Team of Rivals hovers over ‘near death’ Chávez

Watching his back? Maduro (left) and Cabello

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez is fighting for his life, says vice president Nicolas Maduro, his designated successor, reviving rumors that the authoritarian populist is either dead or close to it.

“Among his opponents, everyone has a conspiracy theory about the reasons for concealing the President’s true state of health. There are rumors of every variety, including those that draw on fears of the sort of military coup that has haunted Venezuela’s history,” Boris Muñoz reports from Caracas.

Why does the government keep pretending that Chávez is in charge? he asks:

“The only explanation is that the small troika that is managing the situation got emotional about declaring Chávez unfit to be President, which ought to happen sooner rather than later in this electoral scenario,” a government insider told me. I asked what he meant by “emotional”. “The high spheres of government are like those families where the brothers and sisters don’t get along, but they love, respect, and fear their father. Though the opposition thinks they have no feelings, I think the high government leaders are really confused and upset over the imminent death of their political father. Their pain and uncertainty unite them. But they also stop them from seeing the future.”

The latest rumors coincide with speculation about a possible military coup, a prospect dismissed by regime leaders addressing a chávista rally.

“Today the people and the armed forces are more united than ever, like a fist of the fatherland,” said Maduro, who warned the opposition not to “come with little stories that we are fighting.”

The vice president’s chief rival, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello is a former army captain who is seen as close to the military as Maduro is to Cuba. But he also denied any rift.  ”We are brothers of the fatherland, we are sons of Chávez,” he told the rally.

The Obama administration will insist that in the event of Chávez’s death, “any new elections should be democratic, constitutional, peaceful, and transparent and must respect the universal human rights of the Venezuelan people,” said incoming Secretary of State John Kerry.

But uncertainty about his condition is feeding the uncertainty, say observers.

“Until Chávez says ‘I quit,’ Maduro’s authority will be weak,” said Fausto Masó, a Venezuelan journalist and political analyst:

To shore up its position, the team of rivals has gone on attack, denouncing opposition representatives in the National Assembly as corrupt and talking about sending them to jail. Simultaneously, the government has threatened to increase state control over the corporations and small businesses that are the main source of the opposition’s funding.

“The transition has already begun in Venezuela, and the election campaign has also begun,” said Tulio Hernandez, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela. “The transition has also begun in people’s heads. Sometimes, there are mistakes among government spokespeople, who start to speak of Chávez in the past tense.”

The chávista leadership has targeted attacks against Henrique Capriles Radonski, “the opposition leader who lost to Chávez last October, but who got closer to the Presidency than any other opponent,” Muñoz writes for The New Yorker:

According to a recent poll, most of the population supports the government and would stand behind Maduro if he has to replace Chávez as President. The same polls also show Capriles as the only opposition leader who stands a chance—however small—against Maduro.

The main problem for Capriles is that he’s doesn’t have all the other opposition leaders behind him. The opposition’s dilemma is whether to confront chávismo in the streets, as it has previously, or peel off disappointed chávistas, which is the strategy Capriles prefers. Although Capriles never risks much, he has an excellent sense of political timing and opportunity.

“Venezuela’s security crisis has worsened its economic crisis,” notes Hudson Institute analyst Jaime Daremblum:

Under Chávez-style socialism, the government routinely seizes broadcasting stations, banks, food factories, and other private property. In the Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Index of Economic Freedom, no country scores worse for property rights than Venezuela—even Cuba (!) scores higher in that category. ….Caracas dramatically ramped up money creation and government spending ahead of Venezuela’s October 2012 presidential election, to help guarantee another term for the ailing Chávez.

The numbers really are quite astounding: “In 2012 alone, the money supply expanded 62 percent while public spending grew 52 percent,” notes former Venezuelan trade minister Moisés Naim, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Chávez’s legacy will be decidedly illiberal, says a former admirer.

There were no gulags, no mass arrests, no fear of the midnight knock on the door. Chávez did not rule through terror.

