Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Hindu – Latin America, India’s next big thing?

JORGE HEINE

South-South cooperation will work again only if it is driven by economic opportunities rather than wishful thinking.

Policy wonks in Latin America eagerly await the reports of the U.N.’s Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Based in Santiago, with a history of leadership by heavyweights such as Raúl Prebisch, Enrique Iglesias and Gert Rosenthal, and known as “Latin America’s think tank,” ECLAC pulls no punches. It is often able to identify emerging trends in the world political economy long before others. Uniquely for a U.N. agency, its peer-reviewed journal, ECLAC Review, edited by one of the region’s most senior economists, Osvaldo Sunkel, is a prestigious outlet for path-breaking pieces on international political economy issues.

Much of the recent work of ECLAC’s International Trade and Integration Division has been on Asia and its links with region. A few weeks ago, it released its first report on India and India-LAC links. Titled India and Latin America and the Caribbean: Opportunities and Challenges in Trade and Investment Relations (LC/L346, November 2011), it was just in time for a seminar organised by the Indian Embassy in Buenos Aires, “The New India and the New Latin America: Synergies and Complementarities,” in a joint venture with ECLAC. The report and the seminar’s deliberations throw fresh light on one of the hottest topics going these days — the new impetus acquired by South-South trade and investment flows in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC). They complement last year’s reports from the Inter-American Development Bank —India: Latin America’s Next Big Thing? — and another study released by the Latin American and the Caribbean Economic System, officially known as Sistema Económico Latinoamericano y del Caribe (SELA), in Caracas on the same subject.

Latin America today

The underlying question is the following: is the glass half empty or half full?

By this I mean, do the relatively meagre absolute numbers of India-LAC trade (a little over $20 billion in 2010) or of Indian FDI in LAC (some $11 billion) tell the whole story? Do they merely confirm the long-standing suspicion that only incurable romantics could ever believe in serious economic exchanges between India and Latin America, given the sheer geographic and cultural distances between both? Or, as others would have it, do the ongoing trends and the enormous rise in trade and investment links over the past decade point in a different direction?

Much depends on our assessment of which side is right in this debate, and the jury is still out on this. Raúl Rivera, an innovation guru and author of a recent best-selling book, Nuestra hora, soon to be out in English, pointed out in Buenos Aires that, for a variety of reasons, Latin America has developed a reputation for being a small, fragmented region, racked by conflict and populist dictators. Nothing could be further from the truth. In terms of land mass, with some 20 million square kilometres, Latin America has a larger surface than either Russia or Canada, the two largest countries. It is the region with the largest bio-capacity and biodiversity, and the one with the biggest fresh water reserves anywhere. Almost all countries have now democratically elected governments. It is also a peaceful region, with few inter-state wars in the course of the past 100 years, and, accordingly, with the lowest defence expenditures.

Its economy as a whole, measured in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, is the fourth largest in the world — bigger than Japan’s, and only behind the EU’s, the U.S. and China’s.

Over the course of the past decade, it has also become one of the growth poles of the world economy and thus a natural partner for India. With a population of 580 million, a GDP of $4.9 trillion (four times larger than that of India) and six per cent of the world’s merchandise trade, it has shown remarkable resilience in the face of the GFC. Although its GDP fell by 1.7 per cent in 2009, its recovery was swift, growing at 6.1 per cent in 2010, and at a (projected) 4.5 per cent in 2011. This is in marked contrast to many European countries now on the verge of bankruptcy and a United States still in the throes of the recession.

This is, then, the New Latin America, open for business. Its solid macroeconomic and fiscal management, as well as prudent financial and banking supervisory practices, have put the economies of the region on a sound footing. The region grew at an average of five per cent from 2003 to 2008, its best performance in 40 years. Much progress has been made in lowering poverty. Expanded trade with Asia buttresses the commodities boom that undergirds its steady growth. This leads us to India’s role in the region, or more precisely, that of the New India. The latter’s gradual, but steady, opening to the world economy, its high savings and investment rate, and rapidly expanding middle class, whose demands for western consumer products is growing in leaps and bounds, offer enormous opportunities for expanded international trade.

The ECLAC report is emphatic: “The region’s trade with India was negligible until the beginning of the past decade. Since then, trade with the Asian country has burgeoned.” U.S. $20 billion in India-LAC trade is not an insignificant sum, though it is highly concentrated, with Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay providing the bulk of the region’s exports to India, and Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua a significant amount of the imports. Preferential Trade Agreements (PTAs) with Chile and with Mercosur have boosted inter-regional trade.

Going through the trade data is revealing. Though Latin America’s export basket to India is comparable to that of other Asian markets — being mostly composed of natural resources and products based on the latter, its imports from India are somewhat different, as “the import basket from India consists not only of manufactures, but also natural resource based manufactures.”

