Where now for ‘Chavismo’?

Hugo Chavez

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Analyst for Latin America

In life, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez had an appetite for fiery rhetoric, conspiracy theories and unpredictable policy decisions. Upon his death on Tuesday night after a two-year battle with cancer, it appeared that at least some of his theatrical style had survived in the government in Caracas. Chavez’s chosen successor, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, promptly expelled US military attaches, accusing them of plotting a coup and hinting darkly that Washington may have had a hand in Chavez’s illness.

Maduro has been effectively in charge of Venezuela since Chavez went to Cuba on 10 December for a fourth round of cancer surgery, and is now expected to run for president in elections that must be called within 30 days, in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution. If he goes to the polls reasonably swiftly and adheres to the law, Maduro stands a good chance of picking up a huge sympathy vote and winning the election.

However, it is not immediately clear when a poll will be held, and controversy has arisen over the interpretation of the constitution after the government postponed the 10 January swearing-in ceremony at the start of Chavez’s fourth presidential term, on the grounds of his ill-health. Although the Supreme Court ruled that the delay was legal, many opposition supporters and lawyers now contend that National Assembly speaker Diosdaldo Cabello – rather than Chavez’s personal pick, Maduro – should by law be Venezuela’s interim leader.

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FARC peace talks: why now?


FARC leaders

Graffiti depicting high-level FARC members Raul Reyes, Manuel Marulanda and Ivan Rios. Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/bixentro

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

Bogota has never been closer to a successful peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The signs are positive: the group, weakened by devastating military operations and the resulting loss of many veteran leaders, has agreed to engage in talks even without a ceasefire, and the participation of foreign governments with whom FARC shares ideological affinities – Cuba and Venezuela – is likely to defuse some of the tension. The talks begin on 15 October, and a joint press conference will be held on 17 October.

But there is more to FARC’s motives than meets the eye. In addition to its strategic defeats, FARC’s political struggle seems to be on the wane. There has been an erosion of FARC’s ideological integrity and an increasing disconnect between its central leadership and mid-level commanders. These developments may have helped bring FARC to the negotiating table, but could also make the peace process more complicated.

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Venezuela after Chavez?

Hugo Chavez

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/mwasuk


By Virginia Comolli, Research Associate, Transnational Threats

Venezuela’s presidential election is rapidly approaching on 7 October, and observers cannot help but speculate whether the era of Hugo Chavez is coming to an end.

Chavez’s main challenger, Henrique Capriles, a lawyer and former governor of Miranda state, presents a rather different political model, one that is moderate and less confrontational (although perhaps less charismatic) and he appeals to a large portion of the population.

As governor of Miranda state, Capriles tried to replicate Brazilian President Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva’s approach of implementing pro-business policies while emphasising development and funding social programmes. He has also promised, if elected, to continue and to improve Chavez’s social programmes aimed at helping the poor.

But if elected he will face a number of challenges: forecasts of sluggish economic growth and high inflation resulting from deep structural damage done over the past few years; highly politicised armed forces, whose role as protectors of the country is linked to defending Chavez’s ‘revolution’ and the Bolivarian project; and relations with a far-from-independent Central Bank and entities such as the state oil corporation PDVSA. The latter’s management is closely linked with Chavez’s government, and Chavez is thought to be funnelling oil revenues into his government projects without approval from Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Venezuela’s contentious entry into Mercosur

 XLIII Mercosur Head of States Summit in Mendoza Argentina on 29 June 2012 (Photo: Fernanda LeMarie - Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Comercio e Integracian, Argentina)

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

When Paraguay’s President, Fernando Lugo, was thrown out of government last month  in an impeachment process that took less than two days, the leaders of neighbouring countries denounced an attack on democracy. In an almost equally speedy process leaders of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay summoned an emergency meeting of Mercosur, – a free trade bloc consisting of  the three countries and Paraguay – in Mendoza, Argentina, where they suspended Paraguay until new elections take place. However, the absence of Paraguay opened the door for infighting and the invitation for a divisive regional player to be brought in, increasing Mercosur’s isolation from the other power centres of Latin America.

The chaotic political scene and economic imbalances in Mercosur are gradually creating an east-west rift in South America, with Brazil and its Mercosur allies on one side and the countries of the Pacific Alliance – formed by Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico –  on the other. The latter bloc is increasingly looking toward Asia-Pacific. Although all South American countries remain united in the Unasur political bloc, the east-west rift can have important impacts on economic integration and on Brazil’s regional influence. Read the rest of this entry »

Violent times in Venezuela

Venezuela human rights demo by Flickr user ervega

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

The death of a Chilean diplomat’s daughter at the hands of Venezuelan police this weekend has focused attention on Venezuela’s high homicide rate, and sparked renewed debate over the security forces’ role in it. The government of Hugo Chavez has apologised to the Chilean authorities and arrested 12 officers. But Venezuela’s rapidly escalating violence is blighting Chavez’s re-election prospects in October.

The victim, Karen Berendique was in a car with her older brother, when they were ordered to stop at a checkpoint in the western city of Maracaibo. Their father says they did not stop because it was unclear that the 12 men, dressed in black, were policemen – a telling indictment of the country’s security situation. As I wrote last week, the national homicide rate has reached 67 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), an NGO. Strangely, the organisation’s website has been offline this Monday, just as the Berendique case has aroused international media interest. In 2010, the UN reports, Venezuela already had the highest murder rate in South America, at 48 per 100,000 people.

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Chavez keeps his friends close

Hugo Chavez © ITAR-TASS/Dmitry Astakhov

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

All sorts of rumours have been circulating in Venezuela about the health of Hugo Chavez, ahead of the president’s anticipated return to Caracas and the campaign trail this weekend. After 13 years in power, Chavez is fighting hard not only against cancer – he is coming back home after a second operation in Cuba – but also against a resurgent opposition. His adversaries made important strides in last year’s parliamentary elections. Now, after years of infighting, the opposition has united around one candidate, the youthful Henrique Capriles. The moderate, centre-left Capriles may not win the presidential election scheduled for October, but it is expected to be the tightest contest in Venezuela for years.

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