Mérida – The presidential candidate of the Bolivarian Revolution, Nicolas Maduro, yesterday counter-attacked the opposition’s campaign to discredit Venezuela’s electoral system ahead of the 14 April presidential election.
In recent days the Venezuelan opposition and allied media have been criticising the 14 April presidential election as not being held in “fair and transparent” conditions, in an apparent effort to discredit the Venezuelan electoral system ahead of the vote.
This campaign appears to have intensified following comments made on Friday 15 March by the US’s Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, who said that it would be “a little difficult” for “open, fair, and transparent elections” to be held on 14 April.
The conservative opposition has also attempted to reach out to international opinion, with Diego Arria, a former Venezuelan diplomat, writing in the Huffington Post that Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) is “no more than a tool of the regime [sic: Venezuelan government] to maintain its power”.
This discourse marks a break with the opposition’s more conciliatory approach toward Venezuela’s electoral system last year, when the opposition MUD coalition asked the CNE to organise the opposition’s own internal elections, calling the CNE “an excellent example of democratic institutions in the country”.
Polling evidence suggests that the opposition is likely to lose the April election, called after the death of President Hugo Chavez on 5 March. Four polls released by private Venezuelan firms in recent days have given Nicolas Maduro an advantage over the opposition’s candidate Henrique Capriles of between 14 and 22%.
Yesterday, Nicolas Maduro, who is currently interim president, hit back at the opposition’s campaign to discredit the CNE, claiming that it was a strategy being used in light of the opposition’s “clear defeat” on 14 April.
Maduro repeated the claims of other pro-government figures, stating that the “ultra-right wing” within the opposition is also considering the withdrawal of Capriles’ candidacy “as a way of fleeing and then crying out [to the international community]”.
He further argued that his rival Capriles is caught between the opposition’s radical wing, who want to withdraw from the race in order to discredit the election, and the “apparently democratic” wing that wants to maintain an electoral strategy.
The interim president said the Venezuelan electoral system, “guarantees the sovereign decision of the voters” and that the campaign to discredit the CNE “will not favour” the opposition.
Directly addressing the opposition, Maduro said, “If you stay [in the electoral race]; welcome. We’re headed towards a great triumph, that’s how I feel. If you go, not so welcome. We will [still] have a great victory and we’ll maintain the political stability of the country; of that you can be sure”.
The difference in opinion within the opposition toward the electoral system has also become apparent in recent comments made to media.
Hard-line opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado called the Venezuelan government a “neo-dictatorial regime” with a “democratic façade” in an interview yesterday with conservative paper El Universal. She further said the CNE was full of “tricks and irregularities”.
Meanwhile, the president of opposition party COPEI, Roberto Enríquez, said in an interview today that the opposition “recognises” the accuracy of the Venezuelan electoral system.
However, he added, “Elections in Venezuela, like in all democratic systems, are and have to be perfectible”.
Today the CNE signed an agreement with the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) confirming that UNASUR will send an electoral accompaniment mission to Venezuela ahead of the 14 April election.
The mission’s aim, according to the head of UNASUR’s electoral council, Francisco Távara Córdova, is “to witness the electoral process within the framework of solidarity, cooperation and respect for sovereignty, with the aim of generating shared knowledge and experience in electoral matters”.
The mission’s head will likely be Argentine Carlos Alvarez, who led the UNASUR electoral mission to Venezuela for the October 2012 presidential election.
Several Venezuelan electoral NGO’s have also been invited by the CNE to observe the upcoming election.
- Opposition Intensifies Campaign against Venezuelan Electoral System (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Venezuelan Electoral Authority Rejects U.S. Government Statements (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Venezuela says far-right US plot targeted opposition leader Capriles (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Polls Show Maduro Leading Capriles for Venezuelan Presidential Elections (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Mérida – The Union of South American nations (Unasur) has created an electoral council, as well as moving forward on initiatives for greater economic integration.
At a meeting yesterday between Unasur nations in Quito, Ecuador, the regional bloc’s newest council was formally inaugurated. The twelve Unasur member countries now cooperate through nine different councils, including defence, energy and health.
According to the Unasur electoral council’s pro-tempore president, Francisco Tavara of Peru, the council’s aim will be “to strengthen the role of Unasur observation and electoral accompaniment missions in regional electoral processes”.
He added that, “The [electoral observation] missions will be a substantial contribution to the creation of a climate of confidence and transparency for the peoples of South America”.