Three advantages

Latin America, and in particular South America, is becoming a significant source of natural resources for India — oil, copper, soya, and iron ore, among others. A number of economists have warned about the danger this entails, and how Chinese and Indian demand for commodities could push the region towards its de-industrialisation, and a narrow specialisation as agro-mineral exporting economies. Yet, this need not necessarily be the case. The demand for food will continue to expand exponentially in India. It is possible for Latin America to move up the value chain in this area, and start to export more sophisticated and elaborate farm products. Food security will emerge as a critical issue in years to come, and India-LAC partnerships in this area could be highly profitable. The Latin American industry also needs to get into the Asian value chains that have become such a critical part of international trade.

The report identifies some interesting differences between Chinese and Indian outward FDI. These show the special opportunities Indian capital offers to LAC. They are basically three: 1) Indian FDI is largely fuelled by supply and demand and private companies, whereas the Chinese one is mostly led by government 2) India’s FDI goes mostly to the developed world and to manufacturing and servi

ces, whereas Chinese FDI is mainly geared to developing countries and mining, and 3) India’s comparative advantages lie in its corporate governance and management, whereas China’s are in government strategy and economic diplomacy.

India’s IT and IT-enabled services industry have played a major role in India’s outward expansion — and Latin America has benefited. TCS has established a presence in eight of the larger Latin American countries; Wipro and Evalueserve, among others, are also there. This implies significant technology transfer in a cutting-edge economic sector.

So, which is it? Is the glass half-empty or half-full?

The answer can be gleaned from what has happened in the past decade. A combination of government initiatives and private ventures opened new vistas in India-LAC trade and investment, leading to an eightfold expansion in interregional trade. A steady expansion of state visits in both directions (Luiz Lula, the former Brazilian President, visited India three times in eight years) gave the right signals to the private sector, which followed through in a variety of areas.

Yet, with this new decade come new challenges. One-off visits and a few trade agreements need to be taken to the next stage. If we want to realise the full potential of India-LAC ties, the density of these exchanges needs to be increased. This implies institutionalising them, making them part of the regular agenda of government and the private sector.

The ECLAC report suggests a number of steps. I would highlight three: 1) developing joint strategies for trade and investment promotion; 2) working together on infrastructure, competitiveness and innovation; and 3) launching a series of policy dialogues on inter-regional cooperation.

We have come a long way since the days when India and some Latin American countries championed the cause of what was then called the New International Economic Order (NIEO) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But there is little doubt that the challenge of making South-South cooperation work is once again at the top of the policy agenda — though this time driven by sound economic opportunities rather than by wishful thinking.

(The writer is CIGI Professor of Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. His book The Dark Side of Globalization, co-authored with Ramesh Thakur, is published by United Nations University Press.)

Click here for original article.

UPI – Brazil sees growth in regional arms sales

SAO PAULO, Feb. 21 (UPI) — Brazil is moving toward implementing plans to develop its defense industry market in Latin America and the Caribbean.

An exponential increase in Brazilian aviation and defense industries was predicted by experts as the government began investing billions of dollars on reviving factories that had been neglected in the first decade of transition to civilian rule from military dictatorship.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, both outlined a future for Brazil’s defense industries that puts emphasis on building regional markets and replacing major international suppliers of aviation and defense inventories.

Rousseff secured partnerships with Cuba to help its sanctions-ridden economy transform itself into a market economy. Close collaboration in aviation, defense and security industries was discussed when the Brazilian president met with Cuban President Raul CastroFidel Castro and senior government officials.

This week Peru announced it would consider a range of Brazil-built aircraft to refurbish its armed forces. Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer is in the lead as the potential supplier of multipurpose aircraft and tactical vehicles for Peruvian armed forces.

Among aircraft offered for potential sale to Peru are the EMB 314 Super Tucano light attack aircraft and the KC-390 tactical transport aircraft.

The Super Tucano, equipped with fourth-generation avionics and weapons systems, is currently in service outside Brazil with the air forces of the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Burkina Faso, and has been ordered by Indonesia, Angola and the United States.

The Super Tucano was selected in December last year by the U.S. Air Force for its Light Air Support program, which anticipates an initial order of 20 aircraft.

The Super Tucano has proved its effectiveness in cross-border surveillance operations in the Amazonian jungle where airborne smuggling of drugs and sometimes people remains a problem. The attack aircraft was deployed for Brazil’s Amazonian Surveillance System and won support in neighboring countries.

Avionics for the aircraft were developed by Israel in collaboration with Israel’s Elbit Systems, although initially Brazil considered GEC-Marconi for the same purpose.

Analysts say Brazil sees the Pacific and Asia regions as a natural extension of the regional market.

“The Asia Pacific market has enormous potential,” Embraer Senior Vice President Geraldo Gomes said.

