In the land where everything is possible – except often finding toilet paper or medicines – the politically novice daughter of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s late socialist leader, was appointed recently as deputy ambassador to the UN.
Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s embattled president (centre), made his UN debut on Wednesday, and some said the presence of María Gabriela Chávez (right) in New York may help Caracas’s efforts to lobby for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council. Others noted the pressing need to shift Ms Chávez out of the official residence of La Casona, where she has continued to live since her father’s death more than a year ago. Read more
“We could turn Venezuela into Ukraine!” a student protester shouted in Caracas this weekend. It is striking how similar the situations are in the two countries, despite the significant differences.
There have been many tragic deaths in both countries – although about 100 people have died in Ukraine, versus “only” around ten in Venezuela. This difference is one reason why the troubles in Venezuela has not yet captured the same attention as the protests in Ukraine.
Just because Venezuela lacks Ukraine’s immediate geo-political heft – there are no borders in question in Venezuela; Europe’s energy security is not under threat; nor is the reach of Russia’s power or Vladimir Putin’s reputation – does not mean it lacks wider significance.
Caracas provides important economic assistance to Havana, without which Cuba’s economy would sink. Communist Cuba therefore has a vested interest in what happens in Venezuela, just as Russia does in Ukraine – a situation ripe for Cold War style comparisons. Read more
First protests; then inevitable casualties and recriminations. Life is getting harder on the mean streets of Venezuela’s cities. But that does not mean that a change of regime is in the offing.
The street protests that left three dead on Wednesday after pro and anti-government forces clashed came after a week of scattered gatherings across the country. The trigger was the arrest on Feb 6 of four students in western Tachira state. Since then relatively small gatherings, coordinated by social media under the hashtag #LaSalida, the Exit, have gathered in provincial cities.
Some of these protests turned violent after the National Guard attempted to disperse crowds. Wednesday’s nationwide protests were of a different scale. Rough estimates suggest the crowd in Caracas reached 20,000 people. Reports suggest pro-government motorcycle gangs attacked them. Either way, it was the worst unrest since President Nicolás Maduro won last year’s election by a whisker after his mentor, Hugo Chávez, died. Read more
News that the US government monitors vast amounts of private communications data has divided opinion at home and caused outrage in Europe. But what lengths do other countries go to in order to keep tabs on their citizens?
It has been a requirement since 2009 for communication service providers to hold information about their customers’ use of communications for at least a year. (CSPs are a broad group that can include telephone companies, Skype and search engines).
The spy base at RAF Menwith Hill in north Yorkshire, England (Getty)
The government proposed further legislation that would require CSPs to collect additional information generated by third-party CSPs based outside the UK in order to access services like Gmail. The communications data bill was rejected by the Liberal Democrats, who were concerned that it would infringe civil liberties.
However, a recent terror attack in Woolwich, London, in which an army fusilier was killed in an apparent attack by Islamist extremists, prompted calls for the coalition government to resurrect its proposals. Read more
♦ JP Rathbone looks at the fading of Chávez’s political dream in Venezuela, arguing that the results of Sunday’s election represent “no kind of mandate for [Nicolás] Maduro or the radical socialism he espouses.”
♦ “Either I bought [the lumber], or I stole it. But I can’t have done both. And actually, I did neither.” Russian blogger Alexei Navalny talks to the FT’s Charles Clover, ahead of the start of his trial on Wednesday.
♦ The Washington Post has the story of a mysterious Iranian-controlled factory in Germany which closed its doors last month. Could it have been involved in a scheme to aid Iran’s rogue nuclear program?
♦ The debate around whether women can have it all has been swirling for a while now, but today psychotherapist Naomi Shragai considers the other side: men who struggle to balance their work with family time.
♦ Guinea-Bissau is considered one of the world’s leading narco-states. Adam Nossiter writes about a long-running US sting operation that managed to snare a former chief of the country’s navy.
♦ Young Turkish people living in Germany are being asked to choose between German or Turkish nationality because they don’t have the right to hold onto both once they reach the age of 23, reports Judy Dempsey in the New York Times.
♦ “The finish line at a marathon is a small marvel of fellowship,” writes Ezra Klein. “Today, the final line of the Boston Marathon is a crime scene.” Also on the subject of yesterday’s tragedy in Boston, the New Scientist has a post on what clues the bomb fragments may yield. Read more
♦ Kenya’s new leader Uhuru Kenyatta is proving deft at politics even with a charge for crimes against humanity hanging over his head.
♦ Jonathan Soble looks at the dilemma that Haruhiko Kuroda faces over the next two years – “How do you convince markets and consumers that you are serious about raising prices, without being so dogmatic that you risk the central bank’s credibility – and your job – if you fail?”
♦ Margaret Thatcher’s death has prompted a wave of nostalgia among US conservatives.
♦ Sarah Neville, the FT’s public policy editor, thinks welfare reforms in the UK are likely to test the resolve of the middle class. (You can find out more about the reforms in today’s additions to the FT Austerity Audit.)
