This week’s likely top stories: the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Brazil; Colombian voters return to the polls; Venezuelan protesters call for the release of Leopoldo López; President Enrique Peña Nieto defends Mexican reforms in Spain; Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou testifies in court.
World Cup Begins in Brazil Amid Subway Strike: The FIFA World Cup will officially open on Thursday, June 12, with the opening match between Brazil and Croatia at Arena Corinthians stadium in São Paulo. Meanwhile, protesters clashed with police in São Paulo as they supported a subway workers’ strike that began last Thursday when metro employees called for a 12.2 percent salary increase ahead of the tournament. On Sunday, the subway workers’ union voted to continue the strike indefinitely, which will inevitably affect transportation to the Arena Corinthians stadium 12 miles east of central São Paulo. A São Paulo labor court has fined the union $175,000 and said it will add $220,000 per day that the work stoppage continues.
Colombian Runoff Elections: Colombian voters will return to the polls on Sunday to choose between current President Juan Manuel Santos of the Partido de la U and challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the Centro Democrático in what is expected to be a very tight race for president. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC), who have agreed on three points of a six point peace agenda with the Colombian government in Havana, announced a three-week ceasefire from June 9 to June 30 in recognition of the June 15 runoff election. The government and the FARC recently announced the creation of a truth commission to investigate the deaths of the estimated 220,000 people killed in the country’s 50 year-old internal conflict.
Venezuelan Opposition Calls for Release of Leopoldo López: Members of the Venezuelan opposition protested in Caracas on Sunday to call for the release of opposition leader Leopoldo López, who has been imprisoned since February 18—and are also demanding new presidential elections as soon as possible. López was formally charged in April by Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz of damaging property, arson and instigating violence in the February 12 protests that set off a wave of anti-government demonstrations across the country. Those charges were upheld last week by Judge Adriana López, who concluded that López must remain in custody. At least 42 people have died in protest-related violence.
Enrique Peña Nieto Defends Mexico’s Reforms: In a speech delivered at a meeting of business and political leaders in Madrid, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto defended the political and economic reforms he has passed during his time in office. In the conversation, the president signaled that the introduction of foreign capital into the energy sector would make Pemex a “productive industry of the state,” rather than just an “industry of the state.” He added that Mexico is attempting to deepen its relationship with its Latin American neighbors, citing Mexico’s participation in the Pacific Alliance alongside Chile, Colombia and Peru. Enrique Ochoa Reza, head of Mexico’s Comisión Federal de Electricidad (Federal Commission of Electricity—CFE), and Spanish energy company Iberdola also signed a collaborative agreement.
Argentine Vice President Boudou Appears in Court: Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou is expected to testify on Monday in a criminal corruption probe for his possible involvement in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal. Boudou is accused of using his position as economic minister of Argentina to illegally lift bankruptcy proceedings against the Ciccone Calcografica printing company in return for 70 percent ownership of the firm in 2010. Boudou will appear before prosecutor and federal judge Ariel Lijo in a closed court session. Bodou denies any wrongdoing and asked that Monday’s court session be broadcast before the Argentine public—but that request was denied.
Opposition leader Leopoldo López is back in court this morning after his 11-hour hearing was adjourned yesterday. Judge Adriana López is expected to decide whether the former mayor of Chacao will face a criminal trial and, if so, if he will remain in the Ramo Verde military prison while awaiting his trial date.
López, founder and national coordinator of the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) party and outspoken critic of the Chávez, and later, Maudro governments, has been in custody at the military prison since February after he turned himself in to authorities. Despite yesterday’s lengthy session, defense attorney Bernardo Pulido stated that the defense counsel was not called to take the floor. Because of limited access to the courtroom, much of the information has come from López’ wife, Lilian Tintori’s, social media accounts.
López is currently charged with arson, damage to public property, incitement, and conspiracy for his role in calling for the student protests against the government in February that turned violent. If charged, he faces up to ten years in prison.
OAS General Assembly in Paraguay: The Organization of American States (OAS) will hold its General Assembly in Asunción, Paraguay from June 3 to 5. At least 29 foreign ministers have confirmed their attendance—the highest number to do so since the 2009 General Assembly in Honduras, following the coup that removed former President Manuel Zelaya from office. OAS member states remain divided over the political crisis in Venezuela, proposed changes to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the participation of Cuba, among other issues. Those attending the assembly are expected to sign a declaration to signal their commitment to promote social inclusion and reduce poverty and social inequality in the hemisphere.
Brazil’s Public Ministry to Create a “Crisis Cabinet” for the World Cup: With only ten days left before the start of the World Cup, Brazil’s public minister, Rodrigo Janot, declared that the government would create a “Crisis Cabinet” to monitor any future protests during the World Cup and address “excesses” on the part of either protesters or security forces during public manifestations. The Cabinet will include state attorney generals from all states that will host the World Cup, as well as the federal district that includes Brasília, and will receive additional assistance from a support group made of other public officials from the public ministry and attorney general’s office. June 6 marks the one-year anniversary of protests that erupted across Brazil in response to transit costs, poor public services, corruption, and high spending on the World Cup.
