Friday, March 29, 2019

Nicaragua negotiations stall over early elections (March 29, 2019)

Negotiations between Nicaragua's government and an opposition civil society alliance have stumbled over demands for early elections, reports el Confidencial. Government negotiating team members, including foreign minister Denis Moncada, said the issue was definitively off the table. But Alianza Cívica representatives said the demand is key to their position and is non-negotiable. Both sides agreed to extend talks until April 3.

More from Nicaragua
  • This week Amnesty International called the international community to support Costa Rica's efforts to receive, protect and support people fleeing the human rights crisis in Nicaragua.
  • Russia is helping rearm Nicaragua, part of a broader push by President Vladimir Putin to build up Russian influence in the region, writes Armando Chaguaceda in Global Americans
News Briefs

  • The United Nations made a confidential plea to Venezuela's rival leaders -- legitimacy-challenged president Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó -- to end a political battle over humanitarian aid. "The politicization of humanitarian assistance in the context of the crisis makes delivery of assistance in accordance with the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence more difficult," the report said. The document, reported on by the New York Times, avoids casting blame for the country's humanitarian crisis, but notes the impact of Maduro's blockade of the country's borders and restrictions on aid organizations. It also says U.S. sanctions have worsened the situation.
  • Guaidó and Maduro both announced imminent medical and humanitarian aid. Guaidó promised today that support will arrive within hours or days, but did not specify more. Maduro said the government is preparing to receive a shipment of medicine from China. (Reuters and Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Venezuela's government has officially barred Guaidó from holding office for 15 years, reports Reuters. Experts dismiss the legality of the ban, reports Efecto Cocuyo
  • The U.S. is pushing oil trading houses and refiners around the world to further cut dealings with Venezuela or face sanctions themselves, even if the trades are not prohibited by published U.S. sanctions, reports Reuters.
  • Yet another example of the diplomatic complications caused by Venezuela's legitimacy crisis: Germany recognizes Guaidó as Venezuela's president, but hasn't confirmed his representative in Germany as ambassador. (Deutsche Welle)
  • The Venezuela Weekly reviews the ICG. (See also Wednesday's post.) It also has more info on the blackouts, which make headlines when Caracas is affected, but have been ongoing for 40 days in some rural communities. Also analysis on the Russian troops, which have generated a lot of diplomatic feather ruffling, but probably doesn't have many practical implications.
  • Also from Venezuela Weekly, Ecuador is hosting a migration meeting on the Venezuelan crisis next week -- even if the political crisis is resolved soon, Special Representative of the UN High Commission for Refugees Eduardo Stein warned the migration issue will continue for years.
  • A significant portion of roughly $627 million that the U.S. Congress allocated for Central America one year ago — has been in limbo for months at the White House Office of Management and Budget. Officials are unsure whether President Donald Trump wants to withhold those funds from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as punishment for the ongoing flow of migrants from those countries, reports Politico. (See yesterday's post.)
  • A group of Central American migrants hoping to be reunited with their children after being separated last year by U.S. immigration officials have been in immigration detention for nearly a month, reports the Washington Post.
  • Haiti’s largest opposition groups called for nation wide protests starting today, aimed at ousting President Jovenel Moïse, reports the Associated Press. Twenty-six people were killed and 77 wounded in protests and related clashes that lasted three weeks last month, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti reports higher numbers -- 34 killed and 102 injured, including 23 police officers. Human Rights Watch called on authorities to investigate potential excessive use of force by police.
  • Honduran police arrested a journalist sentenced to 10 years in jail for defamation against the wife of a former attorney general. Police broke down the door of a radio station to arrest David Romero Ellner, a vocal critic of President Juan Orlando Hernández.  (Associated Press) Earlier this year, Romero said the case is politically motivated. Romero denounced a case of alleged misuse of Honduran Social Security Institute funds to finance President Juan Orlando Hernández's electoral campaign. (See Jan 16's briefs, and Jan 17's.)
  • The amnesty bill Guatemalan lawmakers are contemplating would free army veterans convicted of enslaving  at least 11 Mayan Q’eqchi indigenous women, who were kept at a jungle camp and raped over a period of six years starting in 1982. "The amnesty proposal is a get-out-of-jail-free card for convicted war criminals and the dozen plus former military officials awaiting trial for war crimes," Jo-Marie Burt told Reuters. (See March 14's post and March 13's briefs.)
  • Intense domestic and international pressure seems to have dissuaded legislators from immediately approving the bill, which would free convicted war criminals and those awaiting trial for such crimes, writes Burt with Paulo Estrada at the International Justice Monitor.
  • Guatemalan authorities dismantled a criminal group made up of police officers working as drug dealers and hitmen, reports InSight Crime.
  • Argentina's poverty rate grew by 6 points in 2018 -- accelerating in the second half of the year, and affecting 32 percent of the country's urban population, according to statistics released yesterday. The numbers bode ill for President Mauricio Macri, who was elected in 2015 with a "zero poverty" campaign platform. It combines with other negative economic indicators: inflation, peso instability, lowering GDP and increases in unemployment. Low-income families have been particularly affected by austerity driven utility tariff increases. (El PaísAssociated PressBloomberg, and EFE)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque's push against the 2016 FARC peace deal could be key to rebuilding political capital -- "Bringing the JEP back to the frontlines of political debate may help Duque reignite his base," writes Rodrigo Riaza in Americas Quarterly.
  • Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) magistrate Patricia Linares called on former president Álvaro Uribe to play fair and stop distorting the debate regarding the peace deal created transitional justice tribunal. (Semana)  
El Salvador
  • A move by El Salvador's attorney general to unseal evidence and witness statements in corruption cases appears to aim at greater transparency. But the demand could also expose witnesses who testified against his deputy for alleged corruption, notes Insight Crime.
  • Ecuador's chief prosecutor's office said it will not investigate allegations that former President Rafael Correa received funds from Venezuela aimed at destabilizing the current government. Prosecutors said yesterday that records show no indication of illegal activity, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs on the accusation.)
  • Politically influential Ecuadorean Carlos Pólit -- sentenced at home for Odebrecht related extortion -- has been linked to Miami properties purchased with secretive companies, reports McClatchy.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made fighting fuel theft an early cornerstone of his government. The fight is difficult, but worthy writes Ioan Grillo in a New York Times op-ed. "Mexico is overwhelmed by high levels of criminal activity of many different kinds, and the police need to prioritize which offenses to go after. Fuel theft is one of those worth prioritizing, a crime that the government should be able to actually succeed in reducing."
  • Torture is engrained in Mexico's military, a dangerous fact considering the current government's plan to draw on troops for a new National Guard. "Torture is practiced in groups. In 98% of cases, victims were tortured by two or more members of the army. Those responsible are not just a few “rotten apples” — torture is learned and socialized," writes  Javier Trevino-Rangel in Nexos. (LA Review of Books in English.)
  • A new WOLA and Peace Brigades International report focuses on the Mexican government's failures to address violence against journalists and human rights defenders. Mexico continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for these groups, with at least 12 defenders and media workers killed in the country in just the first three months of 2019. 
  • A wave of strikes demanding higher wages in factories in Mexico could affect the country's labor competitive advantage in the new USMCA regional free-trade deal, reports the Financial Times.
  • AMLO's energy policy requires serious scrutiny, argues Valeria Moy in Americas Quarterly.
  • The new National Guard reform has put a spotlight on a long-standing rule allowing Mexicans to buy army weapons, reports Vice.
  • Brazilian police uncovered a criminal gang death-squad unit that collected intelligence and planned hits on public security officials, including police officers and prison guards. (InSight Crime)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is visiting Israel -- where he will walk a diplomatic tightrope, trying to balance a promise to move his country's Israel embassy to Jerusalem and avoid angering key Arab trade partners. (AFP
Regional Relations
  • A new regional group -- the seven country "Prosur" -- has more to do with national agendas than serious regional integration, writes Stefano Palestini Céspedes at the Aula Blog.
  • Indeed, Prosur lacks concrete objectives, and responds more to the decadence of Unasur, argue Christopher Sabatini and Nicolás Albertoni in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Thursday, March 28, 2019

