formally propose to the international community that we should keep all options open to achieve the liberation of our homeland." On Saturday evening, the No. 1 world-wide trending topic on Twitter was #IntervencionMilitarYa.

However the European Union, Spain, Chile, Peru adamantly oppose such a step and called for diplomatic solutions. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called on Venezuelans to avoid the temptation of military force.

Food aid has become a central issue in Venezuela's legitimacy battle, though much criticized by aid organizations wary of politicizing desperately needed supplies. In the long run, democracy and food sufficiency are intrinsically linked, argues Amy Erica Smith in Vox. Authoritarian regimes are more likely to simply ignore hunger, or abuse it with food clientelism, as has occurred under Maduro, she writes.

More from Venezuela
  • Venezuela's devastation is also ecological -- the government has exploited the mineral rich Orinoco area with foreign companies, with grave social and environmental consequences. (Letras Libres)
News Briefs

  • Results on a constitutional referendum in Cuba are expected later today. Citizens voted yesterday on a new constitution that has proved divisive -- offering greater freedoms while hewing to a communist system, reports Al Jazeera. Turn out was particularly high, and campaigning both in favor and against were stronger than in the past, reports the Miami Herald. Ratification is expected, but likely won't be as high as the 97.6 percent the current constitution obtained. Nonetheless, the final tallies don't really matter, say activists who denounced government crackdowns against "no" campaigners.
  • Debate has been particularly strong on the island, which is not known for political freedom. Religious conservatives have led in criticizing the draft, demonstrating a growing power, reports NPR. Evangelicals particularly mobilized against language that could have permitted gay marriage, successfully derailing that part of the initiative, reports the Guardian.
  • An amnesty bill for perpetrators of crimes against humanity in Guatemala has provoked outrage among human rights defenders. The proposal before lawmakers this week would immediately free more than 30 convicts, mostly former military officers, and invalidate current and future trials for crimes committed during the country's long civil war. It is part of a growing backlash against the trials of former wartime military officials and the aggressive investigations of corruption by political, military and business elites, reports the Washington Post. (See last Tuesday's briefs, and Feb. 13's.)
  • Guatemalans vote for president in June this year. So far three women are leading in the preliminary polls:  Sandra Torres (17 percent), Thelma Aldana (10 percent), y Zury Ríos (7 percent). Torres and Ríos have a long political track record, but El Periódico emphasizes former prosecutor general Thelma Aldana's potential for growth, given her level of support without having formally declared her candidacy.
  • But the election will be highly uncertain, with the vast majority of voters expressing indifference to existing political parties, notes Edgar Gutierrez in El Periódico.
Regional Relations
  • With far less fanfare than China, Turkey is making incursions in Latin America -- economically and culturally. In some cases Turkey offers an escape from the China-US binary, and in others, like Venezuela, the possibility to evade mounting international sanctions, reports Ozy.
  • Brazilian mining giant Vale SA employees and contracted safety inspectors knew months ago about dangerous conditions at the Brumadinho tailings dam, that collapsed in January and killed over 300 people. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Colombian authorities leveled drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's former home in Medellín. City authorities are planning a memorial park to honor the victims of his drug cartel’s crimes in the spot the building occupied. It's part of a grappling with the country's painful past and contemporary narco-legend tourism draws, reports the New York Times.
  • An Argentine businessman has accused corruption prosecutor Carlos Stornelli of demanding $300,000, via an intermediary, to keep him out of the headline grabbing "Cuadernos de la Corrupción" case. The investigation into the intermediary, Marcelo D'Alessio threatens to involve high levels of the Argentine federal judiciary and government officials, report Página 12 and Cohete a la Luna.
  • Photojournalists covering protests in Argentina say they are increasingly targeted by security forces repressing demonstrations, reports Página 12.
  • La abuela de las berenjenas: A recent image taken by Bernardino Ávila became an instant icon -- an elderly lady bending down to pick up eggplants scattered by police breaking up a demonstration by horticultural growers. (Página 12)

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

Friday, February 22, 2019

Nicaraguan gov't, Alianza to resume talks (Feb. 22, 2019)

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega agreed to restart talks with opponents -- months after a dialogue process broke down in the midst of a government crackdown on dissent. The first session with the Alianza Cívica por la Justicia y la Democracia will take place next Wednesday, reports El Confidencial. The student, civic, and business groups that form the Alianza said freeing of political prisoners would be their first precondition for talks, in which they plan to demand electoral reform and an early election timetable. An estimated 700 people have been detained in relation to anti-government protests since April of last year. 

