Tag Archive | "venezuela"

Study: 41 of World’s 50 Most Violent Cities in Latin America

Latin American cities are among the most violent in the world (Map courtesy of Wikimedia)

Latin American cities are among the most violent in the world (Map courtesy of Wikimedia)

In a report released yesterday by the Mexico Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice (CCSPJP), the non-government organisation identified Caracas, Venezuela as the most dangerous city in the world.

The report, published annually since 2011, bases the ranking on the number of homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2015, Caracas rose to first place with 119.87 homicides per 100,000 people.

Caracas is followed by San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with 111.03 homicides; San Salvador, El Salvador, with 108.54 homicides; Acapulco, Mexico, with 104.73 homicides; and Maturin, Venezuela, with 86.45 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Of the 50 cities listed, 41 are located within Latin America, including 21 Brazilian cities. There are also eight Venezuelan, five Mexican, three Colombian, two Honduran, one Guatemalan, and one El Salvadoran city. Kingston, Jamaica is included from the Caribbean, and the remaining eight cities are split equally between South Africa and the United States.

The figures do not include deaths in combat zones.

Experts place drug trafficking, political instability, and corruption among the top reasons for the high numbers in the Latin American region.

The report has caused some controversy and rejections from officials abroad. Fabio Galindo, Secretary of the State of Public Security for the State of Mato Grosso, one of Brasil’s western states whose capital was ranked at number 22 on the list, critiqued the results, stating that the Mexican organisation was working “without methodology and with illegitimate numbers.”

Accompanying the list, the CCSPJP also publishes a document outlining its methodology, in which the organisation states that the biggest obstacle in providing accurate data is the lack of transparency of governments whose cities are included.

Noticeably absent from the list was Rio de Janeiro, set to host to 2016 Summer Olympic Games in the coming months.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Mercosur Summit: Argentina, Venezuela Clash over Human Rights

Argentine president Mauricio Macri drew sharp criticism from Venezuela’s foreign affairs minister Delcy Rodríguez after asking for the release of “political prisoners” in the Caribbean state.

President Mauricio Macri at the Mercosur Summit in Asunción (Photo via Prensa Argentina)

President Mauricio Macri at the Mercosur Summit in Asunción (Photo via Prensa Argentina)

“I want to ask all states, especially the Venezuelan government, to work tirelessly to consolidate a true democratic culture in our region, one that includes everyone,” declared Macri towards the close of his speech at the Mercosur Summit in Asunción.

“In this spirit, I wish to ask expressly for the prompt liberation of political prisoners in Venezuela. There can be no place for political persecution, or for the imprisonment for thinking differently. My vision of democracy goes beyond a vote every few years, it is a form a life, a pact of living together between those who think differently.”

“You are meddling in Venezuelan affairs,” Rodríguez, representing Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, responded to the new Argentine president. “You are defending this person, and this political violence,” she said, holding up photos of opposition leader Leopoldo López and images of violent protests in 2014. “They used bazukas, they set fire to the Public Ministry, to essential public services. In Venezuela there are independent public powers, which should be respected by the international community. And in this case, the judiciary acted.”

Rodríguez went on to target Macri himself. “I understand that President Macri wants to ask for these violent people to be released. I understand because one of his first announcements has been to release those responsible for torture, disappearances, and murders during the dictatorship himself,” said Rodríguez, making an accusation that is not true. “He has vetoed laws against injustice, torture, and forced disappearances,” she continued, without providing specifics.

“We were surprised to see that [Madre de Plaza de Mayo founder] Hebe de Bonafini, loved by social groups across the continent, was accused [of inciting violence] for calling for peaceful protests against the government.”

“If we’re going to talk about human rights, we have to do it without double standards and with honesty,” Rodríguez concluded her response to Macri. “We can’t talk about human rights to defend violent people and not to criminalise social protests.”

Speaking to press after the altercation, Argentine Foreign Affairs Minsiter Susana Malcorra said that Macri would not respond to the accusations, which she said were “erroneous”.

“We did not anticipate the strong reaction of the foreign affairs minister [Rodríguez], which was her right to do so, but she reacted based on incorrect information,” explained Malcorra.

EU Trade Deal

In his first speech to the Mercosur community as president, Macri called the bloc: “A space to strengthen economic and commercial relations, and to help each other grow and reduce regional inequalities.”

The Argentine president called on South American leaders to show flexibility and transparency, and extended his domestic pledges to reduce poverty and combat drug trafficking to a regional level.

