Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Maduro released to U.S. detainees (March 9, 2022)

 Venezuela's government released two U.S. citizens detained in the country, a major breakthrough following a high-level meeting between U.S. officials and President Nicolás Maduro this weekend in Caracas. The release marks a potential turning point in the U.S. Biden administration’s relationship with Russia’s staunchest ally in the region, reports the New York Times. (See Monday's post.) 

One of those released wasGustavo Cárdenas, one of the six executives of Citgo Petroleum who were arrested during a business trip to Caracas in November 2017 and later charged with corruption. The other was Jorge Alberto Fernández, a Cuban American tourist who was detained and accused of terrorism for flying a drone early last year, reports the Washington Post. At least eight other U.S. nationals remain jailed in Caracas on charges ranging from embezzlement to terrorism.

U.S. officials said that the prisoner release was not part of a deal with Venezuela to restart oil sales to the United States, which were banned under the Trump administration. Venezuela is considered an alternative source of oil that could ameliorate the impact of a new block on Russian imports to the U.S. (See Monday's post.) 

U.S. officials have demanded Venezuela supply at least a portion of oil exports to the United States as part of any agreement to ease oil trading sanctions, reports Reuters. The officials reportedly told their Venezuelan counterparts that any relaxation in U.S. sanctions would be conditional on Venezuela shipping oil directly to the United States.

The meeting had significant practical justification, as well as geopolitical considerations. But the new diplomatic initiative also "has great potential to shake up the tragic stalemate of Venezuelan politics," writes David Smilde in Foreign Policy. "Getting Maduro to commit to a road map for negotiations—with benchmarks for humanitarian improvements, restoring the rule of law, and an election calendar—could spur the return to democracy Venezuelan citizens have been struggling for."

Venezuela's government is eager to resume oil sales to the U.S., particularly as sanctions against Russia impact its ability to skirt U.S. sanctions that have contributed to the country's economic stagnation. 

More Venezuela
  • Miami businessman Jorge Nobrega has pleaded guilty to receiving payments from Venezuela’s government and servicing the country’s fleet of Russian fighter jets in violation of U.S. sanctions, reports the Associated Press.


Womens' Day

Latin American feminist activists have rallied around the issue of gender violence in recent years. The urgent need to reduce femicides, the killing of women and girls on account of their gender, spurred the massive Ni Una Menos movement in Argentina, which spread throughout the region and also forms part of the underpinning of the Green Tide that has successfully led a push for abortion rights in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia over the past year and a half.

Femicide numbers serve as an (insufficient) proxy for gender violence in many cases. That's why activists highlighted the number of women killed in countries so far this year at marches yesterday marking International Women's Day. For example, in Argentina 54 women were killed in the first two months of the year -- two were trans killings -- leaving 64 children without a mother. That's an average of one femicide every 26 hours. (Telam) In Honduras, 61 women have been killed so far this year. (Criterio) In Mexico 122 women were assassinated with "extreme cruelty" in the first two months of 2022, and at least 221 cases of torture. (EFE)

But a direct comparison of femicide statistics across the region is tricky, reports Chequeado, each country has its own measurement and tally methodology. "The lack of quality information impacts on national and regional public policies."  This article looks at the numbers for 2021 across the region. 

More Women's Day
  • Thousands of protesters rallied for Women's Day in Mexico City yesterday, demonstrating against violence. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has had a conflictive relationship with the country's feminists, urged calm while warning that the protests could turn violent. (Reuters)
News Briefs

  • Thousands of protesters will participate in the “Ato pela Terra” (Stand for the Earth) demonstration in Brasília today, after Caetano Veloso called a major protest to denounce what they consider a historic assault on the Brazilian environment by President Jair Bolsonaro's government. Activists are protesting a “death combo” of five environment-related bills being considered by Brazil’s congress. (Guardian)

  • If approved, the proposals would greenlight commercial mining on indigenous lands and jeopardize the land rights of tens of thousands of indigenous people; loosen environmental licensing requirements and regulations over pesticide use; and boost land grabbers and illegal loggers in the Amazon, reports the Guardian. If passed, the new laws would enshrine the current administration's hostile stance to conservation, and make it harder for a new government to roll-back loosened environmental regulations.

  • Bolsonaro has seized on global fertilizer shortages caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine to push for a law that would allow mining on indigenous reservations. (See last Thursday's briefs.) The government's chief whip in the lower house of Congress gathered enough signatures yesterday to fast-track the bill, which means that it could be put to a full vote without committee hearings, reports Reuters.
  • While the Russian fertilizer issue affects Brazil particularly, it will contribute to increasing agriculture costs around the world. "Sustained high commodity prices will be the single biggest driver of politics and economics in the region over the coming" year, writes James Bosworth at the Latin America Risk Report.
  • A mass document leak shows how the international owners of an open-pit nickel mine paid off Guatemalan security forces, ignored court orders, and consorted with the highest echelons of Guatemalan government to obscure pollution, crush local dissent, and continue operating with the tolerance of three administrations, reports El Faro. (See Monday's briefs.)

  • The leak of more than eight million company documents revealed how the mining company Solway, operating illegally in El Estor, a Maya Q’eqchi’ town near the Caribbean coastline, bought local police and Indigenous leaders, spied on journalists, classified residents as allies or enemies, and sought to expel communities from ancestral land. (El Faro)

  • Guatemala's Congress passed a law that prohibits same-sex marriage, reports the BBC.
  • Peruvian lawmakers introduced an impeachment motion to try to oust President Pedro Castillo, yesterday. It's the second formal attempt to remove Castillo, and was presented on the same day his latest Cabinet sought a confirmation vote from the legislature, reports Reuters.
Critter Corner
  • Thanks to species conservation work, St. Lucia's national bird has been flourishing since the country's first independence day in 1979. -- Guardian
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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