Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Venezuela’s Post-Election Conflict Approaches Full-Blown Political Crisis

With both the Maduro and Capriles camps employing highly divisive and hostile rhetoric, Venezuela’s political climate appears increasingly volatile, though the opposition candidate’s decision to cancel a planned march today may mark a first step towards de-escalating the conflict.

The fallout from Nicolas Maduro’s razor-thin victory margin in Sunday’s presidential election continued yesterday, as the president-elect sought to consolidate his claim to the office and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles continued to refuse to recognize the results until a full recount of paper ballots is held. As Venezuela expert David Smilde of the Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog notes, however, Capriles has yet to present an official complaint to the National Electoral Council (CNE), opting instead to promote his demand for an audit through mass mobilizations.

While he has urged supporters to use peaceful methods of protest, some of these have turned violent and even deadly. Venezuela’s chief prosecutor announced that at least 61 people had been injured in protests, and 7 had been killed.

The violence, paired with Maduro’s accusation that Capriles is orchestrating a coup, has led Capriles to distance himself from violent and confrontational protests. In a press conference yesterday he announced that he would be canceling a planned march to the CNE headquarters in Caracas today, claiming that it would have played into the government’s agenda. According to the opposition leader, intelligence agents had informed him that the Maduro administration was planning on “infiltrating” the march. "To all my followers...this is a peaceful quarrel. Whoever is involved in violence is not part of this project, is not with me," he told reporters. Instead, he urged supporters to continue holding cacerolazo rallies throughout the country.

Capriles’ cancellation of today’s march may defuse some of the immediate tension in the country, but on the institutional side the level of political divisiveness appears insurmountable.  El Universal reports that National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) yesterday refused to grant the floor to an opposition congressman who did not recognize Maduro as the rightful president-elect, and another opposition lawmaker claimed that he and his colleagues had been physically attacked by PSUV members of the Assembly. 

To further complicate things, Maduro has warned that he will not recognize Capriles’ status as governor of Miranda state, and threatened to bypass him to allocate federal resources “directly to the people,” according to VTV. In response, the opposition leader told CNN Español that Maduro should recognize him not as a governor, “but as President.”


News Briefs
  • The Venezuelan government has announced that Maduro’s swearing in ceremony will be held on Friday, and the fact that delegates from 15 countries (including officials from Honduras, Argentina, Haiti, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic and China) will attend suggests that it will be difficult for Capriles to continue to refuse to recognize Maduro’s presidency for much longer.
  • A State Department spokesman yesterday told the press that it is “difficult to understand” why the CNE has certified the victory of Maduro, although he stopped short of saying the U.S. would not recognize a Maduro government.
  • El Nacional has obtained fact sheet distributed by the Capriles campaign which alleges several “irregularities” in Sunday’s elections, although some of these are suspect. One example it provides is the existence of more than 1,000 voting centers where Maduro won more votes than Capriles by an overwhelming majority, in some cases by at least 500% more votes. Considering the level of support for the PSUV among lower class Venezuelans, it is difficult to see this as evidence of fraud.  
  • According to the Associated Press, some 700 indigenous Brazilians pare occupying part of the country’s lower house of Congress in protest against a proposed amendment which would give lawmakers a say in defining the boundaries of indigenous lands. The protesters are demanding that the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Henrique Eduardo Alves, abandon his decision to form a commission to consider the amendment.
  • The L.A. Times profiles the failure of Mexico’s “Operation Cleanup,” an investigation launched in 2008 to crack down on high-level government collusion with organized crime but which has hit a wall due to systemic corruption and the country’s rickety justice system.
  • The AP reports that on Tuesday evening the Honduran Congress voted to intervene in the administration of the Interior Ministry for 60 days, and has suspended several top public prosecutors for this period in a stated attempt to improve the ministry and address the country’s widespread insecurity. According to La Prensa, the ministry’s responsibilities will be carried out by a special congressional oversight committee.
  • Guatemala’s Plaza Publica highlights two examples of apparently paid campaigns meant to delegitimize the trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, consisting of statements by former guerrillas, academics and businessmen who claim that the ruler is not guilty of crimes against humanity and acted only to defend his country.
  • In Foreign Affairs, Oliver Kaplan and Michael Albertus look at the importance of land reform to peace talks between Colombia’s FARC rebels and the government. The two argue that the government should make concessions on the issue of foreign involvement in industrial agriculture in order to ensure a lasting peace in the country.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has released its 2012 Annual Report. While Colombia has been taken off of the IACHR’s so called “blacklist” of countries which are perceived to warrant special mention, the report singles out in Venezuela, Cuba and Honduras for human rights violations.