Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chavez's Health Puts Venezuela's Political Future on the Line

As more details emerge about the state of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s health, the political future of the country grows more uncertain. In a call to evening talk show Dando y Dando on Tuesday which did not make it into the first round of international coverage yesterday, Chavez revealed that there is a “high probability” that the growth in his pelvic region is cancerous. Although the president insists that his doctors remain “optimistic” about his prognosis, this suggests that his cancer could be resistant to treatment.

Chavez also admitted that he is “not going to be able to continue with the same rhythm,” and said that he would have to “rethink my personal agenda and take care of myself, confront what must be confronted.”

Because of this, the Associate Press suggests that it is increasingly likely that Chavez will have to name a successor, something that he has avoided doing during his 13 years in power. As the Inter-American Dialogue’s Michael Shifter told the AP, “a fierce power struggle and jockeying for position” is all but unavoidable in Chavez’s ruling Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

So far, government officials have denied this. Vice President Elías Jaua told state TV yesterday that there will be no need for him to assume Chavez’s responsibilities during the upcoming surgery, and denied any kind of internal succession conflict in the government.

Still, if Chavez’s health should deteriorate further, he will not be easily replaced, and it would not bode well for the future of the PSUV in next October’s presidential election. As Reuters, quoting risk consultancy firm Eurasia Group, notes: "Chavez will be reluctant to cede power, and if Chavez were to step aside temporarily and anoint a successor to run in his place, it would send a very negative signal about his health prognosis and, more importantly, his power.”


News Briefs

·         The Venezuelan opposition Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) has followed the lead of its presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski in wishing Chavez a “swift recovery and long life.” Still, the opposition criticized the president for the secrecy surrounding his health, faulting him for not releasing “precise, clear and medically reliable” information about his condition.

·         Girish Gupta writes for the Global Post about Capriles’ chances in the upcoming October 7th election, noting that his center-left views could put him at risk of not being able to effectively distinguish himself from Chavez in voters’ minds.

·         The BBC looks at Mexico’s efforts to “rebrand” itself. In order to draw in more tourism and foreign investment, the Calderon administration has hired British policy advisor Simon Anholt to revamp the country’s public image.

·         After a woman pushing a baby stroller in El Paso, Texas was wounded by an assault rifle bullet fired from across the border in Ciudad Juarez on Tuesday, resulting in a veritable media frenzy, El Paso’s reaction suggests media accounts of the “first cross-border shooting victim” were overblown. Residents and authorities alike have largely shrugged off the incident, saying they’re “accustomed to hearing gunfire across the border in Juarez” and don’t intend to take any additional safety measures, according to the AP.

·         A report authored by members of an 80-member European Union observer team to Nicaragua’s elections last November alleges a lack of transparency in the proceedings, and calls on the Nicaraguan government to reform its electoral process.

·         After Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes voiced measured support for Guatemalan President Otto Perez’s calls to legalize drugs last week, and called for a national dialogue over the issue, El Faro reports that members of both of the country’s main parties (the FMLN and ARENA) have largely rejected any kind of debate over drug decriminalization in El Salvador. Meanwhile, Perez is continuing his efforts to spark debate over the issue throughout Central America. Prensa Libre reports that next Monday his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, will begin a tour of the region to call for dialogue over drug policy and “alternative methods of combatting counternarcotics and organized crime.”  Yesterday Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa announced that Mexico would be willing to join in an international discussion over drug legalization, although she cautioned that it would not solve the problem of drug trafficking in the hemisphere.

·         The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas blog profiles efforts by supporters of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa to counter criticism of his recent assault on local media outlets. A group of self-styled “Correistas” have launched a campaign to gather support for a petition calling on the global press to cease its allegedly biased reporting against the president. The campaign has the support of government officials like Secretary for Public Administration Vinicio Alvarado, who has warned that elements of the press are seeking to “damage Ecuador’s international image.”

·         The main border crossing between Chile and Peru is open once again after officials in Chile closed it on Monday because rains had washed more than 100 landmines into the main highway connecting the two countries.

·         Seventeen Argentine intellectuals have come under heavy fire from both the Argentine public and government for questioning their country’s claims over the Falkland Islands, The Guardian reports. In a paper entitled “Malvinas: An Alternative Viewpoint,” the group of important thinkers, journalists and writers rejected Argentina’s portrayal of the UK as usurpers who have illegally controlled island since 1833.

·         Mercopress highlights a report by Mexico’s Economic Research and Teaching Centre (CIDE) which analyzes the salaries of lawmakers throughout Latin America. According to the CIDE’s data, Brazil and Uruguay have the most expensive legislative branch per capita in the region.