Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Venezuelan lawmakers ratify Guaidó (Sept. 18, 2019)

Venezuela's opposition lawmakers backed National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó yesterday, in a vote affirming his leadership until President Nicolás Maduro leaves the government. The National Assembly endorsement appears aimed at maintaining Guaidó as the congressional leader, a position that would normally rotate to another party within the opposition coalition, reports the AFP. The support came in the wake of the Maduro opposition coalition's first major schism since January -- earlier this week four minority opposition parties announced discussions with the government. (See yesterday's briefs.)

They said negotiations will focus on reforming Venezuela’s electoral board as well as finding a solution to the impasse caused by the creation of a pro-government constitutional assembly to rival the opposition-controlled congress. As part of the negotiations Maduro loyal lawmakers could return to the National Assembly, which they have boycotted for three years. The agreement also contemplates the release of prisoners opposition leaders consider jailed for politically motives, reports the Washington Post.

Venezuelan authorities released opposition lawmaker Edgardo Zambrano, who was detained by intelligence agents on treason charges four months ago, in the wake of a failed uprising against the Maduro government. Venezuela's  said the release of Zambrano, the Guaidó's deputy, was the result of the agreement with dissenting sectors of the opposition. Guaidó countered that it was the result of international pressure, reports Al Jazeera. Zambrano's case remains open, he is barred from leaving the country and must report to judicial authorities on a monthly basis. (Reuters, Efecto Cocuyo)

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet welcomed the release and called on Venezuela to liberate remaining political prisoners. (Efecto Cocuyo)

The U.S. and the E.U. were critical of the Maduro's administration's decision to negotiate separately with minor parties. (Efecto Cocuyo) The move came after Guaidó declared a Norway-mediated dialogue process concluded on Sunday. (See Monday's post.) Maduro yesterday couched the new negotiations as a response to Guaidó's alleged failure to live up to the Barbados dialogue commitments, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

But, the negotiations are likely another stalling tactic by the Maduro government, which has proved adept at exploiting divisions within the opposition over the years, writes Luz Mely Reyes in the Washington Post. It is effectively aimed at undermining Guaidó's leadership and the last remaining bastion of opposition power, the National Assembly.

More from Venezuela
  • Maduro said the army is more united than ever and denied sheltering FARC guerrillas, in an interview with Folha de S. Paulo.
  • A Spanish court said a U.S. request to extradite Venezuela's former intelligence chief was politically motivated, reports the New York Times. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Scarcity of retroviral medication affects most of Venezuela, and has put 30 percent of people living with HIV in the country at risk of death due to lack of treatment, Fundación Mavid president Eduardo Franco told Efecto Cocuyo.
  • The U.S. imposed sanctions on 16 companies linked to Colombian businessman Alex Nain Saab Moran, an associate of Maduro. (AFP)


El Salvador's president spars with critical press

Relations between Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele and two of the country’s independent media outlets – El Faro and Revista Factum – are increasingly fraught.

Reporters from the online outlets were briefly barred from government press conferences earlier this month. Bukele said it was in response to inappropriate behavior from reporters from the outlets, an explanation reporters rejected. Rather it seems to be related to the uncomfortable questions reporters from El Faro and Revista Factum are asking the president, reporter Gabriel Labrador told Gato Encerrado. Reporters from other media have said that press officials attempt to vet questions before the press conferences and have been known to turn off journalists’ microphones during uncomfortable lines of questioning.

The government later reversed the measure, which was criticized by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the U.N. human rights office, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (El Faro)

But the case is far from over. In a press conference last week Bukele answered questions from a Revista Factum reporter regarding allegations of corruption and the banning of reporters. The exchange was uploaded on YouTube by a Bukele-friendly media channel with the title "Know the face of the FACTUM reporter." The video was promoted on Bukele's Facebook page, where the president falsely accuses the magazine of being owned by a political opponent. 

Roberto Valencia criticized the president's move, calling it an invitation to lynch a reporter for doing his job. And Revista Factum condemned attacks, slander, and threats against Bryan Avelar, the journalist in the video.

The sharp rise in tensions between the government and the critical media comes in the midst of investigative reporting linking Bukele and political allies to a local subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A., Alba Petroleos – which is accused of money laundering in Venezuela, the U.S. and El Salvador. El Faro recently reported on Alba loans to the current ministers of agriculture and finance between 2012 and 2016. And last week Revista Factum, reported that Bukele received nearly $2 million from Inverval, a company owned by Alba, in 2013 was mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán in 2013, in exchange for shares in a television company. The report, based on documents from Salvadoran prosecutors' investigation into Alba, details extensive allegations of improprieties in relation to the payments that extend to Bukele’s family and close associates.

