Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Venezuela pardons 110 prisoners, "charm offensive" (Sept. 1, 2020)

 Venezuela's government announced pardons for 110 people, many political opponents who are in prison, sheltered in foreign embassies in Caracas, or in exile. The surprise move, yesterday, amounts to the country’s largest political amnesty in almost a decade, reports the New York Times.

Jorge Rodríguez, Maduro’s communications minister, announced the pardons yesterday, calling them “a message to the world and to Venezuela” about the December elections.

The move comes ahead of Dec. 6 legislative elections that the political opposition has promised to boycott due to lack of guarantees of fairness and transparency. Observers say President Nicolás Maduro is attempting to foster enough competition to persuade the international community to accept the outcome of the vote and ease crushing economic sanctions (see below). Opposition leader Juan Guaidó called the move a "trap" and said opposition parties would not fall for it. (Efecto Cocuyo)

The government has struggled to obtain candidates for the elections, but there is not necessarily consensus regarding the boycott within Venezuela's fractured opposition. The pardons were at least partly the product of government negotiations with senior opposition leaders who have been critical of Guaidó’s leadership, reports the Washington Post.

“It’s become an open secret that Capriles is frustrated with the current stalemate and is in favor of trying to mobilize Venezuelans around the reality of the country rather than insisting on a strategy of abstention,” Geoff Ramsey, director of the Venezuela program at Washington Office on Latin America told the Washington Post.

Nonetheless, experts warn caution until the decree, which ends criminal cases against more than 20 jailed and exiled opposition politicians, as well dozens of political activists, is actually enacted. Many people on the list have never been formally charged or even presented to court. Indeed, several of the newly pardoned politicians denounced the move on social media yesterday, saying they had never committed any crime in the first place.

The pardon does not include prominent opposition leaders such as Leopoldo López, who remains inside a foreign ambassador’s residence in Caracas, or Julio Borges, a powerful opposition lawmaker who is in neighboring Colombia, notes the Associated Press. It does include legislator Freddy Guevara, who sought asylum in the Chilean diplomatic residence, as well as Roberto Marrero, who had served as chief of staff to Guaidó. (Al Jazeera)

Nonetheless, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet and E.U. foreign minister Josep Borell separately lauded the move as a significant step forward for efforts to democratize Venezuela. (Efecto Cocuyo and Efecto Cocuyo)

Venezuela Sanctions

The U.S. Trump administration is wants to tighten oil sanctions on Venezuela in the near future by removing exemptions that allow some oil companies to exchange Venezuelan crude for fuel. “We think our sanctions have been extremely effective in reducing income to the regime but we think we can make them more effective. So we are going to be doing some things to tighten up in the near future,” Elliott Abrams, U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela told Reuters.

A group of 115 organizations of civil society, warned that ending exceptions on U.S. sanctions that currently permit Venezuela's state oil company to trade crude oil in exchange for diesel would "have devastating consequences." The groups, which include national organizations like Acción Solidaria, the UCAB Center for Human Rights, the Venezuelan Education-Action Program on Human Rights (PROVEA), as well as international organizations like WOLA, explain that "in Venezuela, diesel is primarily used for power generation and bulk cargo transport—including food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies. Cutting off access to diesel in the country could worsen living conditions for millions of Venezuelans dependent on a crumbling supply chain."

News Briefs

  • Brazilian indigenous leader and environmental activist Chief Raoni Metuktire was hospitalized with symptoms of pneumonia and tested positive for the new coronavirus. Raoni previously met several European leaders to denounce Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's calls for the economic development of Indigenous land in the Amazon rainforest, reports Associated Press.
  • Brazil's robust pandemic aid has kept millions out of extreme poverty since April -- now a politically diverse group of lawmakers is pushing for a permanent basic income available to all earning under a certain amount, reports NPR. President Jair Bolsonaro, who insulted welfare recipients in the past, has warmed to the idea after a boost in the polls from recipients of the pandemic aid. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Life in Brazil is returning to normal, even though the pandemic is still raging. And the reason for the shift in the national conversation is Bolsonaro, according to Americas Quarterly.
  • The U.S. will deport former Colombian paramilitary leader Salvatore Mancuso to his home country, a nod by the Trump administration to the Colombian government. Colombia has sought the return of Mancuso in order to advance with truth and reconciliation efforts that stalled in 2008 with the extradition to the U.S. of 14 warlords, including Mancuso, the former top commander of the United Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC. (Associated Press)
  • A newly declassified U.S. memo details suspicions that Colombia’s then-President Álvaro Uribe – now under house arrest - had a history of dealings with violent paramilitaries, reports the Associated Press.
  • The unprecedented wave of massacres in Colombia last month (see last Thursday's briefs) has been dubbed "Agosto Amargo" by some local media outlets -- while the nominal cause is criminal groups who have implemented violently enforced Covid-19 lockdowns, the underlying issue is violent turf wars between armed organizations, reports the Daily Beast. (See this Human Rights Watch report from July.)
  • Colombia’s Congress of the Peoples (CdP) social and political movement Saturday denounced two assassinations of social leaders this weekend in the municipality of San Pablo Sur de Bolivar. (Telesur)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's approval ratings have risen during the coronavirus pandemic -- they are now at 65 percent. A new survey found voters approve of his campaign to crack down on political corruption, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico recovered some 90,000 formal jobs that were lost to the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, AMLO announced yesterday. (Reuters)
  • Mexico's state oil company, Pemex, is determined to push back against efforts to reduce carbon emissions, reports Reuters.
  • Latin America Risk Report has two maps on per capita homicides per state in Mexico and a comparison between murders last year and this one. "A few violent hotspots that are worsening overwhelm the security gains made elsewhere." 
  • Actor Diego Luna is far more than a pretty face -- he is using his star power to campaign for social change in Mexico, writes Gabriela Wiener in New York Times Español.
  • Argentina received widespread bondholder support to restructure its overseas debt, paving the way for the nation to emerge from the ninth default in its history. (Bloomberg)
Critter Corner
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 


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