Rights groups call for urgent action on detained Vietnamese dissident blogger

Two leading international rights groups have called for ‘urgent intervention’ in the case of an imprisoned Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger.


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), was informed of Quan’s arbitrary detention by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) about the arbitrary detention of Mr. Le Quoc Quan (above).

The Washington-based World Movement for Democracy also issued a special alert on the case:

According to the Wall Street Journal, Vietnamese police arrested well-known dissident blogger Le Quoc Quan on December 28 while he was dropping off his daughter at school. Mr. Quan, who was in residence at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship in 2006-07, has written extensively on human rights abuses in Vietnam, and has been detained by the authorities multiple times because of his pro-democracy views. 

Radio Free Asia reports that Mr. Quan was jailed for three months in 2007 and was freed only after protests from the United States. In August 2012, he was beaten by police in an attack, and had begun carrying a golf-club for self-defense.

The World Movement for Democracy calls for Le Quoc Quan’s immediate release, and demands the Vietnamese government cease its surveillance and harassment of Mr. Quan and his family. We also strongly urge the Vietnamese government to respects its citizens’ right to engage in the free exchange of ideas and opinions online.

The FIDH and OMCT request the following actions:

Please write to the authorities in Viet Nam urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Le Quoc Quan, Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan,as well as of all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

ii. Release Messrs. Le Quoc Quan, Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan immediately and unconditionally as their detention seems to merely sanction their human rights activities and is contrary to national and international law;

iii. Put an end to all acts harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Le Quoc Quan, Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, as well as against all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

iv. Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular:

- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,

- as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Viet Nam.


  • · H.E. Mr. Pham Binh Minh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1 Ton That Dam St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37992000; 080 48235; Fax: 84-4-38231872 –84-4-37992682, Email: bc.mfa@mofa.gov.vn
  • · H.E. Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh, Minister of Interior, 37A Nguyen Binh Khiem St., Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-39764116 – 84-4-39764278; Fax: 84-4-39781005
  • · H.E. Mr. Ha Hung Cuong, Minister of Justice, 56-60 Tran Phu St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37336213 – 84-4-37338068; Fax: 84-4-38431431
  • · H.E. Mr. Tran Dai Quang, Minister of Public Security, 44 Yet Kieu St., Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-069 42545 – 84-4-048 226602; Fax: 84-4-9420223
  • · H.E. Mr. Vu Duc Dam, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG), 1 Hoang Hoa Tham St. Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-80 43100; 84-4-80 43569; Fax: 84-4-80 44130
  • · H.E. Mr V? D?ng, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotential, Permanent Representative, 30 chemin des Corbillettes, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland; Tel (Assistant): +41 022-791 85 40; Phone: +41 (0) 22 791 85 40; Fax: +41 (0) 22-798 07 24; Email : info@vnmission-ge.gov.vn

HE Mr. PHAM Sanh Chau, Ambassador, Boulevard Général Jacques 1, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: +32 (0)2 379 27 37; Fax : +32 (0)2 374 93 76; Email: vnemb.brussels@skynet.be / unescochau@yahoo.com

Please also write to the embassies of Viet Nam in your respective country. Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • · E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
  • · Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
  • · Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

For more information, go to:

BBC News, “Court appeal of dissident Vietnam bloggers is rejected.

Radio Free Asia, “Vietnamese Blogger Detained.

Democracy Digest, “Hey John Kerry, free Le Quoc Quan.

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Sudan cracks down on NGOs’ dissident voices

Sudan’s government is targeting civil society in an attempt to stifle the country’s few remaining independent voices, says an official of a leading NGO.  

“They don’t want anybody who will find a venue and the forum to tell truth to power. The civil society is the only body that is doing this job because the media is totally under the control of the government,” said Al-Baqir Mukhtar, director of the Al-Khatim Adlan (above) Center for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE). The Khartoum authorities recently revoked KACE’s registration and closed four other rights groups on the grounds that they were promoting a “political agenda,” allegations Mukhtar vehemently rejects.  

“We don’t follow any political agenda. If you speak about democracy, if you speak about peace, is that political agenda? We are civil society. We speak about cultural reforms; we speak about educational reform; we speak about peace through non-violence. If they consider this political, then they are wrong,” he told VOA.

