In a yet another surprise move, Hugo Chavez returned home to Venezuela early Monday morning, just in time to celebrate the country’s Independence Day on July 5th. According to El Universal, Chavez’s return was marked by his signature political showmanship, with the president appearing slightly thinner but otherwise acting his usual energetic and fiery self. In an address that he delivered from the balcony of the presidential palace on Monday afternoon, Chavez told the Venezuelan people that he was starting a new battle for his life, saying, "We will win this battle, as well!”
While his return has finally silenced those of his critics who accused him of governing illegally while seeking treatment in Cuba, it also raises questions about the level of centralization of power in the Venezuelan government. As the New York Times notes, Vice President Elias Jaua himself seemed unprepared for the development, especially considering that on Friday he told supporters that Chavez could be out of the country for up to six months if necessary. In contrast, Adan Chavez’s June 22 announcement that his brother would return from Cuba in 10-12 days has proven to be spot on, lending credibility to reports that the governor of Barinas is more involved in the administration’s decision making apparatus than other, supposedly higher-ranking authorities.
Meanwhile, it seems that Noam Chomsky is the latest to express concerns about the sustainability of Chavez-centric politics in Venezuela. The MIT linguist, who has voiced extensive support for Chavez in the past, told The Guardian in a recent interview that he considers the level of executive power in the country to be excessive, and tantamount to an “assault” on democracy. He also called on the president to release Judge Maria Lourdes Afiuni, who has been in jail since 2009 on corruption charges. After Chomsky complained to Venezuelananalysis.com that his comments were misconstrued for sensationalist purposes in the article, the Guardian published a full transcript of Chomsky’s interview, which in fact reveals a more nuanced critique of the Venezuelan leader.
· Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Sunday that the FARC’s commander, Alfonso Cano, just barely escaped an air raid on his camp located in the south of the mountainous Tolima department, Bloomberg reports. According to the president, the military found cigarette butts of a brand thought to be favored by Cano all around the camp, as well as several dogs thought to belong to the guerrilla leader. According to Colombia Reports, some 6,000 members of the Colombian armed forces are continuing to search for him in the area.
· A new Gallup poll has found that 76% of Colombians approve of Juan Manuel Santos, but 74% see the security situation in the country as deteriorating. El Espectador has the full results.
· A key witness in Colombia’s "parapolitics" scandal was killed late last week. Luis Eduardo Gomez was killed shot dead by gunmen in his home in Antioquia. As the BBC reports, Gomez was the second witness killed last week, after the June 27 death of Jose Vicente Botero, a municipal official who was also set to testify at a hearing on connections between right-wing paramilitary groups and Colombian politicians.
· On Monday Mexico announced the capture of a supposed Zetas founder, Jesús Enrique Rejon Aguilar, alias “El Mamito.” Officials have identified him as the Zetas’ third in command under the command of Heriberto Lazcano y Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, known to authorities as “El Lazca” and “Z-40,” respectively. Interestingly, because Rejon controlled the group’s activities in central Mexico, authorities also say he may have had a hand in the February killing of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. However, the exact nature of his participation in the shooting is unclear, as El Universal and the New York Times note.
· As expected, Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won state elections in Nayarit, Coahuila and Mexico State, further cementing a probable PRI presidency in 2012, according to multiple analysts cited by the BBC and L.A. Times. Time magazine has a profile of the 21st century PRI, highlighting the supposed makeover of the party in recent years.
· AP says that five more deaths from Tropical Storm Arlene were confirmed in Mexico on Monday, bringing the total official death toll from the storm to 16.
· On Saturday, Brazil’s President Rousseff ordered the country’s Minister of Transportation, Alfredo Nascimento, to suspend several of his top aides after reports surfaced that some of them were charging kickbacks on projects ran through the ministry. As MercoPress reports, this has potential to further sour the relationship between the administration and within the 10 parties that she relies on to pass legislation.
· A recently released United States diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks reveals a clandestine agreement between the governments of Panaman and the U.S. which established procedures for the U.S. government to obtain the right to board Panamanian-flagged ships in international waters, noting that such activities happen regularly. As Latin America News Dispatch notes, this is intended to streamline counternarcotics operations, giving U.S. officials the authority to intercept drug lords, bringing them to Panama before being extradited to the U.S. Because one-third of all the ships in the world are registered in Panama, this could have tremendous implications for international maritime law.
· Peruvian-elect Ollanta Humala is scheduled to visit Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, where he will seek to further relations with the United States, reports MercoPress. Humala’s planned trip to Venezuela was delayed Chavez’s health problems, and is still pending.
· AFP reports that Argentina is backing the idea of creating an OPEC-like cartel for itself, Bolivia and Chile, which together control 85 percent of global lithium reserves. However, the level of investment and infratstructure to successfully create such an organism is currently lacking in the region.
· WOLA’s Adam Isaacson defends former Guatemalan president Oscar Berger's decision to reduce the Guatemalan military from 50,000 to 17,000 in 2004. According to him, the lack of military presence is not the main reason that the country is ill-prepared to fight drug trafficking and organized crime. Instead, he places blame on the lack of an institutionalized police force to fill this gap.
· Siglo XXI says that the Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Tribunal has upheld a lower electoral court’s decision to block UNE candidate Sandra Torres’s bid for presidency on the grounds that the Constitution expressly forbids spouses and relatives of heads of state to run for president. Central American Politics offers a quality analysis of the decision, with a focus on what it means for her party and the long-term future of politics in the country.
· Puerto Rico’s top police official, Jose Figueroa Sancha, stepped down on Saturday in response to rising criticism over the country’s rising homicide rate. According to AP, some 568 killings have been recorded so far this year, compared with 470 reported in the same period in 2010.
· The Inter-American Dialogue has started a new blog on China-Latin America relations, ChinaAndLatinAmerica.com, currently featuring a piece which ties in recent analysis of Venezuelan politics by president Michael Shifter with a STRATFOR report on China's stake in maintaining strong ties with Chavez’s Venezuela.