By Stephanie Findlay - Thursday, November 25, 2010 - 3 Comments
Gov. Henri Falcón may be the opposition’s great hope in the 2012 presidential election
Henri Falcón, the governor of Venezuela’s western state of Lara, is picking up momentum. His name is being tossed around by analysts as a potential candidate to run against Hugo Chávez in the 2012 presidential elections. And with the failure of Chávez’s United Socialist Party to reach a two-thirds majority in the national assembly elections held this September, the opposition, including Fatherland for All, of which Falcón is a member, is strengthening.
Elected governor of Lara in 2008, and a former mayor of the state’s capital city of Barquisimeto—he was elected twice, in 2000 and 2004—Falcón joined Chávez’s party in 2007, but broke ranks this February to join Fatherland for All. In his open resignation letter to Chávez, Falcón wrote that the president’s party was permeated by “bureaucracy, an absence of discussion, clientelism, factionalism, and a badly understood concept of loyalty.” In response, Chávez’s party has accused Falcón of colluding with the opposition and business groups in Lara. “He’s a traitor—let the people from Lara know it,” said Chávez on his weekly television show in March. “I know it, maybe like Christ knew that Judas was the traitor.”
By Julia Belluz - Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The beginning of the end of President Hugo Chávez’s decade-long grip on power in Venezuela
This week may have marked the beginning of the end of President Hugo Chávez’s decade-long grip on power in Venezuela—or at least the weakening of his self-described “socialist revolution.” The legislative elections in the country saw the opposition clench enough seats to end the president’s two-thirds majority in the national assembly, making it impossible for Chávez to pass laws unopposed and appoint judges and other key officials.
By Nadja Drost - Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
Will Colombia’s new leader ease tensions with Venezuela?
Their relationship has long suffered from bristling tensions, poisonous spats, and a lack of trust. But just as hopes were rising for an end to the acrimony and the turning of a new page, Colombia and Venezuela’s governments are once again embroiled in a blistering exchange of words.
Last week, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s administration declared it has evidence, including satellite photos, videos and intelligence gleaned from guerrilla deserters, that top rebel leaders from both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) are seeking refuge in guerrilla camps in Venezuela. Like clockwork, the assertion unleashed a maelstrom of cross-border turbulence.
By Josh Dehaas - Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
As food rots in ports, the president blames grocers and seizes stores. But will voters buy his line?
When 80,000 tonnes of food were found rotting in shipping containers at Puerto Cabello in the north of Venezuela in early June, church leaders called it “a sin that heaven is crying over.”
Apparently, the country’s state-owned oil company, PDVAL, which distributes subsidized food to Venezuela’s state-owned grocery stores, had been too disorganized to distribute it.
Subsequently, politicians in other coastal towns have confirmed the existence of rotting food in their ports, too. In the state of Anzoátegui, powdered milk never made it inland from port; in the state of Carabobo, a local councillor told the newspaper El Universal that he’d seen 1,600 tonnes of rice decaying on shore.
By macleans.ca - Friday, May 28, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 1 Comment
Hugo Chávez plays traffic cop, Naomi Campbell goes to The Hague, and Venus puts the ‘French’ in French Open
Prosecutors withdrew criminal charges Tuesday against former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant in the very public death in downtown Toronto last Aug. 31 of bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard. There was no prospect of conviction on the charges, which included criminal negligence causing death, said independent prosecutor Richard Peck, who was brought in from Vancouver because of the sensitivity of the case. Experts determined Sheppard, who was intoxicated, was trying to attack Bryant, when he tried to grab the steering wheel of Bryant’s convertible. Bryant sped off and Sheppard, clinging to the car, was slammed into a mailbox and a tree, before falling under the car. Bryant now works for a Toronto law firm.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
A week in the life of Sandra Bullock
A week in the life of Sandra Bullock
For the first time in her career, the star of umpteen romantic comedy flicks is receiving critical praise for her acting. Bullock’s starring role as a mother of two who takes in a struggling football star in The Blind Side has already garnered her a Golden Globe for Best Actress, and last Saturday she was honoured with another trophy—this time at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. There’s only one major stop left in awards season—the Oscars—and Bullock is considered the front-runner.
