• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Wednesday, [opposition leader] Henrique Capriles went on television to demand the [National Election Council] CNE offer his data as part of the [election] audit. The government of Nicolás Maduro quickly insisted that all television stations go to cadena, [where all channels must broadcast the same message from the government] in order to broadcast a prerecorded infomercial accusing Mr. Capriles of instigating violence. This had the added effect of blocking the Capriles press conference from the few stations that were broadcasting it.
Miguel has the specifics of Capriles campaign's audit request from Venezuela's CNE. Capriles wants the audit to look at who voted and how the fingerprint scanners that are supposed to prevent double voting functioned. For years, the opposition criticized the fingerprint scanners as an unnecessary intimidation while the government insisted the scanners are necessary to prevent voter fraud. So there is a bit of irony in that the Capriles campaign now wants the fingerprint data to be audited to look for voter fraud while the government is fighting against that effort as somehow unnecessary. Going through the voter records and fingerprint data is a completely legitimate request in the audit and within Capriles's rights as a candidate.
Meanwhile, media outlets and citizens have [reported] that the government has lied about the violence. Clinics allegedly destroyed by opposition mobs have been photographed as being just fine. Photos shown on state media of injured "chavistas" have [reportedly] turned out to actually be opposition supporters who were beaten by pro-government thugs.
Indeed, the government appears to be engaged in a relatively severe crackdown of its own, even as it accuses the opposition. The AP reports on several hundred Capriles supporters who were arrested, beaten, and otherwise abused. Several recordings have surfaced online showing the government is threatening to fire workers who voted for Capriles in the election.
At the very top, National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello plans to investigate Capriles for violence. The minister of prisons suggested/joked that a jail cell has already been prepared for the candidate and he should accept arrest and rehabilitation.
All of this should raise the question of what the Venezuelan government is trying to hide or cover up. If they were certain of a Maduro victory, then they'd gladly open up the books for a full audit. Polls show a large majority of Venezuelans believe an audit is a legitimate request and statements by UNASUR and the OAS supported the audit as well. Maduro's attempts to avoid close scrutiny of the election process and change the subject by attacking Capriles and his supporters are going to hurt his legitimacy.
Mexican teachers and teachers-in-training once again abandoned lesson plans to protest education reform in the southwestern state of Guerrero this week.
The individuals charged with educating Guerrero's children, and helping build a brighter future for a country lauded for its economic promise, have been on strike since a federal education reform bill was introduced almost two months ago.
The bill is part of a wider reform agenda by President Enrique Peña Nieto which aims to feed economic opportunity and growth in Mexico. Other initiatives discussed include boosting competition in the telecommunications industry and increasing bank lending rates.
But in yet another sign that President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing pushback on his ambitious reform plan, this week scores of educators took to the streets armed with sticks and spray paint. They broke windows, threw papers and plants out of buildings, vandalized furniture and office equipment, and set fire to political offices, according to Mexican news outlets.
“Teach and learn … vandalism,” read today’s front page of Mexican newspaper Reforma, with photos splashed above the fold showing a political party office in Guerrero engulfed in flames, and a highway road block using a “kidnapped” 18-wheeler from state-owned oil company PEMEX in the neighboring state Michoacán, which is also experiencing teacher protests.
Earlier this year President Peña Nieto passed far-reaching education reform that aims to diminish the tight grasp of Mexico’s powerful teachers union and reverse common practices like teachers receiving pay despite not showing up to work. According to The Christian Science Monitor:
The reform strips the education union – arguably the most powerful in Latin America – of its influence over the hiring of teachers. It provides for a system of merit-based pay and promotions, subjects Mexico’s estimated 1 million teachers to evaluations, and requires exams of those entering the profession. All with greater oversight by the federal government.
In Guerrero state, educators upped protests after state legislators failed to incorporate the 200,000-member education union’s demands to water down the federal legislation at the state level on Tuesday.
