April 15 - 21
This Week: Maduro "Wins", Musharraf makes a mistake, Italy bumbles, and Guinea Bissau is astonishingly corrupt.
Hello, and welcome to the Dispatch for April 15-21!
Astute readers will note the events in Boston this week are missing. They were omitted after consideration for two reasons: first, I’m assuming anyone reading this has already been glued to the news out of Boston all week anyway - there’s really no need for a recap at this point. Second, I simply have nothing else to add right now: there’s a lot of theories about motives, affiliations, and outside groups, but nothing solid. If it looks like there’s some solid evidence to tie this to other conflicts or events, I’ll certainly aim to cover that, but right now there’s nothing but speculation.
Regular readers will also note this breaks a recent Dispatch trend by appearing to actually be a Weekly dispatch. I’m trying to get the Dispatch somewhat back on track - it’s actually a bit less stressful when it’s on a real schedule.
Hugo Chavez’s chosen successor Nicolás Maduro won an unexpectedly narrow victory against opposition candidate Henrique Caprilles, taking 50.6% of the vote to Caprilles’ 49%. Caprilles’ supporters took to the streets on Monday after being denied a recount, but by Tuesday, a sharp state crackdown left 7 people dead and prompted Caprilles to call off a march planned on Wednesday for fear of further violence. On Thursday, the National Electoral Council agreed to an expanded audit of the vote, though on Friday Maduro was sworn in as President.
The outcome is an embarrassment for Maduro and the Chavistas. Maduro was expected to win handily - Chavez had beat Caprilles himself by around 10 points less than 6 months ago. Given the advantages Maduro had - almost unlimited access to state funds, use of the state television station, and the blessing of Chavez himself - it’s likely he would have lost in a fair election. Given the widespread allegations of voter fraud, intimidation, and ballot stuffing, it’s likely he lost this one too, but that’s not how Venezuela under Chavez works. Chavez is dead, though, and given Venezuela’s flagging economy and the tough choices that will need to be made over the next few years, Caprilles and the opposition stand a good chance during the next election - provided Maduro doesn’t turn to the Army or his more militant supporters to shore up his support.
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who returned late in March intending to take part in the upcoming Presidential Elections, has been confined to his house for at least two weeks to face charges of terrorism for firing judges in 2007. Musharraf has had a rough couple weeks: After a tepid reception upon his return, Musharraf was approved to run for parliament in a northern district before being banned by election officials. Disqualified from running for office, his bail was revoked by the courts, who ordered him arrested on the spot. He fled the court to his fortified villa, which has now been declared a “sub-jail,” though on Thursday he was re-arrested and brought back in front of the court, which placed him under house arrest for the next two weeks.
Musharraf’s ill-advised return appears to have been a flight of self-delusion for the former general, but it does pose some danger to the fragile politics of Pakistan. The courts will almost certainly rule against Musharraf: the head of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was one of the judges removed by Musharraf in 2007, and the frontrunner in the current election is Nawaz Sharif, whose previous term in office was cut short by Musharraf’s 1999 coup, so it’s fair to say he doesn’t have many friends outside the military in Pakistan right now. The question is how many friends he has at all - the military so far has responded tepidly to Musharraf’s return, but the Pakistani courts have never indicted a general like this before, and there’s a possibility that a ruling against Musharraf could lead to a dangerous showdown between the military and the courts.
A US Grand Jury indicted Antonio Injai, the head of Guinea-Bisseau’s armed forces, on drug- and weapon-trafficking charges following a months-long DEA sting operation leading to the arrest of the former chief of the Guinea-Bissau navy José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto. The charges underscore recent accusations by both the DEA and the UN that the country is a major trafficking hub in West Africa.
The details from the DEA indictment are eye-popping: Na Tchuto’s brazenness and the sheer volume of cocaine discussed are stunning. Last April, the Guinea-Bissau army took over the country in a coup, and the military has been running the show since them. The country’s response to the indictment was to fire their top intelligence official for failing to spot the DEA sting operation, which I think says all that needs saying about the government’s stance. The real question is what the indictments will actually accomplish: the country is already well-known as a narco-trafficking hub, and the army was already known to be involved, so there’s not a lot of news here.
Giorgio Napolitano is the first president to be re-elected in the Italian republic’s 67-year history. He is currently 87, which means he’s extremely unlikely to make it through a full 7-year term. His re-election is an open admission of the absolutely dismal state of Italian politics.
Thanks for joining me, and my best for the week ahead!