Thursday, May 2, 2019

Guaidó and Maduro stalemated again for now (May 2, 2019)

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Caracas yesterday to push for President Nicolás Maduro's ouster. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, considered the country's legitimate president by a chunk of the population and the international community, sought to recapture momentum after an attempted uprising on Tuesday failed to overthrow the government. Nonetheless, there are signs that the crisis is again settling into a political stalemate. (See yesterday's post.)

Opposition leaders said 23 protests around the country were violently repressed on Wednesday -- of a total 397 planned demonstrations. They tallied 78 wounded and 89 people detained, reports Efecto Cocuyo. A dozen press workers were harassed covering anti-government protests around the country, according to the National Press Workers' Union. (Efecto Cocuyo) Yesterday the U.N. human rights office voiced concern over reports of excessive use of force by security forces against demonstrators.

Security forces clashed with protesters in eastern Caracas yesterday, and killed one person. There were reports that armed pro-government forces used live fire against some protesters in Altamira. Chacao’s health authorities said 39 protesters were injured yesterday, reports the New York Times. The defense minister, Vladimir Padrino, said on Twitter that eight soldiers had been wounded by firearms while “confronting coup violence.”

Experts note that in the past such protests have led to further repression.

The country's military remained mostly loyal to Maduro. And thousands of Maduro supporters turned out for a pro-government demonstration in Caracas. Many were bused in from around the country, a sign of the government's desire to portray strength, according to the New York Times.

Speaking yesterday, Maduro decreed two days of open critique on Saturday and Sunday, an unusual step. (Washington Post)

Guaidó called for a series of daily strikes against Maduro to start today with public sector workers, reports the Wall Street Journal. He termed it a "gradual strike," that would eventually become a general strike and paralyze the country. Guaidó encouraged strikers to wear a blue armband, the symbol that identified the few military troops who supported the opposition cause on Tuesday, reports the Washington Post. Given the country's deep recession, which already has most businesses operating at minimum capacity, it's not clear what impact the strike plan will have, reports the New York Times.

Today reports said civil servants would be asked to wear armbands to work in a show of civil disobedience. (Washington Post)

Operación Libertad

Guaidó's sudden call on Tuesday for an uprising against Maduro took many by surprise, including fellow participants in what has been dubbed "Operación Libertad." Guadió apparently moved up the timetable when Maduro got wind of the plan on Monday. The opposition had developed a comprehensive plan to oust Maduro, that included several top government military and civilian officials, reports the Washington Post. The talks involved the highest levels of the government, including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno and the presidential guard commander and head of military intelligence, Gen. Iván Rafael Hernández, said U.S. officials. (Wall Street Journal) The Venezuelans were allegedly willing to sign documents declaring their loyalty to the Venezuelan constitution, in exchange for which they would be allowed to keep their jobs under a new transition government, or flee the country.

But as Luz Mely Reyes reported Tuesday, many Maduro officials appear to have backed down when the plan was moved up. U.S. envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told EFE that high level officials who had been negotiating with the U.S. had turned off their cell phones in recent days.

What next?
Though Maduro is unpopular, the fact that he retains armed forces support, coupled with divisions among the opposition, leave many Venezuelans with the feeling that they are choosing between two bad options, according to the Wall Street Journal.

After the attempted uprising, Maduro has not arrested Guaidó. Rather he is allowing his foe room to maneuver and lead rallies. It's a smart bet for the government, WOLA expert Geoff Ramsey told Bloomberg: "Maduro understands that, strategically, it’s in his interest to watch Guaido unravel on his own ... By arresting Guaido, he would give the opposition a rallying cry." 

International reactions

Guaidó's ongoing freedom is also a sign of wariness regarding potential domestic and international consequences to detaining him, notes the Washington Post.

“Military action is possible,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox Business Network yesterday. “If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.”  Top U.S. national security aides held an emergency meeting yesterday, but there was no news reported on their conclusions. Top Pentagon officials emphasized nonmilitary options and said they had not been given orders to pre-position troops or prepare for conflict, reports the Washington Post.

Despite near constant military blustering from the U.S., David Smilde notes there appears to be no plan to actually intervene with troops in Venezuela. "What’s clear is that the U.S. has no military assets anywhere around Venezuela right now. It’s not in a position that it could really do anything. And I don’t think there’s a whole lot of appetite among the American public for this… But it can’t be counted out… "

On the other hand, if Guaidó's push is ultimately unsuccessful, U.S. President Donald Trump could face a major setback, reports Reuters. In an interview yesterday with Fox News, Trump said: “We are doing everything we can do, short of, you know, the ultimate." (Guardian)

The Russian foreign ministry said the U.S. was violating international law by interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs and threatening its leader. “The continuation of such aggressive steps is fraught with the gravest consequences,” it said. (Wall Street Journal)

U.S. officials have reiterated calls for Russia and Cuba to withdraw support for Maduro. U.S. officials have said Cuba has 20,000 to 25,000 military and intelligence personnel in Venezuela. Cuba has repeatedly denied it has troops in the country, reports Reuters.

