Category Archives: Democracy

Economist – Security in Colombia: Fear of missing out

The second-biggest guerrilla group tries to muscle in on peace talks

WHEN the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s strongest guerrilla group, wanted to convince the government that they were serious about restarting peace talks, they tried to prove their good intentions by formally renouncing their decades-old practice of kidnapping for ransom. They also declared a unilateral two-month ceasefire when the talks began, which expired on January 20th. The country’s second-largest guerrilla force, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has adopted the opposite strategy: disgruntled that it has been excluded from the negotiations, which began in November, it has launched a new campaign of attacks to establish its relevance.

On January 18th the ELN abducted five workers for Canada’s Braeval Mining Corporation near the company’s gold and silver mining project in the department of Bolívar. The captives included a Canadian and two Peruvians. The group has also bombed an oil pipeline twice so far in 2013.

The ELN has left little doubt that the attacks are a cry for attention. “Why aren’t we at the [negotiating] table?,” asked Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, its leader, in a video posted online the day the miners were kidnapped. “That’s a question for President [Juan Manuel] Santos,” he continued.

Since the mid-1960s, the ELN and FARC have fought parallel wars against the Colombian state. Although both groups espouse a Marxist ideology and have financed themselves through kidnappings and the drug trade, they have a long history of mutual mistrust. Whereas the FARC began as a peasant-based organisation and adopted Soviet-style doctrines and a strict military structure, the ELN was founded by university students, oil workers and priests who followed liberation theology and had close ties to Cuba. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Colombian army commanders and ELN leaders actually agreed in 2006 to fight the FARC together in some parts of the country.

Mr Santos has been careful not to give the ELN the public recognition it craves. According to El Colombiano, a newspaper in Medellín, the ELN sent a delegation to the peace talks, but it was turned away because the state’s representatives were not authorised to talk with it. Although the government has not ruled out parallel discussions, it worries that the narrow five-point agenda it has agreed to address with the FARC—aimed mostly at ending the country’s armed conflict—could be diluted by the ELN’s long-standing demand for a broad national convention about all the country’s woes. Moreover, many officials hope they can simply fold the ELN, which has just 2,500 fighters, into any deal with the FARC, which boasts around 9,000.

The government is taking a risk by continuing to sideline the ELN. Felipe Torres, a former member of its national directorate, recently told El Colombiano that the group is far stronger politically than militarily. He said that just one-fifth of its supporters have taken up arms. If true, that should make it easier for the ELN to follow the FARC’s lead by ceasing its campaign of violence and freeing its hostages—steps that the government will surely demand before opening any separate peace process with Colombia’s “other” guerrillas.

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AQ – Maduro is No Chávez, For Now

DECEMBER 10, 2012

BY JAVIER CORRALES

After much speculation President Hugo Chávez announced on December 8 that his cancer was back (for the second time in a year), and that he now had a person in mind to succeed him—Nicolás Maduro, the minister of foreign affairs who was elevated to vice president in October 2012.

Designating Maduro as the official successor was, as political scientist María Teresa Romero said, both expected and surprising. Anointing Maduro was expected since he had become Chávez’ closest political figure, frequently seen right next to the president, especially when traveling to Cuba for treatment.  The constitution also says that Maduro, as vice-president by special designation of Chávez himself, takes charge if the president is ever permanently absent from office.

If Chávez is unable to complete his new six-year term within the first four years, the constitution stipulates that a new election must be called within 30 days. In this case, it is now clear that Maduro would be the preferred candidate for Chávez’ Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV).

The Venezuelan political system, which is a mixture of democracy and autocracy, has now officially entered the moment of succession—a process that varies significantly between the two political systems. In democracies, successions are determined by constitutions, while in autocracies, successions are always indeterminate and fraught with uncertainty and the potential for crisis.

 

Still, if the constitution is clear about this process, and Chávez was already frank about whom he wanted for vice-president, why bother to interrupt his “urgent” treatment in Cuba, postpone surgery for a few days, and return to Venezuela to make the announcement that Maduro was his preferred successor? To be finally so public and emphatic about his choice was a shock.  Why not tweet the news from Cuba, or better yet, remain quiet, as he had been doing thus far?

