Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Venezuela's Maduro Warns of Assassination Plot, Again

Days ahead of Venezuela’s election, interim President Nicolas Maduro has once again claimed that shady foreign groups are trying to destabilize Venezuelan politics, although this time they're in El Salvador.

On Saturday, Maduro said Venezuelan intelligence had learned that “right-wing and military factions” in El Salvador paid mercenaries to carry out his assassination. In an interview with Telesur, Foreign Minster Elias Jaua said the plot was led by Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) Congressman Roberto d'Aubuisson, and involved a retired Salvadoran colonel and two individuals with alleged links to anti-Castro bombings in the 1990s.

According to Salvadoran news site El Faro, Jaua said intelligence agents had intercepted a conversation between d'Aubuisson and a Salvadoran mercenary, and that the full recording would be released in the hours following the interview. So far, this has not happened.

In a press conference yesterday, d’Aubuisson called the allegations “lies” and “slander,” and accused the Venezuelan leader of distracting public attention from domestic issues. While the congressman maintains that he took part in no such sinister conversation, El Faro reports that the leader of his ARENA party is using the charge to question whether El Salvador’s ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) party is illegally wiretapping political opponents.

The credibility of Maduro’s claim appears suspect, as just weeks ago he made a similar statement about an alleged assassination plot against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, which he said was being planned by the CIA along with former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega and former Bush administration official Otto Reich. The AP reports that Capriles has called the two conspiracy theories "contradictory and ridiculous.”

In all likelihood, the most recent announcement is a likely bid by Maduro to rally his Venezuelan United Socialist Party (PSUV) base one last time ahead of this Sunday’s elections. While his victory is almost guaranteed, high voter turnout will be key to maximizing his lead, which will in turn help him claim a clear electoral mandate moving forward.

News Briefs
  • After Analisis24.com ran a story claiming that the Venezuelan military, through its National Militia, would be deployed to mobilize voters this Sunday, Franciso Toro of the overtly anti-Chavez Caracas Chronicles blog called up neighborhood PSUV activists and militia members and questioned them about their role in the upcoming elections. Without fail, respondents said that the militia would be strictly limited to providing security at polling stations, and Toro concedes that there is no evidence to suggest it will be used in coordination with the PSUV’s efforts to get out the vote.
  • Colombia’s Semana magazine has an interesting article on President Juan Manuel Santos’s visit to the gritty Bogota neighborhood known as the “Bronx” last week with Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro. Although the two are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Santos praised Petro’s efforts to reduce crime in the neighborhood by pairing social programs with law enforcement operations, a strategy which has seen a significant drop in homicides.
  • President Santos and Petro will appear together again today in a scheduled peace march in Bogota, which El Tiempo reports is set to be “one of the biggest public demonstrations that the capital city has seen in recent history.” Reuters reports that in a televised speech ahead of tomorrow’s march, Santos accused those opposed to the ongoing peace talks in Havana of “poisoning” the effort.
  • Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who is running for re-election in Chile, has promised to reform taxes in order to reform the country’s education system, saying this is a “fundamental issue” for her presidency, La Tercera reports. It remains to be seen whether her campaign has the support of the country’s highly organized student movement, however. The paper claims that the first test of this will likely come at a student rally scheduled for this Thursday.
  • Guatemalan President Otto Perez has strongly denied recent allegations that he had any part in abuses committed in the Guatemalan Civil War, but the Associated Press reports that this has failed to stem discussion of the accusations in local media. According to Prensa Libre, in his denial of the testimony Perez admitted to being present in the municipality of Nebaj -- where Hugo Ramiro Leonardo Reyes said the atrocities he described took place -- but claimed he never took part in any abuses.
  • Mexico’s Vanguardia and the Inter Press Service report that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto will likely deploy members of the military to help collect socioeconomic data to support a newly-launched anti-hunger program, known as the National Crusade Against Hunger. The IPS suggests that allegations that the army has committed widespread human rights abuses may make this a controversial move, although polling data suggests the military is the country’s most trusted national institution.
  • The BBC reports that the trial of police accused of perpetrating Brazil’s most notorious prison massacre, in which 111 inmates were shot at close range in 1992, has adjourned after one of the jurors said she felt sick, but will be resumed next week.
  • The New York Times reports that the United States Treasury Department announced on Monday that it will investigate a recent visit to Havana by musical couple Jay-Z and Beyonce to determine whether it violated the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
  • In another strange tie-in between pop culture and regional politics, Suriname parliamentarian and former rebel Ronnie Brunswijk announced he would seek to run in the country’s 2015 elections on Saturday after seizing a microphone at a concert by U.S. rapper Rick Ross, according to the Associated Press.
  • EFE looks at Paraguayan presidential candidate Efrain Alegre’s creative use of his name for campaign material ahead of elections on April 21. Billboards and t-shirts across the country bear slogans like “Paraguay Alegre” and “Mujeres Alegres,” in a phenomenon the Spanish news agency refers to as “Alegremania.” Recent polls show that Alegre is cutting into the lead of his main rival, Horacio Cartes, although he still trailing by 6 points. For a more thorough look at poll numbers in Paraguay, see James Bosworth’s analysis of the race.

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