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.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro met with regional leaders on Wednesday, including one of his staunchest opponents, Henrique Capriles, following the assassination of former Miss Venezuela Mónica Spear and her ex-husband, and the shooting of their five-year-old daughter. The meeting, originally scheduled for late January, convened governors and mayors from the 79 municipalities with the highest crime rates in the country to discuss how to stem the tide of violence sweeping Venezuela.
While acknowledging the rise in crime, during the meeting Maduro said it wasn’t the time to politicize violence, but rather work together. Capriles, who ran against Maduro in the 2013 presidential elections and has publically denounced the election outcomes as well as the integrity of his opponent, also supported collaboration, stating that he was willing to put their political differences aside to "fight the lack of security” in Venezuela.
However, not all oppositional leaders are so willing to work with the administration. The former mayor of the Chacao municipality of Caracas, Leopoldo López, is blaming the government for Spear’s death, tweeting that “(t)his government is an accomplice of armed groups, judicial corruption, (and) arms trafficking.”
The death of 29 year-old Spear, who was shot and killed in an attempted robbery on Monday, caused a nationwide outcry in Venezuela. The South American nation claims the fifth-highest murder rate in the world, according to the United Nations. Five individuals have since been arrested for their alleged participation in the slaying.
Likely top stories this week: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) announce a ceasefire; Venezuelans vote in municipal elections; the Mexican Congress debates energy reform; Police strikes across Argentina continue; Bill Clinton visits Rio de Janeiro for the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting.
FARC Rebels Announce a Ceasefire: In a statement on Sunday, Colombia's Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) announced a 30-day ceasefire that is scheduled to begin on December 15. The announcement was made a day after nine people died in a FARC firebomb attack at a police station in the town of Inza in the province of Cauca. Peace talks continued on Sunday, but the Colombian government said it would not stop fighting the rebels until a peace accord is signed.
Venezuelans Vote in Municipal Elections: Venezuelans went to the polls on Sunday to elect mayors and city councilmembers in municipal elections that many saw as a critical test for the government of President Nicolás Maduro. On Monday, with nearly all polling stations reporting, the National Electoral Council announced that the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party—PSUV) captured a majority of the votes nationwide, but the opposition won in Venezuela’s biggest cities, including Caracas, Maracaibo, and Barinas—the birthplace of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.
Mexican Congress to Debate Energy Bill: Mexican Senate committees are debating a controversial energy reform bill that would allow private companies to invest in Mexican state oil company PEMEX through new production-sharing contracts. As protesters gathered outside the Senate on Sunday, lawmakers reviewed the bill, which is expected to move to the full Senate and lower house this week. The Senate resumed debate of the bill on Monday, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hopes to pass the legislation by Christmas.
Police Strikes in Argentina Lead to Violence: Violence continues in Argentina after police in Córdoba went on strike last week to demand higher wages, leading to a collapse in security and rule of law. Police forces in at least eight other provinces followed suit, leading to looting and violence in which at least three people died. Though violence continues in several provinces, strikes in the Argentine provinces of Neuquén, Santa Fe, San Juan and Catamarca appear to be drawing to a close after government officials agreed to raise wages. Police are demanding higher wages to combat Argentina’s estimated 26 percent inflation.
Bill Clinton Visits Rio: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday for the start of the Clinton Global Initiative Latin America meeting in Rio de Janeiro, which will gather together business leaders, politicians and members of civil society for three days. On Sunday, Clinton met with Rio's mayor, Eduardo Paes, and Rio de Janeiro State Governor Sérgio Cabral. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to attend the meeting on Monday.
In the latest in power outage to hit Venezuela this year, a blackout on Monday night left a large portion of Caracas in the dark, with other parts of the country affected as well. Outages were also reported in the states of Vargas, Aragua, Miranda, Lara, Zulia, Carabobo, and Falcón.
For many in Caracas, the power outage lasted only 10 minutes, while other parts of the country endured the blackout for over an hour and a half, according to Energy Minister Jesse Chacón. The outage occurred just after 8 p.m. local time, as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was speaking on television.
In September, a power failure caused 70 percent of the country to lose power. That incident, as well as the one last night, originated from the same power substation west of Caracas. In both incidents, President Maduro suggested that sabotage was involved, but was unable to provide evidence.
Corpoelec, Venezuela’s state-run power company, was working late into Monday night to restore power across the country, and by 9:30 p.m. had successfully gotten about 85 percent of the greater Caracas area back on the grid. Venezuelan authorities said they would begin an investigation to determine the cause of the blackout.
Likely top stories this week: Chilean voters go to the polls; El Salvador and Honduras face off over Isla Conejo; the Venezuelan government seizes the electronic chain Daka; Chilean forensic experts conclude that Pablo Neruda was not poisoned; the Argentine president is cleared to start working.
Chilean Presidential Elections: Chilean voters will go to the polls on Sunday to elect their next president, with former President Michelle Bachelet heavily favored to win. Bachelet may forgo a presidential runoff with the second-place candidate if she is able to win more than 50 percent of the vote; polls thus far predict she will do so by winning a first-round majority. However, this is the first presidential election in Chile in which voting is no longer compulsory but in which all eligible voters are automatically registered; the new system may have some impact on the vote.
El Salvador Appeals to UN Over Isla Conejo: Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes announced on Sunday that his government would send a letter to the UN and OAS regarding its diplomatic dispute with Honduras over Isla Conejo, which is claimed by both countries. The Honduran military has occupied Isla Conejo since the 1980s, but El Salvador's recent purchase of ten A-37 fighter planes from Chile has made the Honduran government uneasy, with the Honduran government calling the purchase "an open threat." Funes denied the claims on Sunday and said that El Salvador was a peaceful nation and was not planning to go to war.
Government Seizes Venezuelan Electronics Chain: As the Christmas season and Venezuela's December 8 municipal elections approach, the Venezuelan government on Friday ordered the seizure of the electronics chain Daka, saying that prices of goods like plasma TVs were overpriced by as much as 1000 percent. After the government instituted a rapid price reduction of Daka's goods, Venezuelan customers lined up for hours to take advantage of the new prices. Shortages of basic goods have plagued the Venezuelan economy and inflation is estimated at 54 percent. Maduro says he is cracking down on unscrupulous businesspeople and has instituted a number of strategies—including kicking off Christmas celebrations in the first week of November—to shore up support ahead of the elections.
Neruda Not Poisoned, Experts Say: Experts from the Chilean Forensic Service said on Friday that no evidence of poison was found in the remains of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, who was exhumed earlier this year and whose body underwent six months of test by a team comprised of 15 Chilean and foreign forensic scientists. Neruda apparently died of prostate cancer just days before the coup of General Augusto Pinochet in September 1973. Neruda's driver, Manuel Araya, maintained for decades that the poet was poisoned after entering the hospital. Chile's Communist Party, of which Neruda was a member, has called for further studies.
Fernández de Kirchner to Resume Duties: A month after undergoing emergency surgery due to a blood clot in her brain, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been given medical clearance to resume presidential duties starting on Monday. She will undergo more tests next month and is not allowed to fly for another 30 days. Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou was formally in charge of the government during Fernández de Kirchner’s recovery.