Designed to operate in inhospitable environments, under rigorous conditions, where there is little infrastructure support, the Super Tucano can perform such missions as counterinsurgency, reconnaissance and support of ground troops and offer more than 130 proven and operational weaponry configurations.

Embraer says the Super Tucano has 182 firm orders and 156 aircraft delivered.

Embraer is also pushing its EMB 145 AEW&C intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, which it has sold to Mexico and other countries outside the region.

Click here for original article.

FA – Rethinking Latin America

Running down the list of the U.S. State Department’s Latin America policy objectives in El País in September 2010, the economist Moisés Naím noted that they focused almost exclusively on domestic concerns: building democratic institutions, promoting local social and economic opportunity, and so forth. These issues were not only given a higher priority in policy toward Latin America than they were for other regions, but they were also issues largely beyond Washington’s ability to control.

Naím was correct, but the point can be taken further. The focus on politics within Latin American states rather than on relations between them is characteristic not simply of the State Department but also of the Latin American regional studies community in the United States more generally, from where the U.S. policy and advocacy community absorbs much of its personnel and intellectual orientation. Such attitudes have harmed U.S. policy by focusing excessive attention on small countries with little geostrategic influence and fostering the facile notion that political and economic liberalization are the necessary and sufficient criteria for the advancement of all major U.S. interests. This approach has distorted Washington’s calculations of regional politics and hampered its ability to counter outside influences and deal sensibly with rising regional powers.

U.S. scholars and policymakers need a reminder that development does not mean the end of politics and that twenty-first-century Latin America has its own, autonomous power dynamics. A little realism would go a long way.

THAT ’80S SHOW

When it comes to Latin America, for decades U.S. universities and regional studies centers have focused almost exclusively on matters of comparative politics and political and economic development. In the 1970s and 1980s, the last time scholars paid much attention to the region’s international relations, their chief concern was the workings and implications of U.S. hegemony. The issue facing both scholars and policymakers today, however, is what happens as U.S. power declines and new forces in the region emerge, and unfortunately, when it comes to these questions, there is little intellectual capital on which to draw.

A quick glance at the faculty of major U.S. universities reveals that work on Latin America concentrates on social movements, economic development, voting behavior, civil society, and the like. There have been no major U.S. academic studies published on inter-American relations in decades, and there are few articles on the topic published in scholarly journals.

Think tanks and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to the region, meanwhile — on both sides of the political spectrum — tend to focus on domestic concerns, as well. Many working in this community began their careers debating human rights issues during the Cold War, fighting over whether Communists or right-wing forces were the greater danger to local citizens. Those violent, politicized years have thankfully passed, but much of the NGO community has failed to move on. The left pays a great deal of attention to Colombia and Guatemala (and to denouncing free trade). The right obsesses about Cuba and Venezuela. Throw in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, which were the objects of ideological combat a generation ago, and you can account for the vast majority of U.S. discussion of Latin American issues. Yet none of these countries is a power broker in the hemisphere today, and combined they account for barely 20 percent of the region’s population.

Such myopia can have serious consequences. On June 30, 2009, the Honduran military, acting on orders supposedly from the Honduran Supreme Court and Congress, roused President Manuel Zelaya from bed and placed him on a plane to Costa Rica. Zelaya’s own actions had contributed to his unceremonious ouster, but the regional (and international) consensus was clear: what had occurred was that classic Latin American maneuver, a coup. In the hyperpolarized world of Latin America policy in the United States, however, politicians and regionalists quickly took sides. The result was Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) proclaiming that what had occurred was not a coup and attacking the Obama administration for saying otherwise. DeMint was joined by some Cuban American colleagues, with several of them traveling to Honduras to declare their support for the new government of President Roberto Micheletti — and with DeMint holding up the nominations of the former National Security Council official Arturo Valenzuela to be assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs and one of the country’s most seasoned and well-respected diplomats, Thomas Shannon, to become U.S. ambassador to Brazil.

This absurdity — blocking for nine months the appointment of a regional assistant secretary of state and an ambassador to the region’s most important player (and the world’s seventh-largest economy) over a minor ideological spat regarding a tiny country — shows the lack of seriousness of the workings of the U.S. Congress in general. But it also shows how unseriously Latin America is taken in particular and what sorts of issues are considered important.

GROWING PAINS

For the last two decades, U.S. policy toward Latin America has rested on two pillars: the promotion of democracy and the promotion of free trade. Security and narcotics concerns have influenced a few bilateral relationships, but the core of Washington’s regional agenda has been driven by the belief that democratic political development and multilateral economic liberalization would reinforce each other and benefit both locals and the United States. Unfortunately, this approach has largely ignored local economic logic and the persistence of competition between states, not to mention the diversity of market economies.

