Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Venezuela's new political stalemate (Dec. 9, 2020)

 Pretty much everybody agrees that Venezuela's legislative elections on Sunday were not free and fair. Nonetheless, the end of the current opposition-led National Assembly's mandate effectively closes the last remaining space for legal opposition to Maduro's government. It leaves the country in a new political standoff -- as the current opposition coalition must prove its relevance and Maduro cements his position as an international pariah, reports the Associated Press. (See Monday's post.)

That means that serious opposition politicians must now engage in a more difficult path: supporting the construction of grassroots organizations that will permit, over time, the construction of a social revindication movement that can be the pillar of a political change," argues Ángel E. Álvarez in a New York Times Español op-ed.

Several experts gave their take in yesterday's Latin America Advisor. WOLA's Geoff Ramsey emphasized how the U.S. undercut efforts by some opposition factions, supported by the European Union, to reach a deal with the elections rather than just boycott. "The Trump administration attacked the European diplomats and accused the European Union of engaging in ‘cowboy diplomacy.’ With the United States actively undermining them, negotiations fell through. This is par for the course for the Trump administration."

"Far from marking a victory for the hardline opposition pushing a boycott, the high abstention rate points to Venezuelans’ disgust with the political options they face: continuation of the monstrous status quo or an incoherent, increasingly divided opposition lacking a positive program," argued Gabriel Hetland. Dialogue and negotiations remain Venezuela's only option, but don't seem to be on the near horizon, he laments.

"The regime of Nicolás Maduro nevertheless may have succeeded in its principal aim in staging the election: to deal a final blow to the U.S.-backed campaign to force its ouster through economic strangulation, a popular uprising or a military coup," according to the Washington Post editorial board.

More Venezuela
  • U.N. Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet denounced government pressures in Sunday's vote, including threats that voters would lose social benefits if they did not participate. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • The incoming U.S. Biden administration will be limited in what it can do to change the situation in Venezuela anytime soon, sanctions and U.S. indictments against Maduro officials will likely remain in place, reports the Washington Post.
  • Nonetheless, Joe Biden is expected to bring more subtle, diplomatic tone to policy on Cuba and Venezuela, experts told Univisión.
News Briefs

  • The Cuban government is using regulations designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to harass and imprison critics, Human Rights Watch said in a new report on the San Isidro Movement detentions. Cuban authorities broke up a hunger strike by protesters on Nov. 26, on the pretext that one had failed to follow Covid-19 rules. (See Nov. 27's post.) “Cuban authorities are using Covid-19 rules to expand their repressive tool kit against critics,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “This is part of a broader pattern in which Cuban authorities use any excuse to systematically repress dissent.”
  • There is growing anger regarding structural racism against Afro-descendants in Brazil, protests have spread this year in response to incidents of violence against Black Brazilians. (See yesterday's briefs, for example.) But "memory policy has not been a central element in the public debate over race. Nor is collective memory seen as central to advancing an anti-racist agenda," writes Luiza Duarte at American University's Brazil Research Initiative.
  • Twelve children were killed in shootings in Rio de Janeiro this year, all were Black. They form part of a grim statistic of young, Afro-descendent victims of shootings, many involving security forces. (Globo)
  • The Brazilian justice system's failure to convict anyone for the assassination of Marielle Franco is a disgrace, her loved ones told EFE on the 1,000 day anniversary of her killing in 2018.
  • A decision by Brazil’s Supreme Court barring the current leaders of the Senate and lower house of Congress from re-election in February has thrown open the race to replace them, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is taking steps to control the country's independent health regulator, Anvisa, a move some health experts fear will give the coronavirus skeptic leader free rein over vaccine approvals, reports Reuters.
  • Latin America has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic -- and is woefully unprepared for the mass vaccination phase that will be the next Covid-19 challenge, reports Bloomberg.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's deputy security minister Mauricio Arriaza resigned his post and faces allegations he has schemed to cover up financial wrongdoing by the government. Arriaza remains El Salvador's police chief, and is accused of undermining lawmakers' efforts to force Finance Minister Alejandro Zelaya to give account of the government’s spending during the coronavirus pandemic. The move is a blow to Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico’s president is expected to congratulate U.S. president-elect Joe Biden next week on his victory once it is certified, reports Reuters.
  • The Sinaloa Cartel's expansion into the fentanyl trade shows how Mexican criminal organizations employ business strategies and international networks, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico's government said it asked the United States to extradite former security chief Genaro García Luna, who currently faces trial in the U.S. for allegedly protecting a drug gang, reports the Associated Press. This comes on the heels of a Mexican request to release former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was also charged with colluding with a drug cartel. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The request for Cienfuegos' release is indicative of the military's role in Mexico's current administration, writes Catalina Pérez Correa in Americas Quarterly. Despite President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's campaign promise to demilitarize public security, AMLO "has instead expanded the powers of the Mexican armed forces in an unprecedented manner, beyond national security tasks."
  • Argentina's House of Deputies votes on legalizing abortion tomorrow. The bill sponsored by President Alberto Fernández, fulfilling a campaign pledge, is widely expected to pass Congress' lower chamber, and could reach a Senate vote next week. Advocates have emphasized the issue as one of socio-economic equality: the current abortion ban has disproportionately affected poor women, who suffer negative health impacts and legal repercussions. Nearly 40,000 women were admitted to public hospitals for complications arising from illegal abortions in 2016 alone, according to a new report. Of these admissions, 6,400 corresponded to girls and teenagers ages 10 to 19, reports the Guardian.

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

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