Macri also said that a free trade deal between Mercosur and the EU was a “priority”, while adding that the bloc should also integrate further with Latin American countries united in the so-called ‘Pacific alliance’.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Has Latin America’s Pink Tide Turned Muddy?

In Oliver Stone’s documentary, South of the border from 2009, the director describes the previous ten years as if Simón Bolívar´s dream had been realised. By 2009, left-wing leaders had been democratically elected across Latin America, the populations were behind them, and the economies were doing well. But in 2015, this no longer seems to be the case.

In Brazil, Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings are at a record-low, the lowest since the re-establishment of democracy in Brazil in 1985, and she is facing impeachment. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavéz’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, is massively unpopular, with approval ratings at about 20% and a recent loss in the legislative elections. In Argentina, the recent election of Mauricio Macri could mean a significant warning for the Latin American left.

Until a couple of years ago, the latter scenario was wishful thinking for the liberals of Latin America, but times have changed.

Mauricio Macri celebrates his victory (photo: Reilly Ryan)

Mauricio Macri celebrates his victory (photo: Reilly Ryan)

The ‘Pink Tide’

Ten to 15 years ago, a so-called ‘pink tide’ broke on the coasts of Latin America. The political left consolidated its power in the region. Hugo Chávez in Venezuela (the first to be elected, in 1999), Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, José Mujica in Uruguay, Nestor Kirchner in Argentina, and Luiz Inácio da Silva, better known as Lula, in Brazil. Progressive parties were in power in Latin America and were implementing their policies.

Professor in Latin American politics at Oxford University in the UK, Diego Sánchez-Ancochea, believes there were two specific reasons for the success of the left. “First, major discontent with the poor economic results of the neoliberal reforms in the late 1990s. Second, the consolidation of democracy, which naturally results in alternation of power,” he says to The Argentina Independent.

Steven Levitsky, professor in Latin American history at Harvard University in the US, also identifies the consolidation of democracy as one of the causes of the left wing’s success. “It was a combination of unprecedented stable democracy, the first time the left wing could consistently compete for power everywhere, except Cuba, for multiple decades. There was also a context of extreme social inequality, which favours the left a bit over the right. And three, there was the economic downturn of 1998-2002, which hurt right-of-centre incumbents and eroded support for neoliberal policies,” Levitsky says.

Professor Ancochea explains that what tied the movements across Latin America together was a common goal of fighting inequality and neoliberal economical policies, as well as moving the trade streams away from the US, towards China, Russia, Iran, and other Asian economies.

The Chinese market in particular was a reason for prosperity in Latin America for years -Brazil especially- adds Levitsky. Now, however, the Chinese economy is slowing down, and, the academic says, that puts the Latin American economies under pressure.

The three most powerful men in South America: Chavez, Kirchner and Lula in 2006

The three most powerful men in South America: Chavez, Kirchner and Lula in 2006

With the Tide Came Change

Professor Ancochea emphasises that the overall process has been a victory for the left. “Most countries spent more on social policy than in the past, and also introduced new social programmes and reformed old ones. Some of the reforms, such as the unification of the health system in Uruguay or the creation of a universal non-contributory pension in Bolivia were particularly exciting. At the same time, they were able to do this without increasing their levels of debt,” Ancochea says.

Political consultant Carlos Fara agrees. “The continent has a noticeable stance supporting state intervention in the economy, and an ever longer agenda of greater wealth distribution. In the last 15 years the global market allowed better prices for exportable commodities. This revived the issue of wealth distribution in the political agenda, which obviously favoured the current centre-left in the ten most important countries, except in the case of Colombia. On the other hand, in addition to the improved global conditions for exporting, there was the reminder of the social consequences, derived from the economic reforms of the ’90s, known as the Washington consensus,” Fara says.

Levitsky says that since then, the economy has turned in the Latin American countries. He points out that the governments of these countries are not necessarily to blame, but that the circumstances have changed. “With the exception of Venezuela, which is a disaster, it really hasn’t ‘gone wrong’. In part, the left wing is suffering from an economic slowdown. A worsened economy brings popular discontent.,” says Levitsky.

Cynthia Arson from the Wilson Center does not believe the left has failed either. “The left-wing parties have maybe revealed that they are as vulnerable to certain things as the right-wing, like commodity prices.. Latin America is also less dependent on the continent’s surroundings than it used to be. But a lot of countries are still too dependent on other economies. And they are increasingly met with higher and higher demands of better quality in social services, due to the growth of the middle class, like in Brazil, to name one example,” she says.

