Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chavez Registers Candidacy in All-Singing All-Dancing Show of Health

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez defied dark predictions about his health to make an energetic public appearance, singing, dancing, and rallying tens of thousands of supporters as he registered for re-election.

On Monday, dressed in a red beret and a tracksuit in the colors of the Venezuelan flag, Chavez rode a parade float to officially register himself as a candidate in the October elections.

The president undermined persistent rumors that he is suffering from terminal cancer, taking to the stage with a folk band and joining in with their songs. Crowds chanted "Ooh-Ah! Chavez isn't going away!", as he registered, reports the Associated Press.The crowds were allegedly boosted by the authorities declaring a public holiday and busing public employees to the rally, reports the WSJ.

He made a near three-hour speech outside the office of the election body, telling crowds "I want to thank my Lord that I'm here today. ... It was a difficult year." He slammed rumors about his health as “the psychological warfare of the adversary, that Chavez has only a few days left to live, that he is in a wheelchair."

Reuters said the president delivered a “practiced mix of folkloric spontaneity and militant discourse,” marking his “dramatic re-entry into the public eye.”

A representative of Caracas Capital Markets told the WSJ that “the only way he's going to lose is if he's dead and it doesn't look like he's dying this week. The longer he speaks, it dispels any notion that's he's going away tomorrow."

Chavez returned to the country a month ago after undergoing his latest round of cancer treatment in Cuba. He has been seen in public very little since then, avoiding appearances for nearly a month until early June, feeding rumors that his health was failing and that he might not be able to campaign for re-election. On Saturday he announced that latest tests showed that “everything” was “absolutely fine,” though he again failed to give details of what this meant, or indeed what type of cancer he has been suffering from.

Another report from the AP said that Chavez appeared “tired, bloated and pale” for the early part of the day. His riding on the parade float was in contrast to opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who walked and jogged 10km across Caracas to register his candidacy on Saturday. Capriles made a jibe at the ailing Chavez over Twitter, saying “"This candidate isn't walking, he is out of gasoline!"

Carlos Blanco, a professor and former Venezuelan minister, told the AP, "Chavez has managed his illness with skill. He's gone from being the 'sick president' to the 'martyr president,' which allows him to maintain significant support.”

The New York Times notes that the contradictory stories about his health could work to Chavez’s advantage, feeding “an air of mystery and uncertainty” which makes him appear in control. It notes that the absence of any clear successor to the president makes it more difficult for Venezuelans to imagine a future without him. The newspaper says that Chavez’s circle is divided into three groups; one made up of long-time socialists led by Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Vice President Elias Jaua; one with close ties to business and the military, led by Congress President Diosdado Cabello; and the other being Chavez’s family, as represented by his older brother Adan.

Caracas Chronicles has a blow-by-blow account of the day, and of speeches by Chavez and opponent Capriles. It notes that there is a big contrast between the president’s registration and that of his opponent, “Just the idea of Henrique doing what Chavez did is just unthinkable. Chavez gets away with a political speech in front of the CNE.”

News Briefs

  • As Mexico moves towards the July 1 national elections, a candidate for Guerrero state assembly has been shot dead by a group of gunmen in his home outside Acapulco, reports EFE. A supporter of President Felipe Calderon’s PAN party was also murdered in the southern state of Chiapas while putting up campaign posters, reports the AP. Ulises Grajales Niño, who was running for mayor of a Chiapas town on behalf of the long-ruling PRI party, has been arrested in connection with the case, reports Azteca Noticias.
  • In the Mexican resort city of Acapulco, police say they have captured four key members of an emerging gang called “Sweeper” which has been battling the Independent Cartel of Acapulco for control, reports the AP.
  • El Faro examines the issue of reintegrating former gang members in El Salvador, which is central to the government’s strategy, following a truce between rival gangs that has slashed murder rates over the last few months.
  • Colombia has handed over the rotating presidency of UNASUR to Venezuela,reports EFE. At the meeting of the regional body in Bogota the foreign ministers of member countries created a new electoral council, whose first mission will be to oversee Venezuela’s presidential elections.
  • InSight Crime looks at the changing tactics of Honduran street gangs the MS-13 and Barrio 18. Since the government brought in tough laws criminalizing membership nearly a decade ago, they have evolved, building closer ties with people in the neighborhoods they operate in. They are now more choosy about their members, focusing on those with skills like “a willingness to use violence ... Simply put, the emphasis now is 'pocos, pero locos' -- fewer, but crazier." A recent government study said that the groups have some 4,700 members, down from a government estimate of 36,000 a decade ago. InSight Crime says that the first was probably an overestimate, counting even the lowest-ranking associates, while the second is probably an underestimate.
  • IPS looks at the problem of sexual violence in Central America and southern Mexico, where levels of impunity are extremely high. In El Salvador, 6 percent of reported sex crimes in recent years ended in a conviction, while in Nicaragua, 15 percent of sex crime cases that made it to court led to a conviction in 2008. It notes that one hurdle is access to justice, especially if victims live in rural areas far from legal services. The most common victims of the crime are girls aged 12 to 18, according to one expert.
  • The Miami Herald has a piece questioning whether an industrial park set to create tens of thousands of textile jobs in the rural north of Haiti is the right step for the country’s development, or a step backwards. “Critics point out that even at its height of 100,000 jobs in the 1980s, Haiti’s garment industry failed to be an economic catalyst.” Some analysts point out that the industry will only provide low-wage jobs, and that investors should put more money into improving the agricultural sector.
  • A boat packed with at least 28 Haitian migrants heading to the US has sunk off the coast of the Bahamas, reports the AP. Seven people have been rescued, and the authorities are searching for the missing, helped by the US Coast Guard. The newswire notes that Haitians often stop in the Bahamas on their way to the US.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics welcomes the release of a man it says is a political prisoner, who had been held since 2009 without trial, facing charges of terrorism based on the fact that he was a supporter of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. 
  • Peruvian authorities have recovered the bodies of 14 people who died in a helicopter crash in Cusco region, including foreigners from South Korea and Europe, reports the AP.

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