GARY COLEMAN, who played Arnold Jackson on Diff’rent Strokes, was arrested in Utah on Monday on domestic violence charges
Heartbroken Canadians have rallied behind Haiti in inspiring ways. A multi-network Canada for Haiti telethon raised $40 million, including federal contributions, in just one hour. (In comparison, America’s telethon, Hope for Haiti—which featured some of the biggest stars in film and music—raised US$60 million over the entire broadcast.) Canada is also delivering much more than money to the earthquake-ravaged capital of Port-au-Prince. Along with troops and medical aid, Ottawa is fast-tracking Haitian adoption cases so that homeless foster children can arrive here as soon as possible. Rebuilding Haiti will take many years and many more dollars, but in these early days, Canadians have every reason to be proud.
Stop the head shots
It was a stern punishment—and a justified one. Patrice Cormier, the junior hockey player who landed a vicious elbow to an opponent’s head, has been banned from Quebec’s junior league for the rest of the season. It was a gutsy decision, considering that Cormier is a major star (he captained Team Canada at the recent World Junior Championships) with a bright pro career ahead of him. The NHL must take note. For years, the big league has mused about the need to get tough on head shots—but never acted. As the Cormier case shows, if you want to rid the game of dangerous, inexcusable cheap shots, you need to target the cowardly perpetrators.
Denouncing a tyrant
Are Venezuelans growing tired of Hugo Chávez’s tyrannical rule? Cable companies in the country yanked Radio Caracas Televisión Internacional off the air after it went against new rules requiring networks to carry certain programming, including Chávez’s speeches. In response, thousands of university students took to the streets, protesting the president’s iron grip on the media. An election is scheduled for September, and the winds of change may be picking up steam.
A new chapter?
This week offered two bits of encouraging news for bookworms worried that Amazon’s new Kindle e-reader will make hardcovers and paperbacks a thing of the past. Famed Winnipeg bookseller McNally Robinson has emerged from a short stint in bankruptcy protection (the company filed in December) saying it still believes there is room for growth in the traditional book market. Its main rival, Indigo Books & Music, is already proving that point. The country’s largest book retailer announced a 29 per cent increase in quarterly profits, even though online business fell 2.7 per cent, thanks to surging sales at its bricks-and-mortar stores.
A scary new report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation suggests that young adults are at risk for heart disease. Along with the obvious—that more and more young people are morbidly obese— the report reveals that the number of Canadians between 20 and 34 with high blood pressure has almost doubled over the past decade. Ontario thinks it may have the solution: starting in 2011, it will be illegal to sell junk food or pop in every school. A good start, perhaps. But considering that most schools are down the street from a convenience store, the ban sounds more like lip service than hip service.
Gail Shea, the federal fisheries and oceans minister, got a pie in the face from a PETA protester during a photo op in Toronto. Surprise, surprise. Another tasteless prank from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the same organization that once compared slaughterhouses to Nazi gas chambers—and just honoured Canadian director James Cameron for an “inspiring message” he never meant to convey. Said PETA: “Viewers will recognize how the plight of Avatar’s catlike Na’vi people, who are faced with being driven off their land by a greedy corporation, closely echoes the real-life plight of animals on earth.” Maybe the folks at PETA forgot to wear the special 3-D glasses.
Iraqi extremists are doing their darndest to disrupt the country’s path to democracy. On Monday, three bombs went off outside large hotels in Baghdad, killing 36 people, all while international officials are working frantically to make sure that the country’s March elections actually happen. Meanwhile, the news in Afghanistan is equally discouraging. A new U.S. report expects security problems to increase in 2011, in part because the Taliban is getting better at bomb-making.
Don’t blame veils
A parliamentary report is urging the French government to ban Muslim women from wearing full face veils on public transport, in hospitals, schools and government ofﬁces. The niqab, said Bernard Accoyer, speaker of the National Assembly, is “a symbol of the repression of women and of extremist fundamentalism.” Unfortunately, he is only half right. The niqabs themselves are not the problem. In fact, many Muslims choose to wear the veil—not because they are oppressed and following orders. The real problem is the other half: the women who are forced to cover their faces by radical fathers and husbands. France—and Canada, too—should figure out a way to punish those specific men, not every woman.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
A week in the life of Yulia Tymoshenko
A week in the life of Yulia Tymoshenko
The prime minister of Ukraine, Tymoshenko is set to face Viktor Yanukovych in second-round
voting for the country’s presidency, expected to be held next month. Tymoshenko was a leader of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, the popular uprising against Yanukovych in the aftermath of the country’s 2004 presidential election. While Tymoshenko blamed Russian interference back then, she is now seen as being in favour of closer ties with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
A Canadian man who conspired to commit mass murder in the name of Islam has been handed the harshest punishment possible: life behind bars. The judge who delivered the sentence said it best: “It is difficult to put into words Zakaria Amara’s degree of responsibility. He was the leader and directing mind of a plot that would have resulted in the most horrific crime Canada has ever seen.” The confessed ringleader of the “Toronto 18”—a man obsessed with detonating truck bombs—was hoping for a 20-year term, which, with credit for time served, may have put him back on the streets by the end of the decade. But the life sentence ensures Amara will remain in prison until the day he dies, or the day the National Parole Board decides he is no longer a threat to fellow Canadians. We hope that’s a very, very long way off.
