Western Hemisphere Intelligence Brief

Issue 229: October 28, 2015
Venezuela: Time Running Out on Maduro
Latin America: Elections Show Democracy’s Strength

 

Venezuela

The government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has experienced several critical blows to its credibility in recent weeks as it tries to manage severe economic and social crises and seeks to organize national assembly elections scheduled for December 6th. … Last week, a Wall Street Journal front-page story disclosed that, “U.S. authorities have launched a series of wide-ranging investigations into whether Venezuela’s leaders used [the state-run oil company] PdVSA to loot billions of dollars from the country through kickbacks and other schemes.” … The Journal named former PdVSA president Rafael Ramírez, currently Venezuela’s U.N. ambassador, as a target of multiple ongoing federal probes that are “attempting to determine whether PdVSA and its foreign bank accounts were used for other illegal purposes, including black-market currency schemes and laundering drug money.” … Similar accounts of high-level corruption in Venezuela subsequently appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other major international outlets. … One industry analyst speculated that the criminal investigations potentially exposed about $8 billion in PdVSA-owned assets (refineries, pipeline networks, and storage terminals) located in the United States. … This troubling economic news was followed by several political setbacks. … Franklin Nieves, the prosecutor who helped condemn opposition leader Leopoldo López to a 14-year sentence for allegedly inciting violent protests last year, fled Venezuela this past weekend and released a video denouncing “pressure exerted by the executive branch and [his] superiors to continue defending false evidence” against López. … “López is innocent; this was a totally political trial that should be annulled,” Nieves declared in a subsequent interview. … For months, the U.S. State Department, regional statesmen, and international human rights groups have demanded the release of López and dozens of other political prisoners as well as impartial electoral observation. … Maduro received additional bad news on the latter front, as well, when Brazil’s respected electoral tribunal withdrew from a South American Union (UNASUR) observation mission leading up to crucial December elections. … A statement issued by the Brazilian tribunal blamed Venezuelan authorities for rejecting its chief-of-mission and failing to approve a work plan “for auditing the electronic voting system and starting an assessment of compliance and fairness….” … It remains to be seen what credibility the UNASUR electoral mission will have, especially since the international community has been pressing for a more independent mission under the Organization of American States.

 

  • For the first time since Hugo Chávez took power in 1998, the legitimacy of his political movement is at stake with important sectors of the international community. Maduro is struggling to manage a deteriorating economy, shortages of food and medicine, and widespread violent crime at home while honoring international bond obligations (with $4.3 billion due in November) and preserving a semblance of political legitimacy abroad (by elections December 6th). This recent spate of bad news is threatening Maduro’s international credibility as well as his grip on power. The revelations in the Wall Street Journal , following an article in May implicating National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello and Aragua state governor Tareck El Aissami in narco-trafficking, make clear that eyewitnesses to the regime’s corrupt activities are cooperating with U.S. authorities. As a result, several powerful rivals, notably Cabello and El Aissami, are jockeying for control over vast criminal enterprises in an effort to protect their interests if the regime loses power or the economy collapses. One thing the two criminal chieftains agree upon is that Maduro cannot be counted upon to manage these multiple crises and protect them from U.S. law enforcement. The elections are an artifice to project an image of democratic legitimacy, because it is clear that Cabello and company cannot afford to yield power to opposition leaders who might hold the regime accountable for apparent corruption. The lack of a credible observation mission and the revelations about the political persecution of López may expose the elections as a farce, exposing the government’s illegitimacy. Another question is whether the Obama administration will allow federal prosecutors to indict Venezuelan political leaders or publish any indictments that already have been formalized. In any case, time seems to be running out on the Maduro regime.

 

