Esquina Latina – March 25

I was born in Colombia, and have spent more than 5 years living, working, and traveling in Latin America. I find the many cultures, traditions, and histories of this region fascinating. Even though I am currently living in DC, I try to keep myself informed on what is going on in the region, and in the spirit of my weekly development links, I am going to start summarizing the articles and papers I read about the region. Not sure if I’ll do this every week, or make it a bi-weekly thing, guess I’ll play it by ear.

With no further ado, the links:

  • Mayor of Lima Survives Recall Vote (NY Times) – I am not very knowledgeable about Limeño politics. However, on first glance it seems like a good thing Susana Villaran won her recall vote. She clearly has riled up a lot of animosity from Lima’s traditional powers. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem she has committed any illegal or corrupt actions. While this is not exactly a ringing endorsement, the recall appears to be a part of a strategy to prevent Villaran from exercising the powers of her office. Considering this, it is probably for the best she will get to finish her term,  if only for stability sake or the fact she is Lima’s first female mayor.
  • Proceso de Paz en Colombia (El Tiempo) – Cool flash application providing a chronology of the peace process and a description of the participants in the peace negotiations ongoing between Colombia and FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group. The application was designed by El Tiempo, Bogota’s main newspaper, and is in Spanish.
  • In Effort to Try Dictator, Guatemala Shows New Judicial Might (NY Times) – In a major ruling, Guatemala’s supreme court ruled in favor of the prosecution, which will ensure that Efraín Ríos, Guatemala’s former dictator, will be tried for human rights violations committed during his rule in the 1980s. I think this is excellent news. While there are certainly concerns about whether or not Efraín Ríos will get a fair trial, this concern is outweighed by the message it sends: dictators are responsible for the actions done under their rule. The fact it took 30 years to get here does weakens the deterrence capacity of the judgement, it is nevertheless, a positive step. I look forward to seeing how this trial unfolds, and hope the victims in Guatemala get an opportunity to voice their outrage and see some form of justice.
  • Argentina’s Fernandez Asks Pope to Intervene Over Falklands (Reuters) – Glad to see that Venezuela doesn’t have a monopoly on absurd political theatre in Latin America.  Argentina’s use of the Falklands is fairly similar to Chavez’s anti-U.S. rhetoric. It is used as a call to arms for supporters and a smoke-screen to distract from domestic problems. Much like the anti-imperialist claims from Venezuela, the Falklands are rooted in historical events and stories. Just as in Venezuela, the truth of the matter has little to do with the effectiveness of using this political tool. Therefore, it isn’t really worth going through point by point the tenuousness of the Argentine claim to the islands, or the fact a recent referendum had the islanders voting nearly unanimously to remain British. Trying to draw the Pope in on the issue should be interpreted as a cynical attempt to rally nationalist sentiment and boost morale in the face of local economic problems.
  • Earth to Evo (Project Syndicate) – This article struck me as a bit too negative on Evo Morales.  Is there a certain amount of hypocrisy and political  self-serving behind the environmental and pro-indigenous mantle that Evo Morales has clothed himself? Sure. However, Evo like national leaders everywhere has to make trade offs, where economic, social, political, and environmental objectives have to be weighed and prioritized. The road represents potential economic development for a country in need of it. Does it threaten the rights of the indigenous people living in the TIPNIS, and potentially the environment? Yes. However, it would potentially open markets for other indigenous groups (cocaleros, quechua, aymara) that are a more powerful voting block. With this in mind is it really a surprise Evo is pushing forward with the project? Disappointing perhaps, but not all that surprising.
  • Chavez backers clash with protesters in Venezuela (ABCnews) – The situation in Venezuela continues to be volatile, as this article shows, with pro- and anti- Chavistas clashing in the streets of Caracas. I am sympathetic to the student protesters, who are trying to get the supreme court to prevent Maduro from using the full force of the state during the elections. Hopefully, they can get their message across without too many people getting hurt. Representative democracy is best served when the electorate can make decisions based on free and honest information about the candidates.
  • Autumn of the Patriarchs (Project Syndicate) – An interesting look at the final days of many modern autocrats, and their similarities with what is currently happening in Venezuela. I agree with Ben-Ami that Chavismo is not sustainable over the long run unless major reforms are enacted  However, in the short-term I expect that Maduro will win and continue in the same vein as Chavez. What happens from there will depend on Maduro, his desire to maintain a veneer of democratic legitimacy, his ability to control the Chavistas, and how long he can maintain handouts through oil-money.

