Thursday, February 7, 2013

Venezuelan Government, Opposition Exchange Corruption Allegations

Charges of corruption are flying in Venezuela this week. On Tuesday, Venezuela’s National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello opened a corruption probe into two members of the opposition Justice First party, accusing them of accepting unreported campaign donations.

In a speech broadcast via state media on Tuesday, Cabello presented photocopies of allegedly illicit checks received by Justice First lawmaker Richard Mardo. He also played a recorded conversation between opposition figure Henrique Capriles Radonski -- a founder of the party -- and his wealthy businessman father about a cash donation to Capriles’ presidential campaign last year.

In return, Capriles accused Cabello of launching a smear campaign which was intended to target him indirectly. “Make no mistake,” the opposition leader told reporters yesterday, “they want to come for me.” He also alleged that top officials in the Hugo Chavez government are enriching themselves with funds from the state-owned PDVSA oil company. 

On his personal Twitter account, Capriles has now begun to refer to the Assembly president as “Al Capone,” while Cabello has responded by likening the opposition figure to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Justice First President Julio Borges, who co-founded Justice First with Capriles, also rejected Cabello’s accusations, and countered them by claiming that the government had recently bribed two former opposition lawmakers to switch sides and join the ruling coalition of Chavez’s United Socialist Party (PSUV). El Nacional reports that Borges says he has proof that congressmen Hernan Núñez and William Ojeda, who both recently split with the opposition, were offered money and political positions to support PSUV bills in the Assembly.

The heightened rhetoric has some analysts speculating that both sides are attempting to position themselves more favorably for the potential presidential elections which would be called within 30 days if Chavez were to die or step down. 

In an interview with the Associated Press, analyst Jose Vicente Carrasquero said he believes the PSUV is trying to “demoralize the opposition” in case elections are necessary. "They need to position themselves as winners, and at the time go about presenting the opposition (in a light that suggests) it's going to be defeated in an election," Carrasquero told the AP.


News Briefs
  • Kate Doyle of the National Security Archives offers a detailed overview of the February 1-4 hearing of Guatemalan ex-dictator Rios Montt and his intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, in which the evidence implicating the two in genocide and crimes against humanity was presented by the prosecution. While the judge ruled to allow almost all of the witnesses and documents submitted by the prosecution, most of the evidence put forth by Rios Montt’s defense team was deemed inadmissible. The trial will progress to the oral phase in the coming months, and will be presided by Judge Jazmin Barrios. Barrios has presided over a number of landmark human rights cases in the country, including the case of the 1990 murder of Myrna Mack and the cases of the 1982 Dos Erres and Plan de Sanchez massacres.
  • In two separate statements yesterday, the Open Society Justice Initiative and Amnesty International urged the government of Haiti to ensure that former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, stands trial for human rights abuses in the country. In 2012 a judge ordered these charges to be dropped, but the AP reports that victims have appealed the decision and a hearing of the case is scheduled today in Port-au-Prince.
  • German news magazine Der Spiegel recently conducted an interesting interview with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, in which the president called on the United States to enact stricter gun regulations and identified poverty as a major factor in Mexico’s violence. He also reasserted his opposition to marijuana legalization, saying it “acts as a gateway drug.”
  • Mexico’s Federal Elections Commission (IFE) motioned yesterday to once again delay a final decision on whether to fine the coalition that backed leftist politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in his presidential campaign last year over financial irregularities, finding that the allegations were based on incomplete data.  El Universal reports that the commission returned the matter to its investigative unit, instructing them to clarify their case.
  • Peruvian officials announced on Wednesday that police in the country had captured a former Colombian paramilitary leader and member of the Urabeños drug trafficking organization. La Republica reports that Jacinto Nicolas Fuentes German, alias "Don Leo," has been in Peru since January 21, and directed a faction of the Urabeños in Colombia from an apartment in Lima. According to El Tiempo, Fuentes was arrested by Colombian officials in 2008, but later released.
  • In a press conference in Havana on Wednesday, lead negotiator for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) Ivan Marquez reiterated previous calls made by the rebel group for the Colombian government to legalize the cultivation of marijuana, poppy and coca, in addition to the consumption of drugs derived from these plants. As noted in yesterday’s post, Colombian news site La Silla Vacia has an interesting rundown of the overlap between the FARC’s drug policy proposals and those of President Juan Manuel Santos.
  • El Tiempo and the Associated Press report that a Colombian judge has convicted a former contractor for the U.S.-based mining company Drummond, Jaime Blanco Maya, of the 2001 murder of two union leaders. The judge also ordered prosecutors to investigate Drummond’s president, Garry Drummond, a former Drummond security chief and two Colombians in order to determine if they had any role in ordering the killings. Blanco claims that he was acting on direct orders from Drummond, and the company is currently fighting charges that it abetted war crimes in an Alabama court.
  • Honduras’ Proceso Digital has an interesting overview of the current state of the Honduran Liberal Party, which celebrates its 122nd anniversary this week. In the aftermath of the 2009 coup, a rift between liberal and more social democratic factions in the party arose, and 55 percent of the party’s grassroots membership left to join the newly-created leftist LIBRE party. As a result, Proceso Digital notes that the Liberals today are weak and disorganized. LIBRE is meanwhile emerging as a strong political force in the country, and polls suggest that LIBRE’s Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed ex-president Manuel Zelaya, is the leading candidate in the upcoming presidential elections in November.
  • After a video surfaced online earlier this week of Chilean navy recruits chanting nationalistic slurs against Argentina, Bolivia and Peru ("I will kill Argentines, I will gun down Bolivians, I will decapitate Peruvians"), it has generated controversy both in Chile and among the country’s neighbors. La Tercera reports that the governments of Peru and Bolivia condemned the video, with the Bolivian Defense Ministry releasing statement criticizing the Chilean navy for using language "intended to direct racist animosity towards our citizens." The AP and NYT note that Chile's President Sebastian Piñera aslo denounced the video, and gave the navy 24 hours to punish those responsible for leading the chants.
  • The New York Times has the latest on speculation over why Iran's former central bank chief, Tahmasb Mazaheri, attempted to enter Germany last month with a check for 300 million Venezuelan bolivares. While Venezuela’s anti-Chavez camp claims it is clear evidence of an international money laundering scheme, Iranian construction firm Kayson maintains the check is meant to fund the construction of 10,000 apartments in Venezuela, and that Mazaheri was bringing the money back to Iran as a favor to the company.