Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Venezuela Talks Make Limited Progress

The second round of talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition yesterday saw the creation of an agenda for future negotiations as well as some promising -- if relatively minor -- signs of compromise on concrete issues from both sides. 

Unlike the talks on last Friday, last night's dialogue was not broadcast on television or radio. The closed door meeting brought together the head of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition as well as top cabinet officials, including Vice President Jorge Arreaza and Foreign Minister Elias Jaua. The foreign ministers of Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia, as well as Vatican representative Aldo Giordano served as intermediaries.

In general, the prospects for talks to result in major changes to Venezuela's political landscape remain limited. After the meeting MUD Secretary General Ramón Guillermo Aveledo told reporters that the government had rejected opposition demands for an amnesty for individuals they deem to be political prisoners. This is one of four key demands of the MUD (as well as some elements of the student movement), along with the widening of a newly-created national truth commission, the de-politicization of key government ministries and the disarmament of militant Chavista collectives.

Still, the five-hour dialogue resulted in an important breakthrough for the truth commission. EFE notes that Vice President Arreaza announced that the two sides agreed that it should be made up of not only five Chavista and four opposition lawmakers (as Maduro had initially announced), but mutually agreed-upon figures as well. This is an important step towards legitimizing the commission, although it does nothing to address concerns about its lack of autonomy from the executive branch, which were raised recently by the broad human rights group coalition known as the Foro Por La Vida.

While the AP asserts that the talks come amid "rising doubts" of a political opening, there were signs of limited progress on two other issues as well, as Spain's El Pais reports. The government reportedly nixed a blanket amnesty, but Aveledo said that they would seek other means to address the issue. He also told reporters that the government had agreed to work with the MUD to appoint a joint medical committee to review the health of imprisoned police commissioner Ivan Simonovis, one of the longest-held alleged political prisoners in the country.

The MUD, for its part, appears to have conceded somewhat as well. The Vice President announced yesterday that the MUD leadership reportedly agreed to participate in the government's security strategy, the Plan Patria Segura, which was launched last year.

News Briefs
  • The AP looks at the mixed reaction towards Cuban doctors operating in Venezuela as part of an agreement to send subsidized oil to Havana in exchange. While the Cubans are viewed with suspicion among middle and upper class Venezuelans, for many poor residents of the South American country they offer a level of health care that was previously unavailable.  
  • A new report by the USAID Inspector General has found serious shortfalls in a U.S.-sponsored housing project in Haiti, which audit says is over budget and has built only a fraction of the 4,000 homes promised.
  • In a Wall Street Journal column, Stanley N. Albert criticizes the UN’s insistence that it is not legally liable for the cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed 8,000 people and sickened 800,000. Alpert, who represents Haitian plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the UN, lays out the legal argument for his case, pointing to three different instances in which the international organization has assumed responsibility for innocent third-party damages.
  • Yesterday, Bolivia filed a claim against Chile over a long-running border dispute in the International Court of Justice, hoping to regain access to the sea that it lost following a military defeat in 1883. La Razon reports that Bolivian President Evo Morales traveled to the Hague to deliver the 200-page petition to the court personally. Reuters notes that Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has told local press that her government is “confident” that international law is on its side.
  • As local residents survey the damage left by the deadly fire in hills surrounding the Chilean port city of Valparaiso, the government has pointed to lax development policies as a major contributor to the disaster.  In an interview yesterday, Bachelet announced that officials would take measures to prevent affected locals from constructing homes in dangerous areas, saying the government would help relocate them.
  • The Miami Herald looks at the “cat-and-mouse game” played by dissident groups on the island and supporters in Miami who send aid money and supplies. Regular seizures of donated goods and money by Cuban state security agents, supporters argue, merits a certain degree of discretion in order to promote democracy efforts on the island.  As an example, the Herald notes that Freedom House returned a $1.7 million USAID grant for a Cuba program in 2011 because officials were “asking for too many details” on the money was spent.
  • The New York Times reports on the latest corruption scandal in Brazil, this one involving allegations that executives at oil giant Petrobras received bribes in exchange for contracts and may have been involved in a money laundering scheme. The NYT reports that the scandal, which has been linked to at least one lawmaker of the ruling PT party, is indicative of scaled back expectations for the company.
  • In a press conference yesterday, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina told reporters that he supported a national “debate” over authorizing presidential reelection in the country, La Prensa Libre reports. While he cautioned that he himself did not intend to present an amendment to the law, Perez characterized the lack of reelection as “the worst of the systems we could have,” saying it contributed to instability.
  • While Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has earned a reputation as the “world’s poorest president,” his recently disclosed financial statement shows that his wealth has increased 74 percent since 2012, El Pais reports. The AP notes that the president’s net worth is equivalent to some $322,000, and that Mujica claims the increase is due to the fact that he did not deposit his money into bank accounts until recently.
  • Today’s NYT features an op-ed by Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabo de Carvalho of the Rio de Janeiro-based Igarape Institute, who argue that the recent militarization of the Mare slum earlier this month constitutes a step back from the success of the city’s police pacification model, which emphasizes community policing over repression. While they acknowledge that pacification is far from perfect, they point to statistics showing a dramatic reduction in violent crime in pacified areas as indicators of its potential to improve public security and expand basic services. In a separate column for the Huffington Post, Muggah asserts that improved security in Brazil will depend on reforms to its police institutions, including the merger of military and civilian police forces.