For example, the basic idea behind the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) — announced by U.S. President Bill Clinton at the Summit of the Americas in 1994 — was that as Latin American economies reformed, they would hitch themselves to the U.S. market. But that overlooked the hard realities of the U.S. market and its conflict with the comparative advantages of countries such as Argentina and Brazil, which saw U.S. agricultural subsidies as a threat. Washington’s trade strategy involved slowly picking off the hemisphere’s weaker partners and then, once a bloc had been established, convincing Brazil and others to join on U.S. terms. But Brazil and the other Mercosur countries (Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay) decided to pursue their own agenda and negotiated free-trade deals with India, Mexico, and Peru, as well as partial trade agreements with Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

As a result, the United States has spent almost two decades negotiating some lesser treaties — with the Dominican Republic, Central America, Colombia, Peru, and Chile — that fall far short of creating a hemispheric single market. And even that agenda has been undercut by others, as when Canada recently took advantage of lengthy U.S. haggling with Colombia over fine points of labor and human rights safeguards to negotiate its own trade agreement there, allowing its farmers and manufacturers to get a leg up on their U.S. counterparts.

Beijing has also stepped into the void, using its growing economic strength to weaken Washington’s economic leverage in the hemisphere. China recently displaced the United States as the main trading partner of Brazil. And China has signed bilateral trade deals with Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Peru and provided concessionary loans to Ecuador and Venezuela.

Democratization, meanwhile — part of the standard boilerplate in any U.S. official’s speech on Latin America from the 1980s onward — has increasingly become a matter of subjective interpretation and beyond the reach of U.S. influence. During President George W. Bush’s first term, Washington began to shift its policy from supporting democratic processes in general to supporting specific outcomes, particularly in Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Under Barack Obama, the focus has returned to the sanctity of democratic institutions in general, but calls to respect and strengthen them have become the catchall way of admonishing U.S. enemies (such as President Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela) or encouraging friends (such as President Sebastián Piñera’s Chile).

For all the rhetoric, however, consensus around democracy and democratic rights has proved elusive. One reason is that the expansion of the franchise and the eclipse of traditional party systems have raised the prominence of anti-American and antimarket voices in the region. In Bolivia and Venezuela, for example, the result of political liberalization was the election of populist governments that have stoked distrust of Washington to consolidate their domestic support. Neither of those countries today even has a U.S. ambassador — Bolivia drummed out Bush’s last appointee for supposedly intervening in local politics, and Venezuela refused to accept the one Obama appointed after he criticized the government in Caracas.

For an example of how local democratization and economic reform, however worthwhile in their own right, can lead to divergence and rivalry with the United States rather than closer partnership, one need only glance at the region’s rising great power, Brazil. Brasília has always pursued an independent course, but under the last two governments — of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, both of the Workers’ Party — it has actively sought to check U.S. power globally and regionally.

A sense of Brazil’s economic arrival and U.S. decline has fueled Brazil’s long-standing desire to assert greater international influence and try to rebalance the global order in favor of the developing world. This agenda can be seen in Brazil’s efforts to gain a seat on an expanded Security Council at the United Nations, its negotiation of a deal with Iran and Turkey to head off un sanctions against Iran, and its support for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. In Latin America, meanwhile, Brazil has supported the creation of the 12-member Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, a regional forum that pointedly excludes the United States. Much of the UNASUR agenda has been U.S.-oriented, including a presidential summit devoted to the expansion of U.S. military basing rights in Colombia and a meeting of finance ministers to discuss the effects of U.S. monetary policy. And Brazil’s efforts to engage, rather than isolate, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Chávez, however defensible on policy grounds, are also designed to offer a clear alternative to U.S. attempts at hemispheric leadership.

A BETTER APPROACH

Brazil’s actions do not constitute a direct threat to the United States. But they do represent an emerging challenge to a number of important U.S. interests. And since Brazil has 200 million people and South America’s largest economy, its status as a regional and global player is here to stay. To deal with it and other current challenges in the region, Washington will have to rethink its attitudes toward the hemisphere.

The first step should be acknowledging that in a diversifying global economy, the role of the United States in the Western Hemisphere has shifted from dominance to preeminence. Whatever ability Washington might once have had to directly influence local domestic politics and policies has diminished. The second step should be recognizing that political and economic liberalization, however important and desirable they may be, will not by themselves assure the advancement of all the United States’ national interests in the region. U.S. policy, in short, needs to be guided by a cool calculation of Washington’s own priorities and its relative ability to achieve them.

Take economic integration. Today, facing Asian competition and Brazilian resistance, the United States needs to make a major push on regional trade. But it should do so in a hardheaded, rather than naive, way, taking into account the true constellation of regional economic interests. Leveraging Congress’ recent approval of the U.S.-Colombian and U.S.-Panamanian free-trade agreements, Washington should move aggressively to consolidate the welter of free-trade agreements it currently has into a larger market. This would do more than just make good on the long-promised idea of the FTAA, especially in light of growing evidence of Chinese exports undermining Latin American manufacturing; it would also serve as a rallying point from which Washington could begin to reassert its regional economic role and interests.