Security forces also arrested Abdallah Abu Al-Reesh, the executive director of the Sudanese Studies Center, after activists delivered a petition against the center’s closure to the National Human Rights Commission.

Sudan’s first Vice President this week cited a favorite book of Osama bin-Laden to defend the suppression of pro-democracy NGOs.

Ali Osman Taha told Sudan TV that NGOs were used by foreign intelligence agencies as an “interface” to promote their agendas. But a preliminary examination of the conspiratorial text does not verify Taha’s claims, the Sudan Tribune reports.

Contrary to such assertions, KACE operates openly and transparently, and enjoys a diverse range of funding, the Tribune reports:

Many of its different activities are funded by foreign embassies in Khartoum, and international foundations. KACE is also working on a project about the reform of school curriculum funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and another one related to the civil society participation in public affairs supported by the Open Society Institute.

KACE has filed a petition with the Sudan Human Rights Commission because civil society groups feel under attack, said Mukhtar (right). He rejects government allegations that civil society groups are a voice of the West and criticized obscure rules governing the receipt of foreign funds without prior official approval.

“The government said that, but the government does not give any guideline as to how you get this approval. Is it before we apply for the funds, or is it after we applied and get the approval from the donor?” he said.

NGOs filed a lawsuit in 2006 against the government’s insistence on prior permission before receiving any foreign donations, but the case has not been decided. In the meantime, KACE will pursue both legal and active campaigning approaches to challenging the crackdown.

“All the top lawyers of Sudan came to our support, and they already prepared the petition and they handed it this [Wednesday] morning to the commissioner. So, we are going to follow the legal path until the constitutional court and, at the same time, we are going to campaign against this by a series of protests, memos and sit-ins until this decision is changed,” Mukhtar said.  

Sudan’s Islamist regime has a track record of stifling freedom of expression, according to Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide, a book by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea.  

As a recent review of the book by  Paul Berman – “The Thought Police” -  in The New Republic observes:  

Sudan’s Islamist government sparked a civil war partly by trying to impose a ferocious version of sharia on Christians and other non-Muslims in the south, and by the time the war ended (though the violence seems to be starting up again) more than two million people of various confessions had been killed…..Islamists in Sudan have declared the Nubas apostate, which puts half a million people at risk—though a full-scale massacre has failed to occur. 

The book also details how the regime has targeted Muslim democrats and Islamic modernists, Berman notes:  

Marshall and Shea punctiliously demonstrate that persecution by the radicals focuses everywhere on the Islamic humanists, liberal reformers, and free-thinkers. Some very distinguished Islamic reformists have been killed—for instance, the Sudanese intellectual Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, who was executed by Sudan’s Islamist government on a charge of blasphemy in 1985. …..[O]ne of his disciples, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im of Emory University School of Law, published an incisive book in 2008 called Islam and the Secular State [that] offered exceptionally powerful arguments for a tolerant and modern Islam. 

Berman’s essay was cited by The New York Times’ David Brooks in a column on his “Sidney [Hook] Awards for the best essays of 2012. 

You can show your solidarity with Sudan’s beleaguered civil society by posting to the Facebook page of the Sudanese Development Initiative.

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RFE/RL Russia dispute damaging US image ‘more than KGB’ ever did

In the latest twist of a dispute roiling U.S. international broadcasting, the audit committee of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is reportedly scheduled to meet later this month to discuss the turmoil sparked by changes in the group’s Russian operations which, according to one veteran dissident, has “harmed the U.S. image here more than the KGB ever could.”

The controversy appears to validate the insistence of a former RFE/RL chief that “we need to fix what’s broken in the broadcasting delivery system.”

After dismissing several leading journalists, the Washington Post’s Kathy Lally reports, “CEO Steven Korn and Julia Ragona, RFE/RL’s vice president, hired Masha Gessen, a Russian American journalist who last year published a book critical of Putin, as the editor, based in Moscow instead of in Prague [site of RFE/RL’s HQ]. But a firestorm erupted as journalists whom Korn and Ragona fired set up an alternative Web site criticizing the changes.”

