Friday, March 15, 2013

Venezuela's 'Alo Presidente' Gets a Spinoff

Little by little, Venezuelan Interim President Nicolas Maduro seems to be settling into Hugo Chavez’s shoes. On Thursday, Maduro launched his own version of his deceased predecessor’s famous live talk show, “Alo Presidente,” to be called “Dialogo Bolivariano.” El Nacional reports that Maduro announced the show’s creation during a televised handover of public housing to poor residents in the northern port city of Catia La Mar.

According to him, Dialogo Bolivariano will be a space for government officials to “debate their ideas with citizens face to face.” He also said that the show would feature engagement with opposition figures, “as long as they come with respect.”

The announcement is a sign that Maduro will seek to continue Chavez’s highly personal and charismatic leadership style, despite the fact that he is generally seen as lacking Chavez’s oratory skills. While he has adopted much of Chavez’s combative rhetoric, he has not been able to connect with the public on the same gut level. As Datanalisis’s Luis Vicente Leon told the Associated Press last week, "Chavez was a showman. Maduro is not."

In the absence of Chavez’s allure, Maduro has been aided by public displays of support from Chavez loyalists throughout the government, from the military to state governors of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV). These, along with Maduro’s repeated invocations of his predecessor’s legacy, have helped buoy the interim leader’s approval rating, ensuring that an electoral victory this April is all but certain.

Writing for Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog, Juan Nagel describes opposition leader Henrique Capriles’ campaign as a “kamikaze candidacy” by contrast. Capriles will almost definitely lose on April 14, which, when paired with his election loss last year, could ultimately end his political future.

But considering Maduro’s lack of public speaking skills, there is a chance that Capriles could score points on his rival if the two held a debate as Capriles has suggested, an option which Maduro seemed to be open towards yesterday. This would be a major departure from the last election, when Chavez repeatedly refused to engage directly with Capriles on policy matters, saying he would not bring himself to debate “against ‘nothing.’”

News Briefs
  • The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has released its annual Human Development Report (.pdf here), which shows that Latin America, “in contrast to overall global trends,” has seen its level of income inequality fall drastically since 2000.  The report found that the region’s average Human Development Index score has risen to .74. Interestingly, this is higher than the average HDI score for African American populations in the United States in 2010-2011, which was around .70.
  • Bolivia’s Constitutional Court has received President Evo Morales’ appeal to run for re-election in 2014, and the court is expected to rule on the legality of the re-election bid in the next 30 days, although Opinion notes that this period could be extended. Morales maintains that the court’s approval is unnecessary, seemingly indicating that he will run even if it is declared unconstitutional.
  • Peru’s El Comercio reports that a team of medical experts have examined the health of jailed former leader Alberto Fujimori, who has asked to be released from prison on humanitarian grounds. While two of Fujimori’s personal doctors were present for the examination, the paper claims that they were not allowed to present conclusions in the team’s final report to the commission tasked with evaluating Fujimori’s application for release. The commission is still in the process of compiling a report of its findings, which will be presented to President Ollanta Humala for a final decision.
  • The referendum on recalling Lima mayor Susana Villaran will be held this Sunday. According to a roundup of the two latest opinion polls by La Republica, a majority of locals favor removing the mayor from office.
  • La Nacion reports that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is attempting to redefine her government’s relationship with Pope Francis I, with whom she repeatedly clashed during his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. BBC Mundo has an overview of the past tension between the two, noting that the current Vicar of Christ was a major critic of Fernandez’s push to authorize same-sex marriage.
  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) apparently share the optimism of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos that a peace accord will be signed this year. El Colombiano reports that Ivan Marquez, the head of the guerrilla group’s negotiating team, has said that the FARC will do “everything possible” to reach a peace agreement before the year is up.
  • Honduran President Porfirio Lobo complained yesterday that armed navy ships from El Salvador and Nicaragua had been stationed off the Pacific Coast of the Central American country in a "threatening posture." Proceso Digital reports that the Honduran president has called for a meeting with his counterparts to discuss the issue.
  • The Miami Herald profiles Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez's arrival in New York yesterday, where she was met warmly by supporters, academics and human rights advocates. The Herald describes this leg of Sanchez's speaking tour as "one of the most important."
  • In the event that Uruguay’s marijuana legalization bill is passed, members of the opposition Colorado Party say they will gather signatures for a petition to revoke it, according to El Observador.   
  • The Washington Office on Latin America’s Maureen Meyer offers a critique of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s decision to create a “national gendarmerie,” a move which she argues is indicative of the government’s continued militarization of public security. Peña Nieto has said that the new unit will begin operating by the end of the year with an initial force of ten thousand men. Earlier this week, Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told the press that the police unit was being created with the help of the French government.
  • At a time when many rural communities in Mexico are opting to organize their own self-defense forces due to a lack of state presence, El Universal reports that the Mexican Public Security Secretariat has attempted to dissuade a mostly indigenous community in Morelos from creating its own vigilante group by installing security cameras and police checkpoints in the area. The paper also notes that a movement is underway in the Senate to push for greater integration of the growing self-defense movement with state security forces.

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