Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Venezuela Opposition Candidate Says Chavez Govt Hopes to “Generate Chaos”

In an interview with Confidencial, Venezuela opposition candidate Henrique Capriles faults the Chavez administration for creating a climate of fear and intimidation, in order to suggest that should Capriles win the presidency, the country would fall into violence.

“They want to intimidate, generate chaos, make it feel as though a change in the country will bring chaos,” Capriles said, in a lengthy interview which includes a video recording and a short bio of the candidate. He said there were 5,000 protests in Venezuela in 2011, evidence of the government’s decision to sow social conflict.

“But you know why in today’s environment, there is a certain calm on the streets despite the protests which we see every day? Because there are elections, Venezuelans are waiting elections,” he added.

But there are already some suggestions that Capriles may face a violent campaign ahead. On March 4, during a visit to a neighborhood in western Caracas, a group of red-shirted gunmen reportedly appeared and fired several shots. One bullet hit the son of another opposition politician, Ismael Garcia, who was standing next to Capriles at the time. At least one other person was wounded. An outraged Garcia later commented that “the bullet could have hit Capriles.”

The neighborhood where the violence broke out, Cotiza, has been described as a stronghold for Chavez supporters. According to blog Caracas Gringo, the gunmen were members of a “motorcycle militia” commanded by the district mayor.

The incident underlined fears that authorities cannot (or will not) control the armed, pro-government militias in the country, estimated to number between 300,000 to 800,000 people according to think-tank the International Crisis Group. In his conversation with Confidencial, recorded before the Cotiza shooting, Capriles implied that he may try to use the spectre of pro-government violence to his advantage, by presenting his campaign as one promoting unity and peace, rather than division.

“The country is not polarized, the government wants polarization,” he told Confidencial. “The country has two political positions, those who want to stay in power, defend their exercise of power at all costs, and others who believe that everyone can be included, that we’ve had enough of confrontation and division.”

Critics of Capriles regularly describe him as a “chameleon” candidate, one who adopts different political ideologies as they suit him, without adhering to a distinct political position. As the Confidencial profile indicates, one of his most frequently cited political inspirations is Brazil’s former president Lula da Silva. “The Brazil model is an example for Venezuela,” Capriles stated.

Citing Brazil’s successful economic policies also allows Capriles to create another contrast with Chavez policies, although in the interview, he was careful not to commit to eliminating any of the current president’s popular social programs. His most concrete policy proposal was his declaration that the government would invest 60 percent of the budget in education.

Venezuelan polling company Hinterlaces states that Chavez would currently win a 52 percent majority, should the presidential elections be held in March. Given the number of polls predicting a Chavez victory, it is unsurprising that Capriles should emphasize the polls’ inaccuracy, describing “a hidden vote” in the country which will help him win. He also said that Venezuela should invite outside observers from other Latin American countries to monitor the October 7 presidential election.

But on the subject of Chavez’s illness, Capriles kept his characteristic silence. “I don’t discuss the subject of anybody’s health... be it the head of state, be it any person,” he said.

News Briefs

  • In a speech to a United Nations anti-drugs summit, Bolivian President Evo Morales argued for the removal of the coca leaf from the UN’s list of illegal narcotics, reports Reuters. Bolivia has withdrawn from the UN’s anti-drug conventiion and says they will only re-join if the coca leaf is not longer classified as illegal. The problem will be shoring up support from other countries, given that the US has already expressed its “strong position” against such a measure, the AP says.
  • The LA Times with some analysis on what the capture of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman would mean during an election year. The article points out that while Mexican and US authorities have continually asserted that they are tracking Guzman’s movements, this may be an exaggeration. "The implication is that the United States or Mexico or Calderon has been sitting on the information and waiting for the right moment," Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute says. “I don’t think that’s true.”
  • The New York Times interviews Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on his battles with the media, focusing on a recent law which prevents media outlets from appearing to favor political candidates. This means newspapers can no longer print Op-Eds endorsing candidates; printing an interview with a candidate could also be interpreted as assuming a “favorable” position, the Times reports. Correa defends his policies, stating that “the news media should leave the business of politics to politicians,” in the Times’ words.
  • Reporters Without Borders on the killing of a radio journalist in Honduras, stating that so far in 2012, the watchdog agency has registered daily threats against journalists and “observers of civil society” in Honduras. The agency counts 26 slain journalists in Honduras over the past decade.
  • A former special forces soldier in Guatemala was sentenced to 6,060 years in prison for his involvement in a 1982 massacre, in which government forces killed over 200 people. The BBC points out that the sentence is mostly a symbolic one, since under Guatemalan law the maximum prison sentence is 50 years. It is worth questioning why the low-level soldier, who participated in the massacre but did not order it nor orchestrate it, received such a long sentence, while the military higher-ups who ordered such killings (including former military leader General Efrain Rios Montt) appear to be slipping through the justice system. More on the ruling from Prensa Libre.
  • Two Venezuelan soldiers were killed in mysterious circumstances near the Colombia border, the AP reports. Venezuelan media has suggested that Colombian guerrilla group the ELN were responsible.
  • Justice in Mexico notes that according to recent media reports, authorities in Coahuila state systematically protected criminal group the Zetas.
  • Verdad Abierta with a review of the editorials and political propaganda once penned by paramilitary groups in Colombia’s Antioquia and Santander departments, many of the pieces expressing strong support for then-president Alvaro Uribe.
  • IPS News on “economic crimes” committed during Argentina’s military dictatorship, in which hundreds of businesses were forced to go under when the government seized their property and assets.