Thursday, October 22, 2020

Trump ally secretly met with Maduro associate in Sept. (Oct. 22, 2020)

 Richard Grenell, a close ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, secretly met with Jorge Rodríguez, a close ally of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, in Mexico City last month. Talks were officially aimed at negotiating a peaceful power transition in Venezuela, though they failed and it is unclear whether Maduro was actually open to the possibility. 

A person involved in the planning of the trip said that it was intended at least partly to negotiate for the release of American detainees in Venezuela, but the White House official and Mr. Grenell denied that, reports the New York Times. Under current U.S. policy, officials can only negotiate with Maduro's inner circle to discuss the terms of his departure.

Bloomberg broke the story last night, and reported that U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and the rest of the State Department weren’t told about the trip beforehand. 

It appears Grenell, the former acting U.S. Director of National Intelligence and former ambassador to Germany, was angling for a pre-election diplomatic victory for Trump, who has sought foreign policy achievements that he can tout in the campaign’s final phase. Trump has become increasingly frustrated over the failure of his policy of sanctions and diplomatic pressure to unseat Maduro, reports Reuters.

But the move also demonstrates a schism between the State Department, which has remained steadfast to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and Trump, who has reportedly grown frustrated with Venezuela's ongoing political stalemate. The negotiations are certain to unnerve Guaidó’s opposition efforts, notes NYT.

In the U.S., Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden are battling over the Venezuelan vote in Florida: each struggling to portray the other as a totalitarian leader in the vein that migrants have sought to escape. (Politico)