The electoral council was created after the experience of Unasur’s electoral mission to the Venezuelan presidential elections earlier this year. The council’s first official mission will be to the Ecuadorian presidential election in February 2013, when Rafael Correa will seek re-election.
The Unasur electoral council will have a rotating presidency and representatives from a variety of electoral organisations, and can only send an observation mission in response to a member state’s request.
Lenin Housse, the international relations director of the Ecuadorian National Electoral Council, claimed that Unasur electoral observation missions would be different from those of the Organisation of American States (OAS) or the European Union (EU), because they will be “attached to South America’s reality,” with the principle “of establishing mechanisms of accompaniment, information, and joint assessment”.
The electoral council is expected to emit a joint declaration of principles today, which will include “inclusive democracy”, “transparency of electoral processes”, and “promoting citizen democracy”.
New Court, New Bank
The Unasur is also expected to establish South America’s own forum for the settlement of investment disputes, to replace the Washington-based International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
“The issue is very advanced, practically all [Unasur] countries agree with this. It was proposed to finish the analysis and begin operating next year,” said Ecuadorian foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, after a meeting between Unasur heads of state in Lima, Peru, last weekend.
Accusing bodies such as the ICSID of having a “colonialist vision and structure”, he said it would be “good for Unasur to have its own organisation for the resolution of disputes, not to have to go to the ICSID or others so that they tell us how to develop our own systems of arbitration”.
In January this year Venezuela announced its withdrawal from the ICSID, citing the court’s bias against Venezuela in its decisions, and the need “to protect the right of the Venezuelan people to decide the strategic orientation of the social and economic life of the nation”. Fellow leftist governments Bolivia and Ecuador left the ICSID in 2007 and 2009 respectively.
Patiño also confirmed that the Bank of the South, which will fund joint projects and promote regional development, should be functioning by April 2013.
“This is one of Latin America’s most important hopes. It’s about regional growth,” he said in an interview with Venezuelan current affairs program Dossier on Friday.
He reported that the bank currently has two-thirds of the necessary capital to begin activities, and that once launched, could support a range of projects, such as regional rail and food storage networks, joint production of generic pharmaceuticals and greater energy integration.
- Unasur praise for the reliability and transparency of Venezuelan electoral system (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Unasur summit rejects Falklands’ referendum and wants to limit ‘vulture funds’ (en.mercopress.com)
- Unasur adds 30 infrastructure investment projects (nzweek.com)
The head of the Unasur delegation sent to Venezuela to follow Sunday’s electoral process, Carlos Alvarez said that the country had given the world a lesson of democracy because of its extraordinary electoral system and the attitude of the opposition, among other positive elements.
“Venezuela has given the world a very important lesson because there were important sectors of the international community that had doubts or questioned the functioning of Venezuelan democracy”, said Alvarez during a press conference in Caracas.
On Sunday’s election, President Hugo Chavez won for the fourth consecutive time with a 54.84% support of ballots while the opposition leader Henrique Capriles managed 44.55% according to the official results from the Electoral Council having counted 95% of votes cast.
Alvarez admitted that many members of the international community “had doubts about how elections in Venezuela were won” and described as “ill-intended those who cast doubts over the functioning of the electoral system”, which he went on to describe as “excellent”.
“It’s an extraordinary lesson for the international community” and the fact that turnout was 80% is “a moving event” for a country were voting is not compulsory, and even more “if one looks back into history and remembers that only 25% to 30% of those registered use to vote”, underlined the former Argentine Vice-president and currently secretary general of the Latinamerican Integration Agency, Aladi.
“We have witnessed a process of excellence; the National Electoral council displayed an extraordinary job, parties and candidates admitted the results and we have accumulated a great experience for the creation of a South American Electoral Council”, said the head of the Unasur observers’ mission. “We came across a highly reliable electoral system and of technological excellence”.
Alvarez said that Unasur complied with all of its objectives and was present all over the Venezuelan territory, with forty delegates from ten different countries.
“It was a double challenge, we were one of the few organizations that came to follow the electoral process and at the same time the first such a mission was sent by Unasur. We are a technical mission, committed to transparency and the efficiency of the electoral systems of our countries”, pointed out Alvarez.
“I’m leaving on Wednesday after I present my report and I will with the satisfaction of the job accomplished, and the happiness of having been witness of the Venezuelan democratic festivity and of an historic event”, concluded Alvarez.
