Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Obama Supports Jailed Venezuelan Opposition Figure

Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, who has been in held jail since February on charges of inciting violence during protests earlier this year, earned a nod from United States President Barack Obama yesterday.

In remarks at the 10th annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on Tuesday, Obama focused his speech on civil society activism worldwide, and on its importance to building strong democracies.  Saying that he and his administration “stand in solidarity with those who are detained at this very moment,” Obama named a number of imprisoned dissidents around the globe.

Alongside others in China, Russia, Cambodia and elsewhere, the president identified Leopoldo Lopez as one of many jailed activists who “deserve to be free” and “ought to be released.” He also praised Berta Soler, leader of Cuba’s Ladies in White.

The remark was not widely reported in the U.S., but in local Venezuelan press it has made a big splash, as evidenced by coverage today in El Universal, El Nacional, Globovision and Ultimas Noticias.

Lopez, for his part, remains in prison, and his trial has been marked by irregularities and delays. The judge presiding over the case has rejected all but one of 68 proposed defense witnesses, while allowing the prosecution to call 108. On Monday, as BBC Mundo reports, Lopez’s defense lawyer said that the trial had postponed a hearing for the third time, because of the ill health of a student activist being tried in the same case.  

News Briefs
  • As El Pais reports, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is slated to speak before the United Nations General Assembly this afternoon, in what the paper calls a “test” of the leader’s international legitimacy. His country is virtually guaranteed a seat at the Security Council, and it is not likely that the U.S. will block the bid this time around. Yesterday Maduro addressed a crowd at a Bronx community college yesterday. As the AP’s Hannah Dreier notes, the president stressed his efforts to maintain a positive relationship with the United States, though he also delivered a few Chavez-style quips aimed at Obama.
  • Left-wing Colombian Senator Ivan Cepeda managed to focus national and international attention on former President Alvaro Uribe’s alleged ties to paramilitary groups last week in a legislative debate on the issue, but this has come at a cost. Semana magazine reports that Uribe and his allies have filed five different investigations against Cepeda into allegations that he, among other things, pressured paramilitary leaders to testify against Uribe, and that he has ties to the FARC.
  • The Northern Triangle countries -- Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala -- have presented U.S. officials with a plan to reduce migration north.  Called "The Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle," it was developed with the help of the Inter-American Development Bank and seeks to boost economic growth in the region. The AP reports that there have been relatively few details of the plan presented to the public, and its costs and specific measures remain unclear.
  • Today’s Washington Post reports on the fact that nearly half of Guatemalans are younger than 19, reflecting on the lack of economic opportunity and the incentives for children to seek better futures in the United States.
  • Uruguay’s marijuana law received an important endorsement over the weekend. Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper, who was sworn in as the new head of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) earlier this month, met with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica on Saturday. In a subsequent press conference, Samper hailed Mujica’s leadership on drug policy reform, calling the Uruguayan president “courageous for opening a new path,” as Radio 180 reports. What’s more, the UNASUR leader suggested that drug policy reform be placed on the agenda for the next UNASUR summit. It is a long shot, but this could mean that UNASUR could succeed where the OAS has failed to unite the region around alternative drug policy measures.
  • Presidents Michelle Bachelet, Juan Manuel Santos, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Ollanta Humala have published a joint op-ed in Bloomberg news today in which they tout the advances of the Pacific Alliance. The column itself -- in which the authors praise the value of free movement of people and goods -- is not particularly noteworthy, but as Greg Weeks points out it is interesting to see how the economic bloc has united regional leaders across ideological differences.
  • The AP profiles a recent Ibope poll ahead of Brazil’s presidential elections, noting President Dilma Rousseff’s strong support among the poor of the country, who have seen their quality of life rise under the past two Workers Party administrations. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, notes that many analysts believe Rousseff’s main challenge lies in convincing the middle class that she can deliver on their rising demands.
  • Mexico’s El Universal reports that elementary-level history texts in the country have been edited to incorporate recent social conflicts and human rights struggles of the past forty years. Progressive historians should be pleased. The new version, according to the paper, includes references to the repression of student protests in 1968 and to indigenous rights abuses in Chiapas and the 1994 Zapatista uprising.
  • A national congressman in Mexico, Gabriel Gomez Michel, was found dead yesterday after being kidnapped in Jalisco state, the AP and La Jornada report. According to Televisa, authorities have obtained video footage of his kidnapping, and authorities are using it to proceed with an investigation into the killing.