Thursday, September 20, 2012

Capriles Meets With Colombian President

In a bid to boost his diplomatic credentials, Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Bogota on Wednesday. In a statement published on the president’s website, Santos called on Venezuelans to turn out “massively and peacefully” in the upcoming October 7th presidential elections. He also stressed the neutrality of this country in elections, saying that he hoped Colombia-Venezuela relations would continue to improve no matter the outcome.

The meeting is surprising in light of the fact that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez himself as repeatedly refused to debate or otherwise appear in public with his rival. While Santos may be trying to avoid publicly taking a side in Venezuela’s election, his meeting with Capriles could still have repercussions for his relationship with Chavez.

Although Spanish news agency EFE reports that Chavez has said he respects Santos’ decision to meet with Capriles,  El Universal reports that he stood firm in his rejection of a debate on Tuesday, saying that he would not lower himself to debating with a “nobody” like Capriles.

As Venezuela analyst David Smilde notes in WOLA’s most recent Latin America Today podcast. Capriles is lagging in credible opinion polls and will have a difficult time making a resurgence. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Chavez will be re-elected. Considering his mercurial political persona it would not be out of character for him to bear some ill will towards his Colombian counterpart because of the meeting.  Even if he does not, it is at the very least a risky move on Santos’ part, especially considering the importance of the Chavez administration’s mediation of peace talks between Colombia and FARC rebels, which are set to begin in early October.

News Briefs

  • Celebrated Spanish jurist and human rights advocate Baltasar Garzon has been named to head up a public television show in Colombia known as “¿Cómo van la paz y los derechos humanos?,” which will address the progress of the peace talks provide analysis of the main obstacles to peace and reconciliation in the country. The show’s first episode aired last night and featured what EFE refers to as a “tense” interview with former President Alvaro Uribe. Throughout the show Uribe objected to Garzon’s questions about his legacy, and at one point stressed that he was hardly “a Pinochet or a Fujimori."
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera told local reporters that he believes former President Michelle Bachelet will be the likely candidate of the center-left coalition in the country’s 2013 presidential elections. About 50 percent of Chileans would vote for her, according to a recent poll conducted by the Center for Public Studies (CEP).
  • The AP reports on the PEMEX oil pipeline explosion on Tuesday that killed at least 29 workers and injured 49 in Reynoso, Mexico. Federal investigators are looking into the cause of the incident.
  • Following the arrest of Loco Barrera, known as Colombia’s “last great capo,” American officials have said that they will ask Colombia to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted on drug crimes. El Nuevo Herald has more background on Barrera’s arrest in Venezuela, which the paper says is proof of increasing security cooperation between Venezuela and Colombia.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the difficulties facing Mauricio Cardenas, Colombia's new finance minister. Cardenas has been charged by the Colombian government reducing the massive inequality in the country while at the same time ensuring that the country remains attractive to foreign investors, which the paper notes is a challenging task.
  • Noticias24’s Moises Naim offers some interesting analysis of how the siblings of two presidents, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Peru’s Ollanta Humala, have become political liabilities and the way in which these heads of state have handled them.
  • Although the Cuban government has proposed talking with U.S. authorities about the release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross, it has heard no response, reports Reuters. At a press conference earlier this week Josefina Vidal told reporters that the silence shows that “it is clear that it is not Cuba, but the United States that is not showing interest in this case.
  • The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer takes a look at Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto’s first trip abroad after the July election, which began this week and will include stops in Guatemala Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Peru. The columnist notes that, unlike some of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) predecessors, Peña Nieto has made no attempts to establish a closer relationship with leftist governments in the region like Cuba or Venezuela, a sign that he will be a reliable ally of U.S. foreign policy.
  • Central American politics expert Michael Allison has an op-ed in Al-Jazeera English in which he makes the case that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes a “more confrontational approach to Latin America than to any other part of the world.”
  • The New York Times Magazine’s John Jeremiah Sullivan has a rich, in-depth profile of the state of everyday life in Cuba and the sluggish pace of economic reforms on the island.

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