Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remains in a Caracas military hospital, prompting continued speculation in Venezuela and abroad about eventual succession and concerns over political stability—as well as uncertainty about who is in charge.
The president’s uncertain situation comes at a time of significant social and economic difficulty in Venezuela. The government’s announcement on February 2 of a 32 percent currency devaluation and the elimination of the bond-exchange market rate is likely to generate further inflationary pressures and shortages of essential goods. Meanwhile, the opposition is trying to build political capital over growing popular discontent against the devaluation, which will affect the purchasing capacity of Venezuelans.
If Chávez dies—whether in the first four years of his term or the last two—Venezuela’s weak political institutions will be gravely tested. Here are the guidelines set out in Venezuela’s 1999 Constitution should any of the following three scenarios take place:
If Chávez regains his health: Taking the government’s official announcements at face value, Chávez could recover his health and continue as president. Pending any new health-related developments, this would mean less in terms of political instability, but Chávez’ idiosyncratic rule and mismanagement of the economy could pose formidable problems for Venezuela in the long run.
If Chávez passes away or becomes incapacitated in the last two years of his six-year term: Under this scenario, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro would finish out the remainder of the presidential term before new elections are called.
If Chávez passes away or becomes incapacitated in the first four years of the six-year constitutional term: Vice-President Maduro would replace Chávez until the Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council –CNE) calls for a new election within 30 days.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Cuba prepares for political successors in 2018; Venezuela’s opposition protests lack of information on Chávez; Tensions between Chile and Bolivia rise over Bolivian soldiers’ arrest; Oscar Arias visits Paraguay for OAS elections observations; and Cerrejón strike continues after explosives destroy trucks.
Raúl Castro Says he'll Step Down in 2018: On Sunday, Cuban President Raúl Castro told the Cuban National Assembly that he will step down at the end of his upcoming five-year term as president in 2018. Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, whose public appearances are now rare, was present when his brother made the announcement putting an official end-date on an era of Castro rule that began in 1959. Raúl Castro then named Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, 52, his first vice-president. The younger Castro had indicated on Friday that he was thinking of retiring and might name a successor from among the next generation of Cuban politicians.
Venezuelan Opposition Demands Information as Chávez' Health Remains Uncertain: Hundreds of government opponents marched in Caracas on Saturday as part of the opposition’s new political offensive to protest the current political stasis in Venezuela as President Hugo Chávez remains out of sight in a military hospital. Since returning from Cuba on February 18, the Venezuelan government has shared limited information about the president’s cancer treatment and prognosis. On Friday, Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolás Maduro said that Chávez was “energetic” and had participated in a five-hour meeting with government leaders, though he acknowledged that the president can't speak because he is breathing through a tracheal tube. Meanwhile, Chávez supports held candlelit vigils outside the presidential palace to pray for the president’s recovery.
Hearing for Bolivian soldiers in Chile begins Monday: Three Bolivian soldiers arrested in Chile for crossing the border with weapons on January 25 will face a judicial hearing today in the northern Chilean city of Iquique to determine whether they'll remain in prison. The arrest of the soldiers has increased the diplomatic strain between Bolivia and Chile after Bolivia denounced Chile's actions via a letter to the UN on February 18. On Sunday, Bolivian President Evo Morales compared Chile’s imprisonment of the soldiers with Bolivia’s lost access to the Pacific Ocean since 1879, another source of recent tension. Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Moreno said that Bolivia is blocking a swift resolution to the soldiers’ cases.
Oscar Arias Visits Paraguay to Prepare for April Elections: Former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias is visiting Asunción, Paraguay, until February 27 as head of the Electoral Observation and Political Accompaniment Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS). The mission aims to facilitate and monitor Paraguay’s presidential elections on April 21 to ensure that they are free and fair. It will be setting up elections observers and meeting with members of the Paraguayan government for the next two months. A number of the country’s neighbors view Paraguayan President Federico Franco as illegitimate due to the controversial impeachment of his predecessor, former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, in June 2012. Members of Mercosur and Unasur elected to suspend Paraguay from regional membership until the elections are held.