With his dramatic announcement about Maduro, Chávez indirectly admitted that Venezuela is an autocracy by implicitly recognizing that the country is suffering from a succession crisis.  Chávez had seen the signs of the crisis before.  Each time he traveled to Cuba for treatment, vicious internal speculation about succession would metastasize within the PSUV.

Chávez must have been told in this last trip to Cuba that this type of political competition within chavismo, like Chávez’s cancer, is lethal.  Cuban doctors would try to take care of the recurring cancer, but only Chávez could take care of the recurring succession crisis. Chávez then knew that he needed to appear on national television to appoint Maduro, and thus contain this crisis.

In the end, Chávez gave Venezuela the gift of clarity by seeking to prevent a succession crisis. He also gave Maduro the gift of a lifetime, saving him from what would have been his first potential crisis as presidential candidate, namely internal sabotage.  Chávez was clear: all Venezuelans (meaning all chavistas) must vote for Maduro.

The day after the announcement (on December 9), the PSUV held a special meeting in Caracas.  Attendees included Maduro, the president of the National Assembly and the PSUV’s first vice-president Diosdado Cabello, and the candidates for governorships in the December 16 elections. They signed on to a document expressing unidad, but the question is whether their pledge of unity will stand the test of time.

It is likely that that the PSUV will grant Chávez his wish, and if the time comes, vote for Maduro for no other reason than to pay their last respects.  But it is less certain whether this loyalty will be automatically extended to Maduro if he assumes office.

So who is Maduro, and will he ever command the loyalty of chavistas?

In many ways Maduro is everything that Chávez represents, as well as its opposite. He is the Revolution’s most two-faced character.  On the one hand, he is one of the most leftist and anti-imperialist figures in the PSUV—the architect of some of Venezuela’s most radical foreign decisions such as close ties to Libya, Syria and Iran.  On the other hand, he can be soft-spoken and conciliatory.  He is the architect of the remarkable turnaround of relations with Colombia in the last two years and is the third longest-serving foreign relations minister in the Americas.  He has acquired experience, and might have even learned, on the job, the importance of pragmatism.   He also has a good relationship with the military, but unlike Chávez, he is not one of them.

The multiple sides of Maduro are worth remembering in trying to predict how he would deal with two inescapable political problems as president.  The first is what to do with the opposition, which is stronger than ever.  Here, Maduro is more likely than Chávez to understand the need to talk with his opponents, which is good news and bad news for them.  More government-opposition talk could help bring some moderation to public policy, but greater discussion may also split the opposition.

The second challenge is how to deal with the multiple factions within chavismo.  One faction is the military, whose institutional presence has never been higher and whose patience with the politiquería of Venezuela and the PSUV has never been lower.  A day after Chávez spoke about Maduro, the armed forces publicly reiterated their loyalty to Chávez the “person,” to the “Revolution,” and to the “people” (without mention of loyalty to the vice-president or even to Chávez’ wishes). Another faction is the very corrupt business tycoons who have amassed uncountable profits making deals with the state and have the influence to cause trouble.  The third faction is the radical ideologues who want a more extreme revolution than Chávez ever delivered. They have passion and impatience, and thus, capacity to also cause trouble.

These factions won’t disappear if Chávez disappears from politics, and it’s unclear how Maduro as president would manage them.  Chávez dealt with internal factions by blaming others for any setback, offering huge rewards to those who laughed at his jokes, and suppressing dissent from within.  As Teodoro Petkoff, editor of Tal Cual, once famously remarked, nowhere is freedom of expression more lacking in Venezuela than within the ranks of chavismo.

In dealing with these factions, Maduro will face two epochal choices: either introduce political competitiveness within the PSUV to allow the internal currents to fight among themselves, or impose order from above.  If he chooses the former, he may end up being a one-term president.  If he chooses the latter, he may survive in office longer, but he will have no choice than to imitate some of the hardline practices that his protégé deployed to unify his band of followers.

No two political leaders are ever identical, and Maduro will never be another Chávez.  But if the Venezuelan regime remains unchanged, the forces pressuring for convergence in rulership, and especially in dealing with dissent, will also remain the same.

