Friday, February 15, 2019

Venezuela in the midst of neo-Cold War tussle (Feb. 15, 2019)

Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza announced a new international coalition to counter what he called he called a U.S.-led, illicit effort to oust Nicolás Maduro's government. Speaking outside the United Nations Security Council chambers in New York, he accused the United States of using sanctions and emergency aid as political weapons against Venezuelans, reports the New York Times. He was accompanied by diplomats from China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Russia and Syria -- but said the group includes more than fifty countries.

Millions of dollars in aid -- much needed food and medicines -- have been gathered across the Venezuelan border with Colombia, in Cúcuta. But the dispute between Maduro and National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself Venezuela's legitimate president with the backing of the U.S. and a large swathe of the international community, has made delivery a political weapon, reports the Washington Post. Indeed, Arreaza said the aid was a political tool of the U.S., which he said created shortages through sanctions. And Maduro announced that aid would come from China and Cuba.

In the meantime, Guaidó's representative in the U.S. is going all out to maintain crucial support for the opposition's power bid, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Carlos Vecchio's interview with Americas Quarterly in Wednesday's post.) And several Venezuelan opposition leaders traveled to Washington this week to outline a plan to lead the country out of its humanitarian crisis, and to ask the international community for money to do it -- a sign of their ability to act as a government, reports the Miami Herald.

Major foreign powers need to take a step back and allow regional stakeholders to help resolve the Venezuela crisis, argues former Spanish PM Felipe González in a New York Times op-ed. "Venezuela must not become yet another front in the newfangled mini Cold War that the United States and Russia have been waging in places like Ukraine and Syria. The United States, Russia and China must avoid using Venezuela as a proxy in a geopolitical power struggle. By not interfering they can prevent a stalemate that could give Mr. Maduro time and resources to cling to power."

U.S. Special Envoy on Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, sparred with Representative Ilhan Omar in a tense congressional hearing on Wednesday. (See yesterday's post.) She specifically focused on his role in the Reagan administration Iran-contra scandal, and asked whether he would "support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide if you believed they were serving U.S. interests, as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua?" (New York Times) Omar also pushed Abrams on his role covering up the horrific 1981 El Mozote massacre, in which U.S. trained troops killed at least 800 civilians in a Salvadoran village. (Washington Post) The line of questioning drew applause -- see Daniel Drezner's opinion piece in the Washington Post for example -- and harsh criticism -- see Francisco Toro's WaPo opinion piece

"... She was right to suggest that he had sought to diminish the massacre," writes Raymond Bonner in the Atlantic. "Nor was she wrong to question whether Abrams was ethically qualified to assume a high government position, with the mission to oust the Venezuelan dictatorship and promote democracy."

More from Venezuela
  • Much of the international community has picked sides in the Venezuela legitimacy battle. Mexico, under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has attempted to remain neutral, a stance that reflects a longtime confusion over how to deal with Venezuela in Mexico, writes Genaro Lozano in Americas Quarterly.
News Briefs

  • At least seven people have been killed in a week of violent anti-corruption protests in Haiti, and life has been paralyzed by barricades and demonstrations, reports AFP. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • President Jovenel Moïse spoke for the first time in days yesterday, telling citizens he will not step down. He said the government will announce new economic measures today. But protesters were not mollified and promised to remain in the streets. (Associated PressTIMECBS)
  • Over a week of violent unrest is taking a humanitarian toll on Haiti, with international aid groups debating whether to cancel activities, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • A group of about 720 migrants -- most from Cuba but also from Haiti and African countries -- have formed a "freedom caravan" in Panama, and hope to reach the U.S. and request asylum, reports the Miami Herald.
El Salvador
  • As Abram's was questioned on El Mozote in Washington (see above post), forensic experts were examining a potential mass grave in the village this week. Eighteen former Salvadoran army officers now face trial for crimes against humanity and other charges related to the massacre, in what has become a test case for bringing civil war era human rights crimes to trial en El Salvador, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced a $5.2 billion rescue package for Petróleos Mexicanos. (Wall Street Journal)
  • In general AMLO's "long-term objective to recentralize power is clear, but the specifics of everyday decisions – on everything from social policy to infrastructure investment – remain obscure," writes Luis Rubio in Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazilian police arrested eight employees of mining giant Vale SA -- four managers and four technical team employees -- in relation to the collapse of the Brumadinho tailings dam collapse that is believed to have killed over 300 people. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Earlier this week Reuters reported on an internal document showing that Vale knew last year that the dam had a heightened risk of rupturing. 
  • Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão said the country is ready to move forward with oft-delayed pension reforms, and that they could be approved within five months, reports the Wall Street JournalAmericas Quarterly explains why that optimistic take on the controversial reform is not so likely.
  • Vogue's Brazil director resigned in the midst of criticism over a birthday party that evoked colonial depictions of slavery, reports the Guardian.
Science Geeks
  • Cool research shows how glaciers moved from Namibia to Brazil way back in the day. (New York Times)

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