Monday, September 16, 2019

Guaidó declares Barbados dialogue done (Sept. 16, 2019)

The Norway-mediated dialogue process between Venezuela's government and opposition is done, said opposition leader Juan Guaidó yesterday. The government walked away from the Barbados discussions 40 days ago, said Guaidó. (El Pitazo) Nonetheless, Norwegian diplomats are still prepared to assist in reaching a negotiated solution to the country's protracted political crisis, reports Reuters.

The announcement comes amid increasing tension between Venezuela and Colombia, and fears of potential armed conflict. Maduro announced military exercises at the countries' mutual border last week, and Colombia has accused Venezuela of collaborating with Colombian guerrillas. (See Sept. 4's post.) In response to Maduro's troop movements, Colombia, the United States and nine other countries invoked the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR), last week. (AFP) The agreement, signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, commits the countries of the Western Hemisphere to respond to military aggression against any one of them. Military force is an option, but so are economic sanctions, reports the Washington Post. Last week U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted about a "very tough" new stance on Venezuela after the departure of hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton, reports ABC. (So much for Mary Anastasia O'Grady's concerns that Bolton's exit would lead to "dialogue" efforts in LatAm.)

Though Venezuela's government has long been friendly towards Colombian rebels, there is evidence that cooperation has intensified significantly this year, writes Francisco Toro in the Washington Post: "Colombia’s rebels aren’t just tolerated in Venezuela; they’re actively trained and armed there." He argues that the region is ill-equipped to deal with inter-state military clashes.

Guaidó is himself facing allegations of alliance with Colombian illegal groups, after pictures emerged of him posing in February with members of a Colombian paramilitary group. Venezuela’s state prosecutor’s office said on Friday it would open an investigation. Guaidó denied any impropriety, saying the men asked to take pictures when he crossed the border informally in February, after being prohibited from leaving the country. Critics allege the Rastrojos criminal gang was instrumental in organizing Guaidó's illicit border crossing. (Efecto Cocuyo, Reuters) Regardless, analysts said the pictures with members of the Rastrojos criminal gang were extremely damaging to the opposition leader's credibility, reports the Guardian.

More Venezuela
  • A Spanish court ordered the release of Hugo Carvajal, the former intelligence chief of Venezuela, and rejected a U.S. extradition request for him regarding drug trafficking charges. (New York Times)
  • In the case against Carvajal, U.S. federal prosecutors allege that the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez to flood the U.S. with cocaine, in collaboration with the Colombian FARC guerrillas, in order to undermine their mutual ideological adversary, reports the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. to block most asylum seekers at Mexican border

New U.S. rules announced by the Trump administration will bar asylum applications from anyone who has not already been denied asylum in one of the countries they traveled through on their way to the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed the new rule to go into effect last Wednesday, though legal challenges will continue. The immediate impact at the border remains to be seen. Under the new policy, migrants are subject to a process known as “expedited removal,” under which migrants can be deported without a court hearing, but would-be asylum seekers can still ask for an interview with an asylum officer and even ask for a judge to hear their cases. (BBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal)

The measures will affect migrants from many countries, but mostly Central Americans, reports the New York Times. And it will further burden Mexico's already overwhelmed migration system, as well as that of other countries in the region that migrants travel through on their way to the U.S.

Mexico significantly stepped up its migration policing in response to U.S. tariff threats, but had consistently rejected signing an agreement that would require migrants to apply for humanitarian asylum there instead of the U.S. The new rule effectively forces it to accept that role.

Experts have already questioned Mexico and Guatemala's ability to deal with the influx of migrants. And the dangers that asylum seekers face in both countries. Already a U.S. policy has sent asylum seekers to await adjudication of their cases in Mexico, where they live in a limbo of instability, violence, and luck, reports the Atlantic. About 42,000 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico in recent months, and have been met with a brutal wave of kidnappings, reports Vice News.

The Migrant Protection Protocols, as they are known, are also rapidly flooding some U.S. courts assigned to handle such cases. Since the program was implemented in January, nearly 17,000 immigration cases have flooded new hearing locations along the border, reports the Marshall Project.

Asylum officers denounce the Trump administrations concerted attack on the asylum system in general in The Intercept.

Lest we get too smug in criticizing Trump, the New York Times notes that his "plan is also in keeping with a wider international trend of curtailing the right to asylum."

