Friday, September 12, 2014

Venezuela Eyes UN Security Council Seat

Venezuela is poised to obtain a rotating seat at the UN Security Council at a General Assembly vote next month. The government of President Nicolas Maduro has not publicly confirmed that it is seeking a seat, but UN diplomatic sources have told the press that Venezuela received unanimous support to represent Latin America in a July meeting of regional leaders.

The Associated Press reports that Venezuela is adopting a low profile strategy toward its bid for the temporary seat, in part because it wants to avoid another confrontation like the one in 2006, in which the General Assembly ultimately picked Panama as a compromise between Venezuela’s candidacy and U.S. support for Guatemala.

While it is tempting to interpret the development as a sign of waning U.S. influence in the region, the reality is far tamer. According to the AP, in the wake of the 2006 dispute the region’s governments “agreed in private to alternate representation in a certain order. Under those procedures, it's now Venezuela's turn.”

Analyst James Bosworth has a good take on what this means for the hemisphere, noting that because Venezuela will be taking Argentina’s position, there shouldn’t be a particularly dramatic shift. He writes:
Latin America and the Caribbean aren't doing this to send a message to their neighbor up north. Instead, the region has an agreement that means it's Venezuela's turn. Nobody from the region is standing up to challenge Venezuela's turn at this seat. While I'm sure some of the Maduro government opponents in Venezuela and the US want to find an alternative and then engage in a high profile diplomatic fight that would leave everyone feeling bitter and angry, we've all got better things to spend our time and political capital on.

News Briefs
  • This week’s issue of The Economist has a good overview of the Brazilian scandal involving recent allegations by imprisoned former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa, who claimed that a number of politicians -- most from the Workers Party  (PT), though he also named Eduardo Campos  -- received kickbacks from a corruption scheme in the state oil company.
  • Following news reports that El Impulso, Venezuela’s oldest newspaper, would be going out of print after Sunday in part due to a lack of affordable newsprint in the country, BBC Mundo reports that the paper has reached an agreement with the government that will allow it to obtain enough newsprint to remain in circulation for two more weeks. After that, however, El Impulso’s future remains uncertain.
  • It appears that Venezuela’s nighttime curfew along the Colombian border, a measure aimed at curbing smuggling and which was originally billed as a 30-day trial program, will be extended. Yesterday President Maduro announced that he was extending the curfew by three months on the advice of an advisory commission, El Nacional reports.
  • Yesterday, the government of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet marked the 41st anniversary of the 1973 military coup that brought Pinochet to power by creating a new Subsecretary of Human Rights office, as well as announcing that her administration will seek to repeal the repeal the country’s controversial Amnesty Law. According to La Tercera, the government has thrown its support behind a bill sponsored by Senator Guido Girardi, and is calling for lawmakers to fast-track its debate. In remarks to the press yesterday, Justice Minister José Antonio Gómez asserted that overturning the law would not be a major departure from what has already been established by a number of court rulings.
  • In drug policy news, on Monday Santiago Metropolitan Governor Claudio Orrego announced that authorities had given a green light to a pilot project sponsored by the Daya Foundation and the Santiago municipality of La Florida to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes. Specifically, the program will produce cannabis oil to be available to some 200 cancer patients, 24 Horas reports. The initiative will be overseen by the federal Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG), which will ensure that all cannabis is properly accounted for, and the costs to patients will be subsidized by the Daya Foundation. The development comes in the wake of the Chilean Institute of Health’s June decision to allow a breast cancer and lupus patient to access a cannabis-derived drug known as Sativex.
  • Vice News has an interesting report on an “energy revolution” underway in Uruguay, noting that the country’s efforts to develop alternative power sources have made it nearly energy independent. At the same time, however, EFE reports that Uruguay is courting international investors to search for offshore oil reserves in its waters.
  • In Colombia yesterday, Senate President Jose David Name issued a historic apology to the country on behalf of the Colombian Congress for various lawmakers’ support for paramilitary groups in the past. As El Tiempo reports, the gesture was made in accordance with a court ruling in the case against AUC figure Jorge Iván Laverde Zapata, alias “Iguano.”
  • The AP provides an example of the drastic levels of overcrowding in Colombia’s prison system: police in Bogota have been holding 40 prisoners in a public park in the La Granja neighborhood for the past week because they say a local jail has run out of space to house them. According to InSight Crime, however, the use of the park is only temporary until space in a district detention facility opens up in the coming weeks.
  • In response to the worsening Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, the government of Cuba has announced it will be sending 165 health workers to Sierra Leone in October to address the crisis. Meanwhile, the L.A. Times reports that the number of Cuban doctors who are defecting to the United States from third countries -- Venezuela being one of the most common ones -- is on pace to increase by 50 percent this year compared to last. According to immigration officials, over 1,500 Cuban healthcare workers are expected to be admitted to the U.S. this year.