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February 28, 2012

Too many chefs in Chavez's medical kitchen? Cuban, Chinese, Russian, Brazilian doctors said involved

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez traveled to Cuba Friday for a fresh round of surgery. He's admitted that doctors have found a lesion near the site where he had a cancerous tumor removed in June. But since the weekend, there has been a virtual news blackout on Chavez's condition. 

Not surprisingly, the lack of official news has the rumor mill in overdrive. So, in the interest of adding grist, I provide these two items:

On Monday, WikiLeaks began releasing emails stolen from the Austin-based intelligence firm Stratfor. Buried among them is this piece, that suggests Cuban, Russian and Chinese doctors are bickering over Chavez's health. (The back and forth about the quality of the source makes interesting reading.)

Today, Globo blogger Merval Pereira, said the rumors that Libyan and Syrian doctors were on their way was false. But he did say a Brazilian doctor is also involved in the procedure.

February 27, 2012

Correa vs. the Universe Part 2: A pending pardon?

Last week, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa hinted that a pardon might be in the works for El Universo newspaper. You might recall that Correa sued a columnist and three executives of the paper for a column they published a year ago.

The controversial libel case revolves around a scathing editorial that focused on the events of September 2010, when Correa was briefly taken hostage by protesting policemen. Four security officers died when they raided the hospital to free the president. A fifth person died at a separate location.

In his February 2011 editorial, columnist Emilio Palacio suggested that a future president could press criminal charges against Correa for ordering troops to attack a hospital full of innocent civilians.

Correa sued for libel and on Feb. 16, Ecuador’s high courts ratified the sentence, issuing three-year jail terms for Palacio and the executives, and ordering them to pay $42 million.

Over the weekend, Correa's office said he would be reading an "open letter" to the world about the fate of El Universo. Most think a pardon is in the works. You can watch it streaming live here.

February 22, 2012

Chavez health scare casts shadow on reelection campaign

Just a few years ago, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez used to taunt the opposition by vowing to stay in power until 2031. But now that the 57-year-old leader is facing another cancer scare, some analysts question his ability to hold onto the presidency through the current election cycle.

Facing a tight reelection against a unified opposition, Chávez had been stepping up his public appearances and relying on his legendary charisma to secure an additional six-year term.

Despite being in power for 13 years, he still enjoys approval ratings of about 50 percent. But the announcement Tuesday that he will be returning to Cuba to have a lesion removed, and that it’s likely cancerous, changes the equation.

While Chávez remains popular, his allies and ministers are often blamed for the nation’s problems, wrote Daniel Kerner, a Latin America analyst with New York-based Eurasia Group. And that makes Chávez’s illness — even if he is healthy enough to campaign — a serious liability.

“A large share of voters would probably be reluctant to elect a president that may not be around to fulfill his mandate, especially given how unpopular figures around Chávez are,” Kerner wrote.

Read more here.

February 15, 2012

Chavez to Venezuela opposition: don't poach my ideas, dress up like me for carnival

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez unloaded on the opposition Wednesday, accusing them of lacking proposals and resorting to mimicry of his administration to gin up their popularity ahead of October’s presidential race. 

His comments, transmitted by the Ministry of Communications, come as government supporters and officials are ramping up their attacks on a newly revitalized opposition. 

“What are your ideas bourgeoisie?” Chávez asked during a televised meeting of the National Assembly. “Be honest bourgeoisie! Don’t come out with stories now to camouflage your anti-nationalist, enemy-of-the-people, anti-Bolivarian message!”

The outburst comes after Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of Miranda state, swept an opposition primary on Sunday and became Chávez’s chief rival for the presidency.

Capriles, 39, saw his popularity surge as he vowed to bring Venezuelans back together and reduce ideological tensions. In Wednesday’s speech, Chávez said that former Dictator Juan Vicente Gómez also talked of unity.

The coalition of opposition forces said more than 3 million of Venezuela's 18 million registered voters cast a ballot in Sunday’s open primary. Officials have accused the opposition of exaggerating the figures. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court Tuesday said voter records must be handed over, but the coalition said it is going ahead with plans to destroy the documents to protect voters from government retaliation.

Chávez, 57, has been in power for 13-years and his mix of nationalism and programs for the poor have given him strong approval ratings.

Capriles has told Chávez supporters that they have nothing to fear from his presidency and that he would continue, and even expand, some government programs – as long as they are effective. 
On Wednesday, Chávez accused the opposition of trying to piggyback on his ideas.

“Do you want to look like Chávez bourgeoisie? You should take advantage of Carnival and dress up like a little Chávez,” he said. 

The comments come as state-run television has been stepping up attacks. The La Hojilla talk show, which runs on state television, claims it has police documents that show Capriles was caught int a homosexual act in 2000. The show has also led the charges that the coalition resorted to fraud to drum up voter figures.

February 10, 2012

Colombia seizes explosive mattresses destined for the FARC

MatresspicColombia's FARC guerrillas have been busted transporting explosive mattresses - well, really, explosives in mattresses.

In a statement, the police said they had recently stopped two such shipments. 

In one set of six mattresses they found 206 packages of pentolite, almost 800 meters of detonating cord, and a PKT machine gun.

In another mattress shipment, they found 177 kilos worth of explosives. This is the first time the police have detected Colombia's illegal groups making transfers inside "comfortable mattresses for sale in specialized stores." Read the full press release - with additional pictures - here. 

The seizure comes as the FARC is accused of stepping up its bombing campaign amid increased military presence along drug routes.

Colombia has to deal with touchy guests at Summit of the Americas

Colombia will have to rely on some crafty diplomacy if it hopes to overcome the brewing US-Ecuador standoff at the Summit of the Americas. During a recent trip to Venezuela, Ecuador President Rafael Correa asked the eight-members of the ALBA bloc of countries to boycott the Summit of the Americas (which will be held in Cartagena in April) if Cuba was not invited. 

Colombia's foreign ministry said it would begin negotiations to make sure the island nation makes it past the velvet ropes. But it's not clear that the United States is going to budge. During a State Department briefing on Tuesday, the spokesman said the following: "Our view on the posture of Cuba has not changed with regard to the Summit of the Americas and we don’t think that the posture of the Summit nations should change either."

In theory, the meeting is only open to active members of the OAS. You may recall that the body dropped its 47 year ban on Cuba in 2009, but the country decided not to pursue membership.

Washington has been edged out of some of the more important pan-American bodies. (The Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations, in particular.) 

This Summit would give Obama a rare opportunity for Washington to rub shoulders with all the regional leaders. And who doesn't want to go to Cartagena?


jim wyss

Inside South America is written by Jim Wyss, the South America bureau chief for the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers.

Feel free to send a story suggestion. Read Jim's stories at MiamiHerald.com.

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