Foreign diplomats urge Venezuela’s Maduro to hand over power

Nicolas Maduro is poised to be sworn in for a second term as president of Venezuela. (AP Photo)
Updated 04 January 2019

Foreign diplomats urge Venezuela’s Maduro to hand over power

  • The strong rebuke from the Lima Group urging Maduro to hand over power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly comes days before his Jan. 10 inauguration
  • A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in crisis after two decades of socialist rule, marked by hyperinflation

LIMA, Peru: Diplomats from a dozen Latin American countries and Canada on Friday urged President Nicolas Maduro to abstain from being sworn in for a second term and cede power until new elections can be held, saying it is the only way to restore democracy in Venezuela.
The strong rebuke from the Lima Group urging Maduro to hand over power to the opposition-controlled National Assembly comes days before his Jan. 10 inauguration to a six-year term widely rejected as illegitimate.
Even before announcing its decision, the gathering in Peru’s capital prompted a sharp response from Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, who said the coalition is taking orders directly from US President Donald Trump, which Caracas frequently accuses of spearheading an economic war against the country.
“What a display of humiliating subordination!” Arreaza said on Twitter.
A once-wealthy oil nation, Venezuela is in crisis after two decades of socialist rule, marked by hyperinflation that makes it difficult for people to afford scarce food and medicine. An estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans have migrated from their country since 2015, according to the United Nations.
The Lima Group formed more than a year ago to advocate for a solution to Venezuela’s crisis that threatens regional instability.
Immediately following Maduro’s May 20 re-election, the coalition said it refused to recognize the results, decrying the vote as failing to meet “international standards of a democratic, free, just and transparent process.”
Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are among the group’s members. Peruvian Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio recently had said his country would propose that Lima Group members break diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
However, the political make-up of the coalition has recently shifted, most notably in Mexico.
The newly elected government of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is a member of the coalition but abstained from the vote.
His administration has adopted a policy of non-intervention, and Maduro traveled to Obrador’s inauguration, meeting privately with the new Mexican leader.
The United States is not formally a member of the Lima Group, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in the meeting via video conference.
It follows Pompeo’s recent visit to Latin America during which he attended the inauguration of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and then stopped in Colombia to meet with President Ivan Duque. Both Bolsonaro and Duque signaled a united stance against Maduro’s government aligned with the United States.
The Trump administration considers Maduro’s government a “dictatorship,” sanctioning roughly 70 top officials and blocking US banks from doing business with Venezuela, putting a financial strangle-hold on the cash-strapped country.
Geoff Ramsey, a Venezuela researcher at the Washington Office on Latin America, called the optics of Pompeo’s presence in Friday’s meeting “terrible.”
The Lima Group was created to showcase regional concern for the crisis among Latin American countries and Pompeo’s involvement furthers a perception that the US has been quietly directing its moves, he said.
Rather, the coalition should push for neutral actors to open dialogues between Maduro’s government and opposition leaders, finding ways to reduce mounting international pressure and reaching a peaceful resolution in Venezuela, Ramsey said.
“I think what the region needs to do now is to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” Ramsey said. “Isolating the government and continuing to pile on the pressure without channeling some kind of productive release hasn’t produced productive results.”


Philippines’ military to retrain former armed rebels for new roles as peacekeepers

Updated 1 min 31 sec ago

Philippines’ military to retrain former armed rebels for new roles as peacekeepers

  • The 3,000 former fighters will receive basic military training to prepare them for their new role as members of the Joint Peace and Security Teams

MANILA: The Philippines military is retraining 3,000 former armed rebels for their new roles as peacekeepers in the country’s south, serving alongside the agencies and authorities they used to fight against.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was one of several groups that waged a rebellion in the Mindanao region that claimed about 150,000 lives since the 1970s. 

The government and the MILF signed a peace pact to end the decades-long conflict and, under the deal, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao was expanded and the MILF plays a role in its governance.

MILF chair Murad Ibrahim, who is chief minister of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, said the training was part of the peace process.

“We are now working with them (government forces). Everyone has already accepted that we are no longer adversarial with the government. We are now in partnership,” he told Arab News.

“We expected that this kind of partnership with the military would happen, especially when we entered into a political process, a peace process. There were no personal adversarial relations. It was just a matter of principle,” he said, adding they were ready to work with the government for the sake of lasting peace in the region.

The chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Gen. Benjamin Madrigal Jr., said the military was committed to continuing with the “process of healing, and the process of normalization” in Bangsamoro.

“We have long dreamed for peace in the Bangsamoro region,” he added, emphasizing that maintaining “mutual trust” between the government and the MILF was crucial to the process.

“One thing that we should further develop is the willingness to work together. This can only happen with the start of the healing process, and confidence-building between the armed forces and the MILF.”

The 3,000 former fighters will receive basic military training to prepare them for their new role as members of the Joint Peace and Security Teams (JPST), where they will serve with the AFP and the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The JPST is tasked with ensuring the successful implementation of the normalization track of the 2014 peace accord between the MILF and Manila, which includes the decommissioning of MILF forces.

On Thursday, the AFP and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process signed an agreement to formalize their partnership in implementing the decommissioning process for 40,000 MILF fighters and their weapons in the next three years.

Madrigal said the training course aimed to achieve the “same views towards security, to develop the same parameters, and synchronization of the movement” to maintain peace and order in Bangsamoro’s communities.

Earlier this month, 225 grizzled ex-fighters started their training at in Carmen, North Cotabato. Former rebel Abdulraof Macacua said this type of event was “simply unimaginable” many years ago.

 “No-one ever thought that the MILF would ever be in a military camp such as Camp Lucero to undertake military training … and with soldiers at that,” he added.