Category Archives: Democracy

Peña Nieto on the front cover of TIME magazine

TIME EPN

Last 16 February, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto made the front cover of TIME magazine. This issue spark off a heated debated in social media in Mexico, criticising Michael Crowley, the author, and TIME for allegedly “selling out” themselves to the Peña Nieto government.

As Crowley rightly points out, Peña Nieto only won the presidential election with 38% of the votes and therefore it is evident that his detractors react this way. I agree that perhaps the title of the story would have been better with an interrogation mark at the end: “SAVING MEXICO?”, but I must concede that the author presents both sides of the same coin. He highlights achievements and strengths of the country, but also points out the numerous challenges that the current government still has to overcome.

At the same time, I must recognise the sharp Mexican humor to transform the cover into this one.

In any case, I strongly invite you to read the article (or Spanish version) and make your own judgement.

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Filed under Corruption, Democracy, Development, Foreign investment, Macroeconomics, Mexico, News brief, Security, Uncategorized

Thought-provoking comparison of events in Egypt and Latin America’s dirty war

chilean-army-580

The New York times has published an interesting article that reflects on the history of military dictatorships in Latin America and finds some parallels with contemporary events in Egypt. Whether you agree or not, it’s certainly an interesting read that gives some worthwhile comparative insights. The article provides analysis on the coups in Chile and Argentina, the current anti-US sentiment in Latin America, and the role of the military in Egypt, all of this against a backdrop of some degree of US complicity.

An interesting read. Find the article here.

Here is a quote:

“The no-holds-barred military terror in Egypt, and the language the military is employing to justify it, is reminiscent of the worst of human legacies. These are the sort of statements made not by ordinary armies but by armies that have embraced ideological convictions that make it easy to shoot down people in the streets, even civilians, if you believe that they are with the terrorists—or whatever it is you decide to call them.”

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Post-Chavez elections in Venezuela — OpEd in The Australian by ANCLAS Senior Associate Sean Burges

ANCLAS senior associate Sean Burges has an OpEd in today’s The Australian discussing the role Brazil might play in ensuring that the presidential elections required in Venezuela after Hugo Chávez’s death satisfy democratic requisites. The full pre-publication text is below and the published version of the text is linked here.

Pre-publication text:

Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez has just died after a prolonged battle with cancer. While his death certainly raises questions about the longevity and sustainability of his Bolivarian revolution, it also stands as a significant test of the democracy promoting credentials of Brazil and the two important regional clubs it runs: the South American political grouping UNASUR and the trade bloc Mercosur.

Venezuela’s presidential succession procedures are clear. Article 232 of the constitution mandates a new election within thirty days if the president dies during the first four years of their term. The question many are now asking now is if this vote will happen – vice president Nicolas Maduro says ‘yes’ – and how democratic it will be, which is open to debate based on past precedent.

Historically, a free vote on schedule would satisfy Brazil’s pro-democracy requisites. But, events in 2012 suggest Brazil may now be valuing the spirit as much as the process of democracy. Venezuela’s upcoming vote stands as a test of this new pro-democracy policy in Brasília.

On 22 June 2012 Paraguay’s Liberal and Colorado parties joined forces to impeach leftist president Fernando Lugo in a process that many in the region now call a ‘coup-peachment.’ Strictly speaking, the process was legal, but politicized to the point of farce. Charges were laid, a congressional trial held, and a conviction delivered in less than a day.

What astonished many was the degree of political pressure Dilma exerted in Mercosur and Unasur to punish the political factions that had deposed her leftist ally, suspending Paraguay from both groupings. Suggestions that she was simply playing ideological favourites were strengthened when Brazil refused to take a similarly strong stance against Venezuela when Chávez failed to take his oath of office in January.

Such criticism may have been a bit unfair and missed the nuance in Brazil’s approach. Brazilian presidential foreign policy advisor Marco Aurelio Garcia offered the opinion, which became his country’s policy, that he agreed with the Venezuela Supreme Court judgment that as a re-elected president Article 234 of the constitution allowed Chávez up to six months leave of absence before a new election would be necessary. In an act of quiet bureaucratic resistance Brazilian diplomats pointedly noted that Article 232 still applied and that prompt elections would be required if Chávez died within the next four years.

