Monday, May 4, 2020

Venezuela thwarts alleged invasion (May 4, 2020)

Venezuela's government said security forces foiled an attempted armed sea invasion near Caracas, yesterday. Eight men were captured and two more killed, according to Maduro administration official. But later in the day, former Venezuelan National Guard officer Javier Nieto Quintero and former U.S. Green Beret Jordan Goudreau, said a 60-troop operation aimed at overthrowing Nicolás Maduro was underway. (Guardian)

Néstor Reverol, the interior minister, said that the group of “mercenary terrorists” had come from Colombia by speedboat, intending to overthrow the government, but that it was stopped at the port of La Guaira. Gourdreau, who lives in Florida, said the operation’s forces had been based in Colombia’s border region, in mobile camps where Venezuelan military defectors had been living.

Gourdreau told the Washington Post that they had unsuccessfully sought U.S. backing for the operation and that he had talked with the Venezuelan political opposition, but that they ultimately did not cooperate. Other sources linked the attempted invasion to Venezuelan military defectors and said it might have been infiltrated by government agents.

The effort appears linked to a plot reported on by the Associated Press on Friday, involving a collaboration between Gourdreau and Clíver Alcalá, a dissident retired Venezuelan general who recently surrendered to United States law enforcement to face drug charges.

The Venezuelan Maduro government has constantly denounced alleged coup attempts in recent years -- some true and some never independently verified, notes the New York Times. "The uprisings denounced by the government often have their roots in real discontent among Venezuelan officials and military officers but are almost always exaggerated to create a siege mentality among government supporters and to garner international sympathy, analysts say."

In this case, opposition leader Juan Guaidó's office noted "inconsistencies, doubts and contradictions" in the official version of events, and suggested the alleged invasion could have been staged to tar the opposition or to cover up extrajudicial killings by state troops, reports Bloomberg.


Colombian military spied on journalists

Colombian military intelligence officials carried out an extensive monitoring operation targeting more than 130 individuals including more than 30 national and international journalists, according to a report published by Semana on Friday. The report, entitled "The Secret Files" details how a group of military officials targeted journalists at local outlets such as Caracol Radio and Rutas del Conflicto, as well as international outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and National Geographic. It builds on previous reporting in January on the same subject. (See also: Committee to Protect Journalists)

Colombia's defense ministry on Friday announced the ouster of 11 military officials and the resignation of a general related to an ongoing investigation into the allegations made in January, reports Reuters. President Iván Duque said the conduct was inadmisible and promised punishment. (EFE)

Friday's report included the names of some alleged victims, including Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco, who called on Colombia's Duque administration to respond to the spying scandal with a profound restructuring of the country's controversy-ridden armed forces. (Semana) U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy told Semana that if the allegations prove true, they could impact U.S. military cooperation with Colombia.

More Colombia
  • The Semana revelations and the Venezuelan coup plotting raise questions about whether Duque was aware of these goings on, and if not, whether he controls the military's intelligence branch, writes Juanita León in La Silla Vacía.

El Salvador's false dichotomy: human rights and Covid-19

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele has portrayed his heavy-handed Covid-19 response as one that prioritizes human lives over lesser concerns over due process. But critics increasingly argue that Bukele's actions have nothing to do with public health, and many moves are, in fact,  counter productive towards battling the pandemic. As the Washington Post put it in an editorial on Friday: "recent events suggest the principal interest of the populist president is not protecting Salvadorans from illness; it’s consolidating his personal power at the expense of the country’s fragile democracy."

Bukele's initial move towards an early quarantine seemed prescient when most countries in the region shortly followed with lockdown measures of some kind or another, and as public health systems in Latin America are increasingly overwhelmed in certain countries. Bukele has insisted on an executive order that gives security forces the right to detain people on the streets -- paradoxically putting them at higher risk of contagion -- despite several constitutional court rulings ordering him to defer to Congress in order to legislate the quarantine. (See April 16's post.) But El Salvador's response goes far beyond that of other countries in the region, and denies Salvadoran their constitutional rights. Violators of the stay at home order can be confined in a "containment center" for 30 days, regardless of whether they have any symptoms, explains Tim Muth in a blog post that provides a good overview of the current situation.

The story of a young mother who has been detained for 23 days because she accompanied her four year old child to an outside latrine in the middle of the night -- despite a Constitutional Court decision that declared her arrest unconstitutional -- is emblematic of the government approach. (El Faro)

Bukele's portrayal of a dichotomy between public health and human rights is patently false, wrote Amnesty International Americas Director Erika Guevara Rosas in El Faro. "El Salvador's government has become the executioner of those living in poverty, punishing them for it with the deprivation of liberty and even greater exposure to the contagion of COVID-19. The population deserves integral responses and not improvised snippets." Helping people supply themselves with basic necessities would be more productive than punishing them for leaving the house in search of food, she writes.

Bukele's vitriol towards critics -- he said rights organizations financed by "dark international interests" are apologists for gangs and seek to falsely delegitimize his government as a dictatorship -- is actually a continuation of previous trends, as is his Twitter-heavy  note several analysts. (See last Friday's post.)

News Briefs

More Venezuela
  • A prison riot in central Venezuela on Friday left at least 40 people dead and 50 more injured, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuela has arbitrarily detained dozens of journalists in retaliation for their Covid-19 coverage, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is increasingly dependent on a cadre of military elders, in the midst of scandals that have weakened him politically, reports the New York Times. The result is the most prominent political insertion of active and former military officials into political power since the country's dictatorship.
  • Sergio Moro dealt Bolsonaro a heavy political blow with his recent resignation as Justice Minister, which boosted his own political fortunes and could position the former judge as Bolsonaro's political rival, writes Carol Pires in a New York Times Español op-ed
  • The combination of coronavirus and economic recession has many in Mexico terrified of a rise in anti-social crime, wrote Ioan Grillo in a New York Times op-ed last week. "López Obrador is right in castigating the cartel killings, as he is right to fear foreign debt and bail outs being pilfered. But in the face of such a critical situation, he needs to take critical measures."
  • Coronavirus lockdowns can shut us into the trenches of gender warfare, but also point to ways out of it. Quarantines give us perspective on urgently needed care policies I argue in an opinion piece for New York Times Español -- inspired in equal parts by my vacuum cleaner, domestic complaints and Virginia Woolf. The unpaid second shift of domestic work that many women carry out after finishing their paid workday is unfair, but doable, the third, fourth and fifth shifts required by quarantines are not. The situation shows not only women's limits, but also the limits of the nuclear home as an isolated unit.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... And in these times of coronavirus, when we're all feeling a little isolated, feel especially free to reach out and share.


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