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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Hurricane Cristobal Kills Four, Moves Toward Bermuda

Storm is not expected to threaten US, but could cause deadly surf and rip currents from Florida to North Carolina
More

Peru's Congress Narrowly OKs Humala's New Cabinet on 3rd Vote

Lawmakers ratify president's embattled cabinet after ruling party offers to suspend rule requiring independent workers to pay into a pension program
More

Brazil's Deadly Prison Riot Ends

Officials say two inmates were beheaded during the Cascavel riot; two others were thrown to their deaths from the roof, and police are investigating how a fifth inmate died
More

Amid Slowdown, Chileans Adjust to New Economic Reality

Most economists now predict overall growth in country's economy of between 2.0 and 2.5 percent this year, down from 4.1 percent in 2013
More

Video Yiddish Tango Reflects Jewish Life in Argentina

Jewish people from Europe, Russia who have emigrated to Argentina for hundreds of years have fused klezmer and Argentine tango, creating Yiddish tango
More

Magnitude 6.9 Earthquake Hits Peru

Peru's civil defense institute said there were no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage
More