Le Théâtre de l’Absurde – An update on Venezuela

I erroneously thought things couldn’t get any more ridiculous in Venezuela, but every passing week continues to prove me wrong. Shortly after Maduro double downed on anti-imperialist rhetoric, accusing the U.S. of giving Chavez cancer, Maduro accused the U.S. of plotting to assassinate Henrique Capriles, the Venezuelan opposition leader, in the hopes of destabilizing Venezuela and leading to a military coup d’etat. Baffling, right? There is so much about this accusation to inspire incredulity, but these are the first that came to mind:

  1. The officials (Roger Noriega and Otto Reich) Maduro is accusing of leading this conspiracy are not currently serving in the U.S. government. They were members of George W. Bush’s administration and have not been in office for more than 5 years. I’m not sure what to make of this. Are people supposed to believe these guys are working secretly for the Obama administration, or somehow have gone rogue and are free-lancing? In the end, I think the Chavistas haven’t bothered to update their Rolodex of U.S. government officials and keep recycling the same names in their random conspiracy generator
  2. If the ultimate goal of the U.S. is to cause the downfall of those currently in power, why would they want to assassinate Capriles, the first opposition leader since Chavez came to power to have demonstrated any ability to be competitive in a national election?
  3. With many pro-chavistas in the Venezuelan military, after years of Chavez purging the military of all opposition, a military coup d’etat doesn’t seem to be a good venue of ensuring a pro-american government

Let us dispense with the obviously baseless conspiracy theory, why would Maduro even make the accusation? I guess going to the bread and butter of anti-imperialist rhetoric might help him rally his base in preparation for elections. However, it seems to be in contrast with Maduro’s other actions of trying to discredit Capriles by tying him to the bourgeois elite and painting him as pro-american. It also seems to shine a spotlight of sorts on the person he will be running against shortly. Frankly, I have trouble coming up with a reasonable explanation. Ironically, I am forced to come up with my own conspiracy to make sense of Maduro’s accusation, and this is the first I imagined:

  • Maduro can now use this conspiracy as an excuse to put Capriles under government watch to protect him. Such an act would fit the overall style of systematically consolidating power and limiting opposition under Chavez, described well in this NY Times article. Maduro could then play the role of patriot, while limiting Capriles’s ability to run a campaign.

Hopefully, this is not what actually happens, and Venezuela has a relatively free and fair election where Capriles is allowed to run without harassment. However, this possibility seems less and less likely. The deck was already going to be stacked against Capriles. Trying to win an election during a short campaign (a month or so), against Chavez’s ghost, and Maduro was  always going to be difficult. However, if the Maduro uses the full force of the government to stymie and suppress Capriles, it seems all but certain he will get his desired electoral victory. 

Venezuela: Panel Will Investigate Roots of Cancer That Killed Chávez

Venezuela: Panel Will Investigate Roots of Cancer That Killed Chávez

Completely absurd. If the U.S. had the capacity to take out people by inducing cancer in them since the 50s, I am pretty sure that there would be evidence of this spectacular assassination technique. I mean how many problematic leaders would have been targeted before Chavez (Fidel Castro, Manuel Noriega, Sudan Hussein, Ali Khamenei, or Muammar Gaddafi)?

It would be nice if Maduro would move past this ridiculous anti-imperialism, and start to move towards treating Venezuela’s real economic, social, and political problems. I hope that this is indeed what happens, but I am a lot more skeptical this is the direction things will be going under Maduro.

Hugo Chavez dies

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez dies

So it is official, Hugo Chavez has died. While it is still not clear what exactly happened over the past couple of months, the strangeness of the government’s actions can now be partially explained by the fact Chavez was in his final days.

With Chavez’s death there is now a  feeling reminiscent of Louis XV supposed final words: “après moi le déluge” (after me the deluge). Chavez leaves behind him a polarized country with many major economic and social problems, an untested opposition, and a fractious pro-Chavista party that may not fall in line with Maduro (Chavez’s chosen succesor). Elections will certainly follow, how fair they are will be interesting to see. Nevertheless, whoever wins will have a full plate trying to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess.

Chavez is back…or is he?

Chavez’s Return Spurs Doubts, New Speculation

I didn’t think this situation could get any shadier than Chavez being sequestered away in a hospital in Cuba, but I guess I was wrong. Chavez supposedly is back as reported by the Venezuelan government, and there isn’t any specific reason to believe otherwise, but the strange way that the government has handled his “disappearance” from public life is odd to say the least. The government’s actions basically beg people to ask what is being hidden, and lead to some spectacular rumor mongering and speculation, which can only erode society’s trust in the government. Assuming Chavez is alive and in Venezuela, which again there is no reason to believe otherwise at this time, it is hard to imagine a worse way of handling this situation.