What’s the best way to protect a seven-month-old girl from the effects of tear gas? Is it dangerous for her to breathe the smoke from a pile of burning garbage in front of this building? Can a 9-millimeter bullet pass through the walls of our apartment? Will I find food for my family next week in our densely populated middle-class neighborhood, or should we stock an emergency reserve of groceries?
These are some of the questions that my wife and I have been asking ourselves since February 12, when members of Venezuela's political opposition marched on downtown Caracas and were attacked by supporters of the recently deceased president, Hugo Chávez. Two students were shot in the head and killed, and the subsequent rage pushed the opposition to continue the most recent series of protests against the régime that inherited Chávez’s idea of power.
We live in an apartment half a block away from Plaza Altamira in Caracas, one of the main sites of the upheaval. Several times, the tide of the struggle has penetrated the borders of our private life.
The origins of all this mayhem date back to Venezuela’s surreal chavista experiment, but the immediate trigger was a protest following an attempted rape at a college campus in San Cristóbal, the capital of the state of Táchira, on the Colombian border. The National Guard responded with extreme force, the demonstrators multiplied, and two opposition politicians—the youthful and charismatic former Caracas mayor Leopoldo López and congresswoman María Corina Machado—claimed that the only way to save the country was to occupy the streets and to build up the pressure against Chávez’s chosen heir, President Nicolás Maduro, who took office after winning by less than 2 percent of the vote in contested elections last year. In Maduro’s first year, Venezuela has continued to experience the levels of urban violence, inflation and scarcity of basic goods usually associated with wartime.
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Likely top stories this week: Nicaraguans vote in local elections; protests continue in Venezuela; the FARC says it will continue peace talks during elections; a Mapuche leader is sentenced to prison; Chileans no longer need visas to enter the United States.
Nicaraguan Elections: Nicaraguans overwhelmingly supported the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (The Sandinista National Liberation Front—FSLN) Sunday in elections for regional councilmembers in the country’s two autonomous regions—the North Atlantic Autonomous Region and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region. Opposition leaders alleged that Sunday’s elections were marred by irregularities as well as violence, but the FSLN said that the elections were conducted in an orderly and peaceful manner and attributed five deaths in El Tortuguero on Sunday to common crime. 300,000 Nicaraguans of African, mestizo or Indigenous descent were registered to vote in the elections.
Protests Continue in Venezuela Despite Carnival: Protesters marched through the streets of Caracas on Sunday to protest the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, as the death toll from three weeks of conflict has risen to at least 17 people. Maduro encouraged Venezuelans to observe the Carnival holiday, hoping to dampen the protests. On Sunday, the Venezuelan state prosecutor’s office announced that it had released 41 detainees. The anniversary of Hugo Chávez’ death is on Wednesday, March 5, and may spark more clashes.
Peace Talks to Continue During Colombian Elections: Peace negotiators for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) confirmed on Sunday that the guerrillas will continue to negotiate with the Colombian government even as elections take place on March 9. Colombians will elect legislators next Sunday, and vote for president and vice president at the end of May. On Friday, members of the FARC said that they had invited the United States government to join in the peace talks, but the U.S. State Department said it was unaware of efforts to make the U.S. a party to the peace negotiations.
Chilean Indigenous Leader Sentenced: Mapuche leader Celestino Cordova was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Friday for his role in an arson attack in southern Chile that killed an elderly couple last January in a dispute over Indigenous land rights. The attack coincided with the five-year anniversary of the death of Mapuche student Matias Catrileo, who was killed by policemen in a land dispute in January 2008. Cordova’s lawyers plan to appeal the ruling, saying that there is no evidence to prove that he was involved in the attack.
Chile, U.S. Waive Visa Requirements: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced on Friday that Chilean citizens do not need a visa to enter the United States, making Chile the only country in Latin America to join the list of 38 countries in the U.S. visa waiver program (Mexico enjoys its own special status). U.S. citizens will now also be able to avoid a $160 “reciprocity fee” that they paid upon entering Chile. Chileans will no longer need a visa to enter the United States starting on May 1.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro invited opposition leaders to the presidential palace on Wednesday for a peace conference in an effort to quell the worst unrest in in the country in a decade that has claimed 13 lives thus far.
Some have questioned the sincerity of Maduro’s peace conference efforts. Henrique Capriles, the presidential opposition candidate who lost by a narrow margin to Maduro in 2013, called the meeting an empty appeal and nothing more than a photo opportunity. Jorge Arreaza, vice president of the opposition group Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Democracy Unity Roundtable—MUD), slammed the conference saying that “we will not lend ourselves to a sham dialogue that would end in a mockery of our compatriots.”
