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.
What’s the best way to protect a seven-month-old girl from the effects of tear gas? Is it dangerous for her to breathe the smoke from a pile of burning garbage in front of this building? Can a 9-millimeter bullet pass through the walls of our apartment? Will I find food for my family next week in our densely populated middle-class neighborhood, or should we stock an emergency reserve of groceries?
These are some of the questions that my wife and I have been asking ourselves since February 12, when members of Venezuela's political opposition marched on downtown Caracas and were attacked by supporters of the recently deceased president, Hugo Chávez. Two students were shot in the head and killed, and the subsequent rage pushed the opposition to continue the most recent series of protests against the régime that inherited Chávez’s idea of power.
We live in an apartment half a block away from Plaza Altamira in Caracas, one of the main sites of the upheaval. Several times, the tide of the struggle has penetrated the borders of our private life.
The origins of all this mayhem date back to Venezuela’s surreal chavista experiment, but the immediate trigger was a protest following an attempted rape at a college campus in San Cristóbal, the capital of the state of Táchira, on the Colombian border. The National Guard responded with extreme force, the demonstrators multiplied, and two opposition politicians—the youthful and charismatic former Caracas mayor Leopoldo López and congresswoman María Corina Machado—claimed that the only way to save the country was to occupy the streets and to build up the pressure against Chávez’s chosen heir, President Nicolás Maduro, who took office after winning by less than 2 percent of the vote in contested elections last year. In Maduro’s first year, Venezuela has continued to experience the levels of urban violence, inflation and scarcity of basic goods usually associated with wartime.
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Likely top stories this week: Nicaraguans vote in local elections; protests continue in Venezuela; the FARC says it will continue peace talks during elections; a Mapuche leader is sentenced to prison; Chileans no longer need visas to enter the United States.
Nicaraguan Elections: Nicaraguans overwhelmingly supported the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (The Sandinista National Liberation Front—FSLN) Sunday in elections for regional councilmembers in the country’s two autonomous regions—the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region. Opposition leaders alleged that Sunday’s elections were marred by irregularities as well as violence, but the FSLN said that the elections were conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner and attributed five deaths in El Tortuguero on Sunday to common crime. 300,000 Nicaraguans of African, mestizo or Indigenous descent were registered to vote in the elections.
Protests Continue in Venezuela Despite Carnival: Protesters marched through the streets of Caracas on Sunday to protest the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, as the death toll from three weeks of conflict has risen to at least 17 people. Maduro encouraged Venezuelans to observe the Carnival holiday, hoping to dampen the protests. On Sunday, the Venezuelan state prosecutor’s office announced that it had released 41 detainees. The anniversary of Hugo Chávez’ death is on Wednesday, March 5, and may spark more clashes.
Peace Talks to Continue During Colombian Elections: Peace negotiators for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) confirmed on Sunday that the guerrillas will continue to negotiate with the Colombian government even as elections take place on March 9. Colombians will elect legislators next Sunday, and vote for president and vice president at the end of May. On Friday, members of the FARC said that they had invited the United States government to join in the peace talks, but the U.S. State Department said it was unaware of efforts to make the U.S. a party to the peace negotiations.
Chilean Indigenous Leader Sentenced: Mapuche leader Celestino Cordova was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Friday for his role in an arson attack in southern Chile that killed an elderly couple last January in a dispute over Indigenous land rights. The attack coincided with the five-year anniversary of the death of Mapuche student Matias Catrileo, who was killed by policemen in a land dispute in January 2008. Cordova’s lawyers plan to appeal the ruling, saying that there is no evidence to prove that he was involved in the attack.
Chile, U.S. Waive Visa Requirements: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that Chilean citizens do not need a visa to enter the United States, making Chile the only country in Latin America to join the list of 38 countries in the U.S. visa waiver program (Mexico enjoys its own special status). U.S. citizens will now also be able to avoid a $160 “reciprocity fee” that they paid upon entering Chile. Chileans will no longer need a visa to enter the United States starting on May 1.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro invited opposition leaders to the presidential palace on Wednesday for a peace conference in an effort to quell the worst unrest in in the country in a decade that has claimed 13 lives thus far.