The mayor of Chilpancingo, where the vandalism took place yesterday afternoon, told Mexican newspaper Milenio that he’s requested federal assistance. The governor of Guerrero announced via Twitter that arrest warrants had been issued for the head of the state Education Workers Union, Minervino Moran, and another union leader, for “masterminding” the destruction of property, reports the Associated Press.
• David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.
On April 14, Venezuela’s voters shocked the world by electing Nicolás Maduro to the presidency with a narrow margin-just weeks after he enjoyed a fifteen point lead in the polls. This is not the first time that Venezuelans have upended expectations. On August 15, 2004, they reaffirmed support for then-president Hugo Chávez in a recall referendum that most people were confident Chávez would lose. On December 2, 2007, they turned back Chávez’s attempt to change the constitution, less than a year after they reelected him with an overwhelming majority.
Universal and anonymous suffrage gives citizens a unique ability to change the course of history, a course normally determined by people in power. Venezuelans have done it time and again, a fact that Venezuela’s leaders would do well to remember as they navigate the current political crisis.
Henrique Capriles deserves applause for having called off the opposition march to the offices of the CNE (National Electoral Council) that was to have taken place [yesterday] in Caracas. In the face of Mr. Maduro’s refusal to permit the march and the likelihood of violence occurring between opposition and government supporters, Mr. Capriles made the right decision. He also deserves applause for beginning to discuss in more details the evidence for the electoral irregularities being alleged by the opposition.
But given the severity of the allegations that the opposition has made, much more is needed from Capriles. Venezuela has a detailed electoral law and accompanying regulations that describe procedures for contesting election results. The law itself is not ambiguous and has been used before. And the opposition coalition has any number of legal experts and electoral technicians who fully understand the system and what they need to do. If they actually have a case to make, they should have no problem putting it together and presenting it accordingly.
Specifically, the opposition needs to assemble a dossier of denunciations with clear numeric estimates of how many votes each denunciation supposedly accounts for. Saying, for example, that 535 voting machines were damaged and they accounted for 190,000 votes is not enough. They need to show that past tendencies in that electoral center suggest these damaged machines would have narrowed the gap in favor of Capriles. That would be easy enough given that detailed information on past elections is publicly available.
As well, they need to explain how these denunciations relate to their demand for a 100 percent recount. The types of denunciations they have mentioned so far have led, in the past, to re-votes in given electoral centers where irregularities were shown to have occurred. But given that the paper ballots form the April 14 election are simply receipts of the electronic vote, such a recount would only make sense if the oppositions is contending that there were errors or irregularities in the electronic transmissions to the CNE, or in the tabulation of votes in the CNE. Yet the opposition has not mentioned any such error or irregularity.
To submit their allegations for consideration, the opposition coalition needs to file this information with the CNE. If they don’t, it is going to look like they are recklessly immersing the country into a political crisis before having their facts straight. They should also make this evidence public so that independent journalists and experts can follow up on it.
It should be noted that filing a complaint against an electoral result has nothing to do with the “winning” candidate being proclaimed, sworn in, or recognized by the opposition. The law says the aggrieved party has twenty days to submit their complaint, the CNE has five days to decide whether to admit it, and then measures can be taken to address the complaint. If the irregularities alleged by the opposition were to affect enough votes to change votes outcome, then Maduro could be removed from the presidency. This has never happened in Venezuela at the presidential level, but it has occurred several times at lower-levels of government.
Sunday’s election result has left the opposition in its strongest position in years – a position they have gained by working through democratic institutions in a context in which it is evident to everyone that those institutions are not fully fair. And they are positioned vis-à-vis a weakened government that will face difficult problems in the coming years. Just continuing to play by the rules will put them in a strong position for upcoming electoral events: the possibility of recalls of legislators in the coming months, municipal elections in October, legislative elections in 2015, and a potential presidential recall referendum in 2016. But they are in very clear danger of overplaying their hand as they have done so many times in the past.
