Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category


Jailed Venezuelan leader writes in the NY Times

Venezuela’s Failing State

Los Teques, Venezuela — As I compose these words from the Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas, I am struck by how much Venezuelans have suffered.
For 15 years, the definition of “intolerable” in this country has declined by degrees until, to our dismay, we found ourselves with one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere, a 57 percent inflation rate and a scarcity of basic goods unprecedented outside of wartime.
Our crippled economy is matched by an equally oppressive political climate. Since student protests began on Feb. 4, more than 1,500 protesters have been detained, more than 30 have been killed, and more than 50 people have reported that they were tortured while in police custody. What started as a peaceful march against crime on a university campus has exposed the depth of this government’s criminalization of dissent.
I have been in prison for more than a month. On Feb. 12, I urged Venezuelans to exercise their legal rights to protest and free speech — but to do so peacefully and without violence. Three people were shot and killed that day. An analysis of video by the news organization Últimas Noticias determined that shots were fired from the direction of plainclothes military troops.
In the aftermath of that protest, President Nicolás Maduro personally ordered my arrest on charges of murder, arson and terrorism. Amnesty International said the charges seemed like a “politically motivated attempt to silence dissent.” To this day, no evidence of any kind has been presented.
Soon, more opposition mayors, elected by an overwhelming majority in December’s elections, will join me behind bars. Last week the government arrested the mayor of San Cristóbal, where the student protests began, as well as the mayor of San Diego, who has been accused of disobeying an order to remove protesters’ barricades. But we will not stay silent. Some believe that speaking out only antagonizes the ruling party — inviting Mr. Maduro to move more quickly to strip away rights — and provides a convenient distraction from the economic and social ruin that is taking place. In my view, this path is akin to a victim of abuse remaining silent for fear of inviting more punishment.
More important, millions of Venezuelans do not have the luxury of playing the “long game,” of waiting for change that never comes.
We must continue to speak, act and protest. We must never allow our nerves to become deadened to the steady abuse of rights that is taking place. And we must pursue an agenda for change.
The opposition leadership has outlined a series of actions that are necessary in order to move forward.
Victims of repression, abuse and torture, as well as family members of those who have died, deserve justice. Those who are responsible must resign. The pro-government paramilitary groups, or “colectivos,” that have tried to silence the protests through violence and intimidation must be disarmed.
All political prisoners and dissenters who were forced into exile by the government, as well as students who were jailed for protesting, must be allowed to return or be released. This should be followed by restoring impartiality to important institutions that form the backbone of civil society, including the electoral commission and the judicial system.
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In order to get our economy on the right footing, we need an investigation into fraud committed through our commission for currency exchange — at least $15 billion was funneled into phantom businesses and kickbacks last year, a move that has directly contributed to the inflationary spiral and severe shortages our country is experiencing.
Finally, we need real engagement from the international community, particularly in Latin America. The outspoken response from human rights organizations is in sharp contrast to the shameful silence from many of Venezuela’s neighbors in Latin America. The Organization of American States, which represents nations in the Western Hemisphere, has abstained from any real leadership on the current crisis of human rights and the looming specter of a failed state, even though it was formed precisely to address issues like these.
To be silent is to be complicit in the downward spiral of Venezuela’s political system, economy and society, not to mention in the continued misery of millions. Many current leaders in Latin America suffered similar abuses in their time and they should not be silent accomplices to the abuses of today.
For Venezuelans, a change in leadership can be accomplished entirely within a constitutional and legal framework. We must advocate for human rights; freedom of expression; the right to property, housing, health and education; equality within the judicial system, and, of course, the right of protest. These are not radical goals. They are the basic building blocks of society.
Leopoldo López is the former mayor of the Chacao district of Caracas and the leader of the Popular Will opposition party.

