Monday, June 27, 2011

The Chavez Health Gossip Continues

Rumors continued to swirl over the weekend about the health of President Hugo Chavez, after El Nuevo Herald quoted an unnamed intelligence source as saying that Hugo Chavez is in “critical condition.”  This has been dismissed by Venezuelan Information Minister Andres Izarra, who told AFP that the leader is recovering well from pelvic abscess surgery, and offered his recently updated Twitter page as proof. Obviously, because anyone could be ghostwriting Chavez’s account, this evidence is highly suspect.

The New York Times says the President’s prolonged stay in Cuba has struck a nerve amongst the Venezuelan opposition, especially among those who already objected to Chavez’s increased reliance on Cuban military advisers.  Particularly bothersome to them is the fact that Chavez has continued to sign bills into law during his stay there, a move which they claim is a violation of the Constitution.

Reports that Chavez’s “pelvic abscess” could be something more serious (like prostate cancer) have sparked an oddly public round of speculation regarding his health. According to Venezuela’s Ultimas Noticias, Chavez has been rumored to have at least four health problems in recent months, ranging from reports of a bad flu to paranasal sinus cancer. This speculation has been made worse by the fact that the government has not released an official medical report to date confirming the status of Chavez’s health.

Ultimately, if Chavez is in fact sicker than he is letting on, it is hard to know how this revelation could affect domestic politics back home.  On the one hand, the image-savvy Chavez could potentially play off a grave illness in order to earn “martyr status” in Venezuela, which might raise his approval rating and rally support for a harder shift left in the country. On the other hand, the opposition has been extremely effective at equating the lack of information regarding Chavez’s health with authoritarianism, so such an occurrence might end up backfiring and spreading disenchantment with the leader. According to Globovision, a recent poll by policy consultant Alfredo Keller found that 53% of Venezuelans disapprove of Chavez, and would support a change in government.

The president of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Fernando Soto, told reporters on Sunday that he would be the first to know if the president had cancer, and claimed that Chavez will return to the country on July 5th. Until then, it seems, we’ll have to endure the rumor-mongering.

·         In Chavez’s absence, Venezuela’s already polarized politics have become even more split along ideological lines. El Universal reports that Adan Chavez, Hugo Chavez’s brother and governor of Barinas state, has called on Socialist Party (PSUV) activists not to rule out armed struggle in addition to electoral struggle as a way to maintain power and carry out the Bolivarian Revolution. This remark was swiftly denounced by Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, secretary of the opposition Mesa de la Unidad (MUD).  Aveledo noted that Chavez’s first attempt to gain power through violence failed, saying “he took office by the vote and by the vote he’ll leave.”

·         Meanwhile, the standoff between inmates and security forces at Venezuela’s El Rodeo prison complex continues. According to EFE, the Vatican’s top official in Venezuela called on inmates to give up their weapons on Sunday, and urged the government to ensure basic human rights guarantees for the prisoners. The Guardian has more on the blame game playing out in the country, with government officials accusing the opposition of links to the prisoners and the opposition blaming the incident on governmental neglect.

·         Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has spoken out against U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), who have voiced their objection to the nomination of Jonathan Farrar as ambassador to Nicaragua. As the Miami Herald reported last week, Sens. Menendez and Rubio complained at Farrar’s hearing that he was too soft on the Cuban government while he served as the top U.S. diplomatic official there, and have threatened to put a hold on the nomination. The two believe that a “firmer” diplomat is needed to protect democracy in Managua, where President Ortega is running for an allegedly illegal second consecutive term in office in the upcoming November elections. According to EFE, Ortega dismissed the Senators’ objections as hypocritical, and used the occasion to point out the United States’ noncompliance with a 1986 International Court of Justice ruling which ordered the U.S. to pay reparations for illegally funding the Contras. Perhaps ironically, Ortega criticized Menendez and Rubio’s view of U.S.-Nicaraguan relations as being “stuck in the past.”

·         Plaza Publica’s Julie Lopez reports that a combination of counternarcotics strategies and infighting between Mexican cartels has significantly altered the main drug transport routes through Central America. The article presents a helpful map of cartel influence in Guatemala, which mostly confirms what most analysts already know: the Gulf Cartel has lost a significant chunk of its territory to the Zetas, and Sinaloa Cartel influence remains strong in the country.

·         The New York Times reports on mining giant Pacific Rim’s attempt to sue El Salvador for lost profits after the country failed to grant permission for the company to build a gold mine in San Isidro.

·         Mexico’s El Universal reports that a group of armed men have kidnapped an unknown number of Central American migrants in Veracruz, including several children, while they were on a northbound train, heading to the border. Back in February, the country’s National Commission of Human Rights released a report documenting 214 cases of mass kidnappings of migrants, with a total of 11,333 victims from April to September 2010.

·         Following last Thursday’s dialogue between Mexican President Calderon and the country’s anti-violence movement, led by poet Javier Sicilia, it seems that a similar meeting will occur in the coming days, this time with Mexico’s Congress.  Carlos Navarrete, leader of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in the Senate, has announced via his personal blog that he is organizing a meeting between Mexico’s legislators and the movement, known as the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity.  Navarrete says details of the time and place of the meeting will likely be announced on Wednesday.

·         Although Chile has since announced its support for Agustín Carstens’s attempt to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the head of the International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor offers some insight into why the other “ABC countries” (Argentina and Brazil) may be holding back.

·         Bad news for Argentina’s struggle against money laundering: the Financial Action Task Force has put the country on its “gray list” of tax havens that have not fully implemented global transparency standards. As La Nacion reports, the move came despite the recent passage of an ant-money laundering law.

·         Brazil’s Jose Graziano da Silva was elected to serve as Director General of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the organization’s first new leader in nearly twenty year. According to Mercopress, Graziano da Silva has promised to prioritize the world’s record-high food prices, which the World Bank says have driven 44 million people into poverty since June 2010.

·         The Associated Press has used White House budgets, Freedom of Information Act requests and congressional testimony to come up with an exact price tag for enhanced U.S. border security measures. The cost? $90 billion over the past ten years.

·         According to La Republica, Peru’s outgoing government has canceled plans for a Canadian silver mine in the sourthern state of Puno, after six people were killed in clashes between police and local indigenous communities, who opposed the project. As AP notes, this is the latest in a series of major anti-mining mobilizations in the country.

·         The Andean Information Network has a new report on the prospect for judicial reforms in Bolivia, with a focus on the upcoming judicial elections in October. According to the report, President Morales’s MAS government faces challenges relating to transparency in the pre-selection and electoral processes.

·         The Center for Democracy in the Americas has more on the proposed amendment to Cuban travel and remittances in the House. In addition to restoring Bush-era restrictions on family travel and remittances, the amendment also repeals the remittances permitted under Obama’s 2011 directive from any American to qualified Cubans of up to $2,000 per year. 

·         Finally, a correction from Friday’s post. Despite the fact that the AFP reported that Peru has topped Colombia as the world’s top cocaine producer, Colombia is still “number one,” although the two countries are nearly tied. According to the original UNODC report, Colombia grew 62,000 hectares’ worth of illegal coca in 2010 (adjusting for small fields), while Peru grew 61,200.