Monday, March 24, 2014

Venezuela Admits “Excesses” in Crackdown

For the first time since protests began last month, yesterday saw some indication that the government of Venezuela is open to self-criticism regarding its heavy handed response to the wave of demonstrations in the country.

In an interview with talk show host and former Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel, Attorney General Luisa Ortega acknowledged that there was evidence of police abuse in recent weeks, but maintained that those responsible would be punished.  “On the issue of human rights violations, there have been police excesses, but we are investigating them in the Public Ministry, and today we have 60 investigations for alleged violations of human rights,” Ortega said. As Reuters notes, the attorney general also added that some 15 officials have been arrested so far in connection with abuses.

Some of the reasoning behind Ortega’s conciliatory tone on human rights violations likely has to do with international pressure. The battle between the opposition and government is taking place on an international stage, and both sides are keenly aware that they are being watched. At an OAS session on Friday, the opposition received a significant blow when an attempt by Venezuelan congresswoman Maria Corina Machado to address the body’s General Assembly was struck down by a majority vote. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Panamanian delegation took the unusual step of making Machado a temporary member of its delegation in order to grant her an audience, but a Venezuelan-led measure was passed to restrict the meeting to a closed door session.

This conflict is also playing out in UNASUR. EFE notes that an UNASUR monitoring delegation is expected to arrive in Caracas on Tuesday, and that both Maduro and the opposition MUD coalition have made statements welcoming the visit.

Meanwhile, the government’s efforts to promote reconciliation continue to be regarded with suspicion by the opposition.  On the recommendation of President Nicolas Maduro, last week the Chavista majority in the National Assembly voted to create a legislative “truth commission” charged with investigating violence linked to the protests. However, the opposition refused an offer to occupy four out of nine seats on the committee, claiming that it would only serve to legitimize alleged acts of repression. According to El Pais, the commission’s makeup seemed stacked from the beginning. Of the four opposition slots, one was reportedly reserved for Ricardo Sanchez, an opposition congressman who has been drifting closer to the government in recent months.

News Briefs
  • Following the announcement on Friday that Rio de Janeiro state would enlist the help of federal troops to help with security efforts there ahead of the World Cup, there has been relatively little information given to the public on their specific roles. O Globo reports that the details will be announced after a meeting between Rio Governor Sergio Cabral and Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo.
  • El Pais highlights remarks by Brazilian ambassador to the U.S. Mauro Vieira, who recently said that the administration of President Dilma Rousseff is “in diplomatic talks” with the Obama administration about the possibility of rescheduling another state visit to Washington to make up for the one she canceled in October.
  • The BBC reports that Chilean President Michelle Bachelet faced the first protest of her second administration on Saturday, when over 100,000 people participated in a mostly peaceful march in favor of the creation of a new constitution in the country.
  • The AP highlights the growth of Cuba’s “nouveau riche,” many of whom have benefited from economic reforms to fuel a boom in hip, privately-run bars and clubs on the island.
  • Eric Hershberg, director of American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, has an interesting blog post on the prominence of re-election within ALBA bloc nations. He argues that left-wing presidents in the region have focused too much on extending their own time in office at the expense of nurturing a credible successor, a pattern which ultimately jeopardizes the long-term impact of their political programs.
  • The U.S. embassy in Caracas has announced that it will no longer process first-time tourist visa requests, due to a shortage of staff following the expulsion of consular officers last month.
  • On Friday, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica clarified his recent remarks regarding the news that he is considering accepting five Guantanamo Bay detainees in his country. According to the AFP, in his weekly radio address Mujica admitted that the deal was “far from concluded.” He also said that he would not be accepting the offer for anything material, only requesting that the U.S. free the remaining three imprisoned members of the Cuban Five.
  • With disapproval of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala at its highest point since he took office (76 percent, according to a recent GFK poll), the president has significantly scaled back on public appearances with deeply unpopular first lady Nadine Heredia.
  • Semana magazine looks at the consequences of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ decision to ignore the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ request to suspend the removal of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, with some experts comparing it to the questioning of the Inter-American human rights system recently spearheaded by Ecuador’s Rafael Correa.
  • Following the discovery of the bodies of two Colombian policemen allegedly killed by the FARC in the southwestern Nariño province, the guerrilla group has released a statement taking responsibility for their deaths. According to rebel leaders, the two were killed by a guerrilla unit that did not seek approval for the executions. El Colombiano reports that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on the rebels to turn over those directly responsible for the murders.
  • The Washington Post reports on increasing backlash in Brazil to government efforts to save a vulnerable indigenous tribe in the Amazon by evicting small-scale farmers from their land. Many of these are poor families who have lived in the area for years, and their removal has been criticized by farmers associations. While the government land reform agency has offered to provide those affected with free land and housing elsewhere in the state, some locals are not convinced officials will deliver.