Capriles Slams Maduro as Cuba’s Puppet, Behind in Polls

Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski vowed to end cheap oil transfers to nearby Cuba in a speech on Monday and slammed his opponent, former vice president Nicolás Maduro, as a puppet of the communist regime there. Yet the ruling party’s candidate looks almost certain to win next month’s election.

“The giveaways to other countries are going to end,” said Capriles in the northwestern state of Zulia, one of the Latin American country’s largest oil-producing provinces. “Not another drop of oil will go toward financing the government of the Castros,” referring to the island nation’s past and present leaders, Fidel and his brother Raúl Castro.

“Nicolas is the candidate of Raúl Castro,” said Capriles. “I’m the candidate of the Venezuelan people.” Read more “Capriles Slams Maduro as Cuba’s Puppet, Behind in Polls”

Russia Has Stake in Venezuelan Ruling Party’s Victory

Hugo Chávez
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela meets with members of his cabinet at the Palacio de Miraflores in Caracas, November 15, 2012 (Prensa Miraflores/Efrain Gonzalez)

Russia has a clear interest in seeing former Venezuelan vice president Nicolás Maduro emerge as the Latin American nation’s leader from next month’s election. His challenger, Miranda governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, is less anti-American than the ruling party’s candidate and champions a liberal economic and trade policy.

Maduro will stand as the socialist party’s candidate in an election that was triggered by former president Hugo Chávez’ death last week. If elected, which opinion polls show is likely, Maduro is not expected to push for significant changes in economic or foreign policy. He hasn’t so much as hinted at liberalization but like Chávez, has been fiercely critical of the United States which just a day before his mentor’s death, he accused having poisoned the president.

As it is their closest, if not only, strategic partner in Latin America, the outcome of the presidential election in Venezuela concerns the Russians. The country has bought billions of dollars worth of Russian arms throughout Chávez’ presidency and the two held a joint naval exercise in the Caribbean in 2008. Read more “Russia Has Stake in Venezuelan Ruling Party’s Victory”

Capriles to Challenge Chávez’ Successor in April Election

Venezuela’s opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski announced on Sunday that he will stand in next month’s presidential election to succeed Hugo Chávez who died of cancer last week.

“I am going to fight,” Capriles told a news conference. “Nicolás, I am not going to give you a free pass. You will have to beat me with votes.”

Nicolás Maduro, the former vice president, will represent Chávez’ socialist party in the election. Preelection polls suggest that he will win comfortably. Read more “Capriles to Challenge Chávez’ Successor in April Election”

Venezuela’s Maduro Defies Constitution, Assumes Power

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and his deputy Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Vice President Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011 (Prensa Presidencial)

After announcing socialist president Hugo Chávez’ death on Tuesday, Venezuela’s vice president, Nicolás Maduro, assumed power in defiance of the Constitution, which stipulates that the speaker of the National Assembly must become interim president.

Chávez died after a two-year battle with cancer and ruling the Latin American country for fourteen years. He was elected to a fourth term in October but could not be inaugurated on January 10 due to his illness.

Under the Constitution, Diosdado Cabello, the speaker of parliament, would assume the presidency and an election should be called within thirty days. Read more “Venezuela’s Maduro Defies Constitution, Assumes Power”

Venezuelan Vice President Announces Chávez’ Death

Hugo Chávez Nicolás Maduro
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Vice President Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011 (Prensa Presidencial)

Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chávez died after a two year battle with cancer, his deputy Nicolás Maduro announced on Tuesday.

The news could plunge the Latin American country into political turmoil after fourteen years of Chávez’ rule.

The Venezuelan leader, who was elected to a fourth term in October of last year, underwent several cancer treatments in recent years in both his home country and Cuba, its closest ally in the region.

Because Chávez could not be inaugurated on January 10 as scheduled, Diosdado Cabello, the speaker of the National Assembly, rather than the vice president assumed power.

Maduro is the president’s chosen successor, however, and could probably count on stronger support from within the ruling party as well as Cuba. A snap election must be called within the month. Read more “Venezuelan Vice President Announces Chávez’ Death”

President’s Illness Casts Doubt on Venezuela’s Political Future

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela meets with members of his cabinet at the Palacio de Miraflores in Caracas, November 15, 2012
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela meets with members of his cabinet at the Palacio de Miraflores in Caracas, November 15, 2012 (Prensa Miraflores/Efrain Gonzalez)

Venezuela faces political uncertainty ahead of a scheduled January 10 inauguration as President Hugo Chávez, who was elected for a fourth term in October of last year, remains in hospital in Cuba and his condition is unknown.

The socialist leader was admitted to hospital last month where he apparently suffered complications from a six hour surgery. Vice President Nicolás Maduro, Chávez’ chosen successor, said on Tuesday that he had spoken with the president twice and that he is “completely conscious of the complexity of his postoperative state.”

Opposition leaders have demanded to hear more details about Chávez’ health, urging the government to tell “the whole truth” about the cancer stricken president’s condition. Chávez hasn’t appeared in public for three weeks. If he can’t be present for his inauguration, the opposition believes there should be new elections. Read more “President’s Illness Casts Doubt on Venezuela’s Political Future”

Chávez Faces Toughest Election in Fourteen Years

For the first time in nearly fourteen years, Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chávez faces the possibility of losing an election on Sunday. A change of power in Caracas may be what the country needs to put it on a more stable economic footing.

