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The United States Restricts Travel for Top Venezuelan Officials

July 31, 2014

by AQ Online

The U.S. has issued a travel ban for a list of unnamed Venezuelan officials who are accused of involvement in human rights abuses after the Venezuelan military and police cracked down on anti-government protests earlier this year. 

The ban affects 24 high-ranking officials from Venezuela, ranging from cabinet members and senior judiciary members to members of the military and the police. Venezuelan Foreign Minister and former Vice President Elías Jaua called the move “desperate” and a “reprisal… against the role that Venezuela plays in a new world, in an independent Latin America.”

Diplomatic tensions between the United States and Venezuela had already worsened after a former general and aid to Hugo Chávez, Hugo Carvajal—accused by the United States of drug trafficking and supporting left-wing guerrillas in Colombia—was released from Aruba on Monday. U.S. concerns that Caracas had pressured the Dutch government to release the formal general were confirmed by the chief prosecutor of Aruba, Peter Blanken, but Blanken emphasized that Carvajal was released because of “diplomatic immunity,” and not because of the “actions against Aruba from the Venezuelan government.”

Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the executive secretary of the opposition’s Mesa de la Unidad (Democratic Unity Roundtable–MUD), Ramón Aveledo, resigned from his post on Tuesday, citing the need to renew the opposition movement. Aveledo, who had lead MUD for five years, was responsible for uniting Venezuela’s fractious opposition. Earlier this year, at least 43 people were killed during protests led by students and the political opposition.

In the 2014 Summer issue of Americas Quarterly, Boris Muñoz examines the challenges that Venezuela is facing in his article, Venezuela: How Long Can This Go On?

Tags: Venezuela, Ramón Aveledo, Hugo Carvajal

President Bachelet Cancels Venezuela Trip

July 29, 2014

by AQ Online

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet unexpectedly canceled her trip to Venezuela for today’s Mercosur Summit yesterday afternoon. Alvaro Elizalde, a spokesman for the Bachelet administration, confirmed that Heraldo Muñoz, Minister of Foreign Affairs, will represent the Chilean delegation at the summit in Caracas.

In addition to the Mercosur meetings, Muñoz will also meet with Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro’s administration and with the Venezuelan opposition coalition Mesa De Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Coalition–MUD), at their request.

Muñoz is expected to express Chile’s interest in restarting and facilitating the stalled peace negotiations between MUD and the Venezuelan government. It is unclear whether he will address the continued imprisonment of opposition leader and former mayor Leopoldo López of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party.

President Bachelet’s absence was attributed to a winter cold and emergency meetings regarding her signature tax, healthcare and education reform.

Tags: Chile, Michelle Bachelet, Venezuela, Mercosur

Former Chávez Aid Detained in Aruba

July 25, 2014

by AQ Online

Caracas announced yesterday its opposition to the “illegal and arbitrary” arrest of former Venezuelan general, Hugo Carvajal in the Dutch-administered Caribbean island Aruba. While Carvajal–ex-director of military intelligence in Venezuela and personal advisor of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez–awaited his approval as consul in Aruba, he was detained on Wednesday night at the request of the U.S. government for his supposed involvement in drug-trafficking and support of the Colombian guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–FARC).

Carvajal was involved Chávez’s first coup attempt in 1992 and served as the military intelligence chief from 2004 to 2011. In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department blacklisted Carvajal and other Veneuzlean military officials accusing them smuggling cocaine and providing weapons to FARC rebels. He has also been accused of providing protection and documents of identification for Colombian cartel leaders, including Wílber Varela, in Venezuelan territory.

Although Venezuelan authorities declared the capture illegal because General Carvajal had a diplomatic passport, the Dutch government had never approved of his appointment. The U.S. has have 60 days make a formal request for request an extradition of the former general.

Carvajal is one of three former high-ranking officials from Chávez’s administration that have been charged in drug-trafficking cases. Benny Palmeri-Bacchi, one of these former officials, was arrested upon his arrival in Miami, and yesterday pleaded not guilty to protecting a drug-trafficker who brought cocaine from Venezuela to the United States.

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Tags: Venezuela, FARC, Drug Trafficking

Hacer periodismo en Venezuela

July 17, 2014

by Paula Ramón

A comienzos de julio, Rafael Osío Cabrices, un periodista venezolano con una trayectoria respetada en Caracas, describió en un emotivo artículo su proceso al exilio. “Ya no soy más un reconocido periodista, apenas un inmigrante,” comentaba en una de sus líneas. 

