In Depth: Venezuela

chavez funeral

<See below Suffragio’s preview of Venezuela’s April 2013 presidential election, followed by a real-time listing of all coverage of Venezuelan politics.>

Venezuelans will go to the polls on April 14 to select a successor to Hugo Chávez, who died on March 5, 2013, just months after winning reelection to a fourth term in October 2012.Venezuela Flag Icon

Shortly after winning reelection, Chávez returned to Cuba for further treatment for a (still unspecified) illness related to cancer — a cancer that turned out to be terminal.  His inauguration on January 10 came and went, and much of Venezuela spent early 2013 in a state of suspended animation waiting for Chávez to either improve or worsen.

Chávez, who took power after the 1998 election, anointed his newly appointed vice president, Nicolás Maduro, the former foreign minster, as his preferred successor, and Maduro is running as the candidate of the governing Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV, or United Socialist Party of Venezuela) to carry forward the chavismo project.

His opponent will be the governor of Miranda state, Henrique Capriles, who lost the October 2012 presidential race to Chávez, and who represents the broad united opposition coalition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, the Democratic Unity Roundtable).

NOTE: I will be in Venezuela covering the lead-up to the election from April 9 to 16 — if you’re in Caracas and will be around, drop me a line.

— March 19, 2013

Please note below Suffragio‘s prior coverage of Venezuelan politics:

Politics turns violent in Venezuela
February 20, 2014

SiriusXM: More thoughts on Venezuela and Argentina
February 5, 2014

The National Interest: Will Venezuela or Argentina be the first to crumble into economic crisis?
January 30, 2014

Chavismo offers no solutions for Venezuela’s violent crime
January 8, 2014

After local elections, what next for Venezuela’s government?
December 23, 2013

Show us the long-form, Nicolás (in which birtherism comes to Venezuela)
September 27, 2013

Where Capriles and the Venezuelan opposition go from here
August 20, 2013

Pragmatic Merentes winning control over Venezuela economic policy — but to what end?
August 17, 2013

It’s Diosdado Cabello’s world, the rest of Venezuela is just living in it
June 4, 2013

We’re starting to see what Madurismo will look like in Venezuela
May 8, 2013

Gettin’ raucous in Caracas
May 1, 2013

CNE agrees to 100% audit of Venezuelan votes
April 19, 2013

The National Interest: Chávez’s radical antics provide space for progressive Latin American left
April 17, 2013

Photo essay: Caprilistas block traffic in Caracas suburb to protest fraud
April 15, 2013

A primer on the MUD, Venezuela’s broad opposition coalition
April 15, 2013

The Atlantic: Chavismo is a continuity of — not a rupture from — the petrostate
April 15, 2013

The New Republic: Venezuela’s economy is tumbling despite oil prices over $100/barrel
April 15, 2013

Cabello comments indicate cracks in the chavista high guard?
April 15, 2013

LIVE BLOG from Caracas: Election night in Venezuela
April 14, 2013

Photo essay: Political graffiti and street art in Caracas
April 13, 2013

What’s the deal with Venezuelan presidential campaigns and jumpsuits?
April 13, 2013

Capriles campaign optimistic with 48 hours to go — but can it win?
April 12, 2013

Livin’ la vida seca — the election dray law takes effect in Venezuela
April 12, 2013

Deutsche Welle: Growing U.S.-Venezuelan commercial ties won’t lead to diplomatic thaw if Maduro wins
April 12, 2013

A conversation with former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy
April 12, 2013

The National Interest: Capriles could be the better guarantor of chavismo in Venezuela
April 12, 2013

Photo essay: A chavista party in central Caracas
April 11, 2013

Venezuela marks coup anniversary in leadup to election
April 11, 2013

A diatribe against arepas — and food policy in the Caribbean basin
April 11, 2013

