News / Americas

Parallel Governments Stoke Polarized Politics in Venezuela

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a meeting with the opposition's newly elected mayors and governors at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Dec. 18, 2013.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a meeting with the opposition's newly elected mayors and governors at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Dec. 18, 2013.
Reuters
Opposition politician Ricardo Hernandez was elected mayor of Tariba, a small Venezuelan city near the border with Colombia, by a landslide.

But he didn't have long to bask in his victory.

In the days after Dec. 8 municipal elections in which the opposition won 75 mayoralties, Hernandez discovered that the company that collects trash had stopped working - apparently on orders of his predecessor, a member of the ruling Socialist Party [PSUV].

And, the new mayor said, the state government of Tachira, which is controlled by the PSUV, ordered the police in Tariba to hand over its firearms and vehicles to a state force.

Hernandez' case is far from unique.

Across the OPEC nation, new office holders in the 49 mayoralties that passed to the opposition from the PSUV complain about what they say are efforts by President Nicolas Maduro's central government to strip their powers.

The moves have included taking away responsibilities - including the management of parks, theaters and other cultural centers - and removing assets from local authorities.

In some cases, they have prompted critics to accuse ruling party officials of trying to undermine and bypass opposition mayors and governors by setting up “parallel governments.”

Hernandez, who won with 62 percent of the votes in Tariba, sees it as punishment for having defeated a PSUV candidate. “It affects the population and the communities which are using those services,” the 37-year-old lawyer said this week during a rare meeting between Maduro and opposition politicians, appealing for an end to interference in his work.

But Jose Vielma, the governor of Tachira state and a PSUV stalwart, denied there was any ill intent. He said the temporary return of some equipment used by Tariba's police, which had been provided by its owners, the state police force, was arranged with Hernandez's predecessor.

“The weapons, bulletproof vests, patrol vehicles and motorcycles were returned by the [previous] mayor... so that we can do maintenance and check them,” Vielma told local media.

The central government denies it is setting up “parallel” administrations, and says it only steps in when local governments are not addressing urgent needs.

Maduro, 51, narrowly won the election in April to succeed his mentor, Hugo Chavez, who died from cancer the month before. At the municipal polls this month, the PSUV won 242 - or 76 percent - of the country's 337 mayoralties.

Overall, the PSUV and its allies took 10 percentage points more votes than opposition parties, showing the strength of “Chavismo” in rural areas where more mayoral races were up for grabs.

Still, the opposition won 75 mayoralties, which was a big increase on the 51 they held before and included wins in the largest cities, including the capital Caracas and second city Maracaibo.

After the polls, Maduro called opposition mayors and governors to meet him. But many remained skeptical, noting that Chavez had often seemed to offer an olive branch to rivals, then quickly reverting to his usual combative style.

“With this behavior, the government is showing it feels wounded by losing lots of mayoralties,” the opposition coalition said in a statement, referring to Maduro's apparent outreach.

One city, two mayors?

Five years ago, during Chavez's rule, his candidate lost the mayoralty of metropolitan Caracas to a veteran opposition leader, Antonio Ledezma.

Just months later, Chavez created the new job of head of the government of the Capital District - essentially circumventing the mayor and assuming many of his duties - and he appointed a close ally, Jacqueline Farias, to the position.

Farias took over the office Ledezma had been using, and many of his responsibilities. Schools, firefighters, civil protection and other key functions were all then handled by her.

Just days after Ledezma was re-elected as mayor this month - beating PSUV candidate and former information minister Ernesto Villegas - Maduro's government named Villegas in a different  role: Minister for the Transformation of Caracas.

“Give the mayor back his responsibilities and his funding,” Ledezma appealed during the meeting with Maduro this week. “This is nothing to do with kindness, it's a question of justice.”

The government denies anyone has been usurped. Maduro says Chavez set up state-run organizations in the past that benefited people and were never intended to be “parallel governments” that interfered with the work of elected officials.

Jorge Rodriguez, PSUV mayor of Libertador, one of the five municipalities that comprise the metropolitan district of Caracas, said Ledezma should examine his own performance before criticizing the president.

“If Ledezma focused his time in office on exercising his responsibilities, instead of traveling abroad and bad-mouthing the government, the results in Caracas would not depend solely on the central government,” Rodriguez said.

Opposition members say one clear case of what they call a “parallel government” is in Miranda state, which includes large parts of Caracas and where the opposition coalition's two-time presidential candidate, Henrique Capriles, is governor.

Shortly after Capriles was re-elected to that office last year, the central government awarded the PSUV candidate he defeated, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, a grandiose new title, “The Protector of Miranda.”

Jaua was also put in charge of CorpoMiranda, a new state-run organization that runs development projects in the state.

Jaua says the founding of CorpoMiranda was needed, alleging that Capriles is “absent” and neglects his duties as governor by prioritizing his work as national opposition leader.

There is a similar situation in the remote southern state of Amazonas, bordering Brazil, where opposition politician Liborio Guarulla has been governor for 12 years.

First, Guarulla says, his responsibility for operating the local airport was taken away. Next, the state police was removed from his control, and then a radio station and an hotel.

The central government also created a new development body, CorpoAmazonas, and named his defeated election rival to run it.

“It's a miserable battle,” Guarulla told Reuters in  Amazonas. “They can't stop us [the opposition] from building, so now they are expropriating us, they're robbing us.”

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Mexican Soldiers Face Murder Charges in 22 Deaths

Three soldiers charged with homicide in death of 22 suspected drug gang members who prosecutors allege were executed
More

Poll: Record Number of Mexicans Crime Victims in 2013

While government data shows murder rate has fallen in past 2 years, crimes such as kidnapping and extortion, which affect wider swath of the population, rise
More

OAS Asks Members to Take In Guantanamo Detainees

Organization of American States issues appeal for member countries to take in detainees from US military prison
More

Recession Looms Over Venezuela, Official Data Under Wraps

Empty store shelves, closed factory gates and idled construction projects tell their own story
More

US Judge Holds Argentina in Contempt Over Bond Payment Plan

In rare move, District Judge Thomas Griesa says country taking 'illegal' steps to evade his orders in longstanding dispute with hedge funds over defaulted debt
More

Brazil's Rousseff Extends Lead Over Silva in Elections

President Dilma Rousseff's expected victory margin over closest rival Marina Silva has surged to 9 percentage points
More