- A Hall of Shame for Venezuelan Elections Coverage (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Chavez Wins Venezuelan Presidential Election with 54% of the Vote (alethonews.wordpress.com)
President Cristina Fernández assured on Friday night that “Argentina does not condone the coup in Paraguay” and anticipated that “appropriate measures” will be taken at next week’s Mercosur Summit, scheduled to take place in Mendoza.
The Argentine leader also said that Unasur expressed a unanimous voice regarding the impeachment process that removed President Fernando Lugo from office on Friday.
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff also suggested that Paraguay could be expulsed from Mercosur and Unasur since the two organizations have clauses in support of democratic rules and governance.
Speaking at a press conference before addressing the UN Rio+20 summit Rousseff said there “are anticipated sanctions for those who do not comply with the principles that characterize democracy” but admitted Paraguay was going through “a complicated situation”.
When a country violates the democratic clause the sanction is “non participation in multilateral bodies; that is expulsion from Mercosur and Unasur”.
Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa anticipated that his government “will not recognize any other Paraguayan president but Fernando Lugo”, and independently of the decisions from Lugo and Unasur “Ecuador will not recognize the new president”, Federico Franco, named by Congress.
“We are not going to remain idle to the advance of these type of issues in our region because what happened in Paraguay is absolutely illegitimate” and recalled the democratic clause from Unasur which enables the regional block to act when against the rupture of democratic order in any member country.
“What has happened in Paraguay is a big farce disguised as legality but it is totally unacceptable that the decision to oust a president was taken in 24 hours ignoring his right to due process and defence”, added Correa.
Venezuelan Foreign minister Nicolas Maduro said in Asuncion that a meeting of Unasur heads of state will take place soon to decide on the Paraguayan case, which he described as “absolutely shameful”.
Maduro is in Paraguay as one of the Unasur Foreign ministers’ delegation sent to try and mediate in the political crisis.
Unasur ministers cautioned that if due process was not respected “this would mean the rupture of cooperation of Unasur, Mercosur and Celac with Paraguay” which involves among other things cutting of subsidized fuel, limiting communications and commercial dealings.
Unasur Secretary General Ali Rodriguez said in a release that country members “will assess how it can be possible to continue cooperation with Paraguay in the framework of South American integration”, if the impeachment process ignores due process and the right to defence.
“The foreign ministers mission reaffirms its total solidarity with the Paraguayan people and its support for constitutional president Fernando Lugo”, underlined Ali Rodrigues.
Venezuela’s Maduro said that “we came (to Paraguay) with the best of willingness and open minds to help but disappointingly we were not listened by those making the decision”.
“There is an evident breaking down of constitutional order” pointed out Maduro who added the delegation arrived in Asunción “to support Paraguayan democracy, the Paraguayan people and the constitutional president Fernando Lugo”.
Maduro claims lawmakers listened in “silence and with indifference” to the Unasur request for respect to due process in the impeachment of the head of state.
- Rousseff suggests expulsion of Paraguay’s Mercosur and Unasur (ireport.cnn.com)
- Paraguayan Senate impeaches leftist president, causing international uproar (weeklyintercept.blogspot.com)
UNASUR Requests President’s Defense Guarantees
The secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Alí Rodríguez of Venezuela, said yesterday that guarantees ensuring a proper defense should be established in the proceedings against Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo.
Rodríguez said that due process must be respected in the case against the head of state, including providing the necessary time to prepare his defense.
The head of UNASUR and the foreign ministers of member states met Thursday night with President Lugo to analyze the destabilization attempts against his government.
The Paraguayan parliament, controlled by right-wing parties, approved a political trial against the head of state, a measure Lugo has called “unconstitutional.”
In declarations reported on by the news agency IP, UNASUR chief Rodríguez said that “UNASUR’s greatest concern is the legitimate exercise of democracy, and within that, that there be a guiding principal of the administration of justice and conditions, [which is] absolutely indispensable.”
Rodríguez explained that UNASUR member states respect the sovereignty of Paraguay but that the problems concerning democracy in that country affect all of South America.
He said he will meet with diverse political sectors in Paraguay to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Paraguay’s congress requested yesterday, with 76 votes in favor and 1 against, a political trial against the president to attempt to link him to clashes last week in Curuguatay in which 11 farmers and six police officers were killed.
President Lugo will present his defense before Parliament at noon today. Afterward, evidence will be brought forward at 2:30 in the afternoon, allegations will be heard an hour later and sentencing will take place at 4:30.
