Thursday, September 22, 2016

Running Out of Options for a Peaceful Transitition?

from ABC News
Election officials on Wednesday quashed the opposition's hope of holding a recall referendum that could wrest Venezuela's presidency from the ruling socialist party.

Officials said a national vote on removing President Nicolas Maduro could take place if the opposition gathers enough signatures over the course of three days at the end of October, but add that a referendum would be held in the first quarter of 2017.

That timing is crucial. A successful vote to oust Maduro this year would trigger a presidential election and give the opposition a shot at winning power. If Maduro were to be voted out in 2017, though, his vice president would finish the presidential term, leaving the socialists in charge.


With Venezuela's economy in crisis, with soaring inflation and widespread shortages, polls say a majority of Venezuelans want Maduro gone.

Critics of Venezuela's 17-year left-wing administration have made the recall their central political issue. The opposition staged its largest street demonstration in years Sept. 1 with a rally in Caracas demanding a referendum against Maduro be held in 2016.

The spokesman for the opposition coalition, Jesus Torrealba, said at a news conference Wednesday night that the opposition would continue to demand a recall vote this year.

"The government is scared to face the people in elections, in the street, in any civic arena," he said.

Socialist party leaders have been saying all along that any recall vote would not take place this year.

Other conditions laid out by elections officials Wednesday were also unfavorable to the opposition.

Maduro's opponents will be allowed to gather voter signatures Oct. 26-28, with 20 percent of Venezuela's registered voters needed to call a referendum. The opposition previously gathered signatures from 1 percent of the electorate, which allowed them to go to the second phase of signature collection.

But in a blow to the recall effort, officials said that for the campaign to succeed it must get signatures from 20 percent of the electorate in each of Venezuela's 23 states. Opposition leaders say they should only have to gather signatures from 20 percent of the voter roll nationwide, since some states are very remote and sparsely populated, and it's the popular vote that determines who wins the presidency.

The opposition asked the government to provide 20,000 voting machines that are used to register and verify signatures, but officials will provide only 5,400.

The campaign also wanted to use the machines all day. Instead, the government will open polling stations for just seven hours daily.

Even if the election is delayed until next year, the three-day signature gathering process could be the opposition's best chance at getting supporters into the streets for a show of strength.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who has led the recall campaign and is considered to have a strong shot at winning a presidential election, responded to Wednesday's announcement by pointing to opinion polls that suggest 80 percent of Venezuelans would vote against Maduro.

"They are the 20%! We are the great majority, the 80%! We are millions and we are going to make them feel it!" he wrote on Twitter.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Almost 60% of Venezuelans Want OUT!

from the Miami Herald
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA - Venezuelans of all political stripes want to abandon the country in record numbers, as the socialist nation continues its downward economic and political spiral, according to a poll released Friday.

A survey by Caracas-based Datincorp found that 57 percent of all Venezuelans said they want to leave the country, up from 49 percent in May 2015. Broken down by political affiliation, the poll found that 24 percent of all government supporters and 71 percent of those who consider themselves the opposition want to emigrate.

“People don’t want to leave for political reasons. It’s not that they hate the left or socialism,” said Datincorp President Jesús Seguías. “It’s because quality of life has tanked.”

The trend is particularly worrisome in a nation that has a long history of seeing net inflows of migrants.

In its report, Datincorp called the phenomenon “the gravest problem that Venezuela is facing — worse than the [food] shortages, the high cost of living and crime.”

Seguías said the statement isn’t overblown. While the economy can be fixed with reforms and crime can be reduced by overhauling the police, getting Venezuelans to come home once they’ve left will be challenging.

Most of those who are leaving are educated professionals, he said, and their departure is hollowing out society.

“This is a drama that could have historic consequences,” he said.

Outflow

From 1990 to 2015, the number of Venezuelans living abroad more than tripled from 185,282 to 606,344, according to the United Nations’ Population Division. Venezuelan media, citing researchers, claim that as many as 1.6 million people might have left the country in the decade starting in 1999.

From 2005-2014, some 100,324 Venezuelans became legal residents in the United States — including 8,427 in that last year alone — according to the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition, the PEW Research Center said there were 248,000 Venezuelans living in the United States in 2013, and that 42 percent of them live in Florida.

But Datincorp said it has seen a spike in those moving abroad starting after national protests in 2014. It also said that “based on several studies, there’s a second big exodus taking place right now.”

The survey of 1,200 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. And it was done on Aug. 22 — just days before an estimated 1 million people took to the streets of Caracas to push for a presidential recall.

Venezuela is rich in oil but poor in just about everything else. In recent years, it’s been caught in a downward spiral of triple digit inflation, food shortages and soaring crime. As President Nicolás Maduro has seen his ratings fall and his term threatened by the recall push, his administration has dug in, jailing politicians, activists and critical journalists.

What the administration hasn’t done is engage in the wholesale reforms that some say are needed to pull the country out of the morass.

Seguías said it was impossible to tell which of the multiple factors were forcing Venezuelans to flee.

“I think it’s the desperation of seeing a country that just keeps getting worse,” he said.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Maduro Starts Arresting the Messengers

CARACAS (AFP) – The Venezuelan authorities charged prominent journalist Braulio Jatar Alonso with money launder-ing Monday, although his family says he was arrested for releasing videos of a rowdy protest against President Nicolas Maduro.

Jatar, a Chilean-Venezuelan national, was one of around 30 people arrested after a protest on Friday in which an angry, pot-banging crowd surrounded the leftist president at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, blaming him for crippling food shortages.

Dozens of protesters were swept up in an ensuing crackdown, human rights groups said. All have now been released except Jatar, the director of the Venezuelan news website Reporte Confidencial.

The National Press Workers’ Union condemned his arrest as “arbitrary” and “political”.

“Deprived of his freedom for reporting the news,” Jatar’s son wrote on Twitter. “They won’t muzzle us, and they won’t muzzle Venezuela.”

Posting images of a heavily armed police contingent outside his father’s hearing in the Caribbean island resort city of Porlamar, he quipped that it resembled a court appearance of the Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Jatar will remain in custody at the local headquarters of the Venezuelan intelligence service, his website said.

The journalist was arrested Saturday morning on his way to a radio station where he hosts a program, his family says.

The authorities have not explained their case against him. According to Jatar’s family, police say he was arrested with a large amount of cash in his vehicle.

The Venezuelan government has accused the media of “exaggerating” Friday’s protest, which came on the heels of massive anti-Maduro demonstrations that drew around a million people on Thursday, the biggest in decades.

Sideswiped by a plunge in global crude prices, oil-rich Venezuela has descended into an economic crisis marked by severe shortages of food, medicine and basic goods.

Protesters are demanding the authorities let the opposition go ahead with efforts to call a referendum on removing Maduro from power.

Around 60 people were arrested for unrest at Thursday’s protests, 23 of whom remain in custody, according to a watchdog group.