29-Apr-2013 - Venezuela: What constitutes free an fair?
On 14 April 2013 Venezuela held a presidential election, six months after President Hugo Chávez was re-elected and less than six weeks after the government announced Chávez’s death. Many of the questions about the fairness of the election relate not to the technical operation of the voting machines, but to the political machine operated by Chávez, and now his heir apparent Nicolas Maduro. Opposition candidates do not get airtime like the state-backed party does. If their speech becomes as fiery as the ruling party, they risk sanction. And the pervasive social programs created by Chávez make recipients of houses, jobs, and monthly stipends feel obligated to vote for the “Bolivarian revolution” despite the many problems facing Venezuela today.
18-Feb-2013 - Colombia: Peace talks amid violence
Hours after the polls closed, the National Electoral Council (CNE) called the election in favor of Chávez’s favored successor: Nicolas Maduro, who ran on a platform of carrying on with chavista politics and policies. In his campaign, Maduro followed the Chávez playbook, accusing El Salvador, Colombia and the U.S. of plots to destabilize the government. According to the CNE, Maduro beat challenger Henrique Capriles by a margin of 200,000 votes, pushing Maduro’s share to 50.8 percent of the vote.
Opponents of Chávez and Maduro cried foul. Opposition protestors in Venezuela took to the streets to demonstrate. Although the CNE said it audited some electronic voting machines, it has repeatedly changed its stance on the audit. The CNE initially agreed to an expanded audit, then backtracked, but now promises to audit 100 percent of the voting machines, if not the voter rolls and paper ballot confirmations. That review will probably not be complete until June at the earliest, according to the CNE chair, Tibisay Lucena.
In the most recent election, Capriles asserted that thousands of deceased Venezuelans were included on voter rolls. Southern Pulse heard an independent report from a woman who checked and found that her father, who died two years ago, had “voted” in the April 2013 presidential election.
In the meantime, Maduro was sworn in as President on 19 April 2013, and has taken the opposition to task. He claimed that opposition protestors firebombed and vandalized clinics across the country, but opposition activists mobilized to publicize photos showing that Maduro’s allegations were exaggerated or even in some cases, totally false. Yet Maduro ordered an investigation that may land Capriles in prison. (Capriles was jailed under Chávez in 2004 for his involvement in a protest following the 2002 failed coup against Chávez.) The head of the chavista-dominated legislature, Diosdado Cabello called Capriles a “fascist murderer,” and blamed him for the deaths of nine people in post-election violence. Some families of victims have come forward to say that Maduro is falsely labeling ordinary murders, in a nation with one of the highest murder rates in the world, as political violence.
Since the election, Maduro and his cabinet have continued to broadcast conspiracy theories, accusing Capriles of planning a coup to overthrow him. On 26 April authorities detained an American documentary film-maker in Caracas on charges of illegally funneling money to opposition groups in Venezuela. Then on 27 April police arrested retired general Antonio Rivero for conspiring against Maduro. Despite a deeply divided country, and laws that should protect political freedom, a number of high-ranking government officials appear prepared to penalize, or even criminalize dissent. The National Prison Director Iris Varela said she was preparing a cell for Capriles, and in a videotaped speech Ricardo Molina, Minister of Housing pledged to fire anyone who doesn’t support chavismo. In the video Molina says [in Spanish here] that labor laws don’t matter to him, he won’t protect or accept people who do not share his political views, labeling them “fascists.”
Bottom-line: The government is rightly cautious about the ability of FARC leadership to guarantee a cohesive peace.
22-Jan-2013 - Honduras: 2013 looking a lot like 2009
Background: Amid a fourth attempt at peace negotiations between the government of Colombia and the rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC), the FARC implemented a unilateral two-month cease-fire starting on 20 November 2012 in a demonstration of good faith. FARC allegedly perpetrated 57 attacks during the ceasefire, and the government warned of a spike in violence levels after the termination of the truce. Six days after the cease-fire ended on 20 January 2013, FARC kidnapped two policemen, Cristian Camilo Yate and Víctor Alfonso González, in the municipalities of Pradera and Florida, in the Valle del Cauca department. On 31 January 2013, Colombian soldier Josué Meneses was captured by FARC in Policarpa in the neighboring department of Nariño, close to the Ecuadoran border. The government team called for their release and on 9 February 2013, FARC spokesman Rodrigo Granda confirmed the abductees would be released. The Colombians for Peace Organization and the International Red Cross oversaw the transfer of the three men on 15 February and 16 February.