Chávez praised Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe, Vladimir Putin and Muammar Gaddafi as brothers but restrained the bloodshed, settling for selective intimidation and thuggery. Repression was usually a last resort – when oil revenues, charisma and political skill were not enough for him to get his way.

Instead, Chávez’s critics faced a range of less blatant threats, says Carroll, author of the forthcoming book, Comandante: Inside the Revolutionary Court of Hugo Chávez:

The first weapon was humiliation. Intelligence agents passed recordings of intercepted calls to a chávista television show, The Razorblade, which would gleefully spin and broadcast them, to an accompaniment of animal noises.

The second weapon was disqualification from running for office. Leopoldo López, a potential presidential rival descended from Simón Bolívar’s sister, was accused of corruption, tangled in legal knots and sidelined.

The third was emasculation. Antonio Ledezma was elected the metropolitan mayor of Caracas but became irrelevant. A red-shirted mob occupied the city hall, with police complicity, and Chávez transferred the mayor’s powers to a newly created city authority run by an apparatchik….


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Call to free jailed journalists as Iran’s “Butcher of the Press” goes on trial

Iran’s “Butcher of the Press“ goes on trial as Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari calls for the release of journalists arrested on charges of ‘conspiring’ with foreign media, RFE/RL’s Journalists in Trouble reports:

According to the video, published by the Committee to Protect Journalists, 16 Iranian journalists were arrested between January 26 – 28.  The media crackdown comes in advance of presidential elections scheduled to take place in Iran in June. Iranian journalists who have taken their work outside of the country have also been labeled as “spies” and subject to threats and on-line harassment. 

Radio Farda journalists, based in Prague, have recorded more than 15 incidents in which they have been the subjects of counterfeit Facebook pages, internet viruses and misleading blog posts, and had their email accounts hacked.

Yesterday’s murder of Malak Mumtaz highlights the dangers of reporting in Pakistan’s tribal region, the JiT webpage adds.

And in the latest Power Vertical podcast, Brian Whitmore and Kirill Kobrin mark the 1st anniversary of Pussy Riot’s punk prayer performance and look at who’s on the political stage now.

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‘Repression continues’ in dubious transition to post-Castro Cuba

Yoani Sanchez at Vaclav Havel airportCuba’s Communist authorities denied Yoani Sánchez (right) the right to travel twenty times, but she has now arrived in the Czech Republic, Radio Praha’s Jan Richter reports:

Sánchez, who said she only knew Prague from the books of Milan Kundera, will attend the One World Festival of human rights documentaries and appear at a concert in support of Cuban artists, organized by the humanitarian Czech NGO People in Need,* which provides support for Cuban journalists and opposition activists.

But the dissident blogger warned that the partial relaxation of travel curbs did not signify a real shift in government policy.

“I don’t think that this is a sign of significant political change,” she said. “Instead, the government is trying to create the impression that Cuba is progressing and improving, that the country has begun to open up. The reality is that repression continues on the island [see videos below], and that human-rights and opposition activists continue to be violently oppressed.”

“I do hope that there will be change. But I don’t believe it could come from the government. Rather, the civic society, which has developed and acquired new tools such as technology, can push for a process of democratisation. That’s my hope.”

Cuban dissidents are equally skeptical that Raul Castro’s announcement that he will step down in 2018 will do more than re-allocate authority within the ruling elite. Castro’s appointed “dauphin,” Vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel, would be the first leader not to be a veteran of the Cuban revolution – assuming he ever takes office.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” said analyst Brian Latell. “The record of the Cuban revolution is littered with the names of people who were thought to be No. 3 or 2 and all of them fell by the wayside, going back to Che Guevara.”

Diaz-Canel’s elevation is a sign of continuity rather than change, observers suggest.

“It confirms the gradualism of Raúl’s approach,” said Geoff Thale, program director for the Washington Office on Latin America, referring to Castro’s modest economic reforms. “I don’t think there’s any evidence that he is someone looking to bring rapid or dramatic change to Cuba’s political or economic system,” he tells the New York Times:

Raúl Castro has mostly praised [Diaz-Canel] for his hard work, and his “ideological firmness” — more than enough to attract the ire of anti-Castro Cuban-Americans who have already criticized him for being a Castro protégé. American officials have expressed skepticism, noting that the top-down selection of a new leader does not amount to democracy.