Ortega's speech yesterday made no reference to the repression of protests that killed an estimated 325 people in 2018, nor of the persecution of opponents and independent media, notes Confidencial. The announcement comes after a meeting this weekend between Ortega and business leaders, accompanied by Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes and the Vatican's Managua representative. (See Wednesday's post.)

The Alianza will also demand freedom of speech, following government raids on media outlets, including El Confidencial. They also want freedom to hold protests, banned since September, reports the Associated Press.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet criticized the "criminalization of dissidence" in Nicaragua today, noting incarceration of opponents and activists, in some cases related to their cooperation with the U.N. (Confidencial)

Opposition leader Angel Rocha also said  push for electoral reform, transparent elections and justice for victims of last year's violent repression, reports Reuters.


Venezuela's politicized humanitarian crisis 

Aid has become a tool in a showdown between Venezuela's dueling leaders: President Nicolás Maduro and challenger Juan Guaidó. The Venezuelan opposition, backed by an international coalition that includes strong U.S. leadership, wants to bring in shipments of humanitarian aid in order to undermine the Maduro government's shaky claim to legitimacy. (Wall Street Journal, see yesterday's post.)

In the midst of the increasingly tense aid showdown along Venezuela's border, over 70 Venezuelan and international organizations called for supplies to be "organized and distributed in accordance with the humanitarian concerns of actors with technical expertise, both at the border towns where aid is being transported, as well as within Venezuela."

Opposition forces, led by Guaidó, are traveling to the Colombian border, where they are expected to try to transport aid into Venezuela tomorrow with volunteers. Venezuelan opposition leaders said the attempt to move aid into Venezuela with human chains of volunteers dressed in white will start at 9 tomorrow morning. (Washington Post)

Maduro has shut down the border with Brazil, as well as travel with three Caribbean islands, in an effort to block the entry of aid donated by the U.S. and other countries. (New York Times) Surrounded by military officers in a televised speech yesterday, Maduro said he might shut down the Colombian border as well, reports the Associated Press.

The presidents of Chile, Paraguay and Colombia are expected to visit the border in support of Guaidó's push.

Guaidó called on Venezuela's armed forces to stand aside and let the aid in, citing the example of former military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal who broke with Maduro yesterday. (Efecto Cocuyo) Carvajal, who has three decades of military experience and is now a lawmaker for the Socialist Party, called for troops to allow aid in, reports the Wall Street Journal.

His strongly worded statement came amid a wave of other defections by government officials, including a top air force official, diplomats, military attachés and members of the national guard, reports the New York Times.

International organizations warn that limited aid has been coming into Venezuela for years. Most organizations on the ground have kept their distance from the opposition efforts, warning that aid must be neutral. In the meantime chronic patients in dire need say the political theater is eclipsing their needs, reports the New York Times.

The Atlantic looks at some historical examples of politicized U.S. aid, including a 1980's program in Nicaragua used to smuggle in  $27 million in weapons for far-right groups. (The Iran-contra scandal the Trump administration's Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliot Abrams covered for in the Reagan administration.)

The Trump administration consistently refuses to rule out force. Most recently, the head of the U.S. Southern Command said Wednesday it is prepared to face any situation in Venezuela, though he emphasized the U.S. is currently looking at diplomatic solutions. (Miami Herald

But unilateral military intervention is not a valid response to Maduro's lack of democratic legitimacy, argues Aryeh Neier in Americas Quarterly. "The best role for the United States is to provide the diplomatic, economic and logistical support that is needed for collective action by the governments of Latin America to succeed, preferably by peaceful means."