Although Rousseff has lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty, she is now struggling with a faltering economy hit by recession, massive corruption scandals and as a result, the mistrust of her own people and voters.

According to professor in macro economics at the Pontifical University of Rio de Janeiro, Monica de Bolle, the recession could be the worst the country has experienced in 25 years. “The unemployment rate is going up, and the people’s incomes are eroding as inflation is running wild,” she says.

The Brazilian people have lost confidence in the former guerrilla soldier Rousseff, and her key issue, the fight against inequality. Brazilian journalist Christiane Lebelem, from Brazil News, thinks the population has abandoned Rousseff’s project. “She has lost the people’s trust. They are disappointed and tired,” she says.

Perhaps the biggest defeat Rousseff has had to suffer, has been the need to turn to more orthodox policies.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment (Antonio Cruz/Agência Brasil)

A Long Way to Fall

De Bolle believes both Brazil and Argentina have benefitted from Russian investments, but the cash flow from China is decreasing. However, that is not the only thing causing problems. “The recession is a result of a host of factors: policy mismanagement, the commodity price reversal, and the paralysis that has gripped the country following the eruption of the Petrobras bribery scheme. Although the government has frequently referred to hostile external conditions —the Chinese slowdown, the fall in commodity prices— policy mismanagement is the crux of the problem. Brazil’s fiscal deficit currently stands at over 6% of GDP, and is likely to rise to about 8% by year-end. The lack of a coherent fiscal strategy was the key reason for the country’s recent ratings downgrade by S&P.”

Rousseff recently announced a number of austerity measures, and according to De Bolle, those measures will hit her key voters in full force. “Taxes will rise along with the reintroduction of a financial transactions tax (CPMF) which falls on all bank transactions. They have also announced cuts to social programmes and public investment programmes, as well as a rescheduling of salaries and wages of civil servants. The objective is to reach a primary surplus target of 0.7% of GDP,” De Bolle says.

According to the academic, the poor and the vulnerable middle class will suffer the most. “These groups have been the hardest hit by the recession and the rise in inflation and unemployment. There’s an increasing chance that some of the recent social gains over the last decade will be reversed.”

The Surrounding Challenges

According to Fara, the problem does not only lie in the economic difficulties, but in the solutions as well. “The global conditions that no longer seem to be promising mean that everyone has to make some kind of adjustment. This solution doesn’t sit well with the left parties,” he says.

Levitsky agrees with Fara. According to the Harvard proffesor, several conditions challenge the left wing. “Weak economies, declining commodity prices, and the fact that the left has become the establishment, the ‘oficialismo‘, which often erodes what the left stands for,“ he says.

According to the experts, the surroundings are causing the unprecedented pressure. “The conditions have changed and we have two models: A social-democrat one, as in the case of Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Brazil, and a more leftist one, such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The shift in the economic global cycle, together with more qualified social demands, force an update in the political parties’ agendas to keep these parties as advocates of change,” says Fara.

In Argentina, this cycle came to and with the defeat of Peronism in the November election. With a campaign built around the idea of a need for change, Mauricio Macri ended 12 years of Peronist government and defeated the establishment —the progressive forces within in.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet with Argentine president Cristina Fernández (left) and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff (right) at her inauguration (photo: Presidencia/Télam/ddc)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet with Argentine president Cristina Fernández (left) and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff (right) at her inauguration (photo: Presidencia/Télam/ddc)

The New Democratic Right

The victory of Mauricio Macri in Argentina opened up a window of hope for the right, and was closely followed by a victory of the Venezuelan opposition in legislative elections. Analysts have compared the two, and highlighted the transformation that the South American right-wing has undergone over the last few years. One thing the established progressive leaders will have to learn, is how to deal with this ‘new right’ which claims to be democratic, moderate, and aiming for a centrist consensus.

Despite this peaceful rhetoric, the new right has a great potential to destabilise the progressive consensus achieved over the last decade and a half. Macri’s main announcement in terms of international policy was his intention to expel Venezuela from Mercosur —though the recent legislative defeat of the Venezuelan government has prompted him to backtrack on this measure which had been met with opposition by Uruguay and Brazil. A realignment towards the Pacific Alliance and the US could also weaken the South American institutions built and supported by the progressive governments, and with them, revert some of the progress made in terms of continental integration.

As they prepare for the backlash, left-wing leaders will have to learn to be in opposition if they want a chance to revive their golden years in the future. They have been learning from each other how to win in recent years, but they might want to start looking to Argentina and Venezuela to learn how not to lose. With Mauricio Macri’s change-focused campaign, they cannot say they were not warned.


