Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Humanitarian aid deployed in Venezuela's political crisis (Feb. 6, 2019)

Venezuela's political opposition plans to deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid to citizens, a high-stakes gamble aimed at proving National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó's claim to be Venezuela's legitimate interim president. But humanitarian organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and Caritas, are concerned about aid being used in a political contest and will not participate in the delivery for now. (See yesterday's post.) Last week Red Cross officials warned the U.S. administration of the risks of bringing in aid without the approval of security forces, still loyal to Nicolás Maduro whose legitimacy is highly questioned. (Associated Press)

Delivery of aid in Venezuela will be a test for the opposition's ability to effectively run a government, and a challenge to Maduro's increasingly isolated government. Guaidó supporters hope to shore up his claim to legitimacy by alleviating crippling food and medicine shortages. They are also hoping to put Maduro in a bind: either forcing him to refuse much needed aid, or allow a parallel government operation.

Venezuelan military vehicles blocked a bridge on the Colombian border, reports AFP. The Tienditas bridge, linking Venezuela to Cucutá is expected to be used to enter humanitarian aid, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Aid is being concentrated in Cucutá by U.S. backed Venezuelan exiles supporting Guaidó, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Food has long been a political tool in Venezuela for Maduro, notes the New York Times. (In a New York Times op-ed last year by Tamara Taraciuk and Rafael Uzcátegui details how "Venezuelan authorities are using hunger as a mechanism of social and political control.")

On the negotiation front, Pope Francis said he would be willing to mediate if both sides ask for it -- and said Maduro had sent a letter asking for dialogue. (New York Times

Guaidó and his supporters have rejected calls for a negotiation, saying it only legitimizes Maduro's stance. (Efecto Cocuyo and Efecto Cocuyo)

Nonetheless, the National Assembly seems to have allowed the possibility of participating in the EU's contact group proposal, notes David Smilde at the Venezuela Weekly. The first meeting is scheduled for tomorrow. 

More from Venezuela
  • Activists say Maduro is using Faes, a shadowy and fearsome special forces unit to violently quash dissent in poor neighborhoods, reports the Guardian. (See last Thursday's post which also reported on the issue.)
  • Earlier this week Maduro threatened to arrest Guaidó -- many observers say he remains free only because of the significant outpouring of international support. (Guardian)
  • The international diplomatic battle over Venezuela's legitimacy question is exposing rifts in the EU, reports Politico.
  • Over a dozen oil tankers, carrying about 7 million barrels of Venezuelan oil are hanging out in the Gulf of Mexico, in the midst of confusion caused by U.S. sanctions, which order U.S. customers of Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA to deposit payments into escrow accounts that will be controlled by Guaidó. (Reuters)
  • And Russian oil operations in Venezuela are coming under increasing scrutiny, reports Reuters separately.
  • Russian officials say they are interested in maintaining military cooperation with Venezuela. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • There are increasing reports of fractures within the lower ranks of Venezuela's armed forces, reports the Venezuela Weekly.
  • Smilde also calls for nuanced takes on Venezuela -- "you can resist and criticize the Trump Administration’s Venezuela policy without reducing the situation to it."

Guatemala's anti anti-corruption battle

The U.S. Trump administration and Republican lawmakers have been key allies in Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales' efforts to oust the country's U.N. backed international anti-corruption commission, the CICIG. This is in part due to intensive lobbying efforts by the Guatemalan government, and a conspiracy theory linking the anti-graft institution to Russian interests, reports Foreign Policy.

And Morales' efforts against the CICIG are just the tip of the iceberg -- he's targeting the Constitutional Court, which has ruled against him several times, and could be angling to for some sort of "slow-motion coup" say experts in Americas Quarterly.

The constitutional crisis Morales' anti-CICIG efforts are provoking are paradoxically directly opposed to the Trump administration's obsession with reducing migration, noted Open Society Justice Initiative's Eric Witte last month.

Kicking out the CICIG is not just bad for anti-corruption efforts, it's also bad for business, reports Americas Quarterly separately. 

Nonetheless, Guatemala's business community has largely backed Morales' anti-CICIG efforts. The CICIG is one of Guatemala's most trusted institutions, but backlash against its efforts is worth noting for future international efforts to fight impunity and corruption, write William D. Stanley and Charles T. Call at the IPI Global Observatory.

News Briefs

Costa Rica
  • A nuclear disarmament activist accused former Costa Rican president Oscar Árias of sexual assault four years ago. The accusation threatens to tarnish the legacy of the Nobel peace prize laureate who retains significant influence in Costa Rica and the region. Dr. Alexandra Arce said she took courage to make her accusation against such a powerful person from the #MeToo movement, reports the New York Times. Accusations in Latin America have been gaining strength, but this is one of the highest profile ones so far. Árias denied the accusation, reports the Associated Press.
  • In a second allegation, Emma Daly, the head of communications at Human Rights Watch, told the Washington Post that Arias groped her in 1990, when she was a reporter and while he was still president. 
  • Honduran prosecutors announced formal charges against a ninth person accused in the 2016 murder of activist Berta Cáceres. (Proceso and EFE) The chief prosecutor's office said it was seeking formal charges against Roberto David Castillo Mejia for his alleged role in the killing. But a preliminary hearing scheduled for yesterday was postponed, reportedly at the request of Cáceres' family, according to the Associated PressCOPINH, the organization co-founded by Cáceres, said it was postponed to analyze new information introduced to the case. The group has pushed for the investigation to focus on the intellectual authors of the assassination. (See post for Nov. 30, 2018.)
  • Honduran lawmakers are trying to take away the public ministry's ability to hold government officials accountable for corruption. (El Heraldo)
  • Guyana’s elections commission says it will not meet a court-mandated March deadline for general elections in the wake of a no-confidence vote, but might be able to do so by July, reports the Associated Press. (See Jan. 8's briefs.)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is taking his obsession with routing out "Marxist ideology" to education policy, and promised to revise textbooks to excise references to feminism, homosexuality and violence against women. Top officials have also said the military will take over some public schools. (Associated Press)
  • A leak in the Brumadinho mining dam last year compromised the structure's integrity, but the mine's operators did not take steps to protect workers from potential disaster, like the rupture that killed at least 142 people last month, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • A mass strike at 48 maquiladora factories in the Mexican city of Matamoros has been largely resolved with an agreement for a 20 percent pay increase. (Associated Press)
  • Intellectual property rights play a key role in protecting Colombia's indigenous and afro-descendant knowledge, writes Raquel Molano in Americas Quarterly.
  • Uruguay is hoping to capitalize on its cannabis legalization by exporting medical marijuana, reports the Associated Press.
  • Argentina has presidential elections in October -- but debate is already heated about what the chances are for a reelection of either President Mauricio Macri or his predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. A third option could break the now tired polarization, but its not yet clear who could fill the role. Americas Quarterly profiles Salta province governor Juan Manuel Urtubey who hopes to sway Argentines with promises of strengthening political institutions and maintaining credibility with investors.
Animal violence
  • Hummingbirds use those long beaks for deadly weapons for battles between males. (New York Times)
Correction: Yesterday's post cited incorrect media reports saying El Salvador's president-elect Nayib Bukele calls himself anti-system. He opposes the political dominance of the country's two main parties -- "bipartidismo" -- not the political system itself.


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