Those three kidnappings are just a fraction of FARC’s recent violence against security forces and civilians. Since the beginning of February, FARC carried out 30 reported attacks nationwide against security forces, killing ten and injuring 35. In the Choco department, FARC implemented an “armed strike” from 1 to 9 February to highlight government exploitation and corruption in the region, disrupting travel and economic activity; transport companies refused to move goods or passengers (an estimated 200,000) to Quibdo, Medellin, and Pereira, citing the threat of FARC attacks.
On 10 February 2013, the 33rd Front of FARC attacked an Ecopetrol construction site in Teorama, in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander department near the Venezuelan border. That assault destroyed a tractor, a cargo truck, and another vehicle. On the same day, it also attacked the Caño Limon Coveñas pipeline in Carmen, Norte de Santander. Just a day later, on 11 February, the 49th Front Guerillas blew up a section of the Trans-Andes oil pipeline (OTA) near Los Ángeles, in the municipality of Ortio, in Putumayo department. On 12 February 2013, authorities were ambushed by FARC, who threw a grenade, while responding to a fire in Miraflores. That skirmish killed two, including a 10 year old boy, and injured 27. On 13 February 2013, FARC killed seven more Colombian soldiers and injured five during a battle in Caqueta department. Though historically unremarkable, the recent FARC offensive is generating a climate of unease.
Still, as the fourth phase of talks came to a close on 11 February 2013, FARC noted the peace process was progressing at the rate of a “bullet train.” While government negotiators corroborated this characterization, one of them, Humberto de la Calle also expressed frustration with the rebels’ attempts to deviate from the mutually-agreed upon agenda by discussing themes such as mining and halting electrical generation megaproject construction. Despite these small set backs, both sides exude optimism for the future. After a short respite, talks are to resume on 18 February 2013.
Commentary: While the methods and ideals of FARC may not have changed, President Juan Manuel Santos believes the government’s position of power has changed. When former President Andrés Pastrana ended the previous negotiations on 21 February 2002, FARC controlled the discussions, carrying out high-profile attacks and gaining an extensive safe haven around the San Vicente del Caguán settlement. Now, the government believes peace is possible because FARC’s position has weakened, creating an opportunity for the government to lead negotiations and achieve its goals with minimal sacrifices.
Santos has set November 2013 as the deadline for an agreement. Since it has taken four months to address the first point alone (land reform/rural development), nine more months may not be enough time to address the remaining four points (the right to exercise political opposition, an end to the armed conflict, drugs trafficking, and victims’ rights), so Santos’ timeline could jeopardize the talks. On the other hand, a stiff deadline is necessary to demonstrate seriousness, and to prevent the talks from being drawn out for years.
Finally, even if both parties reach a final peace agreement, will FARC be able to control all its various factions throughout Colombia? The ceasefire was a test-run for a final agreement, to demonstrate a unified FARC leadership, but by our assessment it failed that litmus test. Even though a majority of members might demobilize and assimilate pending a final truce, more ardent members may continue to fight as fervently as ever. Santos must proceed with caution if the FARC cannot manage a better demonstration of restraint.
27-Apr-2011 - Nicaragua: Ortega Buying Votes Early
Bottom Line: In 2013, Honduras is headed down the same road that led to the 2009 political crisis. Crime and inflation are up, foreign investment is down, the government’s finances are in disarray, and the president is talking about polling the Honduran people to see if they want constitutional changes that could jeopardize the 2013 general elections.
Background: In 2009, Honduran President Jose Manuel “Mel” Zelaya Rosales proposed polling the Honduran people to see if they wanted to vote on a Constituent Assembly during the November 2009 general elections. The poll to determine if the people wanted the “Fourth Urn,” as it was called, was declared illegal by the Honduran Supreme Court, but Zelaya decided to proceed with it anyway on 28 June 2009. In the week before the planned poll, intense negotiations between Zelaya and his chief political rival, President of the Congress Roberto Micheletti Bain, failed to produce a compromise on the Fourth Urn. (Note: During elections, Hondurans deposit their completed ballots in boxes called urns. There are three urns in an election: one for votes for president, one for members of congress and one for municipal officials.)