More from Venezuela
  • The Venezuelan health care system's collapse could epidemic of diseases such as malaria and dengue on an unprecedented scale in Latin America, reversing public health gains of the last 18 years. (Guardian)
  • Two indigenous people were killed by a military convoy in Gran Sabana de Bolívar, and 15 more were wounded, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Colombia Monday, where he will push the international community to rally behind Guaidó, reports McClatchy.
  • Guaidó's representative to Costa Rica took control of Venezuela's San José embassy Wednesday. Though Costa Rica recognized María Faria as Venezuela's legitimate ambassador, government officials criticized that she took possession of the embassy before the 60 day deadline Costa Rica gave Maduro's representatives to leave, reports Reuters.
News Briefs

  • Five heavily armed U.S. citizens arrested in Haiti last week were returned to the U.S. where they won't face criminal charges. The decision has outraged some Haitian leaders, who question the illicit arms connections with the government, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs, and Wednesday's.)
  • The episode occurs within a context of illegal weapons flooding into Haiti from the U.S., despite a U.S. arms embargo. And arms trafficking cases unfolding in the United States and Haiti show that political elites play a key role in facilitating the safe passage of the illicit arms, reports Insight Crime.
  • Speaking of illegal arms: a German tribunal fined arms maker Heckler & Koch 3.7 million for  illegally exporting arms to the Mexican state of Guerrero. They are believed to have been used against the 43 Ayotzinapa students who were disappeared in 2014. Mexican government spokesman Jesús Ramirez suggested the funds should be used to compensate victims' families. (El PaísDeutsche Welle)
  • Mexican activist Samir Flores Soberanes was killed in his home Wednesday, before a referendum on a controversial thermal-electric plant and pipeline that he opposed. The Huexca project has been championed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, reports the Guardian.
  • Two sons of Sinaloa Cartel leader, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, were indicted in US on drug conspiracy charges. (Guardian)
  • Three indigenous Mexican activists freed after being wrongly imprisoned for 13 years. (TeleSur)
  • Roma star Yalitza Aparicio's international fame has given indigenous Mexicans in her hometown of Tlaxiaco renewed sense of pride, reports the Guardian.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran lawmakers are analyzing a new amnesty bill, that would reinstate a ban on investigating and prosecuting crimes committed during the country's civil war, reports El Faro. The proposal would basically revive the 1993 Amnesty Law overturned by the Supreme Court in 2016. (See post for July 14, 2016)
  • Ecuador obtained a $10.2 billion bailout, in the midst of weak economic growth and deficits. The IMF will loan Ecuador a $4.2 billion, and $6 billion will come from multilateral agencies including the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Latin American Development Bank. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Odebrecht corruption allegations have been in LatAm headlines for years -- affecting high-level politicians and business leaders in several countries. InSight Crime has a welcome round-up of investigations or trials against prominent figures in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Brazilian mining giant Vale SA said it would pay adult residents in Brumadinho $3,227 as compensation for the damage from a dam that collapsed and killed over 300 people in January. (Reuters)
  • Pollution in the Amazon Piñuña Blanco River is causing health issues for the indigenous Siona tribe, which says the Colombian subsidiary of the UK-based company Amerisur Resources is responsible. (Guardian
  • Peru's government launched a crackdown on illegal gold mining in the Madre de Dios rainforest. Officials suspended civil liberties in the area and deployed 1,500 police and military officers to the Amazon region. (Reuters)
  • Oil theft has been in Mexican headlines lately, but the crime is common in Latin America, reports InSight Crime, focusing on Honduran criminal groups.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Venezuela aid showdown Saturday (Feb. 21, 2019)

Venezuela is closing its border to sea and air traffic from Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao -- part of legitimacy-challenged President Nicolás Maduro's efforts to block shipments of humanitarian aid coordinated by the Venezuelan opposition. (New York Times) Curaçao was expected to be a staging ground for an attempt to bring aid into the country on Saturday -- along with a main crossing at Cúcuta in Colombia and Roraima in Brazil.

