Smilde on polarization in Venezuela and homicide estimates (July 5, 2016)
A few interesting pieces on Venezuela, mostly from WOLA's Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights site.
Writing on the fourth anniversary of the blog, David Smilde gives a lucid overview of the polarization of Venezuelan politics. "In the past seventeen years Venezuela has been subject to a vertiginous process of political polarization in which democratic representation has been the most important casualty. The centrifugal pressures of Venezuela’s political process are such that each side is continually threatening to slip out of the space of democratic contention, justifying their anti-democratic impulses by pointing to the treachery of “the other side.” Venezuela’s political actors put forward a continual flow of dehumanizing images that demand radical action now, lest the monstrous “other” side have their way and commit unspeakable acts of barbarism."
"Political polarization effectively allows political actors to ignore the needs and desires of average citizens, and deflect their critiques and demands for accountability, under the argument that 'this is no time for democracy.'"
The question is not whether the opposition could successfully win a referendum to oust President Nicolas Maduro, but whether they can make it happen before January 10, thus triggering an election to select his successor. The government is attempting to delay the referendum, which would mean Maduro would be replaced by his vicepresident, while the opposition is engaged in an apparently Herculean task of gathering and verifying increasing quantities of voter signatures demanding the vote, explains the Washington Post.
Interesting note in the Post piece on the relatively high approval rating of 25 percent that Maduro still has, despite the steadily worsening conditions in Venezuela.
A new contribution to the ongoing "homicide statistics debate" from earlier this year from political scientist Dorothy Kronick who estimated the country's 2015 violent death rate was about 70 per 100,000 people. Though that's among the highest in the world, it's far below the more widely cited Venezuelan Violence Observatory (OVV) estimate of 90 violent deaths per 100,000 people in the same year. In a piece published in the Caracas Chronicles, Kronick analyzes the discrepancies and why the OVV statistics portray a misleadingly inflated number.
Smilde notes that the different estimates also portray different trajectories of violence in Venezuela: "while for OVV the violent death rate has skyrocketed since 2012, in Kronick’s analysis the trend has significantly flattened since then."
"Ultimately, this is a debate over the dimensions of the tragedy in Venezuela, not over its existence. While OVV tells the more dramatic tale, with each year surpassing the last as the most violent in the country’s history, even our estimates reveal a devastating level of violence, with rates five times higher than those of a generation ago," writes Kornick. "Addressing this tragedy demands an understanding of its scale, which in turn requires an accurate tally of the dead."
Another post by Smilde looks at the polemic Operación de Liberación del Pueblo, a militarized response to supposedly gang and paramilitary infiltrated communities that has been questioned by rights groups. While there seems to be no evidence that the operations have actually dented crime, and plenty of evidence that they have caused hundreds of deaths, they appear to havesupport among the portions of the population that know about them.
"The OLP is the perfect spectacle for a population hungry for relief from the crime and delinquency that besiege them. The OLP fits with a cultural model of crime and policing that values episodic, violent shows of force aimed at punishing bad people, rather than the patrolling and structured interaction with communities characteristic of civilian policing," writes Smilde.
The Obama administration has failed to defend the human rights of refugees fleeing violence in Central America, argues a New York Times editorial. His presidency will end with a "dismally lopsided legacy on immigration: one program protecting 730,000 young people that has been left stranded by the failure of immigration reform, balanced against a record 2.4 million deportations." The piece notes a bill introduced by Senate Democrats to address "the Northern Triangle problem at its roots and to help ensure justice and safety for migrants. It would press Central American governments to restore the rule of law, strengthen institutions and build the economy. It would crack down on smuggling networks, expand refugee resettlement in Mexico and elsewhere, add immigration judges and help provide security, health and education for refugee children in the United States."
Protests and roadblocks by opponents of an education reform are spreading in Mexico, spurred out of anger at a protester clash with security forces two weeks ago that killed nine people. CNTE teachers union roadblocks have affected nine Oaxaca highways. They are preventing food from reaching some remote coastal villages according to the government, and the Mexican air force has flown tons of grain to those areas to counter the problem, reports the Reuters. But there's no sign of any shortages in Oaxaca markets, counters a BBC report.
