Thursday, February 7, 2019

International Contact Group on Venezuela kicks off in Montevideo (Feb. 7, 2019)

An effort to find a negotiated solution to the Venezuelan crisis kicks off today in Montevideo, led by the EU and Uruguay. The International Contact Group on Venezuela aims to organize new elections within 90 days. Members include Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Mexico, as well as host Uruguay. From the European Union France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. (Reuters)

Separately, Mexico, Uruguay and CARICOM presented a call for dialogue with no preconditions, dubbed the Montevideo Mechanism. "The historical stance of our countries is and will always be to privilege diplomacy over other alternatives, as it is the only way to achieve sustainable, legitimate and effective peace and stability." (El País) Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela's legitimacy challenged president, embraced the call for dialogue today, reports EFE.

The two initiatives should not be confused warn WOLA experts Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde, who say dialogue without preconditions is a "non-starter." They emphasize that the Contact Group is not a mediator, but seeks to create conditions for a credible democratic process in keeping with Venezuela's constitution. Conditions and minimum confidence building measures to get to this solution include releasing political prisoners, renaming members of the National Electoral Council, and ending restrictions on all political parties and politicians in the electoral process, among others.

However, Maduro's acceptance of the Montevideo Mechanism could "make it difficult for him to continue to reject the Contact Group," they write.

Maduro's challenger, National Assembly leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó has rejected negotiation, but left the door open to the Contact Group path to elections, according to WOLA. 

Guaidó also appealed to Pope Francis to intervene in the crisis -- echoing a call by Maduro earlier this week, though they have used different terms and Guaidó rejects negotiations with Maduro, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

Negotiations could represent an out for Venezuela's political crisis, but also an exit to what is increasingly a geopolitical arm-wrestling match for influence in Latin America between the U.S., China and Russia that can only hurt average citizens, argues Alejandro Velasco in a New York Times Español op-ed.

The U.S. is not scheduled to attend in Montevideo, and should seek to keep its profile as low as possible on the Venezuela crisis argues Jorge Castañeda in the New York Times.

International pressure doesn't mean a resolution will come quickly, and authoritarian leaders may be tempted to cling to power no matter what if they don't have a viable exit strategy, argues Adam Taylor in the Washington Post.

Regardless of foreign intervention, violence is increasingly likely as Venezuela's crisis drags on, reports the Miami Herald.

More from Venezuela
  • Venezuela's military has blocked a bridge on the Colombian border, a message that it will attempt to stop shipments of humanitarian aid organized by Guaidó and opposition lawmakers. (Miami HeraldNew York Times, and see yesterday's post.)
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded Maduro reopen the bridge. (Washington Post)
  • While Guaidó focuses on getting humanitarian assistance into Venezuela, Maduro demonstrated control over resources and ports by sending a shipment of aid to Cuba. (Miami Herald)
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López engineered Guaidó's rise, and continues to play a central role in attempts to oust Maduro, despite having been under house arrest since 2017 reports the Guardian.
  • The U.S. offered relief from sanctions for military officers who back Guaidó yesterday. More than 65 current and former Venezuelan officials, including many of the military's high command, are the subject of U.S. financial sanctions, reports the Miami Herald. Guaidó has been attempting to sway the armed forces from Maduro with an offer of amnesty, but the move has not been effective so far.
  • The justice system in Venezuela, like everything else, doesn't work, said photographer Ana María Arévalo Gosen whose work documents women the country's overcrowded detention centers. (New York Times)
News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Colombian President Iván Duque will visit the White House next week. Discussion topics with his U.S. counterpart will range from economic cooperation to the political standoff in Venezuela, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Guatemalan lawmakers are considering a blanket amnesty for crimes committed during the country's 36-year civil war. The move would give absolute impunity for crimes against humanity including genocide, rape and forced disappearance. It is backed by former army generals, and was triggered by convictions of at least 33 military officers and militia members since 2008, reports the Guardian. If approved, all the convicts, and those held on remand awaiting trial would be free within 24 hours; pending trials would be cancelled and ongoing investigations shelved.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump accused Mexican cities of transporting migrants to unprotected areas of the U.S. border in order to help them cross illegally. But the assertion, made in Tuesday's State of the Union speech, is untrue, reports the New York Times. Though municipal and state governments have helped migrants move across Mexico, there's not indication that they're targeting weak spots along the border. Rather migrants are taken to border cities with shelter space.
  • Mexico's Senate will debate President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's controversial National Guard plan soon. It will be the point of no return for militarization of Mexico's internal security, writes Catalina Pérez Correa in a New York Times Español op-ed. The plan gives the military unprecedented power to detain and investigate civilians, without serious external controls, accountability mechanisms or transparency obligations. "It is a formula that contradicts the construction of a constitutional state and which, in Mexico as in other countries in the region, has resulted in grave violations to human rights and weakening of democratic institutions," she argues.
  • Mexico's attorney general said investigation in symbolic cases such as Ayotzinapa and the Estafa Maestra must be reinitiated in order to regain credibility after previous administrations' gaffes. (Animal Político)
  • Some of Mexico's tens of thousands of disappeared persons are forced to work as hitmen for the country's powerful cartels, reports El País.
  • Femicides in Mexico are increasingly committed by organized crime members say women's rights organizations. (Animal Político)
Costa Rica
  • Sexual harassment allegations against former Costa Rican president Óscar Arias are piling up -- over the past two days four women have accused the Nobel peace prize laureate of unprovoked and unwanted touching or sexual assault, reports the New York Times. Arias denied the charges, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • A Brazilian court found former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva guilty of accepting bribes from construction companies in the form of a $235,000 renovation of a country house and sentenced him to 12 years and 11 months in prison. The sentence adds onto the 13 year corruption sentence Lula is already serving, and makes a political comeback even more unlikely, according to the New York Times. Lula denies these and other corruption charges.
  • Five people detained in relation to the Brumadinho dam collapse in January -- three Vale mining company employees and two engineers who certified the waste dam's safety -- were released on Tuesday. (Wall Street Journal
  • The German TÜV SÜD company inspected, and ultimately certified, the dam months ago. But the report warned that faulty water drainage and monitoring systems represented a potential risk of failure. The dam should not have been certified and Vale, the mining company owner, should have recognized the risks, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • One of the auditors who inspected the dam said he felt pressured to attest to the safety of the structure despite indications it was unsafe, according to court documents seen by the Wall Street Journal.
  • Integral police reform is responsible for a significant reduction in Honduras' homicide rate, according to the IADB.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...


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