Mr. Díaz-Canel may in fact find himself on a lonely perch if he manages to seize the top job. He will be surrounded by pent-up demands for more significant change, but without the heft attributed to the Castros and the revolutionaries who fought with them.

“He will have to watch his back,” Mr. Latell said.

The ruling Communist party’s determination to retain its political monopoly explains why external actors need to keep up the pressure, and post-Communist states like the Czech Republic have a special role and responsibility, said Sánchez.

“The position of the Czech government towards the opposition – one of solidarity, collaboration and support, is very important at this moment,” she said. “It seems that for many, Cuban affairs are beginning to lose importance because many people believe that Cuba is changing. Maintaining the pressure is crucial.”

Sánchez arrived in Prague after a visit to Brazil, where she received a hostile reception from Leftist demonstrators, reportedly orchestrated by the Cuban regime, who on one occasion, “burst into an event at a bookstore, forcing organizers to cancel it,” the Wall Street Journal reports:

For many Brazilians, the headline-making attacks are a national embarrassment. In one dramatic scene in Bahia this week, the 71-year-old Brazilian Sen. Eduardo Suplicy put himself between an angry mob and Ms. Sánchez to protect her. “Have the courage to listen!” he shouted. They didn’t, and the event was canceled for safety reasons.

“Why are we talking so much about Cuba and Yoani Sánchez? Because this woman is living proof of the Castros’ unfulfilled promise of liberty, a promise that seduced and involved, from the start, some of the greatest intellects of our continent,” wrote O Estado de S. Paulo columnist Eugênio Bucci.

Sánchez noted that the demonstrators were exercising the rights to protests and free speech denied to Cuba’s people.

“I am a self-taught democrat. I believe in the plurality of ideas. But when it comes to verbal or physical violence, that’s no longer plurality, that’s fanaticism,” she said, explaining Latin America’s “illusion” about Cuba.

“There are young people attracted to the idea of revolution. And there are not so young people who can’t accept that the ideas they believed in are defunct, or for whom it is too late in life to say ‘I was wrong.’ ”

Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party has remained supportive of Cuba’s Communist dictatorship. Pro-democracy activists criticized then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva when he suggested that hunger-striking dissidents were common criminals. Labor unionists have also highlighted Lula’s hypocrisy, recalling the international solidarity he received while struggling for the same democratic rights as a young union militant.

Brazil’s stance could backfire when Cuba becomes a democracy, said Sánchez.

“There’s been a lack of toughness or frankness [from Brazil] when it comes to talking about human rights on the island. I would recommend a more energetic position, because the people don’t forget,” she said.

Capitol Hill Cubans add: Last week, we posted a video of Cuban pro-democracy activists Rosario Morales la Rosa and Melkis Faure Echevarria courageously leading a protest in Havana’s Central Park, calling for an end to for the Castro regime’s repression. They were arrested pursuant to the protest.

A new video has surfaced showing the commotion caused by Castro’s police — simply due to a peaceful protest by two women in a park — and foreign tourists being arrested for unwittingly taking pictures. Ironically, only the images captured by a Cuban pro-democracy activist with a hidden camera saw the light of day.

The second video (above) shows 30 Ladies in White protesting at the bus terminal known as “La Coubre,” where they were purposefully stranded at 2 a.m. They were all thereafter violently beaten and arrested.

*People in Need is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy. 

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US gives ‘firm reminder’ to Morsi on NGOs and minority rights

Credit: ACUS

“Informed diplomatic sources in Cairo and Washington say that the recent telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and President Mohamed Morsi included what some qualified as ‘a firm reminder’ of the need for Egyptian authorities to act promptly to secure the rights of minorities and to empower civil society,” Al-Ahram reports.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected to raise proposed curbs on Egyptian non-governmental groups and the ongoing prosecution of NGO activists (above) when he meets with senior officials, politicians, business leaders, and civil society activists in Cairo on Sunday.