Concerned that Zelaya would manipulate the results of the poll to demand that Congress install the Fourth Urn, the Honduran Congress, Armed Forces, Supreme Court and Attorney General conspired to remove Zelaya from office claiming he had committed crimes against the constitution that made him ineligible to continue as president. In the hours before dawn on 28 June 2009, the Honduran Army removed Zelaya from his house and put him on an Air Force plane to Costa Rica. The world awoke to Zelaya on international news claiming he had been the victim of a coup d’etat. Roberto Micheletti claimed the move was a “constitutional succession,” and he assumed the presidency; no country in the world recognized his de facto government.
With the support of the international community, Honduras held democratic elections in November 2009, and elected Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa as its president.
Commentary: This year is starting off eerily similar to 2009 with a constitutional crisis involving the Supreme Court. In 2009, the question was what would happen if the National Congress didn’t name fifteen new Supreme Court Justices before the deadline specified in the constitution. The crisis was avoided when the Congress elected the fifteen magistrates minutes before the midnight deadline. In 2013, the question is what to do with four justices removed from the Supreme Court by a Congressional vote, and the four justices sworn in to replace them. The former judges have asked the Supreme Court to declare their removal unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court denied the request.
Once again, the Honduran president is directly involved in the controversy. In 2009, it was Jose Manuel “Mel” Zelaya Rosales who argued for reelection of some of the magistrates so he could have some measure of influence over the court. Current president Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa encouraged the Congress to remove the justices following several of their decisions that went against his administration. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the declaration by the Constitutional Court that the law allowing the Honduran Police to conduct polygraphs and other “confidence tests” on police officers was unconstitutional. Curiously, the decision came after the law’s six month validity had expired; the tests had already been administered and some police officers had been fired.
Of course, this is an election year, and there is a school of thought that the Honduran Congress removed the justices because the government was concerned about how the Supreme Court would rule on a request by National Party presidential candidate and Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo Alvarez to recount, vote for vote, the results of the November 2012 primary elections. Alvarez lost those elections to President of Congress Juan Orlando Hernandez, but demonstrated irregularities in the final reports provided by some polling stations that would indicate fraud in favor of Hernandez. International observers did not report widespread fraud but admitted that their observations were not located in the small districts where Hernandez is strongest and where Alvarez alleged the machinations took place. Hernandez is Lobo’s preferred candidate to succeed him in the presidency with general elections to take place in November 2013.
Judicial controversies are not the only problems plaguing Honduras in 2013. The government finished the year with a budget deficit that exceeded $1 billion (6% of GDP) and many public sectors did not receive their December salary or year-end bonus. Honduras has attempted to finance its budget deficit by offering sovereign debt but has been unable to find any buyers. The local financial system has refused to purchase bonds, and it is unlikely Honduras will find international banks willing to assume the risk despite the large interest rates being offered.
Crime increased significantly in the second half of 2012; even Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla admitted that Honduras experienced a spike in homicides in the 45 days ending the year with the police unable to stem the tide. The early advances in effectiveness and reduced corruption gained after the arrival of National Police Chief Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla (no relation to the Minister) in the second quarter of 2012 have leveled off, and the police seemed to have returned to their status quo of mediocrity.
President Lobo broached the topic of the Fourth Urn during the first Ministers Council meeting of 2013 in which he said there would definitely be a consultation of the people during the November elections. The 2009 Fourth Urn would have been a plebiscite to ask the people if they wanted to install a Constituent Assembly to reform the Honduran constitution. The Fourth Urn in 2013 will likely ask the Constituent Assembly question as well as other national interest questions such as should the government renegotiate the contracts with the large private energy generating companies with the idea of extracting more money from them for the government.
What is the difference between 2009 and 2013? Why the Fourth Urn now when it was denied then? The difference lies in the support for the president from the other branches of government. In 2009, Zelaya was isolated since the Congress was controlled by his rival Micheletti and the Supreme Court was loyal to former Honduran President Carlos Flores. Zelaya had popular support, and he maintained the loyalty of the Honduran Armed Forces until he fired Chief of the Armed Forces General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez four days before the 28 June poll. In 2013, Lobo has the support of President of Congress Juan Orlando Hernandez who is also the National Party presidential candidate. The Supreme Court will not be a factor since the Congress has intimidated the justices. The Armed Forces are led by General Rene Osorio who was previously in charge of Lobo’s Presidential Guard.