Sánchez Céren Sworn in as Salvadoran President: Former FMLN guerrilla Salvador Sánchez Céren was sworn in as El Salvador’s president on June 1, after narrowly defeating rival candidate Norman Quijano in a run-off election on March 9. Sánchez Céren said that he would fight corruption and violence during his term and would prioritize security, employment and education. El Salvador faces one of the world’s highest homicide rates, according to the UN, at 41 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, though the rate was even higher in 2009. Sánchez Cerén was vice president during the government of former President Mauricio Funes.
Leopoldo López Hearing Begins in Venezuela: Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has been transferred to Venezuela’s Palacio de Justicia to begin a preliminary hearing on Monday. The hearing will determine whether López should be tried for promoting violence and instigating damage to public property, among other charges, during Venezuela’s February 12 protests. López, who was detained in February, has been held in a military prison for the last several months, and he faces a potential sentence of more than 13 years in prison, according to Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz.
Uruguayan Primary Elections: Uruguayans voted in primary elections on June 1, with a paltry turnout of only 39 percent of eligible voters selecting presidential candidates for the country’s three major political parties: the Partido Nacional (PN), Partido Colorado (PC) and the Frente Amplio (FA). The results were predictable for the FA—with popular former president Tabaré Vázquez easily defeating senator and political scientist Constanza Moreira—and the PC, which elected Pedro Bordaberry, a former presidential candidate and son of ex-President Juan María Bordaberry. However, Luis Lacalle Pou unexpectedly defeated favorite Jorge Larrañaga in the PN primary, creating a need for the PC and FA to reevaluate their strategies for Uruguay’s presidential election on October 26.
Venezuela will deploy military units to San Cristobal, Táchira, where demonstrators continue to protest the arrest of opposition leader Lepoldo López, government officials announced today. Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres said that the decision is a measure to restore public order.
In addition to the deployment of the military troops on the ground military jets have been flying over that state of Táchira and internet access has been cut following 16 days of protests. Rodriguez has denied knowledge of the cause of the internet blackout.
The Venezuelan attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, confirmed that there have been 8 deaths and 137 injuries to date, resulting in what human rights activists have called the worst violation of human rights in Venezuela in 15 years.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
Venezuelan opposition leaders have condemned President Nicolas Maduro’s government for the violent backlash to what started as peaceful student protests last week. The National Police, National Guard and government-backed colectivos (armed militias) have filled the streets firing freely at protesters. At least eight people have died since the protests turned violent last week and many have been injured.
Although the Venezuelan media has not fully covered the violence, social media sites have been flooded with photos and videos of the clashes documented by protesters themselves. Maduro and his supporters have claimed that the escalation of the violence is part of an attempted coup by right-wing “fascist” opponents backed by the U.S. On Monday, Maduro gave three U.S. diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, after being accused of fomenting a coup against the Venezuelan government.
The leader of the opposition movement, Leopoldo López, turned himself in to police on Tuesday and is being held in Caracas' Ramo Verde jail on charges of terrorism. President Maduro has called López, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, “the face of fascism.”
Among other voices condemning the repression of the protests are Henrique Capriles, former Venezuelan presidential candidate, and President Barack Obama, who urged Maduro to stop making “false accusations” and address the protesters’ demands during his recent visit to Mexico.
The opposition movement is planning more marches for Saturday.
Read updates on the crisis in Venezuela in AS/COA's Venezuela Resource Guide.
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The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, currently led by Hugo Chávez’s handpicked successor, Nicolás Maduro, is facing the most significant wave of social discontent with its policies in more than a decade.
Over the past six days, daily spontaneous protests across the country have diluted the government’s ability to maintain social order and address the concerns of millions of Venezuelans who oppose its socialist project.
Today, Caracas will be the site of yet another round of political protests. This time, the protests will be far from spontaneous. They will concentrate in two opposing marches that will take city streets simultaneously.
One side will march in defense of Maduro’s regime and against what the government has called “an unfolding coup attempt” against the Revolution. The other side will accompany opposition leader Leopoldo López to the Ministry of the Interior, where López will make a set of demands and probably be apprehended by the State for his supposed involvement in the violence that has shaken the country.
Venezuelan opposition candidate Leopoldo López of Voluntad Popular pulled out of the presidential primary race on Tuesday to form an alliance with current opposition frontrunner Henrique Capriles Radonski of Primero Justicia. According to Dataánalisis, a Venezuelan polling firm, Capriles leads López by 29 percentage points (45 to 16 percent) ahead of the February 12 primary elections.
One of the reasons Leopoldo López decided to pull out this late in the primary race was his precarious position as a candidate. He was barred from holding public office until 2014 over corruption charges; the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that this decision violated his political rights, but the Venezuelan Supreme Court dismissed this decision saying he could run for office but not hold office.
