• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
A number of readers have remarked – as have we – on the lack of coverage of [Presidential candidate] Xiomara Castro de Zelaya's positions and campaign in the Honduran (and international) press. As the candidate in the lead for the Honduran presidency according to all polls, you would expect to hear something about what she is advocating.
So it is noteworthy that Monday Sept. 9, La Tribuna covered a campaign event held in Siguatepeque.
Ms. Castro de Zelaya's message was a mixture of pragmatic criticism of the present government, envisioning something new in Honduran politics, and recalling the initiatives of the government led by her husband [Manuel Zelaya] that were for the benefit of the people.
Showing a pragmatic side, she commented on Honduras' slide in international measures of competitiveness, saying that:
[I]t isn't [just] that we fell from 90 to 111, because in the government of Ricardo Maduro we were in position 96, in 2009 during the government of Manuel Zelaya we arrived at position 82, indicating that we had risen 17 points, in 2012 [down] to position 90 and we have arrived at position 111, or that is since the Liberal government of Zelaya we have lost 29 points.
This is a reference to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014, reported widely in Honduras this past week. The report identified the top problems for doing business in Honduras as crime and theft, corruption, inefficient government bureaucracy, and policy instability. Decrying these factors, and advocating for greater business competitiveness, is a fairly pro-business position, reminding us that despite being painted as a leftist, Castro de Zelaya's husband came from old Honduran land-owning, ranching, and logging stock.
But the main point of the LIBRE campaign event in Siguatepeque, what made headlines, was Castro de Zelaya gaining support from the cultural sector in Honduras. El Libertador reported that more than 100 artists and writers signed a declaration, read by Helen Umaña, that stated that the artists and writers gave “our confidence, vote and solidarity... with the aim that culture will be the ideological and pragmatic axis” of the government they hope will be elected.
The cultural sector of Honduras has suffered enormous problems under the current administration, many of which began with the de facto regime installed by the 2009 coup. The statement, called the Declaration of Siguatepeque, states that in a century of the collective project of making a more just society, they found that LIBRE and the original Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular established to oppose the de facto regime is the most "truthful, promising, and authentic".
"With the shared certainty that her government will nourish itself from the ubiquitous creativity of we who believe in this country," the artists go on to say:
We ratify, beyond any immediate circumstance, that the re-founding that will occur with the art and culture of our nations, will lead Honduras toward its transformation into an equitable and inclusive, fair and free country.
During the announcement in Siguatepeque, Castro de Zelaya, for her part, discussed the potential to create a "Consejo Nacional de Cultura", described by La Tribuna as:
An autonomous organization that would be composed of all the indigenous groups, workers in the culture sector, and in consensus the policies concerning culture would be formed.
In effect, this would be the next step beyond what former President Zelaya implemented during his term in office, when the Ministry of Culture undertook extensive collaboration with indigenous groups, local historians, and people who never before had been part of shaping cultural policy. This is the kind of social inclusion that made traditional business and political elites uncomfortable.
In this limited sense, the tendency of Honduran (and perhaps even more, international) media to characterize Castro de Zelaya as a candidate who would extend the policies of her husband does help envisage what LIBRE might attempt to do, if she were elected.
Castro de Zelaya has a unique campaign advantage in that relationship: she can claim the successful policies, or even just progressive intentions, that her husband had as part of her political capital. La Tribuna reported her response to a question during the Siguatepeque event that seems way off message, about the lack of a local hospital, that the candidate turned to her advantage neatly:
She responded that in the government of Manuel Zelaya everything was set for the construction of five hospitals across the country with funds from Spain, for the benefit of Siguatepeque, Roatán, Catacamas, Santa Bárbara and Choluteca, but owing to the coup d'etat they were not brought to fruition.
LIBRE was created to carry forward with very specific social policies, some of which will meet fierce political opposition. It is worth recalling what Castro de Zelaya said on Aug. 27, at the launch of the campaign season:
When they place the presidential banner on me, my first words will be: I convene a National Constitutional Assembly, lets go for that new Constitution.
That promise plays a very large part in her appeal to supporters. It is what the artists who signed on to support her see as the potential for transformation unlike any seen in a century.
– Rosemary Joyce, an anthropologist with more than thirty years research experience in Honduras, co-authors the blog Honduras Culture and Politics, which tracks the complexities of Honduran social life after the 2009 coup.
