Monday, October 18, 2021

Saab extradition derails negotiations (Oct. 18, 2021)

 Venezuela's government suspended negotiations with the country's political opposition after a close ally was extradited to the U.S. this weekend. Alex Saab, a Colombian businessman and financial fixer for President Nicolás Maduro was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S., where he faces charges of money laundering.

U.S. authorities believe Saab can shed light on how Venezuela has managed to violate U.S. sanctions to sell gold and crude oil. They also believe he knows how Maduro and close allies siphoned off millions of dollars in government contracts for food and housing amid widespread hunger in Venezuela.

But the extradition has also derailed advances towards a political solution for Venezuela's prolonged crisis. Jorge Rodríguez, who has been heading the government’s delegation, said his team wouldn’t travel to Mexico City for the next scheduled round of negotiations.

In response to the extradition, Maduro's government immediately re-apprehended six oil executives, including 5 American citizens, who had been under house arrest in Venezuela. The so-called "Citgo 6" have been in and out of jail since 2017, an indicator of Maduro's response to U.S. policies towards Venezuela.

More Venezuela
  • Iran will sign a 20-year cooperation accord with Venezuela "in the next few months," reports Al Jazeera.

  • Vaccination rates have steadily increased in Venezuela in recent months, with the assistance of the WHO-linked COVAX initiative and the support of multilateral institutions such as the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and UNICEF, reports the Venezuela Weekly.

Haiti's gangs kidnap missionaries

A notorious Haitian armed gang kidnapped 17 foreign missionaries, including five children. The brazen abductions put the country's insecurity crisis in stark relief, and pose a challenge for the government of interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry, as well as for U.S. President Joe Biden, reports the Miami Herald. Sixteen of the victims are U.S. citizens, and one is Canadian, they were seized as they paid a visit on Saturday to an orphanage outside the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, reports the New York Times. U.S. FBI agents arrived in Port-au-Prince yesterday to assist with hostage negotiations.

The gang believed to be behind the kidnapping is known as 400 Mawozo, which operates in the area of Croix-des-Bouquets along the route to the border Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. The gang, which is responsible for about 80% of the kidnappings taking place in Haiti, has taken to snatching groups of people.

From Creole, the name loosely translates to 400 simpletons, or inexperienced men. But the group is widely feared for using rape and assassinations to maintain its grip of Haitian streets, businesses and power players, reports the Washington Post. It's also at the cutting-edge of a new kidnapping trend: abduction of groups from vehicles. And it has targeted clergy and churches 

Kidnappings in Haiti have increased 300% between July and September, when at least 221 abductions were recorded, according to the crime observation unit of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July, an event that made a long-term political crisis more acute. According to some estimates, gangs now control roughly half of Port-au-Prince.

In an example of how the government has lost territorial control, Henry and his security detail were forced to flee an official commemoration in the capital, yesterday. Henry tried to carry out ceremony to commemorate the 1806 assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, but was driven back by armed gang members firing their weapons, reports the Guardian. Later pictures showed the country’s most notorious crime boss, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, dressed in a white suit and shirt with a wing collar – the dress code for officials on national holidays – with his armed followers laying down a floral wreath at the monument.

Transportation workers called a strike for Today and Tuesday in Port-au-Prince to protest insecurity — an action that turned into a more general strike. Small peaceful protests erupted across the country this morning, reports the New York Times. Many stores in Port-au-Prince were closed, including gas stations.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday evening to extend the U.N. political mission in Haiti. The mission was extended by 9-months in a last-minute compromise between the U.S. and China just hours before the mission’s mandate was set to end. In the resolution, the council noted “with deep concern the acute political, economic, security, and humanitarian crisis in Haiti" and underlined the importance of addressing the recent rise in gang violence and its roots, reports the Associated Press. The resolution urges all Haitian parties “to commit to an inclusive inter-Haitian national dialogue to address longstanding drivers of instability” and to create a framework for free and fair presidential and legislative elections “as soon as technically feasible.”

More Haiti
  • The U.S. should take concrete steps to help Haiti: namely stop deporting migrants, and support local Haitian efforts in establishing a transition commission and to stop propping up the current government, argues Marcela García in the Boston Globe.
News Briefs

  • The U.S. Biden administration said on Friday it plans to reinstate the Trump-era border policy known as Remain in Mexico, reports  the Guardian.
El Salvador
  • About 4,000 people protested in El Salvador yesterday against President Nayib Bukele, who responded by changing his Twitter profile to "Emperor of El Salvador." It's the second large protest in a month against the leader, who critics say is dangerously concentrating power in the country, reports AFP. (See Sept. 17's post.)

  • Police barricades prevented buses from entering San Salvador yesterday, an obstacle to many demonstrators, reports El Faro.
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Build Back Better World (B3W) is an initiative to finance development infrastructure in Latin America, a response to China's Belt and Road Initiative. But experts question how much impact the initiative will really have, reports the Financial Times

  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Colombia and Ecuador next week as he seeks to showcase democracy in Latin America, the State Department said Friday. (AFP)
  • Two more social leaders were killed in Colombia this weekend: Maria Pedroza stepped on a mine in Choco, and Garzon Manrique was killed by hitmen in Caqueta, reports Telesur. The Institute for Peace and Development  Studies (Indepaz) has reported 136 murders of social leaders so far this year.
  • Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourão said on Friday that a deployment of soldiers to the Amazon rainforest will end, just ahead of the COP26 climate conference. Mourão, who coordinates the government’s Amazon Council, said the government decided to end the program because environmental authorities once again have the ability to carry out oversight. (Associated Press
  • A new Cadem poll puts Chile's conservative presidential candidate José Antonio Kast at a statistical tie with leftist frontrunner Gabriel Boric, each with about 20 percent ahead of next month's vote. Kast's ascent comes as center-right candidate Sebastián Sichel dropped in popularity, reports Bloomberg. If no candidate obtains 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will determine the next president.

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

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