Latin America Elections

A number of open and orderly elections this past weekend demonstrated that if the democratic process has been undermined by neo-authoritarians in some countries in Latin America, in others it is still proving capable of reflecting public opinion in even the most complicated settings…. On Sunday, voters went to the polls to elect national and local leaders in Argentina, Guatemala, Haiti, and Colombia. … The most unexpected result occurred in Argentina, where the center-right former mayor of Buenos Aires Mauricio Macri came within two percentage points (36.7%-34.5%) of President Cristina Kirchner’s hand-picked successor Daniel Scioli. … Some had predicted Scioli would win the presidency outright by securing 45% of the vote in the first round. … Now, a runoff election between Macri and Scioli will take place November 22nd. …. In Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, a former comedian, won Sunday’s presidential elections by a landslide, defeating the left-leaning former first lady Sandra Torres 67.4% to 32.6%. … Morales seized on recent political turmoil in the country — which saw the resignations of both the president and vice president on corruption charges — to run as an outsider on a socially conservative, anti-corruption platform that promised voters a clean, representative government. … Unlike parliamentary elections this past August, the presidential election in Haiti on Sunday appeared to be relatively stable and violence-free, albeit with initial reports of low turnout. … The results are still unknown and not expected until next month. … A runoff election for the presidency will be held on December 27th. … Municipal elections were also held in Colombia on Sunday. … In one of the most important races, after over a decade of leftist leadership in the capital, Bogotá voters elected the centrist Enrique Peñaloso, who served as mayor from 1998 to 2001, to serve as mayor once again. … Elections in Colombia were otherwise marred by one of the country’s left-wing guerrilla groups, the ELN, which launched a deadly attack against soldiers protecting election ballots in the state of Boyacá, killing 11 and taking two others hostage.

 

  • The most significant result of the weekend was the surprising strength shown by Mauricio Macri in forcing Argentina’s presidential race into a second round. Both Macri and Scioli campaigned on the priority of jump-starting Argentina’s moribund economy, but many observers believed Kirchner’s imprimatur and the Peronist machine would be enough to push Scioli over the first-round threshold. What pollsters evidently missed was the level of popular dissatisfaction with more than a decade of kirchnerista rule. In the run-up to November 22nd, all eyes will be on the supporters of third-place candidate, dissident-Peronist Sergio Massa, who won 21% of the vote. The question will be whether they return to the Peronist flock in Scioli or whether they make a clean break for Macri. In the past year, Guatemala has seen numerous peaceful public protests against corrupt, unrepresentative government that culminated in the resignation of Otto Perez Molina and his vice president as a result of an investigation by a U.N.-sponsored team. Entertainer Jimmy Morales successfully tapped that widespread popular anger to win the presidency. However, Morales’ party, the National Convergence Front, did not enjoy the same success, winning just 11 out of 158 congressional seats. This will likely be a significant obstacle for President-Elect Morales in implementing the sweeping changes he has promised. In Colombia, local candidates aligned with President Juan Manuel Santos appeared to have done well, which will be good news for the President as he wraps up peace negotiations between the government and the FARC guerrilla group set to be signed by next March and then submitted for the Colombian people’s ratification.

 

Copyright © 2009-2019 Visión Américas

 

Western Hemisphere Intelligence Brief

Issue 230: November 18, 2015
Argentina at a Crossroads
Venezuela Careens towards Legislative Elections

 

Argentina

Argentina is preparing for its runoff presidential elections on November 22nd. … Center-right opposition candidate and mayor of Buenos Aires city Mauricio Macri has considerable momentum after finishing a surprisingly strong second behind the heavily favored ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli. … Scioli is the chosen successor of current president Cristina Kirchner, but has tried subtly to differentiate himself from his patron’s unorthodox economic policies, which many voters blame for the country’s weak growth, rising unemployment, and high inflation. … In a debate this past Sunday, Macri emphasized his campaign’s theme of change from kirchnerismo, while Scioli stressed his independence and commitment to the traditional Peronist base. … In response to an attack by Macri that his opponent represented more of the same deleterious policies of Kirchner, Scioli answered, “You insist on debating with a government that ends on December 10th.” … According to a post first-round election poll by Management & Fit, support for Macri has surged to 51.8%, while Scioli received 43.6%. … Another poll by the firm González and Valladares found similar results, with 51.6% of Argentinians supporting Macri and 40.3% backing Scioli. … Some initial reports suggested that Sergio Massa, a dissident Peronist who was eliminated from the presidential race after his third-place finish in the first round, would throw his support to Macri. … However, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, Massa indicated that he would not endorse either of the candidates. … “To attempt to influence the vote would be to mock [my supporters’] trust in me. I’m not planning to support either of the two candidates.” … The pro-market Macri has been targeted by a heavy wave of attack ads, one of which warned, “Imagine yourself without a home. Imagine yourself hungry. Imagine yourself if Macri wins.” … During Saturday’s debate Scioli attempted to paint Macri as a tool of the International Monetary Fund and big corporations, while calling his policies dangerous. … Macri’s campaign responded to the Scioli camp’s attacks calling them, “The last recourse of desperate people who do not want to lose power.”

