Uruguayan opposition lawmakers denounced what they called threats to ousted Venezuelan Congresswoman María Corina Machado’s “liberty and security” on Monday. Machado, an opposition lawmaker representing Miranda, Venezuela was stripped of her seat in the National Assembly as well as her parliamentary immunity for testifying before the Organization of American States (OAS) about the unrest in Venezuela as a guest of Panama.
In a letter released yesterday, Uruguayan senators and congressmen called Machado’s expulsion a violation of “fundamental legal guarantees” accusing Venezuelan authorities of ignoring “basic democratic and republican rules.” The Uruguayan lawmakers pledged to support Machado and ensure her safety and freedom. Influential signers included former president and current Senator Luis Alberto Lacalle.
Machado has been accused of violating the Venezuelan constitution by addressing the OAS as well as “acting as a Panamanian ambassador” and inciting violence by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. The majority Socialist Party legislators have requested that the state prosecutor investigate Machado for treason and inciting a civil war for her role in the nearly two-month-long street protests.
The Venezuelan bolivar was devalued on Monday to be sold for 55 bolivars per U.S. dollar after currency controls were loosened, representing a weakening of 89 percent for the Venezuelan currency. The move was billed as a tactic to alleviate the shortage of staple goods including medicine and toilet paper, countering the black market rate of 58.6 bolivars to the dollar.
For the first time in over 10 years, Venezuela decreased regulations by creating a new currency exchange called Sicad II. Despite the positive step, only 20 percent of the oil-rich nation’s dollars will be offered at the new exchange rate, with the remaining currency traded at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar.
Venezuela’s shortages and severe inflation have led to a month-long protest from students and opposition parties. In a broadcast on Monday, Luisa Ortega, the country’s state prosecutor, admitted to wide-spread abuse on the part of security forces sent in to control the demonstrations. At least 34 people have been killed since the protests began in February.
Likely top stories this week: Chileans protest in Santiago; Brazil sends the military into Rio’s favelas; Uruguay will receive five Guantánamo prisoners; Venezuela will investigate abuses during protests; Colombia sends troops to Buenaventura.
Chilean Protests: Newly-elected Chilean President Michelle Bachelet faced the first major protest of her new administration on Saturday, which was organized to remind the president of her commitment to constitutional reforms and to protecting Indigenous and LGBT rights and the environment. The demonstration, which convened anywhere between 25,000 to 150,000 people, depending on the source, was dubbed “the march of all marches” and was largely peaceful, though isolated clashes led police to deploy tear gas and water cannons. At least 50 people were arrested and three policemen injured, according to authorities.
Brazil to Deploy Military in Rio de Janeiro Favelas: Rio de Janeiro’s state governor, Sérgio Cabral, has requested military reinforcements to contain the recent upswing in violence in sections of Rio de Janeiro, six years after the city launched a campaign to reduce crime in the city ahead of the World Cup and Olympic Games. On Thursday, three police pacification units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora—UPP) were set on fire in apparently coordinated attacks. Human rights abuses by police have also added to the recent tension and eroded public trust in the police forces.
Uruguay Will Take in Guantánamo Prisoners: Uruguayan President José Mujica said that there are various job leads for the five Guantánamo prisoners from Syria that Uruguay said it would take in last week. Mujica, a former political prisoner, last week accepted a request from U.S. President Barack Obama to allow the five prisoners to live in Uruguay, since they cannot return to their country of origin. Currently, there are 154 detainees still in Guantánamo. Mujica also said he would likely cancel a May 12 meeting he had scheduled with Obama, in order to focus on Uruguay’s October elections.
Venezuela to Investigate Abuses: a 28 year-old pregnant Venezuelan woman was shot and killed this Sunday in Miranda state, adding to the list of casualties in the country’s recent protests. The woman, Adriana Urquiola, was not actually protesting, but was reportedly near a protest barricade when she was shot by gunmen in a dark car. Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said that Venezuela will investigate 60 cases of human rights abuses. According to Díaz, 31 people have died since the protests began, and at least 15 officials have been imprisoned for links to the violence.
Gang Violence in Buenaventura, Colombia: Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed an additional 700 troops to the port city of Buenaventura on Friday, a day after Human Rights Watch issued a report condemning the death and disappearance of hundreds of residents in the last three years. The crimes are attributed to powerful criminal groups with paramilitary backgrounds, such as the Urabeños and La Empresa. More than 19,000 people fled Buenaventura in 2013, according to official numbers.
The Cuban Council of State called an extraordinary session of the National Assembly in order to debate and approve a new foreign investment law on Saturday, March 29, the state-run Granma newspaper announced Wednesday.
