Venezuela remains mired in a political and economic crisis that shows no signs of letting up. But while street protests, soaring inflation, scarcity, and skyrocketing crime are massive headaches, the government can count on still-high oil prices to soothe the pain a bit.
The question that begs asking is: How will Venezuela maintain stability if oil prices drop?
JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images
Venezuela's economy is in an endless state of disarray. Inflation is soaring, and basic staples are increasingly harder to find. Electricity blackouts are frequent, and crime presents an enormous problem for citizens and companies crazy enough to do business there.
This morning, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the city of Zawiya, about 40 km west of the capital, to denounce the takeover of government ministries by armed groups in Tripoli. The demonstration moved on to both Algeria and Martyrs Square, with numbers growing by the hour. The protesters, who have remained there, are calling for the disbanding of all armed militias in Tripoli and the end of the siege.
In a widely expected move, the Venezuelan government announced last Friday that it would devalue its currency by 32 percent. The Venezuela Bolívar (BsF) will now trade at 6.3 BsF per U.S. dollar, up from 4.3 BsF per dollar. This costly move was probably influenced by events that took place halfway around the world, in Beijing.
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The arrest last week of the top leader of the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) on corruption charges is a reminder of the precarious financial situation that all Indonesian political parties face. Operating with limited financial resources, parties may have gotten a little too creative in raising funds for the likes of the country's anti-graft commission.
Photo by BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
For centuries, if a woman wanted to play a prominent public role in Albania's closed-off, conservative society, she had to chop off her hair, borrow a pair of baggy trousers, sport a gun, and forgo marriage, sex, or children. Ina Rama shattered that mold when she became the country's first female general prosecutor five years ago. A diminutive, attractive blonde with movie-star charisma, she's been an unlikely hero on the otherwise dismal world of Albanian politics.
Photo by GENT SHKULLAKU/AFP/Getty Images
The Daily Monitor managing editor and columnist, Daniel Kalinaki, deftly captures the state of Uganda's corruption in a poignant opinion piece he's just published in the paper. The title says it all: "Uganda used to have thieves, now the thieves have Uganda." He writes about the sky-high level of official corruption and how it has become an institutionalized phenomenon. Kalinaki's piece neatly expresses what a lot of Ugandans have been thinking, and it's become a favorite in online discussions. As for me, I agree with Kalinaki that the thieves have Uganda by the balls.
Photo by Kasamani Isaac/AFP/GettyImages
Mac Margolis explains why Brazilian political consultants are all the rage in Latin America and beyond.
Min Zin anticipates President Obama's planned trip to Burma and what it might mean for the development of the country's democracy.
Pedro Pizano and Jamie Leigh Hancock offer a rare glimpse inside one of Africa's harshest dictatorships.
Based on an interview with Transparency International co-founder Laurence Cockcroft, Christian Caryl contends that corruption is set to become one of the defining political issues of the twenty-first century.
Liana Aghajanian reports on Armenians' revolt against the political and economic power of business tycoons.
Azzurra Meringolo interviews the leading Bahraini human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja.
Juan Nagel looks ahead to the approaching state elections in Venezuela and wonders whether the opposition will have a chance.
And Endy Bayuni tells the sad story of a scandal over judges with poor judgement.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart, writing for the Legatum Institute, present an outline for a post-war transition in Syria.
Democracy Digest examines Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's vow to stay no matter what, and analyzes the impact of his statement on the continuing civil war.
Writing for the Center for International Policy Studies, Alexandra Gheciu examines the possibility of military intervention in Mali.
At Jadaliyya, Fawwaz Traboulsi maps out the political opportunities that the Arab Spring has provided to the forces of the left -- and suggests how they might be exploited.
Shannon K. O'Neil at the Council on Foreign Relations analyzes how U.S. state votes on the decriminalization of marijuana will affect drug policies in Latin America.
Radio Free Asia provides a profile of the "multimedia monk" who has been campaigning for human rights in Cambodia.
The Economist presents a video report on the ethnic violence in western Burma.
Golnaz Esfandiari, author of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty's Persian Letters blogs, provides a unique look into the mindset of one of Iran's basij paramilitaries.
At Al-Akhbar English, Sarah El Sirgany offers an intriguing comparison of the U.S. and Eygptian presidential elections.
Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages
Should Indonesian ever launch a campaign to legalize drugs, they couldn't ask for a better champion to lead their movement than a judge. Perhaps even a couple of them!
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(A note to our subscribers: from now on the Democracy Lab Weekly Brief will begin arriving in your inbox on Monday mornings. You'll receive the next installment on November 5.)
William Lloyd-George profiles the Islamist warlord who is threatening to transform his corner of northern Africa into a safe haven for jihadis.
Writing from Tbilisi, Molly Corso analyzes the tensions surrounding the formation of a new government after this month's parliamentary elections.
Christian Caryl argues that America's non-voters deserve to be taken seriously by the rest of their compatriots.
Jamsheed Choksy and Eden Naby warn against sectarianism in the wake of the Arab Spring and consider measures to protect religious minorities.
Mohamad El Dahshan rediscovers a lost satire on dictatorship.
Endy Bayuni examines why Indonesia's Islamist parties have so far had little success at the ballot box.
Min Zin looks at how some of the players in Burma's political scene are bending the constitutional rule book to their own advantage.
And Juan Nagel assesses Venezuela's democratic credentials.
And here are this week's recommended reads:
In a new article for Foreign Affairs, Ruchir Sharma argues that we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the BRIC success story.
At The New York Review of Books, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley wonder whether Islamist ascendance bodes ill or well for the legacy of the Arab Spring.
A story by the BBC describes the growing schism between secularists and Islamists in the Syrian opposition. In a new report, Human Rights Watch provides evidence of continued use of cluster bombs against civilians by the government of Bashar al-Assad.
Fahed Al-Sumait, writing for Jadaliyya, looks at the growing political crisis in Kuwait.
Writing for OpenDemocracy.net, William Callahan examines how debate over the relative virtues of authoritarianism and democracy figures in the growing rivalry between China and India.
And finally, a group of activists has released "An Outsider's Guide to Supporting Nonviolent Resistance to Dictatorship," a new handbook on the art of peaceful revolution.
[The photo above shows Egyptian worshipers gathering in a soccer stadium to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.)
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Capital punishment has never been a contentious political or emotional issue in Indonesia. Although the death penalty is rarely applied, most people in the country still support its use, particularly for terrorists, serial killers, and even drug traffickers. The government would typically add treason to the short list of criminal offenses punishable by death.
SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images
Reporting from Caracas, Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez explores scenarios after this Sunday’s presidential vote in Venezuela. The main question: Will Hugo Chávez give up power if he loses?
Christian Caryl tells the story of an elementary school teacher in Sudan who faces execution because she had the courage to stand up to the regime. And Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch presents a gallery of similarly courageous but little-known activists from around the world.
On the scene in Tbilisi, James Kirchick reports on the surprising aftermath of Georgia's parliamentary election -- especially President Mikheil Saakashvili's remarkable acceptance of his own defeat. And Kirchick's dispatch from election day provides a vivid account of the tensions and hopes leading up to the vote.
In an excerpt from his new book, economist Justin Yifu Lin compares the experiences of transition economies and offers a few useful rules of thumb for reformers.
Christopher Stephen, on the scene in Benghazi, describes a local backlash against the militants who killed a popular U.S. ambassador.
In the run-up to Venezuela's epochal election, Juan Nagel reports on the shifting balance of forces, while Francisco Toro takes a closer look at whether Hugo Chávez has improved the life of the country's poor.
Reflecting on Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the United States, Min Zin takes her to task for neglecting to mention the country's continuing civil war.
Endy Bayuni reports on the Indonesian Anti-Corruption Commission's effort to take on one of the country's most graft-ridden institutions: the police.
Mohamed El Dahshan investigates the absurdities of Egypt's campaign against blasphemy.
And Jackee Batanda recounts the curious tale of a run-in between U.S. diplomats and a Ugandan general.
And now for this week's recommended reads:
A paper from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance provides an in-depth look at Venezuela's presidential election.
In a provocative op-ed, MIT scholar Brian Haggerty argues that those who argue for a "limited" intervention in Syria are likely to be proven wrong by conditions on the ground.
The International Crisis Group offers a handy backgrounder on Malaysia, where a long-anticipated general election may soon shake up the political landscape.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Sadanand Dhume explains why he expects little from the new anti-corruption party just launched in India.