Explosives Destroy Trucks at Cerrejón while Mining Strike Continues: Unknown assailants detonated explosives at the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia on Sunday as a strike that began on February 7 continued into its seventeenth day. Both Cerrejón and the leader of Sintracarbon, the coal miners' union, denounced the attack, which damaged four trucks but reportedly did not result in casualties. Cerrejón workers initially demanded a 7 percent pay raise, but they have since decreased that amount to 5.8 percent. According to the World Coal Association, Cerrejón’s coal accounted for 80 percent of Colombia’s coal exports last year. Union leader Igor Diaz said that the workers will meet with Cerrejón today to restart wage negotiations despite the attack.
Watch a recent AQ documentary on Cerrejón. http://www.americasquarterly.org/rio-rancheria-documentary
Bolivian President Evo Morales stopped in Caracas on Tuesday to visit President Hugo Chávez on route to New York City for the inauguration of the International Year of Quinoa. President Morales was greeted at the international airport by Venezuelan Foreign Vice-Minister Temir Porras, but members of the Foreign Ministry declined to comment on his agenda while in the country. The ailing president ,who had been in Cuba since his latest cancer operation last December, returned to Venezuela early Monday morning and is continuing cancer treatment at the military hospital in the country’s capital.
President Chávez announced his return via his Twitter account—which had been inactive since the beginning of November—just three days after the government released pictures of him with his daughters at a Cuban hospital. The pictures and tweets came after 67 days of silence, in which the President was shielded from the public. Despite his return, it is unlikely that the nation will hear from him soon. While Information Minister Ernesto Villegas reports that he is “conscious, with his intellectual functions intact,” he also admits that the president is breathing through a tracheal tube which makes it difficult to speak.
Speculation surrounds Chávez’ surprise return, but many believe it was meant to silence the opposition leaders who maintain that the executive is unable to run the country due to his poor health. Because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of extending the timeline for his inauguration indefinitely, he is expected to take the oath of office for his fourth term now that he is back in Venezuela. Despite this extension, Venezuela could be facing another election soon. Although he has not personally treated Chávez, Dr. Carlos Castro, the scientific director of the Colombian League against Cancer in Bogota, believes that the president’s unspecified cancer is incurable and expects the executive to have to step down due to the severity of his condition. The Venezuelan Constitution requires that a new vote be held within 30 days of a president dying or stepping down.
After the Venezuelan government announced its intention to devalue its bolívar currency late last week, the 32-percent shift in its exchange rate—from 4.3 to 6.3 bolívars to the dollar—went into effect yesterday. It is Venezuela’s fifth devaluation in nine years; the previous devaluation occurred in January 2010.
Yesterday, the bolívar reached its lowest value, having declined 18 percent in unregulated black-market trading since last week’s announcement. As roughly 70 percent of products consumed in Venezuela are imported, following last week’s announcement many Venezuelans lined up to purchase electronic appliances and airline tickets in order to protect themselves from the price increases that went into effect yesterday.
On the black market, bolivars are being traded for more than three times the new official rate, with dollars selling for over 20 bolívars this week. Despite sitting on the world’s largest petroleum reserves, Venezuela’s economy faces an inflation rate of 22 percent—which yesterday’s devaluation was intended to curb. Yesterday’s economic measures also included the elimination SITME—the Spanish acronym for a state-owned bond trading system that sold dollars at a second-tier rate—and that the government is still exploring alternative measures to obtain dollars in SITME’s stead.
At issue is the Venezuelan government’s struggle to meet heavy demand by importers for dollars. Vice President Nicolás Maduro has said that the government can meet such demands by way of its oil profits—a notion that is doubted by experts such as Universidad Central de Venezuela economics professor José Guerra.
Alberto Ramos, an economist at Goldman Sachs, believes that this “devaluation was long overdue, as since the last devaluation headline inflation rose by 98 percent.” Conversely, former Venezuelan Industry and Trade Minister and current AQ editorial board member Moisés Naím sharply criticized the move as “desperate.”
