Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chavez Campaign Suffers, as Illness Forces him to Take Back Seat

As Hugo Chavez’s ill health keeps the usually energetic Venezuelan president off the campaign trail, his chances in October’s election look weaker, which may be making the country more attractive to international investors.

On Saturday, Chavez made his first public appearance since he returned to the country on May 11 after a bout of chemotherapy, reports EFE. The president cracked jokes and appeared to walk without difficulty, but the media were not allowed to ask him any questions.

Chavez's reelection campaign has suffered in his absence, as his allies lack the president’s charisma, and cannot be seen to take too much of a leading role for fear of drawing accusations that they are jockeying to replace him, Reuters notes. Throughout his 13 years in power the president has taken a leading role in campaigning, says the news wire:

Chavez's remarkable energy has seen him crisscross the country, deliver marathon speech-after-speech and work crowds into a frenzy to help win almost a dozen votes.
Meanwhile rival Henrique Capriles is campaigning door-to-door, offering an image of youthful energy in contrast to the ailing president. But despite all this, polls last week showed Chavez on 50 percent to Capriles’ 45, the Miami Herald reported. The polls shift massively in favor of the challenger, however, if respondents are asked how they would vote if Chavez was forced to retire and name a successor.

Slate features an extract from a book by William J. Dobson which says that, if Capriles wants to win, he should look at the success of student protests against Chavez’s shutdown of TV station RCTV. The station had news coverage critical of the president, and in May 2008 refused to renew its license. In response, student protesters blockaded the roads in front of their universities. They carried on protests for a month, establishing themselves as a political force, and eventually were instrumental in defeating Chavez’s referendum later that year that would have changed the constitution to abolish term limits --  “By the fall, it became clear that the student movement had achieved something no one else ever had: Chavez was responding to his opponent’s political message rather than the other way around.”

Instead of carrying out street protests to be beaten back by police, they used creative measures to educate the public about what the reforms would mean, like distributing newspapers with headlines from the future.

If Chavez is removed from power, either through sickness or through the ballot box, the Wall Street Journal reports that it could boost Venezuela’s economy. "The market views a change in government very favorably," one Caracas analyst told the newspaper. The country is attracting an increasing number of international investors now that President Hugo Chavez’s hold on power looks at its most shaky in the 13 years since he came to office, says the report.

According to brokers, Venezuela has been by far the world’s best-performing stock market this year. This is in contrast to falling stocks in other Latin American markets such as Brazil and Argentina.

The WSJ says that whoever wins will likely face pressure to devalue the currency to 9.25 to the dollar, which could boost the economy, although it would drive up inflation.

News Briefs

  • Honduras Culture and Politics reports on the latest developments in the Bajo Aguan land dispute, which seem to have been misrepresented in English language media. Farmers' unions have been occupying land in the region, which they say is illegitimately held by landowner Miguel Facusse Barjum and his company, Corporacion Dinant. At least 55 people have been killed since 2009 in connection with the conflict, most of them farmers. The blog points out that, according to Honduran media, campesino organization MUCA are not in fact vacating land they have been occupying in the region, as a recent Associated Press report said, but have accepted the government’s terms of a deal to purchase the land, at a higher interest rate than they had been arguing for.
  • Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua have said they will withdraw from a regional defense treaty, arguing that it was created as a US initiative and is no longer valid, reports the AP. The foreign ministers of the four countries, all governed by leftist leaders, announced their decisions Tuesday at an Organization of American States assembly in Cochabamba, Bolivia. As noted inMonday’s post, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales made a speech at the summit arguing that the  Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty (TIAR), which says that an attack on any Latin American country should be considered an attack on the entire region, was invalid. Morales said that if it was a functioning agreement it would have guided the region’s response to the Falklands dispute between Argentina and the UK.
  • Seven dismembered bodies have been found in Sinaloa state, west Mexico, wearing clothes similar to police uniforms, though authorities have said they were not officers. They were left with a message, addressed to President Felipe Calderon, that accused Governor Mario Lopez Valdez of hiring police chiefs linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, reports La Jornada. The message predicts that soon the Sinaloa Cartel will remove its men from the state, which suggests that it is written by a rival group seeking control. The AP notes that the Zetas may have been behind it, as they are currently making attacks on Sinaloa strongholds.
  • The new chief executive of YPF, the Spanish-owned energy company recently appropriated by the Argentine government, has announced an ambitious five-year investment plan, reports the AP. The company plans to invest up to $7 billion a year, helping it grow an estimated 6 percent annually, according to Miguel Galuccio, who was picked to head the company in May. This is part of the government’s plan to boost YPF, having accused former owner Repsol of failing to invest enough. The Financial Times blog comments that, along with its new owners, YPF now has “ a new logo (complete with the Argentine flag) and, as the pro-government Tiempo Argentina newspaper put it, a new “dream team” of savvy professionals to run it.”
  • Three years after Mauricio Funes came to power, El Faro looks at the dissolution of the coalition that helped him win.
  • A World Bank panel has ruled that Canadian gold mining company Pacific Rim can continue with its lawsuit against El Salvador for blocking a mining venture,reports the NYT. The case can go ahead under Salvadoran law, but is not covered by the Central American Free Trade Agreement, according to the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Tim’s El Salvador Blog gives links to more coverage, and points out that this ruling only relates to the ICSID’s jurisdiction over the case, and not to the merits of the lawsuit itself. The NYT notes that the decision disappointed environmentalists who hoped the case would be thrown out, slowing the spread of mining in Latin America. Reuters reports that both parties claimed victory after the Friday ruling.
  • Plaza Publica has a map showing the number of rapes reported in each department in Guatemala over the last four years. The province with the highest number is Guatemala, where the capital is located.
  • The Miami Herald reports on concerns that a new industrial park in Haiti could spark the growth of slums on the northern coast, as people flood to the area to find work.
  • In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff has signed several new environmental measures into law, including the creation of seven indigenous territories in the Amazon, reports the AP.
  • Paraguay’s President Fernando Lugo has recognized a second lovechild after the 10-year-old’s mother brought a paternity suit against him, reports the AP. He was serving as a Catholic priest at the time that both were conceived.

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