Friday, August 16, 2019

Venezuela gov't seeks to restart Norway-mediated talks (Aug. 16, 2019)

Venezuela's government said it would meet with Norwegian mediators in an effort to restart talks with the opposition aimed at resolving the country's political crisis. Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters that the government was seeking changes to the talks mechanism before it would return to the negotiating table. (AFP)

President Nicolás Maduro suspended the talks in Barbados last week in response to new U.S. sanctions. (See Aug. 8's post.) But experts said a return to dialogue eventually was likely, and yesterday Arreaza insisted that Maduro had merely "implemented a pause" in the talks.

Earlier this week a Norwegian delegation travelled to Caracas to  speak separately with the opposition and the government to restart the proceedings, reports Reuters.

News Briefs

More Venezuela
  • Maduro and the political opposition led by Juan Guaidó are tussling for control of U.S. based Citgo refineries, Venezuela's most valuable foreign asset. Yesterday Maduro's government nullified the new Citgo board named by the opposition-led National Assembly earlier this year, reports the Associated Press. The move bans the board members from leaving the country and their Venezuelan bank accounts have been frozen, but it's not clear how many of them are actually in Venezuela. And U.S. courts have deferred to the U.S. recognition of Guaidó as Venezuela's interim leader.
  • Venezuela's opposition lawmakers are considering an oil reform bill that would open up the sector to private investment, but is less ambitious than a previous proposal, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The Panama Canal will continue authorizing vessels coming from Venezuela provided they present the necessary paperwork, reports Reuters.
  • While the concrete impact of new U.S. sanctions remains to be seen, the threat to freeze the U.S. assets of any third party seen to be helping sanctioned Venezuelan officials will likely have substantial impacts, reports NACLA.
  • Guatemalan president-elect Alejandro Giammattei faces an unenviable set of challenges when he takes office, including high levels of malnutrition and stunting in the countryside; unemployment; widespread distrust of a corruption rife government; and organized crime group violence. But the most immediate problem he faces is what to do with the migration deal with the U.S. he will inherit from his predecessor, according to the Economist.
  • More than 500 migrants have lost their lives in the Americas so far this year, about a 33% increase from a year ago, said the International Organization for Migration today. (Associated Press)
  • An unusual surge in Haitian migrants aiming for Turks and Caicos in recent days -- 236 -- has alarmed the archipelago's authorities, who are threatening to shut down legal migration between the two countries. Turks and Caicos is one of the few islands in the Caribbean that offers legal migration from Haiti through a work-permit process. Increasingly the British Overseas Territory has become a popular stepping stone for Haitians fleeing their country's economic and political turmoil, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse presided over a ceremony to restore the Haitian army with the graduation of 15 officers and 248 soldiers trained by Mexico, reports the Haitian Sentinel. The new soldiers will participate in disaster relief operations and defense of the national territory. Moïse announced the controversial return of the country's army two years ago. (Reuters)
  • Norway suspended donations to the Brazilian government's Amazon Fund, following Germany's lead after data demonstrated a surge of deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest this year. The two countries are withholding expected payments totaling over $72 million. The fund has been central to international efforts to curb deforestation, reports the Guardian. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has said Amazon management is a question of sovereignty, said Europeans were in no position to lecture Brazil on environmental issues. "Isn’t Norway that country that kills whales up there in the north pole?"
  • Brazilian authorities discovered eight corpses in what appears to be a clandestine graveyard in a Rio de Janeiro suburb, used for victims of paramilitary groups operating in the area, reports the Associated Press.
  • Funding ends for reintegration camps for former FARC fighters in Colombia at the end of this month. The camps provide a safe space for former guerrillas, and their dissolution will leave ex-combatants without army protection and at the mercy of civilians seeking revenge, right-wing paramilitary groups, and criminal organizations seeking to recruit fighters, reports The Nation.
  • Colombia's electoral authority began a preliminary investigation into whether former president Juan Manuel Santos obtained illegal campaign financing from Odebrecht in 2014. (Deutsche Welle)
  • Is it time to abolish legal immunity for Latin American elected officials? The mechanisms were designed to protect officials from political persecution, but have become a guarantee of impunity for a host of crimes, including corruption. Nonetheless, simply eliminating immunity could eventually prove disastrous and won't guarantee justice either, argues Roberto Simon in Americas Quarterly.
  • Most analysts agree it will be difficult for President Mauricio Macri to bounce back from a dismal showing in last weekend's primary elections. Voters reacted poorly to economic hardship under his government, but markets reacted with panic to the prospect of his loss in October's general election. Even if fears of a debt default aren't met, the falling peso value means a restructuring is almost inevitable, reports the Economist.
  • A huge sell off of Argentine assets shows that investors fear an Alberto Fernández presidency will mean a return to Kirchner era heterodox economic policies. But experts warn that, if he wins, Fernández is unlikely to be a mere figurehead to his vice president, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. He is known for his critical stance to his former boss, and has a long history of forging political alliances between disparate groups, reports the New York Times.
  • Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez has a 69 percent disapproval rating after just a year in office, according to a new opinion poll. (Reuters)
  • The Itaipú dam scandal played a major role in decimating Abdo Benítez's popularity. Laurence Blair explains why in Americas Quarterly.
  • Andrés Rozental on how far AMLO has delivered on his campaign promises, and how Mexico's relations with its western hemisphere neighbours are developing. (Chatham House)
  • Mexico City authorities suspended six police officers in relation to the alleged rape of two teenage girls in separate incidents earlier this month. Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced the measure after a protest of about 300 people drew attention to the case with pink glitter, spray paint and a pig's head. (BBC)
Thoughtful Friday
  • Mexico City's main arts institution may be sinking, but the city’s influence on artists and thinkers from Carrington to Trotsky cannot be so easily erasedThe Guardian's illustrated city series.
  • Brazilian-American filmmaker Alexandre Moratto's first feature, "Socrates," focuses on a gay Brazilian teenager who navigates poverty and isolation on the Streets of São Paulo. (New York Times)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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