Con una inflación de 56%, un índice de escasez de alimentos básicos en 26,2%, una tasa de homicidio de 70 asesinatos por cada 100 mil habitantes, y un dólar que se cambia en el mercado negro por un precio siete veces mayor al valor oficial, Venezuela inicia 2014 con una crisis política que, temporalmente, parece opacar los problemas económicos y sociales que se han agudizado en el último quinquenio.
El reciente minuto a minuto de la historia venezolana parece una novela que se quedó acéfala, un guión cuyo escritor abandonó la historia a mitad de la trama y fue reemplazado con improvisación. El 12 de febrero, en el marco de festejos por el día de la juventud, centenas de estudiantes salieron a las calles a protestar contra un Gobierno con el cual no se sienten identificados. Nadie lo vio venir, pero en cuestión de horas, la protesta se volvió un polvorín que terminó con tres personas muertas—dos estudiantes y un simpatizante del oficialismo. La aclaratoria es necesaria para hablar de un país en el cual hasta la vida humana se cuenta a través de la polarización.
Leopoldo López, dirigente político de la oposición, participó activamente en la protesta estudiantil, defendiendo ir a la calle como un método de presión política contra el Gobierno nacional. Su liderazgo en esta manifestación fue calificado como “polémico” por quienes creen que la moderación debía imperar para evitar la radicalización de un movimiento que lleva 15 años cuestionando los designios de la llamada “revolución bolivariana.” El opositor Henrique Capriles Radonski, gobernador del estado Miranda, y ex candidato presidencial, afirmó dos días antes que el movimiento iniciado por López, bautizado como “La salida,” creaba “expectativas de cosas que no se iban a lograr.”
Likely top stories this week: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s U.S. visit remains pending; Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel hit Mexico; U.S. Vice President Joe Biden cancels Panama trip but will still go to Mexico; Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles visits Miami; Peruvian congressman files a bill to approve same-sex civil unions.
Dilma Still Weighing State Visit to United States: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's office said in a statement on Sunday that the president has not yet decided whether she will cancel a visit to the United States that was scheduled for October 23. A spokesperson said Sunday that Rousseff is awaiting a report from Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido, who traveled to Washington DC last week to seek an explanation for alleged U.S. spying on the Brazilian government by the U.S. National Security Agency. Figuereido is expected to meet with Rousseff on Tuesday to discuss the visit.
Hurricane, Tropical Storm Batter Mexico: Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel have killed at least 21 people in Mexico as thousands of people were evacuated, starting on Friday, to avoid flooding and mudslides. While Manuel hit Mexico's Pacific coast, Hurricane Ingrid battered the Gulf Coast and is expected to make landfall on Monday in the State of Taumaulipas. The Mexican government said Sunday that the State of Guerrero has been hardest-hit, with 14 confirmed deaths. A number of Mexican towns and cities have cancelled Monday’s Independence Day celebrations in light of the dangerous weather conditions.
Biden Cancels Trip to Panama, but not Mexico: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will make a planned trip to Mexico at the end of the week but has cancelled a visit to Panama, where he was expected to visit the Panama Canal expansion project and meet with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Instead, Biden will return to Washington DC mid-week to focus on Syria, and then travel to Mexico as scheduled on September 19 and 20 for a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. This will be Biden’s fifth trip to Latin America since he became vice president.
Capriles Visits Miami: Venezuelan opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles addressed thousands of Venezuelans living in the U.S. during a speech at Miami Dade College on Sunday. He was also presented with a key to the city of Doral, Florida, which has the largest population of Venezuelan citizens outside of Venezuela. The local Venezuelan population overwhelmingly supported Capriles in the April 14 presidential election. Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused Capriles of conspiring against his government from abroad.