What are the possible outcomes? Hernandez fully expects to win the presidency outright using the full economic and political power of his position as head of the Congress. The opposition is divided between the Liberal Party candidate Mauricio Villeda and Zelaya’s wife Xiomara Castro who heads the Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) Party founded by Zelaya after his return from exile in the Dominican Republic.
The Fourth Urn serves two purposes for Hernandez. If he wins the November elections, he will assume the presidency in January 2014 and use the results of the Fourth Urn vote to justify convening the Constituent Assembly at the end of his first year or beginning of his second year. Hernandez’s objective would be to lengthen the presidential term from four to six years and/or change the constitution to permit reelection. Following the drafting of the new constitution sometime during Hernandez’s second year, the country will return to the polls where Hernandez will hope to win a second term with the structure in place to continue in power for many years to come. This is similar to what Rafael Correa did in Ecuador with successful results.
In the unlikely event that Hernandez does not win the November elections, the Fourth Urn gives him a viable Plan B. The total votes in favor of the Fourth Urn will likely outnumber the total votes of any single presidential candidate including the winner of the election. In this case, Lobo and Hernandez could declare that the true will of the people is the Constituent Assembly and not the results of the polls and convene the Constituent Assembly immediately. The government would either declare the election results invalid or ignore them. The delegates for the Constituent Assembly would be the current members of Congress, many of whom are not up for reelection and would not mind staying in power for a year or more.
In this scenario, Lobo knows he would not be reelected and Hernandez would probably not open Pandora’s Box to permit past presidents including Zelaya and the still-popular Carlos Flores to run again, so the Constituent Assembly would simply amplify the presidential term to six years and convoke new elections. Hernandez would hope to use his power as President of the Constituent Assembly to reverse the result of the previous election.
So, while some of the actors have changed and the final result may be different, what is certain is that Honduras is headed for another turbulent election year.
With the Nicaraguan presidential election still several months away, President Daniel Ortega is already getting his party organization into gear. The FSLN organization is going neighborhood to neighborhood and interest group to interest group to buy votes for the coming election.
07-Mar-2011 - Venezuela: Venezuelan fuel sales undermine U.S. sanctions
Neighborhood meetings are being held in which people are told that their barrios will obtain public works projects if Ortega is reelected and their neighborhood votes in favor of the president. They are also told that barrios that vote against the president will not receive basic projects including street repair. The barrio by barrio election results will be watched carefully by Ortega to reward the supporting neighborhoods and punish the opponents.This strategy is creating a dynamic in which people are feeling pressured to vote Sandinista by their neighbors to secure the local projects. As most people already know their neighbors' political leanings, Ortega's strategy is creating some tension in barrios where political divisions could tilt it either way.
Last year, President Ortega promised all government workers an additional 530 cordoba (approximately US$25) bonus every month of this year. Now, the National Workers Front (FNT), which represents government workers, has told its members that they will continue receiving the bonus only if Ortega is elected. The US$40 million in money for that bonus is provided through ALBA, not through the government budget process, and it is certain that Venezuelan President Chavez would cut off that money should Ortega not be reelected.
Government workers are already forced to participate in rallies and marches and union leaders have announced their support for Ortega. By offering them this monthly bonus for Ortega's reelection, the president is buying votes and hedging against those workers privately opposing him when they mark their ballots. First lady Rosario Murillo is leading this effort and will be holding a rally with government workers to praise the benefits of the "solidarity bonus" as the Sandinistas call it.
Last year, the U.S. bolstered its sanctions on Iran to pressure the Middle Eastern country to be more candid about its nuclear program. According to the Iran Sanctions Act, multiple sanctions will be imposed on any entity that sells or provides Iran with refined petroleum products with fair market value of $1 million or more, or with aggregate fair market value of $5 million or more in a twelve-month period. Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum company, PDVSA, may be the next company to be sanctioned under this act if it turns out the rumors that PDVSA sent two cargoes of gasoline to Iran last month are true.