President Maduro and the governing coalition also need to take a pause and choose their words and actions carefully. The Maduro government transmitted three cadenas [on Tuesday]. The second of them forced a delay in a previously announced Capriles press conference. The third cut broadcast coverage of that press conference short. Maduro’s language was incredibly divisive and dismissive of the half of the population that did not vote for him. His decision to not allow Capriles march to go downtown made no reference to law or institutions. His suggestion that he is not going to recognize Capriles and will not provide a budget to Miranda State also has no basis in law. All of these actions are a very poor start to his term in office. They sounded desperate and autocratic.
Even more worrying were the declarations of others in the government. Fiscal General Luisa Ortega said that those detained in protests on Sunday and Monday could be prosecuted for “instigation of hate” and “civil rebellion” and that if they had acted in coordination they would be prosecuted using the law against organized crime. Head of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello said he would call for an investigation of Capriles within the National Assembly regarding Sunday and Monday’s violence. He also tweeted “Capriles, you fascist, I will take personal responsibility for making sure that you pay for all the damage that you are doing to the Fatherland and the People.”
The Maduro government has all the institutions on its side and is not vulnerable. It can afford to behave with a little more confidence and stick close to the law. The close electoral result is a clear wake up call. Their focus now should be on “a new legitimacy,” as Maduro himself said. They need to focus on building their coalition by winning back some of the supporters they lost during the campaign. In 2003, Hugo Chávez’s support was only in the mid-thirties, but he managed to win back support through concrete governing actions that citizens liked, and ultimately prevailed in the 2004 recall referendum.
In contrast, engaging in a witch hunt and taking arbitrary decisions will undermine the government’s legitimacy among supporters. And tiring the public with continual, self-serving cadenas will only further reduce the government’s electoral viability.
– David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
In one indication that the Sinaloa Cartel may be wary of attracting federal government attention back to Tijuana, one of the cartel's top leaders reportedly told other criminal bosses to keep homicide levels low in Baja California state. The message seems to fit a pattern in which there may be a move towards a more peaceful coexistence in some traditionally critical hotspots.
According to a new report by Zeta magazine, one of the Sinaloa Cartel's top leaders, Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias "El Mayo," issued a warning to at least eight sub-commanders responsible for overseeing drug trafficking operations in Baja California to "stop heating up the plaza" – that is, clamp down on homicides that could be disrupting the international drug trade and attracting too much of the government's attention.
During the first 100 days of President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration (December 1 to March 10), Baja California saw 161 homicides, making it the tenth most violent state in the country. This is only a slight increase from a similar time period last year (January 1 to March 31, or 90 days), when the state registered 145 murders.
According to Zeta magazine, a band of assassins led by Luis Mendoza, alias "El Güero Chompas," is behind the uptick in violence. Baja California's largest city, Tijuana, where the violence is concentrated, saw 42 homicides in January alone. The magazine says that Mr. Mendoza's group is no longer following orders from the upper ranks of the Sinaloa Cartel leadership, and are aggressively assassinating small-time drug dealers in order to take over their business.
Mr. Zambada's order to slow the fighting may be hard to enact. Zeta says that none of the eight Sinaloa Cartel lieutenants warned by Zambada are currently based in Baja California, having set up expensive hideouts in Sinaloa, Guadalajara, and Sonora states. As a result, the day-to-day running of their Baja California operations has been left in the hands of more undisciplined and inexperienced family members, who are more prone to using violence as a way to resolve disputes.
Zeta magazine notes that even though the Baja California State Security Council and the state and national Attorney General's Office have identified these eight Sinaloa Cartel sub-commanders, no arrest warrants have been issued against any of them. Only two of the eight suspects have ever been targeted in police operations, and both managed to escape.
InSight Crime Analysis
Baja California may be the country's first test of a whether a pax-mafioso is even sustainable. Violence has dropped overall in Baja California in part due to government efforts, but also thanks to an uneasy peace enforced between rival criminal organizations, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Tijuana Cartel, a.k.a. the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO), in Tijuana.
With violence levels slipping downwards, federal forces have scaled back their efforts in Baja California.The military has shut down at least six road checkpoints in the state so far this year. Meanwhile, the controversial and combative security chief Julian Leyzaola, who was praised for helping pacify Tijuana, has since been transferred to Ciudad Juarez.
