Friday, November 7, 2014

Venezuela Official’s Brazil Visit Raises Eyebrows

Former Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua’s peculiar visit to Brazil has made headlines, and for good reason. The story touches on elements of nearly every major ailment facing Venezuela today: deteriorating regional relations, corruption, flagging health services and special treatment for the well-connected.

The trouble began for Jaua in late October, when -- as O Estado de S. Paulo first reported -- he accompanied his wife to Brazil, where she had scheduled medical exams. Upon her arrival, doctors apparently told her that she needed immediate surgery, and Jaua sent for his children and the family nanny. But when the latter arrived, she was detained by authorities for carrying a pistol in her luggage, a fact which Jaua explained by saying that she was not aware he had left the handgun in his briefcase.

This controversy was barely resolved when, on Wednesday, Brazil’s Foreign Ministry issued a protest to Jaua’s meeting with the Landless Workers Movement (MST), in which he apparently signed a formal agreement. The AP characterizes the move as “a rare rebuke from a staunch ally” in the region.

The incident is impressive for how many of the major criticisms leveled against the Chavista government it manages to encompass at once. Never mind the fact that Jaua travelled on a government plane for a seemingly personal trip. Or the irony in the fact that his wife had to travel to Brazil to seek adequate health care when Venezuela’s hospitals lack key medical equipment. Or the suspicious fact that his nanny carried a handgun into the country for him. Why is the ex-foreign minister of Venezuela, who was demoted recently to the vaguely broad title of “Minister of Communes and Social Movements and Vice President for the Development of Domestic Socialism,” signing agreements with non-state actors in Brazil without proper authorization? 

News Briefs
  • On Wednesday, Reuters broke the news that Venezuelan paper Ultimas Noticias was purchased by British media mogul Robert Hanson despite its sizeable debt and falling profit margin. This, as well as recent examples of self-censorship at the paper, has led to speculation that the change in ownership is part of a government strategy to restrict unfavorable media coverage.
  • Today’s Wall Street Journal features an analysis of the investigations into the alleged death squad killings in the northern Brazilian city of Belen, which came after the death of a military police officer on Tuesday. As noted in yesterday’s briefing, the total death toll has risen to ten, and local press have gathered statements from dozens of locals who report seeing masked gunmen on motorcycles -- allegedly off-duty military police -- carrying out the killings.
  • The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic’s recent decision to annul the country’s acceptance of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has been met with strong condemnation from international human rights groups. Yesterday, Amnesty International’s Americas Director Erika Guevara Rosas criticized the decision as a confirmation of the local court’s “lack of independence and impartiality, proving it to be politically biased by defending narrow interests.”  The remark was reported in leading Dominican daily El Listin Diario, which published today’s edition under a headline noting the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has questioned the validity of the Constitutional Court decision under international law.
  • InSight Crime has an in-depth analysis of the implications of the recent marijuana policy votes in Alaska, Washington DC and Oregon in Latin America, as well as an excellent summary of the drug laws of countries across the hemisphere.
  • Animal Politico reports that Mexico’s Defense Ministry (SEDENA) has announced that it will follow the recommendations of the country’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in the wake of the June 30 Tlatlaya massacre. In its investigation, the CNDH established that soldiers killed at least 12 and probably 15 of 22 suspects in custody, and rearranged their bodies after the incident in order to make the deaths fit the official story of a fierce firefight. The CNDH recommendations included a call to recommend all those linked to the killings, as well as to look into the possibility that a high-ranking officer may have shared responsibility for the incident.
  • Police in Colombia’s Cauca province say that members of the FARC killed two members of a local indigenous community as punishment for removing a billboard commemorating the death of late rebel leader Alfonso Cano. In response, UN authorities in the country have expressed alarm and called on the FARC to respect the autonomy and human rights of indigenous groups in the country. According to El Espectador and Semana, the community has rounded up seven suspected guerrillas they say is responsible for the killings, who will be prosecuted in accordance with the local justice system.
  • The first wave of runoff polling between presidential candidates Tabare Vazquez and Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou has begun in Uruguay following the first-round and legislative vote on October 26. An Equipos Mori poll released yesterday shows Vazquez with huge lead over Lacalle Pou, with 53 to 38 percent.
  • The story of Uruguayan President Jose Mujica’s million-dollar offer to sell his signature VW bug has been widely picked up in international press.  Mujica, for his part, has said he is willing to sell the automobile and use the proceeds to benefit social programs in his country, as he has “no commitment” to cars. “But if they ask me for Manuela, it would be different,” Mujica told reporters, referring to the name of his three-legged dog that has become part of his wildly popular homespun image. As an indication of how successfully Mujica’s lifestyle has resonated among Uruguayans, Manuela herself was the subject of a 950-word profile hosted on the site of popular daily El Observador earlier this week.
  • For the first time since Ecuador’s top court ruled that his Alianza Pais party could reform the constitution allowing for indefinite re-election instead of a popular vote, President Rafael Correa has broached the subject of running for office again in 2017. As AFP reports, Correa has said that the decision will ultimately lie with his party, and that it will most likely be decided in “October or November of 2016.” Meanwhile, opposition figure Guillermo Lasso has applied with electoral officials to begin gathering signatures to force a referendum on the re-election issue, according to El Comercio.