Meanwhile, a number of international leaders, including Pope Francis and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have called for an end to the escalating violence that began on February 12, and urged more dialogue between parties. Former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jimmy Carter has urged Maduro and Capriles to retain the population’s right to peaceful protests and unbiased trails for those arrested and announced his hopes to meet with leaders from both sides during a trip to Venezuela planned for April 29.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA’s Venezuela Resource Guide.
Widespread protests continue for a thirteenth consecutive day in Venezuela as the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, faces increasing criticism—some of it from within his own ranks—for how he has handled the unfolding crisis.
The president’s recent crackdown on the remaining free media in Venezuela and an upsurge of State violence last week have led at least one member of Maduro’s Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) to criticize the government’s repression of the protesters.
In a radio interview on Monday, the governor of the state of Táchira, José Vielma Mora, an active member of the PSUV, criticized the use of excessive violence against protesters and said that Maduro should release political prisoners from the opposition to ensure peace.
“I am against treating peaceful protests with violence and abuse,” Vielma Mora said. “I support peaceful protests because they help us understand what is happening …Not a single protester has been wounded in Táchira. Not one of them has died.”
On Monday, however, authorities confirmed the death of a protester in Táchira state, which has seen some of the worst repression in the country.
Fifteen people have died so far in less than 13 days of protests across the country. Seven of those killed were shot in the head at political protests.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuelans seek a solution to the escalating political conflict; Ecuadorians vote in municipal elections; young immigrants demand action from U.S. President Barack Obama; Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says his e-mails were hacked; the U.S. seeks to extradite “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Venezuelan Leaders May Meet to Discuss Conflict: This week, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro may meet with political leaders from across the country to discuss the escalating political conflict. At least eleven people have died since February 12, when student protests set off violent clashes between opposition protesters, Venezuelan security forces, and government supporters. Meanwhile, Maduro, who has said that the United States is behind the current political unrest in Venezuela, has called for a dialogue with U.S. President Barack Obama to “put the truth out on the table.”
Ecuadorian Municipal Elections Conclude: Rafael Correa's Alianza País (Country Alliance) party lost mayoral races in Ecuador's three biggest cities—Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil—on Sunday when Ecuadorians voted in municipal elections. According to the preliminary results from the National Electoral Council, former presidential candidate Mauricio Rodas of the Suma-Vive alliance was elected mayor of Quito with 58.9 percent of the vote and Jaime Nebot of the Partido Social Cristiano (Social Christian Party) was re-elected mayor of Guayaquil with 57.5 percent of the vote. Mauricio Cabrera, a former mayor who is part of the Igualdad-Participa (Equality-Participate) alliance, captured 44.4 percent of the vote in that city. In addition to mayors, Ecuadorians voted for governors and council members.
Young U.S. Immigrants Demand Presidential Action on Immigration: About 500 young immigrant leaders gathered in Phoenix, Arizona this weekend for an annual congress of the United We Dream Network, expressing frustration with both U.S. Republicans and Democrats for Congress’ inaction on comprehensive immigration reform. Members of the United We Dream network said that they would instead press President Barack Obama to act unilaterally through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to allow young undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States. However, the Obama administration has deported more than 1.9 million foreigners—more than any other president.
Santos Says His E-Mails Were Hacked: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday that unknown opponents have hacked more than a thousand of his personal e-mails, as well as e-mails of family members. Santos said he believed the hackers were “motivated by political reasons,” and vowed to investigate the incident as he campaigns for the upcoming May 25 presidential elections. Earlier this month, it was revealed that a Colombian military intelligence unit had been spying on government peace negotiators who were speaking with the FARC in Havana.
U.S. to Seek Extradition of "El Chapo" Guzmán: After Mexican authorities captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman in the resort town of Mazatlán on Saturday, U.S. judicial authorities said that they will seek his extradition to the U.S. to face drug smuggling charges. However, the Mexican attorney general’s office said that Guzman will have to serve the remainder of his Mexican jail sentence before he is extradited. Guzman escaped from prison in 2001. He is currently being held in a maximum-security prison outside the Mexican city of Toluca.
Venezuela will deploy military units to San Cristobal, Táchira, where demonstrators continue to protest the arrest of opposition leader Lepoldo López, government officials announced today. Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said that the decision is a measure to restore public order.
