Venezuela: As Protests Grow More Violent, Should Neighbors Weigh In? Reply

Members of the Union of South American Nations meet today to discuss the crisis in Venezuela. With at least 21 dead amid antigovernment protests, will Venezuela get further regional backing?

By Sibylla Brodzinsky, Correspondent / Christian Science Monitor

(SAN CRISTÓBAL, VENEZUELA) As violence intensifies in Venezuela amid month-long antigovernment protests, concern over instability in the oil rich nation is demanding the attention of the region. But Venezuela’s neighbors, many of which have integrated economic or security interests with this South American country, are wary of angering Caracas, which has rejected any interference in its domestic unrest.

At least 21 people have died and hundreds more have been wounded in protests against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Protesters say they are exercising a legitimate right to voice dissent while the government claims it is part of a US-backed plan to destabilize the country.

As clashes mount, and as reports of violent tactics by protesters, government forces, and third-party, pro-government militias increase, observers are asking if it is time for the international community to unite in encouraging concrete steps toward calm in Venezuela.

The handful of countries that have spoken out in recent weeks – calling for peace and talks – were met with Venezuelan reactions that ranged from cutting off all diplomatic ties (Panama) to kicking out embassy staff (the US) to stern warnings (Colombia and Chile).

Last week, the DC-based Organization of American States (OAS) convened at the behest of Panama to discuss the problem and issued a lukewarm statement supporting the Venezuelan government. Today, the foreign ministers of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have called an emergency meeting – encouraged by Venezuela – to address the growing conflict.

The meeting of only South American leaders, a forum initiated by former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 2008, is expected to release a statement of support for President Maduro.
Venezuela’s decision to sever diplomatic relations with Panama last week after it called for the OAS gathering sent a clear message to neighbors, says Julia Buxton, a Venezuela expert at the Central European University.

“It was a warning shot to other countries not to meddle in what Venezuela considers internal affairs,” Ms. Buxton says.

Article continues here: Venezuela: As protests grow more violent, should neighbors weigh in?

The Link Between Venezuela and Cuba 1

By Keith Johnson, The Tico Times

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Top U.S. lawmakers from both parties are urging the Obama administration to take a tougher line on Venezuela, which is violently cracking down on popular protests against the government of Nicolás Maduro. For some on Capitol Hill, though, the real target is Cuba.

These leading Republicans and Democrats are pushing back at a country that has been a constant thorn in the side of U.S. interests in Latin America in recent years.

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R., Fla., and Eliot Engel, D., N.Y., have both called for the Organization of American States, which meets this week, to take a tougher line on the Maduro government’s treatment of peaceful protesters. Sen. Marco Rubio, R., Fla., has floated the idea of U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials involved in the crackdown, and even against the Venezuelan government itself.

But Venezuela hawks such as Rubio are making a second argument: tougher action against Venezuela represents a chance to undermine one of the key lifelines of the communist regime in Cuba, whose economy relies on heavily subsidized oil and other gifts from Caracas.

“The Cubans get free and cheap oil from the Venezuelans. So their interest is keeping this regime in place because they’re their benefactors,” Rubio told CNN this week. “And Cuba is clearly involved in assisting the Venezuelan government with both personnel and training and equipment to carry out these repressive activities,” he added.

Feature continues here: The Link Between Venezuela and Cuba

Famed Castro Apologist Hypes “Rise” of CELAC Reply

OAS head at Cuba Summit in Unusual Encounter

By Associated Press

HAVANA — The secretary-general of the Organization of American States arrived in Cuba on Monday to attend a regional summit, in an unusual encounter 52 years after Cuba was kicked out of the regional bloc.

Jose Miguel Insulza, a Chilean, was attending as an observer, so there was no official access to his arrival as was the case with visiting foreign ministers and heads of state. But Cuban officials confirmed his presence on the island to The Associated Press.

Hugo Zela, Insulza’s chief of staff, said the OAS, which was formed in 1948, has no record of a secretary-general visiting Cuba.

Tensions between Cuba and the OAS began shortly after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, when Washington put pressure on Fidel Castro’s nascent Communist government through the organization.

Cuba was suspended from the bloc in 1962 at the height of the Cold War and many other nations turned their backs on Havana, with Mexico a notable exception.

By the dawn of the 21st century and with the Cold War nearly two decades in the rear-view mirror, some countries — particularly Venezuela under the late President Hugo Chavez, who called Castro a friend and mentor — began pushing for Cuba’s reintegration into the hemispheric community.

In 2009 the OAS ended Cuba’s suspension with the consent of Washington, which had been hesitant at first. But Havana balked at rejoining the bloc it sees as obeying U.S. interests.

“Cuba’s position toward the OAS remains the same: We will not return,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said at the summit. “It has negative historical baggage as an instrument of domination by the United States that cannot be resolved through any reform.”

Nonetheless, Rodriguez said inviting Insulza to the CELAC summit was done out of “courtesy.”

The CELAC was formed in 2011 and includes all the Western Hemisphere’s nations except Canada and the United States.

