News from Venezuela, France and Great Britain

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on April 16, 2013

VENEZUELA – Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor barely wins election


Venezuelan-elected President Nicolas Maduro celebrates following the election results in Caracas on Sunday.

CARACAS | Late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s chosen successor Nicolas Maduro won Venezuela’s presidential election by a hair but now faces opposition protests plus a host of economic and political challenges in the OPEC nation.

The 50-year-old former bus driver, whom Chavez named as his preferred heir before dying from cancer, edged out opposition challenger Henrique Capriles with 50.7 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election, according to election board returns. Capriles took 49.1 percent, just 235,000 fewer ballots.

Capriles, whose strong showing confounded most forecasts, refused to recognize the result and said his team had a list of more than 3,000 irregularities ranging from gunshots to the illegal reopening of polling centers. …

Venezuela's opposition leader and presidential candidate Henrique Capriles during a news conference in Caracas April 13, 2013.

Venezuela’s opposition leader and presidential candidate Henrique Capriles during a news conference in Caracas April 13, 2013.

A protracted election dispute could cause instability in a deeply polarized nation with the world’s largest oil reserves.

Though some opposition supporters chanted “fraud,” burned tires, and banged pots and pans in protest, Capriles did not call them onto the streets en masse.

Maduro said he would accept a full recount, even as he insisted his victory was clean and dedicated it to Chavez. …

“I won … we’ve had a fair, legal and constitutional triumph,” Maduro told his victory rally on Sunday night, saying he would also be vigilant against destabilization. “We will know what to do if someone raises their insolent voice against the people.”

The election board said Maduro’s win was “irreversible” and gave no indication of when it might carry out an audit (an official examination and verification of accounts and records). Critics say four of its five members are openly pro-government [pro-Maduro].

“Capriles should complain to the whole world. We need to check the votes box by box,” said opposition supporter and construction worker Fernando Cabreara, 48.

FRANCE – Louvre closes over pickpockets


The Louvre claims to be the most visited museum in the world

PARIS | Paris’s Louvre museum closed on Wednesday due to a walkout by 200 staff over a rise in aggressive pickpockets including children sometimes working in gangs of up to 30, staff and management said.

Christelle Guyader, a spokesman for the SUD union said staff have had enough of increasingly aggressive organized groups which are targeting both workers and tourists.

Many of the thieves are children who get into the museum for free and then start asking people for money. “Do you speak English?” [they usually ask], and then they surround victims, helping themselves to money and possessions.

The problem has been growing all over Paris, but the Louvre has become a favorite place to operate. At the end of last year the museum’s management asked prosecutors for more police to be made available, but the problem has persisted.

“The children are tough and very well organized,” said one member of staff. “They stop at nothing to get what they want, and work in gangs. We can only do so much, but arrests are usually impossible because of their young age. If they are kicked out, they return the next day. They are very aggressive towards staff, putting people in danger of attack.”

About 100 staff gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture following the walk-out to demand action.  The Louvre has around 1,000 staff with some 470 present on any one day.

Two years ago, France’s then Interior Minister said that the vast majority of street robberies in Paris were being carried out by the children of Romanian immigrants. Claude Gueant said the eastern European state was responsible for exporting some of the most notorious [young] thieves in the world. Many operated in gangs around the Gare du Nord Eurostar station, preying on British travellers as they arrived from London.

Romania joined the EU in 2007 but faced restrictions on immigration which are set to be lifted next year, leading to an expected influx into countries like Britain.

The Louvre normally attracts up to 30,000 visitors a day at this time of year. More than eight million people a year visit the Louvre, which is full of artistic treasures including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.

GREAT BRITAIN – Big Ben to be silenced for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral

image861LONDON | Big Ben will not ring on Wednesday as a mark of respect for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral.

It is the first time that the bells of Big Ben and the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster will have been halted in this way since the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.

The announcement came from John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, in a statement to MPs [Members of Parliament; similar to our congressmen], many of whom had asked the Parliamentary authorities to make a special tribute to the former Conservative prime minister.

