Monday, July 23, 2012

Chavez Refuses to Give Up Marathon Broadcasts

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has rejected the opposition’s calls for him to stop making lengthy TV and radio broadcasts, despite an election regulation banning programs in favor of one candidate that last more than three minutes.

Henrique Capriles, the candidate of opposition coalition MUD, had called on the president to cease using his personal addresses to the country as a campaign platform. These are a signature part of Chavez's presidency, which often last for several hours and are required transmission for all networks.

Chavez justified his position by arguing that most of the media is in favor of the opposition, saying “the major part of the radios, television channels and newspapers are in the hands of the bourgeoisie,” as the Associated Press reports

This position has inspired the government to launch a series of attacks on opposition broadcasters, as set out in a Human Rights Watch report released last week. The report describes the “aggressive steps to reduce the availability of media outlets that engage in critical programming,” as well as the government “routinely requiring private media to interrupt their regular programming to transmit presidential speeches and messages celebrating government policies.”

Caracas Chronicles has a post fact-checking the latest election ad from Chavez, concluding that, despite its "great production values," the statement that "Chavez ended illiteracy, made it possible for everybody to go to college and our education system will reach all Venezuelan children soon" is false.

Despite all this, one polling firm released results on Friday showing that Chavez had a 27-point lead over Capriles, reports El Nuevo Herald. However, the firm, Consultores 30.11, has faced criticism from the opposition for pro-government bias. The Devil’s Excrement blog has referred to it as a “flight-by-night” operation which is “clearly funded by the Government to promote favorable numbers.”

More reputable pollsters like Datanalisis have however shown imposing leads for the president, with a poll last week putting him 15 points ahead of Capriles.

Meanwhile Organization of American States head Jose Miguel Insulza said it is unlikely that the body will send observers to Venezuela’s presidential election in October, because it would need to be specifically invited by the government, reports El Nuevo Herald.

The rhetoric of the election continues to take an aggressive tone. Chavez compared the agenda of his rival to that of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, saying “it’s the extreme right-wing agenda that borders on the fascism of the United States.” As the AP reports, this follows a statement from Barack Obama that Chavez was not a security threat to the US, which was roundly rejected by Romney. This inspired Chavez to make an unusually positive statement about his US counterpart, who he said “deep down is a good guy.”

News Briefs

  • Guatemalan President Otto Perez says that prison gangs were responsible for the murder of Amilcar Corado, the director of El Infiernito prison who was gunned down in the capital city on Wednesday, reports the BBC. According to the president, it is likely that imprisoned leaders of “mara” gangs ordered the killing, reports Prensa Libre. The interior minister said that Corado had imposed new disciplinary measures in the institution since he took the position 15 days before his death.
  • InSight Crime reports from Google’s forum on how technology can help tackle organized crime. Steven Dudley says that it is not altogether clear what the search engine giant would have to gain from picking a fight with organized crime. He points out that a major problem with their planned app for anonymous reporting of crimes is that it requires a smart phone -- something many people in the rural parts of the country where crime is concentrated do not have. This makes the campaign to get people to report crime by phone “seem more like a bald-faced marketing pitch than a matter of life and death.”
  • In Venezuela, the government announced that it had retaken control of a prison in Merida state, after weeks of turmoil in which at least 20 prisoners died, reports the BBC. The riots broke out as inmates protested against being moved to other prisons. El Universal reports that the “pran” or inmate boss known as “Ever” had surrendered to the authorities, after some 117 inmates escaped from the institution on Friday night, leaving Ever with only 100 loyal followers. Prison Minister Iris Varela said that a woman being held hostage by the inmates had given birth during the siege, and that both mother and baby were now safe. Opposition candidate Capriles took to Twitter to criticize Chavez for not saying anything about the deaths.
  • Fresh conflict has broken out in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras, where 200 farmers occupied an African palm farm near the town of Tocoa, reports the AFP.
  • The Economist asks why Jamaica’s economy has not lived up to its potential. Although it is politically stable, English-speaking, close to the US and on the route to the Panama Canal, it is currently on course to have the lowest yearly rate of growth in the Americas, averaged over the last 12 years. The magazine points the finger at Jamaica’s failure to collect taxes, causing the government to borrow large sums to finance public spending.
  • Mexico City saw huge marches on Sunday against the election of Enrique Peña Nieto, who won the presidential election three weeks ago. Protesters held banners accusing the incoming president of having committed electoral fraud, reports the AP.
  • The Vatican has said that the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru can no longer refer to itself as “Catholic” on the grounds that it is damaging the interests of the Church, reports the BBC. The university, alma mater of current President Ollanta Humala, has defied the church’s edicts on numerous occasions, including refusing to give a board seat to the archbishop of Lima.
  • IDL-Reporteros has released the third part of their series on drug trafficking in Peru, with a look at which families handle the cocaine trade in the VRAE region.
  • Foreign Policy has a piece on the backlash against Brazil’s attempts to take up a leadership role in South America, with some describing it as the region’s new imperialist power. Opponents of a planned highway running through Bolivia’s Tipnis national park see Brazil’s economic interests being placed above the environmental damage caused in Bolivia, pointing out that the current route is highly convenient for transporting products from west Brazil to Peru, and will open up swathes of Brazilian land for cattle ranching. The Guardian, meanwhile, has a piece on the massive environmental destruction set to be caused by the Belo Monte dam project in Brazil’s Amazon.
  • At the WSJ, Mary Anastasia O’Grady says that a crisis in customs union Mercosur over the suspension of Paraguay and admission of Venezuela could be beneficial in the long term, particularly for Brazil. For O’Grady, though the upset threatens economic stability for its members in the short term, it could encourage them to pursue free trade outside of the union.
  • Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya has died in a car crash at the age of 60, his fellow activists told the AP.

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