“It should replace within a short time the OAS, that institution that did so much harm to integration,” Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Roberto Patino said Monday.

Arturo Lopez-Levy, a Cuba analyst and lecturer at the University of Denver, said the CELAC’s creation puts pressure on the OAS to remain relevant.

“The problems of the OAS are due to the fact that inter-American multilateralism has not been updated in respect to the changes in politics and balance of power that have taken place in (the region) and beyond as part of the rise of the global south,” Lopez-Levy said. “The second summit of the CELAC in Havana pours salt on that wound,” he added.

For decades the argument for excluding Cuba from the OAS was its closed, single-party system. Havana has little tolerance for internal opposition and routinely harasses dissidents whom it officially labels treasonous “mercenaries.”

Insulza has come under criticism particularly from the Cuban exile community for not scheduling meetings with island dissidents during the trip, in order to avoid making the summit hosts uncomfortable.

“It’s startling,” said Elizardo Sanchez, a nongovernmental human rights monitor in Cuba. “It’s a little surprising because the OAS usually recognizes the human rights NGOs.”

Cuban dissidents have complained about increased harassment and detentions in the days leading up to and during the summit. Some said they were prevented from holding an alternative forum, while others claimed to be under effective house arrest.

Editor’s Note: Lopez-Levy is a self-professed “former” Intelligence Officer in Havana’s dreaded Ministry of the Interior (MININT). He is also a relative of MININT Col. Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul Castro’s son-in-law and head of GAESA, the regime’s business monopoly. Now living comfortably in Colorado, Lopez-Levy (aka Lopez-Callejas) is a long-term doctoral student in Denver.

U.S. Administration Calls for Investigation of the Death of Cuban Oswaldo Payá 1

By Juan O. Tamayo,

The Obama administration has joined growing calls for an independent investigation into the deaths of Cuba’s most respected dissident Oswaldo Payá and a fellow dissident in a car crash that some allege was caused by state security agents. “The United States supports the calls for an international investigation with independent international observers” into the deaths of Payá and Harold Cepero, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday. “The people of Cuba and the families of these two activists deserve a clear, credible accounting of the events that resulted in their tragic deaths,” Nuland said during a news briefing.

Nuland’s comments came amid growing calls for an independent investigation into the July 22 car crash that killed Payá and Cepero, an activist in Payá’s Christian Liberation Movement.
The Cuban government says Spanish politician Angel Carromero caused the deaths when he accidentally slammed the car into a tree in eastern Cuba. Payá and Cepero were passengers. Carromero and Swedish politician Jens Aron Modig survived.

A Cuban court sentenced Carromero to four years in prison for vehicular homicide. He returned to Spain in December under a bilateral agreement that allows each country’s citizens to serve sentences in their own country. Carromero now says his rented car was rammed from behind and forced to crash by a red vehicle with government license plates, and that he had been followed by state security vehicles from the time the four men left Havana.

A bipartisan group of six U.S. senators signed a letter earlier this week requesting that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a part of the Organization of American States, investigate the deaths. “Recent interviews published in Spanish news media indicate that… Carromero is innocent and that the vehicle carrying Payá was deliberately attacked by Cuban government officials,” said the letter.

Sent to ICHR executive secretary Emilio Alvarez Icaza, it was signed by Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, his Republican counterpart Marco Rubio, Arizona Republican John McCain, Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia and Illinois Republican Mark Kirk. “Oswaldo Payá was a brave man trying to peacefully advocate for greater political freedoms for his Cuban brothers and sisters,” the letter noted. “It increasingly looks like he paid for that effort with this life. “His memory and family deserve an honest and independent accounting of what happened,” the senators concluded.

Payá’s relatives have repeatedly demanded an independent investigation of the crash, and several Spanish and other European politicians, mostly conservatives, have followed suit. His daughter, Rosa Maria, has said the family might also file a lawsuit against Cuba in Spanish courts because her father had Spanish citizenship.

Today in History: Uruguay Protested Cuban Support to Terrorist Group Reply

October 22, 1974:  Uruguay provided a 35-page to the Organization of American States (OAS) that detailed allegations regarding Cuban support to the Tupamaros. The report focused on the period 1968 to mid-1973 and was based largely on intelligence from captured guerillas. The document dealt mainly with the specific training Cuba provided, as well as the existence of the Tupamaros cells in Havana.

This Date in History: Bolivia Severed Ties With Cuba; Shut Down Embassy Spy Center Reply

August 21, 1964:  La Paz severed ties with Havana in compliance with a July 28th resolution which called on all Organization of American States (OAS) members to end diplomatic relations with Havana.  Bolivia urged Cuban Charge de Affaires Roberto Lasalle and his staff of five diplomatic staffer to depart quickly and quietly. While Bolivia voted against the OAS sanctions, it complied, in part, because of “interference by the Havana mission” in Bolivia’s domestic issues.  According to Cuban Intelligence defector Juan F. Benemelis, Lasalle is an intelligence officer.