“The most appropriate means of indicating our sentiments would be for the chimes of Big Ben and the chimes of the Great Clock to be silent for the duration of the funeral proceedings,” he said. I have therefore made the necessary arrangements to achieve this. I believe there can be a profound dignity and deep respect both expressed in and through silence and I am sure that the House will agree.”

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister coordinating arrangements for the funeral, told the House of Commons: “As you know, Lady Thatcher held Parliament in very great reverence in her time both in this House and in the Lords and I am confident that this will be seen as a very dignified and respectful gesture on behalf of Parliament and I am very grateful to you.

“I am confident that Lady Thatcher’s family will take it very much in that spirit and be very appreciative of what you have decided.”

David Cameron’s official spokesman said: “It is not surprising that a good number of people wish to commemorate Lady Thatcher’s passing.”

The name ‘Big Ben’ is often used to describe Parliament’s famous clock tower, which was recently re-named Elizabeth Tower in honor of the Queen.

However, the name was first given to the Great Bell, which sounds the hour. The Great Clock normally chimes every quarter hour and has done so since 1859, except during routine repair work and when it broke down in 1976.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at Reuters on April 15, the Daily Telegraph on March 28th and April 15th.)   



Maduro's slim victory provides an inauspicious start for the "Chavismo" movement's transition to a post-Chavez era, and raises the possibility that he could face challenges from rivals within the disparate leftist coalition.

Chavez beat Capriles by 11 percentage points and 1.6 million votes in October, showing how quickly the gap between the two sides has eroded without the larger-than-life presence of the former leader (Maduro only beat Capriles by 1.6 percentage points).

Opinion polls had all predicted a comfortable win for Maduro, due to emotion over Chavez's March 5 death and the popularity of his social welfare programs, but they had also shown the gap narrowing fast in the final days. Even so, the result took most Venezuelans by surprise.

The sympathy effect for Maduro from Chavez's death was clearly wearing off. And Capriles' message on the campaign - slamming his rival as an incompetent and poor copy of Chavez unable to fix the nation's myriad problems - had hit home. Maduro was unable to match his former boss's charisma and electrifying speeches, but nevertheless benefited from a well-oiled party machine and poor Venezuelans' fears that the opposition might abolish Chavez's slum development projects.

The close election outcome capped an extraordinary two years for Venezuelans since Chavez's cancer was diagnosed in mid-2011, plunging the nation into uncertainty. "The unpredictable narrow margin of the election results has proven how volatile the political scenario is," said Venezuelan political analyst Diego Moya-Ocampos. "The death of Chavez was a game changer that is leading to the gradual reorganization of political power in Venezuela, in which the armed forces will play a key role behind the scenes."

The election raises doubts about the long-term appeal and durability of the movement that Chavez built, led and held together throughout his 14 years in power.


Allies including China, Russia, Argentina and Cuba all congratulated Maduro.  "This transcendental triumph demonstrates the strength of the ideas and work of Commander Hugo Chavez," said President Raul Castro of Cuba, which depends on more than 100,000 barrels per day of Venezuelan fuel in return for sending workers here.

Under Chavez, Venezuela was the United States' main irritant in the region... Though Maduro has repeated his predecessor's strident "anti-imperialist" rhetoric in public, there are signs he may want to begin a rapprochement with the U.S. government.

The armed forces, who have played a major role in Venezuela's tumultuous recent history including three coup attempts from within the military in the last two decades, vowed to maintain order in the nation of 29 million people.

Maduro's narrow win came as a shock to many ardent Chavez loyalists, who had become accustomed to his double-digit election victories.

The small margin of victory gives Maduro less authority to lead the broad ruling alliance that includes military officers, oil executives and armed slum leaders. It had been held together mainly by Chavez's iron grip and mesmerizing personality.

"This is the most delicate moment in the history of 'Chavismo' since 2002," said Javier Corrales, a Venezuela expert at Amherst College in Massachusetts, referring to a putsch against Chavez 11 years ago. "With these results, the opposition might not concede easily, and Maduro will have a hard time demonstrating to the top leadership of Chavismo that he is a formidable leader."

It will also add to the difficulty Maduro faces in moving from campaign mode to actually governing a nation with high inflation, a slowing economy, Byzantine currency controls and one of the world's worst violent crime rates. (from the reuters article)