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AS/COA – Six Points to Watch after Chávez’s Cancer Announcement

Christopher Sabatini

 

December 12, 2012

 

Amid questions surrounding his health, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez named Vice President Nicolás Maduro as his successor. The December 8 announcement came a week before gubernatorial elections and a month ahead of Chávez’s next presidential inauguration, raising questions about what a leadership transition could mean for Venezuela. AS/COA Senior Director of Policy Christopher Sabatini outlines six major things to watch in the next few months.

Leadership Transition within Chavismo: Through his charisma and the patronage provided by Venezuela’s oil, President Hugo Chávez has assembled a broad, heterogeneous movement, nominally under the PSUV party. Whatever may happen in the next months, Chávez’s announcement has set in motion the internal discussion and positioning to lead the movement. The question now is how Chávez and his newly tapped potential successor will hold together the fractious, inchoate coalition that includes the military, business, and unions, as well as fringe, splinter parties of the left as these groups look to jockey and position themselves for the future.

The effect on foreign relations: Since coming to power, Chávez’s vision and oil-fueled largesse has given him a profile as an alternative leader in the hemisphere, building an alliance of like-minded populist leaders in ALBA; propping up Cuba’s decrepit Castro regime with oil shipments; buying the political support of Caribbean and Central American nations through donated oil; and openly courting Chinese, Russian, Iranian, and Syrian governments. Without Chávez at full force, this alternative vision in the Americas—openly opposed to U.S. interests—may begin to sputter, even with the ongoing shipment of oil.

Chávez’s legacy: There’s no doubt that Chávez will leave an indelible mark on Venezuelan history. But unlike leaders such as Argentina’s Juan Perón, Chávez’s legacy will not be an institutional one. What the Bolivarian leader has excelled at is tearing down and debasing institutions, not building them up, including his own 2000 Bolivarian Constitution.

January 10 Inauguration: Will Chávez even be able to stand to take the oath of office on January 10? If he cannot, it will raise the question of whether he is legitimately sworn in as president.

New Elections: If for reasons of illness or death, Chávez is forced to step down in the next four years, the Constitution requires the government to call a new presidential election in 30 days. The question is how quickly would those elections be convened since the Constitution only stipulates within 30 days. Convening them earlier would leave the opposition at a disadvantage, but still comply with the letter of the law.

Currency Devaluation: There is a potential collision point that could coincide with a leadership transition. Venezuela could soon need to devalue its national currency, the bolivar, to clamp down on the raging inflation rate (at more than 20 percent annually, it’s one of the highest in the world) and its whopping 15 percent fiscal deficit. This would lead to an economic slowdown at the same time as the very delicate potential succession that the government may need to orchestrate should Maduro have to slide into the driver’s seat and call for elections.

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AS/COA – The United States and Mexico: The Path Forward

Michael Werz and Eric Farnsworth / Center for American Progress

 

November 30, 2012

 

Mexico inaugurates a new president on Saturday—Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Given the early lead he enjoyed during the campaign and the public fatigue with the ruling National Action Party, Peña Nieto, the former governor of the state of Mexico, ran on generalities and never clearly defined his political philosophy or presidential agenda. Much of what he campaigned on could be boiled down to two statements: “I’m not the National Action Party, and I’m not the old Institutional Revolutionary Party.”

Good enough, as far as the election result goes: Peña Nieto was elected with close to 40 percent of the vote, a plurality but not a majority—in part because many voters retain a strong distrust of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and its autocratic past. It is now up to the president-elect to fill in the blanks as to what kind of president he will be. If all goes well, he could be transformational. But obstacles loom and initial expectations must be held in check.

The country has solid standing. Economic growth is strong and projections show continued expansion, surpassing even Latin American darling Brazil. The middle class is growing, with greater access to goods and services and the ability to purchase them. Manufacturing is moving back to Mexico from China, with Mexico becoming a platform both for production in North America and also in Latin America. The country has also become a leading voice in global trade, as well as economic and environmental initiatives. Mexico is becoming economically what it has always been geographically: the crucial link between North and South America.