 

  • The runoff election poses a stark choice for Argentina after a 13-year economic roller-coaster ride that began just after Argentina’s 2002 default, the largest sovereign default on record. Since then, the country’s economy has lurched from crisis to crisis under Presidents Nestor and Cristina Kirchner. Macri’s commitment to changing Argentina’s direction in favor of fiscally responsible policies that attract trade and investment has clearly gained the favor of Argentinians who are unhappy with the economic stagnation and uncertainty about the future that has become pervasive in Argentina. The private sector also has responded favorably to Macri’s momentum, increasing investment prospects and market performance in Argentina. However, the reliability of polling has been questioned due to the failure to accurately predict electoral results in the past, as was seen in last month’s first round election. Adding to this uncertainty ahead of the November 22th runoff is the large proportion of undecided voters, measured in some polls as high as 10 percent. Scioli runoff campaign strategy is to put space between him and Kirchner, while painting Macri as a dangerous choice. Macri has sought to tap into the desire for change without being perceived as radical. Indeed, many have observers have found very little difference in the economic programs espoused by the major campaigns. If Macri is able to pull off a victory, he will have to build a reform-minded coalition among various political sectors that share his vision of restoring growth, credibility, and regional influence to what could once again be an economic powerhouse in Latin America. Meanwhile, many observers outside of Argentina are watching this election to see what it may portend for other leftist governments in the region that are experiencing similar economic turbulence, particularly Venezuela, Brazil, and Ecuador. In Venezuela, the government of Hugo Chávez-successor Nicolás Maduro faces its most difficult challenge to date in legislative elections scheduled for December 6th; in Brazil, Dilma Rousseff is attempting to fend off impeachment efforts as her government labors through major political and economic crises; and in Ecuador, Rafael Correa is facing energized opposition as he tries to bring fiscal deficits under control.

 

Venezuela

As Venezuela heads into legislative elections scheduled for December 6th, pressures continue to mount on all sides for embattled President Nicolás Maduro. … Plunging oil revenues due to the collapse in international prices have gutted government spending, resulting in major economic, social, and political challenges. … In addition, last week, two nephews of Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, were arrested in Haiti and flown to the U.S. to face drug trafficking charges. … According to the New York Times, the two have been charged with conspiring to ship 800 kilograms of cocaine to the Unites States. … Their arrest confirms suspicions raised by a Wall Street Journal report last May revealing that U.S. law enforcement agencies are investigating high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government, including National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello and former Venezuelan Minister of the Interior, Tareck el Aissami, for their suspected roles in drug trafficking and money laundering. … On the political front, the Maduro government is facing increasing international scrutiny over its lack of commitment to free and fair elections. … Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro sent an 19-page letter to Venezuela’s electoral council stating, “There are reasons to believe that the conditions in which people will vote … aren’t right now as transparent and just as the (electoral council) ought to guarantee.” … Almagro also noted “unfair electoral advantages in the governing party’s use of public resources in the campaign, access to the press, confusion in voting cards and the disqualification of some opposition political figures.” … At the same time, more than a 150 elected legislators from Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru and the United States signed an open letter urging the Maduro government to allow international observation of the elections and to release all political prisoners. … In October, Brazil announced it would not participate in a Venezuela-friendly UNASUR electoral observation mission due to the limitations set by the government. … The ongoing turmoil has cast further doubt on the government’s legitimacy and popularity. … The polling firm Datanalisis estimates that the opposition maintains a 30% lead over the ruling party for the upcoming elections. … Furthermore, the government’s approval rating decreased from 50% in 2013 to 20% in September, according to a Venebarómetro poll. 

 

  • Given chavismo’s long-standing refusal to ascribe the opposition any legitimacy, it is difficult to imagine that the Maduro government will tolerate a national assembly controlled by anyone other than the ruling PSUV (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela). Although Maduro has claimed that he will accept the results of the election, he also has said his party will win “by whatever means possible,” adding that “[he] will not hand over the revolution,” but rather “proceed to govern with the people in a civic-military union.” The difference with this election is the growing regional concern with the rampant corruption as well as the undemocratic practices that the Maduro government employs to sustain itself in power. While no sitting head of government to date has spoken out about the situation in Venezuela, dozens of former presidents and regional commentators have spoken out in favor of free elections and respect for human rights. The trend line is such that other governments soon may have no other choice than to face the deteriorating situation there. The December elections may well be the tipping point. If the ruling party declares victory, many will suspect that the results were manipulated. If the ruling party is suspected of stealing the election or refuses to concede defeat peacefully, then the prospects for street protests and confrontation rise exponentially. If the government cancels the election rather than risk defeat that also will likely provoke unrest and instability in the country. Whatever the outcome, a passive U.S. and regional approach to the spiraling crisis in Venezuela will ironically contribute to the instability that regional governments hope to avoid.