Former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev has joined many Russian democrats and civil society activists in criticizing the changes, notes Lally:

Gorbachev, who inadvertently helped bring about the demise of the Soviet Union by opening up access to information, said that in light of the recent clampdown by Putin’s government — including laws forcing activists who get grants from abroad to register as foreign agents and the expulsion from Russia of the U.S. Agency for International Development — it looked as if the United States was making “an about-turn.”

Two Russian dissidents, Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group and Sergei Kovalyov of the Sakharov Foundation, wrote to Congress demanding an investigation. Radio Liberty’s management, Alexeyeva said, had harmed the U.S. image here more than the KGB ever could.

“The fired journalists are in fact some of the most respected independent reporters and new media specialists in Russia,”said Ted Lipien, a former Voice of America acting Associate Director and former BBG regional Marketing Director:

That is why the whole human rights and democratic opposition movement, including Alexeeva, Gorbachev, former Prime Minister Kasyanov, former Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov and countless others, have defended them and turned against Korn, Julia Ragona, Masha Gessen and their new team, whose members have no name recognition in Russia and have lost online audience, more than 50% by some Russian media accounts citing open statistics. These Russian leaders all concluded that Radio Liberty’s reputation in Russia has been ruined and asked for the fired journalists to be rehabilitated and brought back.

Freedom House President David Kramer said that nothing short of a complete housecleaning of the RFE/RL top leadership is required. The damage they have done is immeasurable,” Kramer said.

“Seven relatively small steps can make a big difference in realizing U.S. international broadcasting’s full potential,” former RFE/RL chief Jeffrey Gedmin, now president of the London-based Legatum Institute, wrote in a recent issue of The American Interest:

First, we must know history better to understand well that few of the current challenges we face are entirely new. It’s true that Cold War clarity of aims helped shape the general purpose of international broadcasting, yet it’s also true that things were never as clear then as we remember them to have been…..

Second, we need to reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). As is widely but not universally known, today the family of U.S. international broadcasters—VOA, RFE/RL, Radio Martí, MBN and Radio Free Asia—is overseen by the BBG, which is the outgrowth of several organizational reforms that saw the broadcasting mission go into and then back out of the United States Information Agency. …..

Third, we need to build a strong domestic constituency for broadcasting, which requires repeal of the anachronistic Smith-Mundt Act [which] has prohibited domestic access to information intended for foreign audiences on the grounds that technically…content from U.S. international broadcasting should not be available to the American public. New technologies have rendered Smith-Mundt obsolete anyway, but taking it off the books would help Americans to more fully appreciate—and engage themselves—with the work of international broadcasting. ….

Fourth, we must identify the necessary resources and develop better systems to improve the quality of BBG-sponsored journalism. Journalist training is central to broadcasting’s success. For decades U.S. international broadcasting has been blessed by exceptionally dedicated journalists who share a common belief in pluralism, tolerance and decent accountable government. …

Fifth, we must decentralize the operation. The majority of journalists working for U.S. international broadcasting are based in Washington, DC (headquarters for VOA and Radio Free Asia), in Springfield, Virginia (headquarters for the Middle East Broadcasting Network) and in Prague (headquarters for RFE/RL). This arrangement may make some organizational and bureaucratic sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s journalistically sensible, especially in the case of surrogate broadcasting. Journalists need to be close to the subjects they are covering. …..

Sixth, we should explode the myth that internet and social media have rendered U.S. broadcasting obsolete. It’s true that technology has changed the model, as it has changed the model across journalism. Facebook, Twitter and other social media have meant that monopolies on information are now virtually impossible to maintain and competition abounds. ….

This does not mean, however, that U.S. international broadcasting has outlived its usefulness. In the first place, the new technologies do not give an obvious advantage to “good guys” against “bad guys”, whether the latter are authoritarian governments or authoritarian social and political movements. To assume otherwise is very naive. Moreover, U.S. broadcasting operates with a particular purpose…. It should never be viewed as a values-free proposition.

Finally and centrally, we must place all efforts, including current plans for reorganization, in the context of our purpose and mission. U.S. international broadcasting is guided by American idealism but it is not charity. Its purpose, again, is to advance American interests in the world.

Democracy assistance remains one of the two main objectives of U.S. international broadcasting, says Gedmin.