Venezuela’s Failing State – NYTimes.com

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Entrepreneurial democracies and the happiness factor – The Globe and Mail

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Keynes and Hayek, the Great Debate (Part 1): Nicholas Wapshott – Bloomberg

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Ollanta wins in Peru

hope for the best, but prepare for the worst…

Who’s who on Humala’s economics team

1:55pm EDT
(Reuters) – Left-wing former army officer Ollanta Humala has claimed victory in Peru’s presidential election and sought to reassure investors he has shed his radical past and will adhere to responsible economic policies.
He has surrounded himself with experienced technocrats who are more moderate than his earlier advisers.
Still, critics say some of his advisers came of age in the 1970s and favor a strong state that rejects some tenets of a neoliberal model implemented in Peru in the 1990s, which emphasized deregulation, little or no public subsidies, privatizing state-run companies, and free trade.
Below is a rundown of some of his key advisers. Some of them may get named to top policy posts or Humala may try to generate a “shock of confidence” by picking someone with deep experience in banking and markets.
The timing of an announcement has not been made clear but appointments will be hugely important to signal to markets how Humala will manage the economy.
FELIX JIMENEZ
A professor at Lima’s Catholic University, Jimenez authored Humala’s campaign platform, which was later modified several times over criticism it was too radical. Jimenez has a doctorate in economics from the New School in New York, which is known as a contrarian department skeptical about the monetarism and neoliberalism taught at most major universities in the United States. A former director in the finance ministry’s debt department, Jimenez teaches courses on monetary policy.
OSCAR DANCOURT
Also a professor at Lima’s Catholic University, Dancourt has been a director and president of Peru’s central bank. He has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Julio Velarde as central bank chief. Velarde is widely viewed as Peru’s most successful central banker ever, having slain hyperinflation and averted deflation in two different mandates.
KURT BURNEO
An economics professor at the San Ignacio de Loyola University, Burneo has a doctorate in business administration. He has served as vice finance minister, a central bank director, and president of state-run Banco de la Nacion. He previously worked for the campaign of former President Alejandro Toledo. He has been mentioned as possibly being named the next finance minister.
DANIEL SCHYDLOWSKY
A former chief of Peru’s development bank Cofide and central bank director, Schydlowsky has a doctorate in economics from Harvard University. He was an aide to Toledo’s government.
SANTIAGO ROCA
A professor at the ESAN business school in Lima, Roca has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University. He was president of Indecopi, Peru’s anti-trust regulator, during the Toledo government.
(Reporting by Terry Wade, Teresa Cespedes, Patricia Velez and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Andrew Hay)
© Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.

Factbox: Who’s who on Peru Humala’s economics team | Reuters

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Ecuador socialist revolution ‘past destructive stage’

By Naomi Mapstone in Quito
Published: October 21 2010 19:16 | Last updated: October 21 2010 19:16

Rafael Correa mobbed by the public

Rafael Correa limps into a wood-panelled room in Ecuador’s presidential palace and sinks into a gold-leaf rococo chair beneath portraits of Latin American independence heroes.
Just weeks ago the US-trained economist, who has led a “citizen’s revolution” in this oil-rich Andean nation since 2006, was held hostage by police in what he says was a failed coup.
“We were all losers from September 30 – the country’s image, the image of police themselves and especially the five families who lost their loved ones and the dozens of injured,” Mr Correa says in an interview with the Financial Times.
This most paradoxical of presidents – he is a close ally of Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales, the radical leftist leaders of Venezuela and Bolivia, and yet friendly enough with Washington to call Hillary Clinton “dearest” on a recent visit – rubs his knee as he recalls the moment a mob turned on him “with such brutality, such savagery”.
“They fired tear gas at me, the president! … They tried to remove my gas mask; I was choking. I had 25 stitches in my knee because I had had a knee operation the day before … They tried to break my leg and one of my advisers took the blows for me,” he recalls.
Mr Correa had gone to face down rioting police officers after they closed airports and abandoned their posts to protest against cuts to their benefits.
Instead of seeing Mr Correa broker a peace, however, Ecuadoreans watched on live television as their president fled angry officers and later taunted them from a window, ripping open his shirt and daring them to kill him.