Pressure against Maduro could also come from Brazil and Colombia's military, who could aid in persuading senior military leaders to switch sides, Eric Farnsworth, a former US diplomat and the vice-president of the Council of the Americas, told the Guardian.

The current crisis only confirms the necessity "for a political, peaceful, democratic and Venezuelan-owned solution to the crisis, in the framework of the country’s Constitution," said the International Contact Group for Venezuela, a European Union led initiative aimed at holding free and fair elections in Venezuela. Ministers from the group will meet next week in Costa Rica.

More from Venezuela
  • A Venezuelan intelligence agency dossier on Tareck El Aissami, appears to demonstrate how the top Maduro government official and his family have helped sneak Hezbollah militants into the country, gone into business with a drug lord and shielded 140 tons of chemicals believed to be used for cocaine production, reports the New York Times.
  • Erik Prince - the founder of the controversial private security firm Blackwater - has been pushing a plan to deploy a private army against Maduro, according to Reuters.
News Briefs

  • Guatemalan lawmakers are on the brink of approving a law that would punish women for naturally occurring abortions. "Wrongful" accidental abortions could be punished with up to four years of jail if the woman had previous knowledge of the pregnancy. The measure is punitive towards women who suffer obstetric complications, and also the doctors who treat them, who would be legally required to report such cases as "wrongful" abortions. The so-called Law for the Protection of Life and Family is backed by a the National Evangelical Movement. (NómadaEl Periódico)
  • Honduran lawmakers backed down from education and health reforms that could have privatized some services, after Tegucigalpa protests on Monday were violently repressed. (Associated Press)
El Salvador
  • Street gangs in El Salvador are attacking police in order to pressure incoming president Nayib Bukele to negotiate with them, said President Salvador Sánchez Cerén. (Associated Press)
  • Univisión and El Faro were awarded the King of Spain's Digital Journalism prize for their coverage of Central American migration. (Univisión)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador urged U.S. lawmakers to ratify the new free trade agreement that is meant to replace NAFTA -- the USMCA. He noted that Mexico passed required labor reforms, paving the way for U.S. approval, reports EFE. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Mexican Senators failed to pass an education reform bill by one vote, sending AMLO's project back to the House of Deputies, reports Animal Político.
  • Mexico’s economy contracted in the first quarter of the year, a challenge for AMLO's new government, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • U.S. drug addicts have increasingly switched from heroin to fentanyl – an ultra-potent synthetic opioid. The swap is likely to achieve what the militarized war against drugs has not been able to do: destroy Mexico's opium market, reports the Guardian.
  • The Guardian profiles the work of Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernández, who chronicled the corruption underlying the infamous Ayotzinapa disappearance case.
  • Public anger has spurred tough measures from Peru's anti-corruption prosecutors, who have sought pre-trial detention for high profile officials accused of Odebrecht related graft -- including all the country's former presidents since the year 2000. These do nothing to strengthen fragile institutions, and contribute to political weakness that is harmful, argues Carlos Meléndez in a New York Times Español op-ed. "A judicial reform, with a long-term sustainable social legitimacy, requires institutionalizing the fight against corruption, which implies, as a first step, prioritizing respect for fundamental liberties in anticipation of sentences."
  • Former Peruvian president Alan García's suicide as he was being detained in a corruption case has cast a spotlight on the pre-trial detention practise. But accusations that the press caused the death show "the ongoing, frequent harassment and criminalization experienced by journalists and human rights defenders in Peru," according to WOLA. "... Investigative journalist Gustavo Gorriti and his news website, IDL-Reporteros, reported receiving multiple threats after a sitting Member of Congress and a former minister blamed the news media, and Gorriti specifically" for García's suicide. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Like many other countries with a long history of systemic corruption, Paraguay faces "huge obstacles in eradicating the blight, since it infects the very institutions, political and judicial, that are needed to fight it," explains the New York Times editorial board in a discussion of protesters who aim to shame officials accused of illicit acts (escraches). "Opponents of the escraches have responded that they can turn violent, that reputations are being destroyed without a hearing, that families are being terrorized." But activists view protests and public humiliation as weapons of last resort, "in a society that seems locked in an unbreakable cycle of corruption." (See April 23's briefs.)
  • Brazil’s job market weakened in the first quarter, with 13.4 million people out of work, reports Bloomberg.
  • Argentine labor unions called a two day strike on Tuesday (Wednesday was a national holiday), in protest of the government's austerity policies, reports Al Jazeera.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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