Monday, February 18, 2019

Aid showdown shaping up at Venezuela-Colombia border (Feb. 18, 2019)

Shipments of U.S. aid destined for Venezuela are piling up in Cúcuta, Colombia, this weekend the U.S. military used C-17 cargo planes to bring in an estimated 200 tons of cargo. The aid in the border town has become a symbol of the legitimacy showdown between embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, and his challenger, Juan Guaidó. The tensions are likely to come to a head next Saturday, when the Venezuelan opposition is planning to lead thousands of protesters dressed in white to confront the military on the border and bring the aid in somehow. 

Maduro and Guaidó agree that the ultimate goal of the aid -- meant to alleviate Venezuela's humanitarian crisis -- is to undermine Maduro's hold on power., The U.S. and the opposition hope the confrontation will spur a mass defection from the armed forces. "There comes a time in many people’s lives when they have to make a decision that will define them forever," said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio on a visit to Cúcuta on Sunday. "That time has come for the Venezuelan soldiers."

Maduro and his international supporters, namely Russia, say the efforts amount to intervention in Venezuela.

Experts are concerned that the U.S. might use military force to enter the aid, or otherwise intervene in support of Guaidó, potentially setting off an armed conflict in the region. (New York Times)

Guaidó said more than 600,000 Venezuelans signed up for his initiative, though there is little detail on the plan -- emailed directives were promised for later today. Last week a platform was set up for volunteers to sign up and the opposition has appealed to thousands of Venezuelans living in Cúcuta to join the effort. (GuardianWall Street Journal and Miami Herald)

Opposition forces will also try to enter aid vía Roraima, in Brazil, and by sea, in a flotilla from Curacao.

British billionaire Richard Branson is planning a concert in Cúcuta this Friday in support of the aid initiative. He plans to raise $100 million for Venezuela, though plans for actual distribution are sketchy, notes the Washington Post.

Yesterday five members of the European Parliament, invited to meet with Guaidó in Caracas, were barred from entering the country and deported by Venezuelan authorities. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said they were part of a conspiracy plan and had been warned beforehand they would not be permitted entry. (Efecto Cocuyo)

More from Venezuela
  • The opposition-led National Assembly is drafting new oil regulations aimed an encouraging international investment in the decimated sector. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • More than 50 countries, including the U.S., recognize Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate president. The United Nations still hasn't, and has become an important diplomatic arena where Maduro can still participate, reports the Washington Post.
  • Three Venezuelan academics propose a consultant referendum alternative aimed at preventing violence. (Guardian)
  • Panamanian real estate was a favorite for Venezuela's corrupt officials to launder ill-gotten gains, but in the wake of the Panama Papers that outlet has become harder, reports the Guardian.
News Briefs

  • Haiti got a reprieve from violent anti-government protests yesterday, but it's not clear how long it will last, reports the Miami Herald. In the meantime, Haitians are trying to obtain basic supplies which have been lacking in the midst of demonstrations and roadblocks. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Water, food, and medicine have been lacking after nine days of protests -- the Miami Herald reports that the U.S. Trump administration is working on a plan to provide a humanitarian aid package to Haiti.
  • Daniel Ortega's government in Nicaragua has cracked down with increased virulence against the press -- a sign that the dictatorship's hold on power is weakening, writes Carlos Chamorro in a New York Times Español op-ed. The journalist is working from exile in Costa Rica due to threats in Nicaragua, and details the struggle of maintaining Confidencial and Esta Semana's reporting despite the difficult circumstances.
El Salvador
  • The 1981 El Mozote massacre was in U.S. headlines last week, due to U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar's questioning of Elliot Abrams -- the U.S.'s special envoy on Venezuela. (See Friday's post and briefs.) But the case continues to reverberate in El Salvador to this day, with implications for U.S. migratory policy. In the Daily Beast, Nelson Rauda profiles the case of the daughter of a survivor, who recently applied for asylum in the U.S. after receiving gang threats.
  • The death of a young teen after being restrained by a Rio de Janeiro supermarket guard has spurred a Brazilian Black Lives Matter movement -- #VidasNegrasImportam. Protests were held in Rio, as well as São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Recife. Nearly three-quarters of all homicide victims are black in Brazil, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil's evangelical churches have increasing political clout under the Bolsonaro administration -- and activists are concerned about the potential rollback to LGBT rights. (Washington Post)
  • Previous exposure to dengue might have protected some Brazilians from the 2015 Zika outbreak, according to a new study. (Guardian)
  • Colombia's anti-drug strategies have not worked well, and the local narcotics market has flourished in the past decade, according to a new report by Acciones para el Cambio. (InSight Crime)
  • Cuba's new constitution will voted on in a referendum next Sunday. Evangelical churches on the island have made an unprecedented, unified, campaign against elements it contains, showing their political clout and forcing the government to back off a potential opening for gay marriage. (Guardian)
The Wall!
  • President Trump declared a national emergency on the border with Mexico on Friday. Trump insisted the controversial move was necessary to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants, drugs, and criminals across the border, after Congress declined to fund a border wall with Mexico. The declaration enables the president to divert $3.6 billion from military construction projects to a border wall. But critics across the spectrum were scathing. Legal challenges have already been filed and more are expected. (GuardianNew York Times, and New York Times)
  • The murder of two young men in Tijuana last year shows the vulnerability of migrants in Mexico -- a key issue under the Trump administration's new policy of forcing asylum seekers to wait, potentially for years, in Mexico. (Guardian)
  • A wave of strikes have closed or slowed production at dozens of maquiladora assembly plants and other factories in Mexico's Matamoros. (Guardian)
  • Two indigenous human rights defenders disappeared since last week in Guerrero state were found alive, and are under government protection. (Animal Político)
  • At least five people were killed and five more wounded in a Cancún bar shootout. (Animal Político)
  • Two millionaire Ecuadoran bankers were arrested by U.S. immigration authorities in Miami -- Roberto and William Isaías were convicted of embezzlement in Ecuador in 2012. (New York Times)



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