Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Maduro Begins Regional Tour to Secure Legitimacy

With the legitimacy of his government still under fire from members of the opposition, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has embarked on his first international tour in a bid to boost his profile and cement his authority. He will visit three Mercosur countries: Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, the presidents of which recognized his victory shortly after the April 14 elections and attended his swearing-in ceremony on April 19.

Because Venezuela will assume the rotating chair of Mercosur this year, the trip could be seen as a part of this process. But the fact that this is not set to take place until late June suggests the tour is more about demonstrating international support for his government to a domestic audience than improving regional ties.

Maduro arrives in Montevideo, Uruguay this morning, where he will meet with President Jose Mujica as well as former President (and likely front-runner in next year’s general election) Tabare Vazquez, El Observador reports. Both presidents have traditionally been on good terms with the Venezuelan government, a trend which will almost certainly continue if Vazquez wins in October 2014. Maduro is also expected to meet with the mayor of Montevideo, Ana Olivera, who will present him with the key to the capital city.

But Maduro’s visit is not without controversy. Lawmakers from both the opposition National and Colorado parties are protesting his arrival, accusing the government of backing potentially fraudulent elections and “legitimizing” the Maduro administration. This is likely a taste of what will happen in Argentina and Brazil, as opposition politicians there have also echoed the grievances of the Venezuelan opposition.  

Even President Mujica has signalled that Maduro may not have his unequivocal support. The website of the Venezuelan presidency quoted him yesterday as accusing the Venezuelan press of “media inflation” of the situation there, and framed it as an endorsement of Maduro.

However, his full remark is also slightly critical of the government, as he follows the accusation with an apparent call for Maduro to put his head down, ignore the criticism and devote himself to his office. “Those who are in control of the government should put a secondary emphasis public controversy and fully prioritize to management and the job at hand. The most important thing is to face the problems that people have to try to solve them,” Mujica said.

Whether or not Maduro will follow his advice, and commit himself to the business of governing instead of responding directly to the opposition’s every move, will have to wait until the Venezuelan president returns from Brazil on Friday.

News Briefs

  • The trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt is set to begin again this morning, where there is a change that it will be suspended once again in order for the tribunal to address violations of the rights of the accused, identified by a higher court last week. Plaza Publica and The Open Society Justice Initiative have more on the technical status of the trial. 
  • After Maduro accused former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe of plotting to kill him on Saturday, another former Colombian president has called on his country’s current leader, President Juan Manuel Santos, to step up and defend Uribe. Vanguardia reports that former president Andres Pastrana called on Santos to “break the silence” and condemn Maduro’s remarks. This would be an unexpected move from Santos, as the current president is currently engaged in a highly public feud with Uribe. In response to the allegations, Uribe has announced he intends to take his case against Maduro to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
  • The government of Brazil has begun negotiations to hire 6,000 Cuban doctors to work in the country’s rural areas, according to Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. BBC reports that Brazil’s Federal Medical Council has opposed the move as a strategy of shoring up support for the government ahead of next year’s elections, in which President Dilma Rousseff will seek re-election.
  • Mercopress reports that Bolivia has completed its application for full membership to Mercosur, meaning that its admission to the trading bloc will now have to be approved by the legislatures of current member states.  Meanwhile, the government of Ecuador has begun negotiations to become a full member as well. Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa announced that the initial stage will last “eight to ten months,” and hopes that an agreement will by then.
  • The Washington Post looks at the proposal by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to end the state monopoly on oil production in the country, which remains a source of national pride for many Mexicans. The president is expected to present a plan to overhaul the state run oil company PEMEX by late summer, which will be a difficult political feat.  
  • Peña Nieto has ordered Mexican law enforcement to investigate the murder of two adult sons of a pair of journalists in the northern border state of Chihuahua, despite the fact that local officials say they believe the profession of the parents was not a motive in the crime.
  • The minor diplomatic crisis which broke out between Peru and Ecuador last week has come to a close. The affair, which began after Ecuador refused to recall its ambassador to Peru after he was accused of hitting two women in a Lima supermarket, was resolved on Monday after both governments agreed to name new ambassadors to the other country.
  • The New York Times features a story on the training process of elite Brazilian jungle commando units. The Jungle Warfare Instruction Center in the Brazilian Amazon has developed an international reputation, and now accepts military units from across the developing world looking for combat expertise in jungle terrain.
  • After a U.S. federal judge ruled that convicted Cuban spy Rene Gonzalez may stay in Cuba (which he visited in order to attend his father’s funeral) if he renounced his American citizenship, Gonzalez has now done so. Gonzalez was one of the “Cuban Five,” a ring of spies that U.S. authorities uncovered in 1998 who have since become celebrated figures in the island country.