Friday, February 3, 2012

'Armed Children' in Venezuela Highlight Country's Politicization

Photos showing Venezuelan children holding what look like assault weapons at a pro-Chavez event in Caracas have sparked a controversy in the country, in a reflection of the political polarization of Venezuelan society.

On January 23, a left-wing community organization known as Colectivo La Piedrita celebrated the anniversary of the end of the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958. This week, photos of the event appeared on the internet which appeared to show children wearing bandanas over their faces and holding M-16 assault rifles. They were seated in front of a mural depicting Jesus and the Virgin Mary holding Kalashnikovs.

As InSight Crime reports, other photos which appear to be taken at the same event show that Venezuelan lawmaker Robert Serra was present. Serra is a member of President Hugo Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela, suggesting at least some level of official support for the incident. Serra denies that he was at the event, claiming that the pictures of him were taken on a previous occasion.

La Piedrita, for their part, claims that the weapons were actually made of plastic, and that the photos are being taken out of context by counterrevolutionaries.

Since the photos emerged, the Venezuelan opposition has used them to blast Chavez, who has promoted the development of civilian “militias” in the country. Zulia state governor Pablo Perez, for instance, criticized the display by saying "Instead of guns, these children should have a computer, a book, a bat, a ball, a glove, or a musical instrument.”

In response to such criticism, the Chavez administration has condemned the incident. On Tuesday Interior Minister Tarek El-Aissami called it “morally reprehensible,” and yesterday Chavez himself said that it was irresponsible, claiming that such images hurt his Bolivarian revolution.

This is not the first conflict that Chavez has had with his more radical supporters in Colectivo La Piedrita. In 2009 he called for the arrest of the group’s leader Valentin Santana after the latter publicly threatened several members of the opposition. Back then, he warned that the group had potential to develop into a state of its own, into “a terrorist group that goes around making death threats.”

News Briefs

·         The BBC reports that Brazilian Minister of Cities Mario Negromonte has resigned after facing corruption allegations. Negromonte is the seventh member of President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet to resign since she took office in January 2011. The scandals do not appear to be affecting her popularity, however, as a recent poll by Brazilian daily Folha de Sao Paulo shows that 59 percent of Brazilians support the Rousseff administration.

·         In a protest against proposed mining projects in their land, members of Panama’s Ngobe-Bugle tribe have blocked several roads along the country’s border with Costa Rica. A spokesperson for the tribe told the AP that they refuse to negotiate with the administration of President Ricardo Martinelli, but are pursuing talks with members of the legislature.

·         It seems Cuban President Raul Castro is acting on his vow to crack down on corruption on the island.  At a recent Communist Party Congress meeting, the Cuban leader called corruption “one of the main enemies of the revolution.” According to the Associated Press, the government has instructed party officials and bureaucrats to watch a video on corruption, in an apparent “stern warning that [the government is] serious about cracking down on graft.”

·         The World Radiocommunication Conference, a summit held every three to four years by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union, has approved a resolution condemning unlawful U.S. interference into Cuban airwaves through such projects as Radio Marti.

·         El Universal reports that Mexican President Felipe Calderon is stepping up operations in the western state of Michoacan, sending more than 4,000 troops to the region. The effort is likely an attempt to weed out the remnants of the once mighty Familia Michoacana and their most powerful successor, the Caballeros Templarios.

·         The AP has a nice piece on the continuing evictions in Rio’s slums in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. While the government claims that families are being given a fair price to relocate, residents say otherwise.

·         One day after a bombing in southern Colombia killed 11, El Tiempo reports that another explosion in the western Cauca province has killed at least six people. Officials have blamed both attacks on FARC rebels. In the wake of the bombings President Juan Manuel Santos has called the guerrillas “hypocrites,” saying that they talk of peace while carrying out terrorist attacks at the same time.

·         AP has a piece on the curious case of two Chilean backpackers who were arrested in separate incidents in Peru, apparently on suspicions of espionage. The incidents are likely the result of a rivalry between the two countries, which have been engaged in a maritime border dispute with the ICJ for several years.

·         The latest issue of the Economist features an in-depth look at Mexico’s powerful monopolies, as well as a piece on the state of baseball in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

·         The New York Times’ Lens Blog profiles the work of photojournalist Jean-Marie Simon, who chronicled the most violent years of the Guatemalan Civil War. Simon’s photos offer a haunting testimony to the violence of the era, and are a reminder of the gravity of the charges against ex-dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. Meanwhile, Mike Allison has written an insightful op-ed for Al Jazeera English which offers an excellent summary of the state of the case against the Guatemalan general.

·         From the Guardian: “Climate change sceptics have acquired a new explanation for why glaciers are retreating: it's not global warming, it's theft.” According to Chilean media, police in the country have arrested an individual for allegedly stealing five tons of ice from a glacier in Patagonia which he hoped to sell as “designer ice cubes” to exclusive dining establishments.