“Democracy assistance is a sphere of work claimed by Freedom House and the four constituent parts of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED),” he writes:

It is to this conceptual realm that surrogate broadcasting properly belongs, yet there are no strong connections between the BBG and the NED, though both have a similar status as independent government-funded organizations. The BBG should consider merging its two surrogate broadcasters, Radio Free Asia and RFE/RL, and then explore greater collaboration and synergies with the NED, Freedom House and other organizations committed to democracy promotion. Such a merger would connect a broadcasting region that spans Russia, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.


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China Internet crackdowns ‘send online chill’

Chinas new Internet restrictions requiring that Internet users provide their real names to register has triggered “heated discussion” amongst the country’s netizens, according to reports.

“Since the party congress, we’ve seen increased measures, not lessened,” Stanford University’s Duncan Clark told VOA China. “So the big question … is, when we get to the spring of next year, when the new leadership takes up the formal positions in the new government, is this the new normal?”

The regime’s tightening of internet controls and mandating real name registration threaten the security and privacy of internet users, Human Rights Watch said today:

On December 28, 2012, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislative body, passed the “Decision to Strengthen the Protection of Online Information.” …This decision follows a series of high-profile corruption exposés that were widely discussed online, despite government efforts to control media coverage, as well as increased use of social media to mobilize citizen action. For example, weibo users and bloggers became important watchdogs in revealing corruption and governmental cover-up attempts in the wake of the July 2011 Wenzhou high-speed train crash. In addition, companies that provide virtual private networks (VPNs) that circumvent China’s “Great Firewall” have also reported expanded interference with the use of their services. VPNs can allow users to secure their communications over an internet connection. Businesses, journalists, and ordinary users rely on VPNs to encrypt internet traffic and evade China’s filtering system.

“These new mandates send a chilling message to China’s netizens,” said Cynthia Wong, the group’s senior researcher on the internet and human rights. “The government’s decision is an effort to silence critics and curb anonymity online by further conscripting internet companies to monitor and censor users.”

China Digital Times cites reports that the website of Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine, a liberal publication that published a pro-reform New Year greeting, was shut down on Friday morning:

The magazine’s official account on Sina Weibo, a Twitter style Chinese social media platform, posted at 10.08am, said the site was “suddenly cancelled” around 9am. It said they received text messages and emails from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on December 31, telling them the site had been cancelled….After clicking the site’s URL on Friday, internet users see a notice saying: “the website you are visiting has been shut down for not registering”.

“Several influential Chinese bloggers, activists and even a popular cartoonist had their online microblogging accounts shut down in recent days, belying the hopes of many here that the country’s new Communist Party leaders might begin to relax strict controls over the Internet and free expression,” the Washington Post’s Keith Richburg reports:

Another microblogger who uses satire to tackle sensitive topics is the cartoonist Kuang Biao, who said he publishes most of his work online. …

“I guess my political cartoons (above) made them unhappy,” Kuang said. “I just can’t figure out why they are even afraid of cartoons. They lack confidence and don’t have any sense of humor.” Kuang said his cartoons mainly satirized official policy pronouncements and the well-documented misbehavior of some Communist Party officials.

In light of China’s media crackdown, the U.S. State Department should both address the treatment of American reporters in China and assess its current approach to Chinese reporters in the US, argues The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos:

Why is this happening now? At bottom, it’s a curious confluence of skill, corruption, and record-keeping. Twenty years ago, most foreign correspondents made their bones on exotic front lines, and rarely ventured into the wilds of business reporting until they came home. But these days the ranks of the foreign press include a number of people who came up reading 10-Ks and bond prospectuses and have the instinct to deploy those skills abroad. At the same time, the increasing sophistication of China’s economy has forced the bureaucracy to create a body of records that, if deciphered correctly, can provide a roadmap of relationships that no human source could easily match. And finally, the scale of corruption in China has grown right along with the economy, creating a target-rich environment.

The crackdown also follows a hike in Chinese netizens’ willingness to speak out on Tibetan self-immolations, says Human Rights in China.

China’s efforts to tighten the reigns on the Internet “could chill some of the vibrant discourse on the country’s Twitter-like microblogs,” says one observer.

