Wednesday, May 21, 2014

UNASUR Delegates Leave Venezuela Empty-Handed

An attempt by the foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) delegation in Caracas to save floundering talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition appears to have fallen short. While the UNASUR delegates and the Vatican representative facilitating the dialogue released a joint statement yesterday congratulating both sides for their "willingness to keep working on finding solutions," the dialogue remains frozen. 

In the statement, the mediators said both sides had "presented ideas and now should reflect on the next advances in the dialogue." No date was given for the next round of meetings, though they expressed hope that this could be determined soon.

As the AP notes, the opposition MUD coalition has insisted that before it can return to talks, the  government must make progress on its demands. These include reviewing the status of alleged political prisoners and creating an independent committee to look into police abuses and deaths linked to the ongoing wave of protests. El Nacional reports that MUD Secretary General Ramon Guillermo Aveledo told reporters yesterday that the opposition was not completely turning away from dialogue, saying that it was "keeping a window open" should the administration of President Nicolas Maduro meet the MUD's conditions. 

President Maduro, for his part, has insisted that he is willing to participate in talks but refrained from mentioning the opposition's conditions. 

Meanwhile, in Washington the push for targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials is gaining momentum. Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16-2 to pass a bill which would freeze the assets and revoke or deny the visas of Venezuelan officials linked to abuses. So far the Obama administration has insisted that it will refrain from taking drastic action on Venezuela so long as the dialogue continues. But the current setback in talks will likely add fuel to calls for sanctions. The Wall Street Journal reports that Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the leading proponents of sanctioning Venezuelan officials, has even prepared a list of "about two dozen" suggested targets. It reportedly includes Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz as well as Caracas National Guard chief General Manuel Quevedo. 

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan human rights group PROVEA has presented its annual report on the human rights situation in the country. The report assesses the state’s compliance with universal human rights over the course of 2013, which the NGO notes was an “exceptional year” in terms of social conflict. As EFE and Ultimas Noticias report, among PROVEA’s findings is that while the organization saw a 20% drop in the number of protests (4,410) compared to last year, there as a 62% increase in cases of police abuses against peaceful demonstrators in the same period.
  • While many remain skeptical of the move, it seems that Mexico’s efforts to incorporate armed militias into security forces in the troubled state of Michoacan is attracting some of the movement’s leaders. According to El Universal, “autodefensa” leaders Hipolito Mora and Jose Manuel Mireles have both applied to join the state’s “rural forces.”
  • On Monday, Reuters published a story on Uruguay’s supposed plan for commercial marijuana growers to operate in the country “virtually tax free.” However, this is slightly misleading. As the Uruguayan National Drug Council announced last week, commercial growers will be obliged to pay income tax, and the cost of their operating licenses will include two components: a flat fee and a “variable” one to be determined by regulators. Authorities have said that the latter will be used as a tool to control the price of the drug to be sold in pharmacies, ensuring that it is competitive with the black market product.
  • The days following the announcement of the agreement between the FARC and Colombian government on drugs have seen a number of interesting takes on the development. Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working Group, for instance, praises it for placing the needs of rural residents most affected by the drug trade “front and center.” La Silla Vacia has an analysis of “the good, the revolutionary, and the invisible” of the agreement. While the news site applauds the accord’s potential to alter the drug policy paradigm in the country, it also notes that the emphasis on dialogue with local communities on drug eradication could preserve FARC influence in guerrilla-controlled areas. Over at Razon Publica, Angela Duran looks at the promises and challenges of the three main components of the agreement: crop substitution, drug prevention/treatment, and drug trafficking. Each of these points is exceptionally complex in reality and Duran notes that their success will ultimately depend on the specifics of how they are carried out.
  • Reuters has an interesting look at the potential for the FARC to engage in democratic politics in Colombia, drawing comparisons with the experiences of other rebel groups-turned-political-parties in places like El Salvador and Guatemala.
  • In welcome news for human rights advocates in Latin America, a judge in Spain appears to be pushing back against Spanish lawmakers’ recent vote to limit the country’s doctrine of universal jurisdiction. According to El Pais, Judge Santiago Pedraz has reasoned that his investigation into Guatemala’s genocide may continue, as the case involves Spanish victims of what could be considered acts of terrorism under the country’s law. Even still, the judge stated that he feels limiting the investigation to these cases is “impossible,” as it overlooks the context of crimes committed against the Guatemalan people.
  • In a move that seeks to expand affirmative action in the country, O Globo reports that Brazilian senators have approved a measure that would reserve 20 percent of federal job openings for individuals of African descent. The bill will now go to President Dilma Rousseff to be signed.