Cindy is Venezuelan and lives in Vietnam. Her husband’s career as a pilot took them to Ho Chi Minh, two and a half hours away from the nearest Venezuelan embassy. For Cindy and her husband, distance is not a restriction to vote in Sunday’s election. Their problem is their official status overseas: with only a tourist visa, they lack legal status abroad—signaling their fate according to Venezuelan law.
Article 124 of the Ley Orgánica de Procesos Electorales (Organic Electoral Processes Law) establishes that those who wish to register to vote abroad must have a proof of residence or “any other element that denotes the legality of their permanence outside of Venezuela”. However, requirements to register have varied from consulate to consulate. Some ask for birth certificates to process registration, others require passports and identification cards issued by the country of residence. As a result, thousands of Venezuelans like Cindy will not be able to exercise their democratic right abroad.
On October 7, voters will cast their ballot at the nearest Venezuelan foreign mission to re-elect President Hugo Chávez or vote in former Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski. To date, 124 of the 127 possible voting centers have begun to get ready for Sunday’s vote. Damascus, Syria, Tel Aviv, Israel, and Asunción, Paraguay, are the exceptions due to political instability or a hiatus in diplomatic relations with Venezuela.
But the biggest obstacle for Venezuelans living outside the country was the closure of the largest voting center abroad. On January 8, 2012, the United States expelled Livia Acosta Noguera, Venezuela’s consul general in Miami. Five days later, Chávez ordered an “administrative close” of the consulate.
With 19,542 registered voters, the voting center in Miami was bigger than any other—including any voting center inside Venezuela itself. In June, however, Venezuela’s electoral authority, the Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE), announced that registrants in Miami could still vote. Except there was one not-so-small caveat: the closest place to do so was at the voting center in New Orleans, Louisiana—two hours away by air and 20 hours away by bus.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the Venezuelan presidential campaigns head into their final stretch; Colombia-FARC talks to begin; South America holds a summit with Arab nations; protests against Michel Martelly in Haiti; and Brazil votes on Sunday in municipal elections.
Venezuela Votes for President: A tight presidential contest comes to a close on Sunday, October 7, as Venezuelans head to the polls to either re-elect President Hugo Chávez or replace him with former Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski. Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of supporters took to the streets in competing rallies through downtown Caracas. However, some electoral activities turned violent: three activists supporting Carpiles Radonski were killed by gunmen in Barinas state over the weekend, drawing a sharp rebuke from the opposition candidate. Several polls indicate that Sunday’s vote will be the closest margin since the Chávez era began.
FARC Peace Talks in Norway: Representatives from the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) will hold an inaugural ceremony this Friday in the Norwegian capital of Oslo to kick off peace negotiations between the two sides. Peace talks were announced in late August by Santos, with an agreement signed in early September that Oslo would be the inaugural site. Norway and Cuba will mediate the negotiations, while Chile and Venezuela will act as observers. “Both President Santos and the much weakened FARC have a lot riding on the success of these negotiations, but Santos in particular has ramped up global expectations after pledging substantial progress at the UN last week. There is reason to be hopeful: the internal dynamics are very different from the failed peace talks a decade ago—and the government has learned from its mistakes at that time,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Summit of South American - Arab countries: This conference, the Cumbre América del Sur – Países Árabes (ASPA), will take place in Lima, Peru, today and tomorrow. This is the third iteration of the summit, which was started by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; the first meeting took place in Brasília, Brazil, in 2005 and the second occurred in Doha, Qatar, in 2009. This week’s meeting was supposed to happen in February 2011, but was postponed after a wave of protests in Egypt during the Arab Spring.
At a rally on Tuesday in the town of La Grita in Táchira state, Henrique Capriles Radonski, the candidate from the opposition’s Democratic Unity coalition, again invited President Hugo Chávez to join him in a debate that would be broadcast on television and radio and would focus on their respective platforms and views for Venezuela’s future. Once again, Chávez refused to debate him.
Capriles emphasized that a debate is important for discussing proposals, among them how to address the violence and insecurity that have led to more than 160,000 deaths in the 14 years of the current government. “”Only one hour, I don’t need five,” he stated, referring to the President’s national messages that often continue for several hours. Chávez’s response: a refusal to debate against “nothing,” dismissing Capriles.
This is not the first time the opposition candidate has called for a public debate. On September 7, he said in a speech in Monagas state: “I challenge them [government officials]. We are going to debate our government proposals. We are going to debate wherever they wish.” The president did not acknowledge this first call for a debate.