Linking such an initiative to the recently negotiatied Trans-Pacific Partnership, meanwhile, would allow the United States to put itself at the forefront of the promotion of economic ties between Latin America and Asia, creating the sort of significant incentives necessary to bring Brazil into the trade fold. Such a move might also help ease controversy over trade policy within the United States. The strategy of negotiating free-trade agreements one by one and selling each to a skeptical Congress has run its course; if any more trade deals are going to be sold to Congress and the American public in the near future, they will have to be large ones that mobilize broad constituencies.

Beyond trade, U.S. policy needs to shift its focus from internal issues in small countries to strategic issues involving larger ones. (The only exception is Mexico, where internal political issues, including security, remain central to U.S. interests.) In Guatemala, the security situation will inevitably have human rights implications, and the political changes in Cuba during the waning days of the Castro regime will have historical importance, but these sorts of policy questions should not be the prism through which Washington reacts to the region.

Across the hemisphere, Washington should focus its attention on balancing challenges to its leadership and managing the growing economic and political rivalries among the region’s most important players. The United States may no longer be the only entry point for Brazil or Mexico onto the global stage, but it must play a fundamental role in working with them to recast the G-20, the International Monetary Fund, and the UN Security Council in a way that reflects Brazil’s and Mexico’s rise but is also favorable to U.S. interests. Similarly, U.S. policymakers should establish tax and investment treaties with Brazil and other states that aim to deepen investment and commerce, which will be especially important as China’s economy slows down. Last, energy cooperation across borders to tap a diversity of energy sources, from newly discovered fossil fuels in Argentina and Brazil to renewables, would build a powerful motor for economic and regulatory integration and reduce the United States’ dependence on the region’s more volatile exporters, such as Venezuela. Part of this effort should involve working with Brazil to extend U.S. military security to Brazilian rigs positioned far off the coast.

As Washington updates its approach to Latin America, it could use the help of the regional studies community. For that to happen, however, regional experts will need to undergo some soul-searching of their own. From dependency to democratization, Latin America has long served as fertile ground for academic scholarship and theory building regarding the developing world. Today, the region is entering a new phase of its history, one marked by higher levels of development, intraregional rivalries, and an increasing degree of geopolitical autonomy. It needs to be addressed with the mindset and tools of international relations, not just those of comparative politics.

For the original article, click here: Rethinking Latin America.

AE – OEA: “Planteo pacífico de Argentina cuenta con el respaldo de toda la región”

El secretario de la entidad, José Miguel Insulza, advirtió respecto a la peligrosidad del envio de naves de guerra al Atlántico Sur.

Insulza expresó su total coincidencia con los gobiernos de los países del Mercosur de negarse a recibir barcos con bandera de las islas.

Washington, Andina. El secretario General de la Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA), José Miguel Insulza, aseguró hoy que el planteo pacífico de la presidenta Cristina Fernández “cuenta con el respaldo de toda nuestra región” en la denuncia de la militarización del Atlántico Sur.

Insulza destacó que al “reinvindicar el derecho que asiste” a la Argentina sobre las Malvinas, la mandataria “ha recurrido al único instrumento válido para quienes creen en la paz y en la democracia: el diálogo pacífico, y en esa perspectiva, ella cuenta con el respaldo de toda nuestra región”.

Asimismo, el máximo titular del organismo hemisférico, sostuvo que “la decisión de repudiar la ‘militarización del Atlántico Sur’ expresada por la presidenta Fernández, quien también aseguró que preservará ‘una región donde la paz impera, donde hemos tenido conflictos que hemos resuelto sin armas, entre los propios sudamericanos'”, según informó la OEA a través de un comunicado que recoge Télam.

En ese sentido, Insulza advirtió respecto a la peligrosidad del envio de naves de guerra al Atlántico Sur y subrayó el “contrasentido de poner tono belicista a un conflicto con un país que en los últimos años ha expresado su voluntad de paz y no ha dado ninguna señal de querer cambiar esa política”.

Al hacer referencia a la determinación de los gobiernos de los países del Mercosur de negarse a recibir barcos con bandera de las islas, Insulza expresó su total coincidencia con esta postura, señalando que “Gran Bretaña no debería tratar de forzar el ingreso a los puertos de América Latina y el Caribe de una bandera no reconocida por la comunidad internacional”.

En consonancia con el respaldo a la Argentina expresado por el Secretario General, “año a año la Asamblea General de la OEA reitera la vigencia de la resolución adoptada por consenso el 19 de noviembre de 1988”, reiteró el organismo interamericano.

La misma pide “a los gobiernos de la República Argentina y el Reino Unido de Gran Bretaña e Irlanda del Norte que reanuden las negociaciones, a fin de encontrar, a la brevedad posible, una solución pacífica a la disputa de soberanía”.

