Thursday, March 7, 2013

Venezuelan Military Openly Backs Chavismo

With the future of post-Chavez Venezuela uncertain, the country’s armed forces are playing a high-profile, non-neutral role in the transition period. Although the military has publicly sworn to protect the constitution and guarantee order in the country in the wake of Chavez’s death, it has proven itself to be tied to the Chavista political project.

As the Washington Post notes, the Venezuelan military has been the main orchestrator of Chavez’s memorial services. His coffin received a sizeable military escort in yesterday’s funeral procession, and the leader’s remains are currently being held in the military academy where he began his army career.

This is unsurprising in itself, as Chavez linked his Bolivarian Revolution to the military ever since the 2002 coup which temporarily removed him from office. In 2010, General Henry Rangel Silva said that the army was “wedded” to Chavez’s revolution, although he walked this statement back ahead of elections last year, saying the military would recognize whoever won the vote.

What is surprising is the degree to which the army has been completely open in its support for Chavez. This was recognized by Venzuelan Defense Minister Diego Molero, who after Chavez’s death on Tuesday appeared on state television and said that it was the explicit responsibility of the armed forces to support the candidacy of Vice President Nicolas Maduro. "Now more than ever, the Armed Forces must be united to carry Maduro to be the next elected president of all Venezuelans," he said in late-night remarks to VTV.

Another troubling sign of the military’s outright backing of Chavismo came in the public address that Maduro gave on Tuesday before Chavez’s passing was announced. As the International Crisis Group notes, Maduro appeared on television flanked by members of the cabinet, state governors of the ruling PSUV party and the military command, and presented himself as head of a “civilian-military command of the revolution,” a group which has no constitutional basis.

All of this indicates an alarming disregard for democratic norms in the country, and calls into question whether the military would really serve an opposition government in the (albeit unlikely) event that it is able to oust Maduro in the upcoming elections.

News Briefs
  • A Guayaquil, Ecuador meeting of representatives from the countries that have ratified the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, intended to address reforms to the Inter-American Human Rights System, will be postponed from tomorrow to March 11. According to Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, the shift was made to allow officials to attend Chavez’s funeral this Friday. El Comercio has more on the movement to modify the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, noting that the body’s willingness to adopt certain changes have put it on good terms with the governments of Brazil and Bolivia, leaving only Ecuador, Venezuela and Nicaragua to spearhead efforts to weaken its independence. According to the Ecuadorean paper, Brazil’s change in attitude towards the Commission may save it from its ALBA bloc adversaries, as there is a possibility that the country will use its diplomatic muscle to prevent an overhaul of the human rights watchdog.
  • The head of Chavez’s presidential guard, General Jose Ornella, has told the Associated Press that the Venezuelan leader died not from his chronic respiratory failure, but of a heart attack. Ornella, who has reportedly been by Chavez’s side for the past two years and witnessed his illness progress firsthand, said that in his last moments Chavez “could not speak, but by moving his lips said ... 'I do not want to die, please do not let me die,’ because he loved his country, sacrificed himself for his country.”
  • Reuters takes a look at Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who is widely expected to challenge Interim President Nicolas Maduro in upcoming elections.  Recent polls show him with a 45 percent approval rating, compared to Maduro’s 55 percent.
  • The governments of Ecuador, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua and Chile have all officially declared a national mourning period of between 3 and 7 days to commemorate the death of Hugo Chavez. According to Telesur, the presidents of Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Panama are either in Caracas already or will arrive in time for the funeral this Friday.
  • A number of other world leaders and heads of regional and international organizations have also expressed condolences to the government of Venezuela, as AFP notes. Among them is U.S. President Barack Obama, who released a statement yesterday expressing an interest in “developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government” as the country “begins a new chapter in its history.”  Sources in the State Department told Spanish news agency EFE that Obama plans to send a delegation to Chavez’s funeral tomorrow. In a helpful rundown of the most frequently-asked questions about the Venezuela transition, WOLA’s David Smilde points out that there is reason to believe U.S.-Venezuela relations could be on the mend, as Maduro is known as a “negotiator,” and played an important role in the repair of relations with neighboring Colombia.
  • Speaking of Colombia-Venezuela relations, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos publicly praised Chavez yesterday for his work in mediating peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) El Tiempo reports that Santos told reporters that the “best tribute we can give to Chavez’s memory” would be signing peace accord with FARC rebels.
  • Negotiations between the Colombian government and the country’s coffee growers’ movement, which is in its 11th day of strikes, will continue today. According to El Tiempo, the two parties suspended dialogue at 2:00am last night to allow for a brief recess, and will continue this morning.
  • Mexico’s Supreme Court issued a historic ruling on homophobic language yesterday, determining that the use of commonly-used insults "maricón" and "puñal" is not covered by free speech provisions in the Constitution. Animal Politico and La Cronica de Hoy report that the Court has ruled that they amount to hate speech, and their use can be prosecuted in court, depending on the context.
  • InSight Crime questions whether gang members and social workers who oppose the controversial true between Salvadoran maras, which the government of El Salvador helped mediate, are being targeted by gangs. This is the claim made by Spanish priest Antonio Rodriguez, an outspoken critic of the truce who claims that the recent murder of an employee was retribution for his criticism.
  • Honduran analyst Pablo Manriquez takes a look at what comprehensive immigration reform under consideration in the U.S. Congress could mean for the future of Honduras and other Central American countries in the Huffington Post’s Latino Voices blog. Manriquez notes that immigrants born in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua have a lot riding on the bill as their naturalization rates are far lower than those of immigrants born in other countries.
  • The head of Peru’s National Police, General Raul Salazar, resigned from his position yesterday amid growing concern over public insecurity in the Andean country. According to El Comercio, in his public letter of resignation Salazar cited pressure from “murky interests” as the reason for his resignation. La Republica, however, claims that Salazar quit in response to a new report in Caretas magazine, which alleges that Salazar abused his position to give business favors to friends.
  • Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo has gained access to secret files of the country’s 1964-1985 military junta, which shows that the Brazilian military government gave some $115 million in loans to Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. According to excerpts of the documents published by the paper, the loans were provided on favorable terms and were meant to assist the Chilean government in purchasing military equipment. EFE reports that the documents were obtained by a request for information authorized under a 2011 anti-secrecy law signed by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
  • In an interview with the Washington Post, Angel Carromero, the Spaniard whose alleged unsafe driving led to a car crash which killed Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya last year, claims that the accident was caused by an impact with a Cuban government vehicle.  
  • Following the criticism that it received in the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board report earlier this week, Red21 reports that the Uruguayan government plans on explaining the benefits of its proposed marijuana regulation initiative to the international organization at its next annual meeting.

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