U.S. focused on stemming Central American migration (March 28, 2019)

The U.S., Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador will work together to stem illicit migration. A new cooperation agreement announced yesterday includes carrying out joint police operations -- which the U.S. framed as a policy aimed at stemming crime, a root cause of Central American migration to the U.S. (Reuters)

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen described the deal as historic yesterday. Today, however, U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out against Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for accepting monetary aid from the United States and doing "nothing" to stem migration. Trump threatened to close the southern border in response. "It was not immediately clear what sparked Mr. Trump’s outrage early Thursday," notes the New York Times

Trump's "tantrums" appear actually be impacting U.S. aid policy -- officials reportedly avoid disbursing approved funds in order to appease the president. According to Vox a substantial portion of this fiscal year's $627 million Central American aid budget remains unspent.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded that Mexico is committed to assisting, but that the problem itself is that of the U.S. and Central America. (Reuters) However, the Mexican government does appear to be taking steps to hinder migration across the country. Yesterday Interior Secretary Olga Sanchez Cordero announced a "containment" belt plan to stop migrants with federal forces at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest part of the country’s south. (Associated Press)

A migrant caravan of about 2,500 Central Americans is currently making its way across southern Mexico, aiming for the U.S. But it is receiving a far cooler welcome than similar groups last year. (See yesterday's briefs.)