La frase, que me tocó personalmente, podría describir a decenas de colegas que en los últimos años han dejado el país con miedo. Miedo al desempleo, la crisis económica, la violencia, la ausencia de futuro. 

Desde abril de 2013—cuando Nicolás Maduro, heredero político del fallecido presidente Hugo Chávez, tomó posesión de la Jefatura de Estado—tres grandes conglomerados de noticias han sido vendidos. El primero fue Globovisión, televisora privada que, asfixiada por demandas judiciales, pasó a manos del gobierno, implicando un giro de 180 grados en su línea. El canal que albergaba los principales críticos de la “revolución bonita” comenzó a asomar la posibilidad de firmar convenios con emisoras de Irán para la compra de enlatados. 

El segundo fue la Cadena Capriles, la mayor empresa editorial del país, y mi antigua casa de trabajo. La Cadena Capriles es dueña de Últimas Noticias, diario con la principal circulación de Venezuela, en promedio 210 mil ejemplares diarios. Para poner en contexto su alcance, es posible comparar con Folha de São Paulo—el periódico con mayor tiraje de Brasil—que con 170 millones más de habitantes, distribuye 301 mil ejemplares diarios.

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Tags: Venezuela, Freedom of expression, Journalism

Venezuelan Opposition Leader Back in Court

June 3, 2014

by AQ Online

Opposition leader Leopoldo López is back in court this morning after his 11-hour hearing was adjourned yesterday. Judge Adriana López is expected to decide whether the former mayor of Chacao will face a criminal trial and, if so, if he will remain in the Ramo Verde military prison while awaiting his trial date.

López, founder and national coordinator of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party and outspoken critic of the Chávez, and later, Maudro governments, has been in custody at the military prison since February after he turned himself in to authorities. Despite yesterday’s lengthy session, defense attorney Bernardo Pulido stated that the defense counsel was not called to take the floor. Because of limited access to the courtroom, much of the information has come from López’ wife, Lilian Tintori’s, social media accounts.

López is currently charged with arson, damage to public property, incitement, and conspiracy for his role in calling for the student protests against the government in February that turned violent. If charged, he faces up to ten years in prison.

Tags: Venezuela, Leopoldo Lopez

Comprendiendo la Doctrina Maduro

May 21, 2014

by Víctor M. Mijares

En nombre de la Revolución Bolivariana, Hugo Chávez le dio una prioridad nunca antes vista a la política exterior venezolana. Ni en el periodo de la Doctrina Betancourt—diseñada para aislar a los regímenes autoritarios de las Américas—ni en el del Tercermundismo de primer gobierno de Carlos Andrés Pérez, tuvo Caracas un protagonismo internacional como el que experimentó bajo la revolucionaria y sobredimensionada Doctrina Chávez.

Es por ello que la tímida y defensiva posición diplomática de Venezuela en el primer año de Maduro llama la atención y genera cambios en la dinámica política hemisférica. ¿Qué pasó con la política exterior venezolana? El precio de un barril de petróleo sigue alrededor de los US $100, y Chávez parece haber dejado instrucciones precisas. Las principales piezas gabinete de gobierno son hombres de confianza de “El Comandante,” pero la política exterior venezolana es irreconocible.

Como política pública, la exterior es compleja, porque conecta a los sistemas políticos doméstico e internacional, es decir, que está sujeta a variables internas y externas. Las variables del sistema internacional—salvo graves crisis—suelen moverse de manera lenta. Aun los cambios más espectaculares requieren de meses o años de maduración antes de ocurrir. La política doméstica puede ser más volátil, sobre todo en países en los que la institucionalidad ha sido degradada sistemáticamente. Esto genera una interacción de sistemas que van a distinta velocidad. Por esta razón, el caso de la contracción de la política exterior venezolana debe ser coyunturalmente analizado a partir de factores de política doméstica.

De los factores a analizar podemos destacar dos íntimamente vinculados: la desprofesionalización diplomática y la ausencia del líder fuerte. Ambos corresponden al proceso de desinstitucionalización propio del personalismo político. El primero es responsabilidad directa del mismo Chávez. Contrario al resto de las potencias regionales y potencias medias—y buena parte de las menores—latinoamericanas, Venezuela partidizó su academia diplomática y en la práctica abolió la carrera del servicio exterior. Este proceso fortaleció al presidente, a su partido, pero debilitó al Estado en su conjunto. La muerte de Chávez pone en evidencia a una política exterior altamente dependiente de la discrecionalidad, sin que existan instituciones que permitan darle continuidad, ni siquiera a la propia promoción revolucionaria en el exterior.