Venezuelan Government Reaction
Vice-president Elias Jaua described the attempt by the Chamber of Deputies of Paraguay to topple President Fernando Lugo as a new attack sourcing from the bourgeoisie and the United States. During a ceremony to deliver resources to the state of Miranda, Jaua denounced the sectors trying to weaken the South American revolutionary process.
“The battle of the Paraguayan people is that of the Venezuelans, and we are committed to thwart this new attempt by the oligarchies and imperialism as we did in Venezuela in 2002, and also when they tried to topple Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Rafael Correa (Ecuador),” he said.
In Jaua’s opinion, it is all about the struggle of the peoples and governments so that the will of the peoples of the region is respected and about “letting imperialism know that our Latin America is no longer their backyard,” he said.
“Here we have a people and a government ready to defend the sovereignty and independence of all the countries in the region,” stressed Jaua.
- Clashes after Paraguay president ousted (Aletho News)
On March 9th, the Ministers of Communication from 12 countries that make up the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR, for its acronym in Spanish) made the decision to build a fiber-optic ring that created a direct connection between countries in the region without relying on the United States. The network will be completed in 18 months and they will begin laying ocean cables between South America, Europe, the United States and Africa.
The initiative originated from Brazil’s government, which took the proposal to the South American Council on Infrastructure and Planning (Cosiplan, for its acronym in Spanish). This body, which began operations in 2010, is one of the 8 sectoral councils at the departmental level in Unasur for political and strategic debate of programs and projects that promote the regional integration of infrastructure. During the first meeting, it put forth a Plan of Action that sought to “substitute the logic of exportation with one of regional development,” according to Joao Mendes Pereira, Coordinator of Latin American Economic Affairs in Brazil’s State Department.
This fiber optic ring is beginning to loosen one of the many knots that tie the region to the influence of the Global North, and in particular, the United States. It may not be a great work or a radical step forward, but Unasur’s decision illustrates two points: first, the way in which relations with the central powers weaken and fragment marginalized regions; and second, the existence of the political will to make concrete advances towards building autonomy.
In South America, communication via internet takes a strange and irrational journey. Emails sent between two neighboring cities in Brazil and Peru, such as the capital of Acre, Rio Branco, and Puerto Maldonado, travel all the way to Brasilia, leave Fortaleza via submarine cable, enter the United States through Miami, pass by California descending down the Pacific to Lima, and continue on their way to Puerto Maldonado: a 8,000-kilometer trip between two points only 300 kilometers apart. On a basis like this, it is impossible to speak of sovereignty and integration.
There is also a dependence on European countries. In order to connect some sites between Brazil or Argentina and Ecuador or Colombia, the connection must cross the Atlantic to Europe and return to the continent. A country like Brazil, which is already an emerging global power and will become the world’s 5th-largest economy this year, lives in a situation of dependence on communication: 46% of its international internet traffic comes from outside of the country, and of that 90% makes a pit stop in the United States.
With respect to the region as a whole, 80% of international data traffic from Latin America passes through the United States, double that of Asia and four times the percentage from Europe. This excessive dependence makes communication more expensive. After the meeting at Asunción, the Minister of Industry and Energy in Uruguay, Roberto Kreimerman, stated that between 30% and 50% of connection costs correspond to payments to companies offering connection services to developed countries.
The first step approved by Cosiplan is to survey and chart all the existing networks in each country. After that, three steps of development have been established: first, the connection of physical points located on every border, some of which will be finalized this year, such as in Argentina, Paraguay, Venezuela, Bolivia and Uruguay. Second, state-owned telecom companies, like Telebras of Brazil and Arsat of Argentina, as well as private companies, will lay the foundational framework for the networks. In the third stage, they will extend the cables to neighboring borders.
At each border, internet exchange points will be created to support the companies. The fiber-optic ring will extend 10,000 kilometers and be managed by state-owned companies from each country to keep communications safe and cheap. According to Paulo Bernardo, Minister of Communication in Brazil (and head the agency that came up with the project), the ring “reduces our vulnerability to an attack and the safety of state or military secrets.”
The direct link will increase the connection speed between South American nations 20% to 30% and will decrease costs. Investments at this stage will be very low, around $100 million, which begs the question why it wasn’t done before.
Autonomy and Sovereignty
The project will be complete after the installation of various submarine cables. One will lie between Brazil (the country most interested in the project) and the U.S., entering Miami, Jacksonville or Virginia and passing through the Caribbean, which allows Colombia and Venezuela to be connected. Another will unite the continent with Europe directly passing through Cabo Verde and preferably entering via Amsterdam. A third will connect Fortaleza (northern Brazil) with Angola (Africa) branching off to Argentina and Uruguay.