News Briefs

  • Migration advocates criticized Haitian President Jovenel Moïse's failure to bring up TPS in a recent meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. The Trump administration has moved to terminate TPS, a temporary residency program that applies to about 50,000 Haitians. The country is ill-prepared to receive them say experts. (Miami Herald)
  • Chile's ambassador in Haiti was attacked by gunman in a village. The episode occurred as part of an NGO clean water initiative event, and there are mixed versions of who and how many people were injured. (Al Jazeera)
  • Netblocks said Venezuela's government blocked access to Youtube, Periscope, Google Apps and Bing for three hours yesterday -- specifically while opposition leader Juan Guaidó was presenting updates on the opposition efforts to oust the government. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Lack of specialized equipment, technical workers, and faulty management are to blame in prolonging nation-wide blackouts this month in Venezuela. But U.S. sanctions have also played a part, write Francisco Rodríguez and Jorge Alejandro Rodríguez in a New York Times op-ed."... The only way to avoid a deepening of the electricity crisis is for the feuding political factions to jointly deploy and manage the resources needed to do so."
  • Russia indeed has troops in Venezuela -- authorities confirmed the deployment of about 100 servicemen for the first time since photographs from the weekend of two Russian air force planes in Caracas' international airport caused speculation, reports the Guardian. Authorities say the personnel is part of routine cooperation and cannot be used in active operations. (See Tuesday's post.) Trump said yesterday that “all options” were open to make Russia pull troops out of Venezuela. "Russia has to get out. What’s your next question?" Trump told reporters. Russian authorities responded that said military cooperation personnel in Venezuela pose no threat to regional stability, they also accused Washington of attempting to stage a coup in Venezuela. The EU called on everybody to avoid raising tensions. (New York TimesReutersEfecto Cocuyo)
  • Trump met with opposition leader Juan Guaidó's wife, Fabiana Rosales, at the White House yesterday. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Guaidó's jailed chief-of-staff's wife asked the international community for support in freeing her husband, Roberto Marrero. (EFE)
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran prosecutors issued another arrest warrant for former president Mauricio Funes, who was granted asylum in Nicaragua in 2017. The latest accusations involve an alleged failure to declare about $270,000 and evading some $85,000 in taxes. (Associated Press)
  • Brazilian indigenous groups protested against a plan to transfer health services for their communities from the federal government to municipalities, saying it would be a major setback for their communities, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazil plans to privatize the management of its national parks this year. (New York Times)
  • Ecuador's government accused Venezuela of giving former president Rafael Correa $281,000, aimed at destabilizing current President Lenín Moreno's administration. Correa denied the charges on Twitter. (Associated Press)
  • "Ecuadorian Chernobyl": international arbitration and corporate impunity, at Open Democracy.
  • Indigenous anti-mine protesters rejected government negotiators aiming to end a 51-day blockade preventing access to the Chinese-owned La Bamba mine. (Reuters)
  • A #MeToo surge in Mexico (see yesterday's briefs) could be the beginning of a moment of reckoning in a country where sexual abuse and gender violence is entrenched, reports the New York Times.
  • Private businesses in Latin America are increasingly chasing after the lucrative "pink dollar" sector, and are helping to push forward LGBT+ rights more into the mainstream in the process. (Reuters)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Venezuela flickering (March 27, 2019)

Parts of Venezuela, including Caracas neighborhoods, have been without power since Monday afternoon -- just two weeks after a massive power outage caused chaos in much of the country. (See yesterday's post.)