Not a banana republic but an avocado economy
April 10, 2013

Maduro campaign active on penultimate campaign day in Caracas
April 10, 2013

The political geography of Caracas
April 10, 2013

Does Venezuela need its own Margaret Thatcher?
April 9, 2013

Lula’s Maduro endorsement highlights strategic Brazilian ties to Venezuela
April 2, 2013

The policy case for Capriles in Venezuela
April 1, 2013

The policy case for Maduro in Venezuela
April 1, 2013

Book review: ‘Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela’ by Rory Carroll
March 29, 2013

In death, the Chávez cult has become even creepier
March 27, 2013

¡Hasta siempre, comandante!
March 23, 2013

Meet the new heir to Hugo Chávez: the feistier, populist Capriles 2.0
March 22, 2013

World leaders descend upon Chávez funeral: one photo but mil palabras
March 8, 2013

Should Capriles automatically get a second shot at Venezuela’s presidency?
March 6, 2013

Chávez’s death kicks off sudden presidential election in Venezuela
March 5, 2013

Despite Capriles win, regional elections a setback for Venezuelan opposition to Chávez
December 26, 2012

With Chávez’s health in doubt, regional Venezuelan elections assume greater importance
December 12, 2012

Chávez officially names Maduro as anointed successor
December 10, 2012

In naming Maduro as new VP, Chávez indicates preference for successor
October 11, 2012

Chávez headed for apparent narrow reelection in Venezuela
October 7, 2012

But really: can Henrique Capriles defeat chavismo?
October 7, 2012

Doubts surface in media about Capriles in Venezuelan presidential race
June 2, 2012

A shift in tone about Chávez’s health
April 6, 2012

Venezuelan presidential race a toss-up
March 23, 2012

And Chávez is back
March 19, 2012

Eventos, my dear boy, eventos
February 23, 2012

Can Henrique Capriles defeat chavismo?
February 14, 2012

Cypriot parliament overwhelmingly rejects EU bailout terms, turns to Plan B

Protesters take part in an anti-bailout rally outside the parliament in Nicosia

This was not surprising.

After a couple of delays, Cyprus’s 56-member House of Representatives (Βουλή των Αντιπροσώπων) has rejected the European Union-led bailout of Cyprus’s banks by a vote of 0 to 36, with 19 abstaining and one not present.European_Unioncyprus_world_flag

As I wrote yesterday, the parliamentary rejection became increasingly likely as the vote became delayed.

So where do things stand now?

The crisis continues to unfold in real time — although the bailout terms ( €10 billion loan to Cyprus, with an additional €5.8 billion to be raised by means of a haircut on all Cypriot depositors) were announced Friday night, Cypriot banks are now closed through at least Thursday while everyone scrambles for a Plan B.

The European Central Bank has, for now, agreed to continue ‘its commitment to provide liquidity as needed within the existing rules,’ but who know what that means?  The current crisis started over the weekend when the ECB threatened to pull that support.

Obviously, EU leaders and the International Monetary Fund will probably go back to the negotiating table with newly inaugurated Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades to determine a new approach — the EU position now seems to be that they don’t care how Cyprus raises the €5.8 billion, so long as they raise it.  Essentially, that means some kind of rebalancing of the burden to be shared by depositors in Cyprus — that means perhaps raising the 9.9% levy on deposits over €100,000 and lowering the 6.75% levy on deposits under €100,000.

Meanwhile, there’s word that Cyprus and Russia are now in talks over, potentially, either a solution that involves Russia or Gazprom — Cypriot finance minister Michael Sarris actually flew to Moscow Tuesday, which indicates that the Cypriots and the Russians are extremely serious.

In this regard, today’s vote probably bought some crucial time to come up with a credible counter-offer from Moscow.  Russian president Vladimir Putin is, in particular, upset about the approach because around 22% of deposits in Cypriot banks are held by Russian citizens.  That, in fact, is one of the reasons why the EU was so wary of providing a full bailout to Cyprus over the weekend.  Russia has designs on future exploration of natural gas deposits in Cyprus, and it could also well have designs on a greater military presence in Cyprus as well.  All of this has profound geopolitical security implications — for the EU and Greek Cypriots, but also for Turkish Cypriots, the United States, and its NATO allies, including Turkey.

