8:30 AM, Sep 28, 2012 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
We are now less than two weeks away from an election that could either save or destroy what remains of Venezuelan democracy.
Hugo Chávez has already acquired near dictatorial control over Venezuela’s public institutions. He has already established an iron grip over most broadcast media content. And he has already created a heavily armed pro-government militia that is tasked with defending his Bolivarian revolution.
Yet despite all these obstacles, opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has been able to mount a serious challenge. As of late August, the 40-year-old Capriles led Chávez by roughly 2 percentage points (48.1 percent against 46.2 percent) in polling conducted by the Caracas-based firm Consultores 21. “If we were to make a linear projection for the election,” Consultores 21 president Luis Christiansen told an audience in New York last week, “it would be that Capriles will maintain an advantage of 2.5 percent over Chávez.”
Of course, even if Capriles garnered a majority of the vote, Chávez might simply pull an Ahmadinejad and steal the election—in which case, Venezuela could easily descend into post-election street violence. “The closer the race, the greater the temptation for Chávez to cheat,” writes Heritage Foundation scholar Ray Walser.
Concerns over possible election fraud are well founded. In 2010, Henry Rangel Silva, a fierce Chávez loyalist and the current Venezuelan defense minister, declared that “the armed forces are not going to accept” an opposition-led government. Meanwhile, Barinas state governor Adán Chávez, Hugo’s brother, has emphasized that there is more than one way to preserve the Bolivarian revolution: “It would be inexcusable to limit ourselves to only the electoral and not see other forms of struggle, including the armed struggle,”
he said last year. Venezuela is already among the “top four or five” most murderous countries in the world, according to a study by Venezuelan criminologist Luis Bravo, and senior military officials are heavily involved in the drug trade.
A Chávez victory would be a devastating setback for democracy and the rule of law, and it would push Venezuela closer to a financial catastrophe. Indeed, Morgan Stanley analyst Daniel Volberg has projected that Chávez’s economic and fiscal policies “may be taking Venezuela towards a crisis and potentially even a debt event that could come as early as the second half of 2013.”
Venezuela is not the only large Latin American nation that is entering a critically important period. In Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos has launched peace negotiations with the FARC, a narco-trafficking terrorist organization that has been at war with the Colombian state since the mid-1960s. His predecessor, Álvaro Uribe, has warned that these negotiatons carry a high risk: “We all want peace, but there can’t be a negotiation while the terrorists are continuing their criminal activities,” Uribe recently told Reuters. “It creates investor panic and in turn creates difficulties in financing social policy.”
Colombia has become one of the most promising economies in the Western Hemisphere.9:00 AM, Oct 31, 2011 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
On October 21, President Obama signed into law the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA), thereby giving American exporters greater access to one of South America’s fastest growing markets. The long, tiring debate over the FTA—which began five years ago, when the agreement was first completed—showed that popular perceptions of Colombia are stuck in a time warp. Not only has the country become a much safer and less violent place than it was in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, it has also become one of the most promising economies in the Western Hemisphere.
4:29 PM, Oct 3, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
The president finally submitted trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama to Congress.
4:25 PM, Apr 9, 2011 • By PATRICK CHRISTY
The Obama administration finally announced earlier this week an agreement on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, paving the way for its ratification. The Colombia FTA is long overdue, and President Obama’s change of heart is a welcome step for America and Colombia alike. As the White House notes, American workers will immediately benefit from the agreement:
5:00 PM, Feb 11, 2011 • By JOHN NOONAN and PATRICK CHRISTY
It is, in a way, unsurprising that the president gave Bogota a brief nod during his State of the Union address. After all, In 2010 State of the Union address, the president claimed, “we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama and Colombia.” And, in 2009, President Obama told Colombian president Alvaro Uribe that he was “confident that ultimately we can strike a deal that is good for the people of Colombia and good for the people of the United States.” Yet, no such deal has been struck.