The Jamestown Foundation's Igor Rotar worries that the explosive situation in Central Asia's restive Ferghana Valley is likely to aggravate instability throughout the region.
A new book from Democracy Lab contributor Francisco Martin-Rayo tells of his travels through the terrorist recruiting grounds of Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.
And finally, Jadaliyya offers a withering review of The Daily Show appearance of Jordan's King Abdullah II, who, they say, is incorrectly portrayed as a reformist "constitutional monarch." You be the judge: You can find Part I of the interview here.
The Daily Show
Indonesia’s official anti-corruption agency, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), is walking on thin ice after taking on a top police officer, one of its biggest cases to date.
Inspector General Djoko Susilo has been accused of taking massive kickbacks in the procurement of driving simulators when he headed the National Police Traffic Corps division in 2010. After defying two summonses, he showed up at the commission’s headquarters on Friday. But he is clearly not taking the corruption accusation lying down, and appears to enjoy the full backing of the police force.
The days preceding a presidential election are usually full of interesting story lines. In chaotic Venezuela, however, the narrative seems more jumbled than one would expect.
Let's recap: We have a 14-year incumbent who is favored to win but is barely campaigning. We have a strong challenger closing the gap, but not quite there yet. We have opinion polls giving wildly differing predictions, and a public sphere where unimportant things dominate the narrative while crucial issues are left by the wayside.
Patrick Bodenham meets some of Burma's child soldiers, and examines why the government has failed to follow through on its pledge to end the problem. Christian Caryl explains why the predicament of Burma's Rohingya is becoming a new global cause célèbre for Muslims.
In an overview of recent papers on transition economics, Peter Passell explores the dynamics behind issues ranging from girls' schools to clean cooking stoves.
A new official report declaring the purge of communists in the 1960s in Indonesia to be a crime against humanity may be a historic milestone, but the muted public reaction suggests that this tragic episode has almost been wiped from the nation's collective memory.
On Monday, the National Commission on Human Rights, an independent state body, released its findings from a four-year investigation. The commission concludes that the army-led campaign amounted to a gross violation of human rights. It urged the government to prosecute the perpetrators and compensate victims and survivors. It also called upon President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to issue a public apology.
Carol Goldstein/Keystone/Getty Images
Three Princeton researchers (Morgan Greene, Jonathan Friedman, and Richard Bennet) tell the story of how post-Yugoslavia Kosovo (with some help from the international community) managed to pull off a remarkable feat of state-building.
Endy Bayuni explains why Indonesians disagree about the start of Ramadan, and what it says about the country's climate of religious toleration.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/GettyImages
Can Burma make headway towards democracy when it's still saddled with an authoritarian constitution? Michael Albertus and Victor Menaldo argue that countries in comparable situations have managed to overcome similar obstacles in the past.
Skeptics say that Brazil's economy is losing its mojo. But Albert Fishlow begs to differ, explaining why investors shouldn't give up so soon.
Christian Caryl tells the peculiar story of a West Texas town that has become a player in the global human rights industry.
Traffic in Caracas -- which is chaotic at the best of times -- ground to a virtual standstill today as authorities were forced to shut down the main east-west highway crossing the length of the long and narrow city. The reason? Gunfire. Not just any gunfire, but assault rifle fire and sporadic grenades traded between the security forces and the heavily armed inmates at the notorious La Planta prison, which sits next to the highway just off of downtown.
Stories about conditions in Venezuelan prisons often have an other-worldly, Mad Max feel to them; with nearly 50,000 inmates crammed into jails built to hold 12,500, overcrowding in Venezuelan jails is cinematographic in scale. Overwhelmed by the number of people, prison guards long ago gave up trying to control what happens inside, limiting themselves to guarding the perimeter to prevent breakouts. The result is a Hobbesian state of nature inside the prison, a never-ending war of all against all that left 560 inmates dead last year.
Making things worse is the rampant corruption of prison authorities, who make a profitable trade selling anything you can think of to the inmates: marihuana, handguns, stereos, assault rifles, blackberries, girls, waterbeds, DVD players, cocaine, laptops, even military-grade grenades. Anything you can think of, you can smuggle into a Venezuelan jail -- at a price.
LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images
The stage was already set for battle between the 52,000 Indonesian fans of Lady Gaga, who bought and paid for tickets to see her perform, and the 30,000-strong Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who promised to disrupt her concert in Jakarta scheduled for June 3.
Going by the Twitter and Facebook posts this week, the Little Monsters (as fans of the American pop singer call themselves) say they are not intimidated by threats from the FPI, Indonesia's notoriously violent, self-proclaimed morality police. "If it's a fight they want, then it's a fight they'll get" is essentially the attitude of the mostly young Lady Gaga fans.
But now it looks like the showdown will never materialize.
The police. The real ones, paid with taxpayers' money.
OSCAR SIAGIAN/AFP/Getty Images
Another day, another deeply damaging whistle-blowing by a former Venezuelan Supreme Tribunal magistrate. Soon after Magistrate Eladio Aponte fled the country last month and aired a terrifying amount of dirty chavista laundry on TV, his one-time colleague Luis Velásquez Alvaray (above) did him one better, releasing detailed evidence about a court system that looks more and more like a criminal conspiracy.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde To lose one Supreme Tribunal magistrate may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.
Together, the back-to-back interviews (broadcast by the Miami-based, Venezuelan-exile owned TV channel SOiTV) paint a picture of a criminal justice system deep in bed with the Colombian Rebel Armed Forces (FARC) guerrillas, where political interference, crooked rulings, collusion with drug traffickers, and occasional contract killings, are entirely routine. The cocaine route out of Colombia, through Venezuela, and on to the U.S. and Western Europe is simply too profitable -- and the tentacles of the trade's millions have seeped into every corner of the system.
Mohamed Fadel Fahmy interviews Robert Becker, who decided to stay in Egypt and have his day in court rather than leave the country with the other Americans implicated in the NGO affair.
Francisco Martin-Rayo argues that America is undermining Yemen's opportunity to build democracy for the sake of waging war on Al Qaeda. (The photo above shows Yemeni jihadis manning a checkpoint.)
Reporting from The Hague, Christopher Stephen explains why the welcome verdict against Charles Taylor shouldn't divert attention from the continuing irrelevance of the International Criminal Court.
We already know that drones are powerful weapons. In "Predators for Peace," Jack C. Chow depicts a not-too-distant future in which airborne robots can be used to boost humanitarian relief efforts and good governance.
As governments cut back on foreign assistance budgets, Peter Passell makes the case for a smarter approach to development aid.
Alina Rocha Menocal, noting that Latin America still suffers from gross inequality, sees the answers in sound public policy.
Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP/Getty Images
Thirty-five years after the end of the "Dirty War," Alex Gibson shows how a trial in Argentina is struggling to come to terms with a legacy of state-sponsored violence.
Peter Reuter explains why the West won't be able to contain money laundering from developing countries unless it cleans up its own act first.
Min Zin asks whether Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is making a mistake in her latest confrontation with the powers-that-be, and also offers an entertaining primer on the politics behind the latest Burmese New Year celebrations.
Mohamed El Dahshan explores the decision that has thrown Egypt's presidential election into disarray.
Juan Nagel shows why the Venezuelan government's recent decision to subsidize beauty products will score it political points.
Endy Bayuni explains how Aceh's separatist leaders have morphed from guerillas into governors.
And in his column, Christian Caryl argues that economic inequality is now becoming a hot political issue in both rich countries and poor ones.
This week's recommended reads:
In Foreign Affairs, Leon Goldsmith writes on the Alawite community of Syria and the motives for their persistent support of the Assad regime.
In an essay in the current issue of Journal of Democracy, political philosopher Abdou Filali-Ansary casts light on why many voters in the Arab world prefer Islamist parties -- and arrives at some surprising conclusions.
A new report by the International Crisis Group documents the growing fight over resources between the Iraqi central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government.
Writing for Project Syndicate, Alfred Stepan and Etienne Smith discuss the surprising resilience of democracy in Senegal.
Democracy Digest reports on the difficulties faced by Russian dissidents following Vladimir Putin's victory in the March 4 presidential elections. And the German Marshal Fund examines the recent release of imprisoned opposition leaders in Belarus. (The photo above shows activist Dmitry Bondarenko meeting his wife after leaving prison.)
