(JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)
On April 14, Venezuelans will choose a president for the second time in less than a year. Hugo Chávez won October’s election; following his death, it’s expected that his chosen heir – former vice-president and acting President Nicolás Maduro – will be voted in. But even if Maduro wins comfortably, the presidency is a poisoned chalice. Here are six reasons why.
CHAVISMO When Chávez died, thousands of ordinary people flooded the streets to mourn. They spoke of him in familial terms – as a father, a protector, a benefactor. Their affection reflected the fact that Chávez’s rule brought about material change in the lives of many, particularly the poorest – he cut poverty by half, and increased access to healthcare and education. But it’s worth noting that other countries in the region made similar social progress without the divisions that Chavismo generated.
While there was growing opposition to Chávez – in October, his rival Henrique Capriles secured 44 per cent of the vote – his supporters loved him with a devotion that will be hard for any leader to replicate. That has repercussions for his political movement. “‘Chavismo’ would face a far more uncertain future without the charismatic former tank commander at its head; it was always a highly personalised political project,” John Paul Rathbone noted in December.
The final dividend of Chávez’s charisma will probably be the election of his chosen heir, as even voters uncertain about Maduro are swung by loyalty to the wishes of their former leader. In a video for the New York Times, Simon Romero asks an 80-year-old lady who she will vote for. “Well naturally, this last request of my president who pleaded from his heart that we vote for the one he chose, to vote for Maduro.”
1) ECONOMICS The FT’s chief economics commentator, Martin Wolf, evaluates the impact of Baroness Thatcher on Britain’s economic performance both during her time in power and afterwards.
“For the UK, the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s did mark the first sustained period since the 19th century when GDP per head rose more than in the other large European economies. Unfortunately, the post-crisis economic malaise, the high inequality, the persistent regional imbalances and the over-reliance on an unstable financial sector mar this success.”
2) SOCIETY Hugo Young was a political columnist for the Guardian from 1984 until 2003, and wrote a biography of Margaret Thatcher, One of Us. Two weeks before he died, in 2003, he wrote this piece about Thatcher and her legacy. The Guardian published it on Monday. Young praises Thatcher’s self-confidence, and how little she cared if people liked her – a quality he notes is markedly lacking in today’s politicians. But he worries about the change in British social attitudes that she fostered:
Baroness Thatcher in June 2010 (AFP/Getty)
Baroness Thatcher, the former UK prime minister, has died at age 87.
A video grab from North Korean TV on March 20 shows Kim Jong-eun overseeing a live fire military drill (North Korean TV/AFP/Getty)
Taking weeks of shrill rhetoric and threats to a fresh high on Tuesday, North Korea announced plans to restart a shuttered plutonium reactor and increase production of enriched uranium. So did we just move one step closer to nuclear armageddon? Here’s a reading list of comment and analysis to help gauge the hazard level.
- Our own Gideon Rachman argues that there is still “an unfortunate tendency in the west” to treat North Korea as a bit of a joke. “In reality, the Pyongyang regime is about as unfunny as it gets.” He warns that the US and South Korea are responding to North Korea as if it is a rational adversary – “but the unsettling reality is that we cannot be sure.”
- What do North Korea’s air defenses look like? Foreign Policy has the answer. (Spoiler: they look quite old, as they’re largely from the 60s, 70s and 80s).
Syrian children in the Za'atari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty)
The UN’s World Food Programme is running out of money to feed Syrians – both within the crisis-hit country and outside, in refugee camps where more than 1 million people have fled over the past two years. Javier Blas, the FT’s Commodities editor, has the full story.
The World blog spoke to Matthew Hollingworth, the Damascus-based officer in charge of WFP’s Syria operation, about the practicalities of getting food to people in a war zone.
Q: What kind of food do you provide?
A: When we deliver food to people we’re delivering them a family ration or parcel – a box of food. The idea is that each box has enough food to support a family of five for a whole month. The rations are very simple, non-luxury goods – rice, pasta, bulgur wheat, canned beans, lentils, sugar, salt and vegetable oil. The reason we give them some canned goods is because it’s easier for them to cook and eat those things if they have a problem receiving fuel. Next month we’re adding wheat flour to the basket because there’s a recognition that access to bread is becoming a problem.
Q: How do you transport the food boxes throughout Syria?
Boris Berezovsky in August 2012 (Getty)
Police have found “no evidence” so far that anyone else was involved in the death of exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, but are retaining “an open mind”, according to one of the detectives working on the case. It’s hardly surprising that questions remain. While one friend told the FT: “In the last few months, he was very depressed, very low. He felt beset by all the issues that surrounded him”, another – Nikolai Glushkov, a fellow Russian exile – told the Guardian’s Luke Harding: “I will never believe in the natural death of Boris Berezovsky.” It may be a while before any certainty is reached [update: police said late on Monday that a postmortem found the cause of death was “consistent with hanging”] – but in the meantime, it’s worth reading up on the life of a man whose influence over his homeland will be felt for a long time to come.
- Owen Matthews recalls his first meeting with Berezovsky in 1998, at the “luxurious Logovaz Club, a restored prerevolutionary mansion in central Moscow”. In a piece full of pithy assessments (“Yeltsin may have made Russia free, but it was Berezovsky who made it for sale”; “Berezovsky was Dr. Frankenstein, whose monster was a poker-faced little KGB officer”), Matthews paints a vivid picture of the mathmetician-turned-kingmaker whose love of power contributed to his undoing.
- Writing for the FT, Ben Judah contrasts the Berezovsky of old – “they called him ‘the comet’, because he burnt so bright and talked so fast” – with the “insecure, self-doubting and anguished man” of recent months.
Cyprus: they have a deal!
Barack Obama is only the fifth serving US president to visit Israel since the state was founded in 1948. As Marvin Kalb notes: “A presidential visit to Israel is not routine. Quite the contrary.” So who are the other four?
President Nixon speaking during the official banquet at the Knesset. Photo: GPO
1) Richard Nixon made history as the first US president to visit Israel while in office. He and the first lady, Pat Nixon, touched down in Israel for 24 hours in June 1974 as part of a trip that included Austria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan. According to Aaron David Miller, “Nixon’s trip was a largely a farewell tour, a last hurrah following his administration’s deep involvement in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the diplomacy that followed.”
The itinerary Nixon’s daily diary records that after giving a speech at Ben Gurian airport, the President “motored” to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (where the president and his wife were staying in suite 429) accompanied by Ephraim Katzir, Israeli president, and Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister. Later, he went to “the residence of Golda Meir, former prime minister of Israel”, along with Henry Kissinger and Rabin. The following day, Nixon and the first lady went to the Yad Vashem memorial, where they took part in a ceremony for Jews killed during the Second World War. Nixon then went to the Knesset and met the Israeli cabinet.
Gifts from Israel to Nixon: A papyrus scroll, a menorah and a book entitled “Justice in Jerusalem”
Hotel: King David Hotel