Good news for South Korea, but what about Colombia and Panama?7:30 AM, Jul 1, 2010 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Speaking to reporters at the G-20 summit in Toronto, President Obama declared his intention to complete the U.S.–South Korea free-trade agreement, which was signed by the Bush administration three years ago. “I want to make sure that everything is lined up properly by the time I visit Korea in November, and in the few months that follow that, I intend to present it to Congress,” Obama said. “It is the right thing to do for our country, it is the right thing to do for Korea.”
Colombia's Mockus on track for world's first Green Party election win.
3:00 PM, May 17, 2010 • By ADAM BRICKLEY
Dr. Antanas Mockus is a bit of an oddity in Latin American. He has a Lithuanian name, an Amish-looking beard, walks around wearing sunflowers, and gives rambling, professorial answers when you ask him a question. He's a stark contrast to the "machismo" we've come to expect from Latin American politicians, but in a few months Colombians will likely be calling him "El Presidente." Perhaps more importantly, he will enter the history books as the first world leader ever elected as a member of a Green Party.
Chronicles of hypocrisy.8:40 AM, Apr 19, 2010 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Last week, U.S. and Brazilian officials signed a defense pact that will significantly enhance bilateral military ties. “This agreement will lead to a deepening of U.S.-Brazil defense cooperation at all levels,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared. While the agreement does not explicitly discuss U.S. access to Brazilian bases, it does mention naval visits. I would not be surprised if it eventually led to some form of U.S. military presence in Brazil.
First a Coaster, then a falconer/central banker.Mar 22, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 26 • By JOE QUEENAN
Ever since I read George Plimpton’s Paper Lion in high school, I’ve been a huge fan of “stunt journalism.” This is the type of feisty reportage where a writer tries out for a professional football team, or takes a crack at conducting a symphony orchestra, and then writes a lighthearted article about his experiences.
Drug-war funding has actually increased on his watch.Mar 22, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 26 • By JOHN P. WALTERS
For anyone who feared that the Obama administration would abandon efforts to control illegal drugs, the president’s first year in office has been on balance reassuring.
Robert Kagan and Aroop Mukharji on Colombian democracy.2:40 PM, Mar 9, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Robert Kagan and Aroop Mukharji write in today's Washington Post:
There is plenty of pessimism about democracy these days, and autocrats seem to be on the march on every continent. So we should take note when democracy triumphs over autocratic temptations.
That's what happened in Colombia recently. President Álvaro Uribe had hinted for some time that he might run for a third consecutive term, despite the constitution's two-term limit. Last summer Colombia's House and Senate, controlled by allies of Uribe, passed a bill to change the constitution. The next and final step was a popular referendum in May to endorse Uribe's reelection. If that sounds familiar, it should. It was by popular referendum that Venezuela's Hugo Chávez installed himself as a virtual president-for-life. But late last month Colombia's constitutional court rejected the bill. The referendum is dead, and Colombia's democracy lives.
Vanessa Neumann has more on Columbia in this week's issue.
He remains a very real threat to U.S. interests in Latin America and beyond.5:22 PM, Feb 9, 2010 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Last week, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis Blair presented the “Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community” to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. While the report notes that Venezuela is “struggling” to deal with the post-2008 drop in oil prices and with production declines, it also outlines a variety of ways in which Hugo Chávez remains a very real threat to U.S. interests in Latin America and beyond.
Start with Iran. The mullahs have identified oil-rich Venezuela as a potential shield against the impact of international energy sanctions. Even if the U.S. and other Western powers further restricted Iran’s access to gasoline, Venezuela (and China) could help soften the blow. As U.S. policymakers evaluate the effectiveness of gasoline sanctions, they must remember that Tehran and Caracas have formed an increasingly close alliance. This past June, after Iran’s stolen election, while government thugs were murdering student demonstrators in the streets, Chávez congratulated Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his “very big and important victory.”
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