Tuesday, 20 June 2017

As Venezuela burns, a divided region proves short on solutions

Riot police confront opposition activists during clashes in a demonstration against the government of President Nicolas Maduro along the Francisco Fajardo highway in Caracas on June 19, 2017. 

Near-daily protests against President Nicolas Maduro began on April 1, with demonstrators demanding his removal and the holding of new elections. The demonstrations have often turned violent with 73 people killed and more than 1,000 injured so far, prosecutors say, and more than 3,000 arrested, according to the NGO Forum Penal. / AFP PHOTO / Juan BARRETO

Ministers from the Organization of American States failed Monday to agree on a resolution to address the crisis in Venezuela, as the death toll from weeks of clashes at anti-government protests rose to 74.

New violence erupted in the South American nation as protesters marked the 80th day in their current campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Meanwhile, as the OAS opened its annual general assembly in Mexico, foreign ministers from the 34-nation regional group scrambled to adopt a joint response to the crisis — and came up short.

Since April 1, after Venezuela’s Supreme Court tried to strip the powers of the opposition-majority legislature, the country has descended into running street battles between anti-government protesters and Maduro’s security forces and supporters.

Maduro’s opponents accuse the president of clinging to power by repressing opponents, eradicating checks and balances, and seeking to write a new constitution.

Violent scenes played out again Monday, as riot police and soldiers used tear gas and water cannons to block demonstrators from marching on central Caracas.

A 17-year-old boy was shot in the chest and killed in Altamira on the capital’s east side, while six others were wounded by bullets, officials said.

– Three votes short –
The crisis has the rest of Latin America increasingly worried.

In the Mexican resort city of Cancun, OAS foreign ministers tried bridge their mistrust and ideological divisions to address the standoff.

The ministers had two competing proposals on the table.

On one side stood Venezuela’s leftist allies and Caribbean countries that for years received discounted crude exports from the oil giant. They back a domestic resolution to the crisis.

On the opposite side were the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru and Panama, which want to create a “contact group” on Venezuela — comprising countries that would seek to make Maduro’s government respect OAS democratic norms.

Using the Caribbean states’ proposal as a base, the two sides sought to forge a compromise in which the OAS would call on Maduro to halt the constitution-drafting assembly he has convened, guarantee human rights, and hold talks with the opposition mediated by a group of regional countries.
But the proposal fell three votes shy of the 23 it needed.

“It’s sad,” said US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Fitzpatrick in Cancun.

“We continue to extend our hand to the people of Venezuela and indeed to the government of Venezuela looking for a pacific and democratic solution.”

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray persuaded his colleagues to adjourn the meeting to an unspecified date while they continue to negotiate behind the scenes.

“While we’re here failing to reach an agreement, in the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities today the violence and repression continue,” he said.

It is unclear in any case how much power the OAS can wield over Venezuela, which is in the process of quitting the group.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, who is in Cancun, defiantly told journalists: “Venezuela recognizes nothing produced by this organization.”

– No end in sight –
Pummeled by the plunge in oil prices since mid-2014, Venezuela is in the grip of an economic and political crisis that is causing desperate shortages of food, medicine and other basic essentials.
Maduro says the crisis is a US-backed conspiracy.

More than 1,000 people have been injured so far, prosecutors say, and more than 3,000 arrested, according to rights group Forum Penal.

The OAS crisis talks are the latest in a series of foreign ministers’ meetings that caused Maduro to announce Venezuela’s withdrawal from the regional group in April — a process that will take two years.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, a vocal Maduro critic, warned there would be no immediate solution.

“The issue of Venezuela will continue, because the crisis in Venezuela isn’t going to end today, either,” he said.

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