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BBC – Venezuela opposition: Row erupts over voter list

Venezuela’s opposition says it has destroyed the list of voters in Sunday’s primary election, despite a court order that they be preserved.

The Democratic Unity coalition said the records had been burned in accordance with a promise to ensure confidentiality.

There were also fears that those who voted could face government reprisals.

The primary saw Henrique Capriles Radonski picked to challenge President Hugo Chavez in October’s election.

Voters also selected opposition candidates for local and state-level elections across the country.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court intervened after a complaint from a local mayoral candidate who wanted to challenge the result.

It said the voters lists from across the country should be handed to the electoral authorities within 24 hours.

But the executive secretary of the Democratic Unity (MUD) coalition, Ramon Aveledo, dismissed the ruling as “absurd, unconstitutional and disproportionate”.

‘Absolute secrecy’

Hours later, other opposition officials said the voting records had all been destroyed.

“We gave our word to all Venezuelans who turned out to vote on 12 February that the process would be absolutely secret, both the vote and the names of the people who took part,” MUD youth leader Edinson Ferrer said.

The issue of voter secrecy was of particular concern to the opposition following an unsuccessful recall referendum against President Chavez in 2004.

A list of people who backed that initiative was made public, and many afterwards complained that they had suffered discrimination as a result, losing out on jobs in the public sector.

Supporters of President Chavez have questioned the opposition claim that more than three million people took part in Sunday’s primaries.

They have also stepped up personal attacks on Mr Capriles.

The 39-year-old governor of Miranda state will face Mr Chavez in the election set for 7 October.

Click here for original article.

Henrique Capriles irá contra Hugo Chávez – Venezuela – ElNuevoHerald.com

Winning the primary elections with 63% of the vote, Capriles will run against Chavez in presidential election.

Capriles irá contra Hugo Chávez – Venezuela – ElNuevoHerald.com.

El gobernador del estado Miranda, Henrique Capriles, emergió el domingo como el candidato único de la oposición venezolana que enfrentará a Hugo Chávez en las elecciones presidenciales de octubre, tras ganar unas primarias marcadas por una participación de votantes sorprendentemente alta.

Capriles, de 39 años, ganó las preferencias del electorado con más del 63 por ciento de los votos, según datos anunciados por la Comisión Electoral de Primarias obtenidos tras el escrutinio del 95 por ciento de los votos

En segundo lugar quedó el gobernador del estado Zulia, Pablo Pérez, quien recibió cerca del 30 por ciento de los votos, seguido por la diputada María Corina Machado (3 por ciento), el ex embajador de Venezuela ante las Naciones Unidas, Diego Arria (1.1 por ciento) y el ex senador Pablo Medina (0.50 por ciento).

Pérez, al felicitar a Capriles, dijo que el gran ganador de los comicios fue el país.

“No hay duda de eso […] Se demostró que los venezolanos no tenemos miedo. [Los dirigentes del gobierno] apostaron el fracaso de las primarias, con amenazas y presiones, pero contra un pueblo no hay poder que se puede ejercer, y el poder mas importante es el del pueblo”, dijo el gobernador en una sala repleta de sus seguidores.

“A Henrique Capriles, mi amigo, mi alto pana, cuenta conmigo desde el Zulia que vas a ser el próximo presidente de Venezuela”, añadió.

Los resultados anunciados por la comisión estuvieron en línea con los pronósticos que brindaban la mayoría de las encuestas, que colocaban las preferencias en ese orden, aunque con diferentes porcentajes.

Pero el número de personas que fue a las urnas sí resultó ser una gran sorpresa. La Comisión Electoral de Primarias anunció que más de 2.9 millones de electores participaron en los comicios, casi el doble de los 1.5 millones de personas esperadas.

Portavoces de la oposición dijeron que esa alta votación ilustra el pronunciado anhelo de cambio que se ha instaurado entre los venezolanos.

Armando Briquet, jefe de campaña del recién nombrado candidato único de la oposición, dijo que la alta participación de los venezolanos en las primarias es una manifestación de rechazo de la población hacia quienes “se han alejado de la realidad del país”.

“El país ha demostrado una vez más hoy que no le pertenece a una persona, que su destino y su voluntad no le pertenece solamente de un ciudadano porque ejerza la presidencia de la república”, afirmó Briquet.

“La gente salió a votar. Salieron a votar cantidades de empleados públicos a pesar de que fueron atemorizados con amenazas de que si lo hacían podían perder su trabajo. Salió a votar todo aquel que cree que este país no anda por el rumbo correcto, y que está conciente de que se puede, y que tiene derecho a vivir mejor”, puntualizó.

