Tag Archive | "presidential election"

Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Maduro cheers a portrait of Chavez. (NBC Latino)

Post Chávez Venezuela: The End of “21st Century Socialism” or Just New Management?

Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Maduro cheers a portrait of Chavez. (NBC Latino)

Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Maduro cheers a portrait of Chavez. (NBC Latino)

Venezuela’s controversial President Hugo Chávez died on March 5, 2013, after struggling with cancer since June 2011.  As Venezuela prepares for the presidential election that is scheduled for April 14th, many wonder how Chávez’s death will impact Venezuela’s place in the international community.  Chávez was a polarizing figure with enthusiastic supporters, and equally enthusiastic critics, both at home and abroad.  The outcome of the April election will determine whether Chávez’s controversial policies will live on without him.

Chávez described his style of governance as 21st Century Socialism, and a common theme of Chávez-rhetoric involved condemnation of western capitalism. Other Latin American countries elected similar far-left leaders, who Chávez showed support by providing their countries with Venezuelan aid.  The general socialist trajectory of many Latin American governments has been a reaction to unsuccessful neo-liberal policies from the past. However, the future of Chávez’s international social programs—such as the oil-for-doctors exchanges with Cuba—depends on who wins the presidential election in April.

Chávez’s popular domestic support is commonly attributed to the vast social programs enacted for the benefit of Venezuela’s poor.  Chávez’s government created state run cooperatives, and established programs to improve literacy, health, and access to food.  Chávez received support for several significant constitutional amendments which passed by popular vote and this support is commonly attributed to his social programs.  During Chávez’s presidency, there was a “sharp drop” in economic inequality in Venezuela, as measured with the Gini index.  Despite such positive indicators, the day-to-day experience for Venezuelans may not have been significantly improved.  Programs have not always lived up to Chávez’s description: subsidized grocery stores have been plagued by shortages of basic goods “like milk, meat and toilet paper.”

Chávez’s treatment of Venezuela’s oil industry is a common topic of international criticism.  Venezuela enjoys the largest reserves of crude oil in the world.  Chávez’s socialist policies were costly, and Chávez needed oil profits to fund his welfare programs.  In 2006, Chávez began nationalizing oil projects run by multinational oil companies in the oil-rich Cerro Negro area of the Orinoco Oil Belt.  These nationalizations led to multiple cases of protracted international commercial arbitration brought before the ICSID and ICC by Conoco-Philips and Exxon-Mobil and others.  After a series of challenges to nationalizations in various industries, Venezuela withdrew from the ICSID Convention to avoid being subjected to further ICSID arbitrations.  The cases involving Exxon-Mobil produced significant hostility. Chávez defended his nationalization of the Cerro Negro project, saying Exxon had been stealing from Venezuela and “we won’t give in to imperialism.”  Now the Venezuelan oil industry suffers from diminished production capabilities because of failure to reinvest profits in infrastructure and loss of technological advances after alienating foreign direct investment.

Chávez was perceived as a hero or a villain.  Chávez’s presidency was criticized for media censorship and interference with the judiciary.  The Human Rights Watch found that the Chávez regime filed criminal complaints against internationally funded NGOs, outspoken journalists and politicians.  However, a variety of public figures embraced Chávez: Rev. Jesse Jackson celebrated Chávez in eulogy saying “Hugo fed the hungry. He lifted the poor. He raised their hopes. He helped them realize their dreams.”

Whether Chávez’s policies will be continued depends in large part on whether Nicolas Maduro—Chávez’s appointed political heir—or Henrique Capriles—the opposition leader—is elected in April.  Henrique Capriles won 45% of the popular vote in the October elections; Capriles was closer to beating Chávez than any presidential candidate during Chávez’s presidency.  If Capriles wins the election, he plans to replicate “Brazil’s ‘modern left’ model of economic and social policies.”  Electing Capriles would foreshadow a more moderate political atmosphere in Venezuela.  However, Capriles has an uphill battle. Chávez’s legacy has been left to acting president Maduro.  Maduro has been involved in Chávez’s presidency from the beginning: Maduro helped draft the new constitution after Chávez first came to power in 1999.  Since then, Maduro has been a congressman, foreign minister, and most recently, Vice President.  Maduro’s union leader and bus driver background only makes him a more appealing candidate to Chávez supporters.