• David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The views expressed are the author's own.
The Venezuelan military’s role as perpetrator of violence continues to make news. In a press release put out on Aug. 8, [Venezuelan] human rights group Provea pointed out that from May to July Venezeula’s armed forces were involved in at least 8 violations of the “the right to life.” In 2012, 164 people lost their lives at the hands of the military. Provea’s statistics are taken from Venezuela’s investigative police, the CICPC.
In a piece of news analysis called “Terror in Uniform” Venezuelan daily El Universal also noted the continual flow of incidents. The article describes the terror average citizens feel when passing through the military roadblocks manned by heavily armed but lightly trained soldiers, many of whom are barely twenty years old.
The situation has come to the fore since Nicolás Maduro has taken office because he has strongly reasserted the military’s role in citizen security. As we have suggested in our series on citizen security reform, in the past couple of years there has been a struggle within Venezuelan public administration between those who are pushing forward a progressive, civilian policing model, and those who seek to strengthen Venezuela’s traditional militarized policing strategies. During Maduro’s four months in office the latter has clearly gained the upper hand.
While Maduro mentioned and emphasized his support for the process of police reform during the campaign and afterwards, his marquee initiative has been the Plan Patria Segura which puts military in the streets to fight crime (see our coverage here, here, here, and here). Personnel changes have worked in the same direction. In June human rights activist Pablo Fernandez was replaced as the head of the citizen security reform initiative called Mision a Toda Vida Venezuela and replaced by National Guard (GN) officer Ildemar Soto. In early August the human rights activist that has spearheaded the process of police reform since 2006, Soraya El Achkar, resigned as the head of the General Police Council. She remains the rector of the National Experimental Security University.
In what follows we present a chronology of alleged human rights violations committed by soldiers carrying out citizen security functions during July and August.
On July 4 National Guardsmen opened fire against a car that apparently ran a roadblock, killing an unarmed women and her daughter. Two other members of the family were wounded. The officers were apparently on the lookout for a car with similar characteristics and shot at the vehicle more than 50 times. Eyewitnesses declared that the officers did not ask the vehicle to stop but simply opened fire. On Monday July 8, ten officers of the GN related to the incident were arrested.
On July 11 the local press reported the death of a man who was allegedly forced by soldiers to “drink gasoline” in Táchira. A second person was taken to a local hospital with second degree burns from fuel exposure. The incident took place during an army raid on an illegal fuel deposit on the Colombian border. According to a witness, 18 people were working in the deposit when the raid started and the army officers made several of them dunk their heads into buckets of gasoline.
On July 15 in Petare, Caracas, motorcyclist Rivera Calderón died from a gun shot in the back. Neighbors from the barrio took to the street that same day to protest alleging that Rivera had been shot by a national guardsman after passing a checkpoint. Neighbors told reporters that they had been harassed by officers from the checkpoint in several occasions. One National Guardsman was arrested for the case.
On Aug. 9 Olivero Rojas, a law student form the Universidad de Carabobo, died from a shot gun wound to the neck. His family reported that Olivero was driving his car when he was asked to stop by officers inside an Army truck. Olivero did stop but officers opened fire against the car anyway. Six officers were arrested.
On Aug. 18 two homeless people were shot while sleeping on the street in downtown Caracas. Witnesses from nearby buildings reported that National Guardsmen patrolling the Avenida Baralt shot them execution style. One witness declared that the officers were apparently frustrated because they had failed to find two delinquents they were looking for earlier.
– David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
We are not Nate Silver.
And the Honduran election isn't producing the wealth of polls Silver had available for the US Presidential election.
But since we are going to continue to cover Honduran presidential polls, we think we should contextualize the few available as much as possible so readers can think about what is going on with something more than the prejudices Honduran candidates, and some Honduran commentators, are bringing to bear to "interpret" polling data.
Consider this graph of support for the major candidates in all the polls we have seen since the first appeared in January (there are some smaller parties polling less than 1 percent but except for rhetorical interest, they clearly are out of the running).
Xiomara Castro of the Libre Party started the year in the lead over the other three major candidates, and has maintained a lead in each poll since, regardless of differences in the absolute numbers reported. That's the first take-away point.
