Venezuela’s opposition tries to unite against Maduro

Venezuelan opposition Deputy Juan Matheus (C) of the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party protests against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government and in demand of early elections outside the Supreme Court of Justice in Caracas on Thursday. (AFP / JUAN BARRETO)
Updated 09 February 2017
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Venezuela’s opposition tries to unite against Maduro

BRASILIA: A divided opposition in Venezuela is trying to put their differences aside to fight the political repression of President Nicolas Maduro, attempt to stop the country’s economy from sliding even more into depression, and to lower sky-high inflation.
President Maduro, an avid socialist, and protege of the late President Hugo Chavez, who is responsible for Venezuela’s voyage down the road to allegedly become a worker’s republic, has resorted to imprisoning political opponents and protesters. On the economic front, things have not gone well. The economy has been in a downward spiral for the past few years, ever since the international price of crude oil plunged in 2014. The country is dependent on imports for most of its food and goods, and with strict price controls enforced by the government, and forced nationalizations of whole sectors, this has led to widespread shortages of everything from soap, meat, sugar to toilet paper.
Despite opposition parties winning a majority of seats in Parliament in the December 2015 elections, 112 out of 167 seats, the Maduro government refuses to share power with them or even talk with them. For his new year address to the nation, Maduro did not deliver his speech in front of Parliament as is customary, but in front of the Supreme Court which is packed with his supporters.
This has caused regular street protests against the government, and Maduro has responded by having protesters arrested. Foro Penal, an NGO of lawyers who came together to defend protesters who get arrested, estimates that between 2013 and 2016, 429 protesters were arrested, and that 106 were still in jail at the end of December 2016. It estimates that there were 2,732 detentions in Venezuela for political reasons in 2016 alone, and that from January 2014 to December 2016 there were 6,831 political detentions.
“Maduro has created a sort of revolving door, a few leave and many more come in,” said Gonzalo Himiob, one of Foro Penal’s directors, to the Brazilian newspaper O Globo last month. “The economic and social crisis is very serious and will cause many more protests,” he added.
“The government must either file formal charges and try people in open court, or release them. Indefinite holding of individuals without trial makes a mockery of the judicial system,” said Miguel Tinker Salas, a Venezuelan historian and professor of Latin American Studies at Pomona College in California, in an interview with Arab News.
The opposition started a petition last year to have Maduro removed from office for incompetence, but despite getting the required signatures from 20 percent of registered voters, election officials stopped the petition in October 2016. A poll by Datanalisis at the time found that 90 percent of the population believed the country was going in the wrong direction, and 76 percent wanted Maduro to leave office.
In January 2017 Maduro appointed the hard line governor of Aragua, Tareck El Aissami, as his new vice president. By the end of the month he gave Aissami economic decree powers, making him one of the most powerful men in Venezuela. This caused the opposition to rethink their strategy of removing Maduro from president, since the vice president would take over in such a scenario.
Although opposition parties have formed a coalition called the Democratic Unity Roundtable, known by its Spanish acronym MUD, they have been severely divided, able at times to rouse large street protests across the country against Maduro’s rule, and at other times unable to.
“The opposition parties in Venezuela are divided, and there are calls from Maria Corina Machado and others to disband the MUD and form a new organization. Some in the opposition want a recall; while others prefer to oust Maduro through street actions, and yet others would rather confront the government in statewide elections for governor later this year. They hope that regional elections would set the stage for presidential elections where they hope to defeat Maduro,” Salas said.
Both the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Vatican have been trying to negotiate an agreement between the Maduro government and the opposition, but to no avail so far. The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, has been especially critical of Maduro’s repression of opposition protests, and pointed out in an interview to the El Observador newspaper at the end of January that there was a need to act now in Venezuela because the mediation efforts of Unasur and Vatican had been a failure.
“People have been deprived of their constitutional right to recall President Maduro, political prisoners are still incarcerated, violence is rampant, and there is widespread hunger. The international community cannot wait any longer and must act now,” Almagro said.
But Salas believes that the OAS has been sidelined in Venezuela because of its criticism of Maduro’s rule.
“The secretary of the OAS, Almagro, has engaged in sharp personal attacks on the government, while turning a blind eye to issues in other countries such as Mexico. As a result the OAS has been largely sidelined in Venezuela. The key players have been Unasur and the Catholic Church. With Ernesto Samper’s resignation as secretary general of Unasur, it is still unclear what future role the body will play in Venezuela,” said Salas.
After not having much to show for after years of street protests, the opposition MUD coalition is now planning new ways of appealing to the Venezuelan electorate.
Jesus Torrealba, the secretary general of MUD, told the Americas Quarterly that they would be doing more outreach to poorer voters this year. He said they would rotate its leadership and include civil society in its decision making.


Tensions soar between India, Pakistan along volatile Kashmir frontier

Updated 6 min 39 sec ago
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Tensions soar between India, Pakistan along volatile Kashmir frontier

SRINAGAR, India: Tensions soared Wednesday along the volatile frontier between India and Pakistan in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, as rival soldiers shelled dozens of villages and border posts for a sixth straight day.
A total of five civilians and a soldier were killed on both sides, officials from the two countries said, in escalating violence in the disputed region that both countries blame the other for initiating.
Indian police said Pakistani soldiers continued targeting dozens of Indian border posts and villages with mortars and automatic gunfire in the Jammu region. At least four civilians were killed and 30 others injured on the Indian side, said a top police officer, S.D. Singh.
In Pakistan, two security officials said Pakistani and Indian troops exchanged fire near the country’s Sialkot city in eastern Punjab province. They said the two sides traded fire over the past 48 hours, killing a civilian and a soldier.
The officials said several people were also wounded, including three border guards. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
As in the past, each country accused the other of initiating the latest border skirmishes and violating the 2003 ceasefire agreement.
Wednesday’s fighting follows days of confrontations that left four civilians on each side and an Indian soldier dead.
The fighting has sent tens of thousands of villagers fleeing from their homes in dozens of affected villages along the border to government buildings converted into temporary shelters or to the houses of friends and relatives living in safer places.
Dozens of schools in villages along the frontier have been closed and authorities advised residents to stay indoors as shells and bullets rained down. Some damage to houses was also reported on the Indian side.
This year, soldiers from the two nations have engaged in fierce border skirmishes along the rugged and mountainous Line of Control, as well as a lower-altitude 200-kilometer boundary separating Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab, where the latest fighting occurred.
India and Pakistan have a long history of bitter relations over Kashmir, which both claim. They have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over their competing claims to the region.
The fighting has become a predictable cycle of violence as the region convulses with decades-old animosities between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, where rebel groups demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and also helping them by providing gunfire as cover for incursions into the Indian side.
Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to the militants and to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.