Friday, March 14, 2014

Follow-up: Top Venezuelan Diplomat Blasts “Murderer” Kerry

Yesterday we examined the Congressional testimony of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who urged the Venezuelan government to end their “terror campaign” against the population and warned that the White House was considering enacting sanctions. On Friday several Venezuelan officials pulled no punches in responding to Kerry’s statements.

“Mr. Kerry, we denounce to the whole world, you encourage the violence in Venezuela … We denounce you as a murderer of the Venezuelan people,” declared Foreign Minister Elias Jaua.

Jaua also alleged that every time Kerry makes a public declaration on Venezuela, violence flared up in the “main areas” of unrest in the South American country.

“You saw it on Wednesday (when) Kerry made comments and that evening there was an increase in the number of deaths including a captain of the National Guard,” said Jaua.

In addition, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claimed that the unrest over the past month that has officially left twenty-eight people dead “unclothed” the “real politics” of the U.S. State Department.

“It is more than evident today that the U.S. government is desperate for intervention (in Venezuela).  If they are successful and our regime were ousted, then Latin America will face its worst economic instability" in the region's history, Maduro said at a press conference this afternoon.

Aside from Kerry, Maduro blamed a “Miami lobby” of politicians for attempting to influence White House policy on Venezuela.  Similarly, Venezuela’s attorney general lashed out at the U.S. Senate for approving bipartisan resolutions condemning the Maduro regime and seeking $15 million in funds to “defend human rights in Venezuela (and) support democratic civil society organizations."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Kerry to Maduro: Halt “Terror Campaign” in Venezuela

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had harsh words to say on Thursday against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as the death toll rose amidst weeks of unrest in the South American country.

"We are engaged now with trying to find a way to get the Maduro government to engage with their citizens, to treat them respectfully, to end this terror campaign against his own people and to begin to hopefully respect human rights and the appropriate way of treating his people," Kerry said during his testimony in front of the Foreign Affairs committee of the House of Representatives.

When asked by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as to what actions the U.S. is taking to respond to the turmoil in Venezuela, Kerry called on the Organization of American States (OAS) and Venezuela’s neighbors to “ensure accountability” of the Maduro regime.

“We are taking actions and not just making statements,” Kerry noted and he said that Vice President Joe Biden “talked with leaders of other countries” of the Americas during his visit to Chile this week.

Kerry’s comments came one day after he spoke to a separate House committee and threatened with imposing sanctions against Venezuela if efforts at mediation were to fail.

“We are prepared, if necessary, to invoke the Democratic Charter of the OAS and get involved in various ways, through sanctions or otherwise, but the economy there is already quite fragile,” Kerry mentioned.

Numerous legislators representing the Democratic and Republican parties have urged the White House to raise sanctions against the Maduro regime and ease immigration requirements for Venezuelan migrants.  On Thursday the Senate approved a resolution with bipartisan sponsorship that condemns the Venezuelan government and urges U.S. President Barack Obama to "impose targeted sanctions."

Report Investigates Election of Crooked Colombian Congressmen (Updated)

The recent legislative elections in Colombia were marked by high abstentions and a greater than expected number of blank votes.  Yet the most troublesome part of the election may have to do with the shady connections amongst some of the legislators.

According to the Fundación Paz y Reconciliación, at least 70 candidates that will join the next Colombian legislature have either direct or indirect links to criminal organizations.   As a result the NGO believes that roughly 35% of the next Congress to be sworn in on July 20th will have questionable ties to criminal groups, especially right-wing paramilitaries and neo-paramilitaries.

“The para-politics phenomena is still alive,” said León Valencia, the foundation’s president, in reference to the scandalous revelations first made in 2006 regarding politicians financed and supported by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and their successors. 

“We engaged in a serous investigation from November until February of this year and we received plenty of evidence explaining how this phenomena was going to influence the election,” added Valencia.