Whether Anastasiades is serious or not about the Russian alternative, it certainly gives him more negotiation leverage with the EU and the IMF, which could conceivably revert back to a full  €17 billion bailout, via the ‘troika’ or through the European Stability Mechanism, as Open Europe notes in a great post.

We’re also in such uncharted territory that if ‘EU Plan B’ or ‘Russia Plan B’ don’t work, then Plan C is pretty much a disorderly default that finds Cyprus tumbling out of the eurozone, with even greater pain for Cypriot savers, Russians depositors, and all of the holders of private and public Cypriot debt, to say nothing of the costs to the eurozone — now that EU minds from Brussels to Berlin to Helsinki have escalated the bailout into an international crisis, it could catalyze an entirely self-inflicted domino effect that would pretty rapidly bring the eurozone to 2008-crisis levels.

So let’s hope we don’t get to that, though with the United Kingdom airlifting €1 million in cash to Cyprus to cover military personnel unable to access their own funds and with Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky mock-eulogizing private property in the EU, the Cypriot situation has already reached a pretty high crisis mode.

One question that I haven’t heard asked in the past 72 hours, and one I wish I had an answer: why hasn’t Moscow been involved in the Cypriot bailout talks from last June onward? It’s clear that there’s a Russian interest in an orderly bailout (or even selective default) for Cyprus and its debt-bloated banks.

Russia has already extended a €2.5 billion loan to Cyprus, and Cyprus and the EU are dependent on Russia’s rolling over than loan soon if the current EU-led bailout to have any chance of working.

Are the channels of communication between Brussels and Moscow really so poor?

All of this was predictable nine months ago.

Even if the EU ultimately blinks, it’s already done a lot of damage that it can’t well undo — it’s still the case that the EU has undermined Anastasiades just days into his administration, pretty much destroyed the short-term future of the Cypriot finance sector, undermined the concept of deposit insurance throughout the eurozone, given every euroskeptic on the continent a prime example of the anti-democratic nature of the EU project.

Above all, the Cypriot crisis has undermined global confidence in EU leaders at a time when most everyone was certain that the worst of the eurozone crisis was behind us.

The good news? No word of significant bank runs in Italy or Spain, though I’d love to see how much capital quietly leaves those two countries electronically in the two weeks following March 15.

Photo credit to Yorgos Karahalis of Reuters.

Twelve lessons to draw from Netanyahu’s new Israeli cabinet government


Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s third coalition government was sworn in yesterday hours before U.S. president Barack Obama arrives for his first trip as president to Israel. ISrel Flag Icon

The government that Netanyahu will lead following January’s elections to the Knesset (הכנסת), Israel’s unicameral parliament, is certainly the most tenuous one of Netanyahu’s career.

Despite the fact that Netanyahu’s center-right Likud (הַלִּכּוּד‎, ‘The Consolidation’), in electoral coalition with the more hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu (ישראל ביתנו‎, ‘Israel is Our Home’) won the greatest number of seats (31) in January’s election, the governing coalition is one that will be dominated less by Netanyahu and more by the two ‘winners’ of the election:

  • Yair Lapid, a news reporter, anchor and the leader of Yesh Atid (יש עתיד, ‘There is a Future’), a new centrist party formed in 2012 that won 19 seats, and
  • Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff from 2006 to 2008, a former spokesman for the settler movement, and the leader of the religious Zionist Bayit Yehudi (הבית היהודי, ‘The Jewish Home’) that won 12 seats.

In addition, the newly formed centrist party of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Hatnuah (התנועה, ‘The Movement’), with six seats, and the centrist party Livni once led, Kadima (קדימה, ‘Forward’), with two seats, will join the government.

