Opinion

The Great Debate

Why Latin America (Hearts) Snowden

Edward Snowden requested political asylum of 20 or more countries across the globe to avoid facing espionage charges in the United States. Though he is now seeking temporary asylum from Russia, where he has been stranded in the Moscow airport, only a few nations, all in Latin America, have been openly receptive to his pleas.

No one should be surprised that Washington’s Latin neighbors are displaying such sympathy for Snowden. The U.S. history of abuse and insult still weighs heavy across the region. Latin American nations cannot resist the impulse to bring discomfort to their northern neighbor — which has regularly intervened to prop up repressive military regimes or rig elections, even as it touted its own democratic principles. Washington used its power to exploit the wealth of many other countries, while championing free markets. Fortunately, most of this is now history.

But bitterness and mistrust have clearly not disappeared — in part because abuses and insults continue. Every Latin American nation chafes at Washington’s punitive, and counterproductive, Cuba policy. The U.S. immigration debate is deeply offensive to Mexicans and Central Americans,  and reminds them of past offenses. Washington’s drug policies are another source of antagonism.

No, it should not be a surprise that the Western Hemisphere is now home to a cluster of hostile U.S. adversaries, and even capitals friendly to Washington are often sympathetic to their views.

To be sure, only three of the region’s 20 countries – Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua — said they would offer Snowden refuge (and one rather ambiguously). But several others voiced support for efforts to shield him from U.S. prosecution. Snowden, however, still might have been left without a single asylum offer, had Washington not pressed its European allies to close their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales’s plane — and thereby force his grounding in Vienna. Morales, on his way home from a meeting in Moscow, was suspected of carrying Snowden to safety.

Maduro pressed to drop ‘magic’ focus on ‘realism’

Nicolas Maduro’s election campaign was rich in magical realism, designed to bedazzle voters.

Banking on sympathy votes after Hugo Chavez died of cancer last month, and confident he would don his mentor’s socialist revolutionary mantle, Maduro conjured visions that blurred fantasy and fact, evoking the genre that Latin American literary giants Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges had popularized.

But many Venezuelans were less impressed by his flights of fantasy than they were frustrated by a lack of initiatives to address myriad crises ‑ including food shortages, power blackouts, rampant crime and inflation. After Sunday’s election, which delivered the narrowest electoral victory in Venezuela in 50 years, Maduro is under intense pressure to drop the magical and focus on the realism that is wearing thin the patience of his people and threatening the stability of the OPEC nation.

No matter who wins in Venezuela, Chavez’s legacy is secure

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday to choose a new president. Will Hugo Chavez’s legacy be fleeting? Or will Chavez shape politics and public policy from the grave? What will happen to Chavismo, Chavez’s unique form of state capitalism and paternal socialism?     

On these questions, most analysts have not looked much further than the upcoming election. For many, a victory by Nicolas Maduro is an important signal that the Chavez legacy has legs, while a win by Henrique Capriles would be a message that Chavismo has its challenges.

Regardless of who wins, Chavez’s legacy does not depend on any short-term electoral outcome. It depends on his Misiones.

In Venezuela, an election about the future is haunted by the past

Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela on April 14, pitting Hugo Chavez’s vice president and chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, against Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate who lost to Chavez in 2012. At stake: whether Chavez’s legacy will continue after his death.

Most analysts see Maduro as the favorite. Many believe the fear of losing the social and economic gains made during the Chavez years will be the most important motivator for voters if Maduro is elected. Others see Maduro gaining from sympathy votes after Chavez’s death. Still others see the electoral timetable as working against the opposition. A short campaign season — two weeks — could favor the government, which has more resources at its disposal. All these perspectives cite recent polling that puts Maduro at about an 18-point advantage over Capriles (see table below).

Voting intention by polling firm (March 2013) Maduro Capriles Datanálisis

49

35 Hinterlaces

53

35 ICS

58

41 CNE

54

32 Average

54

36

So it’s a done deal, right? Maduro is the odds-on favorite. Not necessarily. Polls like those cited above can be notoriously unstable before campaigns begin — take the sudden rise of Mitt Romney after the first debate against U.S. President Barack Obama. At the time, many thought Romney had gained the advantage but this was not the case. The polls can often be false positives. II believe it’s best to first look at the underlying political fundamentals before making a call. Do they favor the opposition or government candidate?

Post Chavez: Can U.S. rebuild Latin American ties?

The funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez earlier this month was a massive celebration of a vitriolic foe of the United States. This tribute should make Washington take a fresh look not only at its relations with Venezuela but also with all of Latin America.