What's more, as Zeta magazine points out, the fact that the Sinaloa Cartel's operatives in Baja California have all committed federal crimes -- yet have no federal arrest warrants issued against them (which would make it easier to pursue them in states outside of Baja California) -- supports the theory that the Mexican government, under new Peña Nieto, is scaling back its attacks on drug trafficking groups in an effort to lower the intensity of the state-cartel conflict. Peña Nieto took power December 1, after which there has been a significant drop in prosecutions of drug trafficking crimes. According to data from the Ministry of the Interior (pdf), government prosecutors opened an average of 2,322 criminal cases per month during 2012 for what are known as "crimes against health," which are mostly drug trafficking crimes; while during the first two months of 2013, government prosecutors opened an average of 821 cases per month for "crimes against health."
To be fair, this tendency towards less drug prosecutions was already in motion prior to December 1, but it is exactly what an international drug trafficking syndicate like the Sinaloa Cartel wants and may be willing to trade for enforcing a policy of less violence. And it may help explain why El Mayo saw fit to warn his sub-commanders about letting the violence in Baja California get out of control.
There are certainly counterarguments to this theory. The other Sinaloa Cartel strongholds, including Chihuahua (417 murders during Peña Nieto's first 100 days in office) and Sinaloa (324 murders) are among the tops in murder rates. And the government maintains troop and federal police levels in most of Mexico.
But it is also clear that it is in both the Sinaloa Cartel's and the government's interest to keep the peace in Tijuana, an area that has a history of organized crime-related violence but could be a model for criminal-state coexistence. The current homicide rate in Baja California still represents a marked improvement in security compared to five years ago, when the state was the third-most violent in Mexico, registering a total of 1,019 deaths for the entire year.
However, it is a difficult balance to strike. Nationwide, the government recently reported a slight drop in homicides. But the atomization of these criminal groups, as evidenced in Tijuana, may be a dynamic that neither the government nor the strongest criminal groups can counteract.
Since the day of Hugo Chávez’s death, acting president and presidential candidate Nicolás Maduro and other top government officials have put forward a steady flow of conspiracy theories unmatched by any period in the Chávez era, eight by our count.
March 5, acting President Maduro expels two US attachés for “searching for active military personal in order to propose conspiratorial plans to them.”
March 5, Maduro, in the last public announcement before the passing of the President, suggests that Chávez was “inoculated” with cancer by foreign enemies (See our previous post on the issue). He afterwards insisted many times on this theory, originally proposed by Chávez himself, the latest on March 21. On that day he promised that after winning the elections, he would name a scientific commission in charge of investigating the issue. He also mentioned that “there are already a lot of articles on the internet on this. You only have to look them up. The Empire has created these types of experimental viruses since the 40s. They are methods of biological, bacteriological warfare.”
March 6, Maduro says there is a conspiracy led by Otto Reich and Roger Noriega to assassinate, not him, but the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, with the purpose of destabilizing the government. On March 17, in a TV interview with José Vicente Rangel, Maduro insists on the existence of the plot. He announces that he has proof of this plot and that he will make them public, but [that] proof has never surfaced. Otto Reich has denied the accusations.
March 20, Maduro claims that the United States government has “ordered” the Venezuelan opposition to withdraw from the elections, generate “situations of violence,” and cry foul once the electoral results are public.
April 5, in a meeting with supporters in Cojedes, Maduro declares that the opposition “took down the electricity of all the poor areas of Aragua on Wednesday night. There is no technical justification for this, so we have dismissed the Corpoelec [State electricity company] of Aragua and he is under investigation, and all the public officials that plot against the people will go to prison.” Maduro also accuses the opposition of planning a total energy black out in the country.