If you look at the two CID Gallup polls, between January and May, they found Castro and Salvador Nasralla increasing their share of support, while Juan Orlando Hernandez and Mauricio Villeda – representing the two traditional parties – lost supporters. That's the second point: the 2009 coup has indeed changed the political landscape.
And there is one more important point to understand about the polling.
The CID Gallup poll from May stands out, with Mr. Nasralla leading Mr. Hernandez. Then in the latest Paradigma poll, three of the four leading candidates appear to decline sharply in support.
Either May to July was a politically volatile period, or the CID Gallup poll from May is not like the other polls.
There is at least one obvious difference: Paradigma reports two additional categories: No response, and none of the candidates. So does Harris/Le Vote.
CID Gallup only provides numbers for no response. Its no response category is reported to be about the same as that of the Paradigma and Harris/Le Vote polls (ranging from about 13 percent to 20 percent in the different polls).
CID Gallup is essentially making people choose between the declared candidates, or decline to respond-- but not giving them the option that the other polls have, to say they do not like anyone in the field.
Does that matter?
Take a look at the data over time from Paradigma (see original post).
Who's in the lead? None of the Above.
And None of the Above is gaining ground steadily: from 19 percent in February to 26 percent in April and over 30 percent in July.
The Harris/Le Vote poll for April reported almost the same level of respondents who supported none of the existing candidates: 22 percent.
Our advice? compare polls from the same pollsters, not across different pollsters. Pay more attention to the trends than the absolute numbers, since different pollsters may be producing apparently greater levels of support because what they are measuring is different.
And watch out for None of the Above. While she can't be inaugurated president, whoever does end up being sworn in will face a real governing challenge with almost a third of the electorate so disconnected from the options offered.
– Rosemary Joyce, an anthropologist with more than thirty years research experience in Honduras, co-authors the blog Honduras Culture and Politics, which tracks the complexities of Honduran social life after the 2009 coup.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Just over one year ago I wrote about the case of Roger Pinto, the Bolivian opposition politician accused of corruption by the government. Pinto had taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz, received asylum from the Brazilian government, but was denied safe passage by President Evo Morales. The case had odd parallels to the Julian Assange case, the founder of Wikileaks who remains in the Ecuador embassy in London, having received asylum from President Correa while wanted for questioning in a sexual assault investigation in Sweden.
After 450 days, Brazilian diplomats used a diplomatic vehicle to help Pinto escape, claiming that his physical and mental health was at risk. President Rousseff apparently did not authorize this action. As a result, Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota has resigned and been replaced by Brazil's UN Ambassador, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo. Patriota will switch places with Figueiredo and go to the UN.
While the Morales administration would have certainly preferred Pinto arrested, having him out of the Brazilian embassy is one less headache for all of UNASUR. Having Pinto stuck in asylum limbo in Bolivia was a hassle for everyone and an embarrassment for a region trying to have a unified position on other international issues, such as the current diplomatic disputes over Assange and Snowden.
It's a mild embarrassment for Patriota, but his resignation gives Brazil an easy way to turn the page on the issue with Bolivia before the controversy even has a chance to heat up. He took one for the team and being Brazil's UN ambassador is not a minor position by any means.
– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.
Mexico City's government offices, housed in a colonial palace, look onto the sprawling Zocalo plaza – one of the world’s largest public squares. But this week the plaza has all but disappeared under a tent city constructed by a striking teachers' union.
They are protesting a federal education reform that hinges their job security on their performance in evaluations. Thousands have taken over the Zocalo and nearby streets. Elsewhere in the city, teachers blocked first the lower house of congress and then the senate, forcing deputies and senators to meet in a convention center to continue their August special session, according to the El Universal newspaper (link in Spanish). The city estimates there are 19,000 protesters in all.
The teachers – mostly from Mexico’s southern states, and who belong to a wing of the powerful union – are angering city residents with their tactics, which include marches that have worsened already stultifying traffic jams.
On Friday afternoon, another large block of protesting educators swarmed a key access road to the international airport.
Under heavy criticism, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera called for calm in a Thursday press conference.
“We must avoid confrontation,” he said. “We must avoid violent encounters. At all cost we must avoid that this could escalate to other scenarios."
In a television interview Thursday, Senate President Ernesto Cordero said, “Those who should be governing and maintaining the public order are not doing it.”