The government has opened a criminal investigation into alleged sabotage of the Guri hydroelectric station. Authorities claim a fire that led to electrical outages was part of a terrorist attack. (Efecto Cocuyo and Efecto Cocuyo)

At least one hospital patient in Caracas died in direct relation to the power failures, according to Médicos por la Salud. (Efecto Cocuyo)

International Contact Group meets today

Sixteen countries will participate in the second International Contact Group meeting to be held in Quito today. The effort is led by the European Union and aims  to bring about new elections in Venezuela within a few months. (See Feb. 7's post.) Ecuador, will co-chair the meeting.  The Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, as well as Caricom's head will partiicpate, along with foreign ministers from Spain, Portugal, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Chile. Germany, France, Italy, The Netherlands, the UK, and Sweden will also have representatives at the meeting. (EFE)

In a new twist, several members of the regional 14-country Lima Group are considering allying with the ICG in order to carry out negotiations with the Maduro administration to hold foreign-supervised free elections this year, according to the Miami Herald's Andrés Oppenheimer. The change in strategy comes three months into Venezuela's legitimacy crisis -- in which much of the international community does not recognize President Nicolás Maduro's legitimacy in office -- as the massive military uprising the opposition hoped would oust the government seems increasingly unlikely.

Indeed, a power-sharing agreement of some sort between Chavistas and the opposition, along with electoral reform, represent the best chance for Venezuela to escape its hyper-polarized crisis, argues Dimitri Pantalous in must-read NACLA piece. A shared transition government could prove a crucial step towards reestablishing a stable democratic order he writes. 

The EU announced an additional €50 million in emergency assistance to Venezuela, as part of its commitment from February when the ICG was created in Montevideo. 

More from Venezuela
  • Venezuela's opposition-led National Assembly criticized Russian military presence in the country. Opposition leader and presidential challenger Juan Guaidó claims it is the government's response to restlessness within Venezuela's armed forces, reports Efecto Cocuyo. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The U.S. House of Representatives approved three bills aimed at increasing pressure on Maduro's government on Monday. One would increase restrictions on the export of crime control tools such as tear gas and riot gear. Another asks the Trump administration to provide $150 million in humanitarian aid. And the third would require the State Department and intelligence agencies to provide an assessment about the threat from Russian influence in Venezuela, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.)
  • A Venezuelan counterintelligence officer who defected from Maduro's government said Venezuelan state agents are running clandestine detention centers on properties seized from drug groups, where anti-government soldiers and citizens are tortured under the supervision of Cuban agents. These are new, and grave allegations, reports InSight Crime
  • Peer into the increasingly small world of Venezuela's remaining elite in this Associated Press coverage of a wealthy wedding celebration.
News Briefs

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's directive for the country's armed forces to celebrate the anniversary of a military coup has enraged victims of the dictatorship and human rights activists. It's part of a growing campaign to portray the 1964 military coup as a "democratic revolution" that saved Brazil from communism -- a whitewashing of a regime that tortured and imprisoned thousands akin to Holocaust denial, say critics. (Guardian, see yesterday's briefs.)
  • Brazil's controversial pension reform plan hit its latest obstacles yesterday -- Economy Minister Paulo Guedes skipped the first congressional hearing on the proposals, and a bloc of 11 political parties demanded that changes to rural and disabled workers' benefits be withdrawn, reports Reuters.
  • The timing of corruption accusations against presidential candidate and former Guatemalan attorney general Thelma Aldana lend weight to her claim that they are politically motivated, reports InSight Crime. (See last Wednesday's post.)
  • A group of civil society organizations in Guatemala has joined to monitor electoral proposals. They hope to build on the popular anti-corruption movements that started in 2015, and are calling themselves Pacto Ciudadano. (Nómada)
  • Another migrant caravan -- comprised of about 2,500 Central Americans -- is traveling through southern Mexico towards the U.S. border. They are receiving a more hostile welcome from local officials than last year's groups, and activists say the Mexican government is trying to wear migrants out before they reach the border. Authorities have stopped issuing humanitarian visas at the Guatemalan border, which granted migrants legal status, reports the Associated Press
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the government would reactivate the National Missing Persons Search System as part of efforts to address the country's enforced disappearance problem. More than 40,000 people are listed as missing in Mexico, there are 26,000 unidentified bodies at morgues and at least 1,300 clandestine graves across the country, reports EFE. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexican marines have drastically increased their use of lethal force in clashes with armed gangs, raising important human rights questions ahead of a new National Guard that would draw troops from the armed forces, reports InSight Crime.
  • Indeed, the new force will be aided by Army and Marines, reports Reforma.
  • Mexican writers and creative industry workers have started reporting widespread sexual harassment on social media. The local outburst of #MeToo started on Saturday, when female writers shared incidents of sexual harassment, physical attacks and psychological bullying on Twitter. A recent survey commissioned by a journalist collective found that 73% of female media workers have suffered sexual harassment -- many from their direct supervisor or sources for a story. (Guardian)
El Chapo
  • Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán asked a U.S. judge to grant him a new trial, saying juror misconduct -- following the media coverage of the judicial process -- deprived him of his constitutional right to a fair trial, reports Reuters.
  • Many former coca growers in Colombia say substitution programs -- in which producers are paid to grow licit crops instead -- have been poorly implemented and left many farmers in financial ruin and contemplating a return to coca, reports AFP.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's judiciary could set a historic human rights precedent if it chooses to try people accused of ordering the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests and two other people at the Central American University (UCA), reports EFE.
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno talks progressive, but acts conservative, according to the Real News Network.
  • Residents of a remote Amazonian region seized a small oil installation operated by a Canadian energy company. They are demanding electricity and other government services, reports Reuters.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Venezuela hit by another blackout (March 26, 2019)