04-Mar-2011 - Guatemala: State of siege requested for Petén department
Sources close to the matter recently revealed PDVSA documents that confirmed the shipment of fuel to Iran in February 2011. The vessel carrying the fuel arrived on 27 February in Jebel Ali, Dubai, which is a quick trip across the Persian Gulf to Iranian ports.
PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez denies accusations that the company sent fuel to Iran, but three trade sources confirmed the plan for shipment to wire reporters.
Iran is dependent on fuel due to its limited refining capacity, and has felt the impact that U.S. sanctions were meant to deliver. Prior to the sanctions, the Islamic Republic imported ten to twelve cargoes per month, but since the middle of 2010 major oil companies terminated their business with the nation.
Iran does not import all of its fuel from companies like PDVSA that have decided to ignore international sanctions. One trade source shared with wire services that Iran has stockpiles of fuel and has boosted its own production through petrochemical plants, but “still they are short of gasoline,” reports claim. Around this time of year it is typical for Iran’s gasoline needs to grow, and PDVSA seems to be the entity, illegally, picking up the slack between Iranian needs and international reluctance.
On 16 February 2011, Petén Governor Rudel Álvarez announced that he had formally asked Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom to declare a ‘state of siege’ in the department, at the request of 13 departmental mayors. The announcement was made just days before the state of siege in the neighboring department of Alta Verapaz expired, but Colom and Interior Minister Carlos Menocal made it clear that the federal government has no plans to redeploy military forces. While Petén is facing an escalating threat from drug gangs, particularly Los Zetas, a Mexican criminal organization, a lack of resources prevents the government from going on the offensive there.
18-Feb-2011 - Bolivia: Morales' sudden crisis
Petén’s location in the far north-east of Guatemala left it on the periphery of historical drug transport routes through the country, which ran from Izabal on the Caribbean coast through Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz before crossing into Mexico via Quiché or Huehuetenango. Despite not being located along the primary drug routes, Petén’s vast territory and extended border with Mexico made it a target for recent Los Zetas expansion.
As Guatemala’s largest department, Petén has an area of almost 36,000 square kilometers, covered with dense jungle and sparsely populated with a density of approximately 11 people per square kilometer, according to 2004 census statistics. Petén also contains approximately 600 kilometers of Guatemala’s 871-kilometer border with Mexico. While there are only five legal border crossings, drug traffickers have created their own breach points, through which they freely move large quantities of drugs strapped to the roofs of SUVs. Los Zetas also reportedly control the Usumacinta River, which forms most of Petén’s western border with Mexico.
In addition to creating their own border crossings, Los Zetas have also established direct sourcing by flying cocaine from the Andes to Petén. Guatemalan authorities reported in November 2010 that they detected hundreds of hidden airstrips throughout Petén, located on ‘narco-farms’ appropriated by Los Zetas. Large numbers of heavily armed cartel gunmen reportedly move freely around the department, pressuring local farmers into selling their land with violent threats. The Guatemalan Army has over 2,000 troops patrolling Petén, but Álvarez said the government has only recovered control of 118 thousand hectares in the Maya Biosphere Reserve, 22 percent of the total area.
Violence is concentrated in San Benito and Santa Elena in central Petén, but the root of the department’s problem is the vast territory in which Los Zetas operate freely. The apparent impunity under which Los Zetas operate prompted departmental leaders to request a state of siege. A ‘state of siege,’ or ‘state of exception,’ suspends many constitutional rights, including freedom of movement and to organize, and allows military and police officers to conduct searches or arrest suspects without warrants.
In Alta Verapaz, the declaration of a state of siege on 19 December 2010 accompanied the deployment of 300 specially trained army troops and removal of 325 National Civil Police (PNC) officers to be investigated for corruption. At a meeting with civil society and political leaders on 19 January 2011 in Cobán, the capital of Alta Verapaz, Colom highlighted the achievements made during the two months Alta Verapaz was under a state of siege. The crime rate decreased an average of 57 percent throughout the department, and authorities seized 200 rifles, five airplanes, 28 vehicles, and an undisclosed amount of cash, which some reports put as high as US$65 million. Operations led to the arrest of 300 suspected criminals, including 20 alleged members of Los Zetas.