A patchwork quilt of colorful plastic tarps, strung up every which way across the Zocalo, provides little shelter from the city’s heavy summer rains. Beneath, the teachers gather in groups, snooze on sleeping bags, or otherwise try to pass the time amid the endless rows of tents.
How long will the protest last?
“We don’t know,” says Erendira Mendoza, a preschool teacher from the indigenous Mixteca region of Oaxaca who arrived Tuesday. “We’ll stay until we secure a solution that’s favorable to us.”
Ms. Mendoza says one of the teachers’ primary complaints is that the education reform “doesn’t take into account the context” of their rural indigenous communities. The congress is currently working to pass the secondary laws that will make the reform effective.
Meanwhile, students across Oaxaca and states including Guerrero and Tabasco went without classes during what should have been their first week of school. Mexico’s corrupt education system underperforms across many metrics, and the southern states fall even further behind.
Eduardo Gonzalez, a lawyer, tried to weave his way through the tent city to take care of business at the city government. He was not a fan of the teachers' actions.
“They’re obstructing,” he said. “It makes me angry. Why does the government allow them to do this?”
The return of 26 million children to school today has put the weaknesses of Mexico’s education system on display – errors in new textbooks and teacher strikes have become a national scandal.
Elementary school children across Mexico began their lessons using new government issued textbooks riddled with mistakes in spelling, grammar, and geography. And hundreds of thousands of students were without teachers, as many took to the streets to protest a problematic overhaul of the country’s failing education system.
The Education Department has admitted to 117 errors in spelling and grammar in a Spanish language and a geography textbook for elementary schools – errors that were apparently only caught after the books had been edited and sent to the printer. Some 235 million elementary school textbooks were distributed.
Education Secretary Emilio Chuayffet called the errors “unforgivable” in a speech earlier this month and announced that an investigation is underway to determine who is responsible. He said that the respected Mexican Academy of Language would formally review the texts, and teachers will be given a workbook with corrections.
“How can we foment a student’s ability to reason if on the one hand he learns the rules of language and, on the other, he sees that his study materials don’t follow them?” asked Mr. Chuayffet in an Aug. 5 speech.
In more than a few classrooms, teachers won’t be on hand to discuss an answer to that question. A wing of the powerful teachers’ union in Michoacan and Oaxaca has declared a strike of uncertain duration, which the El Universal newspaper estimated could leave more than 2 million students in 24,000 schools without classes.
The teachers are railing against an education reform that will subject them to performance exams and give the government the right to fire new teachers who don’t meet the mark. (Current teachers who under-perform may be removed and placed in another government job.) Observers say it’s a step toward remediating the corruption that lets teachers inherit, or even purchase, their jobs.
Many of Mexico’s teachers lack the education and training they need to teach effectively, according to a recent study.
The El Economista newspaper reported recently that teachers in at least nine states performed so poorly in their 2012 evaluation exam that they require immediate retraining. Five in 10 teachers in the southern states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Tabasco scored low enough to require retraining.
The education system reflects inequalities that persist in Mexican society – in which 53.3 million people, or nearly half the population, remain poor. Students with the resources to attend private schools will have more access to technology, including basics like computers and Internet, than their public school counterparts. They’ll also get more hours in class than public school students, whose classrooms are frequently divided into two shifts to accommodate the large enrollment.
Unequal resources further divide public schools, with urban classrooms being better equipped than schools in rural regions.
An editorial in the La Jornada newspaper lambasting the deterioration of the public education system offered perspective on what’s at stake, saying “it’s particularly grave when considering that one of the principal instruments for escaping economic mediocrity, the decomposition of institutions and the spiral of violence is quality education for the whole populace.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says Bolivia’s coca production dropped by 7 percent from 2011 to 2012. (See full report in PDF) This follows an 11 percent reduction from the year before.
The biggest drop came in the largest coca growing region of the country known as Yungas de la Paz, which went from 18,200 hectares to 16,900 hectares, according to the UNODC.
The agency says that two major factors played a role in the drop: 1) the government’s efforts to “eradicate/rationalize” the size of the fields and 2) the drop in yield due to the long periods in which the fields have been cultivated.
InSight Crime Analysis
The results may surprise some in the US government who say that Bolivia is not complying with their commitments to lower drug production and trafficking. Bolivia has expelled most US anti-narcotics agencies, while the US announced in May it was shutting down its last remaining offices there.