A blackout affected much of Venezuela again last night. Government officials said sabotage caused the outage, which impacted 21 of 23 states and Caracas. Most experts, however believe crumbling infrastructure is responsible for this and a recent six day national power failure. (GuardianEfecto Cocuyo)

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó said more than half the country was affected by the blackout, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

As in the blackout that happened two weeks ago, the Caracas metro was suspended, forcing residents to walk home.

Russian military planes in Caracas

The arrival of a Russian military delegation to the Caracas airport on Saturday set off international alarm bells, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)

Two planes carrying 100 soldiers and military officials, came to provide technical consultations linked to arms that Venezuela previously had purchased from Moscow, according to Russian state media. The Wall Street Journal reports that one of the planes carried 35 tons of unspecified equipment. Venezuelan authorities said the Russian arrivals were part of routine military cooperation, reports the Guardian

The U.S. issued a warning to Russia over Moscow’s involvement in Venezuela. And Colombian foreign minister Carlos Trujillo said the planes constitute a military incursion, reports Efecto Cocuyo

More from Venezuela
  • The effects of the massive outage earlier this month were catastrophic in Maracaibo, where residents describe mayhem akin to the beginning of a civil war, reports the Guardian.
  • Venezuelan government officials maintain that an alleged paramilitary organization linked to Guaidó seeks to perpetrate terrorist attacks, financed by stolen Venezuelan oil. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • A Venezuelan military officer working for the foreign ministry was detained in Bogotá's airport with 25 passports and more than $40.000. (Efecto Cocuyo) Venezuela's government said Colombian authorities had arbitrarily detained the officer and his two companions, also foreign ministry officials. (Efecto Cocuyo)
News Briefs

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the state has been one of the main violators of human rights in the country, and blamed violence and disappearances on his predecessors’ “neo-liberal” economic policies, reports Reuters.
  • Human rights atrocities that go a bit farther back -- five hundred years back -- are at the heart of a diplomatic row between Mexico and Spain. AMLO wrote to King Felipe VI demanding an apology for crimes committed by Hernán Cortez' conquistadores against Mexico's indigenous population. AMLO hopes the 500 anniversary of Tenochtitlán's fall in 2021 can be a "year of historic reconciliation." The Spanish government reacted angrily and rejected the contents of the letter, as did Mexico's opposition. (GuardianAnimal PolíticoAnimal PolíticoAFP, and BBC)
  • Marielle Franco's assassination a year ago has put a spotlight on Rio de Janeiro's militias -- murderous paramilitary gangs led by serving and former police officers. President Jair Bolsonaro and his sons have a long history of association with people close to and known militia members, reports the Financial Times.
  • Jacobin puts it more strongly: "The assassination has shed light on the open secret that Rio’s political class, including the Bolsonaro clan, does conspire with deadly militias. This conspiracy with militias secures votes through intimidation, illegal campaign funds, and the deaths of political rivals."
  • Bolsonaro ordered Brazil's armed forces to hold "appropriate commemorations" of the March 31 1964 military coup. Bolsonaro denies however that the events of that day were negative: "He believes that society as a whole, perceiving the danger that the country was experiencing," was able that day to unite "civilians and military, to recover and return to our country onto its course. And if that had not happened, today we would have here some kind of government that would not be good for anyone," said a presidential spokesman. (AFP)
  • John Lee Anderson looks at how Bolsonaro has inspired Brazilians who hope for order, but sparked fear of authoritarian tendencies among others. He delves into Bolsonaro's divisiveness and the dangers of his push to allow violent police crackdowns on crime. (New Yorker)
  • Bolsonaro is against environmental protections -- but such policies are no longer just for idealists, they are preconditions for economic growth, argues former environment minister Izabella Teixeira in Americas Quarterly.
  • Former Brazilian president Michel Temer was freed from preventive detention yesterday, in a case in which he is accused of leading an embezzlement ring. A federal judge ruled he doesn’t represent a risk to public safety. (AFP and Wall Street Journal, see yesterday's briefs.)
  • There are 120 political detainees in Cuba -- they must be freed if the government is serious about enacting change, argues Zoé Valdés in a New York Times Español op-ed.
El Salvador
  • There is a new push for justice in the case of four Dutch journalists killed by Salvadoran soldiers in 1982. The brigade commander responsible for ordering the attacks lives in Washington DC and is no longer shielded by an amnesty law overturned by El Salvador's Supreme Court in 2016. (Associated Press)
  •  Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez called Jerusalem Israel’s capital, but did not announce plans to move the embassy from Tel Aviv. (Reuters
  • Peru's "accidental president," Martín Vizcarra, has proved adept at carving out a space in Peruvian politics -- but less so at constructing a coherent political platform, argues Alberto Vergara in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • A Peruvian indigenous group demands its leader be freed from jail before participating in negotiations to its blockade of a road used by Chinese copper miner MMG Ltd. (Reuters)
  • Buenos Aires authorities are locked in conflict with artisan vendors in the San Telmo area. (Guardian)