The new law is meant to replace that current cumbersome 1995 law that requires foreign companies to pay both a profit tax and a labor tax and is seen as a part of massive reforms taken under President Raúl Castro to aid the ailing Cuban economy. Along with the upgrading of the Mariel Port and the creation of the Special Development Zone that will exempt businesses from the 12 percent profit tax for 10 years, the Communist Party Congress approved over 300 economic reforms in 2011, including moving 20 percent of state workers into the non-state sector and authorizing the sale of homes and cars.
While details of the law remained unclear, it is expected to make Cuba more attractive to investors who have pulled out of the island over the past 12 years due in part to Cuba’s burdensome tax system. Cuba’s economy only grew 2.7 percent in 2013, and with its commercial relationship with Venezuela at risk due to ongoing protests in the South American country, the Cuban economy could contract 4 to 7.7 percent this year.
Likely top stories this week: election results are sustained in El Salvador; Venezuelan protests continue; Santos is optimistic about peace with FARC; young immigrant protesters cross back into the U.S.; Gustavo Petro’s future as mayor is uncertain in Bogotá.
Cerén Declared Next President of El Salvador: El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal officially rejected presidential candidate Norman Quijano’s calls to annul the country’s March 9 presidential elections on Sunday. Last Friday, the court declared Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén the next president of El Salvador, but Quijano claimed electoral fraud and demanded a vote-by-vote recount. The court said Sunday that there was not enough evidence to back up Quijano’s claims. Cerén won by a narrow margin, capturing 50.11 percent of the vote—or just 6,364 votes, according to the final count. Cerén will take office on June 1 and govern for five years.
Death Toll Mounts in Venezuelan Protests: After another day of protests on Sunday, Venezuelan security forces cleared demonstrators on Sunday from Plaza Altamira, a square in Caracas that has served as a center of the protests in Venezuela. A day after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro issued an ultimatum to protesters on Saturday, troops entered the square on motorcycles, firing water cannons and tear gas into a crowd armed with rocks and homemade bombs. Government supports also rallied on Sunday, marching to the presidential palace to show support for Maduro. As of Thursday, Venezuelan state prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz announced that 28 people had been killed in the violence in the last six weeks.
Santos Says Colombia Could Reach Peace Deal by End of Year: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos maintains that the government could sign a peace agreement with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) by the end of 2014. The success of a peace deal has been called into question following the country’s legislative elections, which saw former President Álvaro Uribe’s new party, the Democratic Center, win the second-largest number of seats in the Senate. Uribe is deeply critical of the peace talks, and accuses the government of offering the guerrillas impunity for their crimes. Santos said that a deal would likely lead to efforts to eradicate coca crops and drastically reduce Colombia’s production of cocaine.
Mexican Immigrants Organize Mass Border-Crossing into U.S.: Approximately 60 immigrant protesters were detained on Sunday as they participated in a mass border-crossing into the United States to protest U.S. immigration policy. The protesters, most of whom are undocumented young people who entered the U.S. as children, crossed at the Tijuana-San Diego border in the third such crossing in a week. All of the protesters had been deported or left the country before President Barack Obama signed an order to defer deportation for childhood arrivals into the U.S. in June 2012. The protesters who attempted to cross the border this week have applied for asylum hearings.
Petro’s Fate Still Uncertain in Bogotá: Colombia’s Consejo de Estado (Council of State) must decide soon if Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro can remain in office after Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez ordered his removal in December. The Council of State is expected to convene on Tuesday to resolve the remaining appeals, and its decision will ultimately end up on the desk of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who is running for re-election in May. Meanwhile, even if Petro remains mayor, he could face a recall election on April 6.
Este mes, parte de Caracas y varias ciudades del país se volvieron campos de batalla entre estudiantes, ciudadanos de todas las edades y los cuerpos de seguridad del Estado. Organizaciones no gubernamentales, como el Foro Penal Venezolano, aseguraron el miércoles 12 de marzo que habían registrado 1.313 detenciones relacionadas con las protestas estudiantiles durante el mes de febrero.
En Caracas y Valencia, hay denuncias y documentación de maltratos de más de 34 jóvenes, y el Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Prensa denunció que más de 89 periodistas (algunos corresponsales extranjeros), han sido agredidos: 22 fueron detenidos temporalmente cuando cubrían las manifestaciones y a más de 20 les robaron sus equipos.
Para el 7 de marzo de 2014, la Fiscal General de la República, Luisa Ortega Díaz, ofreció nuevas cifras del conflicto: “Tenemos 318 personas lesionadas y 19 fallecidas. De las 318 lesionadas, 217 son civiles y 81 son funcionarios policiales y fiscales.”