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Venezuela: Opposition Wins Legislative Election

The opposition coalition Mesa de Unidad Democrática (MUD) obtained 99 seats in the Venezuelan Legislative Assembly, against 46 seats obtained by the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV). Twenty-two seats were still to be allocated.

Head of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, highlighted the normal and peaceful development of the election yesterday, when 74.25% of enrolled voters participated. International observers also ratified the transparency of the Venezuelan electoral system. Polling stations remained open for an extra hour, until 7pm local time, to accommodate the large number of voters.

Jesús Torrealba from MUD speaks to the press (photo courtesy of MUD)

Jesús Torrealba from MUD speaks to the press (photo courtesy of MUD)

President Nicolás Maduro accepted defeat and said that “democracy has won”, despite the opposition’s claims of possible fraud and violence ahead of the election. However, he warned his supporters that “the economic war has won, the strategy to damage the collective trust in a project for the country has won. It has been a circumstantial win for the state of necessity created by a policy of unbridled capitalism, of hiding goods, of making them more expensive.”

Jesús Torrealba, executive secretary of the MUD, stated: “We have a reason to celebrate today. The country asked for a change, and that change begins today. Our vote managed to democratically defeat an undemocratic government. The results send a clear message to the government that the country is tired of living in failure.”

The allocation of the remaining 22 seats in the 167-seat unicameral assembly —including three indigenous representatives— will determine whether the MUD attains a simple majority (84 representatives) or a two-third majority (112 representatives), which would allow the opposition to remove judges from the Supreme Court or approve a constitutional reform, among other things. The latter scenario could lead to a stalemate in the relationship between the executive and legislative powers.



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Venezuela: Opposition Leader Shot Dead

A Venezuelan opposition leader was shot to death in public on Wednesday at a campaign rally for the upcoming congressional elections.

Luis Manuel Díaz was a leader of the party Acción Democratica (AD) in the town of Altagracia de Orituco. He was on the stage when he was shot at by a gunman at close range. Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, was also at the event.

Tintori has become well-known across the country since her husband’s arrest. She tweeted today that “The blood of Luis Manuel splashed [her] onstage.”

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro sent his condolences to Diaz’s family, reported the BBC.

“An investigation has been opened and the Interior Ministry has strong indications that it was a clash between rival criminal gangs,” said Maduro.

But the leader of the AD, Henry Ramos Allup, claimed the attack was committed by the government.

This is not the first incident of violence the country has experienced in the lead up to elections next month. Two opposition party members have reported being attacked and confronted by armed men in the past month.

However Maduro urged caution and said to not jump to conclusions, reported the BBC.

The oil-rich nation has elections coming up in less than two weeks and Maduro’s government has a strong coalition opposition to compete against.

 “Whatever happens, the Venezuelan people will go to the polls on 6th December, and we will win,” said Ramos Allup in a press conference.

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Latin American Leaders Denounce Effects of Capitalism on Environment

Yesterday saw the conclusion of the second World People’s Summit on Climate Change, with Latin American leaders denouncing the effects of global capitalism on the environment and stressing the need for wealthier countries to do more to fight climate change.

The conference, which began on Saturday in the Bolivian town of Tiquipaya, gathered leaders from Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, and Ecuador as well as 4,800 delegates from 54 countries and thousands of environmental and political activists. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon also attended.

Presidents Correa, Morales, and Maduro at the closing ceremony of the summit (photo: Freddy Zarco, courtesy of Bolivian government)

Presidents Correa, Morales, and Maduro at the closing ceremony of the summit (photo: Freddy Zarco, courtesy of Bolivian government)

The need for an independent environmental tribunal with powers to penalise countries and multinational companies who harm the environment emerged as one of the key proposals from the summit, alongside a push for recognition of the “ecological debt” owed by wealthy countries who have disproportionately benefited from the destruction of the environment.

The summit comes less than two months before the United Nations’ 21st Conference on Climate Change which will take place in Paris in December.

Hosting Bolivian president, Evo Morales, highlighted the need for unity amongst the attending countries as they bring their proposals forward to the Paris Summit. “I do not want your presence here to have been in vain,” he said. “I want your initiatives to affect [what happens] at the Paris Conference”.