Monday, March 25, 2019

Maduro promises crackdown against "terrorists" (March 25, 2019)

Venezuela's opposition is bracing for a severe crackdown, reports the Guardian. Government authorities, including Nicolás Maduro and his minister of information, Jorge Rodríguez, accuse the opposition of involvement with an alleged "terror cell" aimed at ousting Maduro's government. "In the coming days, we will certainly see more terrorists captured – whatever their names might be," Maduro said at a rally Saturday. Opposition leader and presidential challenger Juan Guaidó's chief of staff was arrested last week in relation to the supposed conspiracy. (See Friday's briefs.)

A move against Guaidó could come with serious international repercussions -- over 50 countries recognize him as Venezuela's legitimate leader and the U.S. has promised a strong response if he is detained. On Friday U.S. Trump administration announced tough new financial sanctions against Venezuela's government in retaliation for the detention of Guaidó's chief-of-staff, Roberto Marrero. (Miami Herald)

Speculation is rife after two Russian air force planes landed in Venezuela's main airport. The Russian embassy said it was part of a routine cooperation agreement. But El País notes that the arrival came shortly after Maduro said he had been forced to increase security in light of an assassination plot he accused Guaidó of leading, reports El País. Russia, along with China and Turkey, are Maduro's strongest international allies.

Guaidó's challenge to Maduro's leadership is entering it's third month -- so far Maduro is sticking to his long-term strategy of sticking out protests and discontent, reports the New York Times. "The government is doing everything it can to force a sense of exasperation with Guaidó and force people to lose faith in him," Geoff Ramsey, assistant director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America, told NYT.  A New York Times video dispatch examines how Maduro maintains loyalty in a country wracked by shortages and dependent on the government for basics, including food.

More from Venezuela
  • Venezuela's legitimacy crisis continues to play out on an international level: the IADB cancelled it's China meeting this week, apparently in response to Beijing's refusal to allow Guaidó's representative to attend, reports Reuters. (See also Associated Press.)
  • A U.S. military intervention keeps popping up in the discourse -- U.S. force in Venezuela could take place as a precision bombing campaign, or a full-scale invasion. Both would quickly run up against complications in a heavily armed and large territory, warns Frank O. Mora in Foreign Affairs. "There’s no such thing as risk-free military action. But in this case, the social, economic, and security costs of intervening far outweigh the benefits."
  • The Trump administration's plan to pressure the armed forces into defecting from Maduro is flawed, "to make progress, the United States will have to work with its international partners to find a more moderate path forward," argues Christopher Sabatini in Foreign Affairs.
  • Venezuela's economic collapse is worst than that of the Soviet Union after its breakup, and comparable only to Zimbabwe’s in the late 1990s -- Wall Street Journal.
  • In the midst of the economic crisis, the inequality between those with access to U.S. dollars and those without is ever more pronounced, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Regional Repercussions
  • Colombia's ELN army has grown exponentially over the past four years -- in Colombia and Venezuela. To the point where it "may now be described as a Colombo-Venezuelan force, with enormous implications for both countries," writes Jeremy McDermott at InSight Crime.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump met with leaders of five Caribbean countries sympathetic to his Venezuela policy -- the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia. (Miami Herald)
  • Cuba would have to spend nearly $2 billion a year to meet its domestic oil needs if Venezuela's oil shipments to the island were halted by the opposition-led National Assembly. (Miami Herald)
News Briefs

