Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Capriles Accepts Maduro's Proposed Debate on Corruption in Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles has accepted an offer by President Nicolas Maduro to debate the government’s anti-corruption drive, as the administration seeks new powers to it claims are necessary to double its efforts on this front.

Last week, Maduro announced that he would request the National Assembly to grant him temporary powers to rule by decree. As the Wall Street Journal noted, this was a favorite tactic of Hugo Chavez, who received such authorization four times during his presidency. Maduro claimed he would call “a national emergency in the fight against corruption,” for which he needs the support of 99 out of 165 legislators. This is problematic, as the ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) only has 98 seats.

In a speech on the issue on Saturday, the president proposed a debate with Capriles over recent allegations of corruption against the opposition. Earlier this month the government accused Capriles’ Primero Justicia party of receiving illegal funds and involvement in a prostitution ring, for which officials ordered the arrest of Oscar Lopez, a close aide to Capriles.

“I challenge you to a public debate on the allegations that have been made,” said Maduro. “If you want it can be on officially mandated television, to make this country know the truth and stop the manipulation, to let Venezuela know how the bourgeoisie and the right manage power.”

Capriles has consistently denied that either he or Lopez is guilty of any wrongdoing, and accuses the government of protecting corrupt PSUV officials while persecuting members of the opposition under the guise of an anti-corruption agenda.  El Nacional reports that on Monday, the opposition leader accepted the president’s offer of a debate, asking that he “name a date and time.” He also shot back with his own allegations of corruption against National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello, accusing him of graft during his time as governor of Miranda state, a position now held by Capriles.

The government has yet to respond. If Maduro goes through with his challenge, it will amount to a major shift in strategy for the Chavista camp. Maduro pointedly refused Capriles’ offers to debate during the lead-up to elections in April, just as Chavez did before him. Considering that Maduro has so far demonstrated a lack of charisma and public speaking skills compared to his predecessor, a debate might represent a major liability for his government.

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan rights group Provea has released a deeply critical assessment of the human rights performance of the country’s armed forces. Although the government claims Venezuela’s military is dedicated to its human rights commitments, Provea asserts that the government has not devoted sufficient resources to prevent violations by members of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB). Since January 2012, FANB personnel have been implicated in at least 21 cases of deprivation of the right to life. While Provea acknowledges that government prosecutors have proved to be committed to investigating these incidents, the organization argues that the state should design and implement a permanent human rights training program for all members of both the police and military.
  • After a massive cross-sector workers' strike kicked off yesterday throughout Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos sought to downplay the protests. Semana reports that the president said the mobilizations “did not have the expected magnitude” even as the Wall Street Journal described them as “among the biggest labor protests in Colombia in years”  and the Miami Herald claims they “threaten to paralyze the country.” Meanwhile, in the latest installment in a continuing series meant to map out the power elites (or “super poderosos”) in the country, La Silla Vacia has the top ten most influential figures among Colombia’s social movements.  The list includes labor leaders, indigenous groups and leftist politicians. Somewhat controversially, it also includes FARC operatives, which the news site are looking to left-wing protest groups for post-conflict political support.
  • In a communiqué released yesterday, Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas have announced that they will release a Canadian mining company employee that they had kidnapped in January. El Tiempo reports that this is the fourth time that the rebel group has announced its intention to free the Canadian citizen, and it requested that security forces “not to serve as obstacles” to the release. Reuters notes that the individual’s employer, Braeval Mining Corporation, announced it would not seek to develop mining projects in the area, which had been a condition of the ELN for the release.
  • The Washington Post examines the changed playing field ahead of Brazil’s next presidential elections. Although President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election looked almost guaranteed in the first half of this year, her inability to rally public opinion after June’s wave of protests has left her vulnerable to the opposition. As such, many supporters of her Workers’ Party are hoping that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva might decide to run again in October 2014.
  • El Salvador’s El Faro offers an overview of the country’s newly-created Institute of Access to Public Information. While the government launched the institute created six months ago, it has no budget to hire a staff, let alone cover its operating expenses. What’s more, its head is a business administrator with absolutely no familiarity with the country’s legal code, something which critics say deeply hampers its effectiveness.
  • Ecuador’s El Comercio reports that President Rafael Correa is facing growing calls to place his recent decision to open up an Amazon reserve to oil drilling up for a national referendum. The president has challenged environmental and indigenous rights groups to gather the necessary signatures to organize a vote on the issue, although he has made it clear that he will take no part in such an effort. He tweeted that if the necessary signatures, he would propose that newspapers be limited to only digital format, “to save paper and avoid so much indiscriminate cutting of trees.” While the remark was clearly meant to be ironic, it was reported by the AP under the ominous headline: “Ecuador leader may insist on digital-only dailies.”
  • In response to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposal to reform the country’s monopoly over oil production, lawmakers of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) have positioned themselves firmly against it. On Monday, PRD founder Cuauhtemoc Cardenas criticized the president’s plan, saying it would leave the country vulnerable to foreign exploitation. Instead, he suggested an eight-point counterproposal which would tackle the bureaucracy charged with managing state oil company PEMEX. Proceso reports that the PRD proposal would require changes to only 12 laws, whereas the president’s plan would require an amendment to the Constitution. The L.A. Times notes that the PRD leader also said that, if Peña Nieto’s reform is passed, his party would attempt to reverse it through a national referendum, which would be triggered if it gathers signatures from two percent of the electorate, or some 600,000 people.
  • The AP reports that members of a vigilante self-defense group in Michoacan state are demanding that the government release 44 of its members, who were arrested last week on weapons charges. The group’s lawyer claims that that his clients have no criminal intent, and are providing much needed security that the state has been unable to guarantee.
  • The Paraguayan government has sent troops to the north of the country, where members of the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), a small left-wing guerrilla group, killed five security guards over the weekend. ABC Digital reports that President Horacio Cartes has said that the troops are there to serve only to support for police, not a substitute for law enforcement, although officials say there is no timeline for the deployment.

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