Friday, March 7, 2014

Regional Organizations Split on Venezuela Violence

The Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) met for eight hours yesterday to discuss the unrest and police response to protests in Venezuela, but was unable to reach consensus over a statement on the matter. The council, which is comprised of the region's OAS ambassadors, is set to reconvene today.

According to Spanish news agency EFE, yesterday’s debate centered mostly around a draft declaration submitted by the representative from Bolivia which expressed support for the elected government of Venezuela, to which a number of other countries proposed amendments. The Peruvian ambassador reportedly presented a reservation calling for Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza to monitor the situation in Venezuela, inform the council and “propose mechanisms that can help resolve the situation.”

The Venezuelan government strongly objected to this language. Venezuelan OAS Ambassador Roy Chaderton remarked to the AP that the dialogue had been “poisoned” by proposals to send an OAS observer delegation to the country. 

Interestingly, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is facing similar hurdles to adopting a uniform position on Venezuela. As the Wall Street Journal reports, yesterday Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called for the president pro tempore of UNASUR -- Suriname’s Desi Bouterse -- to convene the region’s heads of state for a meeting on the violence in his country. In Maduro’s words, it would serve to “explain the circumstances of the attack from small violent groups trying to unsettle social life and impose a political situation that our country is overcoming.”

This is easier said than done, however, as all 12 member organizations must agree to convene. Yesterday, Bolivian President Evo Morales admitted to the press that there have been “difficulties” in persuading “one or two” presidents. While Morales did not name names, the most likely candidates are the conservative presidents of Chile and Paraguay.

There may have been some progress made on this front on Thursday. El Universal reports that Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said in a radio interview yesterday that there are plans for a meeting of UNASUR foreign ministers to be held next Wednesday in Chile, to coincide with the inauguration of President-elect Michelle Bachelet.

News Briefs
  • In Venezuela the death toll resulting from clashes between protestors and security forces rose to 20 yesterday after a soldier and motorcyclist were killed following an attempt to clear an opposition barricade in Caracas, according to officials. Meanwhile, yesterday also saw tentative signs that the government is open to dialogue with human rights groups advocating further investigation of the violence and allegations of repression. Representatives of the Caracas-based human rights organization PROVEA met with Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz on Thursday to question the progress of investigations into protest-linked deaths, as well as the status of some of those imprisoned in recent demonstrations.  While little concrete progress appears to have been made, in a statement PROVEA remarked that the meeting was noteworthy for “leaving open channels of communication” with officials. PROVEA representatives also called on Ortega to meet with members of the Venezuelan Penal Forum, which has documented 33 alleged instances of prisoner abuse and torture. The Attorney General has made plans to do so in a meeting today, which has been confirmed by Penal Forum Director Alfredo Romero.
  • Caracas-based journalist Girish Gupta has a thorough breakdown of the effects of poor economic management in Venezuela for the New Yorker’s Currency blog. As Gupta notes, the communities most affected by scarcity and the shortage of dollars tend to be among the poorest in the country. Shortages are especially bad along the border with Colombia -- incidentally, where the recent protests first sparked --due to Colombians taking advantage of price controls to buy up cheap goods and sell them across the border at a profit.
  • International organizations have called on Venezuelan officials to provide information about alleged abuses as well. Yesterday the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement announcing that six human rights special rapporteurs -- those responsible for monitoring of freedom of opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, arbitrary detention; torture; extrajudicial executions; and the situation for human rights defenders -- have said that the reported abuses should be “urgently and thoroughly investigated.” The New York Times has more on the statement, and notes Attorney General Ortega’s claims that 1,322 people had been arrested and received trial dates so far, while 92 remain in custody, including 15 members of the security forces.
  • Veja magazine has an update on the progress of a recent push by Brazilian lawmakers to pass a controversial anti-terrorism law before the World Cup. It would appear that the alarm voiced by critics of the legislation -- who feared it would open a door to mass violations of civil liberties -- has registered with congressmen. Veja reports that the bill has come up against resistance by members of the governing Workers Party (PT) and other leftist parties, who fear that it would be used to go after social movements and other members of their traditional power bases.
  • The next round of dialogue between the governments of the Dominican Republic and Haiti to restore bilateral relations in the wake of the DR’s contentious citizenship ruling -- set to take place on March 12 -- has been postponed by one week. The reason, according to the Listin Diario, is a planned visit to the DR by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.  
  • Mexican lawmakers appear poised to further limit military jurisdiction over crimes committed by members of the armed forces afternoon. According to Milenio, Mexican Senators began assessing a bill yesterday in various committees which would alter the military justice code to make it clear that any crime committed against a civilian during peacetime would be tried in civilian courts. The amendment would also broaden the rights of victims of military abuse beyond reparations to include access to truth and justice for the crimes as well.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a much-lauded transparency and access to information bill into law yesterday. The law is the first of its kind to be passed in the country, and its passage is the result of a concerted effort by a civil society coalition known as “More Information, More Rights.” El Heraldo notes that the law will go into effect in six months, and that public officials, political parties, public works companies, government contractors and any organ that receives public funds will be subject to information requests. More information about the law, its specifics and significance for journalists and rights advocates on the “More Information, More Rights” coalition’s web page.
  • Three days before Colombia’s legislative elections, Anastasia Moloney of the Thomson Reuters Foundation has a profile of the common vote-buying schemes under way in the country. These range from direct cash payments to offers of food and free street parties in exchange for votes for a particular candidate.
  • The AP notes that the first of the right-wing paramilitaries who demobilized in exchange for lighter prison sentences under the 2005 "Justice and Peace" law are set to go free this month. Their release has been criticized by human rights organizations which allege that the state has failed to thoroughly investigate their crimes and pay restitution to the victims. Meanwhile, in some parts of the country paramilitary violence persists just as it did before the law’s passage. Medellin-based analyst James Bargent has an excellent in-depth analysis of the intersection of neo-paramilitary violence, drug trafficking and business interests in the troubled Colombian port city of Buenaventura for Alternet. Bargent notes that reports by poor residents that they are being forcibly evicted by criminal groups have coincided with a planned port expansion there, a unique twist on the traditionally rural phenomenon of forced displacement.