News Briefs

  • Massive protests filled Colombian streets yesterday. Colombian activists protested the government's handling of the pandemic, as well as its faulty implementation of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC. Increased violence in the country's rural areas, particularly against social leaders in the Cauca region, is a central issue. A group of indigenous protesters, called a minga, joined Bogotá protesters and have unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Colombian President Iván Duque. The date for the national strike marked the one year anniversary of social protests that rocked the country last year but had few lasting policy effects. Protesters are demanding a variety of government concessions, including a guaranteed income for those who lost their jobs because of coronavirus, more funding for health and education and steps to stop gender-based violence. (Associated Press, EFE, see Tuesday's post.)
  • Femicides in Colombia hit a record last month: 86 women were murdered. Watchdogs said the spike in violence against women is a product of compounding long-term ripple effects of the pandemic – a resurgence of armed group violence and economic fallout – that disproportionately affect women, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Chile’s 1980 constitution has been criticized since its inception as fatally compromised by its links to a dictatorship guilty of political murder, torture and mass incarceration -- this weekend voters are expected to approve a referendum that would launch a rewrite. Surveys indicate they will likely choose to have the process led by a constituent assembly composed entirely of popularly elected representatives. (Guardian
  • The referendum, which was postponed from earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, was called in response to massive social protests last year. But protests last weekend have raised concerns that the rewrite will not quell unrest, reports the Washington Post. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • But experts say the magnitude of Chile's exercise should not be underestimated: "Countries usually write new constitutions only when wars end or when transitioning to democracy. And constitutional conventions composed solely of citizens are practically unheard of," write Peter Siavelis and Jennifer M. Piscopo in the Conversation. "Chile shows what frustrated people in democracies can achieve when they rise up."
  • Ten years after cholera arrived in Haiti with U.N. peacekeepers, victims are still waiting for compensation, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The U.S. Trump administration's significant tightening of immigration rules has a notable exception: Latin American elites who are able to leverage their fortunes and connections to secure visas, green cards and asylum. An investigation by the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, in conjunction with Mexico’s Aristegui Noticias and a group of independent journalists in Colombia, documents how rich foreign nationals from Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela, guided by a network of lawyers, real estate agents and bankers, have managed to stiff-arm U.S. immigration authorities and build up their financial portfolios while thwarting prosecutors back home.
  • "Democracy was one of the victims of this pandemic. In several countries there has been greater militarization, more use of rights restriction mechanisms. People who took advantage of pandemics to do this," Open Society Foundations' Director for Latin America Pedro Abramovay told Poder 360.
  • "Havana Syndrome" was not limited to Cuba, but U.S. diplomats who suffered similar symptoms in China say they have not been supported by the U.S. State Department. (New York Times)
  • A massive Chinese fishing fleet working off South America's coast is a diplomatic headache for Ecuador, Peru and now Chile. More than 250 Chinese ships were first detected in July as they skirted territorial waters off the Galápagos Islands, raising global concern about the practices of the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, reports the Guardian.
  • Hurricane Epsilon, was headed for Bermuda this morning. It is the 26th named storm, 10 of which were hurricanes, to form in the 2020 Atlantic season, one of the most active on record. Rapid intensification, like Epsilon's this week, is probably a product of warming waters in the face of climate change. And more storms are likely to undergo rapid intensification in the future, presenting predictive challenges to meteorologists.  (New York Times, Washington Post)
  • A Venezuelan oil tanker carrying nearly 55 million gallons of crude oil, abandoned off the country's northern coast nearly two years ago, could cause a major environmental crisis in Trinidad and Tobago. The Nabarima floating storage and offloading (FSO) facility, operated by a joint venture between Petroleos de Venezuela and Italy’s Eni, was abandoned in response to tightening U.S. sanctions. It is in a dangerous state of disrepair and threatens to spill 1.3 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Paria between both countries. (Miami HeraldGlobal VoicesReutersAssociated Press)
  • Luis Arce's landslide win in Bolivia's presidential elections on Sunday has "enormous potential implications not only for Bolivia, where it was a necessary step toward the restoration of democracy, but also for the region, in terms of democracy, national independence, economic and social progress, and the struggle against racism," writes Mark Weisbrot in The Nation. (See yesterday's briefs, Tuesday's post and Monday's post.)
  • The Puebla Group asked for the resignation of Luis Almagro from the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) in relation for his role in the Bolivian elections last year. (Telesur)
  • The OAS general assembly adopted a resolution stating that Venezuela's upcoming parliamentary election lacks minimum democratic conditions. (OAS)
  • Guatemalan prosecutors are seeking the arrest of the former communications minister for ex-President Jimmy Morales on money laundering charges, in a case connected to a house in which authorities found about $16 million in various currencies last week, reports the Associated Press.
  • A top Brazilian football team, Santos Futebol Clube, suspended a contract with sports star Robinho, in the midst of a scandal over a 2013 gang rape. The case has pitted rights advocates against Robinho defenders, but also shows Brazil's polarized media landscape. Robinho claims he was being persecuted by the “demonic” press like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Robinho, who claims his “contact” was consensual, also blamed feminists for his predicament, telling an interviewer: “Unfortunately there’s this feminist movement … lots of women who aren’t even women.” (Guardian)
  • A political dispute between Bolsonaro and São Paulo’s powerful state governor João Doria, could delay efforts to vaccinate the country's most vulnerable citizens against Covid-19. Bolsonaro said that the federal government won’t buy a vaccine being developed by Sinovac, a private Chinese company, in partnership with São Paulo’s state government, even though researchers into Covid-19 say it could be the first to be approved for use in Brazil. (Wall Street Journal)
  • A Brazilian who participated in the clinical trial of an experimental coronavirus vaccine has died, but the trial is continuing. Local media reported the volunteer did not receive the experimental vaccine. (Washington Post)
  • Ecuadorean authorities said they signed supply agreements with major pharmaceutical firms including Pfizer Inc and BioNTech to provide millions of COVID-19 vaccines -- Reuters.
  • Mexico has reached a deal to honor a 1944 bilateral water-sharing agreement with the United States, tapping international dams to make up a shortfall. The government announcement today saves Mexico from a growing conflict between local farmers and their U.S. counterparts in the midst of a draught that affects mutual water resources , reports Reuters. (See Oct. 14's briefs.)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's polarizing approach, particularly in promoting a narrative against corruption, impunity and “immoral privilege," is actually worsening the country's drastic disparities, argues Vanessa Rubio in Americas Quarterly.
  • Mexico City's foodie nature has combined with quarantine to create a thriving industry of so-called ghost kitchens — set up to make food exclusively for delivery, with the preparation often done in people’s apartments, reports the New York Times.
  • The story of Prudencia Ayala's presidential run in El Salvador in 1931 reveals the long history of feminist struggles in the region, and also the added obstacles for indigenous women. (Americas Quarterly)
  • Women and girls carry out three-quarters of the tasks needed for the everyday functioning of Latin American homes, according to data compiled by the United Nations. This has a very real effect on women's job opportunities, they are overwhelmingly working part time in the informal market, at a high cost. Hugo Ñopo calls for men to do their share of the housework in Americas Quarterly. Please do. Thank you.

I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always.


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