News Briefs

  • Nicaragua banned seven OAS officials from entering the country yesterday. The delegation included members of a special commission created to monitor the country's ongoing political crisis. The commission condemned the government move, but said its work would continue nonetheless. Commission representatives, of Argentina, Canada, U.S., Jamaica and Paragauay, were to hold high level meetings in Managua today and tomorrow aimed at negotiating a solution to the crisis. But government officials told airlines the OAS officials -- who include U.S. ambassador to the OAS Carlos Trujillo, and the OAS secretary general's cabinet chief Gonzalo Koncke -- were prohibited from entering the country. (Confidencial, Associated PressLa Prensa, ReutersInfobae)
  • In the first seven months of this year police caused 30 percent of all violent deaths in the state of Rio and killed a record 1,075 people – the highest number in more than two decades, reports the Guardian. The bloodbath is the result of Rio de Janeiro state governor Wilson Witzel's war on drugs. But activists say the shoot-down policy is mostly claiming civilian lives.
  • Brazil's money laundering investigation agency has repeatedly overreached and acted without judicial approval, Brazil's Supreme Court head, Dias Toffoli, told Reuters.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's high profile spats with French President Emmanuel Macron and U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet demonstrate the current administration's sharp break with the country's celebrated diplomatic tradition. They also point to likely difficulties in resolving the Amazon crisis and closing the Mercosur-EU trade deal, argues Gaspard Estrada in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • The U.S. and Brazil have agreed to promote private-sector development in the Amazon. Opening the rainforest to economic development is the only way to protect it, argued Brazil's foreign minister in Washington last week. (BBC)
  • Tropical Storm Humberto spared the Bahamas islands this weekend, less than two weeks after Hurricane Dorian devastated the country. (New York Times)
  • But the country is dealing with large-scale displacement from Dorian that is straining resources, reports the Washington Post.
More Migration
  • More than 2,000 people displaced by Hurricane Dorian are in shelters in Nassau -- most of them are Haitians with precarious legal standing. Haitians are the largest minority group in the Bahamas, and are notoriously stigmatized. Many are undocumented. But the government has suspended deportation roundups in the wake of the storm and will provide services to all survivors. (New York Times, Washington Post)
  • China is targeting Haiti in its latest bid to isolate Taiwan from its remaining international allies. Beijing would be willing to offer ‘interest-free loans and concessional loans’ in addition to directing investment to the country's needs, reports the South China Morning Post.
  • Bolivia’s top electoral court has threatened to sanction a local university for publishing an opinion poll that showed President Evo Morales unlikely to win reelection outright in October's general election. If Morales obtains less than 40 percent he will go to a runoff in December, likely against opposition candidate Carlos Mesa. The judges said said the poll violated electoral laws regarding financing of polls and should be disregarded, reports Reuters.
  • Heavy rains might be the only salvation for Bolivia's burning Chiquitania forest, reports EFE.
  • Sensitive personal data for most of Ecuador's citizens was found online in an unsecured Amazon cloud server almost anyone could look at. The cache included names, financial information and civil data about 17 million people, including 6.7 million children, reports the BBC. ZDNet, which broke the story, found that the data trove even included the country's president.
  • “La Cuba que viene…” -- a transmedia project aimed at increasing public awareness and understanding of Cuba's constitutional reform -- won a 2019 Online Journalism Award.
  • A year into office, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has transformed the optics of the country's leadership, if not the underlying problems afflicting it, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • AMLO's administration has not only not increased support for the arts, but has actually lashed out at a wide swathe of the cultural community, writes Rafael Lemus in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • But, his governance plan should at least put to rest fears that he will implement radical economic policies, writes Viridiana Ríos in another New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Argentina's Chamber of Deputies approved a "food emergency" law that would double funding for food assistance programs in the midst of an intensifying economic crisis. The bill was introduced by the opposition, and demanded by social movements and labor groups. The ruling Cambiemos coalition backed the bill after clashes between protesters demanding aid and police in front of the national social development ministry last week. (Buenos Aires Times, Al JazeeraFrance 24)
  • The cooperation between Cambiemos and the opposition is notable, and could be a positive sign of the likely transition to come after October's general elections, writes Marcelo García in the Buenos Aires Times. President Mauricio Macri has good reason to be pragmatic, he argues, as finishing out his current term is a prerequisite for an eventual political comeback. Is cooperation regarding the controversial IMF loan next?
  • On a more local level, Buenos Aires voters must choose between continuing a city government focused on showy infrastructure, or one that that promises to combat rampant inequalities in Argentina's richest district -- I argue the case in a New York Times Español op-ed.
¿Did you miss me? Happy to be briefing again ... Comments welcome, as always.


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