Caracas To London To Ankara, Expressions Of Democracy

Anti-Maduro protest in Caracas
Anti-Maduro protest in Caracas
Benjamin Witte


Democracy has never been an easy thing. That most British of statesmen Winston Churchill famously called it "the worst form of government, except for all the others."

In its ideal form — with regularly scheduled elections, peaceful transfers of powers, constitutions that are upheld, checks and balances respected — democracy can work quite well. Certainly there are examples still in today's world. But as shown by events taking place right now in Venezuela, Turkey and even on Churchill's turf, it can also be a deeply messy affair.

In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro is clinging to power against a groundswell of popular discontent over the country's imploding economy, high crime rate and what many claim are abuses of power by his "Chavista" government. Perhaps the most glaring example came two weeks ago, when the country's Supreme Court, stacked with Maduro loyalists, stripped the opposition-controlled legislature of its powers. Opponents accused the government of executing a "self-coup."

The move was a mistake, and Maduro tried to quickly reverse course. But as Colombia's El Espectador reports, the damage — to his credibility, and as a major momentum boost for the opposition — was already done. Opponents want Maduro out, and have stepped up their calls for early elections. Massive street demonstrations are set to take place today in the capital, Caracas.

Venezuela has plenty of company around the world in grappling with a democratic dilemma at the moment.

But Maduro — who won the presidency fair and square after his popular predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, died in 2013 — says there's no reason he should step down prematurely. Indeed it would be undemocratic! From his perspective, it is the opposition trying to orchestrate a coup. And to protect Venezuela's democracy, he suggested Tuesday night that the speaker of the legislature, Julio Borges, be prosecuted.

He also announced plans to expand the country's 100,000-strong civilian militia force — armed civilians loyal to the government — by an additional 400,000, and give each person a gun. "Now is not the time to hesitate," he said.

Venezuela has plenty of company around the world in grappling with a democratic dilemma at the moment. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who faced his own attempted coup last July — has taken advantage of the chaos to rule in large part by decree. Not very democratic. But then, in a bid to expand his powers further, he organized a popular referendum. On Sunday, the Turkish people had their say, voting in favor of Erdogan's plans to modify the constitution, but only narrowly: 51.4% versus 48.6%. A mandate, perhaps, albeit not a very convincing one.

And then there's Britain, which had its own game-changing experience last year with a referendum, the famous "Brexit" vote to pull out of the European Union. Now Prime Minister Theresa May has stunned everyone by calling for snap elections in June. Like Erdogan, and unlike Maduro, she believes that popular sentiment is on her side, and is betting that an election can ultimately increase her position of authority. It is a bold but uncertain wager on the will of the people. Winston Churchill would be proud.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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