Military and police operations concentrated on Cobán, where Los Zetas based their activity and reportedly walked the streets carrying assault rifles. The government anticipates that maintaining the modest deployment of forces will maintain security in Coban, under the direction of the country’s third Comisario Modelo funded with US$6 million from the U.S. government.
Guatemalan politicians questioned Colom’s decision to limit the state of siege to Alta Verapaz, given the extent of Los Zetas’ operations in Petén. Since he announced the start of operations in Alta Verapaz, Colom emphasized that the government does not have the resources to expand the state of siege outside of the department. Retaking the vast swathes of jungle under control of Los Zetas will require the dedication of significant resources the federal government is currently incapable of providing.
Bolivian President Evo Morales spent the first five years of his administration with significant public support. While the opposition presented a regular political challenge, the president's popular majority appeared solid and allowed him to govern with a mandate.
18-Feb-2011 - Bolivia: Protests against food prices and gasoline continue
In recent weeks, Morales's support has appeared to drop precipitously and sectors that used to support the president have become critical.
The tipping point appears to have been the gasolinazo. With Morales out of the country in late December, Vice President Garcia Linera suddenly announced the end of gasoline subsidies. The government claimed that smugglers and the rich were the big beneficiaries of these subsidies. However, many lower class transportation groups protested as did the lower class who used buses and taxis that would feel the price increase. Several industries including some bread makers announced they would have to raise prices as a result of the lost subsidies.
The protests were significant across the country, but the blockading of roads in El Alto, the poor region around La Paz, was the key indicator that this was a serious problem for the government. Morales once enjoyed a 90% approval rating in El Alto and the region was a key source for protesters who led to the downfall of the previous Sanchez de Lozada and Mesa governments.
The president attempted to calm the protests by implementing some price controls and providing a raise to the military, police, teachers and health workers, but that did little to help the situation. In the middle of everything, rumors of a bank run, which turned out to be false, caused some brief panic in Bolivia's financial markets.
As a result of the protests, the Morales government was forced to back down on the gasolinazo, though they stress they will need to eliminate the subsidies at some point soon.
Within weeks of the fuel protests, a new round of protests have begun in Bolivia, this time over food. The president was forced to flee one planned speech in Oruro due to food protests being too aggressive. Various protests over food prices continue and the government is now considering its options to stockpile food and prevent prices from going to high.
The most recent reliable polls show Morales's approval in the mid-30's, easily the lowest point of his term. That's a significant drop from last November when his approval was around 50%.
On 10 February 2011, in a small, mining city of Oruro in western Bolivia, President Morales arrived to his hometown to address a parade commemorating a colonial-era uprising. The parade quickly changed its trajectory when miners set off dynamite and the local public protested the rising food prices and shortages, forcing President Evo Morales to flee for safety, and return to the capital city of La Paz. Also in danger were Vice President Alvaro García Linera, and governor of Oruro, Santos Tito. Citizens of the city of Oruro seem to have taken a different view of the President since his reelection in 2009 when the city voted Morales into presidency with 78 percent of the vote.
24-Jan-2011 - Venezuela: Chavez, Enabled
Similar, smaller protests occurred on the same day in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, La Paz and Cochabamba as the public grows more frustrated with the rising food and transport costs and a shortage of sugar. In December 2010, Morales lifted subsidies on gasoline, flour and sugar declaring that the US$ 380 million state subsidy could no longer be afforded since much of it ends up being smuggled out of the country. Since then, the administration went back on the plan, except for sugar costs which remain unsubsidized by the government. The price of sugar almost doubled in the last two months, and the administration is facing discontent throughout the country, as a result.
Spokesperson for the President, Ivan Canelas, said that President Morales decided to suspend his participation in the parade in order to “not respond to the shameful organized demonstration by displaced social leaders.” He added that, “It is shameful that when initiating a civil march, groups of absent-minded leaders, with past connections to coups d’etat, have protests with dynamite explosives and rockets in order to provoke fear among the population.”
Some protesters focused on demanding the government remove Emapa, a government agency meant to promote food production. Protesters argued the agency does little to help the nation, is inefficient and discourages private commerce. There are no signs, however, that the Morales Administration is making moves to fulfill this request.