The ruling Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has drafted a highly restrictive law that “would cripple civil society …. and mark an alarming shift by the Brotherhood toward the methods of the ousted Hosni Mubarak,” activists fear.

The draft law confirms that the Islamist group and Mubarak-era officials of the Ministry of Social Affairs share an identical vision for “nationalizing civil society,” according to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (above).

Egypt’s government has been agitating for the US to invite Morsi to Washington, but that should be put on hold until the regime demonstrates a more liberal and inclusive approach to governance, say the co-chairs of the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt.

“That means supporting a law that meets international standards on regulating civil society, allowing watchdog organizations to operate freely and finally resolving the controversial status of foreign and foreign-funded NGOs,” according to the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan and the Hariri Center’s Michele Dunne, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

There are at least five draft CSO laws currently in circulation and all but one prepared by a civil society coalition are restrictive, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. The two drafts under serious consideration are sponsored by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs (MoISA) and another by the Freedom and Justice party.

The MoISA draft has a number of restrictions that will impede the work of civil society, says ICNL. The draft law:

·         Limits the purposes and activities of associations and foundations. Civil society organizations (“CSOs”) are only permitted to work toward “humanitarian and development goals” (Articles 1(1) and 9). CSOs are further prohibited from conducting “field research, opinion polls, or projects in the field of civil work [????? ??????] without obtaining the approval of the concerned authorities” (Article 11(5)). Organizations “threatening the national unity,” “calling for discrimination between citizens,” or undermining “public order and morals” are also prohibited (Article 11). All of these vague terms are undefined, leaving government officials wide latitude to determine that a CSO’s purposes or activities are impermissible.

·         Mandates registration of all CSOs, and imposes criminal penalties on individuals who establish unregistered groups (Preamble Article 3, Article 80, and Article 82).

·         May eliminate the legal basis for many human rights organizations as well as other groups. Egyptian human rights leaders have opted to register for-profit and not-for-profit “civil companies” rather than associations or foundations in order to exercise their rights to freedom of association. Under the draft law, the government can close and seize the assets of any entity that carries out “any activity of civil associations and foundations” without registering as an association or foundation, threatening the existence of many organizations (Preamble Article 3, Article 80(6)).

·         Significantly curtails the operations of foreign organizations in Egypt. A powerful new “Coordinating Committee” made up of representatives from the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of International Cooperation, the National Security Agency, and several other government agencies will meet once a month “to decide on all matters relating to foreign non-governmental organizations in Egypt and foreign funding” (Article 57).

o   Foreign CSOs may not conduct any operations or activities in Egypt without approval of the Committee (Article 56). Even if the Committee permits a foreign CSO to operate, it can limit the CSO’s activities, or amend or cancel its permission to operate at any time (Article 58).

o   Foreign government entities are prohibited from conducting any “activities or projects” without approval from the Committee (Article 59).

o   Foreign CSOs that “receive government funding, directly or indirectly,” or promote “the policies of a political party” are flatly prohibited from working in Egypt (Article 60).

·         Restricts the ability of Egyptian CSOs to receive or provide international funding. Egyptian CSOs are prohibited from receiving or providing international funding without the approval of the Coordinating Committee (Article 58) or the passage of sixty days without a response to a permit request (Article 16).

·         Allows “imprisonment for a term of not less than one year” and fines of up to £E 100,000 for a wide range of violations of the law. These include “aiding” a foreign CSO “in the exercise of any activity in Egypt” without approval from the Committee and conducting “field research or opinion polls… without the approval of the concerned authorities.” Such severe penalties will create a strong disincentive to associational activity (Articles 80 – 83).

·         Permits inappropriate interference in the internal operations of CSOs. Government officials are allowed to inspect offices and records without justification (Article 20); order the cancellation of any internal administrative decision deemed “contrary to the law or [the CSO’s] bylaws” (Article 24); and object to and remove from internal ballots any candidate for the CSO’s Board of Directors (Article 35).

