Monday, March 30, 2020

U.S. complicates Venezuelan political negotiation (March 30, 2020)

The U.S. Trump administration is maintaining pressure aimed at ousting Venezuela's legitimacy-challenged President Nicolás Maduro. Last week the U.S. Justice Department unsealed indictments accusing Maduro and high-level officials of "narco-terrorism" and collaboration with a FARC dissident group. (Washington Post, see Friday's briefs and Thursday's.)

The strategy, however, runs directly counter to the negotiated transition many experts are advocating for Venezuela, which comes the Covid-19 pandemic with previous crippling weaknesses due to the country's long-running economic and political crisis. "In bowing to pressure from the hard-liners, this move hinders rather than helps efforts to raise internal pressure on Maduro to enter into credible negotiations," writes WOLA's Geoff Ramsey in a Washington Post op-ed. The indictments include powerful officials who have now lost the incentive to support a transition.

The U.S. move, which put a $15 million bounty on Maduro's head, also raises the stakes for potential retaliation against opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. and fifty countries recognize at Venezuela's legitimate leader, notes the Washington Post, separately.

Ramsey also argues that while the allegations of drug trafficking are unsurprising and serious, "both in terms of recent trend lines and the overall scale of cocaine flow, the U.S. government’s own data show that Venezuela is a comparatively small player in the cocaine trade."

Russia said the charges against Maduro were absurd, adding that sanctions on Caracas could become “a tool of genocide” amid the coronavirus outbreak, reports Reuters.

More Venezuela
  • Russia's state-controlled oil giant Rosneft announced that it had stopped operations in Venezuela and sold its assets to a company wholly owned by the Russian government. The move potentially affects a key economic lifeline for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás ­Maduro, reports the Washington Post, though it's not clear that the relationship between Venezuela and Russia will be affected or the shakeup is an attempt to doge U.S. sanctions. The United States imposed sanctions this year on two Rosneft oil trading subsidiaries for helping Maduro, and they were cited by a Rosneft spokesman Saturday in describing the sale, reports the New York Times.
  • Retired Venezuelan Gen. Cliver Alcalá turned himself in to the U.S. counternarcotics authorities Friday, a day after U.S. prosecutors indicted him and other Venezuelan officials, reports the Wall Street Journal.
News Briefs