April 6, in an interview for Telesur, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua declares that “we have filtered through our intelligence agencies' conversations from groups of the right referring to the inclusion of mercenaries from Central America in the destabilization activities in the country.” On April 7 Maduro elaborates this plot during a public meeting in Guayana. He denounces a plot of to kill him “generate chaos, and sabotage the electric grid”. He directly accused Armando Briquet, a top manager of the opposition campaign, of being the link between Capriles and “mercenaries sent by the right from El Salvador” that, according to Maduro, are already in Venezuela to carry out the plot. In these new plot denunciations, Maduro has assured [Venezuelans] that at first he though Capriles was not directly responsible for the wide ranging conspiracies, and that he was only being duped by “sectors of the right” (indeed in the previous version of the “mercenaries plot” Capriles was considered the potential victim of assassination attempts). Now he claims to have been forced by his sources to realize that Capriles, through Mr. Briquet, is directly behind the plots.
April 8, Minister of Penitentiary Services, Iris Valera, denounces “a destabilization plan by a well-known NGO led by someone called Humberto Prado.” This NGO would promote violence in Venezuela´s prisons in order to “rarify” the electoral environment of the next days.
April 8, an opposition group of students protesting for “clean elections” in Chacao is violently attacked by motorbikers wearing pro-government paraphernalia. Six students are injured. Maduro immediately orders an investigation saying: “I have been informed of violent events in the Chacao Municipality, strange violent events involving a small violent group, financed by the government of the United States.”
And in a region in which the US has a long history of intervention, the population does not necessarily regard theories of foreign conspiracy as crazy and irresponsible but with a “could be” attitude.
But they are also a political tool for unifying a population and silencing criticism. They essentially make dissent look out of place by pointing to an imminent threat that only those in power understand. They also deflect blame for administrative problems such as food shortages, power outages, and lack of security by suggesting that the problem lies elsewhere.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, cuba.foreignpolicyblogs.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
I returned recently from several weeks in Cuba spent at a fascinating time. The Cuban government is in the middle of a gradual series of economic reforms that amount to an overhaul of the inefficient, troubled Cuban economy. The current centrally managed system is becoming one that allows for more freedom of entrepreneurship and private enterprise. I had the privilege of meeting a number of the new entrepreneurs of Cuba – those that have opened bed and breakfast-like operations in a spare bedroom, transformed living rooms into a two-chair hair salon or barbershop, or turned their homes into cafes, bars and restaurants. I also met some of the economists who are at the helm directing the current step-by-step reforms.
In a country where personal freedoms have often been limited – and in many cases continue to be – the moves to expand personal economic freedoms are historic. They are promising. They challenge long-standing status quos, and they point to a future for Cuba that is more open-minded and flexible as a younger generation (finally) takes the reins. I watched a number of American onlookers and visitors puzzle that Washington did not seem to recognize what was happening: freedoms are expanding in Cuba and opinions are changing with generational shifts in Miami – why hasn’t US policy followed suit?
In the course of a discussion with one Cuban economist who was a 40 year veteran of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, he shared an old African proverb: whether the elephant makes love or makes war, the grass always gets trampled. His point was somewhat counter to the lament that many share about the detrimental effect of the US embargo on the island economy, suggesting instead that whatever US policy does, Cubans will – as they always have – resolver.
The word resolvemos evokes something like we’ll figure it out, and it is used liberally in Cuba to refer to the ability to invent, get by, and overcome challenges as they arise. During the “Special Period” following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the word became commonplace in Cuban households. It maintains its place today as a staple in the language.
My husband and I spent a few nights of our trip at the home of a young couple in Viñales. On day two, we returned from our explorations to a bathroom teeming with ants. Hundreds were pouring in through a crack beneath the windowsill, and there was nothing I could see attracting them, no clear way to try solving this on my own. I dreaded breaking the news to our hosts.
It was the weekend, so the young man of the house was not far away. When I found him, I started guiltily with: “Tenemos un problema.” We have a problem. I explained the issue, then led him to the bathroom and showed him the scene.
I looked back at his face, expecting to see him upset, perhaps angry with us, and at the very least, worried about an overwhelming ant infestation. He was still smiling. Lo resuelvo, he assured me. And don’t worry; it’s not your fault, he added. I sighed with relief. So this has happened before? I asked. No, he responded brightly. Never.