 

Copyright © 2009-2019 Visión Américas

 

Western Hemisphere Intelligence Brief

Issue 228: October 6, 2015
Colombia: Could Peace be at Hand?
Cuba: Castro’s Recalcitrance Likely to Slow Normalization

 

Colombia

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the commander of the narco-terrorist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (a.k.a., Timochenko), announced a six-month timetable for completing negotiations to end the 50-year guerrilla war. … In a joint appearance from the site of the talks in Havana, Cuba, the two men also announced a breakthrough on a judicial framework for holding FARC combatants (and members of the military) accountable for war crimes, buttressed by a broad amnesty for all but the most heinous violations of human rights. … The parties also announced a March 23, 2016, deadline for signing accords on five overarching issues, including rural development, political participation of the FARC, illicit drugs, justice for victims, and the end of the conflict. … They said guerrilla fighters would begin to surrender their weapons and demobilize within 60 days of any final accord. … Since the talks began in 2012, the government agreed to recognize a FARC-affiliated political party, end extradition of FARC members to face justice in other countries, and consider treating narcotrafficking as a “political” crime eligible for amnesty. … Within days of the Havana announcement, Timochenko contradicted the government’s interpretation of the justice plan, saying that the guerrillas had not agreed to physical restrictions on their liberty if they confess to crimes, will never apologize for their actions, and are not liable to pay reparations. … Notwithstanding the different interpretations, guerrilla leaders rejected the government’s assertion that such ambiguities in the text of the justice plan need to be clarified. …  The FARC leader also backed away from the six-month timetable for reaching a final accord. … Last week, the Colombian Congress began debating the preliminary peace terms, with former president Álvaro Uribe using his Senate seat to criticize the justice plan as conferring impunity on the FARC for acts of narco-trafficking and terrorism. … Santos’s supporters argue that Colombia’s economy will boom once the 50-year-old conflict is ended, the country can improve social equality and productivity, and security forces can focus on other security threats. … The Congress must approve a proposal by Santos to empower a special committee, consisting of members of both chambers of the Colombian Congress, to consider expedited constitutional reforms to implement the peace accord. … Santos also is requesting extraordinary presidential authorities to issue conforming decrees. … The president also has restated his intention to submit the comprehensive agreement to a public referendum. … The two sides resume discussions in Havana this week.

 

  • President Santos scored the most important achievement of his presidency with the reported breakthrough agreement on a justice framework and six-month deadline for completing peace negotiations with the FARC. Although polls in recent years have consistently shown widespread public skepticism about the FARC’s willingness to accept a negotiated settlement to the war, disarm, and demobilize, it is likely that a majority of Colombians will prefer making concessions to the guerrillas rather than giving them a pretext to return to hostilities. Critics of the process will do their best to block concessions to the FARC; however, Santos appears to have the leverage in Congress to secure approval of his peace initiatives. The public back-tracking by FARC commanders in recent days will make the president’s job harder — particularly if the guerrilla leaders test him by scuttling the March deadline. The next six months of negotiating with the FARC in Havana and forging an effective majority in the Congress and among the people will be critical. If Santos can convince all parties that he has the strength to both reach and enforce an accord, he could make irreversible progress toward an end to the violence or put the FARC commanders in the precarious position of rejecting a generous settlement. Much of the work in implementing the accord will fall to Santos’s successor; and the United States will have to deal with the unintended consequences if Colombia fails to crack down effectively on narco-trafficking activities by remnants of the FARC. With Colombia’s strong democratic institutions and abundant natural resources, a true and lasting peace would be a tremendous boon to foreign investor confidence in the country and likely propel economic growth to levels on par with the region’s strongest economies.

 