  • Armed groups in Colombia's Tumaco region are perpetrating a rash of homicides and violent sexual attacks against residents, particularly in rural zones. Between January 2017 and Dec 2018, more than 70 people reported sexual abuses in relation to armed conflict -- but structural factors ensure virtual impunity for these crimes, writes Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco in La Silla Vacía. He calls for increased protection of women who suffer sexual abuse from armed groups, including establishing a shelter system that can accommodate families.
  • Former Brazilian president Michel Temer's detention on corruption charges last week shows that Operation Car Wash continues to have extensive impact on the country's politics. It also counters accusations that the sweeping corruption investigation is politically motivated, say some. (New York TimesWall Street JournalWashington Post, see Friday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian mining giant Vale raised the risk level at its Barão de Cocais mining waste dam, and communities in the area have been told to evacuate as a rupture could be imminent. (Associated Press)
  • Gun advocates and opponents in Brazil are both pointing to a recent, rare school shooting episode as proof that arms ownership in the country should be loosened or tightened. (Washington Post)
  • The head of Guatemala's Supreme Court denounced two human rights defenders who had presented a complaint against him in January. Magistrate Néster Vásquez Pimentel presented a report against Claudia Samayoa of the Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos (Udefegua) and José Manuel Martínez of Justicia Ya. (PubliNews)
  • Human rights defenders in Guatemala are increasingly criminalized and persecuted. Last year 26 defenders were killed, and so far three have been assassinated this year, reports Nómada.
  • Presidential candidate Sandra Torres has been accused by the Public Ministry and the CICIG of illicit campaign financing in her 2015 presidential run -- the accusation came the same week her candidacy was confirmed, conferring her with immunity until the election, reports Martín Rodríguez Pellecer in Nómada.
  • Presidential candidate and former attorney general Thelma Aldana spoke with El Faro.
  • Peru's government has committed to eradicating illicit gold mining in the Madre de Dios Amazon region -- Operation Mercurio 2019 last month involved hundreds of army commandos and more than 1,200 police officers who targeted an illicit mining city. A newly created Amazon Protection Force will help monitor the area. (Guardian)
  • A Honduran military police officer was detained on murder charges, in relation to political protests in Dec. 2017 -- it's only the second arrest in relation to at least 23 deaths in security force repression after President Juan Orlando Hernández's controversial reelection, reports Criterio. (See post for Dec. 5, 2017, for example.)
  • The Honduran government is expanding the military police force in response to popular acclaim, according to the national secretary of defense. (Confidencial HN)
  • A newly identified species of baleen whales appears to be widespread around the tropical world's seas. (New York Times)
  • Major League Baseball has systematized its recruiting and developmental programs in the Caribbean over the last 25 years -- but few Dominican players actually make it to the big leagues, and are left with little to fallback on when baseball doesn't pan out, writes "Raceball" author Rob Ruck in the Conversation.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Bachelet criticizes extrajudicial killings in Venezuela (March 22, 2019)

Venezuela's government, backed by paramilitary forces, have cracked down on protesters, said U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet. In a presentation Wednesday to the U.N's human rights council she cited reports of numerous violations and abuses by security forces and pro-Government armed groups, including the excessive use of force, killings, arbitrary detentions, torture, threats and intimidation. 

She particularly emphasized reports of at least 205 extrajudicial killings reportedly carried out by the Special Actions Force or FAES. A further 37 were reportedly killed in the course of January 2019 in Caracas, she said. The criminalization of protests is part of a broader "reduction in democratic space" Bachelet expressed concern about. She also mentioned crackdowns on freedom of expression and journalists. (Efecto CocuyoReuters, and Al Jazeera)

Bachelet also criticized U.S. sanctions against Venezuela's government, which she said "may contribute to aggravating the economic crisis." She noted the dramatic deterioration of social and economic rights since June, 2018, and that vulnerable populations have been particularly affected. (Associated Press and Efecto Cocuyo)

Bachelet emphasized that political divisions in Venezuela are worsening an already critical human rights and humanitarian situation in the country and urged the dissenting factions to resolve their political differences. (Voice of America)

Bachelet said the technical team in Venezuela preparing for her official visit is a first step, but emphasized it should have unimpeded access and that the people they talk to should not be subject to retribution. This is especially relevant since Dr. Ronny Villasmil’s residence was searched a day after he denounced the conditions of public hospitals to the UN technical team, notes David Smilde in the Venezuela Weekly.

