Following the victory of Hugo Chavez’s former vice president Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela’s presidential elections on April 13, right-wing destabilization efforts have resulted in at least seven deaths. While at least 47 countries have sent official delegations to Maduro's inauguration April 19, the US and Spanish governments are alone in their echoing the opposition's call for a complete recount of votes before they will recognize Maduro. The Venezuelan president-elect had been congratulated by Latin American governments across the political spectrum, including El Salvador, Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile.
At an April 7 campaign stop in Puerto Ayacucho, Amazonas department, Venezuelan presidential candidate Nicolás Maduro—now interim president and heir apparent of the late Hugo Chávez—called down a centuries-old indigenous curse on his political opponents. Refering to himself in third person, the candidate said: "The people who vote against Maduro, vote against themselves... If the bourgeoisie win power, health and education will be privatized, and the Indians will be removed from their lands. The Curse of Macarapana will fall on them. But we are not going to allow that to be." In the Battle of Macarapana, at what is now Parque del Oeste in Caracas, indigenous chieftain Catia was defeated by conquistador Diego de Losada in 1567, and by popular legend laid a curse on the victors.
At this hour, Venezuelans are gathering in central Caracas, many in tears and holding portraits of their late leader Hugo Chávez, who passed after a long illness. In more well-heeled parts of the city, celebratory fireworks are going off. The right-wing opposition, and its allies in Washington and Miami, will doubtless see this as their hour. At stake is not merely the future of Venezuela, but all Latin America, given Chávez's leadership of the continent's anti-imperialist bloc. This was made clear last month when Ecuador's Rafael Correa "dedicated" his re-election to Chávez. We hope we can take Chávez at his word about how his movement transcends his personality cult. Weeks before his passing, he said: "They're thinking that Chávez is through. Chávez is not through. What's more and what I'd better tell you, when this body really gives out, Chávez will not be through, because I am no longer Chávez. Chávez is in the streets and has become the people, and has become a national essence, more than a feeling, a national body." (Quoted in Reuters, March 5)
Sabino Romero, cacique (traditional chief) of the Yukpa indigenous people in Venezuela's Sierra de Perijá, was assassinated on the night of March 3, when unknown gunmen ambushed his vehicle on a road in Machiques municipality, Zulia state, as he was traveling to a community meeting at the village of Chaktapa. Supporters immediately said he had been targeted for opposing extractive industries, particularly coal mining, in the Yukpa territory. Said human rights group PROVEA in a statement: "Sabino Romero had suffered a constant ciminalization by the authorities due to his mobilization in defense of the rights of the Yukpa people. He suffered privation of his liberty for 18 months, and was permanently harassed by police functionaries."
In the first sign of a thaw in relations between the US and Venezuela, the Caracas government is weighing a request from Washington to allow a high-level DEA official to visit the South American country. Venezuela's ambassador to the Organization of American States, Roy Chaderton, told the Associated Press Jan. 18: "We are open to improving relations with the United States, but we are not seeking in this overture a good conduct certification on the part of the government or congress of the United States." The US has for the past four years "blacklisted" Venezuela for its alleged failure to take measures against drug trafficking. Chaderton and US deputy assistant secretary of state Kevin Whittaker met in late 2012 in an effort to improve relations between their countries. (AP via Fox News Latino, Jan. 19; Informe, Zulia, Globovision, Caracas, Jan. 18)
In a Nov. 17 statement the leaders of the Southern Common Market (Mercosur), a trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay (suspended), Uruguay and Venezuela, expressed their "strongest condemnation of the violence unleashed between Israel and Palestine" and their "concern with the disproportionate use of force" since Israel began a military offensive against Gaza on Nov. 14. Mercosur also expressed "its support to the request from the state of Palestine to obtain the status of [United Nations] observer member."
A delegation of some 60 members of the Yukpa indigenous group from Venezuela's western Sierra de Perijá held a rally in Caracas Nov. 7, protesting violent aggression against their communities by cattle ranchers who covet their traditional lands near the Colombian border. Community leaders charged that seven Yukpa men have been have been killed this year at the hands of ranchers or their sicarios (hired assassins) in the municipality of Machiques, Zulia state. Ironically, the violence escalted after the government granted Yukpa communities title to their traditional lands last December. Ranchers claim they never received the 250 million bolivars ($58 million) pledged them by the government as compensation for contested lands. "The title to the land has been granted to us, but it hasn't been enforced because the cattle ranchers still live on our territory, and there are still massacres occurring in our community," said Yukpa leader Zenaida Romero, who still carries a bullet from a recent attack. The Yukpa are demanding direct talks with Minister of Indigenous Peoples Aloha Nuñez to resolve the issue.
Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chávez of the United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) was re-elected by 54.42% of the vote, with 90% of the ballots counted as results of the hard-fought race came in the night of Oct. 7. Young opposition candidate Henrique Capriles of the Primero Justicia coalition had 44.97%. Over 80% of Venezuela's 19,119,809 registered voters participated in the election. As the results were announced, Chávez supporters poured into the streets, with a massive and spontaneous party breaking out in front of the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas. (VenezuelAnalysis, Reuters, AVN, Aporrea, Oct. 8)