Together, it will give Netanyahu a 70-seat coalition — a strong majority, despite the fact that his own party holds a minority of seats within the government he will now lead.

What does that mean for Israeli policy and for Israeli politics — at least for the foreseeable future?

Here are a dozen lessons that the new cabinet’s formation teaches us:

1. Netanyahu is weaker than ever. 

For those of you counting at home, Netanyahu’s Likud holds just 20 of the seats in the Knesset, and even together with Yisrael Beitenu, their combined bloc holds a minority of the seats within the new government.

Following the election, despite their vast differences, Bennett (pictured above, right) and Lapid (pictured above, left) formed what’s become a surprisingly enduring strategic alliance.  Together they forced Netanyahu to accept a coalition without the haredi parties that have been in each government since 2006 — the ultraorthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Likud will hold just nine of the 22 ministries — Netanyahu was forced to agree to a slimmed-down cabinet, and he was forced to cede control over the education portfolio, formerly held by Likud heavyweight Gideon Sa’ar (who had at one point been tipped to become the next finance minister, but will now become interior minister instead).

It’s clear that Bennett and Lapid, so long as they remain strategically allied, will hold just as many seats as ‘Likud Beiteinu’ within the coalition (31), so they will have nearly as much power as Netanyahu in driving the agenda of the Israeli government, in the same way that they drove the harediinto opposition.

Continue reading Twelve lessons to draw from Netanyahu’s new Israeli cabinet government

A comparison of US and EU freedom of information regimes

For what it’s worth, I’ve been reviewing a law review article that I wrote in 2006 comparing, on the one hand, the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and, on the other hand, E.U. Regulation 1049/2001.European_UnionUSflag

The paper,  Ever Closer Transparency: Comparing the European Regulation on Public Access to Documents with the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, tries to accomplish three tasks: (i) establishing the theoretical context for freedom of information and the policy rationales underlying it, (ii) explicates the text of FOIA (5 U.S.C. §552), as adopted in 1966 and amended in 1974 in the United States, and Regulation 1049/2001, as adopted in the European Union in 2001, elucidating their similarities and differences, and (iii) providing five recommendations to strengthen the freedom-of-information regimes in each country.

Given that I spent the next part of the year taking the New York bar exam and jumping into a fund formation legal practice at Latham & Watkins, I never followed up with actually publishing the article, so I’m considering revising the paper and submitting it.

Any comments or recommendations on the original text (see in Scribd below — the link is here) are very much welcomed!

First Past the Post: March 19


East and South Asia

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan holds a 41% to 13% lead in this summer’s upper house elections against its chief rival, the Democratic Party of Japan.

North America

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton, widely believed to be the 2016 Democratic presidential frontrunner, supports gay marriage.

Québec’s Liberal Party chooses Philippe Couillard as its new party leader.

Latin America / Caribbean

Pope Francis meets up in Rome with Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (pictured above).

Mexicans resist foreign investment in Pemex, México’s state-owned oil industry. [Spanish]

Susana Villaran, the first female mayor of Lima in Perú, has survived a recall vote.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf wants to reform the country’s education system.

Kenyan president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta calls on the ICC to drop his case.

Was Raila Odinga’s campaign team to blame for his Kenyan presidential election loss?

Zimbabwe’s government arrests key opposition figures and human rights lawyers.


Will Pope Francis appoint a new Vatican secretary of state?

EU council president and former Belgian prime minister Herman Van Rompuy will step down in 2014. So will EU foreign representative Catherine Ashton will also step down.

In Bulgaria, both the ruling GERB and opposition Socialists have low support.

Leftist and human rights activist Laura Boldrini and Piero Grasso, a former anti-mafia magistrate, are the new speakers of the Italian lower and upper houses, respectively.

Middle East and North Africa

Syria’s rebel opposition has formed an interim government under a new prime minister, Ghassan Hitto.

Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan expected to call a ceasefire with Turkey.