Thursday, November 27, 2014

Charges Filed Against Yet Another Venezuelan Opposition Figure

Venezuela’s attorney general has announced that Maria Corina Machado will be charged in association with an alleged plot to kill President Nicolas Maduro, making her the latest opposition figure to face questionable and seemingly politically-motivated charges.

As El Nacional reports, yesterday the office of state prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz announced that Machado had been ordered to appear before authorities on December 3 to face charges “for alleged links with the assassination plan against the President of the Republic.” El Universal notes that six other well-known opposition figures have been linked to the case by prosecutors, including former UN Ambassador Diego Arria, ex-governor of Carabobo state Henrique Salas Römer and constitutional lawyer Gustavo Tarre Briceño.

The charges ostensibly stem from vague allegations first made in May by heavyweights in the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV). As “evidence” of a supposed coup plot, these officials presented private emails between the opposition figures featuring critical remarks about the Maduro administration. One of the messages highlighted by Chavista leaders featured Machado telling Tarre that current U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker had “reconfirmed his support and indicated new steps.” Yet despite the alarmist claims by government officials, there seemed to be little to no incriminating evidence in the emails.

For her part, Machado has consistently denied any wrongdoing and claims that these charges are retaliation for demanding that the leadership of the current National Electoral Council be replaced, a major issue ahead of the 2015 legislative elections.

Should the case move forward, it is hard to believe that it will not have repercussions for Venezuela’s image abroad. Machado has made a name for herself internationally as a leading critic of the Maduro government by speaking out against the loss of her legislative immunity before the Organization of American States (OAS) earlier this year. At the very least, a high-profile court case against Machado -- on top of the highly questionable trial against Leopoldo Lopez -- would add fuel to the growing calls in the U.S. for targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials.

And while U.S. President Barack Obama has been unwilling to expand sanctions in the past, he appears to have adjusted this position. Just last week Obama’s nominee for deputy secretary of state, Tony Blinken, plainly signaled a willingness to work with lawmakers by “moving forward with additional sanctions.”

News Briefs
  • As El Universal reports, today at mid-day Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is expected to announce a new security and justice reform proposal, which he and his administration have been touting in recent days as a plan to “prevent the tragic events of Iguala from repeating themselves.”  Scarce details about the proposal have been reported in the press, though the Mexican interior minister has said it will aim to address weaknesses in the rule of law, particularly at the municipal level.  In anticipation of Peña Nieto’s announcement, in recent weeks various civil society actors in Mexico have been lobbying for the proposal to include certain measures. El Economista reports that research and advocacy group Fundar is calling for the president to use this moment to commit to transparency and accountability  in order to renew public faith in the state. Another NGO, México Unido Contra la Delincuencia (MUCD), has presented the administration with a “Strategic Plan to Combat Corruption and Impunity,” which stresses transparency as well as cracking down on corruption and implementing long-delayed judicial reforms.
  • Regardless of its content, Peña Nieto’s implementation of the plan is sure to be hindered by the growing corruption scandal that has tarnished his own image. Already under fire for his ties to a luxury home owned by a private contractor that has won lucrative contracts, Aristegui Noticias reports that Peña Nieto made use of another property belonging to the same company in 2012 when he was president-elect.
  • In a column for  Foreign Policy, John Ackerman argues that the U.S. government is “directly responsible” for the Ayotzinapa disappearances, largely because of its support of Peña Nieto's security strategy and failure to condemn corruption and human rights violations.
  • Ahead of the upcoming climate conference in Peru, the Brazilian government has announced that the rate of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has fallen 18 percent from August 2013 to July 2014. However, O Globo’s Míriam Leitão points out that this figure is misleading, as a month-by-month breakdown shows that deforestation has sharply risen in the past six months.
  • The Associated Press has a must-read profile of the booming business of private security in Latin America, which has accompanied a rise in homicide and other violent crimes. The piece raises some excellent points on insecurity in the region, noting that the rise in “guards-for-hire” mostly offers increased protection to the wealthy and middle-class citizens who can afford them, “leaving the poor majority to fend for themselves in a region already suffering from world's worst income disparity.”
  • Also from the AP this morning is a look at the “rondas urbanas” in Cajamarca, Peru. These citizen patrols consist of whip-toting vigilantes who have been accused by human rights groups as acting as a kind of morality police, even though many locals view them favorably.  
  • Following the FARC’s release of two soldiers, the rebels are moving forward with the release of their three remaining captives in Choco province. El Espectador reports that President Juan Manuel Santos has confirmed that military operations in Choco have been suspended and that the release is being slated take place on Saturday.
  • Ecuador’s El Universo has an update on the constitutional reforms proposed by the ruling Alianza PAIS party, which would among other things pave the way for President Rafael Correa’s indefinite reelection. According to the paper, lawmakers are set to hold the first legislative debate on the reforms on Monday, December 1.
  • While the Venezuelan government has been accused of making little progress on recent allegations of human rights violations, it may be compensating for this by investigating abuses that occurred prior to the election of the late Hugo Chavez. Spanish news agency EFE reports that Attorney General Luisa Ortega has announced that a recently-created “Truth Commission” has opened up investigations into some 200 out of 72,000 cases of specific violations committed in the context of the state’s 1958-1999 persecution of left-wing groups. The commission’s creation has been largely praised, though some local groups like PROVEA have raised concerns about its selective investigations. For example, in October PROVEA noted that PSUV Congressman Roger Cordero Lara -- accused of taking part in a deadly bombing of a rebel camp in 1982 -- continues to enjoy legislative immunity from prosecution for the crime.