The outgoing government has effectively used its final days in office to promote a reform agenda consistent with Peña Nieto’s stated views. Mexico has one of the longest transition periods of any democracy—five months. While outgoing governments have traditionally done little during this period, this particular transition period has proven different, particularly with regard to the charged issue of strong protections for labor that have been loosened through new legislation in recent weeks.

Working together, the National Action Party executive and the Institutional Revolutionary Party-controlled legislature have joined to give the incoming Peña Nieto government a strong tailwind toward economic opening and greater competition, without having to pay the political cost that labor reform might otherwise have entailed. At the same time, north of the border, President Barack Obama has spoken clearly of his desire for meaningful immigration reform this year, which would provide another significant political and economic boost to the new Mexican president.

With labor reform out of the way, attention turns to the three policy fields that Peña Nieto has promised to address, perhaps all at once: energy reform, tax reform, and Social Security reform. Should he succeed in addressing these issues effectively, he will have restructured a significant part of Mexico’s economy, preparing Mexico for an economic takeoff that could rival Asian economies.

This effort brings risk as well as promise, since failing with these fundamental reforms could throw Peña Nieto’s presidency into turmoil at its inception. Each of these reforms individually would be enough to occupy the Presidential Palace Los Pinos for months and to soak up the political capital of any president. Doing all of them together would be a political project more involved than any other since the Institutional Revolutionary Party first restructured Mexico’s economy in the 1930s. Clearly, the political stakes are huge.

A major obstacle to reform could be the Institutional Revolutionary Party itself. Party discipline will largely ensure a supportive if not compliant congressional delegation, but party bosses, governors, and individual congressional representatives, among others, will likely seek to ensure that their political equities are protected in any reform process. Peña Nieto’s challenge will be to keep them in line, using traditional tools of political coalition building without stepping over the line into corruption. A number of younger, newly elected members of the Mexican Congress in the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution have indicated that the deepening of democratic reform is their main priority and that there might be room for cooperation with President-Elect Peña Nieto should he push this agenda.

The fate of the reform agenda will arguably be the new president’s greatest and most immediate test. He faces a Mexican public that no longer tolerates the old ways of doing politics in Mexico and is skeptical that the Institutional Revolutionary Party has truly changed. But equally importantly, the party has been out of power for 12 years and its leaders now want and expect to receive the rewards that national power bestows. It will be a delicate balancing act for Peña Nieto. But his inauguration also has implications for U.S.-Mexico relations, which will play out on both sides of the border.

The Path Forward

Given this backdrop, the new Mexican president needs major political and policy successes in 2013 to consolidate power within his own party and secure congressional majorities for an ongoing economic reform process. Here, the United States has an important role to play: The two countries are intertwined in a unique way and thus the political success of Enrique Peña Nieto will, at least in part, be impacted by what happens north of the border. And the to-do list for the United States is extensive, but it is largely focused on economic policy and immigration reform.

Immigration reform is increasingly likely to dominate the domestic debate once the fiscal cliff is resolved. President-Elect Peña Nieto made a strong endorsement of immigration reform at his Washington press conference with President Obama this week, stating that he fully supportsPresident Obama’s proposal. Even though a strong majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, it will remain a difficult legislative battle. And while aligning with a popular U.S. president who will be viewed as fighting to legalize Mexican nationals makes obvious sense, there is some risk that a failed legislative effort will trigger collateral damage to Peña Nieto’s image in Mexico.

On the economic front, the success of the new Mexican administration’s economic reform and growth agenda is a core interest of the United States. A number of policy fields will be crucial to create a successful North American growth model and will elevate the transactional partnership with Mexico to a strategic relationship much like the United States enjoys with Canada. To achieve this goal, both countries must address a number of issues simultaneously.