Hundreds of Venezuelan volunteers are expected to gather en masse at the Colombian borer to help bring in food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements. (CNBC) They will be led by National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó -- who has been recognized as Venezuela's interim-president by a chunk of the international community, including the U.S. He will also be accompanied by about 80 lawmakers, reports Reuters. The "humanitarian caravan" left Caracas this morning headed for Táchira state on the Colombian border -- despite an attempt by police to close off the highway, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Guaidó also called on followers to surround military bases on Saturday and demand that aid be allowed in. The move will likely antagonize Maduro, notes the Miami Herald

Saturday's aid battle will mark a flash point in the Venezuelan crisis, with the potential to flare into civil strife, reports Axios. Colombian security forces are gearing up in Cúcuta, reports Efecto Cocoyo.

The showdown is effectively Guaidó and the opposition's "Plan B" after they failed to inspire mass defections from the military, which remains largely loyal to Maduro. (Venezuela Weekly, see yesterday's briefs and Tuesday's post.) U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said Venezuelan troops are unlikely to crackdown and are starting to disobey Maduro's orders. (Bloomberg)

The political theater of the stalled aid is a stark illustration of Trump's "crudely transactional approach to aid," argues Peter Beaumont in the Guardian.

While the political crisis plays out, the humanitarian crisis continues to afflict Venezuelans. Desperation pushes many to simply walk away from the country, crossing Colombia on foot, reports the New York Times.

The Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimates Aids-related deaths have more than doubled as a result of an 85 percent shortage of medicines in Venezuela. Lack of retroviral drugs has pushed many HIV-positive Venezuelans to migrate, reports the Guardian.

The Wall Street Journal has a man on the street on what Caracas residents think of the dueling leaders.

News Briefs

  • New oil production from deepwater wells, starting next year, will drastically increase Guyana's GDP -- but carries risk of disinvestment in other sectors and could fuel political corruption, warns Jennapher Lunde Seefeldt in the Conversation, focusing on the "resource curse."
  • January of this year was the bloodiest on record in Mexico, with a total of 2,928 homicide and femicide victims, reports Animal Político. Violence has reached epidemic levels, with five stabbing or bullet wound victims entering emergency services every hour in Mexico, reports Milenio
  • Mexican senators reached a consensus and are expected to pass President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's National Guard plan today. Changes to the controversial proposal that creates a militarized internal security force include civilian leadership and a commitment to withdraw the military from law enforcement within five years, reports El Universal.
  • In an effort to deter critics who say the plan ratifies militarized policing that has come at a high human rights cost, the government offered to have international rights organizations permanently monitor the new National Guard, reports Excelsior. AMLO compared the new force to U.N. peacekeepers, reports UnoTV. (A rather unfortunate comparison given their track record when it comes to sexual abuse.)
  • The plan, and other aspects of AMLO's security approach since taking office last December, are a sharp departure from his campaign rhetoric, which promised to de-militarize internal security.  The Wilson Center's Eric Olson analyzes some of the pitfalls of the National Guard plan in World Politics Review.
Mano Dura
  • Hardline security policies are coming both from AMLO's left-leaning government and Brazil's distinctly right-leaning government. Why insist on policies that have been proven ineffective? In part it is the legacy of military dictatorships in the region, and the belief that previous policies have not been harsh enough, argues Igarapé Institutue's Adriana Abdenur in Americas Quarterly.
  • The five heavily armed U.S. citizens arrested in Haiti on Sunday, were sent back to the U.S. reports the Miami Herald. The U.S. government apparently intervened, in what some see as a slap in the face to the Haitian justice system. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The U.S. might allow lawsuits against foreign companies foreign companies that do business on Cuba using properties confiscated from U.S. citizens. Such a move would significantly chill potential foreign investment in the island, reports the Miami Herald.
Climate change
  • Climate change was responsible for the majority of under-reported humanitarian disasters last year, reports the Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...