Thursday 30 March, 2017 Update: Venezuela’s Supreme Court Dissolves National Assembly

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Democracy in Venezuela has been on life support for an extended period of time. The ruling and actions by its Supreme Court Wednesday night may have pulled the plug. The court ruled that the nation’s elected legislators are ‘operating outside the law’by defying previous court ruling. As a result, the legislature is to be dissolved. The Supreme Court will assume legislative duties for the time being. The judicial body is firmly in the camp of embattled President Nicolas Maduro and its latest actions are nothing short of a coup that all but assures the nation will be under One-Man rule.

Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly has been regarded by many as the last hope for democracy in that country. It was beginning to push back against Maduro and his United Socialist Party’s already tight grip on power. With the loss of the legislature, however, the opposition has been removed from the equation. The government is clearly operating outside of the constitution but now there is no system of checks and balances to repair the imbalance. The three branches of government will all be controlled by the United Socialist Party.

The nation is facing a nearly unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the result of the continuing economic meltdown Venezuela is enduring. Food, basic goods, and medicine are running dangerously short. Staggering inflation is making currency essentially useless and the bulk of Venezuela’s monetary reserves will go towards debt repayment.

Regional reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Peru reacted to the ruling by recalling its ambassador to Caracas and is considering the full suspension of diplomatic relations. Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Chile all denounced Maduro’s government. The Organization of American States (OAS) also denounced the Supreme Court’s ruling. OAS Secretary General Luis Amalgro accused the Venezuelan government of attempting “a self-inflicted coup d’etat” The United States joined in by releasing a statement condemning the court’s “decision to usurp the powers of the democratically elected National Assembly. … We consider it a serious setback for democracy.”

How the opposition, and Venezuelan citizens respond will reveal much about the future of Venezuela. As the heartbeat of democracy there fades it becomes painfully clear that nothing short of a powerful, perhaps violent, jolt will keep it alive. Venezuelans need to act decisively and do it now. Otherwise, the nation will permanently fall into the dark peril of dictator rule.

 

Thursday 26 January, 2017 Update: Nieto Backs Out of US Visit

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In a move that was expected by many political observers and members of the media for days, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has cancelled a meeting with President Donald Trump scheduled for next week. Trump’s signing of executive orders authorizing the construction of a wall between Mexico and the US was a prime reason for Nieto’s cancellation, though the timing of the order also played a part. Trump signed the order on Wednesday, a short time before Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and an accompanying delegation arrived at the White House for scheduled talks. Many Mexicans saw this as an insult aimed at their nation’s efforts to reach a compromise with Trump over the long-planned wall before he took action on it.

Since Trump’s election the level of outrage has been growing south of the border. The wall, once viewed as an instrument of campaign rhetoric, has become nearly inevitable. This, coupled together with President Trump’s other executive actions aimed at curbing illegal immigration, as well as his insistence that Mexico pay for the wall, has Mexico on edge. Via Twitter, Nieto reaffirmed Mexico’s “willingness to work with the United States to reach agreements that benefit both nations.” Whether that statement was sincere, or born out of political necessity is unclear.  The United States and Mexico share a 2,000 mile long border and trade between the two nations is especially essential for Mexico. Along with the wall and immigration issues, trade has become a bone of contention between the new US administration and Mexico City. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Act, is something else that Trump spoke at length about during the campaign. Specifically, how it has been largely a one-sided deal benefitting Mexico at a cost to US companies and employees. He has promised to reconstruct the deal to make it more balanced and this is likely causing a large amount of anxiety among Mexicans.

The wall and US immigration are areas where Nieto has to tread carefully. By rights, both are internal affairs of the United States and Mexico has no right to attempt to inject its influence. While it’s true that many of the immigration measures that Trump is proposing will target Mexican immigrants, it needs to be remembered that these are immigrants who are in the United States illegally. As for how to strengthen its borders, it is the right of the US government to decide the best way.

There’s another element involved in this unfolding standoff between US and Mexican leadership. Nieto’s approval ratings are at a record low, right now hovering around 12 percent. Tacitly objecting to Trump’s immigration plan is not an option if Nieto wishes to flip the direction his approval ratings are moving in. Vociferous contention to the wall will play well with the average Mexican voter. Yet, it has to be said again that the future US immigration is an internal affair of the United States which will be decided in Washington DC by President Trump. Not in Mexico City by President Nieto.