Still, there are some contradictory figures in the report. The price of coca went down five percent, according to the UNODC, a fact that could suggest an increase in supply.
Seizures of cocaine paste and processed cocaine, or cocaine hydrochloride (HCl), also went in opposite directions. Cocaine paste seizures rose significantly, according to the report, suggesting that Bolivia is becoming a more regular supplier of the rising crack cocaine markets in neighboring Argentina and Brazil.
HCl seizures, meanwhile, were down, which may not necessarily mean that cocaine production has dropped. What is not known – and what the UNODC says it is studying – is the current yield of Bolivian coca. In Colombia, yields have risen even while the number of hectares under coca cultivation has dropped, accounting for the steady production of HCl throughout this period when one would expect a drop in cocaine production.
The report also follows the declaration of another major export industry leader, coffee, that its producers were switching to coca. That declaration was, however, more speculative than scientific.
– Steven Dudley is a director at Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.
Nicaragua’s political opposition on Tuesday filed a Supreme Court challenge to the Sandinista government’s hastily approved canal law, arguing that the generous concession granted to an unknown Chinese firm violates 15 articles of the constitution, including national sovereignty.
The opposition claims the concession – which will convert a giant swath of the country into a privatized canal zone, owned and operated for 50 years by Chinese businessman Wang Jing – violates constitutional guarantees to private property, natural resources, and indigenous lands. Liberal Party congressman Luis Callejas says his party fears the canal will carve up Nicaragua and “leave our national sovereignty in pieces.”
Opposition politicos are urging the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court to give their constitutional challenge “the same priority” that the Sandinista-dominated National Assembly gave to approving the concession law last June. The law was rammed through the legislature during a breathless two-day session and passed along party lines, by a vote of 61 to 25. Xochilt Ocampo, the only Sandinista lawmaker who failed to support the law, was removed from office 10 days later, without explanation.
In a country where institutional checks and balances have been virtually replaced by a one-party system, Mr. Callejas, who is spearheading the constitutional challenge, admits the motion before the Supreme Court is mostly symbolic. “There is no separation of powers in this country, but we wanted to go on the record with our disapproval,” he says.
The Supreme Court challenge might be the least of the problems facing the proposed $40 billion canal project. Despite spending big bucks on high-powered consulting firms and public relations efforts, Mr. Wang’s newly formed canal company, HKND Group, still struggles to be taken seriously.
Wang’s first press conference in Hong Kong prompted grunts in Nicaragua when the 41-year-old canal enthusiast presented reporters with a wildly distorted map of Nicaragua, which appeared to trace a canal route passing from Lake Nicaragua into Lake Managua, dead-ending in the capital city – about 30 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
In a subsequent interview with British daily The Telegraph, Wang tried to calm concerns about his grasp on geography by carefully laying out the route of the canal, starting in the Caribbean port town of Bluefields and winding to a Pacific outlet in Brito. But that too came as a surprise to Nicaraguans, who only two weeks ago were told by President Daniel Ortega that the canal’s route will be determined by the results of a two-year feasibility and environmental-impact study.
Wang also raised eyebrows by telling The Telegraph that he is “100 percent sure” canal construction will start at the end of 2014 and be completed by 2019. That means, by Wang’s calculations, the largest and most expensive infrastructure project in the history of Central America will be built in five years – even faster than Panama’s current $5.3 billion canal expansion, which pales in comparison in scope and cost.
Given the attention this project has garnered and concerns that the canal project will compromise national sovereignty, some Nicaraguans have taken to mockingly calling their country “Chinaragua” (a combination of China and Nicaragua). This is the first – and only – Chinese-backed megaproject in Nicaragua, and the unfamiliar partnership has spawned some racist sentiments – even if expressed in jest. Opposition lawmakers have publicly used derogatory nicknames to refer to Wang. Even Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, whose government is at odds with Nicaragua’s, recently joined in on the wordplay by calling Wang’s canal plans a “cuento chino” or a “Chinese tale,” which in Latin America means a tall tale.
But if Wang can buck the historic odds and the legal challenges piling up against his project, and raise the kind of money this country has never seen before, this tale could have a different ending.
• David Smilde is the moderator of WOLA's blog: Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. Rebecca Hanson is a contributor. The views expressed are the authors's own.