Critics have suggested that it is unlikely that the possibility of an independent tribunal will gain much traction at the Paris talks, with most of the countries due to attend having expressed rejection of the idea.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, warned that “in Paris we will not be accepting a new agreement on climate change that minimises the responsibilities of rich countries”, denouncing a “lack of political will” to combat the issue from the governments of wealthy countries.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that it was essential to set up an independent environmental tribunal in order to “quantify and to help ensure payment of the ecological debt held by rich countries – and to stop this debt from growing.”

He added that it was essential for the US to sign up to the Kyoto agreement in order to achieve this, echoing the demands of the first World People’s Summit on Climate Change in 2010.

Correa underlined the need for a new economic and cultural system in order to fight climate change, insisting that “market capitalism cannot fix our environmental problems”.

A declaration released yesterday by conference organisers also emphasises the need for a departure from capitalism; “In order to survive, humanity must free itself from capitalism.It is driving us towards a horizon of destruction, which promises a death sentence for nature and for life itself.”

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro used his speech to call for solidarity between Latin American nations to protect the environment. He announced his country’s ‘2015-2030 Plan’, in partnership with Cuba, to fulfil the 17 Sustainable development goals which were established at last month’s UN General Assembly. He reiterated Venezuela’s support for Cuba in their US relations, calling on UN members to vote in favour of a resolution to end the US embargo against Cuba, due to be voted on 27th October.

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Venezuela Deports 791 Colombian Citizens

President Maduro decreed a state of emergency on Friday (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Maduro decreed a state of emergency on Friday (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

The Venezuelan government handed in 791 Colombian citizens to the Colombian General Consulate over the weekend, informed the governor of Táchira José Vielma Mora.

The governor indicated that the Colombian citizens were in Venezuelan territory “illegally” and that the deportation had been carried out between Saturday and Sunday, “as per the law, without any abuses, without any humiliation, without torture; they’re in a place with chairs, drinking water, food; they were taken in a bus to the border between Colombia and Venezuela, without any kind of abuse.”

Vielma Mora was responding to calls from the Colombian government to its Venezuelan counterpart “to respect the integrity and human rights of Colombian citizens subject to arrests, deportations, and other actions.” Colombian authorities said there were at least 42 minors amongst the deportees, and requested that the right of families to remain together be guaranteed.

The deportation was carried out as part of the Venezuelan government’s Operation for Freedom and Protection of the People, a campaign by the national police force that seeks to eradicate gangs of smugglers operating in the border between the two countries. Almost 1,500 people have been deported this year as part of the operation.

The weekend crackdown follows a decree signed by President Nicolás Maduro on Friday declaring a 60-day state of emergency in various municipalities in the state of Táchira, in the border with Colombia. On Thursday morning, the president had already closed the border and increased military presence after an incident in which two Venezuelan soldiers were wounded in a clash with smugglers.

According to BBC Mundo, low prices in subsidised petrol and other goods have increased smuggling activities along the 2,200 Km border over the last decade. President Maduro has blamed Colombian paramilitary groups, whom he says operate in Venezuela causing shortages in order to destabilise his government.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has criticised the measures taken by the Venezuelan government, saying they are ineffective to combat smuggling and affect regular people on both sides of the border. “If we cooperate, the only losers are the criminals; but if the border is closed down and there is no coordination [between the two governments] the only winners are the criminals,” said Santos.


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Venezuela: Maduro Slams US ‘Aggression’ After Obama Decree

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has criticised Barack Obama for serving the “imperialist elite” after the US leader declared Venezuela a national security threat to the US.

In the latest escalation of diplomatic tensions between the countries, President Obama also extended sanctions to seven senior government officials in Caracas.

“President Barack Obama, in the name of the US imperialist elite, has decided to personally take on the task of defeating my government, intervening in Venezuela, and controlling it from the US,” said Maduro.

Maduro addressed the nation hours after an executive order issued by Obama stated that: “The situation in Venezuela… constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”

The statement made reference to “the Government of Venezuela’s erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption.”

The Venezuelan president said that it was the US government that posed the greatest threat to its own people by “deciding to invade, to kill, to sponsor terrorism across the world.” He added that Obama would be “remembered for this aggression towards the Venezuelan people.”

Maduro said he would request that the National Assembly approve a special “Habilitating Law” to grant the Executive more powers to “defend peace in the homeland.” Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Ministry also called back its highest ranking diplomat in the US and stated that Obama’s order was just to try and “justify imperialist interventionism.”

Several Latin American government quickly responded with support for Venezuela. Bolivian President Evo Morales called for a urgent meeting of the Union of South American States (Unasur) to discuss the issue. Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ricardo Patiño said that Unasur would “not allow foreign intervention in Venezuela nor a coup d’etat against Maduro.”