With new elections now required in Venezuela we have an opportunity to see if there has been a real change in Brazil’s regional foreign policy to advancing substantive democracy or if the Lula-era tradition of selectively advocating a brand of pro-leftist democracy remains in place.

Make no mistake, the upcoming election in Venezuela is going to be difficult and divisive. The obvious strategy for Maduro will be to wrap himself in the mantle of Chávez’s memory while Capriles will likely resume his message of bringing Chávez’s social welfare policies to a sustainable path. All of this is an expected part of electoral politics. Where matters get tricky is the extent to which Maduro deploys executive presidential powers to artificially boost his campaign. One standout tactic from the October 2012 election was Chávez’s proclivity for mandating lengthy broadcasts of ‘government service’ programming to preempt television coverage of Capriles campaign events.

Another question is whether or not the military and security forces will take on the role of passive spectator expected in a consolidated democracy or if they will directly or covertly interfere with the campaign. Indeed, the temptation for political intervention by some sectors in the military will be immense if reports about their links to narcotrafficking and organized crime are correct.

Brazil has the back-room influence to prevent these sorts of violations of the democratic spirit of an election. Dilma as well as key advisors such as Garcia have enormous influence with the Chávez faithful. Moreover, Dilma’s 2010 presidential campaign advisors are likely to again play an important role in the pro-Chávez electoral push, fulfilling much the same role as Clinton campaign hothouse Carville and Associates did around the world in the 2000s. A behind the scenes steadying hand on Maduro-camp temptations to unduly exploit their position of power will be essential to the country’s future political stability. Venezuelans will know if the election is gamed, which would erode the credibility of a possible Maduro victory and further polarize the country. But if he were to win in a truly clean race it could create the conditions needed for a national political reconciliation. The same holds true for a possible opposition win. Even if uncomfortable for diplomats, helping to make this happen is exactly the sort of responsibility that goes with the regional leadership role Brazil has been claiming in South America. Post-Chávez Venezuela may prove to be Brazil’s first real test.

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ANCLAS Senior Associate Carlos Pio on the situation in Venezuela

ANCLAS Senior Associate Professor Carlos Pio had a piece on the situation in Venezuela published over the weekend in the main Brasília newspaper Correio Braziliense. The article is in Portuguese, but Pio’s main point is that Chávez is to blame for the uncertainties Venezuela faces today. Chávez has never tried to create a fully democratic regime, one structured upon solid institutions that can engage both the majority of his supporters and the vocal minority that rejects him in games of electoral competition and policy compromise. Instead, he chose to change the country’s name–to resemble that of his political movement’s; to persecute journalists, trade unionists and NGOs; to curb rights to private property and free information; as well as to arm groups of supporters. As a result, inflation reached 30 percent a year, investment, productivity and access to hard currency fell sharply, crime soared and the economy became even more dependent on oil exports.

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ANCLAS Senior Associate in the Australian on Chavez succession

ANCLAS Senior Associate Dr Sean Burges has an Op-Ed in today’s The Australian newspaper discussing the delay of Hugo Chávez’s inauguration for another term as president and what it might mean for future elections in the country. The website realclearworld.com has re-published the full text of the OpEd if you are unable to access  The Australian’s paywall.

 

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Corruption, Brazil and governments of the left and right

If you’re following Brazilian politics you know that a number of very uncomfortable questions are being asked about the Worker’s Party (PT — Partido dos Trabalhadores), Lula’s former inner coterie, former president Lula himself, and corruption. The organic intellectuals, to use a term that the Gramscians on the left in the PT might like, are kicking into high gear and trying to provide a justification that will wipe away some of the cloying mud that is starting to stick to their side’s public image.

Carlos Alberto Sardenberg has just published a penetrating OpEd in the Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo that takes on these arguments with a very critical eye. The Portuguese version is linked here. (A quick Google translation is below because it is the holiday season… not fully satisfying, but it gives a sense of the piece’s content). Where all this will lead is an interesting subject for debate, and one that is very much vibrant and alive at the moment. What might be most interesting to watch is how Dilma will handle a potential maelstrom of corruption allegations and investigations that directly implicate her patron, Lula. So far she’s let Lula hold-overs caught on corruption charges swing in the wind. Such an approach might not be so easy with an ex-president who was instrumental in her election. As Sardenberg notes, like Lula she didn’t win election in the first round, but had to go to a second-round run-off.

