Friday, July 21, 2017

Two die in Venezuelan national strike clashes (July 21, 2017)

Large parts of Venezuela were paralyzed yesterday by a national strike in opposition to a government plan to rewrite the country's constitution. The opposition claimed 85 percent of the country joined the strike. Millions of people participated, and many private transportation groups shut down, reports Reuters. Most Caracas residents stayed home and businesses were closed, reports the Wall Street Journal. Reuters notes that in some poorer Caracas neighborhoods business went on as usual.

There were several reports of confrontations between protesters and security forces in different parts of Caracas, reports the Washington Post. Two people were reported dead in clashes, reports Reuters.

Alfredo Romero, co-director of Foro Penal, a human rights group that defends political prisoners, tweeted that at least 261 protesters were arrested as of 9:30 p.m. yesterday.

President Nicolás Maduro downplayed the effects of the strike, saying major businesses were "100 percent" working. He sang and danced at a youth rally in Caracas yesterday. He also promised to push ahead with an election to choose a constituent assembly that would revise the Venezuelan constitution, reports the Associated Press.

Yesterday a senior member of Venezuela's U.N. delegation Isaias Arturo Medina Mejías, abruptly resigned, citing “irreconcilable differences” with the Maduro government, reports the WP. In a video circulating on Thursday, Medina said he was leaving the U.N. mission to "fight impunity" at home, reports Reuters. He is one of the few members of the government to have broken ranks, according to the AP.

The shut-down effect of the strike was far more widespread than the last one, held in October of last year, according to the WP. (That one had spotty support, see post for Oct. 28, 2016.)  Strikes have traditionally been risky for the opposition, notes the WSJ, referring to one that lasted several months in 2003 against Chávez, but which ultimately polarized the country and led to more government intervention in the economy.

The opposition has called for a national march tomorrow.

News Briefs
  • The belief that an immigration crackdown in the U.S. will keep residents safe from Central American gangs' increasing presence in the United States is misguided, argues Daniel Denvir in a Washington Post opinion piece in which he points to the gangs' origins in U.S. prisons and deportation policies.
  • Guatemalan police arrested a former government minister last week, adding to a corruption scheme that involved top officials in the Otto Pérez Molina presidency. (See Monday's briefs.) Former Infrastructure, Housing and Communications Minister Alejandro Sinibaldi Aparicio. According to International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) investigators, he received $10 million in bribes from private construction companies throughout his tenure in exchange for preferential treatment in areas like project contracting and debt forgiveness. The accusations flesh out a network of corruption so vast that it supports InSight Crime's argument that Guatemala is in fact a mafia state. "Sinibaldi was a figure close to Pérez Molina and his case fits within the structure of the mafia state, above all because according to the formal accusations, he laundered money illicitly obtained from private companies to finance the ex-president's campaigns."
  • A law that would have permitted abortion in limited cases in Chile was rejected by one vote in the country's lower chamber of congress, reports the Associated Press. The bill, which was strongly supported by President Michelle Bachelet was widely expected to pass.
  • There's been much written about China's potential to displace the U.S. sphere of influence in Latin America. Now with efforts to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership without the U.S., other Asian countries -- especially South Korea -- are also looking to cooperate more with the region, writes Christopher Sabatini at Latin America Goes Global.
  • Judge Serio Moro ordered the seizure of more than $2.8 million in pension funds from former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in connection with his recent corruption conviction, reports the Associated Press. Earlier this week Brazil's central bank froze four of Silva's bank accounts amounting to more than $190,000. Yesterday Lula assured supporters that he is being politically persecuted, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil will double some taxes on fuels, part of an ongoing (and unpopular) attempt to reduce the country's fiscal deficit, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency in areas affected by a teachers' strike that has lasted over a month. The measure effectively suspends constitutional rights of individual liberty, security, free travel and assembly for a duration of 30 days, according to TeleSUR.
  • Bolivian polices seized a cocaine shipment worth about $10 million, destined for shipment to Brazil, reports AFP.
  • Eight people were killed by police in a shoot out with suspected gang members in Mexico City, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexico is testing a new way to protect the environment: insurance. An innovative scheme to protect a coral reef off the coast of Cancún calls for hotels and local government to pay the premiums on insurance to restore the reef from storm damage, reports the Guardian.

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