Katharine York is a second year law student at the University of Denver and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to the crowd at the conclusion of his speech in Tehran, Iran. (Washington Post)

Critical Analysis: Division in Iranian Leadership

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to the crowd at the conclusion of his speech in Tehran, Iran. (Washington Post)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves to the crowd at the conclusion of his speech in Tehran, Iran. (Washington Post)

Some argue that the West is continually trying to find ways to contain Iran and their believed attempt to acquire nuclear weapons. Recent infighting shows that the country’s leadership may be splintering leading to a fissure in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Do these public confrontations present an opportunity for the West to find workable solutions to this issue?

The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is finding himself in new territory, wading into the internal political battles of Iran. Khamenei has been forced to respond to the ever more confrontational President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This conflict began in 2011 when Ahmadinejad challenged Khamenei over the appointment of a high-ranking intelligence ministry post. Since, Ahmadenejad has taken several other opportunities to raise tension between himself and the Supreme Leader, forcing several of Ahmadinejad’s political allies off the upcoming ballot. However, it seems that a significant majority of lawmakers are still loyal to Khamenei.

This conflict comes out of a contentious session of parliament. This session included several instances where Ahmadinejad and Iran’s legislative body frequently feuded publicly. This included the impeachment of the President’s labor minister. Also, Ahmadinejad accused a judiciary chief, and appointee of the Supreme Leader, of bribery. These public riffs come ahead of the June presidential election that will elect Ahmadinejad’s successor. Throughout this spat, Khamenei has called for calm, especially against the pressure of economic sanctions from the West.

This infighting comes in the face of renewed effort from the West in regards to Iran’s nuclear program. Last week Iran rejected negotiations with the United States. Khamenei proclaimed that if Iran wanted to build nuclear weapons, no country could stop them. The Supreme Leader insisted that before any negotiations will occur, the West must lift all sanctions because Iran will not surrender. After addressing the recent offer to negotiate, Khamenei transitioned into criticizing Ahmadinejad and the speaker of the Parliament.

There seems to be a split between the two most powerful men in Iran. Is now the time that the West may be able to leverage the divided leadership in order to reign in Iran?

 Wesley Fry is a 3L and Managing Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Otto Pérez Molina

2011 Guatemalan Presidential Elections: a Look into the Future?

On September 11, 2011 Guatemalans casted their vote for their next President. Among the ten candidates, none is expected to garner an absolute majority to avoid a second runoff vote in November. One candidate in particular has critics concerned about the future direction of the country. That candidate is Otto Pérez Molina from the Partido Patriota. A win by Molina incites fear in those who remember the 36-year civil war that resulted in the death or disappearance of more than 200,000 people. This year three human rights defenders filed a formal report of torture with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture against Molina. As a General Molina served in the Ixil Triangle, which is located in the Department of Quiché, a region that was subject to more than 344 massacres. Despite this highly questionable track record, Molina leads the polls. The possible election of Molina is not the only reason Guatemala’s presidential election is controversial.

Some analysts state that most Guatemalans are unhappy with their options today while others depict the voters as desperately embracing Molina and his ‘Iron Fist’ mottoOthers indicate that the Guatemalan State will again return to the military, in part due to a political scandal that permitted Molina’s Partido Patriota to take the lead after the Constitutional Court barred Sandra Torres Casanova’s participation. Torres’ absence left the two-party coalition, Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza-Gran Alianza Nacional, without a presidential candidate shortly before election day. Lastly, other analysts find that persistent levels of societal violence are the source of support for Molina. Regardless of the reasoning, one unfortunate theme spans the news; life in Guatemala is not improving. Violence, corruption, and drug trafficking are increasingly incorporated as the bedrock for State policies and practices.

