Friday, April 11, 2014

The Missing Faces in Venezuela's Talks

In a six-hour long televised “debate” consisting of reading alternating prepared statements, Venezuela’s government and opposition figures held the first of a series of dialogues aimed at bridging the country’s polarized political gap. But there were some notable absences in last night’s meeting, a factor that limits their potential to end ongoing demonstrations.

The talks kicked off with statements from the Vatican’s ambassador to Venezuela, Archbishop Aldo Giordano, who read a letter from Pope Francis, as well as Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, who conveyed the support of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

Next up was President Nicolas Maduro. While the president was allowed a 40 minute opening statement and another 40 minute statement at the end, the other participants were limited to 10 minute segments (though speakers on both sides ran over this limit). For those who missed it, Ultimas Noticias has a good overview of the highlights from the talk, and VTV has posted recordings of the majority of statements online. Over at Venezuela Politics and Human Rights, David Smilde offers a nearly blow-by-blow account of the talks, ultimately concluding that the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) gained more from dialogue than the government.

Other good accounts in the U.S. media this morning include: the New York Times (which notes both sides’ efforts to “score propaganda points”), Reuters’ juxtaposition of the talks with the rising death toll linked to continuing violence, and the Washington Post’s look at cracks in the opposition leadership.

While the MUD’s secretary general and opposition leader Henrique Capriles were present last night, many of the figures who have led anti-government protests over the past two months were not. El Nacional has a list of government critics who are not participating in the negotiations. While some of these, like representatives of NGOs like PROVEA and the Venezuelan Penal Forum, were not invited, the opposition sector aligned with the imprisoned Leopoldo Lopez and recently-ousted lawmaker Maria Corina Machado has adamantly boycotted the talks. Venezuela’s student movement, the primary engine behind the recent protests, was also absent last night. El Nacional notes that student leaders have also largely rejected dialogue without the release of imprisoned demonstrators, though some groups (namely the JPEP, or Student and Popular Patriotic Council) have been more critical of talks than others.

El Universal notes that talks are scheduled to resume on Tuesday, and will apparently involve smaller coordinating groups, with the government side represented by Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, Libertador Mayor Jorge Rodriguez and Vice President Jorge Arreaza.

News Briefs
  • Today’s New York Times features an investigation into the changing dynamics of undocumented immigration along the U.S-Mexico border in southern Texas, where authorities say the number of border crossings has soared in recent years. This wave of migrants, most of whom are from Central America, appears to be encouraged by the fact that they are more likely to be released while their cases proceed, according to the NYT.
  • BBC Mundo looks at the potential for Venezuela’s talks to lead to a more inclusive government, as some in the hemisphere have advocated. But as analysts note, this would open up the leadership of both sides to criticism from their respective bases, a risk they may not be willing to take.
  • This Saturday marks the deadline for opponents of drilling in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park to gather the signatures needed to trigger a referendum on the plan. El Pais reports that environmental groups say they have more than the 600,000 signatures required and will present them to authorities for review tomorrow.
  • Lawmakers in Brazil’s Senate took a first step towards repealing the country's dictatorship-era Amnesty Law. On Wednesday, the Senate’s human rights committee approved a bill appealing part of the law which prevents retroactive punishment of abuses against opponents of the military dictatorship, which passed would open up the possibility for new cases.
  • The Washington Post reports on a plea deal reportedly taken by Sinaloa cartel lieutenant Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, in which he has agreed to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors in exchange for information. As the paper notes, the development could worsen the potential for a power vacuum in the dominant cartel
  • InSight Crime has published co-director Steven Dudley’s remarks at a recent Session of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism, in which he takes on assertions of growing links between terrorist groups and organized crime in Latin America. Far from conspiracies of a growing Hezbollah presence in the region, Dudley argues that dealings between criminal groups and terrorist networks are “just business,” and do not constitute long-term working relationships.
  • Peruvian officials have arrested 28 members of a political movement calling for the release of imprisoned Shining Path members, known as the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movadef). According to El Comercio, authorities have charged Movadef leaders with receiving drug trafficking proceeds from Shining Path guerrilla Comrade Artemio, who was arrested in 2012. The AP notes that those arrested include the lawyer of imprisoned Shining Path leader Abimael Guzman, as well as Walter Humala, a cousin of President Ollanta Humala.
  • The Inter-American Dialogue's Latin American Advisor features commentary from Costa Rica analyst Jose Antonio Muñoz and former Costa Rican Vice President Kevin Casas-Zamora on the major hurdles awaiting President-elect Luis Guillermo Solis. Both commentators suggest that his main challenges will include establishing a working relationship with the country’s business sector while still managing the expectations of his base. Writing for the AULA blog, however, Fulton Armstrong offers a slightly more optimistic take, noting that a number of business groups in the country have tentatively signaled that they can work with him.
  • Western Nicaragua was shaken by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake yesterday near Managua. While officials say there were reports of at least 23 injured, so far there appears to be just one reported death, which is significant considering that a quake of similar scale in 1972 had a devastating impact on the capital city, as AFP notes.