More recently, on 15 February 2011, townspeople in Cochabamba, Oruro and Potosí blocked roads, participated in marches and protests, civil strikes and attempts to clash with public transportation in a response to the tariff on transportation. The block provoked the closing of streets connecting Cochabamba with Oruro, Potosí and La Paz. In Santa Cruz, public transportation workers are protesting for a second day in the center of the city.
The Federation of Joined Neighbors also organized a protest on 15 February 2011 that caused chaos in the center of the capital city of La Paz. Protesters yelled for “fair prices” and called out “Evo, Álvaro, the city is hungry!” directing their calls to the President and Vice President. The protesters planned to arrive to the Plaza Murillo to protest in front of the Presidential Palace and Parliament, but police cordons stopped them. The leader of the Federation of Joined Neighbors explained that they are not trying to destabilize the administration; rather, they just want a change to the current minister of Productive Development.
Venezuelan politics took an interesting turn of events in December 2010 when the lame-duck National Assembly granted President Hugo Chávez the power to legislate for up to one year under the Enabling Act. The new legislation gives Chávez the power to issue decrees and laws related to the emergencies of the rainy seasons, which includes housing and transportation areas, as well. This change marks the fourth time in Chávez’s twelve-year presidency that he assumed the power to rule by decree.
10-Jan-2011 - Venezuela: Venezuela's Dance with Terrorism
Chávez’s new power permits the president to arbitrarily create law without approval by the National Assembly. Critics believed the decree power was Chávez’s way of undercutting the incoming National Assembly, which is made up of a number of opposition lawmakers.
The opposition parties gained 67 of parliament’s 165 seats in the September 2010 elections, leaving Chávez without the two-thirds majority he needs to approve major laws and appoint Supreme Court justices. The 67 seats are a signifncant increase in representation for opposition parties that have had almost no representation since their 2005 decision to boycott elections.
Harsh criticism over the decree from home and abroad brought Chávez to parliament on 15 January 2011 to announce that he is prepared to give up this power as early as May 2011, almost a year shorter than the mid-2012 expiration of the legislation, pending the progress of post-flood emergency measures. To further belittle the accusations, Chávez welcomed the opposition parties to the National Assembly and called for mutual respect in a seven-hour speech. Yet, many in the opposition did not fall for what they perceived as a phony call for collaboration.
“We have a president who spends 365 days a year lashing out at the media, the church, NGOs, fighting with everyone and then he tells us one day that he wants dialogue,” said Julio Borges, an opposition lawmaker who sat through the president’s typically long state-of-the-nation speech.
The National Assembly got off to an intense start in 2011. Loud applause, shouts and slogan chants were heard at the start of the National Assembly’s new session on 5 January 2011. “They will not return!” chanted Pro-Chávez lawmakers, while opponents replied they had returned. Outside of the National Assembly, protestors of both sides demonstrated and National Guard troops lined the streets to deter any riots.
The opposition’s significant representation in parliament brings the political tension to new heights in Caracas. An opposition lawmaker recently launched a challenge to the president and his historically "rubber stamp" legislature. Venezuelan political party Por la Democracia Social (Podemos) Deputy Juan José Molina announced that his party will file complaints to the Organization of American States and Mercosur about the law-making process, as well as file an appeal with the Venezuelan Supreme Court, claiming 80 percent of the laws approved by the National Assembly did not correspond with the regulations of the Venezuelan Constitution.
Within the first week of the new session, the opposition denounced the previous National Assembly’s law that permits Chávez to rule by decree, claiming it violates the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States. Additionally, the opposition is arguing that President Chávez plans to use his new powers to advance his campaign for a third presidential term in 2012.
On 9 December 2010, United States House Representative (R-Fort Meyers) Connie Mack, the Ranking Republican of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, wrote a letter calling for the US government to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism. Mack wrote the letter following the publication of an article in the German daily, Die Welt. In the 25 November 2010 edition, the publication reported that Venezuela and Iran signed an agreement on 19 October 2010, allowing Iran to establish a military base operated by Iranian Revolutionary guard soldiers, Iran missile officers and Venezuelan missile officers.
According to the agreement, Iran allegedly permitted the Venezuelan government to launch the missiles in “emergency” cases and stated that Venezuelan officers could use the base's facilities for “national needs.” Die Welt also reported that the Iran Shabab 3, Scud-B and Scud-C missiles would be deployed in the military base.
