Venezuela: Dark Present, Darker Future

By Jean Daudelin

Venezuela is in bad shape. Daily demonstrations, barricades and fights with the police are adding yet more chaos to the country’s economic mess and violent crime wave. But if you assume that things can’t get worse, just wait. Here is a grim, and unfortunately quite likely scenario.

The political dynamics in the country are intractably poisoned. The two sides are deeply entrenched while hatred, not rivalry, rules. Even the start of a dialogue is made difficult by the internal divisions that plague each side, with radicals on both sides ready to denounce compromise as treason. Leopoldo Lopez, the now jailed opposition leader that led the early demonstrations in Caracas, has become the face of the street protests and he wants nothing less than President Maduro’s resignation. This leaves no room at all to manoeuvre for Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate in last year’s elections. In the government’s aggressive campaign against the “fascist” opposition, the President, Nicolas Maduro, tries not to be outdone by National Assembly, President Diosdado Cabello, who has been keeping some distance since the very night of the Maduro’s disastrous and razor-thin electoral victory.

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Brazil’s Season of Discontent

As posted on OpenCanada.Org

The weakness of Brazil’s political leadership has been revealed. For ten or so days at the end of June, angry middle-class citizens took to Brazil’s streets, spewing rage against shoddy and expensive public services, corrupt politicians, a slow and inefficient justice system, and the government spending orgy on sport facilities in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Increases in public transportation fares in several cities sparked the protests but the demonstrations quickly became an outpouring of disgust at the abuses of power that have come to define the behaviour of the country’s entire political class.

Governments and politicians were stunned. Mayors and state governors quickly retreated and canceled the fee increase. Reactions at the federal level, however, fed the chaos: President Rousseff immediately committed billions to public transportation and asked Congress to devote all the forthcoming oil royalties to education (about $140 billion). She further announced that a constitutional assembly would be convened to change key components of the electoral system. Legislators also pitched in. Congress rushed through a law that made corruption a grave crime and voted – partly against Rousseff’s will – to use oil royalties for education and health care, and the Senate even adopted a law making public transportation free for students.

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Questionable Leadership: The Case of Occupy Gezi

Last week, I wrote a post arguing that the Occupy Gezi movement was leaderless and lacked focus. On June 2nd, it seemed unclear whether the protestors in Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara wanted a change in Turkey’s leadership, greater respect for human rights, more trees in urban spaces, less religion in those same spaces, more democracy, or less government. There seemed to be no one political agenda and no one in particular to advance it even if one existed. That said, imagine my shock today when I read that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to meet with the leaders of the protest movement on Wednesday.

Maybe I was wrong about how well or poorly organized the movement is. Having just completed the third year of my PhD, I’ve come to accept that being proven wrong is part of every working day for me (and sometimes weekends too): constructive criticism in the ivory tower is rather, um, blunt and not all that constructive outside of helping you build character. Furthermore, it is hard for me to keep my finger on the pulse of Istanbul when I’m sitting at a desk in Ottawa.

I don’t think I am wrong, however. Let me explain why.

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The Limits of Turkey’s Occupy Movement

Since Friday, the twitterverse has been saturated with news about a now large, loud, and defiant protest in Gezi Park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Soon after, there was talk of the Occupy Taksim/Occupy Gezi movement. Sitting at my desk in Ottawa, it is unclear to me whether this handle originated somewhere on the web as a very catchy hashtag or whether it was originally promoted by the protestors themselves. Origins aside, Hurriyet is reporting on their English website that presently the protestors are now identifying with the Occupy movement. This pains me since this is not a protest model that will likely lead to a valuable outcome.

A bit of history: What began as Occupy Wall Street in New York in 2011, quickly transformed into an international protest movement with Occupy protests being set up in cities around the globe. There were few commonalities among these protests other than a general call for greater income equality, a commitment to non-violence, a strong aversion to hierarchical organization within the movement itself, and an uncanny ability to attract media attention. However, with a lack of leadership and a firm policy agenda to advance, the Occupy love-ins degenerated into shantytowns that marred often previously pristine public spaces and that unfortunately, as time wore on, attracted larger and larger proportions of hooligans and extremists. Today, the Occupy movement has largely faded from public consciousness. It has made little lasting impact other than introducing the catchphrase “We are the 99 percent.”

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