Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Guaidó calls for military to let aid in next week (Feb. 13, 2019)

Shipments of humanitarian aid are a focal point of the legitimacy battle in Venezuela. National Assembly leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó's supporters seek to challenge Nicolás Maduro's control of the country by marshaling massive shipments just across the border in Colombia. Bringing the aid into Venezuela and distributing it would significantly undermine Maduro, whose second presidential mandate is largely considered illegitimate. 

Maduro has said these shipments, which include $20 million in supplies from the U.S., are tantamount to intervention and has promised to block them. Yesterday, in the midst of anti-government protests, Guaidó called for the military to disobey orders and allow caravans in Feb. 23. He said aid would also be delivered from Roraima, Brazil and two other border crossings. (Wall Street Journal)

Nonetheless, opposition leaders recognize that the struggle to oust Maduro is turning into a long-term battle, reports the Washington Post. The U.S. sanctions targeting Venezuela's oil sector effectively deny Maduro his single largest source of hard currency, but will also deepen the country's humanitarian crisis and feed into Maduro's narrative of imperialist intervention. Indeed, yesterday the embattled leader raised the specter of U.S. military intervention at a counter rally in Caracas.

International posturing aside, the best option for a successful democratic transition is likely the European Union backed International Contact Group on Venezuela, argue David Smilde and Geoff Ramsey in a New York Times Español op-ed. (See last Thursday's post.) The group's mandate is focused on holding new elections, which force it to avoid empty dialogue that would strengthen Maduro. Guaidó and the ICG are working against the clock -- U.S. sanctions will make the situation on the ground in Venezuela significantly worst in coming months they write. 

And while Guaidó and the U.S. reject negotiations with the government, they must recognize that the lack of significant desertions from Maduro's camp so far means they must contemplate some form of power sharing or guarantees for Chavismo's survival.

A successful transition government in Venezuela requires the participation of pro-Maduro and anti-Maduro forces, argue Mikael Wigell and Mikko Pyhälä in the Finish Institute of International Affairs. "Its function would be to renew the electoral institutions and negotiate a power-sharing agreement in order to lower the power stakes by protecting political minorities. Only then can presidential elections be held."

Russia said it would oppose a U.S. proposal for the U.N. Security Council to call for new elections in Venezuela, reports EFE. Russia's U.N. ambassador said the text, which says the opposition-dominated National Assembly is the only democratically chosen institution in Venezuela, could incite bloodshed. (See yesterday's post.) Russia also said yesterday it would be willing to facilitate negotiations between the Maduro and Guaidó camps. (Reuters)

More from Venezuela
  • Horrific conditions in Venezuela don't justify U.S. intervention, which history has shown to be largely counterproductive in Latin America, argues Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe.
  • China has been holding debt negotiations with Guaidó's representatives in Washington, hedging its bets on Maduro and seeking to safeguard nearly $20 billion that Caracas owes Beijing, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The broader message to bondholders is clear, said Guaidó's chargé d’affaires in the U.S., Carlos Vecchio in an interview with Americas Quarterly: "The only way they can get the payment they’re owed is if there is a change of government. If Maduro continues in power, they will never be paid."
News Briefs

  • At least six people have died in nearly a week of anti-government protests in Haiti -- and yesterday about 78 prison inmates escaped in the midst of a protest against President Jovenel Moïse in the city of Aquin. (AFP)
  • Significant political unrest in Haiti (see Monday's post) is directly related to the country's last electoral process, argues CEPR's Jake Johnston in the Haitian Times. "In 2015 and 2016, backed by the international community, political and economic actors made a Faustian bargain in the name of “stability.” They decided to allow fraudulent and violence-plagued legislative elections to stand, and rerun them at the presidential level."
El Chapo
  • Mexican cartel kingpin, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera was found guilty on 10 counts yesterday in a New York court. The Sinaloa Cartel leader, known for legendary jail breaks in Mexico, now faces life in U.S. prison. (New York Times
  • The three month trial presented the public with testimony from cooperating witnesses, who gave a window into the inner workings of Mexico's organized crime scene, particularly allegations of bribes paid to virtually every level of government, including former president Enrique Peña Nieto. Nonetheless, Mexicans were unfazed, the details were either known or suspected, reports the New York Times separately.
  • The conviction is a bittersweet moment, writes Ioan Grillo in a New York Times op-ed. On the one hand, it is a measure of justice, on the other it throws into stark relieve Mexico's horrific levels of violence: "Mexico has records of more than 40,000 people who have vanished, many in the areas where drug traffickers are strongest. ... Tuesday’s verdict followed more than 200,000 murders over the past decade, a level of bloodshed that has ripped at the heart of the nation."
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has backed his hyperbolic promise for a "fourth transformation" with "a staggering sequence of substantive government actions" including a truth commission to investigate the Ayotzinapa disappeared, labor rights for domestic workers, minimum wage hikes and closing tax loopholes benefiting large corporations. And over two months into his government, he remains wildly popular, reports Jacobin.
  • Nicaragua's government is implementing pension payments cuts and payroll tax increases -- a move that could plunge the country into deeper recession and unemployment, reports the Associated Press. The Ortega administration rolled back a far more gradual series of measures in the same vein last year, in the midst of widespread social unrest after they were announced.
  • A Brazilian Supreme Court Justice suspended two criminal proceedings against President Jair Bolsonaro -- on charges of slander and incitation to rape -- as serving presidents can’t be prosecuted for cases unrelated to their presidency. (Associated Press)
  • Several, if not most, of the thirteen people killed in a shootout with police in Rio de Janeiro last week (see yesterday's briefs) were executed after surrendering. The episode is likely an overt example of the mano dura policies Bolsonaro has promised to enact, Glenn Greenwald said on Democracy Now.
  • Brazil's environmental minister dismissed the murdered Amazon rain forest defender Chico Mendes as "irrelevant," angering activists who already accuse the Bolsonaro administration of sidelining environmental concerns. (Guardian)
  • Guatemala's lawmakers are poised to pass an amnesty bill that would free more than 30 military officials convicted of crimes against humanity and more than a dozen others awaiting trial on such charges. It would also prohibit all future investigations into other cases of grave human rights crimes committed during the country's brutal 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Such a move would "represent an unequivocal return to the reign of impunity long sought by the powerful, military-backed networks of corruption that the United States has invested significant resources into dismantling," writes Jo-Marie Burt in an NPR opinion piece.
  • At least 33 women were killed in Honduras in the first month of 2019, according to the Observatorio de la Violencia de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras. Most of these femicides occurred in five departments. (Radio Progreso)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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