Tag Archive | "South America"

Venezuela in Crisis: A Socialist Dystopia

Caracas Dystopia

Photo Credit: Federico Parra |AFP | Getty Images

City-wide protests have occurred daily throughout Venezuela, a politically divided and economically destitute country, which was once South America’s wealthiest nation. Police meet protesters with rampant arrests, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Since the beginning of April, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have protested President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government and its perpetration of the nation’s ever-worsening economic crisis. Initially comprised of students, youth, and members of the middle class, the opposition movement’s base grows daily. As the quality of life in Venezuela continues to spiral, the opposition increasingly gains support from those once faithful to the socialist agenda, the lower class. The sustained global drop in oil prices and prolonged drought have only worsened matters for the public, who struggle daily to obtain essentials like food and medicine. Protesters demand new elections and release of political prisoners, hoping that a change in the socialist leadership will end the crisis.

Since the mid-20th century, petroleum extraction and exploitation have been the foundation of Venezuela’s economic structure. The Venezuela of the 1950s was poised to be a major player in international petroleum exportation; intent on sembrando el petróleo (sowing the oil), the nation relied on its massive oil wealth to advance society. To maximize oil exports, investors financed alternative energy production for domestic servicing. Most notably, the Guri Dam generates 60% of Venezuela’s energy through hydroelectric power.

In the early 2000s, the late president Hugo Chávez leveraged Venezuela’s massive oil wealth and the global upswing in oil prices to create an unsustainable social welfare state. He implemented sweeping nationalization of Venezuela’s economy, primarily in the oil sector, in pursuit of his socialist utopia. Chávez expanded the state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, and its dominion over oil extraction and production. Chávez’s frenetic charisma, combined with frequent government handouts, projected an image of resolute national prosperity while masking the regime’s internal corruption. Many Chavistas still await the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ that Chávez promised.

Maduro, Chávez’s successor, inherited an economy wholly propped up by the nationalized oil industry. Maduro’s financial mismanagement and authoritarian actions set the nation on a fast-track toward recession, even prior to the 2014 collapse of global oil prices. Domestic oil production is dropping at an accelerated rate, with drilling sites and refineries falling into disrepair. The government and PDVSA are strapped with nearly $60 billion in international debt in the form of short-term bond payments. Meanwhile, the government is failing to import food, medicine, and other essentials at a sufficient rate to meet the dire demand. With inflation rates just over 800%, most Venezuelans are unable to afford food and many report significant weight loss. Waiting hours on end for food rations at government controlled food-distribution centers is an every-day reality. Additionally, the Guri Dam is largely out of commission due to a prolonged drought and the government imposed a two-day workweek to cope with frequent power outages. Venezuela’s economy is in abysmal shape and the prospects of a positive change are wholly dependent upon an upswing in global oil prices.

A highly controversial supreme court ruling sparked the most recent round of protests in Venezuela. The nation’s supreme court is notoriously beholden to Maduro and the socialist regime established by Chávez. Meanwhile, the opposition-controlled National Assembly represents the sole counter to the United Socialist Party’s total control over the government. On March 31, 2017 Venezuela’s supreme court stripped the National Assembly of its legislative, justifying this power-grab by holding the National Assembly in contempt of the laws of the nation. Three members of the National Assembly face accusations, by President Maduro, of administrative impropriety in winning their elections, thus enabling the supreme court to hold the entire legislature in contempt. The supreme court was set to take over all responsibilities and functions of the legislature. Domestic and international condemnation were quick to criticize this decision, a move that many considered “a rupture in the constitutional order” and Maduro’s attempt to create a “petty dictatorship.” In the face of such scrutiny, the supreme court rolled back some of its decision on April 1, however, President Maduro retains unfettered power “to enter into joint oil ventures without congressional approval.” One faction of the opposition considers the rollback further proof that the supreme court is in Maduro’s pocket, while others believe it reveals cracks within the USP’s party-loyalists.

Food scarcity and undemocratic power grabs will be determinative of Maduro’s power retention in 2017. Those loyal to Chávez’s socialist revolution grow disillusioned by the day as they face food shortages and soaring inflation with no prospect of change. Maduro’s regime faces international, regional, and domestic pressures to abide by Venezuela’s constitutionally democratic roots. The call for new elections intensifies as the opposition’s support increases and the nation’s economic crisis worsens. A newly elected official, however, will have to confront the economy’s strict oil dependence and determine how the nation can diversify to succeed in the 21st century. Regardless of any political changes, without an upswing in global oil prices, the crisis will only worsen, violating international human rights norms in the process.