Thousands of members of both Hugo Chávez’ Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) and the opposition are marching in Caracas today in simultaneous demonstrations since January 23 marks the end of Venezuela’s 1945-1958 military dictatorship. However, this year the date has acquired a new meaning for each side of the political spectrum. For members of the PSUV, today’s demonstration is an opportunity to show their solidarity with Chávez, who is recovering from cancer surgery in Cuba. Meanwhile, the opposition plans to protest the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s January 8 resolution to delay the president’s inauguration, a decision they say is unconstitutional.
Venezuelan Communications and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said yesterday that Hugo Chávez recently met in Cuba with Venezuela’s newly-appointed foreign minister, Elías Jaua. Still, great uncertainty surrounds the question of when Chávez will return to Venezuela. More than a month has passed since the president's last public appearance, which was prior to his cancer surgery in mid-December.
Vice President of the National Assembly and leader of the PSUV Darío Vivas said that Chavismo will march today “out of respect and solidarity” with Chávez and his delicate health situation. For Marino Gonzalez, adjunct secretary of the Venezuelan opposition umbrella group known as the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática—MUD,“this is an opportunity for Venezuelans to defend their Constitution and to open the door for democracy in the country.”
Beginning around 10:00 am local time (9:30 am EST), Chávez supporters assembled at three points in the city—Colegio de Ingenieros, Los Símbolos and Propatria—while the opposition congregated in Parque Miranda. Major streets in Caracas are closed for today’s demonstrations.
Una versión resumida de este artículo fue publicada el 10 de enero de 2013 en La Tercera.
La decisión está tomada. Cuenta con el apoyo total del partido de gobierno, los militares, y las cortes. El 10 de enero, la República Bolivariana de Venezuela se convertirá oficialmente en la primera república bicéfala de América.
El presidente en ejercicio y re-electo Hugo Chávez convalece secretamente en la Habana, luchando contra “nuevas complicaciones” surgidas a raíz de su cuarta operación contra un cáncer que también es secreto. La constitución exige que el 10 de enero termine el mandato del gobierno actual (Chávez III), y tome posesión un nuevo gobierno (Chávez IV). Chávez no podrá presentarse a su gran ceremonia, y la idea de enviar al Tribunal Supremo a la Habana para juramentarlo por fin ha sido desechada por impráctica, aparte de vergonzosa para la soberanía de Venezuela y la dignidad del paciente que ni respirar puede.
La solución a este dilema de presidente-electo pero impresentable será no respetar la constitución. La juramentación que la constitución obliga será postergada. Con ello, un gobierno en ejercicio en las Américas ha declarado que tiene el poder de extender su tiempo en el poder, cosa que sólo los chavistas consideran un acto democrático. Para ellos, lo único democrático es respetar la soberanía del pueblo, que re-eligió a Chávez en octubre, cuando todavía decía que estaba sano. Vivo, muerto o enfermo, hay que respetar la “continuidad administrativa” de la revolución, dicen los chavistas. Lo demás es una “formalidad.”
Los chavistas están convencidos que con la decisión de no juramentar a nadie están garantizando la continuidad de la revolución, pero no ven el riesgo político al que se están exponiendo. Sin un presidente juramentado, quedarán dos figuras grandes dentro del chavismo disputándose el poder: el vicepresidente y canciller del (no-saliente) gobierno Nicolás Maduro y el presidente electo de la Asamblea Nacional Diosdado Cabello. Estas dos cabezas han querido dar muestra de unidad, pero quién sabe hasta cuándo. Por ahora, en lo único que han estado de acuerdo es que ninguno de ellos debe ser juramentado presidente—veto mutuo.
Maduro y Cabello representan dos corrientes no sólo diferentes sino casi antagónicas dentro del chavismo. Maduro es un comunista radical. Se le ve muy cercano a Cuba y muy lejano de Venezuela, ya que por los últimos 6 años, canciller al fin y al cabo, se ha pasado recorriendo el mundo pactando asociaciones estratégicas, a menudo con los regímenes más herméticos del momento como Cuba, Libia (de Qadaffi), Siria, e Irán. Cabello en cambio no tiene experiencia internacional, ni contactos con Cuba, ni contó con la bendición de Chávez para ser sucesor. Pero a diferencia de Maduro, a Cabello le sobran contactos con su pueblo. El problema es que no todos estos contactos son motivos de gloria revolucionaria. Cabello fue militar y gobernador del importante estado de Miranda (el mismo que ahora gobierna el opositor de Chávez, Henrique Capriles). Estos cargos le dieron a Cabello oportunidades de hacer negocios siniestros con sectores castrenses y boliburgueses.