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Tags: Venezuela, foreign policy, Nicolás Maduro

Monday Memo: Venezuela Sanctions – Mujica in Washington – Zetas – World Cup in Brazil – Bachelet in Argentina

May 12, 2014

by AQ Online

This week’s likely top stories: U.S. Congress considers sanctions against Venezuela; Uruguay’s José Mujica visits with Barack Obama; the leader of the Zetas may be dead; Brazil faces new obstacles in World Cup preparations; Michelle Bachelet visits Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in Argentina.

U.S. Congress Pushes for Sanctions Against Venezuela: The United States House Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday recommended the passage of a bill that would sanction the Venezuelan government for human rights violations committed since nationwide protests started in February. The sanctions would include banning visas and freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials involved in the abuses. On Friday, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro called the proposed sanctions a “stupid idea,” and on Sunday, the Venezuelan government announced the release of 155 protesters who had been arrested in raids on street encampments last week, although some 160 protesters remain in jail.

Mujica Meets With Obama in Washington DC: Uruguayan President José Mujica is meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday in Washington DC. Along with a discussion of hemispheric politics and trade, Mujica and Obama are expected to discuss Uruguay’s offer to receive five prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. Mujica is also expected to seek Obama’s help in fighting a $2 billion lawsuit by tobacco giant Philip Morris, which is suing the South American country for a 2009 anti-tobacco law that the company says violates its intellectual property rights. Mujica is in Washington DC until Thursday, when he is expected to make a presentation before the OAS on the legalization and commercialization of marijuana.

Zetas Leader Believed Dead: Galindo Mellado Cruz, accused of being one of the founders of the Zetas Cartel in Mexico, is believed to be one of five people killed in a shootout in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, on the Mexico-U.S. border. Although Mellado, also known as “El Mellado” or “Z-9”, no longer held a position of power in the Zetas, he was one of the 30 founding members of the cartel, who were originally part of Mexican special forces. The Zetas collaborated with the Gulf Cartel until the two cartels split, provoking a territorial battle that was particularly deadly in Tamaulipas. The Zetas reportedly control more territory than any other criminal gang in Mexico and are notorious for extremely violent and gruesome crimes.

Brazil World Cup Preparations: As rumors circulate that the International Olympic Committee has considered moving the 2016 Olympic Games to London, Brazil is stepping up security preparations for the World Cup, deploying more than 30,000 troops to the country’s borders to target illegal immigration and the trafficking of drugs and weapons. Meanwhile, about 7,000 members of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra  (Homeless Workers’ Movement—MST) have set up camp outside the new Arena Corinthians in São Paulo to demand affordable housing for working-class Brazilians and to protest rising prices and expenditures on World Cup stadiums. Arena Corinthians will host the opening match of the World Cup on June 12.

Bachelet Meets with Fernández de Kirchner: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has arrived in Buenos Aires to meet with Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, marking Bachelet’s first international visit since the beginning of her second presidency. The leaders will meet on Monday and primarily discuss reviving the Treaty of Maipú, which was signed by the two presidents in 2009 and sets out to create a bi-oceanic railway network between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. In addition, the presidents will discuss Argentina’s plans to join the Pacific Alliance and relations within the more protectionist Mercosur trade bloc.

Tags: Venezuela, José Mujica, Zetas Drug Cartel, 2014 World Cup, Michelle Bachelet

Dos Interpretaciones a la Visita de Sánchez Cerén a Venezuela

May 7, 2014

by Julio Rank Wright

Luego de pasar por la elección más reñida en la historia reciente de El Salvador, el país espera que en menos de un mes Mauricio Funes,  el primer presidente del  partido de izquierda Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), deje el poder y le pase la banda presidencial al primer presidente excombatiente del FMLN, Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

El país está literalmente dividido—después de una elección cuya diferencia fue de apenas 0.22 por ciento—y se encuentra en un ambiente de expectativa, en ocasiones tenso y nervioso. Ante una realidad como esa, sumada a un panorama económico desalentador y un aumento en la delincuencia, el presidente electo se verá obligado a colaborar con la oposición política al menos hasta las elecciones legislativas del 2015. Es por eso que la reciente visita de Sánchez Cerén a Venezuela ha generado reacciones encontradas.