Rachel Ronca is a Staff Editor with the Denver Journal for International Law & Policy, and a 2L at the Sturm College of Law.

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A Bittersweet Ending to the Longest Civil War in Latin America: Colombia-FARC

Photo Credit: Federico Rios/Native - NYTimes

Photo Credit: Federico Rios/Native – NYTimes

Colombia has struggled for decades to combat the illegal drug trade, terrorism, and violence that FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) has contributed to since 1966. Known for being one of the richest guerrilla armies in the world,  FARC has approximately 8,000 rebel fighters that control many rural areas in the south and eastern portions of the country. Most of the economic support for this guerrilla group comes from the illegal drug trade, profits from high profile kidnappings, extortion, and “taxes” it collects from those individuals who reside in areas that they control.

Many administrations have tried to bring peace to Colombia by eradicating, fighting, and even negotiating with FARC, none of which have been successful until President Juan Manuel Santos came into office. On August 24, 2016, the Colombian government announced a cease fire peace deal with FARC rebels, putting an end to the 50-year conflict. In the same peace deal, the FARC agreed to set free the children soldiers they kidnapped and enslaved to serve in its army.

But what did Colombia and its government really have to sacrifice in order to strike this peace deal? FARC is known to have committed massacres, kidnapped, extorted, and forced children into labor and servitude. These crimes are internationally condemned. However, now that this treaty will be put in place, those FARC members who will confess to their crimes, will get reduced sentences, in many instances community service. Is community service a fair punishment for those who have committed human rights violations for 50 years?

Colombian Ex-President doesn’t seem to think so. Alvaro Uribe, has publicly criticized the cease-fire as an amnesty and has accused President Santos of being a traitor. Part of this criticism is rooted in the idea that the peace deal seeks to reintegrate FARC members into society and transition members from war-mongering guerrillas to a peaceful political movement. Can that be classified as impunity? President Santos claims that the individuals responsible for violent crimes will receive punishment commensurate with the crimes they committed. That is yet to be seen.

A large percent of the Colombian population seems to be in favor of the deal. However, a point of contentious negotiations that has not been agreed to, has been FARC surrendering its control of drug trafficking in the region. As the United States State Department has illustrated, FARC is responsible for the production and distribution of several tons of cocaine entering the U.S. every year.

The world continues to watch the negotiations and execution of this peace deal. Those who are watching closely, are human rights watch groups and foreign administrations looking to see if this deal amounts to impunity for human rights violations.

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The Atacama Corridor: Spoil of War or Illegal Occupation?

On September 24, 2015, the International Court of Justice, or ICJ, overruled Chile’s borderlines-bolivia-blog427preliminary objection to the court’s jurisdiction to hear a case filed by Bolivia against them two years prior, known as the Obligation to Negotiate Access to the Pacific Ocean (Bolivia v. Chile).  As the title of the case suggests, Bolivia is requesting that the ICJ declare that Chile has an obligation to negotiate an agreement that would allow Bolivia access to the sea. Bolivia, as a landlocked country, has sought out a sea port since they lost all of their coastal territory to Chile in 1884 after the War of the Pacific. To this very day, the ceded territory has been a source of bitter controversy between the two countries, and has yielded myriad unsuccessful requests for the two countries to come to a compromise on the issue. That has been the case until April 24, 2013, when the president of Bolivia Evo Morales took the issue to litigation in the ICJ. Chile has generally been unwilling to allow any sort of Bolivian corridor to the Pacific, and while that may not seem very fair, Chile’s obstinacy has more merit than one would ostensibly observe.

The War of the Pacific was a war founded on complex strings of business assets, alliances, and economic crises that would require a college thesis to explain fully. But in summary, Chile had occupied Antofagasta, a town within Bolivian territory at the time, in an effort to protect a large and powerful Chilean company’s business assets from the Bolivian government’s decision to confiscate them. This occupation was seen as an act of war by the Bolivian government, and despite a cursory attempt to find a diplomatic solution, Bolivia invoked a secret treaty between Peru and themselves. Together they declared war on Chile for the occupation.

Dragged into the conflict, Chile had been extremely successful in the war, and by 1883, was able to defeat both countries and force an armistice. Chile signed two separate peace treaties with Peru and Bolivia, the Treaty of Ancón and the Treaty of Valparaiso, respectively. The Treaty of Valparaiso, with the proceeding Treaty of Friendship in 1904 to make the arrangement permanent, relinquished all of Bolivia’s coastal territory to Chile; and in exchange, Chile promised to construct a railway between the capital of Bolivia, La Paz, and Arica, a coastal town now within the confines of Chilean territory. Chile also promised to allow all Bolivian commerce to move freely between the two towns. Essentially, Chile would be guaranteed a corridor to the sea that would be unobstructed by Chilean duties or regulation. To this day, the contested land has been known as the Atacama corridor.