Cuba

Last week, on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama met with Cuba’s Raul Castro for the second time since last December’s announcement on the resumption of relations. … According to a White House statement, the two discussed “additional stepseach government can take to deepen bilateral cooperation,” with President Obama “underscoring that continued reforms in Cuba would increase the impact of U.S. regulatory changes.” … The atmosphere of cooperation and progress, however, was belied by Castro’s subsequent combative speech before the GA, in which he made no mention of the benefits of renewed bilateral relations, and instead lodged a long series of well-known complaints anddemands against the U.S. … These included the unilateral lifting of the U.S. economic embargo, the return of the Guantánamo Bay military base, payment of U.S. reparations to Cuba, and even calling for the independence of Puerto Rico (a proposition the vast majority of Puerto Ricans reject). … Castro’s hoary Cold-War rhetoric comes despite continued moves by the Obama administration to ease economic restrictions against Cuba. … Last month, the administration further reduced limits on US travel and business with Cuba. … Moreover, the administration leaked to the Associated Press that it is considering abstaining from the annual UN vote condemning U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. … However, the one-sidedness of U.S.-Cuba rapprochement is beginning to become an issue for some in the media. … The Washington Post recently quoted an unnamed administration official who revealed that those in Congress who are promoting legislation to lift sanctions “are desperate for gestures” from the Cuban government, “and they aren’t getting those gestures…. There’s been no real give at all.” … And that, despite all the hype, “No new U.S. companies have been allowed to establish a presence in Cuba or to hire Cuban workers.” … A Post editorial noted, “Mr. Castro has in fact appeared to pocket Mr.Obama’s concessions — and raise his demands.” … An editorial in the Wall Street Journal asserted, “The U.S. President has given [Castro] diplomatic recognition, easier travel by Americans to the island, and returned some spies. But Mr. Castro now says he won’t make any concessions until the U.S. lifts the trade embargo and returns Guantánamo Bay to Cuba.” … Adding to the sense that Cuba is merely gaming U.S. overtures is a report in Politico that says, despite the removal of certain export restrictions by the Obama administration, Cuba is actually reducing its agricultural imports from the U.S. as a way to exert pressure on Congress for the unilateral lifting of all U.S. sanctions. 

 

  • Ten months after President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba, Raul Castro has remained true to his word that his government is under no obligation to reciprocate U.S. concessions. While unsurprising to many long-time Cuba watchers, it remains to be seen how long it will take before the Obama administration concludes its own series of unilateral actions may be helping to fortify Castro’s obstinacy that is undermining prospects for normalization. It is fair to ask as long as the U.S. keeps making gestures, what incentive is there for Castro to meet half-way with his own reforms or gestures? Such considerations are important because major action on the U.S. economic embargo and the Guantánamo Bay facility require action by the U.S. Congress. But such one-sidedness in the relationship to date only serves to empower skeptics in Congress who can successfully forestall any action on Cuba policy requested by the President. Critics of the embargo who maintain it is only a matter of time before it is lifted are ignoring the cold, hard political reality that as the Castro government continues to snub U.S. overtures, repress dissidents and human rights activists, and exert its control over all sectors of Cuban society, their leverage to seek legislative change on Capitol Hill will diminish accordingly.

 

Copyright © 2009-2019 Visión Américas

 

Western Hemisphere Intelligence Brief

Issue 227: September 16, 2015
Brazil: Walls Close in on President Rousseff
Venezuela: Provoking Crisis with Colombia Ahead of Elections

 

Brazil

The continuing investigation into the Brazilian state oil company’s Petrobras kickback scandal and the broader political and economic crisis developing in the country are increasingly hindering President Dilma Rousseff’s ability to govern and have increased the possibility of impeachment proceedings against her. … Yesterday, Brazil’s Congress met for three hours to debate the grounds for the president’s possible impeachment. … Eduardo Cunha, Speaker of the House and member of the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (who also is implicated in the corruption investigation), declined to approve the opposition’s case against Rousseff, but called for a deeper review…. Last Friday, the expanding corruption probe got even closer to Rousseff, as the Federal Police asked the Supreme Court for permission to question her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for his possible involvement in the kickback scheme. … As reported by Brazil’s news magazine Epoca, police say Lula “may have obtained advantages for himself, his party and the government while he was president.” … Brazil’s broader economic plight was also highlighted last week when Standard and Poor’s downgraded the country’s debt rating to “junk status,” explaining, “The negative outlook reflects what we believe is a greater than one-in-three likelihood of a further downgrade due to a further deterioration of Brazil’s fiscal position.”… At the same time, JP Morgan predicts that investors will unload approximately $20 billion in hard currency and government bonds if Moody’s or Fitch also decides to downgrade the country’s rating. … Brazil already is facing its worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, with the economy expected to shrink 3% in 2015 and 2% in 2016. … For the first time since it became a democracy, Brazil will post a primary fiscal deficit; in addition, unemployment has surged to a five-year high with 7.5%; the country’s currency, the real, has been the worst performing emerging-market currency this year; and Ivobepsa (Brazil’s stock exchange) has registered 35 percent in losses this year alone. … Yesterday, in yet another move from the executive to try to contain the situation, the Ministry of Finance announced an emergency $7 billion package of budget cuts. … However, with such measures requiring the approval of a Congress looking to impeach the president, it is unlikely that the cuts will pass.