♦ Nicolás Maduro summons the ghost of Hugo Chávez in the final days of his campaign, a move he is counting on to propel him to victory at Sunday’s presidential elections.
♦ Jack Goldstone at Foreign Policy thinks there “is a real risk that the Korean Peninsula will follow Syria’s descent into war”. (Although you might not have to worry. The military’s planned missile test has been “put on hold because of “problems with Windows 8”, according to the Borowitz Report.) Read more
(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.” Read more
The optimism of the early Chávez years is fading (Getty)
Landing in Maiquetia, Venezuela’s main international airport, is always a bit like stepping through the looking glass no matter where you’re coming from. But arriving from neighbouring Colombia is a stark reminder of just how far the fortunes of these two countries have diverged over the past 15 years or so.
At the turn of the century, Colombia was under the cosh – from the guerrillas, the paramilitaries, drug traffickers, often all at the same time. Bogotá was an austere, gloomy place. The only way seemed to be down. Today, its refurbished El Dorado airport is all gleaming efficiency – perhaps the slickest entrepôt on the continent. The capital’s streets are thrumming, the Colombian personality remains upbeat and can-do, democracy is effervescent (and bumpy, like all healthy democracies), inflation is low, and while the country’s peace talks with the Farc guerrillas is sometimes a halting process, government security officials have a spring in their step. I suspect the talks are going far better than many believe and a deal could be possible in a number of months. Peace could then see the economy really take off and the country properly attack its glaring inequalities and income disparities.
In Venezuela everything is al reves – the opposite. Read more
In recent years, it was Hugo Chávez – far more than Fidel Castro – who was the international face of Latin American radicalism: the spiritual heir to Che, Perón and Castro himself. Now that Chávez is dead, will we see his like again?
I suspect that the answer is probably not. Chávez himself will be hard to imitate. But there will certainly be people in Venezuela, and elsewhere, who will adopt his style. The bigger problem is that the whole Chávez model no longer looks so attractive in Latin America. Read more
Hugo Chávez is in Havana. Venezuela’s cancer-ridden president may be alive in the elite CIMEQ hospital, or he may simply be being kept alive on a life support system as rumours suggest, or he may be getting better, as the Venezuelan government insists. Although he remains, officially, the country’s head of state, nobody really knows the current state of his health – except for the Castro brothers and a handful of close family and government associates. Indeed, since Chávez underwent his fourth round of cancer surgery on December 11, there has been no video of the usually loquacious socialist leader smiling from a hospital bed, no record of him cheering on loyal supporters, no photograph, no tweet even from a president much given to social media (he has 4m followers on Twitter). The only evidence presented that Chávez is still alive, so far, has been a scanned photograph of Chávez’s signature underneath an official decree. But the signature was datelined Caracas, although even the government admits Chávez remains in Havana. Read more
2013 may well be the year that biology trumps ideology – if not in attitudes to global warming then in the increasing actuarial possibilities that both Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez will soon die, writes JP Rathbone. Read more
Hugo Chávez celebrates his win (Getty)
For Hugo Chávez’s opponents, it was the transcendental moment that wasn’t: the Venezuelan president romped home in Sunday’s election with a far bigger-than-expected 10 point win. In the context of the US presidential election, that would count as a landslide.
Although the vote was blessedly peaceful, Washington, capital of Mr Chávez’s “Evil Empire”, probably won’t be sending any flowers to Caracas. But Havana, Buenos Aires and Beijing will. Read more
President Hugo Chavez (L) and Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles (JUAN BARRETO/AFP/GettyImages)
Henrique Capriles may be the underdog at this Sunday’s Venezuelan presidential election. Yet momentum is building behind the 40-year old candidate and Hugo Chávez, 58, increasingly recognises that. The reason for this is the economy, which for perhaps the first time in Mr Chávez’s 14-year rule has become a contestable issue.
Mr Chávez won power in 1998 promising radical things. And he has since delivered on many of those promises. There is now 100 per cent school enrolment, the number of university graduates has quadrupled, and extreme poverty has fallen – by official figures it has halved. But as Arturo Franco, a fellow at Harvard’s Centre for International Development puts it: at what cost these gains?
Take the World Economic Forum’s annual competitiveness rankings. In 2012, Venezuela slipped two places to 126th out of 144 and is now the region’s worst performer, bar Haiti. On some issues – such as judicial security, trust of politicians, red tape, quality of education and labour rigidities – Venezuela comes last, or nearly last. Not all of this, though, is Mr Chávez’s fault. In the WEF’s 1998 report, Venezuela also came last, or nearly last (although among a smaller sample of 58 countries). Read more
Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s president, has suggested it would be wrong to use the terrible fire at PdVSA’s Amuay refinery to political advantage before the October 7 presidential election. After all, the fire has killed more than 40 people. Nonetheless, politicking is inevitable. Name-calling has already erupted on both sides. Read more