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

Mali's Female Basketball Players Rebound After Islamist Occupation

Islamist extremists ruled northern Mali for most of 2012, imposing strict Sharia law, and now some 18 months later, the region is slowly getting back on its feet More

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

Many Chinese-made products go unsold, for now, with numerous Vietnamese consumers still angry over recent dispute More

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Argentina Seeks to Avoid 2nd Debt Default in 13 Years

Argentina says it will make another effort to reach a deal with a group of US creditors
More

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surge

Inaccurate claims suggest US will give amnesty to young migrants
More

US Disappointed in Netherlands' Release of Drug Trafficking Suspect

State Department spokesman says legitimate request made for Hugo Carvajal’s arrest under extradition treaty between US, Netherlands and Aruba
More

UN Panel Meets on Global Aging

HelpAge presents nearly 300,000 signatures calling for UN Treaty
More

Video Clock Ticking for Congress to Act on US Border Crisis

This week is lawmakers’ last chance before recess to respond to surge of undocumented children arriving at America’s southern frontier
More

US Considers Screening Youth in Honduras for Refugee Status

Officials say children could be interviewed before they make dangerous journey to US border, as tens of thousands of children from Central America have done already this year
More