Last month President Nicolas Maduro signed into law a disarmament bill that has gone under various revisions within the National Assembly since 2010. The law signifies an important attempt by the Venezuelan government and legislature to control the flow of arms in the country. In this post we look at the evolution of the law, the conflicts that the law has produced (both between the opposition and the government and within Chavista ranks), and provide a summary of the law’s main points.
Although there are no reliable figures on the number of guns in circulation in Venezuela (estimates range from 1 million to 6 million) their circulation was for the most part unregulated until last year.
Since 2010, three different commissions have been created to combat the problem. The first commission was organized within the National Assembly in January 2011. It was headed up by Freddy Bernal (PSUV National Assembly member and previous mayor of Caracas) and was dominated by PSUV deputies but also included a few opposition members such as Juan Carlos Caldera. It was referred to as the Mixed Commission (Comisión Mixta) because it had members from two different National Assembly subcommittees (Interior and Defense). The Mixed Commission’s proposal suffered a number of postponements and internal differences between Diosdado Cabello, the president of the Assembly, and Mr. Bernal.
In May 2011, late-President Hugo Chávez decreed the creation of the second commission, the Presidential Disarmament Commission (CPD). The CPD was headed up by human rights activist Pablo Fernández and then Minister of Justice Tareck El Aissami and included 20 members from the government, the academy, and civil society.
Though initially the two groups worked together, there were serious differences: the CPD was dominated by civilians such as Mr. Fernández, while the National Assembly’s Mixed Commission had a strong presence of former military officers, including Assembly members Rafael Gil Barrios and Pedro Carreño.
The CPD backed a number of measures that the National Assembly's Mixed Commission considered too restrictive and did not want included in the bill. Thus, the Mixed Commission eventually cut off communication with the CPD due to disputes over what type of bill would be put in front of the Assembly.
The CPD and Mixed Commission differed mainly over the issue of restricting the sale and carrying of legal arms. According to Fernández, “The illegal market is nourished by legal arms.” In contrast, the military faction argued that the two issues were distinct and that, with the 2012 election year coming up, they could not afford to crack down on legal arms and alienate the middle class or the armed forces.
In June of 2012 the CPD presented its proposal to the Mixed Commission which in turn presented its final version to the National Assembly plenary for discussion. The Mixed Commission’s final version, however, excluded a number of key issues. The CPD’s proposal advocated for a combined arms registry; more restrictive measures on the renewal of licenses (such as a recent psychological examination); extending the regulation of weapons to cover knives and explosives; the elimination of arms carried for personal defense; and stronger control over ammunition production. All of these measures were left out of the Mixed Commission’s proposal.
The CPD, in turn, side-stepped the National Assembly and went directly to President Chávez who put a stop to discussion of the Mixed Commission’s bill in the Assembly. As a result, in July 2012 a third commission was formed to reconcile the differences between the CPD’s proposal and the one supported by the Mixed Commission. This group was headed by Diosdado Cabello and included PSUV parliament members as well as two opposition Assembly members—Eduardo Gómez Sigala and William Ojeda.
The proposal that came out of this third commission kept about 80 percent of the CPD’s version intact. It was approved by the Assembly on June 11 and signed by Maduro on June 15 of this year.
However, it also watered down some key sanctions and regulations. For example, while the final version requires gun licenses to be divided into various categories (sporting, hunting, transportation of goods, etc.) it allows for personal defense licenses, which the CPD wanted to eliminate. The law did create an automated system of registration for arms, parts, and ammunition that will be under the control of the Armed Forces. However, it discarded the shared registry of guns that would have allowed all state organizations to share and access information.
Furthermore, the law includes no controls over CAVIM (the state company which produces arms and ammunition for the Armed Forces), which Fernández considered a fundamental aspect of gun reform. While most guns are imported into the country, the majority of ammunition in Venezuela is produced by CAVIM. And, according to a study by the CICPC and the National Police, 80 percent of the gun shells found in homicide scenes were manufactured in the country by CAVIM.
Though the Ministry of Justice issued a resolution closing all armerías (gun shops) in May of last year and both proposals by the CPD and the Mixed Commission designated the Venezuelan state as the only body legally competent to sell guns, the final law allows for the eventual reopening of gun shops and the future private commercialization of guns (though individuals are prohibited from selling guns to other individuals, and are allowed to sell their guns to the state only). Gun licenses will not be available for another two years, however, meaning that no one will be able to legally buy a gun until 2015.