Capriles, quien se identifica como un dirigente de centroizquierda, se presentó durante su campaña como un candidato que aspira hacer uso de los enormes recursos petroleros de Venezuela para reducir la pobreza y promover la inversión privada.

También se mostró como el más conciliador entre los cinco candidatos, dando señales de que no prevé perseguir a los seguidores de Chávez durante su gobierno.

En su última visita a Miami, el gobernador de Miranda dijo que su gobierno pondría fin a la “diplomacia de chequera” emprendida por Chávez y que no regalaría los tan necesitados recursos del país.

Ese cambio significaría un sinceramiento de las relaciones entre Cuba y Venezuela, pero enfatizó que ese proceso debe realizarse con cuidado y a través de nuevas fórmulas que brinden beneficios para ambas naciones.

También sostuvo que ese cambio debe de realizarse de manera que no signifique el “descalabro” económico de la isla.

Con una prolija carrera política de 14 años, Capriles, quien viene de una familia de inmigrantes polacos-judíos que llegaron a Venezuela huyendo de los nazis, esgrime un estilo informal y dinámico que le ayudó a consolidar un liderazgo que ha contagiado a miles de seguidores.

Ocho años de alcalde del municipio capitalino de Baruta, tres años como gobernador del segundo mayor estado del país, y un breve paso por el Congreso, donde llegó en 1999 a presidir la desaparecida Cámara de Diputados con apenas 26 años, conforman el currículum político de Capriles.

Pero no todo ha sido fácil en su vertiginosa carrera. En el 2004, mientras se desempeñaba como alcalde de Baruta, fue encarcelado durante cuatro meses por unas manifestaciones violentas que se dieron en la sede de la embajada de Cuba durante el fallido golpe de Estado del 2002 en Venezuela.

Como parte de ese juicio el dirigente fue imputado por los delitos de “quebrantamiento de principios internacionales”, “violencia privada” y “violación de domicilio por parte de funcionarios públicos”, pero el proceso nunca prosperó.

Pese al masivo respaldo que recibió en los comicios, la mayoría de los analistas opina que Capriles enfrenta un duro camino por delante para derrotar a Chávez en las elecciones del 7 de octubre, ante un mandatario que cuenta con miles de millones de dólares acumulados en sus arcas de guerra para comprar las preferencias del electorado.

Asimismo, son muchas las dudas de los opositores sobre la imparcialidad del Consejo Nacional Electoral, entidad que yace bajo estricto control del gobierno y las abiertas amenazas de la cúpula militar de que las Fuerzas Armadas no reconocerán un gobierno distinto al de Chávez.

Karen Hooper, analista para América Latina de la firma de asesores de inteligencia empresarial, dijo que la salud de Chávez, quien admitió en junio que sufría de cáncer pero ahora asegura que se curó, podría terminar jugando un papel decisivo en los comicios de octubre.

“Todo depende de qué tan enfermo Chávez realmente está. Si está tan enfermo como lo señalan algunos informes de prensa, probablemente vamos a ver el deterioro de su salud en el camino hacia las elecciones de octubre, o veremos cómo se toma algo de tiempo para poder recibir tratamiento”, comentó Hooper.

“Pero si es información es falsa, y él está tan bien como dice estar, va a ser difícil de derrotar. El sigue siendo muy popular”, señaló.

Este articulo fue complementado con servicios cablegraficos de El Nuevo Herald.

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El Nuevo Herald

AQ – Venezuela’s Military: A Factor in the Upcoming Election?

FEBRUARY 9, 2012

BY

 SIMON STRONG

Election year in Venezuela kicks off on February 12 with the governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles Radonski, comfortably leading in the polls and projected to win the opposition primary. He will face the campaign machine of President Hugo Chávez or “El Comandante,” which is marching ahead with the well-oiled efficiency of a Roman legion. But another factor, the armed forces, will play a critical role in the event of a potential transfer of power.

Basking in the annual commemorations of his attempted coup in 1992 (“4F”) and his first presidential inauguration 13 years ago, President Chávez completed a series of senior military and political appointments in January that, in the words of one former army officer, amount to the creation of a close-knit command or “mando cerrado” determined to secure the continuation of Chávez’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution.

The question is, will this be by fair means or foul? “Imagine a coup like 4F but this time led not by a lieutenant colonel and captains, but a president, generals and members of the National Assembly supported by irregular combat forces. That is what is being prepared,” said one former officer, now a successful businessman, who retains close links with his military peers.

President Chávez’s ill health lends his campaign a certain air of unreality, since he is simultaneously planning his own succession. According to a range of United States and Latin American intelligence sources, as well as sources within his own government, Chávez’s cancer is much worse than admitted. They say he is suffering from prostate and colon cancer that has metastasized to his lower back vertebrae and other parts of his body.

President Hugo Chávez visits the Venezuela Military Academy, July 2011. Photo: Courtesy of Prensa Presidencial – Miraflores. (Homepage Photo: Courtesy of Globovisión.)