Otto Pérez Molina

Otto Pérez Molina

Does Guatemala’s election represent a step forward for democracy? Mike Allison of the Christian Science Monitor is highly skeptical of any forward progress that could result from electing any of the candidates. First, Molina is an alleged war criminal. Second, Torres (who is now barred from participating) and her family are rumored to have ties with drug trafficking rings and money laundering. Torres is the former wife of current President Álvaro Colom. Third, Manuel Baldízon, who is now Molina’s main competitor, is rumored to have connections to drug trafficking and organized crime in the Department of Petén. If that wasn’t enough to instill doubt, the presidential candidates’ use of dirty money from drug traffickers and units of organized crime threaten to destroy Guatemala’s democratic process and future. The only “positive” note highlighted in Allison’s article is the reduction in campaign-related deaths, which is down from 68 deaths in 2007 to 35 this year.

The image of Molina and his iron fist threatening to take back Guatemala with a fierce crime-fighting machine, recall memories of the military massacring peasants. The State (military) was responsible for 93% of the atrocities. Damien Cave of the New York Times explains that the population is capable of doing the “unthinkable” and electing Molina for two primary reasons. An estimated 60% of the registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 30 years old—and in their eyes, the civil war is a “vague shadow.” Second, the population is desperate for change and tired of daily violence. But, Cave questions whether Molina is capable of imposing his iron fist to reduce organized crime, drug trafficking and poverty without violating human rights. Molina’s purported goals are further shadowed by drug money that has infiltrated this electoral campaign. The three primary presidential candidates have spent between $50 to $70 million, a sum that qualifies the Guatemalan election as “among the priciest in the world.” In sum, the winning candidate will be forced to pay his or her debts to the criminals, which will only continue “a perverse circle” of crime and corruption.

The 2011 Guatemalan election will forever be marked as a spectacle due to its corruption, connections to Mexican cartels, and overall scorn for the law according to the José Elías of the Spanish newspaper, El País. The presidential candidates have essentially set the stage for converting Guatemala into the first Narco-State in Latin America. Not only have the candidates surpassed the campaign finance limits set by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal but also refuse to disclose the sources of the funds. Elías argues that the latter is of most concern. In addition, this election is marked by a spectacle spawned by the current President Colom and his now ex-wife Torres, who has since been barred from participating as a candidate. Because Guatemala has been “plagued by dictators,” the legislature put measures in place to forbid quasi re-elections or elections of relatives of current or past Presidents. To avoid this rule Torres decided to simply get a divorce from President Colom. But, the Constitutional Court found Torres’ strategy as illegitimate, and rejected her as a presidential candidate. This left a major political party without a presidential candidate, an event that is without precedent.

The overall sentiment expressed above is also expressed in, Guatemalans Vote as Violence Fuels Former General’s Election Bid, of the San Francisco Chronicle. But, Kevin Casas-Zamora, former President of Costa Rica and current senior fellow at the Brookings Institute highlights a broader issue that should concern the international community. He stated, “Guatemala has such profound problems that I’m not sure any of the candidates can turn the country around.”

The international community has long been concerned with Guatemala and this election season is no different. Numerous U.N. missions have been sent to Guatemala, each with different tasks but with the same overall goal, peace and respect for basic international human rights. The most recent effort is the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which began in 2006. CICIG, an independent body, was created to support the prosecution and investigation of sensitive issues connected to corruption, organized criminal networks, drug trafficking, and clandestine organizations. Although the process is slow and often filled bureaucratic loopholes, CICIG has enabled Guatemala to progress. However, the current presidential election poses serious threats to the progress made. Before election day, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay made a statement highlighting the difficulties Guatemalans face and the challenges the Guatemalan authorities must meet in order to assure the respect for fundamental human rights. Without mentioning any candidate, High Commissioner Pillay reiterated Guatemala’s commitments to international agreements and emphasized that it was one of the first States to ratify the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law