  • The creation of jobs will play a central role in domestic politics in both countries. U.S-Mexican trade needs to be encouraged in the border region and beyond. To achieve this, the U.S.-Mexican border needs to be more permeable and allow more crossings at lower cost.
  • To secure energy independence, both countries need to prioritize research and development investments to ensure that technologies that facilitate access to shale gas—such as horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracking—do not adversely affect the environment. This is a necessary step to move forward with the development of massive North American shale gas resources—a potential strategic game-changer.
  • Mexican states along the U.S. border are official observers in the Western Climate Initiative, joining California and four Canadian provinces. The federal governments in both the United States and Mexico should take aggressive steps to make it more feasible for these Mexican states to become full partners in the initiative to achieve meaningful reductions in carbon pollution and move toward greater U.S.-Mexican cooperation on future North American pollution cuts.
  • Both countries need to expand their economic relations with Asia and Europe. President-Elect Peña Nieto sees China as an important future partner for economic growth. Both Mexico andCanada were invited in June to join the negotiations toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership—an important if belated step. Both should also be included at the very beginning of discussions with Europe—should they occur as has been rumored—toward the creation of a free trade zone in the Atlantic. Such trade negotiations would provide an added means for the three North American economies to build cooperation.
  • The war against cartels and gangs involved in the illegal drugs trade continues to rage on both sides of the border, although indications of progress include a reduction in violence, cleaned-up cities, and increasing professionalization of the Mexican security forces. Achieving a reduction of violence will be a key challenge for President-Elect Peña Nieto, with street protests demanding as much. Judicial reform is moving forward, albeit slowly, but Mexican authorities still rely too greatly on confession by apprehended suspects and have deficits in the acquisition and use of intelligence. This fight needs to be framed as a joint challenge, emphasizing the co-responsibility of the United States, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed several times.
  • The re-launch of a U.S.-Mexican bilateral commission would be an important vehicle to institutionalize cabinet-level discussions across the broad range of issues that affect our countries and maybe trilateralize along with Canada from time to time. Tone and perception count a lot in the bilateral relationship. In addition, both sides should establish permanent working groups to help change the image and perception of Mexico in the United States and vice versa. Such an engagement in public diplomacy could include messaging and outreach to counter the often-distorted perception of Mexican society in the United States.

The election of Enrique Peña Nieto and the re-election of President Obama mean that the U.S.-Mexican relationship has a unique opportunity to grow closer and bring numerous benefits to both sides of the border. To fully appreciate this unique opportunity, both sides must invest political capital and be prepared to engage domestic public opinion when it comes to explaining why our countries are united by much more than a fence.

Eric Farnsworth is vice president of the Council of the Americas and Americas Society, heading their Washington, D.C., office since 2003. His areas of expertise include the role of Asia in the Americas, trade, energy, U.S. policy in the region, and national security affairs.

Michael Werz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where his work as a member of the National Security team focuses on the nexus of climate change, migration, and security, as well as on emerging democratic powers in Turkey, Mexico, Brazil, and India.

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Economist – Next in line

IN HIS 14 years as Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez has always subscribed to the principle of après moi, le deluge. Wary of allowing any rival centre of power to emerge, he has systematically hollowed out the country’s institutions, and subtly encouraged factions within his movement to spar for his good graces. But on December 8th, Mr Chávez announced that his still-unspecified pelvic cancer has reappeared, and that he must undergo a fourth surgery. With no guarantee that he will be in suitable condition for his inauguration for a third term on January 10th, he at last anointed an heir apparent, choosing Nicolás Maduro (pictured), his foreign minister and vice-president.

Under Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, if the president dies or leaves office during the final two years of a six-year term, the appointed vice-president serves out the remainder. But before that point, if a president has to abdicate, new elections must be held within 30 days. So if Mr Chávez cannot be sworn in, the country will hold a re-run of the vote held on October 7th, when the incumbent beat Henrique Capriles of the Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance by asurprisingly comfortable margin. Assuming that Mr Capriles, currently the governor of Miranda state, is re-elected to his post in regional elections on December 16th, he would almost certainly be the opposition candidate once again, and would face Mr Maduro in Mr Chávez’s stead.

Mr Maduro, 50, has never held an elected executive post. A former student leader and member of the radical Socialist League, his only job outside politics was as a bus driver starting in the late 1980s. That gave him a toehold in organised labour, and he became president of the Caracas Metro union. His links with the president go back to the days when Mr Chávez was in jail after a failed coup attempt, and he joined the legislature in 1999, chairing the assembly in 2005-06.