Peruvian president-elect, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski , plans to combat a commodities slump affecting his country's mining-dependent economy by lowering sales taxes and giving rebates to big companies that reinvest profits. But his proposals might be killed in Congress, where his election rival Keiko Fujimori's party won 56 percent of seats. Already, Kuczynski's team is tweaking the proposals to make them more palatable in the next Congress, reports Reuters.
Brazilian judges continue their onslaught against a popular messaging service, Whatsapp. Last week a court blocked over $6 million of parent company Facebooks money, when Whatsapp failed to turn over messages sought in a drugs case, reports the Guardian. The company says it has no access to users messages. It's a drama that has played out repeatedly over the past year, with a couple of temporary judicial suspensions of the service, which is used by nearly half of Brazilians. (See April 28's briefs and January 13's, for pieces by Igarapé Institute's Robert Muggah and Nathan Thompson on how the issue ties into civil liberties in Brazil.)
A new generation of students -- often the first in their families to pursue higher education -- are protesting nation-wide austerity measures in Brazil that are affecting education, among other public services, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
More pre-Olympics crime. This time thieves hijacked a truck in Rio carrying broadcasting equipment from a pair of German media companies. The police later recovered the equipment, which was valued at $445,000, reports the Wall Street Journal. Foreign media companies and Olympics athletes have fallen victim to crime in recent weeks, notes the piece.
A new presidential decree, permitting the use of aircraft to spray insecticides and larvicides to combat the spread of Zika-bearing mosquitos in Rio is questioned by some medical authorities and environmental activists. Experts question whether such measures will impact the mosquito population, and say it could be harmful to humans, reports the Wall Street Journal.
In terms of publicity, the mega-game lead up brings a media pile-on of scrutiny to the host country. The international media is rife with "Brazil in trouble" stories lately: The price of beans, a staple in Brazilian food, is through the roof due to a bad harvest and rising inflation, reports the Wall Street Journal. Acting President Michel Temer announced last month that import tariffs for beans will be temporarily suspended. "But imports aren't likely to satisfy Brazil's persnickety bean lovers," notes the WSJ in a piece that goes surprisingly into depth regarding bean varieties and Brazilian cooking traditions.
Brazil is facing an epidemic of anti-gay violence, reports the New York Times, and is, according to some counts, the deadliest place in the world for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. Nearly 1,600 people have died in hate-motivated attacks in the past four and half years, according to a group that tracks deaths through news articles.
And women's groups in Brazil are pushing back against the "sexist and discriminatory" impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, writes Ani Hao, founder of Agora Juntas, a group of feminist collectives and women in Rio de Janeiro, in a Guardian op-ed. She reviews the bleak situation for women's rights under the Temer administration, as well as more endemic problems such as widespread violence against women and social acceptance of sexual violence.
The Guardian has an interview with former Brazilian president and Workers' Party founder, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. "He has not yet given up hope that Rousseff can make a comeback. To survive in the final vote on 17 August, she needs to persuade six senators to change their minds. It sounds like a small number, but Lula acknowledges they will require a huge amount of convincing. Although he doesn’t say it directly, he seems exasperated that Rousseff does not put up more of a fight."
A far less relevant drama playing out further south involves Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi, who quit the national team after losing to Chile in the Copa America finals, and his desperate fans who are pleading with him to reconsider. This weekend a rally of hundreds of fans gathered in the rain to demonstrate Messi love, at the urging of public figures such as President Mauricio Macri and soccer legend Diego Maradona, reports the Guardian.
A piece in Nueva Sociedad analyzes the double standard for corruption in Argentina: front-page coverage of the, admittedly very cinematographic, former Kirchner official caught smuggling $9 million in cash into a monastery and silence regarding the stories of business collusion and off-shore accounts by President Mauricio Macri. It's a little insider baseball, but speaks to the polarization of coverage in Argentina, an issue that affects other countries in the region.
Visits by Cuban-Americans to their Cuba is leading to a more three-dimensional image of the Communist-run country, reports the Associated Press in a piece that focuses on CubaOne, a Birthright style program for Cuban Americans.