Previous attempts to depose Chávez failed when the opposition collapsed. For the first time since he assumed power in 1999, Chávez is confronted by a unified opposition movement on top of mounting economic difficulties.

The opposition’s presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, the former governor of the northern state of Miranda, leads a centrist coalition of some two dozen national and regional parties. His own Movimiento Primero Justicia is considered right of center, but Capriles’ platform is modeled on the economic and social reforms of Brazilian president Lula da Silva, a socialist who combined an opening of Brazil’s economy to international trade and investment with generous education and welfare spending. Read more “Chávez Faces Toughest Election in Fourteen Years”

Latin America, Riding the Commodity Boom

Growing demand for oil and other natural resources in Asia is fueling an export boom in Latin America where even Venezuela, otherwise hostile to freer trade, is witnessing economic expansion thanks to globalization.

The region’s foremost oil exporter has averaged 4.6 percent economic growth since 2005 compared to 4 percent in Chile, the world’s leader in copper and economically the freest nation in South America.

Even in Argentina, where business confidence is fading and enterprise increasingly squeezed between regulations and populist spending measures, growth averaged 7 percent during the same period as record soy and other farm exports helped offset Buenos Aires’ inflationary monetary policy and persecution of international energy companies and investors.

Commodity demand will likely slacken in 2012 as a result of economic woes elsewhere, meaning countries as Chile, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay, which are generally open to foreign business and investment, will do better than Venezuela and even Brazil which is struggling to escape the legacy of decades of corruption and nepotism.

The overall pace of Brazil’s regulatory reform has slowed but President Dilma Rousseff is leading an effort to root out corruption at great political peril to her ruling Workers’ Party. In her battle for transparency, political allies have abandoned Rousseff’s administration and her aloof leadership style threatens to alienate local machines and left-wing voters.

2012 may be Rousseff’s test year. If she manages to ramrod her transparency agenda through Congress and continues the free-trade policies of her predecessor, Brazil could eventually outperform the region in economic growth.

In the long-term, the largest and most powerful country in South America is well positioned for a future of enduring prosperity. Commodity exports, despite their expected downturn this year, are critical to Brazil’s success.

Asian demand for corn is expected to increase by roughly 25 percent this decade which will be a huge boon to exporters in the Americas, including Argentina, Brazil and the United States which between them constitute almost a third of global corn production.

International beef, pork and soybean trade will probably expand by similar factors, again benefiting Latin American producers. Brazil currently provides 40 percent of global beef and 15 percent of pork exports and it dominates the sugar market, accounting for 60 percent of the market. With the elimination of sugar tariffs in the United States earlier this year, which were designed to protect the ethanol industry there, Brazil will be able to export north as well.

The country’s ability to turn this export advantage into a broader economic success that sees industries and services flourish hinges on Rousseff’s willingness to reform.

Brazil has seen some progress but starting or closing a business remains costly and time consuming while organizing new investment is inhibited by regulations that make it especially difficult for foreign companies to compete. Tariffs and anti-dumping measures are barriers to trade and excessive labor laws stifle employment and expansion. There’s a risk of “Dutch disease” if growth is taken for granted and politicians refuse to challenge vested interests to improve market conditions. The president appears committed to the task but is her party?

Iran’s Latin American “Alliance” is a Joke

With his nation under pressure from international sanctions and facing a European oil embargo, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad turns to a small and shrinking group of Latin American allies this week.

Ahmadinejad arrived in Caracas on Sunday to team up with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in denouncing America’s attempts at isolating Iran. He travels to Nicaragua on Monday to attend Daniel Ortega’s inauguration ceremony. The socialist leader won a third presidential term in November and has intensified relations with Iran and other anticapitalist regimes in recent years.

The Iranian president will also visit Cuba and Ecuador. Like Nicaragua, these nations belong to Hugo Chávez’ Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas, an organization that rejects the expansion of free trade and efforts at liberalization that have defined South America’s other economies for the last two decades.

Outside of these pariah states, the Iranian leader hasn’t a huge fan base in Latin America. Despite her nation’s previous attempts at diplomacy with Iran, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has shown little interest in deepening ties with the Islamic republic and isn’t scheduled to meet Ahmadinejad. The Iranian did come to Brazil in 2009 when he last visited the region but promises made then have yet to be fulfilled — among them, pledges to build an oil refinery in Ecuador and a port in Nicaragua. Read more “Iran’s Latin American “Alliance” is a Joke”

Iran’s Breach of the Monroe Doctrine

When the fifth president of the United States designed the Monroe Doctrine, which was a watershed moment in the country’s foreign policy to check the ambitions of European imperial powers in Latin America, he could not have imagined that one day, a Persian nation would breach it.

President James Monroe devised his famous doctrine in 1823 after the Holy Alliance of Austria, Prussia and Russia managed to reestablish Bourbon rule over Spain and its colonies by force. Spain’s dominions in South America were struggling for independence at the time. The Monroe Doctrine made it clear to Europe that armed intervention to prevent these nations from attaining self sovereignty would be considered nothing short of an attack upon the United States.

Two centuries later it is not a European power with the audacity to challenge American supremacy in the Western Hemisphere but Iran which realizes that the United States’ influence on the continent has peaked. From Brazil to the Southern Cone of Argentina and Chile, South America is asserting itself as a region that is more independent from the United States than it has been in decades. Read more “Iran’s Breach of the Monroe Doctrine”