Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Venezuela's National Assembly, turning point (Jan. 5, 2021)

 A new cohort of lawmakers will take their seats in Venezuela's National Assembly today -- marking a turning-point in the country's prolonged political crisis. The legislators who swear-in today were elected last month in a vote widely condemned as lacking basic guarantees of freedom and fairness, and represent a consolidation of power for President Nicolás Maduro whose allies will now control congress. The National Assembly had been led by opposition parties since 2016, the only branch of government not controlled by Maduro.

The change will not meaningfully impact Maduro's governance capacity, but undermines opposition efforts to present an alternate space of democratic legitimacy. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó has been recognized as Venezuela's interim leader by a chunk of the international community based on his position as the National Assembly president. Experts fear the move could be used to crack down on government detractors. (Reuters, Miami Herald)

Opposition lawmakers voted to extend their mandate by a year, as they rejected the legitimacy of election to replace them. The extension proved controversial even within opposition ranks -- a major party within the coalition abstained from the vote and several individual lawmakers said they consider their mandates terminated today. The extension move puts the international community at a crossroads. So far the U.S. has recognized the opposition move, but the European Union has not. The Financial Times reports that the E.U. will likely move to a middle ground: recognizing Guaidó as the leader of a united opposition but not as the interim president. 

Guaidó denounced this morning that visibly armed counter-intelligence officers have surrounded his home. The threat of incarceration looms for him and lawmakers who consider their mandates extended, which the government considers illegal usurpation of office, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Opposition politicians are also no longer protected by legislative immunity. And Maduro has floated the idea of holding a “public trial” to try Guaidó for alleged but unspecified acts of corruption, reports the Miami Herald.

Venezuelan opposition leaders indicate they are shifting from attempts to oust Maduro through revolt to alleviating the country's crushing humanitarian crisis. People have little faith in a political solution, according to a recent Datanálisis poll that found only 25% of respondents said they had hopes for a democratic transition in the country. The Organization of American States estimates that the number of Venezuelan migrants could swell to seven million by the end of 2021, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Venezuela's crisis -- diplomats are increasingly concerned about a failed state -- and Maduro's consolidation of power will represent a major diplomatic challenge for the incoming Biden administration in the U.S. Maduro has publicly said his government is willing to engage with the U.S. An official on U.S. president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team said that it has no plans to negotiate with Maduro, reports the Wall Street Journal

Experts have increasingly called for the U.S. to revise its broad sanctions against Venezuela, which have in many ways backfired. A recent WOLA report found that the U.S. "Trump administration’s approach to Venezuela has been marked by three key mistakes: abandoning multilateralism and seeking U.S. primacy in confronting Maduro, a miscalculated and over-broad pressure strategy, and a failure to engage with relevant international and national stakeholders. In combination with each other and with external factors, these missteps have held back the search for a peaceful, democratic solution to the crisis."

But U.S. domestic politics will be a major constraint for the incoming Biden administration, warns the Financial Times.

News Briefs

  • The green handkerchief that abortion activists across Latin America have adopted as their symbol is the descendent of the white handkerchief the Madres de Plaza de Mayo used on their heads while marching against Argentina's bloody dictatorship in the late 70s. "If the scarf has long been the symbol of women’s fight against abusive political power in Argentina, now it is also a symbol of hope and feminist transformation," writes Giselle Carino, director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, in the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Mexico's legislative elections in July will be the first time lawmakers will be permitted reelection, an instance that will subject them to welcome accountability with voters, argues Viri Ríos in New York Times Español.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Mexico was ready to offer political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, after a British judge blocked his extradition to the United States to face espionage charges. (AFP)
  • A Guardian documentary tells the story of Lupita, a courageous young Tzotzil-Maya woman​ ​at the forefront of a Mexican indigenous movement. Over twenty years after Lupita lost her family in the Acteal massacre in southern Mexico, she has become a spokesperson for her people​ and for a new generation of Mayan activists.
  • Cuba's government is using its significant power to quash civil society protests, writes Abraham Jiménez Enoa in the Post Opinión.
  • Brazil’s militarized effort to end the escalating environmental destruction of the Amazon forest is characterized by "disorganization, inexperience and allegations of political bias, ending in a failure to get the job done," reports the Washington Post.
  • A 33-meter reinforced concrete vagina on a hillside has sparked politically polarized controversy in Brazil. (Guardian)
  • Squatters at an ancient ruins site in Perú have threatened the archeologist who discovered the remains of the oldest city in the Americas, reports the Guardian.
  • Many Colombian emerald miners work independently, hoping to find a stone that will change their lives. Some "described mining as a gamble and an addiction. The mines, they said, are like casinos in the middle of the Andes: One stone could change it all." -- New York Times

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

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