Monday, December 10, 2012

Chavez Names Successor as his Cancer Returns

Venezuela has been thrown into disarray by the news that President Hugo Chavez’s cancer has returned, which came just days before regional elections and a month before Chavez is due to start a new six-year presidential term.

Chavez postponed emergency surgery to fly back to Venezuela on Friday to meet with top PSUV party officials. The next day he announced his successor - the first time since his battle with cancer began that he has publicly spoke of relinquishing power and the clearest sign yet of the seriousness of his health issues.

Chavez announced that Vice President Nicolas Maduro will take over the presidency if Chavez is unable to continue and  also urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro in the elections that must be called within 30 days if he is unable to assume power or dies within the first four years of his term. “Elect Nicolas Maduro as president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, I ask you with all my heart,” he said.

The move ended the speculation that has been rife since news of Chavez’s cancer first broke and the PSUV is now likely to fall in behind Maduro, who stands a far better chance of electoral victory having received the boost of a emotive endorsement from Chavez.

However, some analysts believe a power struggle could still be likely, because if Chavez is unable to take office, National Assembly President and Chavez ally Diosdado Cabello should lead the country, not Maduro, during the 30-day transition period.

Maduro is a former union leader and foreign minister, and is considered to be from the moderate end of the PSUV. However, Cabello draws his support from the Venezuelan army and is thought to have strong ties to the so-called “Boligarchy” - businessmen who have used their ties with the Chavez government to amass huge fortunes.

If new elections are called, then it may pave the way for the early return to presidential politics of the defeated opposition candidate from September’s elections, Henrique Capriles Radonski, as he remains the de facto leader of the opposition. However, Capriles is standing for reelection as governor of the state of Miranda on Sunday in a tricky election against former vice president, Elias Jaua. The government and Chavez’s socialist party have made it a priority to defeat Capriles, hoping to weaken him politically and shake the fragile unity of the opposition.

Following Chavez’s announcement, Capriles criticized the president for not being open about his health problems during the elections and for handpicking a successor, saying “Here in Venezuela, when someone leaves office, the nation has the last word,” he said, “We’re in Venezuela, not Cuba, and here you can’t talk about successors.”

Chavez traveled to Cuba on November 27th to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy. While there, he said, inflammation and soreness led doctors to perform additional tests that found the “malignant” cells near the site of his original cancer.

The day after the president’s public announcement, over 1,000 Chavez supporters gathered in Plaza Bolivar in Caracas to show their support.

News Briefs
  • Colombian prosecutors have announced they are to reopen the investigation into US banana company Chiquita Brands over payments Chiquita made to the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the BBC reports. The original investigation was closed in March, with prosecutors accepting the company’s claims to have been victims of extortion despite the testimonies of demobilized paramilitaries, who insisted the relationship was voluntary and mutually beneficial. 
  • The Times Education Supplement looks at the “autonomous and alternative” education system established at the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community in northern Colombia. The community has been left without state teachers since a 2005 massacre and so constructed their own “University of Resistance” combining normal academic subjects with teaching about Colombian rural culture, the community’s non-violent stance in Colombia’s conflict and the community’s values of resistance, solidarity, pluralism, transparency, freedom and justice.    
  • Honduras Politics and Culture discusses the ongoing conflict between Honduran President Porfirio Lobo and the country’s supreme court over the decision to shelve a police clean-up law. Lobo is currently using a combination of political maneuverings and biblical-themed twitter insults in his attempts to push the law through, the blog reports.
  • In the Miami Herald, Andres Oppenheimer looks at the flip side of the latest Corruption Perceptions Index. While most media have focused on how Venezuela and Haiti are viewed as among the world’s most corrupt nations, they have paid scant attention to the fact that Barbados, Chile and Uruguay rated among the 20 least corrupt nations.
  • The New York Times reports on the reopening of old alcohol prohibition era smuggling routes by Mexican cartels. The cartels have been moving contraband in small open hull fishing boats leaving for the US from Baja California as a result of a security crackdown along the border, according to the Times. Smugglers on this route were responsible for the death of a US coast guard earlier this month.
  • The Inter Press Service reports on concerns over attempts to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). On Friday, the Organization of American States (OAS) received a petition signed by more than 3,000 people including four past presidents, worried that new reforms “could irreparably weaken the IACHR’s independence, making it more difficult both for victims of human rights violations to access the commission’s powers and for the commission to ensure that its decisions are implemented.”
  • Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera has died in a plane crash in northern Mexico, the BBC reports.