Friday, February 8, 2019

Risks as Venezuela crisis drags on (Feb. 8, 2019)

The International Contact Group on Venezuela held its first meeting in Montevideo yesterday. Members said it will send a technical mission to the country to help provide humanitarian aid and support new elections as soon as possible, reports Reuters. It aims to "i) establish the necessary guarantees for a credible electoral process, within the earliest timeframe possible; ii) enable the urgent delivery of assistance in accordance with international humanitarian principles." Resolution must come from from Venezuelans, said EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, yesterday. "This is not only the most desirable result but is the only result if we want to avoid more suffering and a chaotic process." The ICG will reconvene at ministerial level by the beginning of March. Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights has for more analysis of the EU backed effort. (See yesterday's post.)

Pressure is piling up on Venezuela's legitimacy challenged Nicolás Maduro -- but that doesn't guarantee his ouster, and the longer the standoff lasts, the greater the risks, warns the Economist. (See yesterday's post on the dangers of the crisis dragging out.)
The problem is that Maduro and the military elite that continues to back him have too much to lose if they leave, write Robert Malley and Robert Fadel of the International Crisis Group in the Atlantic. There is a sense that if Maduro rides out the storm, cracks will appear in opposition unity. They call for the U.S. administration to back off of a hardline stance, and support a compromise solution that will avoid violence.
It's already surprising that National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, a youthful unknown, achieved such a level of mobilization by declaring himself the country's interim president. The plan was put together only recently by a group of four opposition leaders, two in exile and one under house arrest, reports the Wall Street Journal. It doesn't mean they'll stay in the background moving forward though. (The Guardian reported on Leopoldo López's hand in the plan yesterday.)

More from Venezuela
  • U.S. oil sanctions target Maduro's cashflow -- but Pdvsa seems to have found Russian supported survival strategies, raising the risk that the sanctions will only serve to deepen the country's severe humanitarian crisis, reports the New York Times.
  • The first truckloads of U.S. humanitarian aid have arrived in the Colombian border town of Cucuta, and have been blocked by Venezuela's military from crossing the Tienditas bridge between the two countries, reports the BBC. Maduro has promised to keep out more than $60 million worth of assistance organized by the opposition and provisioned by the United States, Colombia, Canada and other countries, report the Washington Post and the Guardian. Though the U.S. is pressuring for it to be allowed in, Elliott Abrams, the State Department special envoy to Venezuela, said yesterday that there are no plans to force aid into the country.
  • The aid showdown is just the latest move in the legitimacy battle between Maduro and Guaidó. (See Wednesday's post.) But outside the limelight, human rights activists have been quietly smuggling much needed aid into the country for years, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Venezuelan authorities say a U.S.-owned air freight company delivered a crate of assault weapons earlier this week to the international airport in Valencia, to be used against Maduro. (McClatchy)
News Briefs

Anticorruption protests 2.0
  • Recent anti-corruption street protests in Latin America are focused on tangible obstacles to anti-corruption efforts, an evolution from 2015 and 2016 protests that focused broadly on entrenched corruption in national political systems. "Rather than ejecting a government or imploding the entire political system, the focus now is more likely to be on tangible obstacles to anti-corruption efforts," writes Roberto Simon at Americas Quarterly.
  • Confidencial reporter Wilfredo Miranda was awarded the Rey de España prize for his investigation into anti-government repression by Nicaraguan security forces. (Connectas)
  • Mexican opposition senators refused to support a government plan to create a National Guard, approved last month by the house of deputies. Ruling Morena party said it would start working on a modified plan, and the civil society collective #SeguridadSinGuerra also said it would field an alternative proposal, reports Animal Político
  • President Andrés Manuel López Obrador proposed creating the new security force, that would draw on the military, but critics say it will merely ratify militarization of internal security, that has a horrific human rights track record as well as being ineffective. "It is far from clear how more militarized policing will avoid the quagmire of violence and corruption that has ensnared every other federal, state and local security and law enforcement agency," wrote Open Society Justice Initiative's Eric Witte in Americas Quarterly.
  • Witte's piece focuses on a push to create an independent international commission against impunity in Mexico, akin to Guatemala's CICIG. "A UN-backed international commission against impunity in Mexico would be no panacea. But it may be the best chance López Obrador has to keep violence and corruption from consuming his other priorities."
  • Brazilian senators chose first-time lawmaker Davi Alcolumbre to head the senate, a positive development for President Jair Bolsonaro's pension and security reform agenda. But the dominance of political newcomers in Congress could also complicate political coordination, according to the Economist, with lawmakers more inclined to answer to Twitter followers than party leadership.
  • Just a month into his presidency, Bolsonaro has a poor relationship with his VP, retired general Hamilton Mourão. It is in part a reflection of a real ideological schism within the new administration, but also a possible indication that the office of the vice president itself is inherently destabilizing "in a country with a patchwork of several dozen political parties that forces odd and ultimately brittle coalitions," writes Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly.
  • The rift between Bolsonaro and Mourão is pretty relevant, as the president is hospitalized for pneumonia after undergoing surgery last week. (Guardian)
  • Vale mining company said it is evacuating 500 people from the vicinity of a Minas Gerais mine, just two weeks after a dam collapse killed an estimated 300 people. (Guardian)
  • Guatemalan prosecutors are investigating presidential candidate Sandra Torres in a case involving $2.5 million in alleged illicit campaign financing four years ago. They sought to remove the immunity from prosecution accorded to presidential candidates in Guatemala, reports the Associated Press.  Four people were arrested this week in the case, prosecutors were seeking to lift the immunity of four lawmakers from the same party and the party’s headquarters were being searched for documents related to the case.
  • Palm oil expansion in Guatemala has left indigenous farming communities without enough land to survive off -- fueling migration to the U.S. in search of better economic opportunities, reports Al Jazeera.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran president-elect Nayib Bukele might revisit the country's diplomatic relations with China, reports Reuters. The move comes less than a year after the current government broke ties with Taiwan, generating a diplomatic conflict with the U.S. (See post for Aug. 24, 2018.)
  • Bolivia chose a Chinese consortium to partner on new $2.3 billion lithium projects, a potential foothold for China to access the country's untapped reserves, reports Reuters.
Costa Rica
  • Mounting sexual harassment allegations against former Costa Rican president Oscar Arias threaten the Nobel peace prize laureate's legacy, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Chilean police arrested former army chief Juan Emilio Cheyre on charges of torturing 24 people in 1973, after General Augusto Pinchet's coup. (AFP)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...


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