And don't miss Jeffrey Bartholet's great travelogue from post-Mubarak Egypt in National Geographic.
VICTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images
Earlier this month, leaders of the former separatist group Aceh Free Movement (GAM) in Indonesia's northern province of Aceh won gubernatorial elections for the second time since giving up their armed insurgency in 2005. But they learned that governing by democratic means is just as challenging as waging guerilla warfare from the jungles -- if not more so.
Zaini Abdullah, who eight years ago served as foreign and health minister of the Aceh government-in-exile in Sweden, won the election, beating incumbent governor Irwandi Yusuf. Zaini's running mate, Muzakir Manaf, formerly the military commander of GAM, will serve as deputy governor.
A physician by profession who joined the independence fight in the 1970s, in recent press interviews Zaini has said that he will now focus on bringing peace and economic development to Aceh. Like most other former rebel leaders, however, he has not openly renounced his separatist aspirations, saying rather that he is "putting them aside."
CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP/Getty Images
Tensions soared in Senegal ahead of the Feb. 26 elections as security forces clashed with protestors. Opposition leader Youssou N'Dour, the singer, was injured during a political rally. At least six protestors have reportedly died over the past month. Nigerian ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo met with the government and opposition leaders in an effort to mediate the political standoff.
President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali said that presidential elections will be held on time in April despite a heavily-armed Tuareg uprising taking place in the north of the country.
The International Criminal Court announced it will investigate possible war crimes committed in Cote d'Ivoire as far back as 2002, after Laurent Gbagbo became president. The court was previously only looking at crimes committed in the violence that followed the 2010 election when Gbagbo, currently in jail in The Hague, refused to step down.
In Burma, the largest strike since 1938 is testing the limits of the new law allowing labor unions. China's leaders urged the Burmese government to reinforce its control over the two countries' turbulent border.
Experts warned of potential security risks in the lead-up to Timor-Leste's general elections in March.
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is expected to call on the Sri Lankan government next week to report its progress on investigating possible war crimes committed at the end of the civil war in 2009. The UN also wants to see an accounting of reconciliation measures taken by the authorities.
Amid the continuing political crisis in the Maldives, the Commonwealth urged government and opposition to start an immediate dialogue leading toward early elections at the end of 2012.
CAMILO PAREJA/AFP/Getty Images
Generally speaking, women have not exactly been conspicuous among the leaders of the ethnic minorities that are at odds with the Burmese central government. But that may be changing.
In late January, a group representing the Karen, one of the biggest ethnic groups in Burma, issued a statement calling for women to be given a bigger role in the peace talks between Karen rebels and the government. "Our concerns must be brought to the negotiating table, and the abuses we have suffered must be redressed and prevented once and for all," Naw Zipporah Sein, who is the General Secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), told me on the phone. She was speaking from a town on the Thai border. (The photo above shows a Karen girl in a refugee camp in Thailand.)
Before she was elected to that post in 2008 she served the head of the Karen Women Organization (KWO). It was under her leadership that the KWO published a widely noted 2004 report entitled "Shattering Silences," which documented 125 cases of the systematized rape and sexual abuse of women allegedly committed by Burmese military troops in Karen State over a twenty-year period. Today, despite her unprecedented leadership position in the KNU, Zipporah Sein told me that she's still unhappy with the status of Karen women. To the injury of maltreatment on the battlefield by government troops comes the insult of inadequate representation in the ruling circles of the rebel leadership.
The KNU, one of the most powerful rebel groups in Burma, has been fighting for ethnic autonomy since 1948. The government recently announced that it had concluded a cease-fire deal with them. A few days ago, however, it was none other than Zipporah Sein who called that agreement into question. The New York Times quoted her as saying that "[w]e still need to discuss the conditions."
Efforts to stop the fighting drag on. As the latest in a series of fragile ceasefire deals, the Mon ethnic group, which operates along the Thai-Burma border, announced last Wednesday that it reached "a preliminary ceasefire agreement" with Burma's pseudo-civilian government.
Similar agreements have been struck recently between the government and other ethnic rebel armies, including the Shan State Army-South, the United Wa State Army, and at least seven other armed groups. The one major exception is the continuing war between the Kachin and government troops.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.