Resolvemos. We’ll figure it out.
– Melissa Lockhart Fortner is Senior External Affairs Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy and Cuba blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read her blog, and follow her on Twitter @LockhartFortner.
Margaret Thatcher, who died today at the age of 87, was a hugely divisive figure in Britain. Supporters say her free-market policies brought the country economic prosperity while critics despise her for closing coal mines, forcing people out of work, and eroding the welfare state.
In Argentina, however, there is a consensus: Mrs. Thatcher is loathed.
The former British prime minister's lack of popularity in this southern cone nation has to do with having personally ordered the sinking of the Belgrano warship during the 1982 Falklands War. Some 323 Argentines died as a result.
“Nobody here is going to be very upset [at her passing],” says Andrés Udvari, a newspaper seller in his 60s.
Britain’s defeat of Argentina in the 74-day conflict boosted Thatcher’s ailing popularity at home and helped propel her to re-election. But her decision to torpedo the Belgrano was hugely controversial since the ship was outside the 200-mile exclusion zone surrounding the islands. Many here consider the order illegal.
“Sinking the Belgrano ended the possibility of a peaceful solution to the conflict,” says Ernesto Alonso, president of the National Commission for Malvinas Veterans. Argentina refers to the Falklands as the Malvinas.
“She took the decision knowing it would impede any chance of negotiation,” said Francisco Pestanha, a historian at the University of Buenos Aires.
Opposed to invasion
The government of the Falkland Islands today issued a statement thanking Thatcher for her “decisiveness in sending a task force to liberate our home.”
The 2,800 Islanders reaffirmed their desire to remain a British Overseas Territory in a referendum last month. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has waged a diplomatic assault in an attempt to force the United Kingdom to negotiate sovereignty.
Her battle, however, is a peaceful one. Argentines today are utterly opposed to another invasion, which the military dictatorship used in 1982 to whip up nationalist pride and distract from a collapsing economy.
The dictatorship's plan was for the invasion to spark negotiations: Britain's military response was unexpected. Thatcher’s decision to send a task force, leading to all-out war and the deaths of nearly 1,000 troops, will forever be criticized here.
“Thatcher was bloodthirsty,” says Mercedes Castillo, a school secretary in Buenos Aires. “She hurt the Argentine people deeply.”
When Pablo Neruda died in 1973, the bookish boy from a sleepy town in southern Chile had already played many roles. He was a Nobel laureate in literature. A diplomat to Spain, France, and Burma (today Myanmar). A senator who fled his homeland on horseback when his Communist Party was banned, and later a presidential candidate. A husband to two women, a father to a daughter.
And now, four decades after his death, Mr. Neruda is at the center of a murder mystery. Was he killed in the early days of Chile’s military dictatorship?
Neruda’s widow, Matilde Urrutia, never accepted the consensus story that he died of heart failure as a result of advanced cancer. But she never came forward with the bombshell dropped a couple years ago by his assistant and driver, Manuel Araya: that Neruda had been in decent shape and was planning to fly into exile – until he was injected with an unknown substance on the day he died.
Despite the passage of time, Mr. Araya says he remembers clearly what happened in the days after the military coup.
He says Neruda was admitted to hospital on 19 September 1973, and was due to fly to Mexico on 24 September.
"On the morning of 23 September, Matilde and I went back to Isla Negra to collect some of his belongings," he recalls.
"While we were there we received a phone call from Neruda in the clinic.
"He said 'Come back here quickly! While I was sleeping a doctor came in and gave me an injection in the stomach.'"
Mr. Araya says he and Matilde drove back to Santiago immediately. "Neruda died at around 22:30 that evening," he remembers.
Today, the head of Chile’s forensic medical service is leading a team of 13 experts who supervised the weekend exhumation of Neruda's corpse, nearly 40 years after he was laid to rest. The body is now in Santiago, about 75 miles from its resting place in coastal Isla Negra. The doctors aim to find signs of advanced cancer, signs of poison, or any other clue that could help them prove or disprove Araya’s statements.