Peru’s Congress May Consider Civil Unions: After Peruvian lawmaker Carlos Bruce presented a bill to legalize same-sex civil unions last Thursday, Peru’s Comisión de Justicia (Justice Commission) must decide whether to approve the bill for a vote in Peru’s Congress. Bruce says that the bill will not consider same-sex marriage, and is intended to grant same-sex couples the same inheritance, pension and social security rights granted to heterosexual couples. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, whose approval rating has hit the lowest point in his two-year presidency at 27 percent in September, has so far declined to comment on the proposed bill.
El 8 de diciembre de 2012, algo cambió en Venezuela. En una alocución pública nacional, Hugo Chávez anunció al país su partida a Cuba para someterse a una operación delicada, justo dos meses después de haber sido reelecto como presidente. Intuyendo lo que podría suceder ante su ausencia, designó como candidato presidencial de su partido a Nicolás Maduro, quien en ese momento fungía como vicepresidente de la República.
Todo parecía indicar que pronto habría nuevas elecciones. Tres meses después, el 5 de marzo de 2013, se anunció el fallecimiento de Hugo Chávez y el inicio de un nuevo período electoral presidencial en menos de 12 meses.
La nueva campaña electoral tuvo una característica inusual: se produjo tras la muerte de un presidente, hecho no antes visto en la historia democrática de Venezuela. Los días de funeral y entierro se utilizaron como el inicio de una campaña que busca conectar sentimentalmente a la base chavista con el candidato Nicolás Maduro, quien a pesar de ser designado personalmente como el sucesor, carece del carisma y el discurso de Hugo Chávez. La promesa de campaña ha sido la de mantener el legado revolucionario y apoyarse en el culto naciente, casi religioso alrededor de la figura de Chávez.
El gran reto de ambos sectores es el de movilizar a las bases del 7 de octubre. El candidato que logre esto con mayor eficiencia, será el ganador de esta contienda, pues en una campaña tan corta no hay mucho tiempo para convencer con propuestas, sino de utilizar elementos que reflejan el “todo o nada.” En solo 10 días de campaña, el esfuerzo comunicacional de ambos comandos a través de los medios de comunicación será determinante para llevar sus mensajes lo más lejos posible.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles kick off their campagins; U.S. business and labor leaders reach an agreement on immigration; Argentina faces a court ruling on its debt; Brazil faces more stadium-related woes; and Venezuela auctions $200 million in foreign currency.
Maduro and Capriles Face Off: Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, said Saturday that opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles was trying to incite violence by scheduling his first campaign rally in Barinas state, the birthplace of the late President Hugo Chávez. Maduro and Capriles had both scheduled rallies on Tuesday to kick off their respective campaigns in Barinas state. On Sunday, Capriles announced that he would move the kickoff of his campaign to Monagas state on Tuesday, and campaign in Barinas on Wednesday.
Business and Labor Groups reach Agreement on Immigration: U.S. business leaders and labor groups have reportedly reached an agreement to implement a guest worker program that would introduce a new type of visa – the “W” visa – for low-skilled, year-round temporary workers. The deal was reached during a conference call on Friday between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO that was convened by Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), who is one of eight senators negotiating an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system. Friday’s deal is a positive sign that the bipartisan group of senators will introduce a broad immigration reform bill within the next few weeks.
Argentina’s Day in Court: A New York court is set to rule at any moment on whether Argentina must pay $1.4 billion to holders of its defaulted debt. Argentina submitted a proposal last week to pay back the debt at a discounted rate. If Argentina is forced to pay the holdout bondholders immediately, the country would owe $43 billion in additional claims. Argentina may still appeal to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a federal law that limits suits against foreign governments.
Another Setback for Brazil’s 2016 Olympics: Brazilian officials suddenly closed Rio de Janeiro’s Engenhão stadium last weekend after declaring the structure unsafe, cancelling a scheduled match between the Botafogo and Vaco da Gama soccer teams in the process. Engenhão is scheduled to host the track and field events in the 2016 Olympic Games, but authorities have said there is a danger that the roof of the stadium could blow off. Meanwhile, Rio officials must find an alternate location for the Confederations Cup in June if repairs to the stadium aren’t completed before then.