Toda situación bicéfala trae conflictos. Es imposible imaginar coincidencia de pensamiento plena, y mucho menos cuando sabemos que cada una de estas cabezas se orienta hacia intereses contrapuestos. En una república, el poder unitario de un jefe de estado se inventó para resolver la propensidad hacia el conflicto dentro de las corrientes de un mismo grupo gobernante. En una república bicéfala, por definición, no hay dicho ente unitario.
¿Qué pasará cuándo Maduro y Cabello empiecen a diferir? Nadie sabe. Una cabeza hará consultas con los ideólogos radicales castrófilos del mundo; la otra se comunicará con élites legislativas, castrenses y empresariales. Con orientaciones contrapuestas y sin árbritro, parece difícil imaginarse que la nueva república bicéfala será capaz de garantizar la unidad revolucionaria que Chávez siempre quiso dejar como legado.
Though Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez will not be present, Uruguayan President José Mujica, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega will be in Caracas today for the Venezuelan leader’s intended—and now postponed—inauguration.
As the ailing Chávez remains in Cuba recovering from a respiratory infection that followed his December 11 cancer surgery, hemispheric well-wishers are arriving in Venezuela to express support for the president, who was re-elected to a third six-year term as president in October despite concerns that he could soon become too ill to rule the country.
Vice President Nicolás Maduro said yesterday that Venezuelan officials have planned an event in honor of Chávez, who has not been seen in public for about a month. Chávez’ Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV) said that it would convene a rally in front of the presidential palace. Meanwhile, Henrique Capriles, Chávez’ opponent in last year’s presidential elections, urged heads of state not to attend the proceedings.
Yesterday, the Venezuelan Supreme Court announced that Chávez’ absence from Venezuela on the date of his intended inauguration was legally permissible and would have no impact on his claim to the presidency. Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales rejected opposition claims that postponing the president’s swearing-in ceremony until after January 10—the inauguration date stipulated in the constitution—would violate Venezuelan law.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Uncertainty surrounding Hugo Chávez’ inauguration in Venezuela; Evo Morales alleges U.S. plot to destabilize his government; Brazil weighs electricity measures; and Canada deepens ties with Africa.
Inauguration Day in Venezuela: After his re-election last October, President Hugo Chávez is scheduled to be inaugurated this Thursday per the constitution that he helped write when he first rose to office in 1999. However, with Chávez recovering in Havana, Cuba, after his surgery last month on an undisclosed form of cancer, many Venezuelans are questioning his fitness for office as well as if or how he will assume another six-year term in three days. The constitution stipulates that the National Assembly President—Diosdado Cabello, who was re-elected to the post over the weekend—act as president if Chávez is declared incapacitated before Thursday and that Vice President Nicolás Maduro would become head of state if Chávez is declared incapacitated after Thursday. However, there are no indications that the executive branch intends to abide by these rules. Maduro claimed that the Supreme Court could swear in Chávez at a later date—a statement that was supported by Attorney General Cilia Flores, who is also Maduro’s wife. Calls from the political opposition for greater transparency have been repeatedly rebuffed. Stay tuned for updates on what will be the top issue in the hemisphere this week.
Morales Accuses U.S. Embassy: Bolivian President Evo Morales claims he has “irrefutable evidence” that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz is plotting to destabilize his government, claims Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana. Quintana continued that the Morales administration will present the evidence to U.S. President Barack Obama and “tell him [to] cease all hostilities against the Bolivian government, stop the political ambush of our government.” U.S.-Bolivian relations have been tenuous since Morales assumed office in 2006, hitting a nadir when Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008.