“What further proof does this Administration need that Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez is a dangerous threat to the freedom, stability and security of the entire hemisphere?” Mack wrote, citing four reasons: Chávez's aid and support of the FARC, Venezuela's collaboration with Iran in the oil and bank sectors, the Chávez administration's human rights violations and the military base agreement.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been candid about his ideological support of the FARC. In January 2008, Chávez spoke to the National Assembly about Colombia, asserting that everyone present was Colombian, of “the Bolivarian Colombia.” The president spoke about achieving peace throughout Latin America, maintaining that the FARC and ELN were not terrorists, but armies working towards national liberation. “They are insurgents that have a political agenda...that have a Bolivarian agenda...” he persisted.
In 2010, Spanish Judge Eloy Velsaco opened an investigation to determine the links between the FARC, ETA and the Venezuelan government. Chávez deemed his probing “crazy,” claiming that there was no substance to the accusations. Velasco's investigation specifically targeted Arturo Cubillas Fontán, who allegedly trained ETA forces in Venezuela and collaborated with FARC rebels.
Cubillas was the director in of the Venezuelan Ministry of Agriculture and Lands' Administration and Service Office. The Spanish government has unsuccessfully applied for Cubillas' extradition. Venezuelan authorities protested that they could not grant the request because Cubillas became a Venezuelan citizen by marriage. The Venezuelan government officially launched an independent investigation into Cubillas' activities at the end of October 2010.
Some foreign affairs experts and politicians alleged that the Chávez administration provided some form of support to the FARC in Colombia for the past several years. Several newspapers have made claims about Chávez providing financial support and harboring narco-traffickers collaborating with the FARC and other organizations.
US and Colombian officials alleged that Venezuelan officials are turning a blind eye to FARC guerrillas trafficking drugs along the Venezuelan border, which ultimately provides the group with funding for living costs, weapons and other supplies.
In 2008, Colombian officials claimed that they discovered evidence linking Venezuelan authorities to the guerrilla group. After FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes died as a result of a raid in March 2008, Colombian soldiers recovered Reyes' laptop computer, which contained files implicating high-ranking Venezuelans working with the FARC to supply weapons, ammunition and US$300 million.
Colombian General Oscar Naranjo reported that one of Reyes' notes stated that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was “grateful” for US$150,000 which he received while he was in prison in the early 1990s. Another note referred to Venezuelan intelligence agents providing the FARC with weapons. The Colombian government sent the documents to Venezuela and Ecuador. Interpol analyzed the documents and concluded that the Colombian officials took the files directly from Reyes' computer and did not distort or re-write any of the information, although the Ecuadoran government continued to dispute the legitimacy of the documents.
Representative Mack additionally pointed out that the Chávez administration collaborated with Iran in the financial and gas sector. The Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI) created a Venezuelan subsidiary, Banco Internacional de Desarrollo C.A. (BID) in Caracas, which began operation on 2 January 2008.
Both governments also announced the creation of a joint bank in May 2008. In April 2009, President Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the Iran-Venezuela Joint Bank in Tehran. With an initial capital base of US$200 million, the bank supports joint economic, industrial and mining development projects.
Both countries have also created joint ventures and invested money into gas exploration projects. In October 2007, Iran and Venezuela announced the formation of a US$1 billion joint venture to explore gas in countries such as Bolivia. They created the Venezuelan-Iranian Oil and Gas Company (VENIROGC) as a 50-50 partnership between Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PdvSA) and Petropars. The company currently has an office located in Spain.
Venezuela has also invested millions of dollars in exploration projects. At the end of October 2010, an Iranian official announced that PdvSA will invest US$780 million towards projects in Iran's South Pars gas field.
The Clinton administration and the second Bush administration labeled Iran as the largest state-sponsor of terrorism. US government officials may consider numerous complaints about the Venezuelan government's human rights record, its rhetorical support of the FARC as well as its diplomatic and economic relationship with Iran in order to label Venezuela a state sponsor of terrorism.
However, Die Welt has been the only source that released information regarding the Venezuela-Iran military base and missile agreement. Experts and journalists writing about the issue have solely based their articles on the German publication's story. Currently, there is a lack of significant proof in the open source space about the agreement.