Monday, March 31, 2014

Will Venezuela's Opposition Support Dialogue?

The Vatican has expressed interest in facilitating dialogue in deeply-polarized Venezuela, following a suggestion made last week by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

On Thursday, Maduro backed a recommendation made by the visiting UNASUR delegation last week that his government engage in mediated talks with the opposition through a “good faith witness.” The president suggested Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the former ambassador of the Holy See to the country.

It seems that Parolin is interested, although the Vatican is still holding back until a more concrete proposal is made. From the AP:
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Friday the Holy See and Parolin were “certainly willing and desirous to do whatever is possible for the good and serenity of the country.” He said Parolin, in particular, “knows and loves” Venezuela. 
But he said the Vatican needed to have more information to understand “the expectations and the premise for undertaking a useful role that could achieve the desired outcome.” Such a study, he said, was underway.
Beyond the Vatican’s interest, however, there are questions about the Venezuelan opposition’s commitment to dialogue. While Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) Secretary General Ramon Guillermo Aveledo has voiced his thanks for the Vatican’s offer, the MUD is far from a monolithic coalition. There continues to be a wide gap between those of the coalition who, like the imprisoned Leopoldo Lopez and recently-impeached Maria Corina Machado, are calling for Maduro’s resignation, and those like Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, who advocate a more long-term moderate approach based on winning support of Venezuela’s lower classes.

Even though there is ample evidence to suggest that the so-called “street strategy” adopted by Lopez his allies has -- at least in the short term -- only served to rally the Chavista base around Maduro, this gap in rhetoric appears likely to continue. In a Saturday interview with El Pais, Machado stressed that dialogue should “lead to a democratic transition,” and repeated demands for the government to release imprisoned members of the opposition before talks could begin.

In addition to the MUD’s own internal divisions, the coalition does not necessarily represent those who have been participating in the recent wave of protests. The student movement has its own agenda and grievances, and its leaders will have to be taken into account in any legitimate dialogue.

News Briefs
  • As Uruguay’s government prepares to release the specific regulations of its marijuana law in early April, last week officials announced the creation of an expert panel tasked with monitoring and evaluating the law’s impact, El Pais reports.  Meanwhile, the AP has more details on how the government intends to monitor legally-produced cannabis, according to National Drug Secretary Julio Calzada. As the wire service notes, a proposed genetic tracing plan is a “much tougher tracking system than those imposed in Colorado and Washington.”
  • While Brazil has been an important ally of the Venezuelan government in recent years, Reuters highlights some subtle changes to President Dilma Rousseff’s approach to Venezuela in recent years, which insiders say has included efforts to promote more pragmatic policies and dialogue with the opposition.
  • In the latest phase of Rio de Janeiro’s “pacification” efforts, some 1,400 Brazilian police and marines were deployed to the Rio complex of Mare early Sunday morning. The military has assumed responsibility for security in the neighborhood, and is expected to pass it off to a Police Pacifying Unit (UPP) in the second half of this year. While the AP reports that no shots were fired during the operation, according to O Estado one local teenager died Sunday evening in an apparent shootout between rival gangs in the area. O Globo has photos of the operation, and notes authorities have sent in municipal cleaning crews to clear Mare of litter, in line with the overall goal of using pacification programs to improve public services.
  • Today marks the 50th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew Brazilian President João Goulart in 1964, but as the Washington Post report, the incident and subsequent abuses of the military regime remain fresh in the minds of many Brazilians. A new poll published by Datafolha suggests that some 46 percent of the population support the annulment of Brazil’s 1979 amnesty law, while just 37 percent are against it and 17 percent are undecided. The poll also found that support for the punishment of dictatorship-era abuses has increased to 46 percent, up from 40 percent in 2010. The same poll, however, found that 68 percent of Brazilians think there is more corruption in the country today than under the military regime.
  • As expected, yesterday Cuba’s largely rubber-stamp National Assembly approved a law aimed at paving the way for more foreign investment on the island. As the BBC reports, the new law will cut taxes on profits from 30 to 15 percent, and investors an eight-year exemption period from paying taxes.
  • Leaders of El Salvador’s Catholic Church have come out against the government-facilitated truce between two rival gangs in the country, La Prensa Grafica and EFE report. In a press conference yesterday, San Salvador Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar said the truce was “a well-intentioned effort, but did not work,” and called on the incoming administration of President-elect Salvador Sanchez Ceren to adopt a new strategy to address gang violence.
  • The latest round of talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels came to a close on Sunday with both sides hailing progress made on drugs and drug trafficking, the current issue on the table. In remarks to the press, the government negotiating team also issued its first reaction to a FARC proposal to create a truth commission charged with looking into abuses committed by all sides during the country’s armed conflict. Top official negotiator Humberto de la Calle said the government welcomed the suggestion, but that such a commission would only be established after a peace deal was reached.
  • Mexican migration officials announced Sunday that some 370 migrant children were apprehended by migration authorities in 14 states across the country last week, after apparently being abandoned by traffickers paid to smuggle them across the U.S. border. The operation may reveal a developing trend. According to one migrant rights activist consulted by the AP, more and more minors have been making the trip north.
  • Ahead of the May deadline for Mexican lawmakers to select seven new commissioners to the country’s much-lauded transparency agency, the Institute of Access to Information and Protection of Data (IFAI), El Universal reports that some 158 applicants have submitted their names for consideration. The paper profiles 24 of the most eligible candidates, a list which includes academics, transparency advocates and politicians.