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 10:40 AM - 51 Comments
Venezuela seems to be girding for battle with Colombia
Even as Barack Obama continues to consider deploying more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, another conflict involving U.S. soldiers has been intensifying in Washington’s own backyard. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has recently exceeded his traditional incendiary anti-American rhetoric with talk of war with neighbouring Colombia, a long-time U.S. ally which since 2000 has hosted U.S. troops as part of an anti-drug effort. Chávez has gone so far as to mass 15,000 soldiers on his border with Colombia, where in recent weeks there has been a spate of slayings related to tensions between Venezuelan and Colombian paramilitary groups. On Nov. 8, he ordered his military to prepare for possible armed conflict. “The best way to avoid war is preparing for it,” Chávez told officers on a weekly TV and radio program. Of the U.S., Chávez said, “The empire is more threatening than ever,” and warned Obama to not “make a mistake” in ordering an attack on Venezuela.
The object of Chávez’s fury is an agreement signed on Oct. 30 between the conservative government in Bogotá and Washington that will increase access to seven Colombian military bases for U.S. troops, aircraft and warships assisting Colombia with its struggle against drug traffickers. The 10-year agreement does nothing to change a U.S. law that limits U.S. military personnel and contractors in Colombia to 1,400. While Álvaro Uribe’s government said the agreement limits American activity to Colombian territory, it has made neighbours nervous about American intentions, with Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador expressing concern. Chávez has gone further, condemning the deal as a step toward launching a military offensive against Venezuela, and claiming that the bases would be used for espionage purposes against his regime.
It has been a rapid turnaround by Chávez regarding the new U.S. administration. In April, at the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, Obama and Chávez met for the first time and exchanged handshakes and pats on the back. Chávez gave him a book about American interference in Latin America, while Obama pledged a new era of respect. But those positive atmospherics have dissolved. Chávez is now calling on Obama to give up his Nobel Peace Prize. “The United States government is a champion of cynicism, and Obama should give up his prize in the name of dignity, decorum and respect,” said Chávez. Of Obama’s promise of “change,” he declared, “What changes? The coup in Honduras, the bases in Colombia, the U.S. Navy presence in the Caribbean? This is a threat to peace in Latin America.”
By Katie Engelhart - Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 5:40 PM - 6 Comments
Venezuela may be supporting leftist guerrillas in Colombia
When Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez turned up at a news conference in Caracas last week with anti-tank rocket launchers in tow, it was clear he meant to send a message to Colombia. Now, after weeks of escalation, Chávez says he’s bracing for all-out combat with his South American neighbour.
Relations between the two countries hit rock bottom in late July, when Colombian ofﬁcials announced that weapons found in the hands of FARC—Colombia’s largest guerrilla army—came from Venezuela. The discovery could not have come at a worse time; tensions had already been mounting due to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe’s recently announced plans to house American troops at its military bases. Continue…
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
Chávez with Sechin: just out to make a buck, or leftist collusion?
Evoking the good old days of the red menace, Russia and Cuba are once again growing close. The two countries, who were formerly thick-as-thieves allies until the breakup of the Soviet Union, recently signed a deal giving Russia oil exploration rights off the coast of Cuba. Estimates place as much as 20 billion barrels of oil within Cuba’s territory in the Gulf of Mexico, a lucrative investment for Russia’s Zarubezhneft oil concern. Cuba, meanwhile, gets a $150-million loan in exchange.