More FT video

Even for a society accustomed to volatility – seven presidents came and went in the decade before Mr Correa’s election – the subsequent wait was tense. It took almost four hours for the military to broadcast its support for Mr Correa, and about 10 hours for elite police and military units to rescue the president amid a hail of gunfire.
Mr Correa, 47, has since blamed opposition leader Lucio Gutiérrez, who was in Brazil and denies the accusation, leftwing groups and “corrupt” union leaders. He also believes extreme rightwing US groups were involved. “We have no hard evidence [of US rightwing involvement] but we are investigating. I trust fully in [US] president [Barack] Obama – he has nothing to do with this. These groups are also against president Obama.”
Opposition figures and many analysts contest the coup theory, saying no alternative leader was ever presented and that the government is using the uprising as an excuse for a witch hunt.
Scores of police and a former army officer have since been arrested and Ecuador remains under military control, with state broadcasts interrupting television programming to promote the government’s “coup” message.
Luis Hernandez, former commander of the special forces brigade that rescued the president, told the FT the revolt was intended to overthrow the law cutting civil servants’ benefits, not the president.
“There are always those who take advantage of a chaotic situation and try to put more wood on the fire, but who would have replaced Correa? There was nobody,” he says.
Before the police protests, Mr Correa had brought a measure of political continuity to Ecuador. His government spent heavily on education, health and infrastructure, widened the tax base and delivered on election promises to enact a new constitution and close down a US military base.
However, Mr Correa’s default on $3.2bn in foreign debt and the decision to renegotiate foreign oil company contracts alienated investors, and his domination of Congress by veto drew criticism at home.
He also faced opposition within his own party over cuts to police and military benefits, and had threatened to dissolve Congress if he did not get his way. But thanks to a post-revolt surge in his approval ratings, that threat is off. Now Mr Correa is forging ahead with his “21st century socialist” revolution.
“This is a revolution and a revolution is first a process of destruction … we had to destroy the old country with its institutions made for the few,” he says. Ecuador has now passed “its first stage of destruction” and “constructive chaos”, he adds, and has rules in place to attract investment.
The government wants to double investment by 2011 with the introduction of a tax cut of 3 percentage points for businesses, down to 22 per cent.
This does not indicate a softening of Mr Correa’s stance, however. Renegotiations with foreign oil companies are “progressing well”, he says, but if they are not finished by December the contracts will be cancelled.
“That is not our desire, but companies need to understand they should be governed by the rules of the game the country puts in place,” he says.

FT.com / Americas / Politics & Policy – Ecuador socialist revolution ‘past destructive stage’

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The Economist’s take on Venezuela’s legislative elections

The revolution checked

The opposition bounces back

AFTER five years in the wilderness, Venezuela’s opposition is back in parliament and in contention. By winning 65 seats in the 165-member, single-chamber National Assembly, in an election on September 26th, the Venezuela Unity coalition dealt a blow to the hopes of Hugo Chávez, the leftist president, of exercising indefinite hegemony. Even worse for the president and his claim to be leading a popular revolution was the fact that the overall vote of 5.4m for the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) and its communist allies, was just below that of their opponents (5.7m).

Only blatant gerrymandering of constituencies and an electoral reform that abolished proportional representation allowed Mr Chávez to keep control of the legislature. Even so, he failed to retain the two-thirds majority he had said was vital for his regime’s future. Without it, the government must negotiate appointments to key posts, such as supreme court justices and members of the electoral authority (the CNE). And it cannot pass, or amend, laws which affect constitutional rights. Particularly irksome will be the fact that it may not be able to muster the 99 deputies required to authorise Mr Chávez to rule by decree, as he has been wont to.

