Thursday, December 6, 2012

Chavez to Miss Mercosur Summit

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will not attend the summit of trade bloc Mercosur in Brazil on Friday, which will increase concerns about his health as he prepares to begin a fourth term in January.

Brazil’s Foreign Ministry told the AFP that Chavez would not attend the summit, which will be his country’s first time since its accession as a full member was approved in July. Vice President and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro will represent Venezuela instead. On Monday, Brazil’s ambassador in Caracas had said that Chavez’s attendance at the summit was confirmed.

Chavez is currently in Cuba receiving treatment which he said consisted of “sessions of hyperbaric oxygenation along with physiotherapy” to “consolidate” his health after finishing radiotherapy treatment for cancer six months ago. He flew to Cuba on November 27, in a trip which caused some concern as no images were released of him leaving Venezuela or arriving on the island.

The president has not been seen in public for nearly three weeks, since November 15, and has even stopped Tweeting. The last message from his account was sent on November 1. El Nuevo Herald reports that Chavez canceled two planned engagements this week, to do a press conference by phone and to film a video in Cuba. The newspaper said that the question of whether he attended Friday’s summit would be a “proof by fire” of the true state of his health.

Maduro said on November 29 that the president was doing well in Cuba, and demanded “respect” for his health, accusing the opposition of trying to take advantage, reports Venezuela AnalysisReuters reported that Chavez aimed to be back in the country for his inauguration on January 10, and noted that:

His latest absence has put renewed attention on Maduro, his vice president, and on Congress head Diosdado Cabello, two close and powerful allies of the president who might look to replace him if Chavez were to leave power.
Chavez's absence from the country could hurt the chances of pro-government candidates in the December 17 gubernatorial elections, as Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog points out.

Hugo Perez Hernaiz and David Smilde looks at the prospects for the elections, going through the country state by state and discussing whether the governorship is expected to go to the government or opposition.

They note that many opposition supporters are disillusioned after Chavez’s victory in the October presidential elections, but that the government side is hurt by continued questions over the president’s health, and by his absence from the campaigns.

News Briefs

  • The Cuban government has accused the US of lying about the health of Alan Gross, a contractor who has spent three years in a Cuban prison, saying that he does not have cancer and is receiving good medical care, reports the BBC. It also criticized the UN for ruling that Gross’ detention was arbitrary, reports Reuters. The Washington Post has an editorial which says that the US should not hand over five Cuban spies in exchange for Gross’ release, arguing that “better relations between Cuba and the United States must be conditioned on real steps toward democratization by Havana.”
  • Amnesty International marked the 30-year anniversary of the torture and death of government opponents in Suriname under President Desire Delano Bouterse, who has returned to power and is protected by an amnesty law from being held responsible for his part in the killings.
  • The LA Times blog reports that police in Mexico City are facing questions about their response to protests against President Enrique Peña Nieto’s inauguration on the weekend, when at least 100 demonstrators were injured. The Federal District’s human rights commission (CDHDF) has said that police dressed in civilian clothes carried out many arrests of protesters, reports Proceso.
  • Mexico’s Supreme Court made a ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, striking down as unconstitutional a law in Oaxaca state which restricted marriage to heterosexual couples, reports the Associated Press. Colombia has also moved towards legalizing gay marriage, with Congress approving a bill on the issue in the first of four debates, as Colombia Reports reports.
  • The AP has a report on Paraguay’s failure to properly investigate an incident in June in which 11 farmers and six police died in a clash over the land occupations. “Farmers and their supporters say the official investigation is a one-sided effort to make an example of the farmers, so nobody will dare challenge the interests of powerful landowners ever again.”
  • The Argentine government claimed that an investment fund which partners with Clarin in its Cablevision TV network wants Clarin to sell up and comply with the government’s decision, reports the AP. Clarin has until December 7 to divest itself of much of its media empire, after the government decided to enforce an anti-monopoly law against the group.
  • IPS reports on demonstrations in Brazil to protest against the latest murder statistics in the country. Protesters organized by NGO Rio de Paz scattered 500,000 beans on carpets and on the Brazilian flag on Copacabana beach in Rio to mark the number of homicides in the last decade. One third of the beans were white and two thirds black, to reflect the ethnic make-up of the murder victims.
  • ElPeriodico reports that the US company which won a contract to improve infrastructure in prisons across Guatemala was only legally established two years ago, and will subcontract 10 other firms in order to deliver on its contract.
  • The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer argues that the US Congress should learn from the accord signed between Mexico’s three main political parties, though he notes that the Pact for Mexico was not approved by the parties’ membership and so may be disregarded by legislators.
  • Fugitive software entrepreneur John McAfee was arrested in Guatemala City for entering the country illegally, reports the AP. He is wanted by Belize authorities in connection with the murder of his neighbor, and the Guatemalan has announced that it will expel him, sending him to Belize, in the coming hours, reports EFE.
  • Peru’s prison authority prevented French former Bishop Jacques Gaillot from visiting Shining Path rebel group founder Abimael Guzman in prison, citing the bishop’s “separatist, radical” positions, reports El Comercio.
  • Oscar Niemeyer, a Brazilian architect who designed distinctive government buildings in Brasilia, has died at the age of 104, reports the NYTThe Guardian features a slideshow of his work.

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