Thursday, July 30, 2015

Anticipating Venezuela's December Elections (July 30, 2015)

Is Venezuela’s Opposition Finally Unifying?, asks Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde on their Venezuela blog. In anticipation of parliamentary elections set to convene on December 6, the main opposition coalition, 'Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD)', recently announced they would join a unified ticket with MUD’s candidates "shown on the ballot under a single ticket with the same colors and symbols." Leopoldo Lopez’s Voluntad Popular party was one of the last holdouts as they "expressed doubts" about this move. Highlighting this reticence is a profile in Foreign Policy which takes a look "at the democratic bona fides of the rock star of Venezuela’s opposition."

Crisis Group just published Venezuela: Unnatural Disaster (20pp) which argues that Venezuela's crisis results from poor policy choices, incompetence and corruption. However, the Maduro government can still avoid the gravest consequences and seven specific policy options to do just that are outlined in the reports' press release. Separately, Frederick Mills (Bowie State University) recently wrote on the likely strategy by Maduro to maintain a Chavista majority in the National Assembly this December, in Open Democracy. And ever the provocateur, Andres Oppenheimer writes about "What Donald Trump has in common with Hugo Chávez," in the Miami Herald. According to Oppenheimer, they share three characteristics as populists: they need to create an enemy; they constantly play the victimization game; and they are are ego-maniacs.

The Maduro government is now "closely monitoring" and beginning to "clamp down on" political satirists, four months before the elections, according to the Wall Street Journal"Some humorists have been blacklisted by state-run theaters and hotels ... Comedy programs that poke fun at the government have disappeared from Venezuelan TV." Still, some humor does remain. Maduro’s eccentricities are featured in a South Park-like animated series called Presidential Island which "depicts Latin American heads of state shipwrecked on an island and forced to cooperate to survive." Though it can't be seen on tv, you can watch the series on YouTube (here are some recent episodes). The first episode from 2010 has over 5 million hits.

New BookBarrio Rising is the new book by NYU prof Alejandro Velasco, published by University of California Press. "Based on years of archival and ethnographic research in Venezuela’s largest public housing community, Barrio Rising delivers the first in-depth history of urban popular politics before the Bolivarian Revolution, providing crucial context for understanding the democracy that emerged during the presidency of Hugo Chávez." You can read Chapter One and a summary by the author online.

Older Book: Ramón Piñango and Moisés Naím revisit the book they published 30 years ago, "El Caso Venezuela: Una Ilusión de Armonía," according to Pro DavinciThe 90-minute conversation with the authors can be watched on Venezuela's IESA School of Management YouTube channel.

  • Brazil's nuclear chief, an admiral, was arrested this week but instead of going to jail, he is being held in army barracks, reflecting special privileges for ex-military officials, according to Folha do Sao Paulo
  • ECLAC reports that Latin America and the Caribbean Will Grow Just 0.5% in 2015, according to the press release for their Economic Survey (192pp). "On labor matters, the Economic Survey signals that the lower growth will have a negative impact on employment. On average, the unemployment rate is forecast to rise in 2015 to around 6.5% of the population, from the 6.0% registered last year."  
  • Gang killings of bus workers which is bringing San Salvador's transportation system to a halt, according to an update in the LA Times (you can also listen to yesterday's report on NPR). 
  • The Peruvian government is still stalling on creating a national park along the Brazilian border, according to The Guardian. "In 2006 Peru’s government established a 1.4 million hectare temporary 'protected natural area' in the border region alongside Brazil called the Sierra del Divisor Reserved Zone. Six years later a government commission agreed it would be converted into a national park, and, all that remains now, after a painful administrative process is for Peru’s Cabinet to approve it and the president to sign off on it. That is how it has stood since early May - and still nothing."
  • Mexican protestors are futilely trying to stop a highway from slicing through a nature reserve, even with judicial orders in their favor, according to the NY Times. The 20-mile highway will lead traffic to the new airport in the D.F. but will "demolish swaths of an indigenous community in its wake. ... After years of demonstrations and court battles, President Enrique Peña Nieto signed an executive order this month expropriating 91 acres of what many here consider sacred land."
  • A sharply worded editorial in Bloomberg says that "as Congress considers the plight of the thousands of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who still head north every month, it should keep this fact in mind:  the best -- and most cost-effective -- policy for the U.S. is to help address the poverty and crime that still plague the so-called Northern Triangle." 
  • A survey of Mexican policy by Causa en Común (titled ¿Tenemos la policía que merecemos?) finds that Veracruz has the least trustworthy police while Chiapas pays their police force the least, according to Animal Politico.
  • Uruguay has not lost its' prohibitionist tendencies, despite recently legalizing marijuana, abortion and gay marriage. The government is now considering lengthening its daily dry laws, with a legislative bill which would extend the ban on selling alcohol from 10pm daily until 8am the following day," according to the BBCThere are also strong measures on the use of salt. "The bars and restaurants have banned placing Montevideo salt shakers on the tables without customers asking for them." 
  • Uruguay continues to welcome more Syrian refugees as part of a plan to accept displaced persons from the war-torn region, according to a COHA review of news.
  • How the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico digs its tunnels is explained by The New Yorker in an in-depth review that features "tunnel managers" and reports that since 1989, "Sinaloa has refined the art of underground construction and has used tunnels more effectively than any criminal group in history." In a related note, El Chapo is seen as a Judas by some while very much a Jesus figure by others, according to a COHA reviewThe DEA is very much in the former camp as they have just posted El Chapo on their most wanted list, describing him as 'armed and dangerous'. Separately: a high-ranking drug kingpin was just released from a jail in Altiplano, despite connections with 'El Chapo', according to Proceso magazine. (Or perhaps it is because of his connections that he was released?)
  • The Canada Revenue Agency has told Oxfam Canada that it can no longer try to prevent poverty around the world, it can only alleviate poverty — because preventing poverty might benefit people who are not already poor, according to Toronto's Globe and Mail.  "The bizarre bureaucratic brawl over a mission statement is yet more evidence of deteriorating relations between the Harper government and some parts of Canada’s charitable sector."
  • Authorities in Peru say security forces have rescued a record number of women and children from the Shining Path, drawing attention to the insurgent group's alleged recruitment practices, according to a review of press clippings by Insight Crime. "Some of the women were kidnapped 25 years ago from a convent and were forced to have sex with rebel militants ... Many of the children who were born [in the camp] were the result of Shining Path members raping the women."
  • Many women in Colombia's Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL) undergo forced abortions, according to an investigation in Revista Semana.
  • Conflicts have reignited along the Venezuela-Guyana border. President Maduro is in US seeking help from the UN, according to the Associated PressLast week, Guyana's newly elected president, David Granger, was in Washington and met with top U.S. diplomats looking for support, according to the Washington Post. The Wash Post spices up their story by recalling the 1970s messianic American preacher, the Rev. Jim Jones. "Jonestown was actually a buffer in the Guyana-Venezuela border dispute."
  • Athletes in next year's Summer Olympics in Brazil "will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill," according to an Associated Press investigation. This has "dismayed" some athletes already training in Rio, "some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea." 

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