Friday, March 14, 2014

Kerry Condemns “Terror Campaign” in Venezuela

United States Secretary of State John Kerry has adopted a noticeably tougher tone on Venezuela, urging President Nicolas Maduro to put a stop to his government’s “terror campaign” and dialogue with the opposition. Kerry also confirmed previous reports that the White House is considering sanctions of Venezuelan officials in response to the crackdown on protests in the country.

In remarks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, Kerry said that the State Department was committed to trying to get the Maduro to “end this terror campaign against his own people,” as well as compel the Venezuelan president to “respect human rights and the appropriate way of treating his people.”

In response to a question by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) about the specific strategies for this, Kerry said that the administration was committed to working in the Organization of American States (OAS), and is open to the idea of sanctions. “We are prepared, if necessary, to invoke the Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States and get involved in various ways, through sanctions or otherwise, but the economy there is already quite fragile,” Kerry said.

Meanwhile, the AP reports that several U.S. lawmakers have submitted legislation pushing for sanctions. In the Senate, Democrats Bob Menendez and Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio have presented a bill which would freeze the assets of and deny visas to any officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses in Venezuela, as well as allocate $15 million to fund civil society and independent media outlets. In the House, Ros-Lehtinen continues to lead efforts to pass a targeted sanctions bill, as well as a reduction in U.S. oil imports from the country.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday, Maduro announced plans to heighten security operations in areas which have seen violence linked to protests. As El Nacional reports, the president also announced that six suspects had been detained after he ordered a series of raids in the central city of Valencia, though the legal grounds for the executive-led operation have been questioned by constitutional experts in the country. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan attorney general raised the official death toll from the protests to 28.
  • As demonstrations continue, Venezuela faces deepening economic troubles as well. On Thursday the International Air Transport Association (IATA) accused the Venezuelan government of owing some $3.7 billion in revenue to foreign airlines, and warned that carriers were weighing closures of flights to the country. The L.A. Times notes that half a dozen airlines have already suspended ticket sales in Venezuela, with Colombia’s Avianca recently scaling back flights to Caracas in response to the government’s debt.  
  • The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the main policymaking body of the UN drug control system, is currently conducting a review of the scope and implementation of current drug policy regime. While the process is normally conducted behind closed doors, the International Drug Policy Consortium and other drug reform groups have set up the CND 2014 Blog, providing real-time updates on the discussion taking place in Vienna. While a number of countries in Latin America have used the forum to call for deeper debate on drug policy, much of the press coverage of the review has focused on the delegation from Uruguay. Led by presidential Chief of Staff Diego Canepa, the delegation has insisted that a uniform approach to the global problem is inadequate. At the same time, as El Pais reports, Canepa has insisted that Uruguay “neither believes it is, nor wants to be a model for others.” The CND review will conclude today with a final, consensus statement that will set the agenda for the global drug policy regime until a 2016 Special General Assembly Session on Drugs. According to Spanish news agency EFE, while a number of countries have expressed support for the inclusion of progressive language in the statement, this will likely be blocked by advocates of the status quo on drugs, including Russia, Pakistan and Egypt.
  • For the first time in its history, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will take up the issue of drug policy from a human rights perspective. As the AFP reports, the commission has agreed to hold a hearing on March 25 to assess the impact that the so-called “war on drugs” has had on human rights in the region. This is in response to a petition filed by 16 human rights groups in the hemisphere, which points to the drug war as a cause of “increased rates of incarceration, the criminalization of cultivators and consumers who face disproportionate sentences and a deficit of appropriate health policies for people who need care.”
  • In other drug policy news, the head of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, Marine General John F. Kelly made headlines yesterday for warning that cuts to defense budgets in the region have directly contributed to a boom in maritime drug smuggling. As the Washington Post reports, Kelly said that tightened defense spending meant that he was forced to watch “74 percent” of suspected drug traffic pass through his area of responsibility  unimpeded.
  • While the AP and Reuters  have reported that the FMLN’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren is the winner in El Salvador’s presidential elections, the fact is that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has not yet officially declared him the president-elect. As La Prensa Grafica reports, TSE officials are reviewing complaints filed by the conservative ARENA party, and are set to make a decision on Monday. Only after ARENA’s challenges have been addressed can electoral officials proclaim the FMLN candidate the official winner.
  • After Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa abandoned plans to protect the Yasuni National Park from oil drilling in exchange for international donations, environmental advocates swore to present enough signatures to hold a referendum on the announcement. The Wall Street Journal reports that the coalition backing a popular vote has received more than 500,000, signatures, and appears to be on track to meet the requirement of 600,000 signatures before April 18. According to Hoy, a pro-drilling campaign has also kicked off in Ecuador, with the backing of members of Correa’s party in the west of the country.
  • The presidential candidate of Colombia’s main leftist party, the Polo Democratico, has announced that she will run on a joint ticket with the recently revived Union Patriotica party’s candidate as her vice president. According to Semana magazine, Polo candidate Clara Lopez and the UP’s Aida Avella agreed to the alliance following weeks of negotiations and the UP’s poor showing in legislative elections last weekend.  La Silla Vacia has more in-depth analysis of the alliance, suggesting that while it helps put an end to years of division on Colombia’s left, it may make scare off support for the Polo among moderate voters.  
  • Last year President Rafael Correa abandoned a plan his government announced in 2007 to refrain from drilling for ITT oil if the world came up with $3.6 billion to offset some of the foregone benefits of the oil money. Just $13.3 million was delivered for the initiative.
  • This week’s issue of The Economist looks at the election results in El Salvador, giving weight to claims that the TSE held an “institutional bias towards the FMLN” while also noting that the conditions for a full recount were not met. The magazine also offers criticism of the recent UNASUR statement on Venezuela, claiming that its language reflects cracks among the bloc’s member nations and points to a strong pro-government bias.
  • In Guatemala, a trial has begun against a former guerrilla commander in the country’s 1960-1996 civil war over his role in the 1988 Aguacate Massacre, in which 22 people were killed. Prensa Libre reports that the judge heard testimony from both prosecution and defense witnesses yesterday, and that while ex-guerrilla leader Solano Barillas was not directly implicated in the killings, they were reportedly committed by men under his command.
  • The New York Times reports on discontent with rising inflation in Argentina, which opposition politicians pegged at roughly 30 percent in 2013 and a recent report by J. P. Morgan claims could reach 45 percent this year. While the government has sought to minimize the damage by implementing price controls, but this has not stopped some from drawing comparisons with the country’s financial crisis of 2001-2.