In addition to the deployment of the military troops on the ground military jets have been flying over that state of Táchira and internet access has been cut following 16 days of protests. Rodriguez has denied knowledge of the cause of the internet blackout.
The Venezuelan attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, confirmed that there have been 8 deaths and 137 injuries to date, resulting in what human rights activists have called the worst violation of human rights in Venezuela in 15 years.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
Venezuelan opposition leaders have condemned President Nicolas Maduro’s government for the violent backlash to what started as peaceful student protests last week. The National Police, National Guard and government-backed colectivos (armed militias) have filled the streets firing freely at protesters. At least eight people have died since the protests turned violent last week and many have been injured.
Although the Venezuelan media has not fully covered the violence, social media sites have been flooded with photos and videos of the clashes documented by protesters themselves. Maduro and his supporters have claimed that the escalation of the violence is part of an attempted coup by right-wing “fascist” opponents backed by the U.S. On Monday, Maduro gave three U.S. diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, after being accused of fomenting a coup against the Venezuelan government.
The leader of the opposition movement, Leopoldo López, turned himself in to police on Tuesday and is being held in Caracas' Ramo Verde jail on charges of terrorism. President Maduro has called López, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, “the face of fascism.”
Among other voices condemning the repression of the protests are Henrique Capriles, former Venezuelan presidential candidate, and President Barack Obama, who urged Maduro to stop making “false accusations” and address the protesters’ demands during his recent visit to Mexico.
The opposition movement is planning more marches for Saturday.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
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.”
As the two-day CELAC Summit closed in Havana at the end of January, leaders of the 33 Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) nations that compose this body adopted a triumphant pose for the assembled photographers.
Why the celebratory atmosphere? One might be forgiven for thinking it was connected to the various grand ambitions articulated at the summit–the second since CELAC was created in 2011–in the spheres of education, disaster management, combating corruption and similar hot-button regional issues. But as far as the leaders present were concerned, the greatest triumph was in declaring CELAC a "zone of peace."
"Peace," in this case, is understood as "non-interference." In the words of the summit declaration, each CELAC member state has the "inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system as an essential condition to guarantee peaceful co-existence among nations." (My emphasis.)
Put another way, if you are running a one-party state, like the Cubans, or a mafia state that fixes elections, like the Venezuelans, you have nothing to fear. It's perverse, but it's true: even leaders of strong democracies, like Costa Rica, have had the temerity to adopt the language of rights in order to rationalize and justify their silence about the denial of rights to the opposition in non-democratic countries!
En agosto de 2010, Andrés Izarra, ex ministro de Comunicaciones de Venezuela, explotó en carcajadas durante una entrevista con CNN mientras escuchaba el balance de homicidios que ofrecía el director de una ONG local. El funcionario–cuya esposa había sido asaltada y resguardada por sus escoltas apenas un año antes–golpeaba el escritorio para reforzar cuan absurdos eran los análisis del Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia, organización que, en medio del silencio gubernamental, ha ganado su espacio ofreciendo estadísticas de homicidios en el país.
La inseguridad se convirtió en la principal preocupación de los venezolanos hace años. Si algo demostró la violencia es su cualidad democrática: aunque las clases media y baja tienen mayor tendencia a engrosar las estadísticas por contar con menos recursos para protegerse, casos como el robo al presidente del Banco Central de Venezuela, Nelson Merentes, o la onda de secuestros a diplomáticos que se produjo entre 2011 y 2012 dejaron claro que nadie se escapa del problema.
La semana pasada, la noticia del asesinato de la ex Miss Venezuela, Mónica Spear, y de su marido británico Thomas Berry, le dio la vuelta al mundo. La modelo de apenas 29 años murió junto a su pareja en una carretera venezolana a pocos kilómetros de la capital, en medio de un robo de esos que ocurren todo el tiempo en el país. Su hija de cinco años vivió para contarla. La familia estaba de vacaciones.
La conmoción nacional e internacional que causaron las fotos de la reina de belleza obligó al Gobierno a pronunciarse. El presidente Nicolás Maduro lamentó los decesos y garantizó que la seguridad era una de las prioridades de la gestión revolucionaria. Ningún funcionario emuló las carcajadas que Izarra dió tres años antes hablando sobre la violencia. Todos se sumaron al discurso del mandatario, y anunciaron estar dispuestos a dar la guerra contra el crimen, como si ésta fuese una revelación en Caracas, que es la tercera ciudad más violenta de la región.