With one month to go before electing a president, both sides of Venezuela's dismembered public sphere are pulling out all the stops. The polls find both candidates at the top of their games.
There are two sets of opinion polls on this race. The first group puts Hugo Chávez comfortably ahead, with leads in the low double digits and an unusually large number of undecided voters. These polls show that the gap is closing -- but not quickly enough for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles to change the outcome. The other group of polls shows the race in either a dead heat, or with Capriles leading; there are respected pollsters in both groups.
Their budgets may be a tad tighter and their delegations smaller, but developing countries are no less excited about the Olympics than their northern counterparts. There are, in fact, a number of transition countries with Olympic stories that are making big waves in their home nations and around the world. (And the clumsy responses of the International Olympic Committee almost always help to make the waves even bigger.) Here's a brief roundup of the Nations in Transition Olympic News (let's call this our NiTON review):
1. The South Sudanese athlete with no flag
The rigid IOC rigid rulebook stipulates that a new country's application to join the organization must take two years. South Sudan, which has declared independence in July 2011, falls short of this criterion. The IOC, with its usual brilliance, suggested that the South Sudanese athletes compete under the Sudanese flag -- not the most sensitive suggestion for the various parties involved, considering that South Sudan recently celebrated the first anniversary of secession from its northern neighbor.
The majority of Muslims in Indonesia will begin fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan on Saturday, following the date ordained by the government. But a handful will start observing the holiday today. (The photo above shows Indonesians getting in last-minute shopping before Ramadan begins.)
Both Indonesian and foreign observers are baffled by how Muslims in this country are always fighting, at times quite passionately, over when Ramadan begins and ends. It is not unusual to find families divided by this debate. Once Ramadan begins, the fights cease and everyone goes about their lives (and their faith) as usual. Until the next year, that is.
The first is denial. And that's what we're experiencing in Egypt right now -- for we've ended up with the worst possible outcome from the first round of our presidential elections. The winners are Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak loyalist whose spent most of his last post as prime minister during the 2011 revolution trying to smother the revolution and kill its children, and who now threatens violence and an "iron fist" at every opportunity; and Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who wasn't even his own party's first choice, and whose lack of charisma and imagination threaten to bore us to death over the next four years while curtailing our social and personal freedoms in accordance to the Muslim Brotherhood's conservative agenda.
Three days after the preliminary results were announced, the High Electoral Commission confirmed them with minor changes. The Commission claimed that it had used this interval to investigate fraud allegations and appeals, all of which it dismissed. Voters used the time to digest the news and find ways to deal with their disappointment.
The news hit Venezuela's gossip-sphere with a thud: According to "a highly respected source close to Chávez who is in a position to know his medical condition and history," Hugo Chávez's cancer has now "entered the end stage." Since it comes from an American news legend, Dan Rather, the report that Chávez is not expected to live more than two months got people talking.
Within minutes, contracts on Chávez no longer remaining in office by the end of 2012 doubled in price on Intrade, the online prediction market. And the persistent rumbles from those who aspire to become his successor ticked up a notch.
At this late stage of the game, with Chávez mostly avoiding public appearances and rarely shown on state TV anymore, the question of his succession remains wide open. The current vice-president, left-wing extremist Elías Jaua, is widely seen as something of a lightweight, and Chávez himself announced some months ago that he would be replaced. But Rather's report leaves open the unsettling possibility that the big guy could leave the scene without leaving a clear successor in place.
Ten years ago this week, Venezuela was convulsed by a spasm of violence and instability that still colors public life today. In an extraordinary 72-hour period, the nation witnessed the largest protest in its history, which ended in a massacre just steps away from the presidential palace. It saw the military chain of command crumble and key officers openly rebel against orders that would have set off an even larger massacre. It saw President Chávez hand himself over as a prisoner. He was then replaced by a reactionary cabal of business leaders and hard-right military officers, flown off to a remote Caribbean Island and then, shortly thereafter, brought back to power by a group of loyalist officers who never agreed with the decision to depose him in the first place.
Once all that dust had settled, there was little doubt who the hero of the hour was: General Raúl Baduel, who was instrumental in the collapse of the coup. As commander of the army's elite 42nd Paratrooper Brigade in the nearby city of Maracay, Baduel led one of the few genuinely battle-ready bits of Venezuela's creaking military establishment. A die-hard Chávez loyalist, he sprang into action when the coup plotters made their move. Rallying the entire 4th Division, of which his brigade was a part, he sent his troops to pick up the deposed president from the tropical island that the plotters had chosen as a jail.
Oscar Sabetta/Getty Images
Observers of the Venezuelan oil sector did a collective spit-take on Tuesday when the proudly socialist administration announced that it intends to privatize part of the state-owned oil industry. It's a decision that barbecues perhaps the most sacred of all sacred ideological cows in the Bolivarian Republic. In a first for the Chávez era, a portion of Venezuela's vast oil industry is to be floated on the stock market. (Characteristically, perhaps, the stock exchange involved is Hong Kong's, rather than New York's or London's.)
The decision involves Petropiar, a joint venture between Venezuela's state-owned oil firm, Petróleos de Venezuela (known as PDVSA), and U.S. oil major Chevron. Petropiar, which has the capacity to transform 190,000 barrels of thick, tar-like, extra-heavy crude into 180,000 barrels of light, easy-to-refine synthetic crude every day, has been 70 percent PDVSA-owned for years, while Chevron holds the remaining 30 percent.
RAMON SAHMKOW/AFP/Getty Images
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.