Thursday, February 27, 2014

Possibility of Dialogue Looks Remote in Venezuela

Even as the Venezuelan opposition has refused to enter into dialogue on the government’s terms, President Nicolas Maduro has strived to cast his administration as a legitimate arbiter of the recent unrest. However, this is proving difficult as both sides of the dispute seem to have different views of its cause.

At the Caracas meeting yesterday that he had previously billed as a “National Peace Conference,” Maduro lamented that members of the opposition did not show up, El Universal reports. The president stressed that he had called for dialogue “without conditions…as open and tolerant as possible.” Nevertheless, he expressed hope that opposition figures would join in the future, saying: “No one has any excuse to say no to dialogue.”

However, the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition has a different account of events. The Miami Herald reports:
MUD Executive Director Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said his organization received the invitation after 10 p.m. Tuesday and that the government had not laid out an agenda. 
Aveledo said he tried to get clarity from the vice president’s office on Wednesday, to no avail. But he underscored that the opposition wants to talk. 
“It’s time to face the crude reality and speak sincerely and seriously,” Aveledo wrote to the government, “without tricks or hidden cards, and with clear rules and transparency.” 
He also said any negotiations would need to start with a clear agenda and be moderated by a “national or international” arbiter.
The day before yesterday, MUD leader Henrique Capriles released a list of 10 “proposals to advance” the country. It includes calls to de-politicize the armed forces, disarm “paramilitary groups” and free student protesters and others arrested during the recent unrest.

Meanwhile, the government has continued to focus on the violence committed by elements of the opposition, rather than its legitimate criticisms. Much of its response to protests has included hyperbolic rhetoric, including attempts to blame the violence on right-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia, elevate the death toll to some 50 people without citing supporting evidence, and blame the opposition’s momentum on endorsements by cultural elites.

With both sides still speaking different languages, it really is no wonder that a meaningful dialogue has yet to take place in Venezuela. As today’s Washington Post notes, there is a chance that the upcoming carnival season could sap the protest movement of its energy, but even then its underlying motives are not likely to disappear so easily.

News Briefs
  • In some good news for Venezuela, the prospect that state agents accused of using disproportionate force against protesters  will be met with total impunity seems to have faded somewhat. As the New York Times reports, the country’s attorney general has accused seven detained members of the National Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) of responsibility for the February 12 death of two protesters.
  • A plan submitted to the OAS’ Permanent Council to hold an immediate meeting over the situation in Venezuela, which was submitted earlier this week by the government of Panama, has been suspended. According to EFE, the government of Venezuela submitted a complaint alleging that the motion was made without the presence of the head of the OAS council, Dominican Ambassador Pedro Verges. 
  • After asking every member of his cabinet to submit their resignation on Tuesday, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has signaled that he does not intend to announce the specifics of his planned shakeup immediately. As El Comercio reports, Vice President Jorge Glas told reporters yesterday that the president plans to “take his time” in evaluating his new cabinet moving forward.
  • Not everyone in Mexico is thrilled about the recent capture of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. According to Animal Politico, yesterday saw hundreds of protesters in the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan -- as well as the city of Guamuchil  -- gather to call for his release.  However, there is reason to be suspicious of their motives for demonstrating; the news site notes that in the latter city protesters were bussed in by anonymous interests, and received a t-shirt and snack for their participation.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the ongoing conflict between retired General Angel Vivas and government forces in Venezuela. Vivas is accused of endorsing violence after posting a tweet advising opposition protestors to string up wires across roads to prevent motorcycle passengers from crossing them.
  • The first Latin American pope, Pope Francis I, has weighed in on the conflict in Venezuela. Speaking at the end of his usual weekly audience yesterday, the pope expressed his hope that "violence and hostility will cease as soon as possible." He also called on the country to exhibit “mutual forgiveness and sincere dialogue" to facilitate dialogue, as the BBC reports.
  • Reuters features a comprehensive explainer on the recent military corruption scandals in Colombia, and the resulting purge of the army’s high command by President Juan Manuel Santos.  The news agency does a good job of placing the incidents in the context of the recent “false positives” scandal, noting that they come at an extremely inopportune moment for the Colombian army’s reputation.
  • Following up on the recent attempted assassination of the Colombian left-wing Patriotic Union party’s presidential candidate on Sunday, Semana has a top notch analysis of the political landscape in the country, arguing that the left there still faces serious obstacles to democratic participation.  According to the magazine, these must be overcome in order to give a clear signal to the FARC rebels at the negotiating table in Havana that power can in fact be obtained by the ballot rather than the bullet.
  • Ahead of Uruguay’s general elections in October, the ruling Frente Amplio  (FA) coalition appears set to maintain its status as the most popular political force in the country. El Pais reports that if the vote were held today, according to a new survey by local pollster Equipos Mori, FA ex-president Tabare Vazquez would win with the support of 44 percent of respondents compared to 26 percent for the likely National Party candidate, Vazquez’s biggest competitor.
  • Peru is once again in the news for large-scale demonstrations, this time in the south-central region of Cusco. La Republica reports that some 50,000 people flooded the capital city of Cusco to call for the government to fulfill promises to invest more in the region, citing plans to build a gas pipeline as well as an international airport.
  • Police in southern Chile have discovered human remains near a former German enclave which investigators believe may be the traces of disappeared dissidents of the Pinochet dictatorship, AFP reports.