Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Candidates Kick Off Security-Focused Presidential Campaigns in Venezuela

The Venezuelan presidential race formally begins today, although candidates have been unofficially campaigning for much of the past month. Over the next ten days, both Venezuelan interim president Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles will be touring the country, drumming up support for their platforms ahead of the April 14 vote.

With violent crime on the rise, both candidates appear to have chosen citizen security as one of the main talking points of their campaigns. Maduro preceded the beginning of his campaign with a televised address yesterday broadcast from the National Experimental University of Security (UNES), a civilian-run police academy which places an emphasis on human rights and community policing (see this profile of UNES by Rebecca Hanson and David Smilde of WOLA’s Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog). He also announced the launch of a state-sponsored initiative called the "Movement for Peace and Life," intended to reduce crime by reaching out to at-risk youth.

Today he is slated to take the campaign to Barinas, the home state of his predecessor Hugo Chavez. According to the Associated Press, he is expected to play up his roots as a working-class bus driver by driving his own tour bus for at least part of the campaign.

Capriles has also seized on the issue of insecurity. Almost immediately after Maduro’s speech, he held a press conference to announce the agenda for the first week of his campaign. His first event was a “walk for peace” which he led last night in Caracas. According to the opposition candidate, the walk served to express his hope that Venezuelans “will safely be able to walk the streets at night, that public spaces will belong to the citizens," according to El Universal.

Monday also brought an illustration of just how much crime has risen in recent years. El Nacional reports that the Caracas morgue announced yesterday that it saw a 7 percent increase in violent deaths in the first three months of 2013 compared with the same period last year, putting the city on track for a record year in homicides.

News Briefs
  • The Atlantic Wire and the Miami Herald have more on Venezuela’s presidential campaign, both of which focus on the increasingly harsh attacks launched by both the Capriles and Maduro camps. BBC Mundo offers a more comprehensive look at the main policy issues ahead of the April 14 vote, as well as an overview of the general strategy of each campaign.
  • The trial against former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt continued yesterday after a weeklong recess. According to the Open Society Justice Initiative’s RiosMontt-Trial.org, the court will hear testimony today about sexual assaults committed by members of the Guatemalan security forces during Rios Montt’s time in power. Although the prosecution asked that the tribunal hear the testimony in private in order to protect the identities of the victims, the justices turned this down, saying they would arrange for the witnesses to preserve their anonymity by covering their faces.
  • Writing for Al-Jazeera Engligh, WOLA Senior Fellow Jo-Marie Burt profiles the recent announcement by Peruvian forensic anthropologists that they have identified the remains of three people who were held in a military prison and later disappeared by security forces between 1984 and 1985.  The news brings hope to the families of the more than 15,000 people who disappeared in Peru’s armed conflict that their relatives can be identified.
  • Members of the indigenous Nasa tribe in the southwestern Colombian province of Cauca have released three soldiers after holding them hostage for roughly 24 hours in an effort to pressure the government to investigate the murder of a Nasa leader last week. El Tiempo reports that officials say the man was killed in the crossfire in a shootout with rebels, but locals say he was shot at a military checkpoint.
  • The New York Times reports on the violent abduction and rape of an American tourist over the weekend in Rio de Janeiro, an incident which shocked many in Brazil and has damaged the city’s image as it tries to promote itself ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. According to the Times, the crime drew comparisons in the Brazilian media to recent high-profile incidents of violence against women in India, which have caused the number of female tourists visiting the country to drop by 30 percent in that country.
  • The Argentine government is arguing that its plan to pay $1.4 billion in defaulted debt to creditors is fully compliant with the orders of a U.S. court, but Wall Street analysts claim it amounts to just a sixth of the money owed.  The AP reports that experts say an Argentine default is “now much more likely.”
  • The Miami Herald reports on Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez’s public appearance in Miami yesterday, in which she addressed the divisions in the Cuban-American community. "In the Cuba that so many of us dream of, there is no need to clarify what type of Cuban you are," she told a crowd at Miami’s Freedom Tower. "We'll be just Cubans. Cubans, period."
  • La Tercera has a look at the international forensic team that will be overseeing the exhumation of the remains of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who some claim  was poisoned by state agents in 1973. The date for the exhumation is set for April 8.
  • After the famously unpolished Uruguayan President Jose Mujica made an off-the-cuff remark last month about “economists, scribes and lawyers” in response to criticism over his handling of the economy, El Observador reports that a Uruguayan lawyer is suing him in court for “defamation and damages.” The lawsuit claims that Mujica’s words are a demonstration of his increasingly “profane” language, and the plaintiff is reportedly seeking a “psychological evaluation” of the president as part of a settlement.

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