On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called for the release of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López and former mayor of San Cristóbal Daniel Ceballos, as well as other prisoners detained over protests in February. Commissioner Zeid stated yesterday that “the prolonged and arbitrary detention of political opponents and protestors in Venezuela […] is only exacerbating the tensions in the country." He urged the government to release the prisoners, which number at least 69, and adhere to international standards of due process in all trials.
The High Commissioner had previously spoken with Leopoldo López’ wife, Lilian Tintori, and their lawyer, Jared Genser, in Switzerland last Friday, regarding the delicate human rights situation in the country. Tintori told reporters after the meeting that she described to the High Commissioner the murders, disappearances and the overwhelming sense of helplessness that Venezuelans are currently facing. The UN Human Rights office has information indicating that more than 3,300 hundred people were detained between February and June 2014, and that over 150 cases of abuse have been reported.
In early October, a UN working group released a document determining that the detention of López was arbitrary and urging his release. In response, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez gave a press conference during which he asserted that working groups should not interfere with the legal process taking place in Venezuela. However, last week the country won a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, making it all the more important that Venezuela complies with the organization’s demands.
A public hearing for Leopoldo López has been set for October 28.
The family of imprisoned Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López announced yesterday that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled in Opinion No. 26/2014 that López is being held illegally, and called for his release. The Working Group consists of five members appointed by the UN Human Rights Council that investigate possible cases of arbitrary detention, and they have been working on the Lopéz case since he was arrested on February 18 for the alleged incitement of violence during widespread protests.
López, the national coordinator of the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), is being held at the Ramo Verde military prison in Miranda state. In addition to determining that López’ detention was “arbitrary,” the Working Group asked the Venezuelan government for reparations for his detention. President Nicolás Maduro’s government had previously met with the Working Group to defend its treatment of López and argue against López’ claims, although they were unsuccessful. The group further noted that his imprisonment appeared to be motivated by political opinion.
The government detained hundreds of demonstrators involved in the anti-government protests that erupted in February, including Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Enzo Scarano from San Cristobal and San Diego, respectively. The government is currently facing numerous allegations of human rights violations surrounding both the arrests and the treatment of its prisoners. International criticism of the detentions has increased in recent weeks, with calls for the release of prisoners from U.S. President Barack Obama and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.
This week’s likely top stories: World leaders gather for the UN General Assembly; Leopoldo López’ trial resumes in Venezuela; U.S. to approve aid to El Salvador; 8 killed in Guatemala conflict over cement plant; Clorox discontinues operations in Venezuela.
World leaders converge in New York; thousands march for action on climate change: Some 140 heads of state have arrived in New York City to participate in the UN General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, where the General Debate opens on Wednesday, September 24. Along with U.S. President Barack Obama, the presidents of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, the Dominican Republic and Honduras are expected to speak on Wednesday, followed by more speeches from Latin American leaders throughout the week. Meanwhile, this Sunday, over 300,000 demonstrators marched through Manhattan to call for international leaders to take action regarding climate change. The march came ahead of Tuesday’s 2014 UN Climate Summit, where world leaders will be discussing ways to reduce emissions, promote sustainable agricultural practices, and develop clean energy, among other goals, and large companies will be making pledges to reduce their carbon footprint. This week’s summit comes ahead of two global summits on climate change in Peru and France—the COP20 conference in Lima in December, and the COP21 conference in Paris in 2015.
Leopoldo López goes to trial: The trial of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López will resume today over López’ role in the national protests that rocked Venezuela this spring. López has been imprisoned for seven months on charges that he had incited violent protests in February, including charges of criminal association and arson. López and his family have maintained his innocence, and human rights groups have said that López and other Venezuelan political prisoners should be released. Until now, López’ defense team has not been allowed to produce evidence or witnesses to support his case. López could face more than 13 years in prison if he is found guilty.
U.S. will provide $277 in aid to El Salvador: The U.S. is expected to sign off on a $277 million economic aid package for El Salvador now that the U.S. Treasury Department has confirmed that it will not hold up the funds due to its concerns about money laundering. El Salvador is currently in the process of reforming its standards to police money laundering and corruption more effectively, recently passing a bill to report on the financial transactions of powerful individuals and their families. $101 million of the U.S. aid package has been allocated to provide job training for young Salvadorans who might otherwise leave the country and migrate to the United States.
Clash over cement factory in Guatemala kills 8: At least eight people were killed and dozens injured in a clash late Friday between community members in the town of Los Pajoques, about 25 miles from Guatemala City. The chain of violent events is one in a series of conflicts surrounding a cement plant and highway that have been under construction in the town of San Juan Sacatepéquez since July 2013, and that many community members oppose due to environmental concerns. Cementos Progreso, which owns the plant, said that its employees and the families that have sold their land have been harassed by the plant’s opponents. Meanwhile, protesters who have opposed the project since 2007 say that they have received threats from people they believe are affiliated with the project.