The presidential election is 18 days away, and is the fourth time Chávez will face voters. This includes presidential elections in 1998 and 2006 as well as a referendum in 2004. According to Luis Christiansen, president of polling firm Consultores 21, this is the first time in 14 years that the electoral scene looks balanced. His firm’s latest poll indicates that Capriles has 48.1 percent of voter support, with Chávez at 46.2 percent, a slight increase from the firm’s August poll. However, the Consultores 21 poll is the only one that gives the opposition candidate a lead.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay asked the Venezuelan government on Tuesday to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Venezuela’s pronouncement will challenge resolutions recently passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to improve dialogue and cooperation among regional human rights organizations.
Hugo Chavez announced Venezuela’s withdrawal from the IACHR this April after describing the commission as a mechanism of U.S. influence against his country. On August 1, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said that the country’s departure from the Commission will be in effect after one year's notice.
An autonomous branch of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR is the main observer and protector of human rights in the hemisphere. For IACHR Executive Secretary Santiago Canton, the body is “a crucial tool against injustice—exceeding the imagination of its founders and making it a force in the hemisphere and an example in the world.” However, the commission was criticized at the 42nd General Assembly of the OAS in Bolivia where the ALBA bloc—Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua—expressed their willingness to abandon the OAS and create their own regional system.
Pillay’s petition takes place less than a month before the elections in Venezuela, when over 18 million Venezuelans will decide between a fourth term for President Hugo Chávez—in power since 1999—and a new administration under opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski.
Comandante Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías has come a long way since his altar boy days in Barinas state. A landslide victory swept him to the presidency 14 years ago, and there it all began. The election of 1998 allowed Chávez to establish the Bolivarian Revolution, a national plan he developed and polished as a young army officer, and clung to while prisoner after executing a failed coup in 1992 against the Carlos Andrés Pérez administration (1974-1979; 1989-1993).
His rule over Venezuelans has not been without scandal. Populist programs, nationwide subsidies, land seizures and nationalizations, disputes with Colombia and the United States, arms acquisitions from Russia, energy agreements with Iran, and close ties with Gadaffi´s Libya, Belarus, China and Cuba have both earned Chávez aficionados and foes. Through charisma and organization he won the election in 1998, beat a coup in 2002, defeated a referendum in 2004, and was re-elected again in 2006. This year, he wants six more years in high office.
Luck and charisma may not be enough to save this caudillo. Biology and economics are thwarting El Comandante´s 2012 battle plans. His cancer refuses to go, and his ship of state remains stuck in a titanic socio-political hurricane. For starters, inflation hovers at 30 percent, the highest in Latin America and the second highest in the world after Ethiopia. Homicides are at an all-time high at 67 per 100,000 inhabitants (in Caracas the number lingers between 70 and 100 per 100,000 inhabitants, depending on the source). By comparison, Mexico´s powerful cartels level murders at 24 per 100,000 inhabitants.
The figures are a direct result of high unemployment, especially among youth, and the uncontrolled sale of firearms throughout the country. A gun law recently passed by the National Assembly aims to limit these sales, but the Chavista gesture comes too late. The new law does as much as a 2010 ban on publishing bloody pictures in newspapers. The ban came a month ahead of National Assembly elections to curb what Chávez called “pornographic journalism” when one of the nation´s top newspapers ran a picture of an overrun morgue in Caracas to showcase Venezuela´s crime problem. The 2010 photo ban and the recent law barring civilians from purchasing guns do little to prevent murder.
Although a Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling earlier this week barred him from holding elected office, Leopoldo López, a leading opposition candidate, pledged yesterday to continue his presidential campaign. The Supreme Court mandated that the verdict reached last month by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) was “unfeasible.” The IACHR verdict in question demanded that Venezuela overturn a six-year ban on López holding public office, the former mayor of the Chacao district in Caracas, issued in 2008.
The ban successfully disqualified López from running for mayor of Caracas in 2008, and it attempts to do the same for the upcoming presidential contest. López founded the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) political party, which is part of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD) opposition bloc. Although the Supreme Court ruled that López could not hold public office, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales did say that López “can freely sign up and participate in elections.”
One day after the Supreme Court issued its decision, López wrote in a blog post, “Today I affirm my presidential candidacy because I am qualified in justice and in right.” López continued his defiance in a speech yesterday to supporters where he said, “I can and I am going to be a candidate for the presidency.” He is currently placing third in the polls among opposition candidates.
In a February 12, 2012, primary, the MUD will select its candidate to contest President Hugo Chávez. The presidential election is scheduled for October 7, 2012.