In his 11 years in power Mr Chávez has profited from the opposition’s mistakes, which have included an attempted coup in 2002 and an ill-judged boycott of the previous legislative election in 2005. Over that period he has won a dozen national votes (the only exception being a constitutional referendum in 2007). The opposition’s rehabilitation began with a strong showing in big cities in a regional vote two years ago. For the legislative election, its multitude of constituent groups managed to hammer out a united front. Their success increases the chance that they will unite behind a single candidate against Mr Chávez in the presidential election that is due in two years’ time.

Having campaigned as if the assembly election were a plebiscite on his rule, Mr Chavez this week said it was “not about me”. He claimed a “solid victory”, arguing that the 3.2% of the vote won by a party of moderate chavista dissidents (whom he had earlier denounced as “traitors”) should not be counted with the opposition. He promised to “end 2010 at a gallop” and to continue “building socialism”.

On paper, he has the means to press ahead. The outgoing assembly will have free rein to rewrite rules until the end of the year. Thereafter Mr Chávez will still control the courts, the armed forces, the all-important oil industry and other state bodies. If the new assembly becomes deadlocked—for example, over the appointment of new members to the CNE—he may use the supreme court to bypass it.

Will sticking to his course allow him to recover enough votes to win a third consecutive six-year term in December 2012? He will have his work cut out. He has lost ground in urban Venezuela. In some poorer districts that are traditional PSUV strongholds, it was hard to find a single chavista voter on election day. In greater Caracas, the opposition won over 860,000 votes to the PSUV’s 634,000.

Just 24 hours after the polls Mr Chávez announced a new billion-dollar fund to build houses in the capital. But the electorate has grown used to unfulfilled promises. The housing shortage has worsened every year since he took office in 1999. Crime is at record levels, the economy in recession and food prices are rising at over 40% a year. Public services such as water, electricity and health care are close to collapse in many areas.

The good news for Venezuela is that representative democracy—which Mr Chávez promised to replace with a “participatory” version—is still alive. Turnout was 66%, and there were few claims of irregularities. Although there was a delay of a few hours in announcing the results, when they came neither side challenged them. Those in the opposition who maintain that voting is a waste of time continue to mutter on the sidelines but these days fewer people are listening. Even the brazen use of government resources, voter intimidation and other dubious tactics failed to produce the result the president wanted.

Mr Chávez had called on his followers to “demolish” the opposition. Instead, it has emerged stronger than at any time in the past decade. Its next job will be to come up with a plausible presidential candidate, capable of communicating with ordinary Venezuelans. But with the country split down the middle, a pluralist parliament could promote the understanding and dialogue that Venezuela sorely needs. Whatever the president’s wishes, demolition seems to be off the agenda.

Venezuela’s legislative election: The revolution checked | The Economist

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UK’s Labour Party turns rojo, rojito 

Alek Boyd

Well, the smart money lost the bet. The election of a Conservative government, after 13 years of Labour rule, got the radicals all worked up: Ed Miliband has just been elected as Labour’s new party leader.

Before going into details, I think that this is a godsend to David Cameron and his coalition government. For Red Ed’s election simply indicates a strong veer to the left. In fact, besides belonging to Gordon Brown’s closest circle of collaborators, and being the unions candidate, he got most of Diane Abbott and Ed Balls second option votes, so it is clear that the most radical wing of the party carried him to victory. Fortunately, there’s no space for radicals in democratic societies, and so, the Labour Party, by electing Brown’s successor Ed over his graceless yet Blairite brother David, has taken the road to wilderness, a road that won’t lead them back to power. And that is excellent news.

Now the comical thing is, that most Labour talking heads are singing from Ed’s sheet about the party having lost the trust of millions of voters in the last general election -under Gordon Brown’s leadership, and yet they have thrown their lot behind Brown’s heir, instead of electing the successor of the only Labour leader that has won the party three consecutive elections. Priceless.


Alek Boyd: UK’s Labour Party turns rojo, rojito

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