Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Opposition 'Suspends' Venezuela Talks

The dialogue between the Venezuelan government and opposition has hit a stumbling block, and it may be up to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) delegation facilitating the talks to keep them alive.

As mentioned in yesterday's post, on Monday evening members of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition announced that they would be suspending their participation in thematic working group discussions with government officials. The reason, according to opposition figures, was the continued “unjustified repression of students and protesters.”

MUD Secretary General Ramon Guillermo Aveledo confirmed the news in a statement yesterday, in which he blamed a lack of progress on the government. As El Nacional reports, Aveledo accused officials of ignoring initial agreements over the approval of an amnesty law as well as the possibility of freeing imprisoned police commissioner Ivan Simonovis, one of the longest-held alleged political prisoners in the country. The MUD leader also rejected a government proposal for a congressional truth commission to investigate recent violence, saying that the involvement of any political actors -- belonging to either the government or opposition -- would jeopardize the commission’s independence.

President Nicolas Maduro, for his part, has said that the government will stay at the negotiating table, and called on the opposition to resist pressures to withdraw, according to Ultimas Noticias.

Despite the MUD’s suspension of dialogue, the opposition is still expected to send representatives to a UNASUR-facilitated meeting with officials tomorrow, which will be attended by the foreign ministers of Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia. In statements to local press, Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin has appeared to recognize the need for talks to bear fruit soon in order for them to be credible. “We have repeatedly told the Venezuelan government that we should try to move forward in order for people to believe in dialogue in Venezuela, where I think there is no other solution between the parties,” Holguin said.

Indeed, tomorrow’s meeting may be crucial for the future of dialogue between the opposition and government. Writing for El Pais, Caracas-based journalist Ewald Scharfenberg points out that MUD leaders have come under fire from their own base for taking part in the talks, and need to deliver results in order to continue to justify their own participation.

If no meaningful progress is obtained soon, the suspension has set up the MUD for a relatively dignified retreat. Withdrawing now allows its leaders to deny allegations of uselessly collaborating with and legitimizing the government while still claiming that they tried to resolve policy differences in a peaceful forum.

News Briefs
  • In a controversial vote yesterday, Guatemala’s unicameral Congress approved a bill that effectively denies that genocide took place during the country’s armed conflict. As Prensa Libre reports, the bill states that its objective is to avoid the “development of conditions contrary to peace which prevent a lasting reconciliation.”
  • The government of Mexico has unveiled a new security strategy to address violence in the troubled northern border state of Tamaulipas, where state intelligence chief Salvador de Haro Muñoz was recently shot and killed by alleged cartel gunmen. As Animal Politico reports, the new strategy announced by Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong will divide the state into four areas, each of which will have its own team of federal prosecutors. The AP notes that the plan is particularly military-heavy, with an army or navy officer charged with overseeing federal security operations in each of the four areas.
  • The debate over the dominant approach to drug policy, which has been ongoing in the OAS system since the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, is spreading to other multi-lateral organizations in the hemisphere. Yesterday, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) kicked off its first-ever security ministers’ conference on drug policy in Antigua, Guatemala. El Periodico, noting that the goal is to adopt a combined stance on the issue to present during the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, has a round-up of statements made by representatives of Chile, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Peru and Ecuador.
  • Colombia's highest administrative tribunal, the Colombian Council of State has ruled in favor of a lower court’s decision to honor the precautionary measures requested by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of ousted Mayor Gustavo Petro.  As Semana reports, the ruling provides significant reassurance to Petro that he will be able to remain in office for the duration of his term, and is a major blow to the authority of Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, who first ordered Petro’s dismissal.
  • Just 11 days before Colombia’s presidential elections, the race appears to be tightening. According to a new poll released by the Centro Nacional de Consultoria, President Juan Manuel Santos is in a dead heat with his closest rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, with the survey even showing the Uribista candidate narrowly beating Santos in both the first and second rounds.  
  • The AP profiles the release of a new YouTube music video by Colombia’s largest guerrilla army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), produced by the FARC negotiators in Havana along with Cuban rappers Cuentas Claras. The news agency claims that the video, entitled “Colombian People to the Negotiating Table,” demonstrates that the guerrillas “aren't in any rush” to back down on demands for a constitutional assembly and bilateral ceasefire.
  • While there have been several reports in the U.S. press on the chronic delays in Brazil’s World Cup preparations, for many Brazilians the projects that have been completed are just as scandalous. For example, the Wall Street Journal reports on Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha National Stadium, which cost about 2 billion reais, or roughly $900 million. The price tag is triple the initial projected cost and makes it the most expensive stadium ever built in the country, a record which auditors claim was due in part to falsely inflated costs.
  • The Guardian looks at the mass occupation of an abandoned factory in Rio de Janeiro by thousands of people who claim they have been priced out of their homes in the pacified favela of Alemão. As the paper notes, the gentrification associated with Rio’s favela “boom” is one of the most commonly cited reasons for homelessness in the city.
  • Over at Honduras Culture and Politics, Russell Sheptak offers a suspicious look at a new system of municipal violence observatories in Honduras, which will compete with the respected National Autonomous University’s (UNAH) Observatory of Violence. The author notes that Security Minister Arturo Corrales has long been critical of the UNAH’s figures, and suggests that the creation of a new system may be an attempt to cushion the government from blame over the country’s alarming national crime statistics.