Monday, February 13, 2012

Venezuelan Opposition Elects Capriles in Primary

Venezuela’s Coalition for Democratic Unity (MUD) held their first-ever presidential primary yesterday, with Henrique Capriles Radonski beating his four opponents in landslide, taking 62 percent of the vote. Capriles’ nearest rival, Zulia state Governor Pablo Perez, lost by more than 30 percentage points. Opinion polls have consistently showed Capriles to be the frontrunner for the past several months, so his victory did not come as much of a surprise. What was surprising, however, was the primary’s large turnout. More than 2.9 million votes were cast in the election, which El Universal claims that the number represents 57 percent of the opposition base.  

Prior to the primary, the MUD had predicted 1.4 million voters, and had said that anything over 2 million would represent a major victory for the opposition. Reuters suggests that yesterday’s strong turnout will “help give the opposition momentum for a campaign where it hopes to portray Chavez, 57, as a Cold War-era ideologue.”

However, this will likely prove easier said than done. Despite the primary’s relatively large turnout, it still only totals around 16 percent of the country’s 18 million registered voters. Recent polls suggest that the president enjoys the support of around 56 percent of the general population.

To beat Chavez, Capriles will likely have to confront the president’s portrayals of the MUD as a tool of elite economic interests. As a self-described “center-left progressive” who admires the economic policies of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, he may be well-suited to do so. While it is still unclear whether the MUD has what it takes to unseat Chavez after 13 years in office, at the very least the upcoming October elections are shaping up to be more competitive than the 2000 or 2006 elections.

News Briefs

·         The leader of one of two remaining faction of Peru’s  once-mighty guerrilla group, the Shining Path, was captured by security forces on Sunday after sustaining serious injuries in a gunfight on Thursday. IDL- Reporteros reported that Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, alias “Comrade Artemio,” had been shot by members of his own forces who were working for the authorities, although others claim he was hurt in a confrontation with police. The capture prompted Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to announce that the Shining Path was no longer a national security threat, despite the fact that the other remaining faction, based Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) region, are still active. InSight Crime’s Hannah Stone has more on what Artemio’s capture means for the future of the rebel group.

·         On Saturday Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina announced that he plans to bring up a proposal to legalize drugs at the next meeting of Central American leaders. Although he did not provide specifics on his proposal, he claimed that “it wouldn't be a crime to transport, to move drugs. It would all have to be regulated." Predictably, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala has criticized the statement, saying that such a move would do nothing to stop violence and organized crime in the region.

·         A little over a week after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) carried out a devastating bombing in the southern province of Tumaco, Colombian security forces claim to have found a weapons cache holding three metric tons of explosives.

·         In a two part series (Part 1, Part 2) NPR’s Weekend Edition highlights the current violence and legacy of the 2009 coup in Honduras. The second piece features commentary from ousted President Manuel Zelaya himself, including a quote which bears copying in full: "They took off, and there I was. The democratically elected president of Honduras, standing in my pajamas in the middle of a runway in Costa Rica. I said to myself, 'So this is that great new future everyone is talking about for Latin America?'”

·         Reuters reports on a secret stash of military documents from Guatemala’s civil war which is becoming a useful tool in prosecuting war crimes.  

·         A magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit the western coast of Costa Rica early this morning, but there have been no initial reports of injuries or damage.

·         The Wall Street Journal takes a look at allegations of drug cartel links to Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI), with a focus on Tomas Yarrington, ex-governor of Tamaulipas state. Meanwhile, the L.A. Times’ World Now blog reports on the complex political spectrum in the country, as it applies to the three main political parties.

·         InSight Crime examines the implications and likely outcome of the case against Mexican president Felipe Calderon in the International Criminal Court.

·         Gay rights activists in Jamaica are expressing cautious optimism over newly-elected Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller's pledge to end discrimination against gay people in the country, reports the Guardian. Homophobia is rampant in the island country, and there has long been a law on the books which makes homosexual acts a crime.

·         A month after Twitter announced it would censor content at governments’ request, Brazil has become the first country to take the social networking site up on the offer. According to the Associated Press, the country wants to take greater measures to prevent Twitter users from posting about traffic stops or police checkpoints. While Brazil claims the censorship is necessary to prevent traffic accidents, the move will likely draw criticism from civil rights advocates who fear it could be used against individuals reporting on improper activity in police operations. 

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