Yo le doy dos posibles lecturas a la visita de Sánchez Cerén a Venezuela el pasado 1 de mayo: la primera es optimista y la segunda es un poco más apegada a la realidad. Hace dos meses, en las vísperas de la elección presidencial de El Salvador, el presidente venezolano Nicolás Maduro fue el primero en felicitar a Sánchez Cerén, aun cuando a El Salvador se le agotaban los recursos legales para afirmar quien había ganado la elección presidencial con los márgenes de diferencia más estrechos de las últimas décadas.

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Tags: Salvador Sánchez Cerén, El Salvador, Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela

Maduro’s Popularity Drops Amid Economic Uncertainty

May 6, 2014

by AQ Online

Public support for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro dropped to its lowest rate since he took office in 2013, the daily newspaper El Universal reported on Monday.

The Venezuelan executive’s approval rating dropped from 46.8 percent in February to 37 percent in April amid chronic consumer shortages, high inflation, increased violence, and street protests that began in February.

The poll, conducted by public opinion group Datanálisis, also found that 79.5 percent of Venezuelans have a negative view of the country’s current state. The economic conditions—including an inflation rate rapidly approaching 60 percent—as well as the violence and extreme shortages that sparked the nation-wide protests in February continue to be the biggest factors affecting Maduro’s popularity. A third of Venezuelans polled cited these as the country’s main problems.

Venezuela has also faced international scrutiny for its response to the three-month-long demonstrations that have paralyzed major cities across the nation. A recent Human Rights Watch report highlighted the unlawful use of force perpetrated by security forces against unarmed, nonviolent anti-government protestors, who have been shot at point blank range, severely beaten, and forced to undergo physiological and physiological torture.

Tags: Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro

Monday Memo: Panama Elections – Colombian Farmers – Venezuela – Mexico Telecom Reform – Brazilian Colonel’s Death

April 28, 2014

by AQ Online

This week’s likely top stories:  Panamanian voters go to the polls on Sunday; Colombian farmers launch another strike; Venezuelan dialogue enters its third week; protesters demonstrate against Mexican telecom reform; the murder of a former colonel could challenge Brazil’s truth commission.

Panama Prepares for Presidential Election: Panamanians will go to the polls on Sunday, May 4 to vote for their next president in one of the country’s most competitive races in recent memory. Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change) candidate José Domingo Arias faces former Panama City Mayor Juan Carlos Navarro, of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (Democratic Revolution Party—PRD) and current Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, of the Partido Panameñista (Panamañista Party). Arias’ running mate is Marta Linares, wife of outgoing President Ricardo Martinelli, who is running for vice president despite a constitutional challenge that is expected to be dismissed. According to an Ipsos poll last Thursday, 34.2 percent of voters plan to vote for Arias, while 33.9 percent plan to vote for Navarro.

Colombian Farmers Prepare to Strike: Ahead of next month’s presidential election, Colombian farmers have launched a strike to denounce what they say are unmet promises made by the government last year during a prior round of strikes. The farmers are protesting the country’s free trade agreements, calling for subsidies, and demanding that the government lower production costs in the agricultural sector. Last August, farmers in departments across Colombia halted production and blocked interstate highways before reaching a preliminary agreement with the government.

Dialogue in Venezuela Continues: The Venezuelan government and the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democratic Unity Coalition—MUD) say that they expect to form working groups this week to investigate the violence that has rocked the country since protests began on February 12. More than 40 people have died since the protests began, while regional leaders have pressured the Venezuelan government to meet with the opposition and resolve the current crisis. This week marks the third week of dialogue between the government and the opposition.

Mexican Telecom Reform Protests:  Protesters gathered in Mexico City this Saturday to protest President Enrique Peña Nieto’s telecommunications bill, which would regulate and implement constitutional reforms passed last June that aimed to promote greater competition and improve telecom services, according to the government. Opponents of the bill say that portions of the bill would limit freedom of expression by blocking Internet access and censoring content, but PRI Senator Emilio Gamboa promised to cut those provisions from the bill. Congress is expected to debate the bill in June.

Retired Colonel’s Murder May Dissuade Witnesses: A former Brazilian army colonel’s violent death may complicate the efforts of Brazil’s National Truth Commission to receive witness testimony about the country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship. Paulo Malhães, who confessed to the commission in March that he had tortured and killed political prisoners and attempted to hide their identities, and named two other officers who gave him orders. Malhães was found dead in his apartment late last week after intruders entered his home outside Rio de Janeiro. It is not clear whether the death was an act of revenge, and the murder is being investigated. Rosa Cardoso, a lawyer who works on the Commission, said the murder “will make our work more challenging.”

Tags: Panama elections, Venezuela, Mexican telecommunications

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