On Wednesday, Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, both of Florida, introduced legislation meant to address the crisis in Venezuela, where the government continues to respond with brutal and sometimes deadly force against anti-government demonstrators who want President Nicolás Maduro to step down.
The bipartisan bill, spearheaded by Rubio and Nelson, would provide $10 million in aid for food and medicine.
Of this fund, $9.5 million would be used by organizations defending human rights and the coordination of an international response led by the State Department as well as other measures to mitigate the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela.
The situation in Venezuela is dire as the death toll continues to rise.
At least 36 people have been killed and hundreds more have been injured since the protests started last month. All this while the country is ill-equipped to treat the casualties due to medical shortages.
“Venezuelan civilians are being harmed and killed by their own government as the dictator Maduro and his thugs use violence to suppress peaceful pro-democracy protests,” Rubio said. “The United States must stand with and support the Venezuelan people as they struggle to defend their rights and restore constitutional mechanisms and bring back democracy in their country.”
It seemed that many Cuban’s hopes for greater freedom of expression – particularly in the art world – seems to have been dashed again. In less than 24 hours after apparently agreeing to meet several demands from dissident artists, the government broke at least three of the five agreements in had made.
Freedom of expression is a hot topic in Cuba, where the communist regime severely limits what artists can say and produce.
But even more rare: public protest. That’s what makes these recent marches in Havana so important, the island hasn’t seen anything like it in decades. And as almost on script, the Cuban government flipped on its public reaction to the growing movement, instead blaming it on “U.S. imperialism” and foreign intervention.
Cuban officials have completely condemned the protest movement in a full 180º change of attitude.
Over the weekend, Cuba saw unprecedented protests led by dissident artists and creatives – known as the San Isidro movement – seeking greater freedom of expression. And although it seemed early on that the group may have made progress (the government agreed to several concessions), those hopes went up in flames as the government launched an all-out rhetorical assault.
Shortly after the meeting between protesters and officials, the protest came to a peaceful end with leaders thinking they achieved what they had set out to do, and with a meeting to discuss the issues further.
But just hours later the government called in the top U.S. diplomat on the island, charge de affairs Timothy Zúñiga-Brown, for a scolding over “grave interference in Cuba’s internal affairs” as state television ran a 90-minute special attacking members of the protest group and broadcasting visuals of their interactions with U.S. diplomats and Miami exiles.
“Sovereign Cuba accepts no interference … The revolutionary ones will fight back,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in one of a series of Twitter posts accusing the San Isidro movement of being a “reality show” on social media created by “U.S. imperialists.”
What originally seemed like progress now seems like business as usual for the communist regime.
It seemed, at least for a few short hours, that there was a real chance at bolstering artistic freedom in Cuba. The group of protesters, known as the San Isidro movement, gathered outside the culture ministry, leading Fernando Rojas, the deputy culture minister, to invite in a group of 30 of them. The meeting lasted for more than four hours, those present have said, and resulted in a promise of greater freedoms for artists.
Writer Katherine Bisquet told the press afterward that there had been a “truce for independent spaces” where activists could meet and talk, and that further discussions were promised.
“I cannot emphasize enough that this kind of public protest, with hundreds of people standing outside a ministry for 14 hours, is unprecedented,” Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco told Artnet News. “The fact that government officials conceded to a meeting is in itself a victory for the artists and a sign of weakness on the part of the government.”
The government had also agreed to urgently review the case of a detained member of the San Isidro crew and a rapper sentenced this month to eight months in jail on charges of contempt. It also agreed to ensure independent artists in the future were not harassed.
Cuban officials blamed the U.S. for stirring up dissent.
Shortly after the government launched a verbal assault on the group, it also accused the U.S. of helping them. Officials at the Foreign Ministry summoned the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, Chargé d’Affaires Timothy Zuñiga-Brown, and complained about U.S. “intervention.”
At Sunday’s rally, Díaz Canel said that “Trumpistas” (referring to the Trump administration) and the “anti-Cuban mafia that are now ‘Trumpistas'” (referring to Cuban American Trump supporters in Miami) “had on their agenda that before the year ends, the revolutions of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela have to fall.”
Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden’s national security adviser, tweeted Sunday: “We support the Cuban people in their struggle for liberty and echo calls for the Cuban government to release peaceful protestors. The Cuban people must be allowed to exercise the universal right to freedom of expression.”
Thanks to an imploding economy in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented crisis.
Cuba is going through dire shortages in food and basic goods amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has practically halted tourism to the island, on top of the Trump administration’s harsh sanctions.
Against that backdrop, García said, “I think the government should think about these things and view dialogue as a valid option to avoid a major disaster.”
Like so many other countries across Latin America, Guatemala is just the latest to see a massive outpouring of anger against the ruling party. Over the weekend, massive protests took place in the nation’s capital in response to a proposed budget that would of actually cut much needed funding for the country’s Covid-19 response while increasing funds for government officials.
Protesters were largely peaceful as they chanted and waved the Guatemalan flag in front of the National Congress but as riot police moved in, the situation intensified.
As a result, the controversial budget has been withdrawn from consideration and the country’s Vice President has suggested that he and the president both resign for the benefit of Guatemala.
Protesters took to the streets demanding a proposed budget be withdrawn.
Over the weekend, protesters marched in Guatemala’s capital to demand the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei, who played a key role in passing the controversial 2021 national budget.
Although the march started out peacefully, it turned violent as riot police entered the city’s main plaza to disperse more than 10,000 protesters in front of the National Palace. Protesters set fire to part of Congress, although the extent of the damage isn’t yet known.
However, police have been accused of using excessive force as videos show flames coming out of a window in the legislative building. Police fired teargas at protesters, and about a dozen people were reported injured.
Discontent had been building on social media even before the controversial budget was passed in secret last week. Protesters were also upset by recent moves by the supreme court and attorney general they saw as attempts to undermine the fight against corruption.
Vice President Guillermo Castillo has offered to resign, telling Giammattei that both men should step down “for the good of the country.” He also suggested vetoing the approved budget, firing government officials and reaching out more to various sectors around the country.
The nation’s Congress was set on fire by protesters and police used excessive force.
As protesters were confronted by police, some set fire to the Congress. Although the amount of damage to the building remains unclear, the flames appear to have affected legislative offices, rather than the main hall of the monumental building.
President Giammattei condemned the fires using his Twitter account on Saturday.
“Anyone who is proven to have participated in the criminal acts will be punished with the full force of the law,” he said. He added that he defended people’s right to protest, “but neither can we allow people to vandalize public or private property.”
Police resorted to excessive force against protesters and targeted them with tear gas and batons, attacking not only the 1,000 demonstrators at congress but also a much larger, peaceful protest outside of the National Palace.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has condemned what it called an “excessive use of force” by police in Guatemala against demonstrators
The IACHR wrote on Twitter on Sunday that it “condemns the excessive use of force by authorities against demonstrators” but also asked for an investigation into “the acts of vandalism against Congress, after which State agents indiscriminately suppressed the protest.”
The proposed budget did little to help those struggling amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
The weekend’s protests were part of a growing movement against President Gaimmattei and the legislature for approving a budget largely in secret. The budget, which was approved last week, actually cut much needed funding for education and health while increasing by $65,000 the funding for meals for lawmakers. It also cut funding for Coronavirus patients and human rights agencies.
“We are outraged by poverty, injustice, the way they have stolen the public’s money,” said psychology professor Rosa de Chavarría in a statement to Al Jazeera.