The legal age for carrying a gun was raised to 25 and stricter sentences for the carrying and possession of illegal guns were established: 4-6 years of jail time for illegal possession of a gun, 4-8 for the carrying of an illegal gun, and 6-10 years for possession and carrying of guns made for war. It also penalizes the alteration of a gun’s serial numbers with 3-5 years of jail time, the introduction of guns into prisons with 8-10 years, and the firing of guns in public places with 1-3 years. Additionally, individuals are not given personal ownership of guns but are allowed conditional possession, meaning that the state can “recuperate” an individual’s gun at any time. The final law also prohibits the fabrication, selling, and carrying of knives that the CPD’s proposal included.
Ammunition is to be marked with the name of the producer, the year of production, as well as where the ammunition is to be sent. Police ammunition is now marked to identify each police body that will be using it. Authorized citizens can only buy 50 cartridges each year. This same amount is to be assigned annually to all police officers, of which more can be requested with proper justification.
Apart from new restrictions, the law also includes measures like a national fund to provide care and attention to victims of gunfire as well as establishing a 5 percent tax on the net earnings of businesses that sell, import, and produce arms, which will be put into this fund.Additionally, it allows for the voluntary and anonymous turning over of weapons to the National Program for the Exchange of Arms and Ammunition in exchange for education opportunities, university scholarships, employment opportunities, construction materials, etc. Both of these measures were integral to the CPD’s campaign the year before.
• A version of this post ran on the Foreign Policy Association blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
Last week, The Economist in their article “The Great Deceleration” discussed the slowdown in the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa] economies in recent months. The assumption was that countries such as China, India, Russia, and Brazil were to grow indefinitely as a reflection of a new world economy, showing their clout during the 2008 great recession by saving the US and Europe from complete economic collapse. The BRICS were taken as economic champions as their economic models kept the world economy puttering along. The impressive level of growth and rapid influence the BRICS would have in the world economy was something that was predicted to occur within 15-20 years, but with the downward spiraling of the US and Europe after 2008, it was logical for many investors to see the end of the West’s domination of all things money.
The question that must be raised is whether or not emerging economies should always be seen as economic saviors? Many investors saw the BRICS as the next big economic project that would never fall to the same boom and bust cycles that are at the heart of Western economic models. When those BRICS economies came to be injured by slowdowns in the world economy and the loss of investment due to lower prices on their commodities and waning demand on their manufactured goods, the slowdown of the economic champions brought them into the same growth level as their western counterparts. Mega projects such as Brazil’s PAC-2 and the funding of international sporting events showed Brazilians that the government might spend themselves into debt for the sake of a few great parties, mega projects, and corrupt practices. Democracy exploded in Brazil when the growth rate took a dive as many of the most ambitious projects shifted into high gear. The assumption from investors that the money would not stop did not come to pass, and Brazilians took to reminding their government to build Brazil for its citizens, and not anyone else.
Everyone remembers the excitement and paranoia in the 1980s of Japan as the next economic giant, a giant that would usurp the US via research, development, and technology. Japan did build up its economy since the 1960s to a point of being one of the most innovative economies in the world, but the paranoia of indefinite growth coming from Japan did not come to pass. Today, Japanese goods are some of the best in the world and are a benefit to those consumers in the world’s largest markets. Western citizens consume Japanese products while still maintaining their own positions of influence. Was it logical to assume that the BRICS would also dominate the global economy to the detriment of the US and Europe?
The US is slowly regaining its traditional economic position and is displacing the missing investments into those formerly strong BRICS nations. Development in formerly developing countries is a positive outcome for all BRICS nations, and will continue with measured growth on the same level as all Western nations. Growth in China at seven percent, in Brazil at three percent and the US at 3.5 percent is a positive outcome for all economies, moreover a realistic one as citizens in all nations expect rational spending and growth over a long economic period. As with Japan, the development of the BRICS may have slowed, but logically they are exactly where they should be, growing at a normal pace, and hopefully responsibly with accountability to their citizenry.
– Rich Basas is a Latin America blogger and Europe blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read the blogs here for Latin America and here for Europe.