Thursday, April 25, 2013

Venezuelan Government Hardens Anti-Opposition Stance

As Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro fights to solidify his legitimacy after winning elections by a razor-thin lead, his administration has become increasingly hostile towards members of the opposition and NGOs which are critical of the government.

The focus of this criticism has been on Capriles’ role in the wave of violence that broke out in the country after the April 14 election. One of the government’s main accusations is that Capriles supporters attacked and burned local health clinics in poor neighborhoods across the country. However, photos of clinics that the government claims were attacked suggest that the official reports are exaggerated, and in some cases may be entirely fabricated.

Meanwhile, several administration officials have made extremely hostile remarks in recent days concerning Capriles and his supporters. On Monday Prisons Minister Iris Varela referred to Capriles as the “intellectual author” of the post-election violence, claiming she was “preparing a cell for him.” A video circulating social media in Venezuela shows Housing Minister Ricardo Molina telling his employees that he would fire any who were supporters of an opposition party, regardless of labor laws in the country. “If he doesn’t quit, I personally will throw him out,” he can be heard saying in the video. The Associated Press reports that the opposition claims to have received complaints from over 300 government employees who said they were fired for being suspected Capriles supporters.

This antagonism extends to civil society groups which question the official narrative of opposition violence, like Caracas-based human rights organization PROVEA. As Venezuela analyst David Smilde notes, PROVEA was one of the first groups to cast doubt on the alleged clinic attacks, which drew the ire of Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas. Villegas accused the respected rights group of ignoring testimony from victims of the attacks, thus “acting as the rearguard of fascism.” When PROVEA followed up with a post on their website which identified a supposed casualty of opposition violence as an opposition supporter who is apparently alive and well, the government stepped up its criticism.

On April 20, Venezuelan Ombudsman Gabriela Ramirez denounced the group as politically biased, accusing PROVEA of “going against their own principles as a human rights organization.” These allegations were repeated in a nationwide state message broadcast on all radio and television channels on April 23. The Ombudsman’s Office has since released an image purporting to show fire damage in a clinic in the western state of Barinas, and accused opposition protesters of looting medical equipment and firebombing the building.

Yesterday, the United Socialist Party (PSUV)-controlled National Assembly launched an inquiry into Capriles’ hand in the violence. National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello announced that a congressional committee had been created to investigate reports of nine deaths and several dozen injuries that the government says were the result of opposition protests. PSUV Congressman Pedro Carreño, a member of the committee, told local press that it would begin studying the situation on Monday.

News Briefs
  • A major demonstration against education reforms broke out yesterday in the Mexican state of Guerrero, as an education workers’ union raided the offices of the country’s main political parties in the state capital. El Universal reports that the group ransacked the offices one by one before descending on the office of the ruling PRI party and setting it on fire. The AP has images of the demonstration, showing protesters burning images of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
  • The “Pact for Mexico,” the inter-party agreement which has helped Peña Nieto’s administration accomplish a number of ambitious reforms so far in his young administration, appears to be holding despite the emergence of a damning video showing members of the ruling PRI party allegedly plotting to use money from government social programs to fund campaigns in upcoming local elections in July. The Financial Times reports that the interior ministry has released a statement saying that Mexico’s main parties have “reaffirmed their conviction that the reform agenda laid out in the Pact comes before party interests.”
  • The New York Times’ Simon Romero profiles economic inequality in Paraguay, which remains persistent despite the massive economic growth underway in the country.
  • The Open Society Justice Initiative has the latest on the state of the genocide case against former Guatemalan dictator Rios Montt. While the Constitutional Court has issued no new rulings on the legality of annulling the recent hearings, an appeals court heard arguments related to the case yesterday.
  • Honduras Culture and Politics looks at the high level of voter dissatisfaction in Honduras, where a recent opinion poll shows that “None of the above” is currently more popular than the five major candidates running in November’s presidential election.
  • El Espectador reports that the Colombian Senate voted 51-17 against a bill to legalize same sex marriage yesterday, presented by U Party Senator Armando Benedetti. Benedetti accused his fellow lawmakers of homophobia, and said that in response a movement was being organized by same-sex couples to request to be married at government registries across the country on June 21. According to the senator, the only way for same sex marriage to pass is through the court battle that will likely ensue.
  • As International Workers’ Day approaches on May 1, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles have announced competing labor rights marches to be held to mark the occasion, EFE reports. While the former hopes to use the day to "demonstrate working class power to the fascist bourgeoisie," the latter is organizing a protest against the government’s announced wage hikes, which he claims is contributing to rising inflation.
  • The Miami Herald reports that the U.S. government has released a statement calling on Cuban authorities to release a former Granma reporter who wrote an article alleging government mismanagement of funds and who has been accused of spying.
  • The Ombudsmen (Defensores del Pueblo) of 14 countries will meet in a summit in Lima, Peru today and tomorrow to discuss the right of indigenous peoples to prior consultation before government projects are carried out on their land. The conference is organized by the Ibero-American Ombudsman Federation and will include the ombudsmen of Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, El Salvador, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela.
  • Argentina’s La Nacion reports that proposed changes to the Magistrates Council (the body responsible for appointing and impeaching judges) have passed in the country’s lower house after a marathon 18-hour debate over the measures.
  • The Bolivian government officially took its long-running border dispute with the Chile to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague yesterday, through which the landlocked country hopes to reclaim maritime access that it lost after the 1879-1883 Pacific War. Telesur reports that Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca and former President Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze presented the country’s case to the court.

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