Venezuela: Government and Opposition Begin Talks: Representatives from the government and the opposition Mesa de Unión Democrática (MUD) held yesterday the first of a series of formal talks. The first of the ‘dialogues for peace’ called by the government went on for almost five hours and was broadcast to the country by radio and television. The debate was opened by president Nicolás Maduro, who gave a one-hour speech, and followed by 11 MUD and eight government representatives, who spoke for around ten minutes each. Talking about the debates, President Maduro said: “There are no negotiations or pacts here, what we want to find through this path is a model of mutual tolerance.” During their interventions, government representatives criticised the opposition for their role in the violent protests held around the country over the past two months: “We’re sitting here with the same opposition of years ago, experts in saying ‘I didn’t do it’. I feel no one who is here has condemned the violence,” said National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. The opposition, in turn, criticised the government for the state of the country. Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles justified his attendance at the debate “because our country is doing really badly; Venezuela is in a very critical situation,” and added that the political crisis, which, in his opinion, dates back to last year’s tight presidential election, “may end up in either of two results that neither the opposition or Venezuelans want: a coup d’êtat or a social outburst.” A new meeting was agreed upon for Tuesday, the agenda for which will be defined by a special committee.
Ecuador: Environmentalists Closer to Referendum on Yasuní: Ecuadorian environmental group Yasunidos announced that it has collected over 700,000 signatures, more than enough to force a referendum on whether oil exploration should be authorised in the Yasuní National Park, in the country’s Amazon. The signatures still have to be verified, but if they are, the government will be obliged to put the matter to a popular vote. The park is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world and has hit the headlines numerous times in recent years, after President Rafael Correa launched the Yasuní-ITT initiative. The measure proposed the country refrain indefinitely from exploiting reserves in the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini block, three oil fields within the Yasuní National Park, in exchange for 50% of the value of the income it would be forgoing from the world community. However, last August Correa announced that the plans had failed, after receiving less than 1% of the US$3.6bn target. Controversy arose in February, when The Guardian newspaper revealed that the Ecuadorian government had been negotiating a secret US$1bn deal with a Chinese bank to drill for oil under the Yasuní national park as early as 2009, while publicly pursuing the Yasuní-ITT initiative. Correa has said that any profit from oil extraction should be used in the country’s fight against poverty.
Paraguay: Indigenous Children Rescued in Trafficking Bust: Twenty-one indigenous children who were sexually exploited and had been forced to beg were rescued by prosecution agents in Ciudad del Este, on Paraguay’s Brazilian border. The 19 girls and two boys, who are believed to have been brought from Repatriación, a town between Ciudad del Este and the capital Asunción, are now in a state-run safe house. One man was arrested in the operation, which took place last Friday, but was only made public today for security purposes. Ciudad del Este, and the tri-border area with Argentina and Brazil, is notorious for child sex trafficking, with “continuous reports” of cases, according to the UNHCR.