The political maneuvering is heating up in Venezuela as the country moves towards 2012’s presidential election, with rumors that the vote could be brought forward several months to as early as July. President Hugo Chavez had widely been expected to win an easy victory in the vote, which had been set to take place in December 2012, but his illness, and the rumors fed by the lack of reliable information about his condition, have left the field looking more open that at any time in his 12 years in power.
The Venezuelan opposition, currently represented by the Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD), an alliance of opposition parties, warned on Monday that it would be alert to any moves the government might make to move the election forward. This would rob the MUD of time to campaign for its presidential candidate, who will be selected in primaries in February. A coalition representative demanded that the date of the elections be announced as soon as possible. The opposition has often appeared lost in the face of the president’s popularity and domineering style, and unable to group together around a real challenger to the charismatic leader.
Over the weekend, the Associated Press profiled Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda state, who it says is emerging as a serious rival to the ailing president. According to the news agency:
Capriles has asserted himself as a sort of anti-Chavez: a soft-spoken state governor who tries to avoid confrontation and describes himself as middle-of-the-road in contrast to the socialist president.
Capriles has compared his style to that of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, with a mix of social programs and pro-market reform, according to the report. The AP quotes a poll by Datanalisis, which said that Capriles would have 36 percent support to Chavez's 38 percent in a one-to-one contest, making him an unprecedented challenger to the socialist leader.
Other high-profile candidates in the race, according to Reuters, include the more right-leaning Pablo Perez, governor of Zulia state, and Caracas lawmaker Maria Corina Machado.
- With 98 percent of votes counted from Guatemala’s Sunday presidential elections, Otto Perez’s share has risen to 36 percent, while rival Manuel Baldizon has 23 percent. The two will face off in a second round of voting on November 6. Both men are right-leaning, and both promise an “iron fist” crackdown on crime. Perez had been banned by the election authority from further campaign spending after being accused over overstepping the spending cap, but told press after the vote that this ruling was incorrect, and that he still had another eight million quetzeles ($1 million) to spend before reaching the limit.
Though Perez looks set to win in November, Baldizon could still get his chance at the presidency. The Economist noted in a recent article that the runner-up in the second round often wins in the next presidential election four years later, judging by the pattern in recent years (Perez lost the second round to Colom in 2007). This is bad news, it says, because Baldizon “looks like a dreadful candidate,” with economic plans that don’t add up, and heavy investments in the crime-controlled Peten region.
In Congress, whose elections were held on the same day, Perez’s Patido Patriota won 57 of 158 seats, and the coalition of current President Alvaro Colom, which did not front a presidential candidate, won 48. More from NYT, WSJ, LA Times.
- In more news from Venezuela, the Wall Street Journal reports that Chavez is moving to withdraw from the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, in what is likely a step to avoid claims from businesses whose Venezuelan assets are appropriated by the government. This could also be part of the president’s increasing wariness of foreign intervention in his country, in the wake of the deposal of ally Moammar Gaddafi.
- In Chile, where September 11 is remembered as the anniversary of the 1973 coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende, at least 280 people were arrested and 45 injured, 40 of them police officers, in riots that broke out after a march to commemorate the day. There was looting and barricades on the streets of Santiago, according to the authorities. The government blamed “anarchist groups” who carried out “brutal” attacks against the police.
- The U.S. government has charged Colombian drug lord Daniel Barrera Barrera, known as “El Loco,” with cocaine trafficking, along with two associates who are in Colombian custody. Barrera remains at large, and is thought to be one of the country’s biggest narco-traffickers. U.S. and Colombian authorities have chalked up a series of recent victories against Barrera’s network, but, according to reporting by InSight Crime, the trafficker may be in Venezuela, under the protection of high-level officials and members of the security forces.
- Brazil’s expansion to become a global economic power has a dark side, according to the Wall Street Journal, which warns that the emerging power may be suffering from the world’s most highly overvalued currency, a real-estate bubble, and a slowing economy.
- In Cuba, the government has expressed concern over a group of more than 60 Pentecostal believers who have barricaded themselves in a church in Havana, led by Pastor Braulio Herrera Tito. They may be part of a political protest, according to a report in the Miami Herald, which said that a known Cuban dissident was in contact with those in the church, and had reported that they were locked in the building to pray for “a new Cuba.”
- Meanwhile, Foreign Policy magazine listed Raul Castro as one of the dictators most likely to fall in the wake of the Arab Spring, warning that, “After 52 years under the rule of the Castro brothers, Cubans are stirring.”
- In Mexico, the authorities reported the recapture of Manuel Alquisires Garcia, alias “El Meme,” thought to be the chief financial officer of the Gulf Cartel. He was first captured 13 years ago together with Osiel Cardenas Guillen who later became notorious as the cartel’s leader, but Alquisires escaped prison in 2002.
- Still on Mexico’s drug trade, President Barack Obama backed his counterpart, Felipe Calderon, against those who have advocated for a truce with criminal groups. Obama rejected the idea, put forward most recently by former Mexican leader Vicente Fox, saying "I don't think Mexican people want to live in a society where drug kingpins are considered to be some of the more powerful individuals in society."
- Former Argentinian President Carlos Menem will find out today whether he has been found guilty of arms trafficking charges. If guilty, he could face eight years in prison.
- The New York Times has a feature on the Dominican Republic’s new Memorial Museum of Dominican Resistance, which tells the history of the resistance to Rafael Trujillo, a military dictator who ruled from 1930 to 1961. He is thought to have been behind the deaths of more than 50,000 people, with many more imprisoned and tortured.