Clorox to leave Venezuela: Clorox Company announced today that it will immediately discontinue its operations in Venezuela due to hyperinflation, supply shortages and price freezes. The company is seeking to sell its assets, but the move will cost Clorox $65 million. The household products company said that the economic situation in Venezuela forced Clorox to sell products at a loss, and the company could not break even, despite price increases approved earlier this year by the Venezuelan government. A number of other U.S. companies, including Exxon Mobil and American Airlines, have either left Venezuela entirely or drastically cut their operations in the country.
This week’s likely top stories: the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Brazil; Colombian voters return to the polls; Venezuelan protesters call for the release of Leopoldo López; President Enrique Peña Nieto defends Mexican reforms in Spain; Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou testifies in court.
World Cup Begins in Brazil Amid Subway Strike: The FIFA World Cup will officially open on Thursday, June 12, with the opening match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena Corinthians stadium in São Paulo. Meanwhile, protesters clashed with police in São Paulo as they supported a subway workers’ strike that began last Thursday when metro employees called for a 12.2 percent salary increase ahead of the tournament. On Sunday, the subway workers’ union voted to continue the strike indefinitely, which will inevitably affect transportation to the Arena Corinthians stadium 12 miles east of central São Paulo. A São Paulo labor court has fined the union $175,000 and said it will add $220,000 per day that the work stoppage continues.
Colombian Runoff Elections: Colombian voters will return to the polls on Sunday to choose between current President Juan Manuel Santos of the Partido de la U and challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the Centro Democrático in what is expected to be a very tight race for president. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), who have agreed on three points of a six point peace agenda with the Colombian government in Havana, announced a three-week ceasefire from June 9 to June 30 in recognition of the June 15 runoff election. The government and the FARC recently announced the creation of a truth commission to investigate the deaths of the estimated 220,000 people killed in the country’s 50 year-old internal conflict.
Venezuelan Opposition Calls for Release of Leopoldo López: Members of the Venezuelan opposition protested in Caracas on Sunday to call for the release of opposition leader Leopoldo López, who has been imprisoned since February 18—and are also demanding new presidential elections as soon as possible. López was formally charged in April by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz of damaging property, arson and instigating violence in the February 12 protests that set off a wave of anti-government demonstrations across the country. Those charges were upheld last week by Judge Adriana López, who concluded that López must remain in custody. At least 42 people have died in protest-related violence.
Enrique Peña Nieto Defends Mexico’s Reforms: In a speech delivered at a meeting of business and political leaders in Madrid, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto defended the political and economic reforms he has passed during his time in office. In the conversation, the president signaled that the introduction of foreign capital into the energy sector would make Pemex a “productive industry of the state,” rather than just an “industry of the state.” He added that Mexico is attempting to deepen its relationship with its Latin American neighbors, citing Mexico’s participation in the Pacific Alliance alongside Chile, Colombia and Peru. Enrique Ochoa Reza, head of Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (Federal Commission of Electricity—CFE), and Spanish energy company Iberdola also signed a collaborative agreement.
Argentine Vice President Boudou Appears in Court: Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou is expected to testify on Monday in a criminal corruption probe for his possible involvement in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal. Boudou is accused of using his position as economic minister of Argentina to illegally lift bankruptcy proceedings against the Ciccone Calcografica printing company in return for 70 percent ownership of the firm in 2010. Boudou will appear before prosecutor and federal judge Ariel Lijo in a closed court session. Bodou denies any wrongdoing and asked that Monday’s court session be broadcast before the Argentine public—but that request was denied.
Opposition leader Leopoldo López is back in court this morning after his 11-hour hearing was adjourned yesterday. Judge Adriana López is expected to decide whether the former mayor of Chacao will face a criminal trial and, if so, if he will remain in the Ramo Verde military prison while awaiting his trial date.
López, founder and national coordinator of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party and outspoken critic of the Chávez, and later, Maudro governments, has been in custody at the military prison since February after he turned himself in to authorities. Despite yesterday’s lengthy session, defense attorney Bernardo Pulido stated that the defense counsel was not called to take the floor. Because of limited access to the courtroom, much of the information has come from López’ wife, Lilian Tintori’s, social media accounts.
López is currently charged with arson, damage to public property, incitement, and conspiracy for his role in calling for the student protests against the government in February that turned violent. If charged, he faces up to ten years in prison.
OAS General Assembly in Paraguay: The Organization of American States (OAS) will hold its General Assembly in Asunción, Paraguay from June 3 to 5. At least 29 foreign ministers have confirmed their attendance—the highest number to do so since the 2009 General Assembly in Honduras, following the coup that removed former President Manuel Zelaya from office. OAS member states remain divided over the political crisis in Venezuela, proposed changes to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the participation of Cuba, among other issues. Those attending the assembly are expected to sign a declaration to signal their commitment to promote social inclusion and reduce poverty and social inequality in the hemisphere.
Brazil’s Public Ministry to Create a “Crisis Cabinet” for the World Cup: With only ten days left before the start of the World Cup, Brazil’s public minister, Rodrigo Janot, declared that the government would create a “Crisis Cabinet” to monitor any future protests during the World Cup and address “excesses” on the part of either protesters or security forces during public manifestations. The Cabinet will include state attorney generals from all states that will host the World Cup, as well as the federal district that includes Brasília, and will receive additional assistance from a support group made of other public officials from the public ministry and attorney general’s office. June 6 marks the one-year anniversary of protests that erupted across Brazil in response to transit costs, poor public services, corruption, and high spending on the World Cup.
