Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Venezuela Replaces Controversial Defense Minister

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has appointed the Navy Admiral Diego Molero Bellavia as the country’s new defense minister, replacing General Henry Rangel Silva, according to El Universal. In an address at a rally in the state of Merida delivered by telephone and broadcast yesterday on state television, Chavez announced that Rangel will be stepping down to run for governor in his home state of Trujillo in the December 16th local elections.

The move is primarily an attempt by Chavez’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) to better position itself in Trujillo. The AP notes that Rangel is seen a close Chavez ally, an association which may make him more popular in the state. In announcing the official renunciation of his candidacy, incumbent PSUV governor Hugo Cabezas told local press that his withdrawal was linked to local divisions within the party. El  Nacional reports that Cabezas said that groups opposed to his re-election had emerged in the PSUV, and that he “lacks the leadership that Chavez has to hold them all together.”

PSUV head Diosdado Cabello echoed this in his party’s official endorsement of Rangel, expressing his belief that the former defense minister “will unite all the revolutionary forces in the state.”

But the decision may also be an attempt by President Chavez to put some distance between his administration and Rangel, who is a controversial figure. The United States has accused the army general of providing “material assistance” to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC) drug trafficking networks. The government, for its part, has dismissed these allegations as attempts to discredit Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution.

Rangel also raised eyebrows as head of the armed forces in 2010 when he claimed that the Venezuelan military was tied to Chavez’s political future and would not accept an opposition government. As such, Rangel’s resignation could signify that the Venezuelan government is interested in addressing its reputation for reliance on the military for political support, as well as recent reports that drug trafficking in the country has skyrocketed in recent years.


News Briefs
  • O Globo offers some analysis of the results of the October 28th local runoff elections in Brazil, noting that while the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) won 636 mayoral races across the country (including the key cities of São Paulo, Goiânia, João Pessoa, and Rio Branco), it lost support in northeastern state capitals such as Recife, Fortaleza and Salvador. Still the AFP reports that many analysts believe the elections put the PT in a favorable position ahead of the 2014 presidential elections. 
  • Six police were killed in a FARC ambush yesterday in the southwestern Colombian province of Cauca, El Tiempo reports. Although it has entered into peace talks with the rebels, President Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly refused to accept their offers of a ceasefire, although Caracol notes that a coalition of Colombian peace NGOs has called on the government to recognize a temporary break in fighting from December 15th to January 15th.
  • While former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has become the biggest critic of Santos’ talks with the guerrillas, the President of Uribe’s National Unity Party (Partido de la U) has voiced complete support for the peace process. In an interview with El Tiempo, National Unity president Plinio Olano discusses the tension in his party between those who support the government’s negotiations and those who side with Uribe.
  • Foreign Affairs’ Anne Phillips assesses the necessary conditions for a successful FARC demobilization, noting that the government’s current demobilization program has a mixed record.
  • El Universal reports that a group of economic analysts affiliated with Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) has declared the proposed labor reform law in the country to be “simplistic” and potentially harmful to workers’ interests, especially those in the informal sector. According to former Development Secretary Norma Samaniego Breach, Mexico’s workforce now totals more than 50 million workers. Of these, less than 20 million are formally employed, with 28.8 million in the informal sector.
  • The Global Post profiles U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s extended relatives in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The Post describes them as influential members of Mexico’s Mormon community.
  • Guatemala’s Prensa Libre reports that the government registered 512 cases of femicide so far in 2012. This represents a near 30 percent drop in femicides from the previous year, according to official figures.
  • Paraguayan President Federico Franco released a list of organizations which will monitor the country’s April 2013 presidential elections on Monday. As Americas Quarterly notes, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) was notably excluded from the list, likely due to tensions between the organization and the Franco government.
  • Harvard researchers have developed a method of mapping the influence drug trafficking organizations in Mexico based on Google searches. InSight Crime points out that the study puts the country’s “drug war” into perspective; the researchers found that the major drug cartels are only active in less than a third of the country's municipalities.
  • Hurricane Sandy brought more than 20 inches of rain on Haiti over the weekend, leaving some 200,000 people homeless in the country. The New York Times reports that this is in addition to the estimated 400,000 Haitians still without a home as a result of the January 2010 earthquake. The hurricane has also left Cuba’s second largest city of Santiago, without power or water, according to the AP.