Friday, March 8, 2013

55 Countries, Including U.S., Send Delegations to Chavez’s Funeral

The State Department yesterday confirmed that the United States has sent a delegation to the funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, which is planned for 10:00am Caracas time at the country’s National Military Academy. It will include U.S. Embassy charges d’affaires James Derham, Representative Gregory Meeks of New York and former congressman William Delahunt of Massachusetts.

Both congressional officials are said to have relatively close ties to the Chavez administration. Meeks has met with Chavez a number of times and has been described as a friend of the deceased leader, and Delahunt helped set up the “U.S.-Venezuela Groups of Friends,” an organization dedicated to improving bilateral relations with the Bolivarian Republic. 

But as the L.A. Times’ World News Now blog points out, the group is notably lacking in high-level officials compared to the delegations sent by other countries in the region and the world. Telesur reports that 55 countries around the globe have sent representatives to the memorial service. Even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who raised eyebrows earlier this week after comparing Chavez to Jesus Christ, will be in attendance, Reuters notes.

The Washington Post has an interesting overview of the statements from leftist Latin American leaders who have arrived in Caracas to attend the funeral this morning, noting that almost all of them have promised to “carry forward the torch” of his legacy in some way.

Most of the delegates are expected to be present at a separate ceremony later today, in which Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro is set to be sworn in as interim president at the National Military Academy where Chavez’s body is currently being held. This was announced yesterday by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, in a likely bid to minimize any appearance of rivalry between him and Maduro.

Cabello also said that Maduro is expected to announce the date of the next elections, which the constitution mandates must be held within the next 30 days. While this has been interpreted to mean 30 days exactly, Venezuela scholar David Smilde notes that “one thing to watch for is if the government decides the election should be in ten or fifteen days instead of thirty.”

News Briefs
  • In a surprise announcement, Maduro has said that Hugo Chavez’s body will be embalmed and put on permanent display in the country, in the style of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and other leftist figures. El Nacional reports that last night Maduro announced that the decision had been made in order to allow his body to “open for all time for the people. Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong.” After the funeral today the body will be taken to a military barracks in Caracas’ 23 de Enero neighborhood, a famous bastion of Chavista support, and the site is to be converted into a “Museum of the Revolution.” Both El Nacional and the AFP note that Maduro said this would be a temporary move, and that the government is considering burying Chavez in the recently-constructed National Pantheon that houses the remains of national hero Simon Bolivar.
  • The Brazilian Congress yesterday overturned a veto by President Dilma Rousseff of parts of a bill intended to share oil revenue more equally between oil-producing states like Rio de Janeiro and other states in the country. The bill passed last December but Rousseff vetoed the sections in response to popular pressure from Rio, where locals say they could lose $1.58 billion this year alone because of the bill. Reuters reports that the Rio state government has frozen all non-mandated payments until the Supreme Court rules on the issue, setting the stage for a high-profile legal battle.
  • The Mexican military has reportedly arrested 37 members of a community self-defense group in the state of Michoacan after the men detained a number of law enforcement officers including the local chief of police, accusing them of ties to organized crime. According to Reforma and El Universal, the group intended to hold a “people’s trial” of the police officials. The arrests are sure to fuel the debate in the country on the legitimacy of vigilante groups and the growing “self-defense movement” in Mexico.
  • Animal Politico reports that PRI congressmen in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies have presented a bill which would undo a 2011 constitutional reform which gives human rights treaties that the country ratifies the same amount of legal weight as the constitution. Advocacy groups oppose the measure, arguing that it amounts to an attempt to weaken the country’s human rights commitments.
  • Colombian NGO Corporacion Nuevo Arco Iris released a new report on the country’s armed conflict yesterday which focuses on the changes to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)’s control in the country since the last round of peace talks with the government ended a decade ago. According to the report’s authors, since 2002 the government has made tremendous strides in fortifying the country’s commercial hubs, leading to a major jump in perceived security. It also found that increased desertions, as well as the government’s reliance on aerial bombing, have taken a toll on the FARC. While it is far from defeated, the group has lost control of the center of the country and has been forced to fight in country’s periphery, which the report calls a “great strategic disadvantage.” Still, the biggest threats to the country’s security, according to Nuevo Arco Iris, are drug trafficking networks and neo-paramilitary groups like the Urabeños and Ratrojos, which continue to expand their criminal activities.
  • After 13 days, Colombia’s large-scale coffee growers’ strike has come to an end after the government agreed to raise subsidies paid to coffee farmers. As El Tiempo reports, the two parties reached the agreement early this morning after several days of tough negotiation. According to the Colombian paper, roadblocks put in place by protesting farmers during the strike effectively isolated at least two provincial capital cities in the west of the country, causing food and gas shortages.
  • The Falkland Islands is set to hold a referendum this weekend on its political status, which is largely expected to confirm that locals prefer to remain a British territory. Interestingly, Mercopress reports that Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile are among the countries sending observers to the referendum. Analyst James Bosworth points out that it will be difficult for these countries to reconcile this with their stated support for Argentina’s claims to the islands, and the fact that Argentina refuses to recognize the referendum’s legitimacy.
  • EFE covers opposition to the controversial “model cities” law which was recently passed in Honduras, after a similar proposal was struck down by the Honduran Supreme Court last year.  
  • According to Mercopress, an International Monetary Fund commission has arrived in Buenos Aires to evaluate Argentina’s financial system, the first time the country has allowed an IMF to carry out such research in five years. This comes after Argentina was publicly chastised by the IMF last month for allegedly failing to provide transparent economic data.
  • In honor of International Women’s Day, BBC Mundo reports on femicide in Latin America, with a graphic which illustrates the extent of the phenomenon across the region.
  • The Inter-Press Service offers an overview on the trial underway in Argentina which aims to investigate the extent of cooperation among the Southern Cone dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s in the international political repression campaign known as “Operation Condor.”
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva discusses Chavez’s legacy in a surprisingly emotional New York Times op-ed, praising him for his advocacy of Latin American integration and his contributions to the creation of regional organizations like Unasur and CELAC. He also writes that the survival of Chavez’s socialist project in Venezuela will require his successors to “help make the political system more organic and transparent; to make political participation more accessible; to enhance dialogue with opposition parties; and to strengthen unions and civil society groups."

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