Robbing for the people

Author (s): Carlos Alberto Sardenberg
O Globo – 20/12/2012
Intellectuals linked to the PT are flirting with a new theory to deal with the monthly allowance and other episodes like, would be inevitable, and even necessary, to steal a good popular government.

This is a clear response to the weight of events. Lifter inmates, their friends and dedicated Shiites, anyone with a minimum of apprenticeship feels comfortable with the story of the “farce of media and judiciary.”

If, however, there is evidence that public money was stolen and that political support was bought with public money, they have two options: either disembark from a heroic project that turned banditry or, well, join the thesis that all government steals, but the leftist steal and do less to include the poor.

We have seen two recent manifestations of this supposed new theory. In “Leaf”, Fernanda Torres in defense of Dirceu, drew inspiration from Shakespeare to speculate: maybe impossible to govern without violating the law.

In the “Value” Renato Janine Ribeiro wrote two columns to complete: Communist revolutionaries do not steal, steal reformist leftists once in government, but “might” have to do this to ensure the social inclusion policies.

Lifter false theoretical sophistication, this is the update very old thing. Yes, the reader guessed it: the staff are retrieving the “steals but does” created by ademaristas in the 50s. Now is the “steals but distributed.”

Nor is it surprising. Also in the recent election period, Marilena Chauí Maluf had placed on the list of mayors paulistanos filmmakers works in group Faria Lima, and out of the class of thieves.

It is so because: Dirceu is not corrupt, or gangster – but corruption and participated in the gang because if he did not, would not apply as the program’s popular PT.

How do you get this amazing stop-gap theory? Fernanda Torres offers a clue when he comments that the PT is taken as the party of the Brazilian people. Now, it follows, if the elites are a bunch of thieves acting against the people, what’s wrong to steal “for the people”?

Renato Janine Ribeiro works on the same theory, adding cases of leftist governments succeed and corrupt. It is not clear whether they are successful “despite” corrupt or, rather, for being corrupt. But for this last thesis is that the author leans.

It makes sense, of course. Begins is not true that every Conservative government is against the people and corrupt. Thatcher and Reagan examples maximum right, not robbed and brought great prosperity and welfare to its people. Here among us, and to go deep, Castello Branco and Medici also not robbed and their administrations brought growth and income.

On the other hand, the PT is not the people. Represents part of the people, the majority in the last three presidential elections. But attention has never won in the first round and opponents always have at least 40%. And in the first round of 2010, Serra and Marina did 53% of the votes.

Therefore, in democracies the government can not do everything, you have to respect the minority and this is done by respecting the laws, including the prohibition of stealing. And by respect for public opinion, expressed, among other ways, by the free press.

Why do not tolerate these limitations, the authoritarian parties, right and left, impose or try to impose dictatorships, explicit or disguised. They think that because they are the legitimate expression of the people, everything can.

So we fall back into old thesis: the ends justify the means, steal and murder.

Renato Janine Ribeiro says that Communist regimes have committed the sin of extreme physical violence, eliminating millions. But they were ethically pure, argues: liked limousines and dachas, but not put public money in his pocket. (By the way, take note here: this is a preview for a possible defense of Lula, when they begin to show signs that the former president and his family abused more perks than you know).

As communists, we say, were not “pure” by virtue but by impossibility. There was no private property, so that the corrupt were unable to build personal wealth. They stole money from his pocket and reserving part of the apparatus of the state, while the people they represented starved. Pure?

Notice: In China, a mixture of communism and capitalism, leaders and their families amassed, yes, large personal fortunes.

Returning to our Brazilian case, let’s speak frankly, no one needs to be a thief of public money to distribute Bolsa Família and raise the minimum wage.

They want it all?

Dilma can approve the MP ensures that a fall in electricity bills. The National Electricity System Operator says there will be more blackouts because there is no way to avoid them without investments that require higher fares.

That is, the account will be cheaper in compensation vai outa

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OpEd on Venezuela by ANCLAS Senior Associate

ANCLAS Senior Associate Sean Burges has an OpEd in The Australian today on what the return of Chavez’s illness might mean for Venezuela.

For those wanting to follow the Maduro/Chavez saga, Americas Quarterly has a good piece on Maduro by Javier Corrales. Quick summary — Corales is definitely a fellow Chavista traveller, but he has a ways to go before he can must the almost automatic widespread support Hugo Chavez enjoys.

