Western Hemisphere Intelligence Brief

Issue 226: August 25, 2015
Argentina: On the election
Venezuela: Spiraling Conditions Threaten Elections and More

 

Argentina

Argentina’s mandatory open primaries (PASO) on August 9th brought little clarity as to who will succeed President Cristina Kirchner when elections are held on October 25. … Kirchner has held office since 2007 and, before that, served as the country’s First Lady to her late husband Nestor Kirchner from 2003-2007. … Three candidates are vying to replace her. … Kirchner’s hand-picked candidate and current governor of Buenos Aires province, Daniel Scioli, of the Front for Victory (FPV) – a Peronist faction – led the primary field with 38.4% of the vote. … Following him, eight points behind, was Mauricio Macri, the right-of-center mayor of Buenos Aires city and candidate for the We Can Change alliance. … In third place, with 20.6%, was former Kirchner ally-turned-critic Sergio Massa of the United for a New Alternative (UNA) ticket, which represents more moderate factions of Peronism. … All candidates competed on the same ballot, with the top finishers from each party qualifying for the general election. … In the absence of reputable polls in Argentina, the PASO serves as the most credible gauge of voters’ intentions. … Scioli’s margin would fall short of victory in the first round, which requires either 45% of the vote or 40% and a 10-point margin over the runner-up. … Failing those marks, the two top vote-getters would move to a second-round run-off November 22.

 

  • The August open primary results demonstrated that Argentinean voters remain deeply divided over the candidate who could best tackle the country’s significant economic challenges. Surprisingly, after 12 years of kirchnerismo- the longest government in the history of the country – large numbers of voters appear to favor continuity, even though the country has been on an economic rollercoaster much of the last decade. This year, the economy will see no growth, inflation stands at 30%, while foreign direct investment declined 41% in 2014. It appears the country’s presidential election will turn on how Massa supporters cast their ballots. There is reason to believe that in light of Massa’s 18-point gap behind Scioli, many will likely maintain their allegiance to Peronism over Macri, possibly pushing Scioli over the 45% threshold in the first round. Nevertheless, whoever succeeds President Kirchner will have to deal with serious economic and political challenges. While Scioli has run a campaign in favor of the status quo and trumpeting Kirchner’s economic legacy, sober observers believe he will be forced to implement drastic economic measures to reverse the country’s economic tailspin. While appearances are that Scioli may be the fourth term of kirchnerismo – after all, the President installed a trusted aide as Scioli’s running mate – others expect Scioli to assert his independence. Moreover, some in the private sector who have been among Kirchner’s fiercest critics already are acclimating themselves to a possible Scioli victory, rationalizing that he would have more success wrestling with a Peronist Congress than the more conservative Macri.

 

Venezuela

Just over three months ahead of December 6th legislative elections, Venezuela continues to be wracked by unprecedented levels of corruption, economic dysfunction, shortages of food and medicines, and street crime, leading to some speculation the elections may not occur at all, given the Maduro government’s precarious position. … As rationing and public queues for basic goods continue to worsen, a report by the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict (OVCS) shows that fear and desperation are becoming more prevalent in the country, with at least 132 incidents of looting and over 2,800 protests occurring in just the first half of 2015. … While the government declines to publish official inflation rates, outside estimates place it at over 800%, making it the highest in the world. … A number of regional ex-presidents, joined by former Spanish President Felipe González, have begun to express deep concerns over Maduro’s failure to arrest the country’s free-fall and unwillingness to change course, instead doubling down on obscuring economic statistics, persecuting critics, and manufacturing destabilizing conflicts with neighbors to distract attention away from the growing crisis. … Earlier this year, Maduro revived a decades-old territorial dispute with Guyana by abruptly ending a long-standing oil for rice trade deal, recalling Venezuela’s ambassador, and warning the newly elected president in Georgetown not to “bring war to our border.” … More recently, Maduro escalated tensions at the Colombian border after a Venezuelan military patrol was allegedly fired upon, blaming Colombian smugglers and “refugees” for the attack, as well as for the shortages of basic goods plaguing the country. … Maduro also responded by indefinitely closing a key border crossing in Venezuela’s Tachira state, sending 2,000 soldiers to the border, and taking the extreme step of declaring a state of emergency and suspending several constitutional rights in the region. … On the same day Maduro closed the border, Venezuelan authorities detained a Venezuelan officer, José Martín Raga, a self-described chavista, after he spoke frankly about systematic corruption in Venezuela in a published interview. … “Policemen are often greater criminals than the ones they’re set against,” he said, adding, “If we don’t accept our reality, our internal corruption, our weaknesses, if we don’t tighten the discipline and sanction those responsible, this will turn into a disaster.” … His comments followed the release of a secretly recorded video apparently showing the extra-judicial killing by security forces of gang members in the state of Aragua.

 

  • Spiraling conditions in Venezuela, augmented now by the government’s increasingly belligerent tone with its neighbors, not only raise serious questions about the conduct of free and fair elections in a matter of months, but also present dangerous developments for regional peace and security. While the group of regional ex-presidents continues trying to rally sitting governments to proactively intervene to forestall a violent social breakdown, no government has stepped forward, preferring to rely on a feckless and moribund diplomatic effort under the banner of UNASUR, an organization created by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The Obama administration has apparently lost all confidence in the prospects for a regional intervention and, in keeping with its desired regional legacy of normalizing relations with adversaries, has opted to directly engage the Maduro government in an effort to avoid upheaval. However, it is difficult to see how such an approach could lead to any enduring solution to what ails the country. The Maduro government, bolstered by its close Cuban advisors, refuses to grant the opposition any legitimacy, repeatedly states that chavismo will never be voted out of power, represses the private sector, and, now, is seeking conflict with its neighbors. In short, the likelihood of any compromise or room for negotiation on any of the key issues which could avoid a catastrophe in Venezuela would appear to be between slim and none. Instead, it appears the administration’s time would be more productive preparing for a regional humanitarian relief effort that will be needed for the coming government collapse.

 

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