Friday, March 9, 2012

Venezuela Election May Bring Crisis, Whoever Wins

The Wall Street Journal warns that neither President Hugo Chavez nor opposition candidate Henrique Capriles can promise stability for Venezuela if they win the October presidential election.

Chavez is facing the threat of a succession battle within his party as he battles cancer, while if Capriles wins, he will have to deal with the continuing presence of Chavista figures in government institutions, and a military that has threatened it may not accept a change in government. The process of moving the country away from Chavez’s statist economic policies will be painful, says the newspaper.

The WSJ points to the problems of a “polarized electorate, Latin America's highest inflation rate, rampant crime and shortages of basic goods, electricity and housing.”

International Crisis Group made a similar point in a report in August last year, stating that:
the degree of polarisation and militarisation in society is likely to undermine the chances for either a non-violent continuation of the current regime or a peaceful transition to a post-Chavez era.
The state of Chavez's health remains unclear. He is currently in Havana, after announcing in late February that he would have a second operation on a growth in his pelvis. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who met with Chavez in the Cuban capital this week, said that the president’s recuperation was going well, and that Chavez hoped to return to Venezuela at the start of next week.

The subject continues to be a matter of intense speculation, however. Reuters has a piece on Nelson Bocaranda, the Venezuelan journalist who first broke the news of Hugo Chavez’s cancer, and has continued to report on the president’s health. The news agency reports that Bocaranda has become a valued source of information for diplomats, investors, analysts and government officials, in the face of the fact that the government is treating the news “like a state secret.”

An insight into the social upheaval threatening the country was given by the news that some 1,200 visitors to Uribana prison in Lara state, west Venezuela, were taken hostage by inmates on Sunday. The hostages were freed Wednesday night, and the prison director said that the authorities had come to an agreement with the inmates, and that a committee had been appointed to ensure that their demands, which relate to human rights issues, would be fulfilled.

The Venezuelan News Agency (AVN) said that the conflict had been triggered by false reports that the military was going to carry out a search of the prison. Some 1,600 hostages were held by prisoners in the same facility, in the city of Uribana, for more than a week beginning late September

News Briefs
  • The fallout continues from Guatemalan President Otto Perez’s calls for discussion on drug legalization. Foreign Policy blog has a piece on Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Central America, which it classes as an attempt “to staunch the hemorrhaging of regional support for the U.S.-led War on Drugs,” following “unprecedented statements” by sitting presidents on the topic. Alejandro Hope at Mexican site Animal Politico has a different take on the issue, noting that Perez’s surprise openness to legalization has turned the rightist former general into “the darling” of a sector of the Latin American left. He points out that there is no possibility of legalization happening in the near future, but suggests that Perez’s decision to espose the cause is politically astute.
    Perez gave an interview to Prensa Libre, in which he said that the response of the US and some Central American governments to his suggestions had undermined the possibility of debate. He said there was frustration in the region with the level of help offered by the US against the drug trade, and that Central American leaders feel like help is promised at "meeting after meeting," but afterwards each one is left to fight alone.
  • Reuters looks at the slowdown in Brazil’s economy, which expanded only 2.7 percent in 2011 after growing by more than 5 percent each year between 2007 and 2010. The news agency criticizes President Dilma Rousseff’s failure to make the necessary reforms, including overhauling the tax system and freeing up the labor market, which have made the country a very expensive place to do business.
  • Amnesty International has called on Jamaica to tackle a spate of killings by the police, after 21 people died at their hands in six days, including a 13-year-old girl caught in the crossfire of a shootout with suspected criminals. The NGO notes that no one has yet been held responsible for the deaths of 76 people in security forces operations in Kingston in May 2010.
    More from Associated Press.
  • Ecuadorian Amazon indigenous groups have begun a march towards Quito to protest against President Rafael Correa’s awarding of a copper mining concession on their land, reports the AP. They plan to arrive on March 22. Meanwhile the president rallied his own supporters against anti-government protests in the city on Thursday, which included former Correa allies, opposition politicians, and trade union leaders, reports Reuters.
  • Haiti’s President Michel Martelly called a news conference in which he showed US entry stamps in his passport, in an effort to prove that he does not hold US nationality, which would bar him from the presidency. Reuters says the debate played a part in the departure of Prime Minister Garry Conille in February, after Conille called on ministers to reveal any dual nationalities they held.
  • The Associated Press has a report from the Falklands Islands (Malvinas) which notes the positive impact that the Argentine invasion of 1982 had on the British territory. It explains that the presence of British troops allowed locals to charge fees on foreign boats fishing in their waters, raising revenue that has helped transform the islands into a place with one of the highest per capita incomes in the hemisphere, with an almost $30 million budget surplus last year.
  • Rescue workers have recovered the bodies of nine people killed when a mine in Antioquia, north Colombia, flooded Wednesday afternoon, reports Colombia Reports.
  • International Crisis Group’s Colombia/Andes project director writes in the Miami Herald that Colombia’s government should seize the chance to negotiate a solution to the armed conflict, following the FARC rebel group’s declaration that it would end kidapping for ransom and free the remaining security forces hostages. Silke Pfeiffer argues that despite the fact the government has the upper hand in the conflict a military victory remains hard to achieve. As the FARC grows weaker, it “resorts to makeshift and imprecise weapons, which wreak huge collateral damage on the population.”
  • Members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) are holding a two-day meeting in Suriname, where the Miami Herald says the group will discuss its future, following the publication of a report that said it would “expire slowly” over the next few years.
  • The LA Times interviewed the CEO of Colombia-based airline AviancaTaca about the boom in air travel in the region, driven by the growth in the ranks of the middle classes. He points out that in 2004 the airline had four weekly flights to Brazil, and now it has 21.