La estabilidad interna de Venezuela es un tema relevante a la agenda política latinoamericana. La revolución bolivariana, cargada del ímpetu de su discurso anti-imperialista, puso a la disposición de la región recursos y voluntad para la materialización de un proyecto conjunto. Sin embargo, hace más de un mes que la violencia política y la represión aumentan en Venezuela. El fracaso económico del país petrolero se manifiesta en una inflación galopante y desabastecimiento, alta criminalidad y un próspero mercado de armas ilegales. La desesperación de la clase media comienza a permear a los más pobres, y la ausencia de un líder carismático ya no puede ser compensada con incrementos del gasto público.
Era de esperarse que este mes los principales mecanismos internacionales encargados de gestionar este tipo de crisis—o bien la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA) o la Unión de Naciones Sudamericanas (UNASUR)—se activasen.
Suramerica aparenta estar paralizada: El embajador panameño, Arturo Valliarino, convocó ante la OEA una reunión de cancilleres para tratar el tema de Venezuela. Rápidamente, el embajador venezolano, Roy Chaderton, bloqueó los intentos de reunión. El canciller venezolano, Elías Jaua, entonces acusó a Panamá de seguir la agenda de Washington para perjudicar la imagen del gobierno de Venezuela y alentar una intervención. Justo después de una reunión privada del consejo permanente de la OEA—y coincidiendo con los actos del primer aniversario de la muerte de Hugo Chávez—Nicolás Maduro rompió relaciones con Panamá.
Los venezolanos siempre se han vanagloriado de su “sentido del humor” para superar adversidades. No es una sobrevaloración: vivir en una crisis perenne, a pesar de la riqueza nacional, requiere mucho más que un simple buen talante.
Es comprensible, entonces, que el 5 de marzo, en el primer aniversario de la muerte del presidente Hugo Chávez, una de las noticias más tuiteada fuese: “Se cumple un año del día que dijiste ‘cualquier cosa es mejor que Chávez,’” parodia del site de notas falsas “El Chiguire Bipolar.” Fiel a su estilo, “El Chiguire”–como es conocido en Venezuela–puso el dedo en la llaga con la sátira, claramente crítica a la oposición radical.
El chiste viene como anillo al dedo en el contexto actual. Durante un mes, centenas de personas han salido a las calles para mostrar su descontento con el Gobierno nacional. En manifestaciones improvisadas, golpeando ollas, administrando barricadas, quemando basura o simplemente elevando carteles, los manifestantes sólo piden una cosa: la salida inmediata de Nicolás Maduro, presidente y heredero político de Chávez.
No es que no existan motivos de sobra por los qué protestar en Venezuela. Su capital, Caracas, es la sexta ciudad más cara del mundo, según reveló el reciente análisis Costo de Vida Mundial 2014, producido por la revista inglesa The Economist. El informe evaluó los precios de 160 productos y servicios en 140 ciudades, y concluyó, entre otras cosas, que Caracas es tan cara como Tokio.
As tensions between the United States and Russia over the future of the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula continue to rise, Moscow officials may look to beef up their country’s stronghold in Latin America.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on February 26 that his country is planning to expand its long-standing military presence in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, possibly bringing the U.S. and Russia’s icy diplomatic standoff into the Western Hemisphere.
Although Shoigu mentioned that Russia would also boost its armed presence in Vietnam, Singapore, the Seychelles and several other countries, Moscow’s anticipated embankment in Latin America will surely be perceived as a threat to U.S. defense policymakers.
“The talks are under way, and we are close to signing the relevant documents,” Shoigu said in a press conference in Moscow. “We need bases for refueling near the equator, and in other places,” he explained.
It is still unclear, however, whether Russia will construct new Moscow-owned bases in the proposed countries. Russia may only seek permission from already-existing naval defense ports to increase its access to military stations with refueling, maintenance and repair capabilities. The country’s only naval base outside the country is located in Tartus, Syria.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will be cancelling the second leg of his Latin American trip that was announced last month in order to meet with Ukrainian interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and President Obama in Washington this week. The Vice President, who is currently in Chile for Michelle Bachelet’s inauguration, will no longer meet with Dominican president Danilo Medina to discuss regional cooperation, AFP reported yesterday.
Biden took advantage of his time in Chile to meet with Presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Ollanta Humala of Peru to discuss the recent conflict in Venezuela. In written comments to Chile’s daily newspaper El Mercurio, Biden denounced President Nicolás Maduro’s administration’s handling of the largely peaceful student protests. The comments came after the Organization of American States voted 29 to 3 last Friday to not send a mission to Venezuela, standing in solidarity with the government. Only the U.S., Canada and Panama opposed the declaration.
Biden’s aides confirmed that the vice president intends to reschedule his trip to the Dominican Republic in order to meet with President Medina.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.