If you don’t have a subscription, an earlier version of the text is below.

Venezuela’s looming crisis

Sean W Burges

Senior Associate

Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies

at the Australian National University

 

Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign that ended with Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez’s re-election on October 7th, the mercurial Chávez exhibited his trademark ebullience and rhetorical extravagance. Even though he cut back on his public appearances, for the faithful it was easy to believe that his cancer had been completely cured. Now it is starting to look like the naysayers were right and that the cancer Chávez has been fighting since 2011 is terminal. A December 9th special session of Congress was convened to authorize Chávez’s travel to Cuba for emergency surgery this week, which will be his fourth major cancer intervention.

 

The problem for Venezuelans is that Chávez’s potential health decline and death could throw their country into a very messy political crisis and bitter internecine power struggle within the president’s Bolivarian movement. Worse, this could lead to mass violence in the streets as contending factions battle for power.

 

Article 232 of the Venezuelan constitution addresses two scenarios directly relevant to Chávez’s illness. First, should an elected president become unable to take the oath of office to start their term, the constitution calls for a new presidential election. Second, new presidential elections must be held if a president dies, resigns or is fired from the presidency within the first four years of their term.

 

Chávez appears to be planning for the enactment of Article 232. He made a pre-surgery whistle stop return to Caracas last weekend to unambiguously name Nicolas Maduro as his vice president and heir, calling on Venezuelans to support his candidacy should a new presidential election be required. In effect Chávez is trying to exercise a practice that Mexicans under the 71-year authoritarian rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party knew as the “dedazo”, or the touch of the president’s finger to anoint the chosen successor. The question in Venezuela is whether Chávez’s finger will be strong enough to reach out from his grave.

 

The extent to which Chávez dominates Venezuela makes little sense in a political context such as Australia’s. Everything in Venezuela is about the president. Whether loved or hated, he is talked about all the time and in relation to almost any subject. Within government and public policy circles no decision is made without the almost direct approval of Chávez. In the public and private sphere his influence is all-pervasive and unrelenting. Its dominating nature is particularly notable during elections. Although the actual act of voting is laudably free and fair in Venezuela, the extent to which Chávez’s popularly created cult of personality imbues everything means that conditions for the electoral campaign are massively tilted against his opponents.

 

It is also the strength of Chávez’s personality that keeps internecine bickering within the Bolivarian movement under wraps. Although Chávez is explicitly naming Maduro, a former bus driver and grass roots general for the Bolivarian movement, as his successor and protector of the revolution, there is no wider consensus or actual agreement that the vice president should assume the reins of power. In particular, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello harbors his own presidential ambitions. Cabello also brings his own revolutionary credibility, which stretches back to active participation in Chávez’s 1992 failed coup attempt and successive ministerial posts over the last decade.

 

For Chávez the worst case scenario is that his two lieutenants will engage in a bitter struggle for power that will split the leftist vote and leave the way open for victory by Henrique Capriles, who garnered 46% of the vote in last October’s presidential ballot. With the dominating force of Chávez’s personality interred this is also a very likely scenario.

 

The implications for Venezuelans are deeply worrying. A complex system of corruption and patronage has arisen in the shadows of Chávez’s hyper-centralized rule, some of it with very deep links into the military and parts drifting into the shady world of narcotrafficking. A new presidential election thus becomes about more than who holds the country’s highest office. It suddenly becomes about who control of the real levers of economic power in the country by preventing close scrutiny of activities in the shadows. This makes the election a winner takes all game that no side can afford to lose.

 

Sadly this explosive cocktail of conflicting vested interests may prove to be Chávez’s lasting legacy, not the many laudable social programs he launched and the efforts he devoted to making Venezuela’s poor majority realize they have rights and can have a voice in the political system. Chávez’s death, when it comes, will put a severe strain on the Venezuelan political system and force complex and painful negotiations to reformulate how the country operates. There is a very real, but still avoidable possibility that these negotiations will take the form of violent street protests and gangland-style score settling, making Venezuela an even more violent place. The saving grace here is that an authoritarian retrogression is not a real possibility due to severe regional pressure to keep the Americas democratic, which is ironically due to concerns with the type of democracy that Chávez sought to build in Venezuela.

 

 

 

 

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