Virtually every Latin American country sent a high-level delegation to show its esteem for Chavez, who, during his 14 years in office, regularly vilified the United States, disparaged its leaders and campaigned tirelessly to end the U.S. role in the region. The presidents of Latin America’s six largest nations — including the closest U.S. regional allies, Mexico, Colombia and Chile — traveled to Caracas for the burial ceremonies. Never in Latin America, as many commentators noted, has a deceased leader been given a grander memorial — not even Argentina’s adored Juan Domingo Peron back in 1974.

This extraordinary acclaim for Washington’s most virulent adversary in the Americas was probably not intended as a deliberate snub. There were other reasons that so many of Washington’s friends ended up applauding a committed antagonist of the United States.

What will become of Chávez’s gold hoard?

In August 2011, while undergoing cancer treatments that ultimately failed him, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez began withdrawing 160 tons of gold from U.S., European and Canadian banks. “It’s coming to the place it never should have left. … The vaults of the central bank of Venezuela, not the bank of London or the bank of the United States. It’s our gold,” he said on national television as crowds cheered armored trucks carrying an initial bullion shipment to the central bank.

While Chávez suggested the gold repatriation might forestall a Libya-style seizure of Venezuela’s assets by Western powers he had antagonized, IHS Global Insight analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos told Reuters it might stymie potential claims by foreign corporations seeking compensation for nationalizations they had endured. Central Bank of Venezuela President Nelson Merentes said it was “an act of financial prudence and sovereignty” intended to guard against problems in the international markets.

The shipments, conducted by air after much talk of alternate delivery modes, concluded five months later in a celebratory caravan. (Germany’s doing it, too: Berlin has ordered repatriation of 674 metric tons of gold, worth $34 billion, from Paris and New York.)

Chávez’s death leaves Venezuelans with hard choices

Venezuela has kicked off a presidential election campaign whose charismatic central figures are a governor and a ghost. The victor, however, may well be the flesh and blood heir of a revolutionary regime left to grapple with real and deepening crises.

The opposition has seized upon the death of President Hugo Chávez last week as an opportunity to break the 14-year grip on power of the self-styled socialist revolutionary and send their candidate, state Governor Henrique Capriles, to the Miraflores palace in elections set for April 14. But the outpouring of grief following El Comandante’s death from cancer showed the polarizing figure will continue to grip the national psyche.

Venezuelans either lionized or loathed their populist president. He was a hero to millions for using the country’s oil wealth to finance welfare programs. Chávez won October’s vote with an 11-point lead against Capriles, whose 44 percent tally was nonetheless the best performance yet against Chávez in an election. To his detractors, he was an autocrat who trampled constitutional rights, nationalized up to 1,000 companies and scared off foreign investment.

With Chavez gone, what of ‘Chavismo’?

“The End of the Chávez Era” That was the headline on Colombia’s major newspaper, El Tiempo, the day after Hugo Chávez’s death.

True, Chávez’s controversial and colorful 14-year rule has ended, and Venezuela has lost a president who evoked uncommonly intense passions among followers and detractors.   Venezuelans will not easily forget a leader who, for better or worse, was the consummate showman and left an indelible mark on a highly polarized society.

Yet Chavez also followed in a long line of caudillos, or strongmen, who have been a notable feature in Latin America’s political history. Indeed, Venezuela has had its fair share. As the acute observer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s Nobel Prize-winning writer, noted soon after Chávez’s 1998 election, the new president’s seductive rhetoric recalled so many of the region’s other leading political figures — but he could well end up as yet another Latin American despot.

Spare a thought for Hugo Chavez

Bernd Debusmann- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Spare a thought for Hugo Chavez, the larger-than-life Venezuelan leader who flourished in the role of Latin America’s defender against an evil empire led by a devil who smelt of sulphur and was named George W. Bush.

Those were the easy days for Chavez. Now he has become a dragon-slayer without a dragon, an actor on a stage without the most important prop. It was one thing to rally the Latin masses against the widely-detested Bush, it is another to deal with Barack Obama, “the first (U.S.) president who looks like us,” in the words of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

President Obama’s first hundred days

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.  The views expressed are her own. —

In his first one hundred days, President Obama has shown himself to be one of the most radical U.S. presidents in history.  He is harming America’s defenses by publishing memos on interrogation of detainees and threatening to prosecute lawyers who drafted supportive memos.  He shakes hands with America’s enemies, such as Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, and sends mixed signals to its friends, such as Colombia’s President Uribe.

And, in the name of combating a recession, he is destroying the fundamental institutions of America’s free-market economy.

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