Friday, October 5, 2012

What Happens if Chavez Loses?

Both candidates in Sunday’s presidential elections in Venezuela officially ended their campaigns on Thursday with massive assemblies, with President Hugo Chavez filling the streets of Caracas with supporters and his opponent, Henrique Capriles, hosting a rally in a Barquisimeto stadium in central Lara state. While the most recent polls show Chavez ahead of his rival, this is the closest election that Venezuela has seen in more than a decade, and the possibility that the Bolivarian leader could lose cannot be entirely ruled out.

The competitiveness of this election has caused many analysts to speculate over the international implications of a Capriles victory on Sunday. Francisco Toro of The New Republic argues that Chavez’s re-election would reinforce U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s criticisms of President Barack Obama’s Venezuela policy, and could give the Republican an edge over Obama in November. In light of Obama’s poor performance in Wednesday night’s debate, this edge could make more of a difference than previously expected. A Capriles win would therefore rob Romney of this talking point. Whatever the results of U.S. elections in November, it would also likely lead to improved U.S.-Venezuela relations (although it’s worth noting that despite Chavez’s fiery denunciations of “American imperialism,” the U.S. remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner).

As the Global Post reports, Chavez’s loss would also have a drastic effect on Cuba, which is heavily dependent on subsidized oil shipments from the Venezuelan government. Capriles has pledged to end these shipments if elected, which would take a harsh toll on the Cuban economy. According to dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, however, this could seriously damage the legitimacy of the country’s government and ultimately lead to a democratic opening on the island.

A Capriles win could also affect neighboring Colombia. Chavez reportedly played an important role in facilitating peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas, and although Capriles has vowed to continue supporting peace negotiations if elected, the rebels are not likely to view him in the same favorable light as Chavez. Colombia Reports editor Adriaan Alsema disputes this, however, and argues that the elections will have no significant impact on trade and security in Colombia one way or the other.

On a broader level, The Inter Press Service takes a look at what a Chavez loss on Sunday would mean for regional integration in Latin America. Inter-American Dialogue President Michael Shifter told the news agency that if Chavez is removed from power, “ideological conflicts will not disappear, but they will be less acute and better channeled” in the hemisphere.

News Briefs

  • The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has launched a new blog, The Americas Blog, featuring in-depth analysis of current events in Latin America. The Americas Blog will be live-blogging the Venezuelan elections on Sunday, and can be followed via Twitter and RSS.
  • Writing for WOLA’s Border Fact Check blog, Adam Isaacson takes issue with attempts to link the recent shooting of Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Ivie with the controversial “Operation Fast and Furious.” Isaacson points out that even if Mexican criminal elements were behind Ivie’s death, the likelihood that it involved guns used in Fast and Furious is extremely low.
  • A new study of Mexico’s justice system conducted by drug policy monitoring NGO Colectivo de Estudios Drogas y Derecho (CEDD) has found that the vast majority of drug offenders in the country are either addicts or low-level dealers. According to the report, drug possession and consumption amounted to 78.9 percent of all drug-related charges in 2010.
  • The Christian Science Monitor has an article on the attitudes towards the U.S. presidential race in Mexico. Like Latinos in the U.S., those Mexicans interviewed by the CSM generally favor Obama over Romney.
  • According to El Tiempo, the FARC and the Colombian government will engage in preliminary talks before peace negotiations officially begin in Oslo, Norway on October 17th.
  • In spite of reports indicating that former Peruvian leader Alberto Fujimori planned to request a formal pardon from President Ollanta Humala this week on humanitarian grounds, Peru21 reports that Humala announced that pardoning Fujimori “is not on the government’s agenda.”
  • UPI profiles Chilean President Sebastian Piñera’s loss of support from middle class voters, which the news agency chalks up to his poor handling of student protests and failure to deliver on promises of social and economic reform. The Financial Times notes that Piñera’s unpopularity has come as a surprise to some analysts, as the country has seen poverty fall 40 percent since 1990 and is currently experiencing a record low in unemployment.
  • The Miami Herald reports that the government of Brazil, which is the seventh largest car-producing country, has announced it will provide tax breaks to companies which make more fuel efficient and safer cars.
  • The Economist offers an update on Paraguayan President Federico Franco, who took office after the controversial ouster of Fernando Lugo in June. While the removal of Lugo was widely criticized internationally, the magazine reports that most Paraguayans support Franco, who has managed to enact a number of largely progressive reforms during his short time in office.
  • In a potential indication that Guatemala is moving to crack down on longstanding government corruption, Siglo21 and the AP report that a former president of the Guatemalan Congress, Eduardo Meyer, has been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on charges that he embezzled state funds.