The project follows the equally high-profile exhumation of President Salvador Allende two years ago. Mr. Allende died during the coup itself on Sept. 11, 1973. There was always some doubt about whether he killed himself or whether he was shot by soldiers taking over the presidential palace in Santiago. The forensic scientists confirmed that the death was a suicide.
General Augusto Pinochet led Chile’s military dictatorship from the day of the coup until a peaceful handover of power in 1990. In the first days of his rule, thousands of leftists were herded into detention centers, tortured, and at times killed. Neruda, despite being the country’s highest-profile communist after Allende, was still free when he checked into the hospital on Sept. 19.
Chileans have long wondered whether Neruda may have suffered a fate similar to that of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva and Allende’s interior minister, Jose Toha. Both died in the hospital, but judges later ruled that both men were murdered – Mr. Toha by strangulation and Mr. Frei by poisoning.
Following Araya’s allegations, Chile’s Communist Party filed a court case in 2011 to request a judicial order for an exhumation.
The mystery has drawn press attention from around the world, with photographers and TV crews jockeying for a view of the exhumation and competing to interview those who knew the poet. The current president of Chile’s Communist Party, Guillermo Teillier, was at Neruda’s beachfront home and burial place for the excavation and removal.
The tests aren't guaranteed to lead to any conclusive results, and thus the truth may never be known about the end of Neruda’s life. For now, the mystery is a cliffhanger. A wait of at least three months is expected before forensic results are released.
• Rebecca Hanson is a contributor of WOLA’s blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.
Differentiating his campaign from those of his predecessor, Nicolás Maduro has made crime and violence in the country a major talking point so far. Roberto Briceño and others have suggested that the Interim President, unable to hide behind a charismatic personality, has been forced to take on the issue in a way that his predecessor was not. However, these comments are not totally accurate, in that the Hugo Chávez administration, since the mid-2000s, was increasingly engaged in citizen security initiatives, especially in lower-class areas of Caracas.
As we have noted in previous blogs, these initiatives relied on both a militarized presence in high crime areas (exemplified by the Bicentennial Citizen Security Presence, or the Dispositivo Bicentenario de Seguridad Ciudadana [DIBISE]) and preventative approaches that advocate for a “decriminalization of poverty” (represented by the National Experimental Security University [UNES] and the General Police Council). While Maduro has been more vocal on the issue, his rhetoric, as we will discuss below, has not diverged drastically from Chávez’s. Rather, he has continued to pull from “social movement” strategies—promoting culture, sports, and arts in popular sectors—and mano dura solutions for those who do not “respond” to these approaches.
Maduro stated early on that he would assume citizen security as a “personal issue,” charging himself with becoming the president that “finishes off” crime in the country. However, in discussing the causes of crime in the country, Maduro has stayed close to Chávez’s discourse.
He has critiqued the media and the culture industry for making a “festival” out of death and celebrating “bullets and blood” in print and on television. He has also held United State’s capitalism and cultural decadence responsible in a number of speeches. This discourse is almost identical to that of Chavez, who also pointed to capitalist driven-inequality, media consumption, and destabilization plots spearheaded by Colombia and the United States as crime’s fountainhead.
Recently, Maduro announced two initiatives to reduce crime in the capital, the construction of “territories of peace” and the “Movement for Peace and Life,” which will link government resources with social movements and cultural activities. These announcements are especially interesting given the strong mobilization capacity the Chavez government has demonstrated in the past as well as the active relationships the government has cultivated with social movement groups and actors in popular sectors since the mid-2000s.
Speaking in Petare in March, he announced that one of the key components of these “territories” would be the construction of “courts of peace” (canchas de paz) to create spaces for sports, culture, and educational workshops. According to Maduro, these territories of peace “are not an invasive, repressive, authoritarian, capitalist concept. Rather, the concept is one that looks for the rebirth of humanity from within the community.”
The Movement for Peace and Life was inspired by a youth collective “El Otro Beta” in Petare, which promotes art, culture, and sports in popular communities. The collective was widely recognized last year for their campaign “Chavez es Otro Beta” before the presidential elections, which showed a youthful Chávez boxing, riding motorcycles, and rapping [See The Christian Science Monitor's coverage here].
