Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Venezuela's Maduro Seeks Decree Powers

While Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said that his request for lawmakers to grant him decree powers for 12 months is necessary to root out corruption and economic “sabotage,” it may have more to do with strengthening his hold on power.

In a three-hour speech to the National Assembly yesterday evening, he urged legislators to pass the so-called “Enabling Law,” saying it would be necessary to construct “a new political ethic” and “transform the economy.” The BBC reports that the president stressed that he intended to crack down on corruption across the political spectrum, including among members of his own United Socialist Party (PSUV).

As Spain’s El Pais points out, however, Maduro did not list the specific measures he would implement if granted the authority to rule by decree.

Temporary authorization to rule by decree was a favorite tactic of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, who received it four times during his presidency. The last time his PSUV majority granted special powers, Chavez claimed it was to provide more effective and rapid aid to victims of devastating floods in 2010. But opponents accused him of abusing the authorization to attack the opposition.

This time around, Maduro is facing the same criticism. Venezuelan political analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos told the Wall Street Journal that he expects the president to use decree authority to “legitimize policies of political oppression and judicial persecution of the opposition” ahead of municipal elections in December, in which the opposition is expected to make significant gains against the PSUV.  Opposition leader Henrique Capriles also accused the president of seeking to use the law to persecute members of his Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) party, as well as “to distract Venezuelans from the real problems” in the country.

According to Reuters, a vote on whether to grant Maduro decree powers is scheduled for next week. For it to pass, the bill must be supported by 99 of the National Assembly’s 165 legislators. Although the PSUV only has 98 seats, it is expected to gain the support of at least one opposition lawmaker.

In addition to using new powers to delegitimize the opposition, some also see Maduro’s request as part of a bid to circumvent opposition to his administration within the government, among PSUV members who see him as incapable of filling Chavez’s shoes. As Venezuela politics expert David Smilde told the Financial Times, “There is a lot of discontent within the government at all levels, among people who think he does not have the power and vision to make the Chávez project work.” With decree powers, Maduro could cement his authority within the PSUV, neutralizing the critics in his own party.

Perhaps as an illustration of this divide, on Tuesday the Maduro administration announced that finance minister Nelson Merentes, widely seen as a pragmatic policymaker, would be replaced as vice president for economic policy by Rafael Ramirez, the oil minister believed to be more of an ideological purist.  

News Briefs
  • Peruvian judge Diego Garcia-Sayan Larrabure, the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, told reporters in a press conference on Monday that he believed the growing reliance on militaries to provide internal security in Latin America is a legitimate policy option, at least in certain cases. El Universal reports that a reporter asked him to weigh in on Mexico’s reliance on the armed forced to take on criminal structures in the country. While Garcia-Sayan refused to comment on the specifics of security policy in Mexico, he expressed limited support for the deployment of the military to fight crime. “Of course, in emergency situations international law allows for the application of certain restrictions, including -- in certain circumstances and locations -- the use of military institutions,” said the judge. “Naturally, the professional bodies charged with the prevention and management of internal security, are and should be police authorities, but this does not necessarily delegitimize the use of other state apparatuses to restore order in certain circumstances.” InSight Crime claims that the statement could have alarming implications for human rights advocates in the region, many of whom look to the Inter-American Court as the only available recourse to challenge military abuses in their countries.
  • A new poll by Salvadoran pollster Data Research has found that FMLN candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren is the most popular candidate ahead of February’s presidential election, with 30.4 percent support among likely voters. He is followed by conservative candidates Tony Saca and Norman Quijano, with 25.5 and 25.2 percent, respectively. The poll found that while Sanchez Ceren would likely beat Quijano in a second round, he would lose to Saca by three points.
  • The AP has an excellent feature story on the changing definition of what it means to be a “Cuban exile” in the United States. In contrast to the first wave of Cuban migrants to the U.S., most of those who leave Cuba today do not see themselves as fleeing political persecution. Additionally, thanks to Cuba’s changed immigration laws, they often return to the island to visit family.
  • The New York Times reports that a group of human rights advocates in Haiti say they are filing a lawsuit against the United Nations, claiming that international peacekeeping forces first introduced a deadly cholera outbreak three years ago. Despite repeated forensic studies tracing the disease to Nepalese members of the UN peacekeeping force, the international organization has not admitted responsibility for the epidemic. The lawsuit names five Haitian cholera victims as its plaintiffs, and will be filed in a Manhattan court today by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.
  • The Guardian has an interview with intrepid Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and her proven willingness to take on powerful criminal interests in the country.  While Paz y Paz’s term is coming to an end next year, she is confident that she has made an impact on Guatemala’s shaky judicial institutions. Additionally, she told the paper she takes pride in the passage of recent legislation targeting violence against women. “Until 10 years ago, aggression against women did not exist as a crime in Guatemala. It was seen as a private affair. Now two laws have been passed in which violence against women is a specific crime. The justice system is now seen as a new place for women to go to,” she told the paper.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner successfully underwent surgery yesterday to remove a blood clot close to her brain. While the administration has claimed the president will be ready to resume her authority in a month’s time, the AP reports that medical experts are split over whether she will have recovered by then.  Some claim she will need at least three months to fully recover from the operation, and say there is a possibility she may have sustained brain damage as a result of the procedure. Meanwhile, Vice President Amado Boudou is overseeing the government, and the Washington Post notes that he lacks the same legitimacy due to the fact that he is the subject of a corruption investigation.
  • A bill to protect Chile’s glaciers by banning mining in glacial areas has sparked bitter debate in the country’s congress. While environmentalists say the measure is necessary to protect Chile’s water supply, mining industry experts say it threatens the future of copper and gold mining projects.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that a U.S. judge has ruled that there are no longer any grounds for a jury trial in Chevron’s lawsuit against lawyer Steven Donziger other representatives of Ecuadorean villagers who successfully won $19 billion in environmental damages against the corporation in an Ecuadorean case in 2011. The decision was made after Chevron agreed not to pursue monetary damages against the defendants, though instead the company will seek to prevent Ecuadorean prosecutors from going after its assets in other countries.
  • Colombian authorities have arrested Sor Teresa Gomez, the wife of a half-brother of AUC paramilitary leaders Fidel, Vicente and Carlos Castaño. In 2011, Gomez was convicted of ordering the murder of a peasant leader in Cordoba province who challenged the Castaños’ claims to stolen land. According to El Tiempo, she managed the finance of paramilitary groups in Cordoba and oversaw a mass illicit land grab in Cordoba in the 1990s. The paper reports that she also went on to become a “financial leader” of the Urabeños neo-paramilitary gang after the AUC demobilized in 2006.
  • While it was widely reported last month that Colombia agreed to pay Ecuador $15 million to settle a lawsuit filed before the International Court of Justice in response to damages caused by anti-coca fumigation on Ecuadorean territory, the details of the agreement were not published. According to journalist Laura Gil, this was an attempt to minimize criticism of the Colombian government’s use of glyphosate, a pesticide linked to kidney damage and other harmful side effects. News site La Silla Vacia has obtained a copy of the agreement, and points out that it effectively amounts to a recognition by Colombian authorities that its use in aerial fumigation programs exposes thousands of rural citizens to the pesticide. As a result of the agreement, these programs will be subjected to new regulations along the Ecuadorean border, but they will not be applied in the rest of the country.