 

Further, according to alleged medical reports cited by the Spanish ABC newspaper, Chávez has abandoned chemotherapy, apparently in order to keep his energy up for the election campaign. Barring a medical miracle he probably has no more than 18 months to live, maybe much less.

With Chávez’s death possible before or after the presidential election, which has already been brought forward to October—and which in any event he might lose—the armed forces will be a crucial factor in protecting the constitution or otherwise, and in enabling or preventing the transfer of power.

Two recent appointments command attention. The first is that of General Henry Rangel Silva as minister of defense. General Rangel Silva, who is listed by the U.S. Treasury as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker and is alleged to help the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) smuggle cocaine into Venezuela, has made no secret of his limited regard for the 2012 election. In 2010 he said: “A hypothetical opposition government would be to sell the country and the Armed Forces would not accept it.”

General Rangel Silva served as a captain in the parachute regiment that led the 1992 coup attempt under then Lieutenant Colonel Chávez. A fellow conspirator and member of their group, known as “The Centurions”, is the second recent key appointee: Diosdado Cabello, then a Lieutenant, who had become a protégé of Chávez while his pupil at the army academy.

Diosdado Cabello, head of the media and telecommunications regulator, Conatel, a former minister of public works and the governor of the state of Miranda before losing to Capriles Radonski, was appointed in December as first vice president of Chávez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). In January he became president of the National Assembly.

After a lengthy period of frosty relations between Cabello and Chávez, this represented a rapprochement between two men whose needs and destinies are intimately entwined. Chávez needs Cabello to control both his party and the armed forces. According to several former Army and National Guard officers, Diosdado carries more influence within the armed forces than any other single figure—arguably more than El Comandante himself.

In the event that Chávez loses in October, or that he dies before or after re-election, Diosdado looks likely to be the key player in deciding how the military will respond to a transfer of power that may threaten their political and economic supremacy. In his quest for loyalty and influence, Chávez has appointed senior officers to lucrative positions throughout the public sector which they will be reluctant to abandon.

Cabello is a feared figure. Allegedly, he sends his henchmen to take over businesses at will, and has used his power to amass an enormous fortune which is then used to buy more loyalty and to obtain high-level jobs for his relatives and allies.

Diverse intelligence and military sources say he controls the army’s critical tank and infantry units. Although no longer in active service, Cabello’s influence rests not only on his historic relationship with Chávez, but also—in line with Venezuelan military convention—on the fact he graduated second in his army training year. Chávez is understood to seek his opinion before senior officer promotions: loyalty not talent being of exclusive importance. Another critical factor in senior officers’ support for Cabello is that he rejects the influence of the Cubans, who are resented for the privileged status and treatment they are afforded by Chávez in the armed forces as elsewhere in his government. (For their part, the Cubans view Cabello as corrupt.)

In exchange for throwing his weight behind Chávez, with whose brother Adán he has long maintained a close relationship, Cabello is reported by government sources to have been promised a nominee to replace PDVSA’s president, Rafael Ramirez, as well as the vice presidency, currently held by Elias Jaua, for himself.

A vice president may be replaced by a president at any time—or forced out by a vote in the National Assembly. If Chávez were to die before the election, he would be succeeded by his vice president until the election, in accordance with Article 233 of the constitution. If Chávez were to die within the first four years of a new term, the vice president would be president until elections were held 30 days later.

How trenchantly the Bolivarian Revolution would be defended by its military and political stalwarts, however, is doubtful. At its ideological heart are the Cubans, with up to 50,000 working as doctors and government and military advisors. With Cabello in ascendancy and an opposition victory possible, they are worried about losing their supply of cheap oil but leery of overstepping the mark and becoming implicated in acts of violence to defend the regime.

However, the Cubans could provoke trouble through the armed militias, known as “Los Colectivos“, that they have trained in urban areas. There are reported to be about 12 of these groups in Caracas, comprising several hundred people, and in the face of an electoral loss and/or the death of Chávez they could readily be instigated to violence and looting, which could spread throughout the city and provide potential justification for military intervention and a suspension of constitutional guarantees.

Yet few believe that the swollen ranks of the generals, who are perceived to have focused more on self-enrichment—including drug trafficking—than on their military duties, thereby undermining operational capability and junior officer morale, would have either the capacity or the stomach for violent confrontation.

Finally, as the opposition coalition elects its candidate to take on Chávez—who is believed to enjoy a bedrock support level of 35 percent—some comfort may rest in the fact that the violent human right abuses typically associated with political-military regimes have been notably absent.

The initial behavior of Chávez’s senior officers in response to the 2002 coup provides added reassurance that the military is ultimately unlikely to block an unwelcome transition. Most fled, with Diosdado Cabello hiding in an ambulance.

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