Venezuela Auctions Foreign Currency: The Venezuelan government’s decision to auction $200 million in foreign currency to a group of chosen companies last week has triggered a de facto currency devaluation, according to analysts. According to the government, 383 companies participated in an auction under the government’s new Sistema Complementario de Administración de Divisas (Complementary System of Currency Administration—SICAD) plan. The official exchange rate is currently 6.3 Venezuelan bolivars per dollar, but the government did not name the sale price of the dollar in the auction. Investment bank Barclays Capital has said that the government’s decision not to publicize the sale price of the dollar in the auction was a way of “avoiding the political cost of the announcement of a second devaluation.” Venezuelan Finance Minister Jorge Giordani said that the SICAD program will make it possible for individuals to obtain foreign currency with transparency.
Leaders of the Primero Justicia (Justice First—PJ) opposition party in Venezuela vigorously rejected claims of corruption yesterday, after National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello accused three of its members of such on Tuesday and the Assembly summarily agreed to open an investigation to look into the charges. Cabello, a loyalist of President Hugo Chávez, accuses PJ of illegally accepting campaign donations.
Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles, who was PJ’s presidential candidate in last year’s election and chosen in a February 2012 primary to represent an opposition coalition united against Chávez, dismissed the allegations and referred to Cabello as mafia leader Al Capone over Twitter. In a speech yesterday, Capriles told supporters that the ruling party wants “to come after me [and] demoralize you all.”
The opposition fears that chavista politicians are raising these threats in order to scare away private businesspeople from making future campaign donations. Given the lingering uncertainty surrounding Chávez’ health—he has not been seen in public for almost two months, and missed his own inauguration in January—Venezuelan political analyst José Vicente Carrasquero believes that Chávez loyalists are seeking to damage the opposition politically ahead of a possible upcoming election, according to the Associated Press. The Venezuelan Constitution calls for elections within 30 days if Chávez dies or steps down from office.
Caracas, Venezuela - We are just hours away from Venezuela’s Election Day and it is time to relax, sit tight and wait to see if the polls are finally right. The last two weeks of the campaign were crucial for both candidates. However it was Henrique Capriles who took the greatest advantage of the end of the campaign by making his youth and his energy pillars of the visits he made to each state.
Two weeks ago President Hugo Chávez still had yet to visit half of the states in the country as a candidate. That is lot to say given that the campaign has been in progress since July. Although he tried to keep up with Capriles’ pace, speeches in the states where Chávez did visit were no longer than 30 minutes—clear signs of his weak health. Furthermore, his strategy as a speaker oddly shifted as well, deciding to emphasize an acknowledgement of his mistakes and the fact that the revolution is far more important than problems such as insecurity and high inflation.
Venezuela’s electoral body, the Consejo Nacional Electoral, affirmed that the next presidential election will be held on Sunday, October 7, 2012. This announcement came as a surprise to many who had expected the election date to remain in the traditional month of December.
President Hugo Chávez, despite admitting in June that he is battling cancer and having undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy in recent months, will represent his party—Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV)—next year. Last night, Chávez tweeted: “7 October 2012: your destiny is written! We will write another revolutionary victory on your page! We will live and we will conquer!” Some have criticized Chávez for moving up the date since it will reduce the campaign period for his challengers.
On the opposing end, María Corina Machado, a representative for the state of Miranda in the unicameral National Assembly, met with voters today in the state of Zulia to solicit support for her already-declared bid. Machado belongs to the Primero Justicia (Justice First) party, which falls within the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD) opposition bloc. In Zulia, Machado said, “We have to react now with the closer date—389 days remain—to mobilize ourselves and act. Together we work for democracy, security for our family and prosperity for all Venezuelans. We have the will.”
Other declared MUD candidates include: Henrique Capriles, governor of Miranda; Pablo Pérez, governor of Zulia; César Pérez, governor of the state of Táchira; and Antonio Ledezma, mayor of the Caracas metropolitan district. MUD will hold its primary on February 12, 2012, to select a challenger to Chávez.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.