·         Allows an administrative court broad discretion to dissolve an organization. A CSO can be dissolved, for example, if the court determines that the CSO is unable “to achieve the purposes for which it was created” or has received “funds from a foreign entity in violation of the provisions” of the law (Article 42).

·         Raises the minimum number of members to register an association from ten to twenty, and imposes for the first time a minimum endowment of £E 250,000 for foundations, making it more difficult to establish new CSOs in Egypt (Articles 1(2) and 1(5)).

The FJP draft is expected to be sent to the Shura Council by the end of this week, says ICNL which notes that Egypt’s new constitution empowers the Council to enact laws when the lower house of parliament is dissolved – as it currently is.

But Egyptian civil society groups will urge the Shura Council to defer consideration of the draft until the Parliament is elected and seated, says ICNL, noting that international support for this effort will be crucial as the Shura Council has on at least one occasion postponed consideration of a controversial law following international and domestic criticism.

The Brotherhood’s hardline stance will come as no surprise to those observers who recall the Islamist group supported the former regime’s crackdown on NGOs,  imposing a travel ban on several foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, as part of its prosecution of Egyptian and foreign activists, following security forces’ raids on seventeen pro-democracy NGOs.

The proposal to outlaw foreign-funded NGOs would immediately disable many Egyptian groups working on human rights, corruption and other democracy-related issues, including partners of Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute, that were among the groups targeted in last year’s crackdown and which receive support from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy.

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Democratic Development: free online Stanford course – register now

Why democracy? Are democratic values universal? Promoting democracy; legitimacy, authority and effectiveness; the Third Wave of democratization and its ebb…. These are some of the questions and themes to be addressed by a leading global authority in a free on-line course from Stanford University’s Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.

Democratic Development is intended as a broad, introductory survey of the political, social, cultural, economic, institutional, and international factors that foster and obstruct the development and consolidation of democracy. Each factor will be examined in historical and comparative perspective, with reference to a variety of different national experiences. It is hoped that students in developing or prospective democracies will use the theories, ideas, and lessons in the class to help build or improve democracy in their own countries. 

The course is primarily intended for individuals in college or beyond, with some academic background or preparation in political science or the social sciences. However, it seeks to be accessible and useful to a diverse international audience, including college students, instructors at the second and college levels, government officials, development professionals, civil society leaders, journalists, bloggers, activists, and individuals involved in a wide range of activities and professions related to the development and deepening of democracy.

Did we mention that it’s free? Sign up here.

Course Syllabus

Week 1 Introduction to the Course, Why Democracy? What Is Democracy? Regime Types The Third Wave of Democratization and its Ebb Week 2 Legitimacy, Authority and Effectiveness Democratic Consolidation Week 3

Political Culture and Democracy Are Democratic Values Universal? Week 4 Economic Development Class Structure and Inequality Civil Society Week 5 Democratic Transition: Paths and Drivers Democratic Transition: Types and Means Week 6 Constitutional Design Presidential vs. Parliamentary Government Parties and Party Systems Week 7 Electoral Systems Choosing between Different Systems Week 8 Ethnicity and Ethnic Conflict Managing Ethnic Conflict Federalism Week 9 Horizontal Accountability and the Rule of Law Controlling Corruption Democratic Breakdowns Week 10 International Factors Promoting Democracy The Future of Democracy

Gain an understanding of the political, social, cultural, economic, institutional and international factors that foster and obstruct the development and consolidation of democracy. It is hoped that students in developing or prospective democracies will use the theories, ideas, and lessons in the class to help build or improve democracy in their own countries.

Next Session:

Apr 1st 2013 (10 weeks long)

Larry Diamond (right) is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he directs the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL). At CDDRL, he is also one of the principal investigators in the programs on Arab Reform and Democracy and on Liberation Technology. He is also founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and a Senior Consultant to the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy. His latest book, The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World (Times Books, 2008), explores the sources of global democratic progress and stress and the prospects for future democratic expansion.


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