Monday, December 17, 2012

Chavez Party Wins Big in Venezuela State Elections

Pro-Chavez candidates won 20 of Venezuela’s 23 governorships in elections on Sunday, taking five states from an opposition which gained none, though opposition candidate Henrique Capriles crucially held on to Miranda state.

Capriles’ win in Miranda against former Vice President Elias Jaua confirmed his position as the leader of the opposition coalition MUD, and “will help maintain unity among the historically fractured opposition” according to Reuters. Despite the defeats across the country, the election pointed to Capriles as the main viable opposition leader, as he won where most others lost, including his most viable rival, Pablo Perez, Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights points out. However, his margin was a lower-than-expected 4 points, short of the heavy win that could have given fresh momentum to his presidential chances.

The Capriles re-election was the main bright spot for the opposition, which lost five of the eight states it had held before the election, holding only Lara, Amazonas, and Miranda, and gaining none.

Capriles’ vice presidential choice for October’s presidential vote, Henry Falcon, held the governorship in Lara state. He brought in 14 percent more of the vote than the opposition did in Lara in the presidential elections, as Caracas Chronicles points out, giving him extra credibility as a vote-winner.

The five states Chavez’s PSUV won from the opposition included Zulia, the country’s most populous state, which had been held by opposition governors for the last 12 years.

The ruling party also gained Tachira and held Merida, despite opposition wins in both states in the presidential elections. It also held Bolivar, despite protests from the opposition candidate, who claimed irregularities. The Devil’s Excrement blog comments that gaining Tachira is a significant achievement for Jose Vielma Mora, who managed to win where many of the other PSUV heavyweights did not -- “Jaua has never won an election, Arias lost one, Maduro has never run for anything but Head of the subway union and Diosdado lost to Capriles once.”

Recently removed Defense Minister General Henry Rangel Silva, who is accused by US authorities of links to drug trafficking and the Colombian FARC rebel group, won in Trujillo after being named as candidate in October. As the Devil’s Excrement points out, with Rodriguez Chacin elected in Guarico state, Venezuela now has two governors blacklisted by the US Treasury for drug trafficking.

The results were a resounding victory for the ruling party, in an election which had been “widely seen as a referendum on whether his socialist-inspired Bolivarian Revolution movement has enough momentum to outlive him,” according to the AP. Capriles acknowledged the lack of national success, telling supporters “it’s difficult to come here and show a smile,” and that our candidates “have lost some ground,” addressing the crowd while dressed in a tracksuit in the colors of the national flag.

Turnout stood at only 54 percent, compared to 80 percent in October’s presidential elections. Opposition campaign manager Antonio Ledezma said it was the intention of the government to get a low turnout, by scheduling elections at a time when many are leaving for Christmas holidays. Capriles also accused the ruling party of exploiting Chavez’s illness for electoral purposes, with the president’s anointed successor Nicolas Maduro calling on voters not to fail the president, who last week announced the recurrence of his cancer and said that his supporters should back Maduro.

For the Caracas Chronicles, Sunday’s elections could be decisive, and may be “remembered as the meteorite strike that finally drove the opposition dinocracy to extinction.” The NYT said that Venezuelans “showed overwhelming support” for Chavez’s party in the elections, while Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights said that the vote demonstrated that “Chavez’s charisma can indeed carry-over to other politicians in his coalition, at least in the short term.”

The Wall Street Journal, however, had a more positive take for the opposition, running its coverage with the headline “Venezuela's Capriles Solidifies Threat to Chavez.”

The LA Times has an op-ed on the prospects for a transition of power, which states that Maduro is “viscerally anti-American, opposes the checks and balances of liberal democracy and distrusts free markets.”

It could be better for the governing party if any new presidential elections happen sooner rather than later, before the government carries out painful economic adjustments following last year’s pre-election spending binge. Reuters notes that Chavez’s illness seems to have put a currency devaluation on hold, perhaps until after a new presidential election early in 2013. It is likely that Maduro would win an election that takes place in the next two months, according to Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, while the Devil’s Excrement points out that “Time works against Chavismo.”


News Briefs

  • The AP reports that peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels are going well, with trust growing between the two sides who are holding talks in Cuba. The news agency gives a cosy description of the negotiations, gained from interviews with participants, saying that they “kibbutz about the latest soccer results and tease the unofficial timekeeper of the talks,” sharing “cigarettes and aromatic Cuban cigars.” A forum opens in Bogota today for civil society groups to present their proposals for rural development, one of the items on the negotiating table, as El Espectador reports. Indigenous organizations in Cauca have declared that their agendas are not up for negotiation by others, and said the the government and the FARC must hold talks directly with them, according to El Espectador.
  • Retired Colombian General Mauricio Santoyo has been sentenced to 13 years in prison by a US court after pleading guilty to taking bribes from paramilitary army the AUC in exchange for handing them information, including while he was security chief to then-President Alvaro Uribe, reports the BBC. His defense claimed that part of his motivation was to help the paramilitaries fight rebel groups like the FARC, reports the AP.
  • An Argentine judge ruled Friday that the law requiring media group Clarin to sell off many of its assets is constitutional, and ordered an end to the injunction preventing the law taking effect, reports Reuters. Clarin had won a last-minute extension to this injunction the day before it was due to end on December 6. Today, the company launched an appeal against Friday’s ruling, reports La Nacion. The NYT Latitude blog comments that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner’s battle against Clarin media group “has taken on a symbolic significance, raising serious questions about judicial independence,” despite the fact that Clarin shouldn’t be viewed as a mere “sympathetic victim.”
  • A UN court has ordered Ghana to release an Argentine ship seized in October over the country’s failure to pay debts. The court found that the ship, held at the request of a US hedge fund, is immune because it is a military vessel, reports the AP. The Financial Times notes that the ruling could be hard to enforce, and an appeal is currently underway.
  • In Paraguay, prosecutors have brought charges against 14 campesinos involved in June land occupations that ended with 11 protesters and six police officers dead, claiming that the campesinos opened fire first, reports the BBC. The protesters were occupying land that they say was stolen by a senator in the 1960s. The scandal over the deaths in June helped bring down President Fernando Lugo, who has said that the shooting was a setup organized by powerful businessmen to stop his land redistribution schemes, as the AP reports.
  • Julia Michaels at Rio Real presents 13 questions on development schemes in Rio de Janeiro, including on the costs and future budget of the favela pacification program, plans to bring sewage to all the city’s neighborhoods, and the Morar Carioca program, which aims to improve infrastructure.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics has more on the developing crisis in Honduras, where Congress president Juan Orlando Hernandez is accused of trying to subjugate the Supreme Court as part of a bid to win power in 2013 and extend term limits.
  • Reporters Without Borders called on Chilean authorities to fully investigate a break-in to the home of journalist Mauricio Weibel, where intruders stole a computer containing research for his book on the role of military intelligence in during the dictatorship.
  • Fidel Castro has been nominated for a seat in Cuba’s parliament, which he was also named to in 2008. The AP says its not clear if he has played an active role in the body since he stepped down as president in that year.
  • The NYT reports from Brazil’s Amazon, where a iron ore mining project threatens to destroy a series of caves with archeological evidence of humans who lived there 8,000 years ago.
  • The Washington Post profiles Katia Abreu, a powerful Brazilian landowner and senator who advocates for the interests of agribusiness, making the argument that the industry provides jobs and feeds millions, and can be developed while protecting the environment.