News Briefs

More El Salvador
  • One of the main lines of questioning in Bukele’s controversial press conference last week involved his campaign promise to eliminate a discretionary fund allotted to the executive. Bukele argued that he will eliminate it starting with the 2020 budget his government will present this month. (EFE)
  • Bukele later promised that the discretionary funds will be only used for the state intelligence agency and that they will be audited. The commitment was part of an agreement with the European Union in order to access aid funding blocked after previous administrations funneled money into secret spending. (El FaroLa Prensa Gráfica)
  • El Faro recently reported that in the three months since assuming office, Bukele has spent over $ 2 million from the fund, the destination of which Bukele has classified as “state secret.” In the Sept. 12 press conference Bukele said the funds – he estimated $3 million -- have been used exclusively for the state intelligence agency. However, El Faro subsequently reported that former governments allotted only about $500,000 monthly to the agency.
  • The Sept. 6 press conference from which El Faro and Revista Factum were banned was the announcement Bukele portrayed as the launch of an international commission against impunity. However critics note that what was created as a technical commission to create a commission. The project as outlined would be severely limited in scope and dependent on the executive, reports El Faro. See yesterday's post.) 
  • In an editorial El Faro criticizes the rushed nature of the agreement with the OAS, which will likely preclude creating a more robust commission with the United Nations, along the lines of the recently dismantled CICIG. 

  • On the issue of press freedom, though focused on Mexico, Carlos Bravo Regidor writes in Letras Libres that "populist leaders love media, but hate journalism. It's not the same having platforms at their disposal to amplify a message than to accept public scrutiny.
  • The New York Times announced the sudden closure of its Spanish language edition -- The New York Times Español -- yesterday, citing financial concerns. In a goodbye article, the New York Times Español staff celebrates reaching an audience of millions in the Spanish-speaking world. "We became the meeting site of many of the most authoritative and valued voices in the region. We have pioneered a model of making and publishing opinion pieces and have taken the Times' standard of reporting to Latin America." The article includes favorite pieces from over the years -- they showcase the New York Times Español's breadth of territorial and topical coverage at a critical time for the region's democracies and its people's rights, which has made the site a constant source for this Briefing. It will be missed.
  • Covering the desperate journeys of Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty poses ethical challenges for journalists, writes Jude Webber in the Financial Times.
  • The U.S. migration crackdown has also caused a morality crisis within its Border Patrol, tasked with leading one of the most aggressive immigration crackdowns ever imposed in the country, reports the New York Times.
  • A potential deal between Honduras and the U.S. could force Cuban migrants to seek humanitarian asylum in Honduras rather than the U.S., reports Reuters.
  • Despite advances in international protections, the collective and individual rights of indigenous people are threatened in Latin America -- particularly those who oppose development projects affecting community lands, denounces Rigoberta Menchú in a Washington Post opinion piece. 
  • RenovaBR -- an organization that provides training for a new generation of politicians, outside of the Brazil's traditional party system --  has emerged as one of the country's most potent political forces, reports the Financial Times. Ahead of the municipal elections in October next year, RenovaBR said it received 31,000 applications for its training program. 
  • Brazil's government has begun legal procedures to transfer all employees out of three of the Amazonas state's four federal environmental protection offices, part of a broader push to undermine the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, reports the Associated Press.
  • Brazilian police are set to announce the first criminal charges against employees of mining giant Vale SA and German safety inspector TÜV SÜD over the deadly collapse of a mine-waste dam in January, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Former Brazilian president Michel Temer, described his predecessor Dilma Rousseff's ousting as a “coup” in a television interview, causing a stir in the country, reports MercoPress.
  • Forensic examiners in western Mexico have pieced together 41 bodies from bags full of body parts found in a well earlier this month, reports the Associated Press.
  • Argentina’s foreign currency reserves have hit their lowest level since the end of last year, reports Reuters.
  • Ecuadorean lawmakers rejected a bill that would have permitted abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape, reports the BBC.
  • The Bahamas is in mourning after Hurricane Dorian killed at least 51 people and devastated the Grand Bahamas and Abaco islands. But it also desperately needs tourists to come back in order to fund its recovery, reports the New York Times.

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

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