More from Venezuela
  • Venezuelan authorities accuse opposition leader Juan Guaidó's chief of staff of participating in a drone attack attempt against President Nicolás Maduro last year, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Roberto Marrero was detained yesterday by masked intelligence agency officials. (See yesterday's briefs.) Maduro said Roberto Marrero was part of a terrorist group planning a series of attacks targeting hospitals and Caracas metro stations, reports Efecto Cocuyo separately. 
  • The detention, vehemently condemned by the United States, could signal a new crackdown on the opposition, reports the Washington Post. The detention is being seen as a direct challenge to Washington and the more than 50 other nations recognize Guaidó as Venezuela's interim president, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.) 
  • Interior minister Nestor Reverol also linked Luis Alberto Páez Salazar, driver to opposition National Assembly lawmaker Sergio Vergara, to the alleged terrorist cell. Vergara's home was also raided yesterday. (Efecto CocuyoGuardian)
  • Yesterday the U.N. renewed a call for all parties “to lower tensions and refrain from any action that could lead to further escalation," in light of Marrero's detention, reports the Associated Press
  • The U.S. threatened to pull out of the IADB's annual meeting in China next week if Guaidó's representative is not permitted to attend. (Reuters)
  • Venezuela's revolution of hunger -- Guardian photo-essay.
News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • South American leaders -- minus Maduro -- meet in Chile today, where they hope to launch  a new regional political group called "Prosur," to replace Unasur. (Reuters)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will visit Chile today, where gay and anti-fascist activists have planned protests and some lawmakers have called for to be declared persona non grata, saying that they were concerned by the visit by “a president who represents the far right and defends the proliferation of hate speech and endorses violations of human rights," reports the Guardian. The government invitation to a lunch in Bolsonaro's honor caused a kerfuffle by instructing women to wear short dresses. Officials later clarified that they meant non-gala wear. (GuardianCNN)
  • Former Brazilian president Michel Temer was arrested yesterday on corruption charges. (See yesterday's briefs.) He was detained by federal police while driving in São Paulo. Judge Marcelo Breitas issued arrest warrants on Thursday for Temer and nine others in “Operation Radioactivity” – part of Operation Car Wash. Federal prosecutors said Temer had led “a criminal organization”, which was involved in the construction of Brazil’s Angra 3 nuclear plant. (GuardianWashington Post)
  • Nicaragua's government and opposition delegations resumed stalled peace talks yesterday, following a government promise to release political prisoners within 90 days. Prisoner release tops the agenda items for negotiations. The Committee for the Liberation of Political Prisoners, which counts about 640 such prisoners, said prisoners should be freed within 15 days and talks must not proceed before the release. (AFPAssociated PressConfidencial, and see yesterday's post.)
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moise named Jean-Michel Lapin acting prime minister, reports AFP. (Lawmakers ousted the former prime minister on Monday, see Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Thelma Aldana, former attorney general and presidential candidate, is delaying her return to Guatemala after an arrest warrant was issued against her earlier this week. (Associated Press) As a presidential candidate she has immunity from criminal prosecution, and her team said she plans to return soon. (See Wednesday's post.)
  • Legal repercussions for Odebrecht bribes have stalled in Mexico -- an obstacle to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's promise to root out government corruption, writes Luis Pérez de Acha in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • López Obrador should ban gillnets as a last-ditch attempt to save the vaquita porpoise species, on the verge of extinction, argues Richard Parker in a New York Times op-ed.
  • A Chilean judge sentenced 11 former soldiers to prison for taking part in a notorious dictatorship era attack on two democracy activists who were set on fire. The 1986 attack killed Rodrigo Rojas and disfigured Carmen Gloria Quintana. Attempts to investigate the attack were consistently stymied by a "pact of silence" within the military. (GuardianNew York Times)
  • Colombia’s constitutional court said it cannot rule on whether potential changes to legislation that implements a peace deal with Marxist rebels are constitutional until after they are approved by congress, reports Reuters.
  • At least nine people were killed and four injured in an unexplained explosion in Colombia's Cauca region yesterday. (Reuters)
El Salvador
  • About 500 people marched in San Salvador, demanding Salvadoran lawmakers approve a long-stalled constitutional measure making access to water a human right. (EFE)
Central America
  • Central America's traditional elites have lost power over the past 30 years, but "the full impact of this historic shift has been blunted by the lack of broad, inclusive national debates and the growing role of regional economic powers", writes Alexander Segovia at the Aula blog.