Using this collective as its model, Maduro has said that the movement will bring together artists, youth social networks, and athletes to promote ideas that will encourage the “rebirth of the values of life.” The movement will be officially based out of the National Experimental Security University in Catia but will be spread out among 79 of the most dangerous municipalities in the city.
The Interim President has said little regarding the role of the police and the military in fighting crime, other than to recognize institutions like UNES and national police reform in general as part of Chávez’s legacy. With his civilian background, one might assume that he will depend less on military ventures like the DIBISE.
Yet, recent comments suggest that he will continue to rely on Chávez’s dichotomous approach to crime (see post here). Emphasizing the need for dialogue in constructing peace, Madro said that he was willing to “go up into the most dangerous barrio in Petare without guns and on foot…without fear, to talk to the youth and tell them to stop the killing…to knock on the doors of the hideouts of the criminals” and engage them in a dialogue of peace.
However, in the same speech Maduro warned that his administration would “tighten the mano dura to protect the decent people (el pueblo decente) that have not been penetrated by the evil of violence. I extend my hand and if [the criminals] do not take it…we will go up [into the barrios] with the police and the National Guard because this has to end.” In another speech Maduro stated “With one hand we will be constructing education, culture, sports, and youth, but with the other hand there must be authority…citizens are guaranteed education [and] work in order to live a healthy life. The state says: For those who step outside of these rules, here is the law, here is authority.”
Of course, many citizens’ perception of the military is not necessarily negative. And, the role of the military is complicated: They have been heavily involved in efforts like housing construction after natural disasters and, as in many Latin American countries, are viewed by many citizens as capable of “effectively” dealing with crime in the barrios.
Additionally, for some Venezuelans a mano dura approach translates into attempts to control previously chaotic and sporadic approaches to crime that have been confounded by high rates of impunity. In other words, for some mano dura suggests an actual follow-through with a consistent and effective citizen security plan.
Nevertheless, these statements also exhibit what Venezuelan sociologist Veronica Zubillaga has referred to as the “paradox of the Bolivarian Revolution.” As Ms. Zubillaga has pointed out, basic living conditions in popular sectors (especially for women and children) have improved dramatically within the Bolivarian Revolution thanks to the State’s social investment. However, these sectors are still disproportionately affected by violence and police abuse.
And, the Bolivarian government, in attempting to deal with drugs in the barrios, has turned to incarcerating young men from the lower classes in ever increasing numbers. On the ground this paradox means that those who do not “take advantage” of government missions and opportunities leave themselves open to military operatives and a future in a penal system riddled with problems.
In my next post I will look at what Capriles has said about his plan for security in the country, how Maduro has responded to these statements, and discuss some of the reasons why Maduro might have decided to take up an issue that did not greatly impact Chávez’s popularity.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, centralamericanpolitics.blogspot.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
[Yesterday], on the eighth day of the genocide and crimes against humanity trial of Efraín Rios Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez, the court heard several stories of the sexual violence perpetrated against Ixil women during the scorched earth campaign of the early 1980s.
The prosecution asked for a closed courtroom so that the women could give their testimony. However the judges denied their request. Instead, they asked that the media and others in the courtroom not identify the women in photos or by name.
The women spoke about the abuse that they and others suffered at the hands of the military and the paramilitaries as well as the individual (physical, emotional, and psychological) and communal trauma of the violence.
Very powerful testimony.
As I mentioned on Monday:
Violence varied from year to year and from department to department which gets obscured when we give an estimated number of deaths over a thirty-six year conflict at the national level. Doing so also obscures many of the other ways in which the people of Guatemala suffered (sexual violence, torture, forced displacement, generalized terror, etc). It also obscures the ways in which individuals and communities still live with the suffering thirty years later. An estimated 100,000 women of all ages were sexually assaulted during the conflict.
See Mary Jo McConahay, Sonia Perez-Diaz at the Associated Press, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala's coverage.– Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.