The Trump administration has seriously turned up the heat on Venezuela, slapping sanctions on the country's vice president as a drug "kingpin." The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Feb. 13 officially named Tareck Zaidan El Aissami as a "Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker" under terms of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act) of 1999. The order charges that El Aissami received pay-offs from a trafficking network linked to Mexico's Zetas narco-gang. Under the order, US nationals and corporations are barred from doing business with El Aissami, and all his assets within the country are frozen.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (PDF) Dec. 21 to establish an independent panel to investigate possible war crimes in Syria. The resolution, approved by a vote of 105 to 15 with 52 abstentions, will establish an "International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011." The mechanism will work closely with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. The resolution:
Expressing "outrage" at the escalation of violence in Syria, and particularly Aleppo, the UN General Assembly on Dec. 9 adopted a resolution demanding an immediate and complete end to all attacks on civilians, as well as a lifting of all sieges on cities and towns. The Canada-sponsored resolution was adopted by a vote of 122 in favor, 13 against and 36 abstentions. The text also expressed grave concern at the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country and demanded "rapid, safe, sustained, unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access throughout the country for UN...and all humanitarian actors."
Nearly 100 were arretsed across Venezuela in a wave of massive opposition protests Oct. 26. Among those arrested were seven police officers accused of excessive force. Authorities said a total of 86 people were injured nationwide, including 26 police and National Guard troops. National authorities also intervened to remove the head of the police force in the municipality of San Francisco in the western city of Maracaibo, in response to the injury of four opposition protesters. The mobilization was called by the right-wing opposition, in response to the National Electoral Council's temporary suspension of a presidential recall referendum process last week, pending investigations into possible fraudulent signatures. As the protesters approached the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, thousands of Chavistas gathered there in support of President Nicolas Maduro, and a tense face-off ensued.
Russia used its veto power on the UN Security Council Oct. 8 to kill a French-backed resolution demanding an immediate end to air-strikes on besieged Aleppo. Venezuela, shamefully (but not surprisingly), also voted against it. This was the fifth time Russia has used its veto to kill a UN resolution on Syria since the war began more than five years ago. (Reuters) The aerial terror remains unrelenting. On Oct. 13, a Russian or Assad regime air-strike (it matters little which) killed at at least 15 at a marketplace in rebel-held eastern Aleppo. (Rudaw) Secretary of State John Kerry has called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime.
At a meeting hailed as historic in Caracas, Venezuela, representatives of Colombia's government and the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN) announced Oct. 10 that they will open peace negotiations. The talks are to convene Oct. 27 in Quito, Ecuador. This talks are being called the "public phase" of dialogue, as discussions had been taking place for aboutr two years through back channels. The Quito talks will be led by government delegate Mauricio Rodríguez and the ELN commander known as "Pablo Beltran." The day of the announcement, as an "act of good will," the ELN released an abducted hostage to the International Committee of the Red Cross—the third prisoner release in the two weeks. Two other high-profile hostages are expected to be released shortly. There are former congress member Odín Sánchez Montes de Oca, who in April switched places with his kidnapped brother, former Chocó Gov. Patrocinio Sánchez; and Octavio Figueroa, a businessman kidnapped in La Guajira in March. (BBC News, InSight Crime, City Paper, Bogotá, Oct. 11; Colombia Reports, Oct. 10)
President Barack Obama once again singled out Washington's biggest political adversaries in Latin America for censure in this year's White House report on global anti-drug efforts. The annual memorandum to the State Department, "Major Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries," released Sept. 12, lists 17 Latin American countries out of a total of 22 around the world. As has now become routine, Bolivia, Venezuela and Burma are blacklisted as countries that have "failed demonstrably during the previous 12 months to adhere to the obligations under international counternarcotic agreements." (InSight Crime, Sept. 13)
Venezuela's opposition Table for Democratic Unity (MUD) claimed success in its massive Sept. 1 mobilization dubbed the "Toma de Caracas" (Taking of Caracas) to demand the recall of President Nicolás Maduro—despite pre-emptive arrests of leaders. Protest organzers put the total of marchers at up to 2 million, while government estimates were as low as 30,000. Official media and protest leaders are at odds as to whether there was violence at the march, with the MUD denying charges that protesters attacked police. Rights group Foro Penal reported 119 people were detained nationwide in a bid to head off the mobilization. Arrests have continiued since the march, and three local mayors are among those detained by the Bolivarian National Intellgence Service (SEBIN). An arrest order has been issued for opposition leader Lester Toledo of the Popular Will (VP) party in Zulia state for allegedly "financing terrorism." Maduro announced that he will consider stripping all Venezuelan politicians of immunity in order to permit prosecutions of suspected coup-plotters.