Like most of Mr Chávez’s inner circle, he has no significant political base of his own. But he has been more successful than anyone in convincing the president of his loyalty and ability to carry out orders. Mr Maduro has never been far from Mr Chávez’s side during the president’s frequent visits to Cuba for cancer treatment. He is widely considered to have the support of the Cuban regime, whose security and intelligence services play an important (though largely hidden) role in Venezuela.

Mr Maduro would have to triumph over two rivals if he hopes to take over the chavistaapparatus. The first is Mr Capriles, who won a respectable 46% of the vote in October, and showed impressive skills as a campaigner. Polls have consistently shown Mr Capriles beating all opponents save Mr Chávez himself, including Mr Maduro. However, the president’s whole-hearted endorsement of Mr Maduro would surely cause many of his supporters to back his preferred successor, especially if an incapacitated Mr Chávez remained alive to remind voters of his dying wish. “My firm opinion,” he said on December 9th, “clear as the full moon, irreversible, absolute, and total, is that in a scenario requiring the holding of new presidential elections, you should choose Nicolás Maduro as president.”

Even if Mr Maduro did vanquish Mr Capriles, however, he would still have to exert control over Mr Chávez’s fractious movement. His main challenger would be Diosdado Cabello, a former army lieutenant who participated in Mr Chávez’s coup attempt, and is now the chairman of the legislature and the vice-president of the ruling United Socialist Party. Mr Cabello lacks Mr Maduro’s bona fides as an ideological leftist. However, he wields influence in the army and the highly opaque distribution of the country’s oil revenues, and despite the president’s wishes, he may not line up meekly behind Mr Maduro. Despite Mr Chávez’s belated effort to arrange for continuity, some degree of internecine warfare seems inevitable.

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NYT – Before More Cancer Surgery, Chávez Had Some Political Fences to Mend at Home

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President Hugo Chávez ofVenezuela has flown repeatedly to Cuba this year for cancer treatments, but the flight that took him back to Caracas on Friday may have been the most meaningful of all.

Mr. Chávez postponed emergency cancer surgery to return home, meet with his inner circle and announce on television on Saturday, for the first time, that he had picked the man he wanted to lead his socialist revolution when he is gone — something he seemed to suggest might come sooner than his millions of followers would hope.

He flew to Cuba again on Monday to prepare for surgery, news agencies reported.

Mr. Chávez could well recover and remain a potent force, but on Saturday night he seemed intent on smoothing over factions within his party and solidifying support for the man he chose to succeed him, Vice President Nicolás Maduro.

Mr. Chávez, 58, spoke the word “unity” several times during Saturday’s somber, symbolically weighted appearance. To his left sat Mr. Maduro, and behind both of them viewers could see a bust of Mr. Chávez’s hero, the South American independence leader Simón Bolívar (who never realized his dream of unifying a fractious continent).

Mr. Chávez, a charismatic and polarizing leader who has crafted his own brand of socialist revolution in this oil-rich country, has been vague about the nature of his illness since it was first disclosed in June last year. Since then, he has had at least two operations,chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Yet he said on Saturday that doctors had once again found malignant cells, necessitating a new operation.

The fact that he chose to go home to put his political house in order and clear up the long-unresolved line of succession — rather thanwrite about it on Twitter or report it by calling in to a government television show, as he so often has done with lesser policy decisions during his many medical absences — suggests that his doctors have told him that the news is not good.

“This is a huge passing of the torch,” said Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College.

Even if Mr. Chávez makes a strong recovery after his surgery, Mr. Corrales said, “there’s no question we are in the transition stage, and that’s always incredibly uncertain.”

Mr. Chávez, who has been president for nearly 14 years, was re-elected in October to another six years. His new term is to begin on Jan. 10.

But if he dies or cannot continue to govern before then, the Constitution states that the vice president, Mr. Maduro, would become president and finish out the last days of the current term.

If Mr. Chávez is unable to begin his new term, or if he leaves office within the first four years, then new elections would be called, according to the Constitution.

