Thursday, September 13, 2012

Anti-Capriles Clash Highlights Potential for Political Violence in Venezuela

In an attempt to prevent opposition candidate Henrique Capriles from attending a scheduled rally in the northern coastal city of Puerto Cabello, Chavista protestors blocked a main road outside of the city’s airport yesterday. According to the AP, demonstrators set fire to a Capriles campaign truck, and at least 14 people were injured in clashes between Chavistas and Capriles suporters after both sides began to throw rocks at the other. The National Guard arrived at the scene afterward, although El Universal reports that Capriles claimed they appeared too late to quell the protests.

While Capriles was still able to hold his rally, he had to bypass the protests by helicopter and boat. He used the opportunity to criticize President Chavez for the level of political polarization in the country, blaming the violence on “radical groups.”

Jorge Rodriguez, Chavez’s campaign manager, said the Chavistas were only exercising their right to protest freely and blamed the violence on the opposition and state police, who he claimed had directly attacked government supporters.  “The police arrived and savagely attacked the people,” Rodriguez said in a television address, adding that protestors had photo evidence of police aggression.

The violence came just three days after Capriles was forced to cancel a Sunday march in the Caracas neighborhood of La Pastora, citing threats of violence from Chavez supporters.

Both incidents appear to confirm concerns (see this post by CFR’s Shannon O’Neil) over the potential for violence linked to the October 7 elections. Chavez himself has warned that a loss could lead to further violence and insecurity in the country. In a Sunday speech, he urged Venezuela’s wealthiest voters to support him in order to promote stability, saying:

"The rich families have their families, fine houses, good vehicles, probably an apartment at the beach, properties and so on. They like to travel abroad for holidays. Does a civil war suit them? Not at all. It only suits the extreme, fascist right embodied by the loser. It's in the interests of the peace-loving rich for Chavez to win, and I invite them to vote for Chavez on October 7.”

Setting aside any unspoken threatening undertones in these remarks, Chavez has a point. As InSight  Crime has pointed out, there are multiple armed groups in the country that have vowed to defend Chavez in power at all costs, the most visible of which operate in working class neighborhoods in Caracas. In the event of a Capriles win (which Venezuela analyst David Smilde claims is unlikely), a mass political conflict erupting would not be out of the question.

News Briefs
  • El Universal has a sample copy of the ballot which will be used in Venezuela’s election, featuring each party’s logo above the candidate it has endorsed.
  • Both the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have issued statements calling on Venezuela to reconsider its recent decision to cease recognizing the rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
  • The L.A. Times with an in-depth look at the perils that Central American and Mexican migrants face on their journey northward, with drug traffickers and coyotes hunting them “like a pack of wolves.” The Mexican government estimates that some 10,000 migrants have disappeared on the trek to the north.
  • Guatemala has officially renewed the mandate of the International Community against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the UN body charged with promoting judicial reform in the Central American country. According to the AP, CICIG will continue to operate in Guatemala at least until 2015.
  • El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes marked the six month anniversary of a truce between the rival Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 gangs, which has been followed by an impressive reduction in homicides. According to official statistics, the number of murders from March (when the truce was announced) to August was 997, compared to 2,194 during the same period the year before. Still, Funes was quick to recognize that the gang truce alone was not a permanent solution, and promised to increase efforts to provide more employment and study opportunities to youths in the country.
  • A Honduran investigation into the controversial May raid in which four civilians were killed found that two of the victims were not pregnant and none were killed from gunfire by a law enforcement helicopter, as initially reported. The Center for Economic and Policy Research rejects this finding, and a CEPR spokesperson told the AP that the Honduran government’s claims are “simply are not credible, when confronted with forensic evidence and so much eyewitness testimony to the contrary.”
  • Mexico has announced the capture of Gulf Cartel leader Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias “El Coss.” The New York Times reports that Costilla was arrested Wednesday afternoon in the northern state of Tamaulipas.
  • BBC Mundo reports that Paraguay has refused to accept a $41 million loan from Mercosur because of the body’s decision to accept Venezuela as a member, a move which the Paraguayan government staunchly opposes.  
  • Despite its past disagreements with the US on the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi, the government of Cuba denounced the recent attack on US Embassy in Libya. The Washington Post calls this a "rare show of solidarity with the island's Cold War enemy to the north."
  • The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer points out that if Colombia's peace talks with FARC rebels succeed, it could potentially lead the US to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. When asked if this would cause the US to reconsider its embargo on the island, an administration official said the two issues were "absolutely not connected."
  • In another potentially positive indication for the future of US-Cuba relations, the Cuban government has said it is willing to negotiate the freedom of detained US contractor Alan Gross, according to the BBC.
  • Despite the popularity of resource nationalization among Latin American governments in recent years, the Financial Times reports that state companies from Mexico to Argentina are increasingly seeking private investors.  Not all countries are seeing success on this front, however. As Reuters recently pointed out, Cuba has failed to attract new foreign investment despite recent economic reforms.