  • Twitter removed two tweets in which Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro questioned Covid-19 quarantine measures. Twitter explained in a statement that it had recently expanded its global rules on managing content that contradicted public health information from official sources and could put people at greater risk of transmitting COVID-19. Bolsonaro had posted several videos this weekend showing him mixing with supporters in Brasilia's streets, and arguing that economic concerns should trump social distancing, a message that contradicts efforts by the national health ministry and state governors, reports AFP. (See also Globo.)
  • Brazilian health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, reportedly told Bolsonaro that he would have to publicly criticize the president if Bolsonaro continued to make public appearances. Bolsonaro reportedly responded that he would fire Mandetta if the health minister did so. (Guardian)
  • Brazil will reduce efforts to fight environmental crimes during the coronavirus outbreak, though experts are concerned that the reduction in enforcement personnel could push up deforestation rates. (Reuters)
  • The Bolsonaro administration thanked U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson for opposing European trade action in response to Amazon fires, last year, according to documents released to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism through a freedom of information request. (Guardian)
  • In addition to the challenges Covid-19 presents world-wide, in Latin America there is concern over how it will be accelerated by deep structural inequality, and how those same class divisions will play out in efforts to contain the virus. A Washington Post piece looks specifically at how "Latin America’s mutually dependent culture of domestic employment could become an impediment to stopping the spread of the virus. The poor rely on the wealthy for income. The wealthy depend on the poor for cleaning and cooking. In a region where 8 percent of women are domestic employees — the highest rate in the developing world — no one knows how long social distancing and isolation can last." (There is  a whole sub-genre of comedy focused on wealthy families discovering how to do their own cleaning.) Beyond the hilarity of the upper-middle class struggling with vacuuming, is a real economic conundrum for their employees: their job — or their health?
  • Regardless of whether it's paid or not, a lion's share of the housework falls on women, an aspect of coronavirus that Mexican feminists are urging the government to take into account, reports EFE.
  • While there is concern about how some governments use repressive measures to implement quarantines, the Latin America Risk Report looks at the opposite side of the coin: how citizen trust in national leadership is affecting their acceptance of strict coronavirus measures. "While large numbers of Latin American citizens support the quarantine measures, maintaining them in place for weeks requires political leadership and social capital. In countries where trust in the government is low, it is more likely that citizens and local leaders will attempt to set their own rules in the weeks ahead."
  • Prison populations in Latin America are particularly at risk from the pandemic, as overcrowding is a general rule in the region's penitentiaries, Human Rights Watch's Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco told EFE.
  • A new study documents how pretrial detentions are overcrowding Latin America’s prisons, leading to gang recruitment, violence and violations of prisoners’ human rights, reports InSight Crime.
El Salvador
  • While El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele has garnered praise for his swift and authoritative move to isolate the country from coronavirus, many experts are worried about the government's potential for authoritarian slide, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
  • Latin America also comes to the pandemic with weak democratic institutions, in many cases. The challenge to democracies -- health and economic -- could be overwhelming, writes Colombian columnist María Jimena Duzán in Semana. She is concerned that in Colombia the pandemic will erode constitutional guarantees and notes that there has already been an increase in violence against social leaders. (See last Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Colombia's ELN declared a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire in response to coronavirus, starting April 1. (BBC)
  • The sound of silence that accompanies Bogotá's quarantine (and resonates with many of us in other locked-down cities) is balm for some ears, but an eerie sign of negative things to come for others -- New York Times.
  • A 29-year-old man deported from the United States to Guatemala last week has tested positive for the novel coronavirus. It is the first known case of an individual deported by U.S. immigration authorities with the virus, reports the Washington Post. The man began showing symptoms of COVID-19 over the weekend while in quarantine in his family's home, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The director of one of Haiti’s top hospitals was kidnapped on Friday, prompting staff to refuse to take in new patients in protest, reports Reuters. He was later released, but the episode was the second time in days that a physician fell victim to the country’s problem with crime, notes the Miami Herald.
  • Bolsonaro isn't the only leader loathe to leave the public's (literal) embrace. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador visited the Sinaloa state hometown of cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, and even greeted the jailed kingpin's mother, in contradiction of health ministry guidelines begging Mexicans to stay home to avoid coronavirus contagion. (Guardian)
  • Mexico’s falling peso could act as a shock absorber to limit damage to the country's economy, reports Reuters.
  • Peru’s government is readying a massive economic stimulus package worth around 12 percent of the GDP to help mitigate the coronavirus' economic impact. (Reuters)
  • The man who challenged Guyana's Region 4 vote count for the March 2 election -- which remains undecided -- apparently committed suicide this weekend. (Kaieteur News)
  • Guyana authorities are implementing prevention measures to keep Covid-19 from the country's prison system. (Kaieteur News
  • A long history of state abandonment in Panama's semi-autonomous indigenous region explains how an extremist sect was able to massacre a woman and six children in a violent exorcism ritual, reports the Guardian.
  • Bolivia's electoral authority said the election redo originally scheduled for May 3 will likely be held between June and September, depending how the coronavirus and quarantine measures evolve, reports Telesur.
  • Last week, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) closed all access to the rainforest, in an attempt to preserve indigenous communities from the potentially lethal threat, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Quarantines complicate conservation efforts for Ecuadorean groups working with rescued Amazon animals. (Guardian)
Gender violence
  • Women's rights advocates around the world have voiced concern over how quarantines will affect domestic violence rates. In Argentina's Buenos Aires province, calls to a hotline have increased by 60 percent since the country went into lockdown 10 days ago. There have been six femicides since the quarantine began, and the assassination of a woman and her seven-year-old daughter by a boyfriend during lockdown has particularly drawn attention to the issue. (Infobae)
Stay away
  • Check out the public service announcements from around the world urging people to stay home and social distance. In Mexico authorities launched a superhero, Susana Distancia -- a pun on healthy distance. (Washington Post)

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