In that case, Mr. Chávez said on Saturday that he wanted Mr. Maduro to be his party’s candidate, and he asked his supporters to elect him.

“I ask it from my heart,” he said.

New elections could open the way for a new run by Henrique Capriles Radonski, a young state governor who opposed Mr. Chávez in October. Mr. Capriles received 44 percent of the vote and 6.5 million votes, far more than any previous candidate against Mr. Chávez.

But Mr. Capriles is now running a difficult race for re-election as governor of Miranda, which includes part of Caracas, the captial, and one of the country’s most populous states. The election is on Sunday.

He is being challenged by a former vice president, Elías Jaua, and the government and Mr. Chávez’s socialist party have made it a priority to defeat Mr. Capriles, hoping that it will weaken him politically and remove him as a threat.

“If Capriles loses, there will be a battle in the opposition, a struggle for power, and the leaders will call for a change,” said Luis Vicente León, a pollster close to the opposition.

Some polls taken earlier this year showed that Mr. Capriles could beat Mr. Maduro if they ran against each other.

But Mr. León said conditions had changed with Mr. Chávez’s endorsement of Mr. Maduro. If Mr. Chávez were to die or become too ill to continue in office, it could give Mr. Maduro’s candidacy an emotional boost, he said.

But Mr. Maduro, 50, will have difficulties of his own in having to rein in factions within Mr. Chávez’s party. That could include the military and former military officers to whom Mr. Chávez has given a major role in his government.

For the time being, Venezuelans can look forward to more uncertainty.

The country has been obsessed with Mr. Chávez’s illness since it was first revealed. It has been the source of endless speculation and conspiracy theories. Some people even insist that he is not sick and has invented the illness to throw his opponents off guard. His fiercest opponents see his cancer as a sign of hope that his days as president are numbered; his supporters insist that he will recover, and they condemn such grim speculation as necrophilia.

But the last announcement of his need for another surgery, coupled with his call to rally behind Mr. Maduro, takes the nervous focus on Mr. Chávez’s cancer and what it means for the country’s future to a new level.

Several hundred supporters of Mr. Chávez congregated on Sunday in Bolívar Plaza in central Caracas in what was an uncharacteristically subdued gathering, by the standards of his followers. But also on display was their quasi-religious connection with the president — and the refusal among many to acknowledge his mortality.

“He is going to overcome this difficult time,” said Israel Pérez, 32, a law student. “He will be with us forever.”

Nonetheless, would he support Mr. Maduro as Mr. Chávez’s replacement?

“Venezuelans would support any proposal the president asks them to,” Mr. Pérez said.

Andrew Rosati contributed reporting from Caracas, Venezuela.

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BBC – Nicolás Maduro: el hombre que podría suceder a Chávez

Abraham Zamorano

BBC Mundo, Caracas

 Domingo, 9 de diciembre de 2012

Casi siempre sonriente tras su poblado bigote negro, en las distancias cortas Nicolás Maduro parece tocado por el hada de la calma. Tal vez en ello tenga mucho que ver sus creencias hinduistas. Si Hugo Chávez es un carismático torbellino, su vicepresidente aparece como precisamente lo contrario: un hombre tranquilo.

Amigo leal de Chávez desde sus tiempos de prisión por el golpe de Estado de 1992, Maduro está considerado el político que más cerca ha estado del mandatario a lo largo de su convalecencia por el cáncer que le fue detectado en mayo de 2011.

Tiene fama de amable en los círculos diplomáticos latinoamericanos, pero eso no impide que fuera también el azote del “imperio”, el coartífice de la política exterior que tantos disgustos le ha dado a Washington.

Como jefe de la diplomacia venezolana, Maduro ha seguido la línea chavista de buscar abiertamente la “construcción de un mundo multipolar libre de la hegemonía del ‘imperialismo norteamericano'”, como la describió en declaraciones a BBC Mundo el internacionalista Carlos Luna.

Se lo consideró una pieza clave en impulsar la política exterior de su país más allá de las fronteras latinoamericanas para acercarse casi a cualquier gobierno que rivalizara con Estados Unidos por una cosa u otra.