The crackdown comes shortly after Rendezvous Asia Blogger Mark McDonald reported on the Communist authorities’ efforts to fortify the Great Firewall, “blocking some of the leading services that allow people on the mainland to access forbidden sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.”

See the discussion that ensued, much of it, from China residents who use virtual private networks or VPNs to access the wider Web.

“Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov and Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili are better known to history by the pseudonyms under which they led the Bolshevik Revolution—pen names that served them well as agitators under the czars. No wonder the ostensibly communist party still ruling in Beijing is so acutely attuned to the dangers of anonymous scribbling,” writes the Wall Street Journal’s Joseph Sternberg. “Call it Zuckerberg’s Revenge.”

The clampdown has dampened expectations that the new leadership “might be more tolerant of weibo’s burgeoning free speech forum, as they try to cultivate a more popular image for a party buffeted by corruption scandals and tales of power abuses at the highest levels,” says the Post’s Richburg:

“The hope for that kind of openness was less based on any kind of evidence and more based on hope,” said Bill Bishop, a longtime China resident who publishes the Sinocism online newsletter on current political, economic and social news.

Despite the new leaders’ recent remarks about economic reform, Bishop said, “there’s nothing in there about loosening their restrictions on the Internet.”

“I do think you’re going to see some pretty aggressive measures on economic reform,” Bishop said. “You’ve got a party that believes in pursuing economic reform without comparable political reform.”

“Social media has become an incredible tool for public accountability in China, but these new controls certainly undermine that potential,” Wong said. “If the government is serious about fighting rampant corruption, it shouldn’t silence whistleblowers and ordinary citizens, or enlist companies to do it on their behalf. Instead, it should allow people to speak out and to protect their identities online.”

China Digital Times and Human Rights in China are grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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After Chávez?

What happens if Venezuela’s populist president dies?

“Here’s what the Bolivarian constitution is clear about, if Chávez dies before Jan. 10, then a new presidential election has to be held within 30 days, and during that time the National Assembly President ‘shall take charge of the presidency of the republic,’” writes Time’s Tim Padgett:

Should Chávez somehow be able to return to Venezuela to be sworn in on Jan. 10 but dies during the first four years of his new term, a new election still has to be held within 30 days, but this time his Vice President [Nicolás Maduro - far left] becomes President during the interregnum. Should Chávez die during the last two years of the term, then the Vice President simply completes the term’s lame-duck remainder.

If the Bolivarian succession process sounds convoluted, analysts say it’s meant to be. It keeps the Vice President post relatively weak and therefore discourages any challenge to Chávez’s authoritarian rule from within his United Socialist Party (PSUV) while he’s alive; but it aids the continuance of his left-wing, anti-U.S. revolution if he dies by giving the opposition a paltry 30 days to mount an election campaign.

Still, what Chávez may not have expected, says Stephen Johnson, Americas director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., is that the scenario would play out “at a moment precisely like this one,” when the opposition does have a viable candidate — Henrique Capriles, the centrist governor of Miranda state adjoining Caracas — ready to hit the trail again after a relatively respectable effort against Chávez in October.

The January 10 deadline “really matters,” said Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College. “The moment that you enter into the idea that people can just easily change the inauguration date, you are essentially governing outside of the constitution,” he said. “You are essentially abandoning the democracy.”

Constitutional lawyer Jose Vicente Haro told CNN en Espanol that the inauguration must occur on that day and cannot occur inside the embassy in Cuba because “it is not Venezuelan territory.”

Ultimately, Venezuela’s Supreme Court could be asked to decide, said Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas program at the Atlanta-based Carter Center. If Chávez has not returned to Venezuela and is unable to be sworn in on January 10, the National Assembly may be forced to act…. The lawmakers may have no choice but to either declare Chávez permanently absent, which would result in the national assembly president taking over, or temporarily absent. 

Whoever succeeds Chávez will inherit an incipient economic crisis that will limit their room for political maneuver, analysts suggest.

“Chávez has bequeathed the nation an economic crisis of historic proportions,” writes Moisés Naím, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Oil-exporting countries rarely face hard currency shortages, but the Chávez regime may be the exception. Mismanagement and lack of investment have decreased oil production. Meanwhile oil revenue is compromised partly because of Chávez’s decision to supply Venezuelans with the country’s most valuable resource at heavily subsidized prices. Thus a large and growing share of locally produced oil is sold domestically at the lowest prices in the world (in Venezuela it costs 25 cents to fill the tank of a mid-sized car).

