Friday, May 9, 2014

U.S. Nixes Sanctions in Venezuela, For Now

Though U.S. lawmakers continue to call for sanctions against individual officials linked to human rights abuses in Venezuela, the administration of President Barack Obama is insisting that these would distract from the ongoing dialogue with opposition in Caracas.

At a Senate hearing yesterday, Reuters reports that Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson came under fire for the president’s unwillingness to apply targeted sanctions.

As the Miami Herald points out, the push for sanctions is bipartisan. Last month both of Florida’s senators, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson, co-sponsored a bill that would target officials who hold assets, property and travel visas to the U.S., in retaliation for the police response to the demonstrations.

Jacobson, however, said it was too soon to level sanctions. According to her, doing so would play into the Maduro government’s claims that the U.S. is meddling in Venezuela’s internal affairs. She also asserted that members of the opposition had asked the administration “not to pursue them at this time.”

The Obama administration is not alone in this analysis. Over at Venezuelan Human Rights and Politics, David Smilde takes issue with a recent Washington Post editorial, which claimed that sanctions could actually put positive pressure on the dialogue. Instead, Smilde argues that they would have the opposite effect, further polarizing the Chavista base and thereby making it difficult for the government to make concessions. He also notes that sanctions could jeopardize the ability of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which is mediating the talks, to keep Maduro at the table.

News Briefs
  • Reuters has an interesting analysis of the recent poll showing declining support for President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, noting that while he has largely succeeded in neutralizing the protests, scarcity and crime remain his biggest challenges. If he does not rein in these issues, Maduro could face a recall election in 2016. Meanwhile, in Caracas yesterday security forces cleared a series of protest camps, detaining 243 demonstrators. The AP notes that a 25 year-old police officer was killed following the resulting violent clashes, the first such death in nearly a month.
  • Yesterday’s scheduled hearing for imprisoned opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was suspended, El Universal reports.  A new date for the hearing has not been announced.
  • São Paulo-based human rights group Conectas, along with a handful of other civil society groups, presented Brazilian Senators this week with a report challenging a controversial “anti-terrorism” bill, which critics say is meant to dissuade mass demonstrations, particularly during the upcoming World Cup. According to the report, the measure calls for disproportionately strict penalties, and amounts to an attempt to criminalize protest.
  • As Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina continues to weigh his choice for the country’s next Attorney General, Plaza Publica has an analysis of the nominating process that led to the current shortlist of six candidates. Far from the meritocratic system it is meant to be on paper, the news site looks at past nominations to show that the objective criteria and scoring system set up by nominating commissions is generally disregarded in the final vote. Meanwhile, the United Nations representatives and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) have published a joint press statement in which they recommend changes to the nominating system. Among these is a revision of committee procedures, and the inclusion of public opinion as a factor to be taken into account.
  • Costa Rica’s Luis Guillermo Solis formally assumed office as president in a ceremony yesterday, in which he repeated his campaign promise to focus his administration on promoting transparency. According to La Nacion, his first act as president was to request that his cabinet members sign a code of ethics, according to which they must promise to abide by standards of transparency and open access to information.
  • Yesterday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet saw her first major student protest since returning to office for a second term.  Tens of thousands of students participated in the demonstrations, which called on the government to widen its proposals to restructure the country’s public education system and include them in the ongoing debate around reforms. According to La Tercera, 101 protesters were arrested and some 20 police officers were injured.
  • The New York Times looks at the recent arrest of four individuals in Cuba accused of planning to attack military installations and promote a violent uprising against the government. While authorities there have linked the suspects to several leading figures in the Miami exile community, a number of Cuba analysts cited by the paper suspect that the case is more about political theater, an attempt to gain diplomatic leverage over the United States.
  • Today’s NYT also profiles the emergence of a deadly kidney disease in Central America, the epicenter of which is in the sugar cane-cutting heartland of Nicaragua. While lawmakers in El Salvador have recently moved to ban certain herbicides thought to contribute to kidney failure, researchers say exposure to chemicals alone cannot explain the epidemic.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has released a new report on the endemic corruption within Mexico’s police forces, which has persisted over the past two decades despite multiple reform attempts.  One of the reasons for this, according to the report, is the lack of effective internal and external controls which hold police accountable for abuses. If Mexico is to clean up its police force, it concludes, the country will have to strengthen existing monitoring mechanisms, like internal affairs units and citizens’ observatories.
  • One of the most high-profile leaders of the self-defense militias in Michoacan, Jose Manuel Mireles, has apparently been dismissed as spokesman by the vigilante groups’ leadership bodies after his use of offensive language to refer to President Enrique Peña Nieto. However, in an interview with Animal Politico, Mireles denied that he had been dismissed and told the news site he would retain his position.

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