Y tanto éxito tuvo en esa empresa, que Venezuela cuenta ahora entre sus aliados con Bielorrusia, China, Irán y Rusia, por no hablar de la Libia de Muamar Gadafi o la Siria de Bashar al Asad.

“Tremendo canciller”

Socialista y sindicalista de toda la vida, Maduro formó parte de la Asamblea Constituyente que redactó la Constitución Bolivariana impulsada por Chávez. Posteriormente ganó un acta de diputado y llegó a ser presidente del Legislativo hasta 2005.

En 2006 atendió la llamada de Chávez para hacerse cargo de la jefatura de la diplomacia, nombramiento que fue muy criticado por sus detractores ya que el canciller carece de formación universitaria formal: se trata de un autobusero que no pasó del bachillerato.

Como si de hecho disfrutara con esa cierta mofa que despierta entre círculos opositores su pasado como conductor de la flota de autobuses de la empresa del Metro de Caracas, Maduro llegó a manejar el camión sobre el que Chávez hacía campaña para las elecciones del 7 de octubre.

Pero esa circunstancia es casi siempre aprovechada por Chávez para mostrarlo como un ejemplo de gente de pueblo que ejerce el poder directamente y no a través de representantes provenientes de clases acomodadas.

“Mira donde va Nicolás, de autobusero (a vicepresidente). Nicolás era conductor de autobús en el Metro y cómo se burla de él la burguesía por eso”, dijo el presidente poco después de ganar las elecciones del 7-o.

“Tremendo canciller”, exclamó en el acto solemne con motivo del 201 aniversario de la independencia.

Sin embargo, el canciller también ha tenido momentos “poco diplomáticos” en los que pareció perder su compostura tranquila, como cuando llamó “funcionarillo” al subsecretario de Estado de EE.UU. John Negroponte.

Y aunque en política interna también es tenido por uno de los menos radicales, es el interlocutor de los opositores que quieren lograr clemencia para lo que ellos llaman “presos políticos”, Maduro llegó a llamar “mariconsón y fascista” al candidato Henrique Capriles.

Posteriormente, Maduro se disculpó por el cubanismo alegando que “tenía otra connotación” y que no se “metería con la condición sexual de Capriles ni la de nadie”.

“Persona non grata”

La última vez que Maduro había copado titulares en la prensa latinoamericana, antes de haber sido nombrado vicepresidente, fue por su intervención en la crisis política de Paraguay que terminó con la destitución del entonces presidente, Fernando Lugo.

Maduro fue parte de la comitiva de cancilleres organizada por diferentes gobiernos de la región justo después de enterarse que Lugo estaba a punto de ser destituido.

El venezolano terminó siendo acusado por la nueva institucionalidad paraguaya de arengar a los militares para sublevarse y defender al obispo.

Poco después fue declarado persona non grata por “las graves evidencias de intervención por parte de funcionarios de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela en asuntos internos de la República del Paraguay”.

Chávez aprovechó para volver a expresar su más firme apoyo a su número dos en el gobierno al decir, entre bromas y veras, que lo envidiaba por haber recibido tal distinción de parte de quienes acusó de golpistas por haber sacado del poder a Lugo.

El amigo

Esta cercanía personal entre Chávez y Maduro es de larga data. Se remonta a los tiempos en que el mandatario cumplió condena en la cárcel de Yare por el intento de golpe de Estado de 1992.

Por entonces, Maduro se convirtió en un activista a favor de la liberación de Chávez. En esa época fue que conoció a la abogada Cilia Flores, que ejercía la defensa del presidente.

Así, en las imágenes de Chávez en Cuba durante su tratamiento contra el cáncer, sus acompañantes más recurrentes eran sus hijas y Nicolás Maduro.

De hecho, se considera que es uno de los pocos confidentes del presidente que ha tenido acceso a los detalles del diagnóstico, que ha recibido virtual tratamiento de secreto de Estado.

Por entonces era sólo ministro de Relaciones Exteriores. Desde octubre acumula el cargo con el de vicepresidente, una decisión de Chávez que para los observadores fue interpretada como que lo estaba designando su sucesor, algo que confirmó este sábado.

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