Monday, December 9, 2013

Maduro Declares Victory in Venezuela's Municipal Elections

While the opposition won several key races in yesterday’s municipal elections in Venezuela, candidates allied with the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) won a majority of the total ballots cast, allowing President Nicolas Maduro to spin the vote as an electoral victory.

With 97 percent of the votes counted, Venezuelan election officials announced last night that the PSUV and allied parties won 49.24 percent of ballots, whereas the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and its allies won 42.72 percent. According to the National Electoral Council, turnout was around 58 percent.

El Nacional reports that the MUD won mayoral races in the cities of Maracaibo, Valencia and Barinas (the capital of Hugo Chavez’s home state). It also won the Metropolitan District of Caracas, giving it control over a total of five of the six municipal seats that govern the capital city. The PSUV held on to Libertador, the largest of Caracas’ five municipalities.

Despite losing several high-profile contests, the government is touting the fact that the PSUV maintained a majority of municipal seats. According to the state-run Correo del Orinoco, the PSUV now controls 210 of the country’s 337 mayoralties.  

In a triumphant speech following the release of preliminary results, Maduro described the election as a “grand victory.”  He also called on Capriles to “recognize that he has been defeated once again” and resign from his position as the head of the MUD.  The forceful tone of Maduro’s speech stood in stark contrast to his gloomy address following his narrow win in elections last April, in which he and supporters appeared somber and almost bewildered by his lack of a clear electoral mandate. Capriles, meanwhile, gave a less celebratory speech, remarking that the results showed that Venezuelans “have a divided country, and this divided country belongs to all of us.”

At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, David Smilde offers this concise take on the municipal elections:
This result clearly gives Maduro some breathing room. Compared to where he was two months ago, with a government in a tail spin, he now looks like he is in control, having gotten past a major hurdle. The opposition clearly did not get the big plebiscite win that it sought. But it is in reasonable shape with a good showing in popular vote despite all of the campaign inequities. They gained ground in number of mayors and control many important capitals. This will give them space to provide an alternative model of governance and maintain their public profile. Maduro has gained some breathing room but 2014 is guaranteed to be a difficult year.
More analysis from the Wall Street Journal and The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, the latter of which notes that Maduro  “now seems more firmly entrenched as president,” and is thus “more likely than not to complete his six-year term.”

News Briefs
  • On Sunday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced they would implement a unilateral, 30-day ceasefire starting on December 15. Semana and the BBC note that the announcement came one day after a bomb attack on a police station in Cauca province, killing nine. In their statement, the FARC called on the government to honor the truce as well, but El Colombiano  reports that President Juan Manuel Santos said in the wake of the Cauca bombing that the military would continue to go after the rebels. 
  • Former Honduran President and head of the LIBRE Party Manuel Zelaya officially requested that the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) nullify the results of the recent general elections, La Prensa reports. Zelaya said that his party found clear evidence of irregularities in the electoral process, calling the vote a “transparent fraud.”
  • The New York Times looks at changing attitudes towards criticism of the Cuban government in state media and at official venues, which has become increasingly common on the island. Still, the paper notes that the there are consequences for those who “cross the line between loyal criticism and dissent,” with human rights groups claiming 761 short-term arrests of dissidents in November alone.
  • During a visit to Brazil over the weekend, Bill Clinton gave an interesting interview to leading daily O Globo. In addition to endorsing Brazil’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat, the ex-president expressed criticism of the recent revelations about the NSA’s surveillance activity in the South American country. In reference to the NSA’s alleged monitoring of Petrobras, Clinton remarked: “We should not obtain economyic information under the pretext of security. Not with an ally.”
  • InSight Crime features a post on public perception of Rio de Janeiro's Police Pacification Units (UPPs) by Robson Rodrigues, an consultant to the Rio-based Igarape Institute. Despite recent protests against police abuses in the city, Rodrigues cites polls which show that the UPPs are generally well-received among favela inhabitants. Still, he argues that it is time for the police units to adopt a more specific mandate and tighter operating procedures.
  • On Friday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) released a report detailing its preliminary observations during its visit to the Dominican Republic last week to observe the effects of the  recent ruling on nationality. The IACHR determined that an “undetermined but very significant number” of Dominicans had been “arbitrarily deprived of their nationality,” and called on Dominican officials to take measures to safeguard the rights of those affected.  The Listin Diario reports that the Dominican Foreign Ministry rejected the IACHR’s findings, issuing a press statement describing the commission’s report as a “subjective, partial and unilateral version of the reality in our country.”
  • As Uruguay’s Senate gears prepares to vote on a landmark marijuana regulation bill in its session tomorrow, the Financial Times has an overview of the details of the bill and profiles excitement for the measure among marijuana enthusiasts in the country. As a refresher: the bill was approved in the Senate Health Committee earlier this month exactly as it passed in the lower house, with no amendments. It will authorize cultivation for personal consumption of up to 6 plants per household, and commercial production of marijuana will be carried out by private entities that are licensed by the state. The commercially-grown marijuana will be sold in pharmacies to Uruguayan citizens only, who can purchase up to 40 grams per month. The AFP reports that the bill has neighboring Argentina and Brazil concerned about the potential for cross-border spillover of the drug. Still, the news agency notes that the possibility of Uruguay becoming a marijuana exporting nation is remote, as the black market is dominated by Paraguayan cannabis.
  • In other drug policy news, Mexico’s El Universal has obtained the details of a proposed bill by local lawmakers of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) to decriminalize consumption of small amounts of marijuana in Mexico City. According to the paper, the bill would set up dispensaries around the city which would provide users with safe access to the drug, as well as information about the associated risks and how to seek treatment for addiction.
  • Mexican authorities detained six men suspected of stealing a shipment of hazardous radioactive material last week. Only one tested positive for signs of radiation poisoning, and officials in Hidalgo say he is in good health. 

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