López decided to support Primero Justicia because of similarities in the electoral base. According to López: “We both have the same dream.”
President Hugo Chávez, who has been in office for 13 years and is seeking another six-year term in the October 7th presidential election responded to the news: “They are all the same. They are the candidates of the Yankee Empire.” Recent polls show he remains popular with a 50 percent approval rating.
Although a Venezuelan Supreme Court ruling earlier this week barred him from holding elected office, Leopoldo López, a leading opposition candidate, pledged yesterday to continue his presidential campaign. The Supreme Court mandated that the verdict reached last month by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) was “unfeasible.” The IACHR verdict in question demanded that Venezuela overturn a six-year ban on López holding public office, the former mayor of the Chacao district in Caracas, issued in 2008.
The ban successfully disqualified López from running for mayor of Caracas in 2008, and it attempts to do the same for the upcoming presidential contest. López founded the Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) political party, which is part of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (Coalition for Democratic Unity, or MUD) opposition bloc. Although the Supreme Court ruled that López could not hold public office, Supreme Court President Luisa Estella Morales did say that López “can freely sign up and participate in elections.”
One day after the Supreme Court issued its decision, López wrote in a blog post, “Today I affirm my presidential candidacy because I am qualified in justice and in right.” López continued his defiance in a speech yesterday to supporters where he said, “I can and I am going to be a candidate for the presidency.” He is currently placing third in the polls among opposition candidates.
In a February 12, 2012, primary, the MUD will select its candidate to contest President Hugo Chávez. The presidential election is scheduled for October 7, 2012.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez yesterday held his first cabinet meeting since making a surprise return to Venezuela earlier this week, only days after admitting in Cuba that he is battling cancer. While he referred to his diagnosis many times during the meeting, Chávez showed no apparent signs of weakness and vowed to overcome his cancer by proclaiming, “We will win, and we will live.”
Contrary to reports from Venezuelan daily newspaper El Mundo that Chávez would remove Vice President Elías Jaua from power and replace him with current Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicolas Maduro, Chávez instead announced that Jaua would remain in his post and that he had decided to extend the terms his cabinet members. Chávez also announced the creation of a new ministry of youth and appointed journalist Maria Pilar Hernandez as its first minister.
Oncologists suggest that if rumors that Chávez has advanced colon cancer are true, he could have as little as four to nine months left to live. In the run up to Venezuela’s presidential election in December 2012, top opposition leaders such as Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López have said that they prefer to see Chávez lose at the ballot box rather than to an illness. Chávez addressed these criticisms by telling his opponents, “You will never again govern the Venezuelan fatherland.”
The date is November 17, 1969. In San José, Costa Rica, the states of the Americas are about to decide what degree of protection to grant citizens’ political rights under the American Convention on Human Rights. After three days of discussion, the text of Article 23.2 reads as follows, “The law may regulate the exercise of the [political rights to vote and stand for election] only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, according to the case.” Suddenly, Dr. Carlos A. Dunshee de Abranches, the Brazilian delegate to the negotiating conference proposes all states to adhere to his country’s 1967 constitutional standard—to “erase ‘according to the case’, and add ‘or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings’.” The amendment is then approved by unanimity, and incorporated to the Convention.
On March 1-2, 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, an international tribunal established also in 1969 and based in Costa Rica, sat to hear the case of Leopoldo López Mendoza v. the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. The case goes as follows—in 2008, through two administrative resolutions alleging corruption, the Comptroller General of Venezuela disqualified the mayor of the Chacao Municipality, in Caracas, Leopoldo López, to run for office for six years. At the time of his disqualification, López was an almost certain winner of the race for mayor of metropolitan Caracas, the country’s largest electoral district.
Acting as plaintiff in this case on behalf of López, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) has argued that the administrative resolutions that disqualified him fall far below the “criminal sentence” standard set in the Convention, and requested the Court “to conclude and declare that the (Venezuelan) State violated the political rights (...) of Mr. Leopoldo López,” and, “to order the Venezuelan State” to reinstate them. On the other end, the Venezuelan State, represented by several attorneys and expert witnesses in Costa Rica, claimed that Leopoldo López’ disqualification is not only legitimate under Venezuelan domestic law, but that it is well within the margin of appreciation the Convention gives states in the regulation of human rights.
All arguments have been made and a final decision by the Court is expected in the next few months. Venezuela, which has participated fully in the proceedings, is bound to comply with it. Yet, this is no everyday case. On the one hand, López is now a potential candidate for the upcoming 2012 presidential elections, and his participation on the primaries that will define the opposition’s candidate, depends largely on this ruling. More widely, however, this particular decision could lead to the restitution of the political rights of thousands of people in the Americas who are at this time banned from holding public office, from voting, or from participating as candidates in elections.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.