 

  • Only eight months into her second four-year term, the economic and political crisis surrounding the Rousseff administration may have already reached a tipping point. Due to his corruption allegations, Speaker Cunha has his own political self-interest to consider and doesn’t want to be seen as the architect of Rousseff’s impeachment process for fear of making himself a bigger government target. Thus, he is moving cautiously and deliberately and seeking involvement of the entire chamber, although many observers see yesterday’s congressional meeting as the informal start of the process. While no evidence has been produced publicly to date of any wrongdoing by Rousseff, authorities are investigating whether she illegally diverted money to produce a balanced budget in the heat of the 2014 presidential campaign and whether her reelection campaign illegally benefited from funds diverted from Petrobras. If any of these allegations are found to be true, the opposition will have enough justification to proceed with impeachment. As the likelihood of the president’s impeachment grows, there is some speculation that if the investigation leads to Lula’s detention, Rousseff may choose to resign before the impeachment process begins. Brazil is facing daunting economic challenges that demand a strong executive who can take decisive action. With the swirling political uncertainty surrounding her presidency, Rousseff is clearly hobbled. Until the corruption investigations break one way or another, the country will be facing stiff economic headwinds for the foreseeable future.

 

Venezuela/Colombia

As Venezuela’s government continues to whip up tension on its border with Colombia, almost one-half of Colombians fear the dispute could lead to war, according to a recent Colombian poll. … The crisis began in mid-August when embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, claiming a Venezuelan military patrol was shot at by unknown gunmen, ordered the closing of a key border crossing in Táchira state and declared a state of emergency suspending several constitutional rights. … He also ordered the summary deportation of thousands of Colombians living on the Venezuelan side of the border, with many being forced to leave without their possessions, while bulldozers destroyed their homes. … Nearly 20,000 Colombians have been displaced to date. … The Colombia-Venezuela border is the site of rampant smuggling, due to economic distortions in Venezuela, such as gasoline subsidies and other price controls, that make it highly profitable to resell Venezuelan goods in Colombia. … Efforts to resolve the crisis diplomatically in meetings between the respective foreign ministers suffered a set-back over the weekend after Venezuelan military jets reportedly violated Colombian airspace on two separate occasions, in one case passing over a column of Colombian soldiers. … In an interview, a former commander of the Colombian Air Force, Héctor Fabio Velasco, said, “The fact that a plane enters the country, and doesn’t just travel a few meters, but several kilometers is not an error, it is a provocation.” … In response to the incursion, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos lodged a formal complaint with the Venezuelan government, which summarily denied the incidents. … Members of the international community, human rights organizations and numerous ex-presidents have criticized the Maduro government for precipitating the crisis and have called on him to de-escalate the situation. … The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said he was “disturbed by the recent collective deportation of more than one thousand Colombians from Venezuela” and urged authorities “to take immediate measures to guarantee family reunification and to prevent further abuse of Colombians.” However, Maduro has remained defiant, closing another border crossing in the northwestern Zulia state just last week, and expanding a state of emergency to four more municipalities while closing the border in Apure state on Tuesday. … In a speech this week he said, “If Venezuela has to face the whole world on its own to defend its right to peace, justice and democracy, then that’s how we will do it.”

 

  • With legislative elections scheduled for December amid desperate economic conditions and rising social discontent, President Maduro is clearly resorting to nationalistic saber-rattling to try and rally support for his government. While many experts are skeptical the border crisis will lead to a military confrontation – Colombian forces are clearly superior to Venezuela’s – the Maduro government’s actions nevertheless are having real-world consequences, upending the lives of thousands and putting regional peace and stability at risk. Moreover, as President Maduro’s desperation grows and his popularity plummets (his approval rate is currently hovering around 24 percent), his dangerous and erratic behavior could inadvertently trigger a conflict. Maduro no doubt is emboldened by the passivity of regional governments, which have consistently shied away from diplomatic confrontation in the name of “non-intervention.” This was manifested again two weeks ago when a Colombian request before the Organization of American States to simply convene a meeting to discuss the crisis failed to win the support of a majority of member states. With an inflation rate estimated to be the highest in the world, and a GDP expected to shrink by another 7% this year, clearly events in Venezuela are on course to get worse before they get better. At this point, the challenge for the United States and other responsible actors is to contain the damage caused by chavismo’s impending collapse.

 

Copyright © 2009-2019 Visión Américas