Thursday, August 8, 2019

Maduro pulls out of Barbados talks (Aug. 8, 2019)

Venezuela's government pulled out of Norwegian mediated talks with the political opposition, in the wake of new U.S. sanctions. President Nicolás Maduro characterized the new measures, which froze all Venezuelan government assets in the U.S. and prohibit transactions with its officials, as an "economic blockade." The government cannot dialogue with people who celebrated the "criminal" move he said. (Washington PostAl Jazeera

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognized as Venzuela's legitimate interim leader by a significant portion of the international community, praised the new sanctions earlier this week. The Barbados talks were scheduled to continue today, and Guaidó's representatives are on the island. 

Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry said it would review its participation in future negotiations, but stopped short of abandoning them altogether, leaving open the possibility of returning to the table in the future, reports the Wall Street Journal.

It's not an embargo

Experts say the new sanctions do not amount to an embargo -- though certain media reports and now Maduro insist it is -- but had pointed out that they would likely undermine negotiations. (See yesterday's post.) Yesterday many commented that the measures rely on tactics that have been failing to oust Maduro for seven months, and will instead allow the government to position itself as a martyr. (Guardian)

The new sanctions and the theatrics surrounding their announcement amount to a reassertion of the U.S. role in the Venezuelan conflict, write David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas in the latest Venezuela Weekly.

Though the new sanctions are a significant escalation over previous measures, they are unlikely to topple Maduro, argues Marco Aponte-Moreno in the Conversation.

Humanitarian impact

Analysts and Venezuelans are increasingly concerned that the sanctions do not further a resolution to the crisis but have a significant humanitarian impact. "... Conditions for the people have perhaps never been worse," reports the Washington Post and the country's most vulnerable populations are joining the massive exodus that has been ongoing in recent years.

"U.S. policy has now reached the point where Washington cannot squeeze harder on the Maduro regime without adding to the hardships facing the Venezuelan people," argues a Washington Post editorial.

News Briefs

  • Armed groups in Colombia's northeastern Catatumbo region have committed egregious abuses against Colombian and Venezuelan civilians as they fight to control the territory in the wake of FARC demobilization in 2017. A new Human Rights Watch report released today documents killings, disappearances, sexual violence, recruitment of children as soldiers, and forced displacement by the National Liberation Army (ELN), Popular Liberation Army (EPL), and a group that emerged from the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). (See also Associated Press coverage of the report.)
  • "Armed groups use threats to gain control, including against community leaders and human rights defenders, some of whom have been killed. Venezuelans who fled the humanitarian emergency in their country are among the victims." In Catatumbo, more than 40,000 people have been displaced from their homes since 2017, and 109 people considered civilians were killed by armed groups in 2018 alone. Children as young as 12 have been forced to join an armed group after members threaten to kill them or their families, or they join for money. Armed groups are also reportedly planting antipersonnel landmines in rural areas of Catatumbo.
  • Thousands of Hondurans protested against President Juan Orlando Hernández yesterday, the second day of demonstrations demanding his ouster. Police clashed with protesters and used tear gas against them in Tegucigalpa, reports El País. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Hernández's popularity has plummeted in the wake of allegations of drug gang campaign financing and ties to an extensive corruption network. (See yesterday's post.) But a post JOH panorama would remain discouraging, warns Lucas Perelló in a Global Americans analysis of what might happen if the president resigns.
  • The Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ), Hondura's national Transparency International chapter, asked lawmakers to investigate campaign financing over the past 15 years in light of allegations of extensive wrongdoing. (Proceso Digital)
  • Latin American migrants stuck in Mexican border cities are increasingly adapting to the possibility that this might be a long-term on the journey, rather than just a waypoint, reports the New York Times from Ciudad Juárez.
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Trump administration froze much of the remaining foreign aid funding for this year -- an estimated $2 to 4 billion of funding already approved by Congress, reports the New York Times.
  • Kimberly Breier, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere since October, resigned. Her departure is the latest in a steady turnover at the assistant secretary level at the U.S. State Department, reports the Washington Post.
  • Haiti hasn't had a functional government that can propose a budget to Parliament, ratify accords or approve other measures for five months, since the Chamber of Deputies fired President Jovenel Moïse's prime minister. And the ratification of Moïse's new nominee, Fritz William Michel, is far from certain, reports the Miami Herald. Indeed, critics say Moïse doesn't really want to form a government.
  • Thousands of Guatemalan farmers protested President Jimmy Morales' recent migration agreement with the U.S. Rural leaders from the Farmer Development Committee protested in Guatemala City Tuesday and called for Morales' ouster, backed by former presidential candidate Thelma Cabrera, reports the Associated Press. Guatemalan's will choose their next president Sunday in a run-off election between Sandra Torres and Alejandro Giammattei.
El Salvador
  • July was one of El Salvador's most peaceful months in years, but its too soon to attribute the decrease in homicides to President Nayib Bukele's recently implemented security plan, warns InSight Crime.
  • So far Bukele has implemented the first two stages of the Plan Control Territorial -- which increased security forces in gang dominated municipalities and isolated incarcerated gang members. The second part of the plan seeks to provide opportunities for at-risk youth through vocational schools, technical workshops, and sports programs, explains an Atlantic Council analysis of suggested policy priorities for Bukele.
  • The Asociación de Mujeres Salvadoreñas por La Paz (ORMUSA) say the new plan doesn't have a gender focus that contemplates women's specific vulnerabilities to violence. (Gato Encerrado)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's dismissive and hostile stance towards journalism is dangerous in what is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for reporters, writes Marcela Turati of Quinto Elemento Lab in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • A new WOLA report details how the Mexican government should properly implement the sweeping anti-corruption reforms Mexico passed in 2015 and 2016.
  • Brazil's lower chamber of Congress approved a wide-ranging pension reform bill for a second time yesterday. The move is expected to save the government $235 billion over the next ten years. The Bolsonaro administration proposal had already been approved in July, but requires two votes in each chamber of Congress as it includes changes to the federal constitution, reports Reuters.
  • A Brazilian federal judge authorized the transfer of imprisoned former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from the southern city of Curitiba to a jail in the state of Sao Paulo, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fired the director of a Brazilian government agency that monitors the Amazon after official satellite data showed an increase in deforestation. Critics fear an effort by the Bolsonaro administration to clamp down on research it doesn’t want publicized, reports the Washington Post.
  • Bolsonaro doubled down on his environmental policies, and criticized Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel who have voiced concern over the dramatic increase in rainforest deforestation since he took office in January. (Guardian)
  • Jamaican culture minister, Olivia Grange, asked the British Museum to return objects in its collection taken when the island was a colony. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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