“Another share of the oil output is shipped abroad to Cuba and other Chávez allies, and to China, which bought oil in advance at deeply discounted prices (apparently the revenue from China has already been spent),” writes Naím, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy and former minister of Trade and Industry for Venezuela.

The economic crisis is likely to require a period of austerity that will generate a political backlash against Chávez’s successor.

“It’s doubtful that Nicolás Maduro will be able to handle the fury of Venezuelans who fear that their beloved leader’s memory might be betrayed by heartless neoliberalism,” argues Francisco Toro, a Venezuelan political scientist, and founder of Caracas Chronicles:

It’s been a wildly popular and successful strategy, but this kind of spending-led “socialism can’t last. For years, Venezuela has been borrowing at credit-card level interest rates. As the country runs out of money and out of people willing to lend it more, the real question is who’s going to be left holding the checkbook when the spending must screech to a halt?

Chávez recently named Maduro, his vice-president and foreign minister, as his chosen heir.

“Many analysts see a potential rift inside Chávismo between Maduro’s more socialist faction and that of the more pragmatic Cabello, who has particularly strong ties to the military and is expected to be re-elected as National Assembly President,” says Padgett:

But George Ciccariello-Maher, a history and politics professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia and author of an upcoming book, We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution, says Maduro would most likely secure both the PSUV candidacy and a victory over Capriles. “He’s more popular with the Venezuelan grassroots than either Cabello or Capriles,” he says.

Chávez’s death is also likely to be a blow for his authoritarian populist allies in the region, say observers.

The Bolivarian Alliance – a Chávez brainchild forged to assert regional claims to policy autonomy during the Bush era — is likely to take the strongest hit,” according to Anita Isaacs, a political science professor at Haverford College:

Whereas Venezuela’s relationship with Cuba can be seen as mutually beneficial, there is no similar upside to pouring millions of dollars into other corrupt regimes like those in Ecuador and Nicaragua. Moreover, the pragmatic bloc of Latin American nations led by Brazil offers an increasingly viable alternative to the alliance. 

Still, the prospect of armed conflict in Venezuela is real and should not be underestimated. Should political violence ensue, all bets are off on the Latin American front. Rather than play a productive role in the region Venezuela could arouse regional fears of a destabilizing spillover of violence, becoming instead the target of efforts at containment and peace-making.

“Chávez is known for strutting on the international stage, playing bad boy to the United States,” writes Ray Walser, a senior policy analyst specializing in Latin America at the Heritage Foundation:

The Ahmadinejads, Castros and Ortegas of our world could count on a hero’s welcome in Caracas, along with a replica of the Great Liberator’s sword. Saddled with serious problems — and lacking the charisma — Chávez’s heir will probably be hard-pressed to cast the same giant Bolivarian shadow over the international landscape.

Maduro’s succession would reassure these allies as he would likely maintain the thrust of Chávez’s foreign policy, according to Patrick Duddy, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 2007 to 2010:

Although Maduro has often echoed Chávez’s own antipathy toward the U.S., he has recently indicated a theoretical willingness to consider repairing relations with the U.S and, according some news reports, has discussed the possibility with Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Any rapprochement, however, is likely to be narrow and fraught with tension.

The succession crisis could create opportunities for Venezuela’s democratic opposition and civil society, analysts suggest.

“If the opposition takes over, its members should move gradually,” says Michael Shifter, the president of the Inter-American Dialogue:

An unwavering commitment to social programs — the popular “misiones” — will be vital, as will pursuing badly needed economic and security reforms. Similarly, a new government should not entirely jettison Chávez’s foreign policy from one day to the next, but should move in a piecemeal fashion. Moderation should steadily fill in for Chávez’s charisma and grandiosity.

“The path forward will require modest, incremental changes and compromise on both sides of a sharply polarized society,” says Shifter, a former Latin America program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy. “Otherwise, there could be a societal backlash, and the prospects for political comity and mending the social fabric will be at risk.”

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