President Juan Manuel Santos last month kicked out five senior military officers including the chief of the armed forces amidst major allegations of corruption and illegal wiretapping.  Yet Paz y Reconciliación claimed that 41 of the supposedly “dirty” candidates belonged to political parties allied to the government that retained a majority of the legislature.

For example, Senator Musa Besaile of the Partido de la U received the third-most votes nationwide even though demobilized AUC commanders claimed that he received campaign funds from them in 2006. Luis Eduardo Diaz Granados Torres of Cambio Radical won a seat in the Chamber of Representatives with help from the corrupt Char political clan in Atlántico state.

Other Congressional Santistas are family members of former politicians convicted in the para-politics scandal such as Andres Felipe Garcia Zucardi, son of a pair of ex-legislators that are currently in prison, and Sandra Villadiego whose husband is parapolítico Miguel Ángel Rangel.

The recently formed Centro Democratico may have captured twenty Senate spots and become the main opposition party but some of their legislators have shady connections according to Paz y Reconciliación.  Such is the case of Alfredo Ramos Maya who is the son of Luis Alfredo Ramos Botero, a former Antioquia governor currently jailed and under investigation for possible ties to the AUC.  Electoral officials may have barred Pedro Jesus Orjuela Gomez for running for mayor of Arauca due to his links to another governor accused of being helped by the AUC but that didn’t stop him from capturing a seat in the Chamber. 

Daily Headlines: March 13, 2014

* Venezuela: Three people were killed in Venezuela on Wednesday on the one month anniversary of clashes between opposition protesters and pro-government activists in Caracas.

* Mexico: Some areas of Mexico may be hit by drug-related violence but that hasn’t stopped international tourism in the country from increasing by 17.4% in January 2013.

* Haiti: A new class action lawsuit was filed in a U.S. federal court this week against the U.N. to hold the international body responsible for a cholera epidemic that killed thousands across the Americas.

* Chile: “Chile must value the diversity that characterizes Latin America and effectively tackle the challenges presented by our relations with neighbors,” declared new president Michelle Bachelet during her inauguration address on Tuesday.

Video Source – YouTube user ExcelsiorTV (“Venezuela marks one month of protests and the violence has apparently not ceased.  24 people have died.”)

Online Sources- Reuters; SBS; The Guardian; Xinhua

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Daily Headlines: March 11, 2014

* Chile: Leaders from around the Americas will attend the presidential inauguration of Michelle Bachelet who returns to Chile’s Palacio de la Moneda for a second non-consecutive term.

* Mexico: Mexico's Gallos Blancos de Queretaro first division soccer team could be relegated over suspicions that the squad was used to illegally launder money.

* Bolivia: An Amnesty International report found that victims of human rights abuses during the dictatorship period of 1964-82 in Bolivia were being denied proper access to compensation.

* Venezuela: Medical professionals upset at a shortage of medicines in hospitals and the importing of thousands of doctors from Cuba have become the latest group to protest against the Venezuelan government.
Video Source – euronews via YouTube (Michelle Bachelet was reelected as Chile's president in a landslide victory last December.)

Online Sources- GlobalPost; BBC News; Mercopress; The Miami Herald

Monday, March 10, 2014

Daily Headlines: March 10, 2014

* El Salvador: Electoral authorities could take days to declare a victor in the second round of El Salvador’s presidential race where leftist Salvador Sanchez holds a razor-thin 0.16% lead over conservative rival Norman Quijano.

* Mexico: Mexican officials say Knights Templar drug cartel chief Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was killed in a shootout yesterday even though the government in 2010 claimed he was dead.

* Colombia: After yesterday’s local elections, President Juan Manuel Santos’ coalition in the Colombian Congress shrank slightly but will still retain a legislative majority.

* Brazil: Paulo Nogueira Batista, Brazil’s representative at the International Monetary Fund, warned that the institution “will suffer a loss of credibility” if it were to ease its rules in order to provide a large loan to the Ukraine.

Video Source – AFP via YouTube

Online Sources- Bloomberg; GlobalPost; Reuters; CNN