Venezuela names new CNE (May 5, 2021)
Venezuela’s National Assembly named two opposition stalwarts -- Enrique Márquez and Roberto Picón -- as election officials yesterday. The move is the latest indication that Nicolás Maduro's government is seeking to improve relations with the U.S. under the Biden administration. Both have significant political and technical experience, according to WOLA.
It is the first time since 2005 that the Venezuelan opposition will have two seats on the five-person National Electoral Council (CNE), notes the Associated Press. The breakthrough agreement was hatched during weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations between representatives of the Maduro government and moderate opponents, some of them aligned with former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles.
"While in itself insufficient to restore democracy, the new composition of the electoral authority marks an important step," according to WOLA, which recommends the U.S. government acknowledge the significance of Maduro's concessions "by engaging the Venezuelan government and opposition in ways that could lead to free and fair elections in the country."
The National Assembly’s decision has high stakes, as the Biden administration has indicated that the naming of a credible CNE may be considered a sign of ‘good faith’ from the Maduro government which could potentially lead to sanctions relief or a path to negotiations, noted the Venezuela Weekly last Friday.
Yesterday, the head of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee said recent actions by Maduro were creating a “window of opportunity” for engagement with the U.S. government. Rep. Gregory Meeks urged for some U.S. sanctions to be rolled back, saying they have hurt regular Venezuelans.
Other recent overtures from Maduro include: an agreement with the World Food Programme, statements that the government will work with the opposition to obtain Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX mechanism, and the release to house arrest of six imprisoned Citgo executives.
Picón's appointment is particularly relevant, notes WOLA, as he is a former political prisoner and key figure in opposition electoral successes in the past. Picón was nominated for the position by the Foro Cívico (Civic Forum), an independent civil society coalition that brings together NGOs, labor unions, religious organizations, academic institutions, and business associations, and his appointment is a sign of the group's growing importance in mobilizing civil society.
Picón told Reuters in an interview that the new board was "the most balanced, in a way, in the past 17 years."
Picón said that the electoral body cannot by itself create conditions so elections are free and fair and that negotiations in other areas will be key. But, he told AP, he is hopeful that a pluralistic electoral board, if allowed to work independently, will help defuse the hostility of the past few years and serve as an example to political parties, civil society and state institutions.
The move promises to expose more schisms among the political opposition to Maduro. The opposition bloc led by Juan Guaidó rejected the new CNE appointments, arguing that the designation of new rectors requires national consensus and international participation. (Efecto Cocuyo)
The council's new leadership, which also includes 10 substitute deputies, will oversee elections for state governors that are expected to be held in December, reports Reuters.
Colombia's protests are tapping into deep anger over the country’s massive income and wealth disparity -- which has only grown worst with the pandemic. Analysts predict that the demonstrations could continue, similar to how 2019 protests over a transit fare hike in Chile evolved into a sustained national movement for social and economic justice, reports the Washington Post.
The United Nations has condemned the violent repression of protests in Colombia, after clashes between police and demonstrators left at least 18 dead and 87 people missing, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.) The European Union called on Colombia's security forces to avoid a heavy-handed response to street protests. (Reuters)
After a deadly crash on that line this week killed at least 24 people and injured dozens more (see yesterday's briefs), two of Mexico’s brightest political stars -- Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard -- are facing scrutiny and anger regarding their possible responsibility in the tragedy. (New York Times)
The Mexico City subway's Golden Line has been plagued with structural weaknesses that led engineers to warn of potential accidents since it opened nearly ten years ago. But the warnings went unheeded, reports the New York Times. Mexican social media resurfaced old tweets and posts from people warning something was amiss with the elevated metro line, reports the Guardian.
Haitian state officials and police assisted in gang attacks that left hundreds of people dead, according to a report published by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the Observatoire Haïtien des Crimes contre l’humanité. The researchers lay out how the government of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse allegedly took part in state-sponsored massacres by providing gangs with money, weapons, police uniforms, and government vehicles. These were used in three prolonged attacks on neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince between 2018 and 2020. (InSight Crime)
The U.S. Biden administration began a reunification process for families forcibly separated at the country's border by the former Trump administration -- in total, more than 1,000 families are expected to be reunited, reports the Washington Post.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ignored repeated warnings that his anti-scientific response to Covid-19 was leading Brazil down an “extremely perilous path”, former health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said giving oral evidence to a senate inquiry into Brazil’s coronavirus management, yesterday. Bolsonaro's former minister said he believed the Brazilian president’s conduct had helped generate an unnecessarily large tragedy. (Guardian)
Mandetta also told lawmakers that the government knew full well that the chloroquine treatment they were advocating for Covid-19 patients had no scientific basis, reports Reuters. The Senate investigation has called up other former health ministers, including General Eduardo Pazuello, who was picked by Bolsonaro after two ministers were removed for not backing his chloroquine treatment plan.
Governments that ignore or delay acting on scientific advice are missing out on a crucial opportunity to control the pandemic, warns an editorial in Nature that uses Bolsonaro as an example.
A group of European companies including Tesco and Marks & Spencer have threatened to stop using Brazilian agricultural commodities if the country’s Congress passes a law expanding property rights for squatters on public land, reports Al Jazeera.
A U.S. Justice Department trial attorney repeatedly contacted Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers asking, eventually under threat of subpoena, about research they had conducted on the 2019 Bolivian presidential election, according to emails obtained by The Intercept, which says they add new evidence to support Bolivian allegations that the United States was implicated in the 2019 coup against Evo Morales.
Behind the left-right clash that is Peru's presidential runoff, a national popular-rural bloc clamors to be heard, writes Alejandra Dinegro Martínez in Nacla. "The political subject in Peru is not Pedro Castillo. The active political subject is a national popular-rural bloc that for decades has voted for social change and that ends up being betrayed and forgotten by those who occupy the seats of power."
Rural Peruvians feel left behind by two decades of national economic growth -- and the gap has only been widened by the Peru's brutal Covid-19 outbreak, reports the Guardian.