Sánchez Céren Sworn in as Salvadoran President: Former FMLN guerrilla Salvador Sánchez Céren was sworn in as El Salvador’s president on June 1, after narrowly defeating rival candidate Norman Quijano in a run-off election on March 9. Sánchez Céren said that he would fight corruption and violence during his term and would prioritize security, employment and education. El Salvador faces one of the world’s highest homicide rates, according to the UN, at 41 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, though the rate was even higher in 2009. Sánchez Cerén was vice president during the government of former President Mauricio Funes.
Leopoldo López Hearing Begins in Venezuela: Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has been transferred to Venezuela’s Palacio de Justicia to begin a preliminary hearing on Monday. The hearing will determine whether López should be tried for promoting violence and instigating damage to public property, among other charges, during Venezuela’s February 12 protests. López, who was detained in February, has been held in a military prison for the last several months, and he faces a potential sentence of more than 13 years in prison, according to Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz.
Uruguayan Primary Elections: Uruguayans voted in primary elections on June 1, with a paltry turnout of only 39 percent of eligible voters selecting presidential candidates for the country’s three major political parties: the Partido Nacional (PN), Partido Colorado (PC) and the Frente Amplio (FA). The results were predictable for the FA—with popular former president Tabaré Vázquez easily defeating senator and political scientist Constanza Moreira—and the PC, which elected Pedro Bordaberry, a former presidential candidate and son of ex-President Juan María Bordaberry. However, Luis Lacalle Pou unexpectedly defeated favorite Jorge Larrañaga in the PN primary, creating a need for the PC and FA to reevaluate their strategies for Uruguay’s presidential election on October 26.
Venezuela will deploy military units to San Cristobal, Táchira, where demonstrators continue to protest the arrest of opposition leader Lepoldo López, government officials announced today. Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said that the decision is a measure to restore public order.
In addition to the deployment of the military troops on the ground military jets have been flying over that state of Táchira and internet access has been cut following 16 days of protests. Rodriguez has denied knowledge of the cause of the internet blackout.
The Venezuelan attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, confirmed that there have been 8 deaths and 137 injuries to date, resulting in what human rights activists have called the worst violation of human rights in Venezuela in 15 years.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
Venezuelan opposition leaders have condemned President Nicolas Maduro’s government for the violent backlash to what started as peaceful student protests last week. The National Police, National Guard and government-backed colectivos (armed militias) have filled the streets firing freely at protesters. At least eight people have died since the protests turned violent last week and many have been injured.
Although the Venezuelan media has not fully covered the violence, social media sites have been flooded with photos and videos of the clashes documented by protesters themselves. Maduro and his supporters have claimed that the escalation of the violence is part of an attempted coup by right-wing “fascist” opponents backed by the U.S. On Monday, Maduro gave three U.S. diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, after being accused of fomenting a coup against the Venezuelan government.
The leader of the opposition movement, Leopoldo López, turned himself in to police on Tuesday and is being held in Caracas' Ramo Verde jail on charges of terrorism. President Maduro has called López, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, “the face of fascism.”
Among other voices condemning the repression of the protests are Henrique Capriles, former Venezuelan presidential candidate, and President Barack Obama, who urged Maduro to stop making “false accusations” and address the protesters’ demands during his recent visit to Mexico.
The opposition movement is planning more marches for Saturday.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
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The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, currently led by Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, is facing the most significant wave of social discontent with its policies in more than a decade.
Over the past six days, daily spontaneous protests across the country have diluted the government’s ability to maintain social order and address the concerns of millions of Venezuelans who oppose its socialist project.
Today, Caracas will be the site of yet another round of political protests. This time, the protests will be far from spontaneous. They will concentrate in two opposing marches that will take city streets simultaneously.
One side will march in defense of Maduro’s regime and against what the government has called “an unfolding coup attempt” against the Revolution. The other side will accompany opposition leader Leopoldo López to the Ministry of the Interior, where López will make a set of demands and probably be apprehended by the State for his supposed involvement in the violence that has shaken the country.
Venezuelan opposition candidate Leopoldo López of Voluntad Popular pulled out of the presidential primary race on Tuesday to form an alliance with current opposition frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski of Primero Justicia. According to Dataánalisis, a Venezuelan polling firm, Capriles leads López by 29 percentage points (45 to 16 percent) ahead of the February 12 primary elections.
One of the reasons Leopoldo López decided to pull out this late in the primary race was his precarious position as a candidate. He was barred from holding public office until 2014 over corruption charges; the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that this decision violated his political rights, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court dismissed this decision saying he could run for office but not hold office.
López decided to support Primero Justicia because of similarities in the electoral base. According to López: “We both have the same dream.”
President Hugo Chávez, who has been in office for 13 years and is seeking another six-year term in the October 7th presidential election responded to the news: “They are all the same. They are the candidates of the Yankee Empire.” Recent polls show he remains popular with a 50 percent approval rating.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.