Some have questioned the sincerity of Maduro’s peace conference efforts. Henrique Capriles, the presidential opposition candidate who lost by a narrow margin to Maduro in 2013, called the meeting an empty appeal and nothing more than a photo opportunity. Jorge Arreaza, vice president of the opposition group Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democracy Unity Roundtable—MUD), slammed the conference saying that “we will not lend ourselves to a sham dialogue that would end in a mockery of our compatriots.”
Meanwhile, a number of international leaders, including Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have called for an end to the escalating violence that began on February 12, and urged more dialogue between parties. Former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jimmy Carter has urged Maduro and Capriles to retain the population’s right to peaceful protests and unbiased trails for those arrested and announced his hopes to meet with leaders from both sides during a trip to Venezuela planned for April 29.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA’s Venezuela Resource Guide.
Widespread protests continue for a thirteenth consecutive day in Venezuela as the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, faces increasing criticism—some of it from within his own ranks—for how he has handled the unfolding crisis.
The president’s recent crackdown on the remaining free media in Venezuela and an upsurge of State violence last week have led at least one member of Maduro’s Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) to criticize the government’s repression of the protesters.
In a radio interview on Monday, the governor of the state of Táchira, José Vielma Mora, an active member of the PSUV, criticized the use of excessive violence against protesters and said that Maduro should release political prisoners from the opposition to ensure peace.
“I am against treating peaceful protests with violence and abuse,” Vielma Mora said. “I support peaceful protests because they help us understand what is happening …Not a single protester has been wounded in Táchira. Not one of them has died.”
On Monday, however, authorities confirmed the death of a protester in Táchira state, which has seen some of the worst repression in the country.
Fifteen people have died so far in less than 13 days of protests across the country. Seven of those killed were shot in the head at political protests.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuelans seek a solution to the escalating political conflict; Ecuadorians vote in municipal elections; young immigrants demand action from U.S. President Barack Obama; Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says his e-mails were hacked; the U.S. seeks to extradite “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Venezuelan Leaders May Meet to Discuss Conflict: This week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro may meet with political leaders from across the country to discuss the escalating political conflict. At least eleven people have died since February 12, when student protests set off violent clashes between opposition protesters, Venezuelan security forces, and government supporters. Meanwhile, Maduro, who has said that the United States is behind the current political unrest in Venezuela, has called for a dialogue with U.S. President Barack Obama to “put the truth out on the table.”
Ecuadorian Municipal Elections Conclude: Rafael Correa's Alianza País (Country Alliance) party lost mayoral races in Ecuador's three biggest cities—Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil—on Sunday when Ecuadorians voted in municipal elections. According to the preliminary results from the National Electoral Council, former presidential candidate Mauricio Rodas of the Suma-Vive alliance was elected mayor of Quito with 58.9 percent of the vote and Jaime Nebot of the Partido Social Cristiano (Social Christian Party) was re-elected mayor of Guayaquil with 57.5 percent of the vote. Mauricio Cabrera, a former mayor who is part of the Igualdad-Participa (Equality-Participate) alliance, captured 44.4 percent of the vote in that city. In addition to mayors, Ecuadorians voted for governors and council members.
Young U.S. Immigrants Demand Presidential Action on Immigration: About 500 young immigrant leaders gathered in Phoenix, Arizona this weekend for an annual congress of the United We Dream Network, expressing frustration with both U.S. Republicans and Democrats for Congress’ inaction on comprehensive immigration reform. Members of the United We Dream network said that they would instead press President Barack Obama to act unilaterally through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to allow young undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States. However, the Obama administration has deported more than 1.9 million foreigners—more than any other president.
Santos Says His E-Mails Were Hacked: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday that unknown opponents have hacked more than a thousand of his personal e-mails, as well as e-mails of family members. Santos said he believed the hackers were “motivated by political reasons,” and vowed to investigate the incident as he campaigns for the upcoming May 25 presidential elections. Earlier this month, it was revealed that a Colombian military intelligence unit had been spying on government peace negotiators who were speaking with the FARC in Havana.
U.S. to Seek Extradition of "El Chapo" Guzmán: After Mexican authorities captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman in the resort town of Mazatlán on Saturday, U.S. judicial authorities said that they will seek his extradition to the U.S. to face drug smuggling charges. However, the Mexican attorney general’s office said that Guzman will have to serve the remainder of his Mexican jail sentence before he is extradited. Guzman escaped from prison in 2001. He is currently being held in a maximum-security prison outside the Mexican city of Toluca.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.