This part of the project will be realized by Eletrobras, the Brazilian state company in charge of the National Broadband Plan, the federal government’s initiative to broaden access to the entire population before the 2014 World Cup. The objective is to provide 40 million citizens with broadband access and 60 million with broadband mobile access.
Until now Brazil has had only four submarine cable links in Fortaleza, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and Santos that connect South America with the U.S. Each is operated by private companies, which, from a strategic perspective, causes the country to lose part of its sovereignty. The rest of the countries in the region have access to these cables, but some either lack international fiber optic networks or have overloaded existing ones. That explains why the international “link” represents 45% of the cost of broadband.
At the same time, Brazil is negotiating with the United Nations to democratize internet management which is currently in the hands of American companies who control the IP addresses, URLs and domain names. The spokesperson for the Minister of Foreign Relations, Tovar da Silva Nunes, explained that “the management of the flow of information is very concentrated” because “the internet domain is under the auspices of the U.S. government …it is not safe, fair or desirable.”
For this reason, Brazil and other emerging nations, in addition to some European countries, support the creation of a global convention for access to information at Rio+20 that allows the democratization of the control of communication. Such a framework must include the construction of a fiber optic ring as a physical infrastructure for collaborative communication.
The region is living a new reality that shows it is possible to advance in a type of collaboration that goes beyond free commerce to promote equal development in the region. Nonetheless, there remain many doubts and uncertainties. Many processes progress quickly, like the fiber optic ring, highways and hydroelectric dams, while others sink, like the southern gas pipeline that would have created an energy interconnection. Meanwhile, others creep along at a slow pace, like Banco del Sur which promotes a new financial framework in the region.
Brazil is interested in releasing itself from the grip of the Global North and promoting these policies in the region. However, it does not have as much interest in promoting other initiatives like Banco del Sur since it already possesses a powerful development bank, the BNDES, which is handling finances for a good part of infrastructure works in the region.
Given this sentiment, it was Unasur who laid out the objective of providing continuity to the “successes and advances” of the Initiative for the Integration of Regional South American Infrastructure (IIRSA), to the project it considers “a consensus response to the challenges of effective integration and growing necessities for infrastructure in South America initiated in 2000.”
Accordingly, Unasur picks up where IIRSA left off, which has been seriously criticized by social movements. In its 10 years of existence it has picked up 524 projects with investments totaling 100 billion dollars. In January, 2011, there were 53 completed projects, almost 200 in the execution phase and 150 in the preparation phrase. 85% of the projects are transport-related while 12% are in energy.
In 2010, Cosiplan laid out a Plan of Action that urges “building a strategic and integral South American perspective of regional infrastructure favorable to balance and territorial cohesion as well as human development in harmony with nature.”
This new “strategic vision” is a positive one in that it responds to the interests of the South American people. On the other hand, it may reproduce old forms of suppression since it was born from the interests of one country and multinational corporations. The works of IIRSA-Unasur are being challenged by those citizens who feel affected, as happened with the highway that was proposed to cross the TIPNIS in Bolivia and the energy agreement that Peru and Brazil signed in 2010, which foresaw the construction of five dams in the Inambari River.
Apart from the dams to be built in Brazil’s rivers in the Amazon, the state company Eletrobras plans on constructing 11 dams in Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Uruguay with an installed power of 26,000 MW, almost double that of Itaipu which supplies 17% of energy consumption to Brazil. The energy and highway projects that are currently being postulated by Unasur tend to replicate the same structures that until now had been the cause of Latin America’s dependence.
It may be that the Fiber Optic Ring presents these same characteristics since it was proposed and designed by Brazil and it tends to serve Brazil’s interests. The exit route of the most important submarine cables will stay on Brazil’s coasts. The connection with Africa foments the multiple commercial and corporate interests that Brazil has on that continent. Eletrobras is the company in charge of a good part of the optic ring and its financing is controlled by BNDES.
That is why we can say that initiatives, like the fiber optic interconnection, are a step towards regional autonomy although it may be laying the foundation for new inequalities. It will be up to the governments and people of the region to debate the benefits of these projects.
Raul Zibechi is an international political analyst from the weekly Brecha de Montevideo, a professor and researcher on grassroots movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to many grassroots groups He writes the monthly “Zibechi Report” for the Americas Program.
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