Chile has made good on its promise to allow unrestricted access to the sea for Bolivian commerce, but Bolivia has increasingly sought sovereign control of the Atacama corridor instead. Chile does not feel it has any obligation to grant Bolivia accommodations beyond what was agreed in the 1904 Treaty of Friendship, while Bolivia claims that the Chilean government has made diplomatic promises to them in the 1950’s and 1970’s regarding a sovereign route for Bolivia, and seeks to essentially bind them to fulfilling that promise through the ICJ. This is where the case is today. The ICJ has held that it does have jurisdiction to hear the dispute, despite Chile’s proposition that the Court lacked jurisdiction due to Article VI of the Bogota Pact preventing the ICJ from deciding matters, “settled by arrangement between the parties, or by arbitral award or by decision of an international court” or “governed by agreements or treaties in force on the date of the conclusion of the [Pact of Bogotá].” The ICJ did not feel the Treaty of Friendship settled this particular matter, and believed it said nothing of a potential agreement to grant Bolivia sovereign control over that corridor. Therefore, the Court felt that jurisdiction was proper and continued with the case.

What the ICJ will decide on the matter is difficult to ascertain. Many experts believe that Bolivia is fighting a losing battle, while others believe that Bolivia’s sovereign right to the sea is overdue for recognition. The ICJ has never recognized a “right of expectation” that Bolivia is putting forward, and may not even be likely to do so now. Regardless of the outcome, this case literally could wind up changing our maps as we know them, and it will be fascinating to observe as the case moves forward.

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Who is to Blame for the Venezuela – Colombia Border Crisis?

Columbian Crossing River
Many Colombians are leaving Venezuela by crossing the Tachira river. (courtesy of BBC)

In an effort to restore peace and order along the Colombian border, the President of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro, has declared a state of emergency. Border crossings between Venezuela and Colombia have closed, martial law has been enacted in border regions, and Colombians living in border towns in Venezuela illegally were given 72-hours to pack up and leave their homes, many fleeing back across the river to Colombia. This decision comes after smugglers and border police engaged in gunfire last week, leaving three soldiers wounded.

The identity and nationality of these smugglers is still yet unknown, an investigation is underway. One other individual involved in the attack was arrested, he is a Venezuelan citizen. President Maduro has accused Colombian paramilitary individuals of having a link to Colombia’s former president, Alvaro Uribe.  However, Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos has suggested that the smuggling problem is rooted in Venezuela, not Colombia. For many years, Venezuelan citizens have used the border to smuggle gasoline and other Venezuelan goods into Colombia in order to sell them at higher prices to Colombian citizens. This smuggling practice is facilitated by Venezuela’s government subsidies which allow Venezuelan citizens to use these subsidies to purchase food, cosmetics, and gasoline that they later re-sell in Colombia, which has resulted in these items becoming scarce inside Venezuela. However, President Maduro attributes the scarcity of these items to mismanagement and not to smuggling. The black market economy originating in Venezuela has been the source of income for Venezuelan families living along the border of these two countries for some time.

Marked "D"
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the marking of houses reminded him of “bitter episodes” in history. (courtesy of BBC)

The state of exception instituted by President Maduro has been the subject of international criticism. Venezuelan army soldiers have marked the cinder block homes of these evicted families with a red letter “D” indicating demolition.  The declaration of a state of emergency allows Venezuelan soldiers to search businesses without a warrant. News outlets around the world have condemned these actions. The families with only a 72-hour eviction notice, have been forced to walk across knee-high river waters with their belongings, leaving the oil-rich country where they established a life behind. There have been more than 1000 Colombian citizens that have been deported since the law was implemented. Although President Maduro blames these citizens for Venezuela’s smuggling and violence problems, these families have fled poverty, famine, and violence and moved to Venezuela hoping to benefit from the country’s natural resources labor. More than 800 Colombians live in this border region. President Santos has already pledged to providing government subsidies for these families and helping these them find a home in Colombia.

The effects of this border closing have already been seen in both countries. In Colombia there is a scarce supply of gasoline, leaving many motorists competing for fuel to power their engines. In Venezuela, the trade halt has left many poor families that relied on this trade without means to support their families. Although President Maduro is satisfied with the halting of the smuggling practice, this border closing has done anything but address the root of the smuggling problem, which originates in Venezuela.

Sandra M. Ortega is a 2L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law

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