Friday, December 14, 2012

Venezuelans Prepare to Elect New Governors

While Hugo Chavez’s ongoing health issues have been hogging the headlines in Venezuela, the country is also gearing up for regional elections that could have a major impact on the country’s political future.

On Sunday, December 16th, Venezuelans will vote for new governors in the country’s 23 states. Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), will be hoping to build on the president’s decisive victory in October’s presidential elections, while the opposition parties that make up the Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD) will look to capitalize on the lower popularity of regional PSUV leaders compared to the president.

While there remains little reliable polling data, the Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog has identified 10 states as likely to vote for PSUV candidates, three that are likely to opt for opposition candidates and ten that look like they could go either way.Of those ten, five are currently in the hands of the PSUV and five are ruled by opposition parties.

One of the most intriguing battles will be in the state of Miranda, where defeated presidential candidate and current governor Henrique Capriles will face off against former Vice President Elias Jaua. Chavez narrowly won the vote in the state in the presidential elections, and some polls put Jaua ahead by as much as five points.

Most analysts, however, believe Capriles is likely to hold his post, even against a relatively strong PSUV candidate. Even so, the government will be hoping to damage Capriles’ political standing by running him close, making him seem a weaker candidate on the national stage.

Miguel Octavio at the The Devil’s Excrement blog writes that Capriles may have made a mistake in standing, as “he needs to win there big, very big, or he will look weak to be the Presidential candidate.” Octavio believes Capriles should have instead campaigned throughout the country as the unofficial head of the opposition and future presidential candidate rather than pursuing the “low risk, low reward” strategy of running for governor.

The Caracas Chronicles blog speculates that this may mean the elections become a de facto primary for opposition candidates. If, as seems increasingly likely, new presidential elections are called because of Chavez’s failing health, then the opposition will only have 30 days to prepare - leaving no time for primaries. While Capriles remains in prime position for another shot at the presidency, a poor showing on Sunday may pave the way for a candidate who polls strongly, such as former PSUV and now opposition governor of the state of Lara,  Henry Falcon. Falcon was previously Capriles’ choice for vice president.

News Briefs
  • InSight Crime reports on  Mexico's new Interior Minister, Miguel Osorio Chon, and allegations he has ties with drug cartel the Zetas. In 2010, the Mexican Attorney General's Office (PGR) opened a preliminary investigation into claims that Osorio Chong, along with several members of his administration and other political elites in Hidalgo, had received payments from Zetas leader and Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, alias "Z-3." However, no formal charges have been filed against the minister.  
  • The Miami Herald looks at the plight of a former US marine in prison on weapons charges in Mexico. Jon Hammar, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran with PTSD, was arrested after crossing the border with a 60-year-old shotgun in his truck. He has spent nearly 4 months in prison, much of it in solitary confinement after his family refused to make extortion payments demanded by Mexican gang members. 
  • The AP has a detailed article that puts the current institutional crisis in Honduras in a broader context, concluding that “by many grim measures the troubled Central American republic is barely clinging to its status as a functioning country.” 
  • The BBC reports on the controversial end to the Copa Sudamericana soccer championship, where Brazilian team Sao Paulo were left winners by default after players from Argentine club Tigre refused to finish the game. According to the Tigre players, they were attacked by about 20 men and threatened with guns following scuffles involving players and officials as the teams left the pitch at half time.
  • The New York Times reports on the complications suffered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez while undergoing surgery in Cuba. The Wall Street Journal meanwhile, speaks to doctors about the prognosis for Chavez, concluding that while a full recovery cannot be ruled out, from the information available, it seems likely his cancer is terminal.
  • The Council on Hemispheric Affairs looks at the lack of representation of women in the Colombian peace process, concluding that “[it] achieves only the stagnation of the social advancement of Colombian women.”
  • The LA Times has a feature looking at plans to trial a new Alzheimer's drug in the small Colombian town of Yarumal, where large numbers of the population have a rare genetic disposition to the disease.
  • The Economist reports on Colombia’s controversial judicial reforms, passed earlier this week (see Wednesday’s briefing), and what they might mean in the prosecution of “false positive” cases - extra-judicial murders carried out by the military, who dressed up victims as guerrillas to boost their kill counts.