The deal, signed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, appears to be part of a Russian push for closer relations with leftist, anti-U.S. Latin American nations. Before heading to Cuba, Sechin visited Nicaragua, where he signed a visa-free travel agreement meant to foster trade. In Venezuela, meanwhile, he met with President Hugo Chávez and signed a military co-operation agreement that will see billions of dollars worth of Russian arms shipped to the country—effectively doubling Chávez’s stockpile of military hardware. The deputy PM made it obvious that Russia wants to stay close to Latin America. “I would like to express our deep satisfaction with the positive dynamics in the development in our diplomatic relations,” he said. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 12:40 PM - 986 Comments
Around the world, authoritarianism is on the rise, and the West seems powerless to oppose it
Earlier this month a Russian court acquitted three men accused of involvement in the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya’s writing had exposed Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya, and she had been detained on occasion by the Russian military as a result. The end of that court case followed the murder of Stanislav Markelov, another critic of the Russian government who had represented many victims of Russia’s security services. He was gunned down on the streets of Moscow in January. Anastasia Baburova, a 25-year-old student and journalist with Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper that is often critical of the Kremlin, and for which Politkovskaya also wrote, was shot dead when she tried to help. She was the fourth Novaya Gazeta journalist murdered since 2000.
Russia isn’t the only country where it is dangerous to oppose the government these days. China has recently arrested dozens of dissidents as part of a crackdown on free speech on the Internet, which it says is necessary to protect its children from “vulgarity.” Censored websites include those of the BBC and Voice of America. Kyrgyzstan has similarly removed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyz-language programs from its national, government-owned TV and radio networks. Kyrgyz authorities said the programs were too critical of the government and would not be broadcast unless they are submitted to and approved by government censors in advance. And Syria last fall sentenced 12 pro-democracy dissidents to 2½ years in prison. The activists had called for greater freedom of expression and an end to the ruling Baath party’s monopoly on power.
By Michael Petrou - Monday, December 15, 2008 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Now Chávez aims to change the constitution so he can run in 2013
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is nothing if not persistent. In 1992, as the attempted coup d’état he had launched collapsed around him, Chávez, then an army officer, gave himself up to loyal government forces and admitted he had failed, “por ahora”—for now. The phrase, suggesting that no defeat is final, stuck and became a rallying cry for his supporters, who are drawn largely from among Venezuela’s poor. In 2007, as elected president, Chávez tried to revamp the constitution to expand state power and abolish presidential term limits. Voters rejected his proposed changes in a referendum last December. Once again, Chávez accepted the results “por ahora,” and now he is trying again, seeking a constitutional amendment that would let him run again after his current term ends in 2013.
Chávez says he needs more time to advance Venezuela’s “Bolívarian Revolution.” Citizens will likely have their chance to vote on his proposal early next year, provided Chávez’s supporters gather enough signatures to request a referendum. But already Venezuela’s opposition is preparing a campaign aimed at getting voters to reject it. Although Chávez has established free health clinics and subsidized grocery stores in the slums, much of the country is still mired in poverty, and his critics charge that he is an authoritarian who has politicized the education system, and weakened typical checks and balances.
By Kate Lunau - Monday, November 24, 2008 at 9:00 AM - 1 Comment
She wants to be mayor, and she’s not pulling punches
Notoriously feisty Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d back down from a fight. He’s eagerly tangled with foes like George W. Bush (whom he famously called “the devil”) and the king of Spain (who told Chávez to “shut up” during one heated exchange at a leaders’ summit). But with Venezuelans heading to the polls Sunday in regional elections, Chávez is staring down a new kind of political enemy: Marisabel Rodriguez, his ex-wife.
Rodriguez, a blond-haired former television host, is running for mayor in Barquisimeto, Venezuela’s fourth-largest city. It’s an important vote for Chávez, who’s been pushing hard to promote his allies (in the 2004 regional election, Chávez’s backing helped his supporters win in almost every state). However, Rodriguez—a candidate for the independent left-wing party Podemos—has proven to be a fly in the ointment. Now remarried to a tennis coach, she’s pulled no punches in criticizing her ex: “If he is not a dictator, at least he seems it,” she says.
It’s not the first time the former couple has publicly sparred. After Chávez launched a lawsuit seeking better visitation rights with their daughter, Rodriguez publicly accused him of being a negligent father. Declaring herself “a victim of violence, harassment and persecution,” she even suggested the lawsuit was intended to keep her from running for office (under Venezuelan law, a judgment against her could have stopped her from standing for election). Chávez, who remained uncharacteristically silent on the issue, withdrew the lawsuit earlier this year.
Sunday’s vote will bear watching, and not just for the drama. If Chávez’s supporters win big, observers expect him to push for constitutional reforms that would allow for the president’s indefinite re-election—the same reform he tried, unsuccessfully, to introduce last year in a referendum. At that time, Rodriguez emerged as a powerful critic of her ex-husband, calling his proposed amendments “a leap in the dark.” Could the outspoken Chávez have met his match?