Friday, July 13, 2012

Opposition Calls on Venezuelan Military to Stay out of Politics

Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has appealed to the armed forces not to meddle in October’s presidential election.

In what the Associated Press called a “carefully crafted plea,” Capriles said in a speech broadcast Thursday that the administration of Hugo Chavez had tried to politicize the armed forces, and in the process was damaging their prestige:

The current government wants to confuse political rights with party activities, showing disrespect for soldiers and their families ... The cult of personality they try to establish in our armed forces makes it lose its bearing, that’s not the mission of a commander in chief.
The response of the armed forces during the elections is so important because there are concerns that the vote could spark violence in the highly polarized country, and the military will have the task of guarding polling stations and helping to maintain order.

Meanwhile, violence in the country is on the rise, with 9,510 killings in the first six months of this year putting the country on course to break 2011’s record high in murders, reports InSight Crime. This could put increasing pressure on the president, who recently launched a new security plan, acknowledging that the problem of violence was “grave.”

“Never before in Venezuela’s history is their role going to be so decisive in maintaining calm inside polling stations,” an analyst from watchdog Control Ciudadano told the AP. On Monday, President Hugo Chavez declared that soldiers “will be the first ones to support the will of the majority, whatever it is.”

In his speech, Capriles also promised that he would improve the lives of soldiers, with a new social security system, and would give them better equipment, Globovision reports. He said that he would not permit the entry of illegal armed groups into Venezuelan territory, hinting at accusations that Chavez has allowed Colombian rebel group the FARC to use the country as a hideout.

In another sign of the fraught nature of the contest, Capriles said on Wednesday that the secret service had been ordered to follow him without a court order to do so.

Also in Venezuela, some 10 prisoners reportedly died after the security forces tried to retake control of a prison in Merida state after an uprising, reports Noticia al Dia. The AP reports that the uprising began Friday when a inmate gang kidnapped 57 women from the female section of the prison. The inmates are armed, and holding the women inmates hostage, according to the newswire.

News Briefs

  • Uncertainty continues about whether the FARC rebel group shot down a Colombian military plane in the southwest of the country on Wednesday. The plane crashed in Cauca province, killing its pilots, and the rebels contacted the Red Cross to fetch the bodies. FARC members told reporters that they had shot down the plane, but President Juan Manuel Santos said this was extremely unlikely, as the group does not have the weaponry to do so, as the AFP reports. However, it is possible that the guerrillas could have managed to bring down the Super Tucano without surface-to-air missiles. If they did acquire such weaponry it could change the course of the conflict, as InSight Crime has noted, because air power is the Colombian state’s biggest advantage over the rebels. Government bombing raids have killed some of the FARC’s top leaders, and mean that the group can no longer have large, permanent jungle camps but must remain hidden and on the move.
  • The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has released a report which recommends that judicial and police reform is the best way to reduce extreme violence in Mexico, calling on the incoming Peña Nieto administration to carry these out. It says there should be increased focus on state-level police reform, as most crime falls under their jurisdiction, and notes that an improved police force would mean the military need not be deployed to fight crime -- such deployments “have achieved limited success and, in some cases, have led to human rights violations.” 
  • Analyst Alejandro Hope, via InSight Crime, has some more detailed advice for how Peña Nieto on how to cut violence quickly, noting that judicial reform will take the rest of the decade to complete, at the least. His recommendations include establishing an anti-massacre policy, by making it clear that the government will come down with all its might on groups that carry out mass killings, and eliminating visa requirements for Central Americans who arrive by plane, in order to cut the number of migrants traveling on foot over the southern border, who are highly vulnerable to crime.
  • An AP report notes that, even as the number of Mexicans making their way over the US border drops, an increasing number of Central Americans are making the trip north, driven by drug violence in their home countries, as well as by “an easing in migration enforcement by Mexican authorities, and a false perception that Mexican criminal gangs are not preying on migrants as much as they had been.”
  • A third clandestine tunnel running under the US-Mexico border has been found in less than a week, reports the AP, all with ventilation systems, lighting, and one with a rail system. On Thursday, the Mexican Army discovered the entrance to a tunnel with 40 tons of marijuana presumably waiting to be transported under the border.
  • The runner-up in Mexico’s presidential election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has filed a formal request for the electoral body to invalidate the results of the July 1 vote, won by Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI party, claiming that the PRI spent more than campaign regulations allow and bought votes. Lopez Obrador complained about the system itself, saying that, “In a free election the majority of those citizens would not have voted for Enrique Pena Nieto,” reports the AP.
  • Peru’s government seems to have resolved one of the many social conflicts which are raging in the country, brokering a deal between Anglo American mining company and the government of Moquegua region. The firm has agreed to pay out some $370 million to local communities over a 30-year period in exchange for being allowed to go ahead with their $3 billion copper mine, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, a new blog hosted by the Washington Office on Latin America, points out in the wake of the Chavez administration’s meetings with Catholic leaders that the president’s relation to the Church is “more complex than is normally assumed.” Priests visited him while he was in jail in the early 90s, while Chavez has often turned to the Church in times of need, as with his battle with cancer in the last year. It also notes that the improvement in relations is less an initiative of the Chavez administration than of the Church itself, with a new head of the Episcopal Conference working to establish contacts with the government.
  • The AP reports on a new Ecuadorian government program intended to improve the country’s level of expertise. The state pays for students to study abroad in exchange for a guarantee that for each year of education, the individual must spend two years working in their home country.
  • The NYT Lens blog has a feature with slideshow about Cuban photographer Omar Rodriguez Saludes, who spent seven years in jail in the island for his journalism. He was freed in 2010 as part of a deal that he would have to go into exile in Spain.
  • Chile’s president has signed an anti-discrimination law, some four months after the brutal homophobic murder of a gay man sparked calls to speed up the legislation, reports the AP.
  • The Russian Academy of Sciences denied reports that while on a state visti ot Moscow Cuban President Raul Castro had asked to see the laboratory that embalmed Lenin, saying that he wanted visited the mausoleum but not the lab, reports the NYT.

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