Brazil’s Energy Budget Crisis: After water levels in hydroelectric dams dropped considerably—in some areas reaching a two-thirds decrease—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting with energy representatives to shore up electricity reserves. Rousseff tasked her Minister of Mines and Energy, Edison Lobão, to head the meeting, which Folha de São Paulo is reporting will occur on Wednesday. At issue: Brazilian cities have experienced blackouts in recent months, and some private-sector analysts are projecting a rationing of electricity in the world’s sixth-largest economy—recalling a similar scenario in 2001. Pay attention to see if Rousseff’s government announces any measures for 2013 as a result of the meeting.
Canada Discusses Africa Policy: Beninese President Thomas Yayi Boni, also the head of the African Union, will visit Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa tomorrow. A central focus of the meeting is anticipated to be the growing instability in Mali; last month the United Nations Security Council agreed to an African-led counter-assault against Islamist rebels. Boni’s visit could include a request for Canadian involvement. According to Defense Minister Peter MacKay, the Canadian government is “contemplating what contribution Canada could make.” International Cooperation Minister added that “Canada remains very concerned about the situation in Mali, [but] we do not anticipate going there.” More concrete details will likely surface after tomorrow’s meeting.
As his January 10 inauguration approaches, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez remains shielded from the public in a Havana, Cuba hospital—prompting calls for transparency on President Chavez’ state of health and contingency plans should he not be ready for his swearing-in ceremony.
Though he was re-elected last October to another six-year term as president, Chávez’ silence has raised concerns that he may not be able to take the oath of office next Tuesday to begin his new term. Ramón Aveledo, leader of the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity—MUD) group, said yesterday in a press conference that “it is essential that the government act in a manner that gives confidence.”
“Trying to make the country believe that the president is governing is absurd to the point of being irresponsible,” Aveledo said.
Chávez has not been heard from since undergoing surgery in Cuba three weeks ago, allowing rumors to percolate that the leader’s health is drastically failing. Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro returned from Cuba yesterday to reassure Venezuelans that Chávez is “totally conscious” but faces “a complex and delicate situation.”
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello paid a visit to Chávez yesterday, while Minister of Science and Technology Jorge Arreaza tweeted that “the comandante Chávez continues battling hard and sends all his love to our people.” Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda reported that Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner visited her Venezuelan counterpart in secret last month.
Before departing for Cuba last month, Chávez asked his supporters to vote for Maduro, his appointed heir, if he cannot assume the presidency. The U.S. State Department has expressed its desire for a transition of power in accordance with Venezuela’s constitution, which expressly mandates that new elections should be held within 30 days if the president-elect is unable to take the oath of office.
This Sunday, Venezuelans voters will go to the polls one more time to elect 23 governors and 260 state representatives. For the opposition’s Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity—MUD), the election is an opportunity to maintain its local bulwarks; for Chávez’s Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (United Socialist Party of Venezuela—PSUV), it is a chance to consolidate the victory achieved on October 7 when Chávez won the presidential elections in all but two states.
Last week, pollster Hinterlaces predicted PSUV victories in eight states, including Miranda and Carabobo—currently governed by the opposition. Poll results indicate that former Vice President Elías Jaua could obtain 48 percent of the votes in Miranda, and opposition candidate Henrique Capriles could obtain 44 percent. The poll predicts similar results in Carabobo, where PSUV candidate Francisco Ameliach is expected to win 54 percent versus 36 percent of the votes for opposition governor Henrique Salas Feo.
While the candidates closed their campaigns on Thursday, Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas announced that Chávez had suffered bleeding and complications after a six-hour cancer operation he had on Tuesday in Cuba. “The patient is in a progressive and favorable recovery of normal vital signs,” he added, while asking Venezuelans to vote out of “love” and to pray for the president’s recovery. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles criticized PSUV’s “electoral use” of Chávez’s illness, and demanded that the president’s health be addressed separately because it has nothing to do with Sunday’s election.
Amid questions surrounding the president’s health, AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini highlighted six main points to watch in the news after Chávez named Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro his successor on December 8, ranging from currency devaluation to the effect a leadership transition could have on foreign relations.