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Venezuela

How An Ill Hugo Chavez Has Made Venezuela's Opposition Even Weaker

Not much breathing room between Hugo Chavez and Vice President Nicolas Maduro
Not much breathing room between Hugo Chavez and Vice President Nicolas Maduro
Carlos Antonio Romero Mendez*

-Opinion-

CARACAS - The Venezuelan opposition is at a crossroads after two electoral defeats and in front of imminent political change for the country.

Instead of weakening him, President Hugo Chavez’s cancer has reinforced his power and pushed his opposition ever deeper into a corner.

The opposition did not instigate the political change – they are of course not responsible for Chavez’s illness – and they can’t seem to control its consequences. Neither the opposition members of the Parliament, nor the dissident movements have done anything to solve the problems tied to Chavez’s physical absence from power.

Foreign countries haven’t been much help either, washing their hands of the question and closing their eyes on the medical issue.

The opposition’s paralysis cannot be fully understood without taking into account the fact that part of the opposition has been exploring other ways to take power than by elections. Some, in a rhetoric grand gesture, refused to recognize the government of Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s Vice President and successor, calling the country, including the armed forces, to head the call and not miss this opportunity to seize power.

The Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the coalition of opposition parties, unwittingly finds itself in a whirlwind of problems: first, the government and ruling party accuse them of being unlawful, of inventing conspiracy theories, and then, they drop “banana peels” to make the opposition slip up – thus proving that it is unworthy of democratic responsibility.

Fortunately, not all is lost. The fight to put an end to Chavez’s authoritarian regime is not the result of an amicable settlement with the government to avoid sanctions from the international community, it is the product of an enduring peaceful resistance movement, whose leaders have avoided in many ways to erase true democracy from the Venezuelan map by constantly denouncing the abuses and manipulations of the ruling party.

Chavismo without Chavez

The MUD, against all odds, has been able to present a program, with a presidential candidate and members of Parliament, governors and mayors – all of whom have formed a dam that has stopped, in part, the capricious political game of the ruling party and its will to impose a monopoly on politics.

So what’s next for the Venezuelan opposition?

It all depends on the point of view. This is new, and right now no one knows what will happen in the next months. The only two things that we know for sure are: first, the fact that the president-elect of the Republic is still Hugo Chavez and the postponement of his inauguration has not put a dent in his power. The second thing we know for sure is that Hugo Chavez has serious health problems.

Under these circumstances, the government and the ruling party have not shown any signs of becoming more flexible. Quite the opposite – the party has become even more Marxist, with a polarized vision of the political process and repeated accusations against an alleged conspiracy by the opposition, all of which have created a climate of instability in the country.

The MUD has announced that it is ready to go to the polls in case Chavez’s absence is prolonged and new elections are called. But is it in the Venezuelan opposition’s best interest to go to election right now? I don’t think so! The best for now is to wait and see how “Chavismo” without Chavez plays out.

*Carlos Antonio Romero Mendez is a Venezuelan political scientist.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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