The Cuban government, whose relationship with the US has thawed in recent months, also criticised Obama’s decision and offered its full support to Venezuela.


Yesterday’s exchange is the latest sign of worsening relations between Caracas and Washington. The US government had already applied sanctions to other officials it accused of instigating violence against protesters in 2014. Maduro responded by adding new visa requirements for US travellers in Venezuela, and ordered that the US embassy cut its staff from 100 to 17 to match the number of Venezuelan diplomats based in Washington.

Last month Maduro also accused the US of conspiring with opposition leaders in Venezuela to stage an attempted coup on 12th February. The operation led to the arrest of Caracas mayor Antonio Ledesma, a move Maduro’s opponents said was evidence of a clampdown on political opposition. Meanwhile, the apparent killing of a 14-year-old student during a recent protest by a member of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), who has since been dismissed and detained, also drew concerns from international human rights groups over increasing police repression.

The government in Venezuela has also been criticised for the deteriorating economic situation, characterised by soaring inflation, dual exchange rates, and acute shortages of goods. Maduro contends that the current economic problems are the result of “destabilising” tactics by the opposition and private business, which he claims are deliberately hoarding goods to provoke shortages and social unrest.

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Venezuela: Government ‘Categorically Rejects’ New US Sanctions

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

President Nicolás Maduro (photo courtesy of Venezuelan government)

The Venezuelan government has “categorically rejected” a new round of sanctions announced by the US, saying they violate international law.

Yesterday, Washington extended visa bans for Venezuelan officials it accuses of being behind human rights violations in the South American country. The travel bans, which come on top of sanctions already imposed late last year, now also apply to some family members of the officials involved.

“The reiteration of unilateral and coercive measures go against the will of all the governments and populations of Latin America and the Caribbean,” read a statement issued by the Venezuelan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in reference to recent agreements made at the CELAC summit in Costa Rica.

“The government regrets this ongoing aggression from the US government, which conspires against the respectful dialogue pursued by Venezuela in international affairs and opts to continue violating the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights, and no interference in internal affairs that are intrinsic to international law.”

Yesterday, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that the list of those affected by the new visa restrictions would remain confidential, but noted that “we are sending a clear message that human rights abusers, those who profit from public corruption, and their families are not welcome in the United States.”

Last night, President Nicolás Maduro condemned the new sanctions, calling them hypocritical and saying he would write to President Barack Obama to express his concerns.

“What human rights are they talking about?,” he said at a party rally. “They kill black youth in the street with impunity, they persecute and have concentration camps of Central American kids. (In Guantanamo), they have abducted dozens of citizens of the world under no known legal system, submitting them to torture, isolation.”

Last week, Maduro accused US Vice President Joe Biden of attempting to lead a coup against him, something the US government said was “baseless and false”.

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Cuba: Highest Investment in Education in the World

Cuban school children (photo: Wikipedia)

Cuban school children (photo: Wikipedia)

According to a new report by the World Bank, Cuba spends 13% of its GDP on education, a figure that marks the highest investment in the sector in the world. The report follows findings from earlier this year that noted that the country had the highest literacy rate in the region.

Bolivia and Venezuela are the next countries in the region with 6.9% of their GDP going towards the sector, placing them joint 9th in the world rankings. The regional average for Latin America is 5.5% of GDP.

The report highlighted the increase in investment in the sector by Bolivia, which has increased between 2009 and 2013 to a tune of 319% in starter education, 105% in primary, and 306% in secondary. This represents a new record of US$2.3bn.

Bolivian president Evo Morales responded to the country’s ranking during his 2014 annual review of government, saying: “Those of us who have the responsibility of running the country are very encouraged, and such recognition by international organisations is very good.”

Venezuela ends the year with a record number of students, with 10.5m enrolled (of a population of 30m) in education overall, including a record 96% of children completing primary education. There are also a record 2.6m students in higher education, an increase of 294% from 2000. This is the largest number in the country’s history, and the fifth highest rate globally.

The investment in education is part of a larger social plan, recently dubbed a ‘Knowledge Revolution’ by President Nicolás Maduro. Policies to achieve these advances include the establishment of new educational “mission” programs, the foundation of new universities, reinforcing the free nature of higher education, with over 200,000 people awarded grants to study, and the provision of free school meals, textbooks, and laptops to schoolchildren.

Earlier this year the country undertook a national consultation for quality in education, in which more than seven million Venezuelans participated, among them teachers, students, parents, and social movements, to define the bases of education policy for the next ten years.

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