Monday, July 28, 2014

No Sign of Rebellion in Venezuela’s Ruling Party Congress

Despite indicators of growing dissatisfaction with President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV), he appears to have consolidated support among delegates at the party’s national congress.

When Maduro fired longtime planning minister Jorge Giordani last month, the dismissal angered some on the left in the PSUV, which in turn sparked a wave of speculation over a potential  split emerging in the party (See the AP and the Economist’s Intelligence Unit).  But at the PSUV’s third national congress, which kicked off on Saturday, no signs of this division have emerged.

As El Universal reports, one of the congress’s first moves was to elect Maduro the new head of the party, and to name the deceased Hugo Chavez its “eternal leader.” In his address to party delegates, the president made an apparent veiled reference to internal division between more moderate PSUV members and leftists. According to Ultimas Noticias, Maduro called on the party to organize itself against both “internal and external threats,” adding that the path forward was not through “dying leftism or sellout reformism.”

Reuters suggests that the main reasons for the lack of visible dissent at the PSUV Congress was low turnout in the election of delegates, and the fact that candidates supported by the Maduro administration had more resources to campaign.

Still, Venezuela analyst David Smilde suggests that the congress should not be interpreted as proof that Maduro has overcome opposition within his party. While he believes the government managed to “domesticate” the congress, Smilde told the news agency that Maduro will inevitably face problems when it attempts to implement economic reforms in the near future.

“They are going to sidestep the difficult questions. Then in August they will do what they have to. What they have in mind is slow change, like turning a big ship,” Smilde told Reuters.

News Briefs
  • After his detention in Aruba on Thursday, former Venezuelan military intelligence chief General Hugo Carvajal has been returned to Venezuela after a Dutch court ruled on Sunday that he was eligible for diplomatic immunity.  The Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal note that if Carvajal, who had been arrested at the request of U.S. authorities, had been extradited it may have led to revelations of high-level drug trafficking links within the Venezuelan government.
  • Following U.S. President Barack Obama’s meeting with three Central American presidents in the White House on Friday, all four leaders issued a joint statement pledging to “address the underlying causes of migration by reducing criminal activity and promoting greater social and economic opportunity.” But no new aid packages were announced, and the AP reports that Obama “played down” a proposed program that would make it easier for Hondurans to apply for refugee status from their home country. The New York Times notes that after the meeting Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez echoed previous calls for the U.S. to recognize its own demand for drugs as a contributor to the spike in migration.
  • Recent days have seen continued publication of excellent op-eds on the surge in unaccompanied child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.  In the Miami Herald, Jose Miguel Cruz argues that the root of the problem lies not only in the lack of immigration reform or the northward flow of drugs, but in the failure to build transparent and effective judicial institutions in Central America despite billions of dollars in international aid meant to strengthen citizen security there. In Politico, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Michael Shifter makes a similar point, arguing that Central American leaders need to be compelled to do more to improve the rule of law and tackle corruption. Saturday’s New York Times featured a column by El Paso county judge Veronica Escobar, who argues that the border “crisis” is myth, highlighting the work of local community organizations and charities in providing shelter and care to migrants in the U.S. southwest.
  • A new poll published by Bolivia’s Pagina Siete on Sunday shows President Evo Morales with a commanding lead over rival candidate and cement magnate Samuel Doria ahead of October elections, with 44.6 percent favoring the president compared to 19.8 percent for Doria.
  • On Thursday, a U.S. federal appeals court in Miami dismissed a mass lawsuit filed by Colombian conflict victims against Chiquita over allegations that the banana company colluded with the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) through a subsidiary in the northwest of the country. According to the AP, the judges ruled 2-1 that they lacked jurisdiction in the case as the alleged crimes occurred outside the U.S. InSight Crime notes that the case sets an important precedent, dealing a major blow to victims’ efforts to hold companies responsible for paying off illegal armed groups in Colombia.
  • Paraguay may become the next country to recognize the International Criminal Court (ICC). BBC Mundo reports that ICC President Sang Hyun Song met with Paraguayan Justice Minister Sheila Abed over the weekend to address potential changes to the country’s criminal code that would be necessary to ratify the Rome Statute, the Court’s founding document.  
  • Uruguayan National Drug Secretary Julio Calzada has announced that the next stage of the country’s marijuana regulation law, issuing licenses for individuals and collectives to grow cannabis plants, will begin in less than a month. According to El Pais, Calzada also gave further details about how authorities intend to keep tabs on licensed marijuana plots, saying that authorities will conduct site visits to ensure that growers possess only the correct number of plants (six plants per household, a maximum of 99 plants for 15-45 member “cannabis clubs”).  As La Republica reports, the government has also officially launched the beginning of a bidding process for those interested in growing the drug for commercial purposes.  The paper also notes that Calzada said officials will be monitoring the impact of the law in three stages:  two years after its implementation, then six years, then twelve years.
  • For the first time since 1996, the Brazilian government recently made significant contact with an isolated indigenous Amazon tribe along the border with Peru, the L.A. Times reports. According to officials and indigenous rights advocates, the contact was made after a combination of violence and disease pushed the community off of their land.
  • The Associated Press today has a long profile of Nicaragua’s “First Comrade” Rosario Murillo, the wife of President Daniel Ortega who has crafted a public image that relies on a unique blend of New Age spiritualism, socialism and Catholicism. As communications chief, Murillo has developed a reputation for strict adherence to official talking points and avoidance of critical journalists. While she is widely considered a potential successor to Ortega, the AP notes that recently-passed reforms allowing indefinite reelection make the president’s departure from office unlikely anytime soon.
  • In a column for Animal Politico, Emilio Carranza Gallardo of Mexican security policy research center Insyde offers a look at the challenges that Mexico’s switch to a more adversarial justice system poses for journalists and media outlets in the country, arguing for greater emphasis on the principle of due process and familiarity with different stages of the new trial system.