EL UNIVERSAL
El Universal is a major Venezuelan daily newspaper, headquartered in Caracas. Founded in 1909, it is part of the Latin American Newspaper Association (Spanish, Periodicos Asociados Latinoamericanos), an organization of leading newspapers in Latin America.
Erdogan, center, marks the coup anniversary in Ankara
Venezuela
Stuart Richardson

Not A Game: Erdogan, Maduro, Trump And The Thirst For Power

The new season of Game of Thrones, which premiered Sunday, will surely be filled with all manner of sabotage, conspiracy, and politicking. The fictional world of author George R. R. Martin is essentially a timeless story of the pursuit of power as an end in itself. But that same show, it appears, is not only playing on HBO this summer. Accusations of corruption and authoritarianism continue to roil multiple seats of power across the planet, as political leaders operate in a perpetual state of crisis management where the goal of holding onto power has replaced actual governing.

On Sunday, the opposition in Venezuela held an unofficial referendum on embattled President Nicolas Maduro's plan to revise the country's constitution. Some 7.1 million people, constituting about 37% of the electorate, turned out for the unprecedented vote, and unsurprisingly they overwhelmingly dissented from Maduro's sweeping reforms.

Caracas-based El Universal (July 17) reports high voter turnout

The Venezuelan President, whose approval rating has hovered around the mid-twenties for more than a year, has sought to fight off popular backlash as the country has sunk into a now eight-year-old economic crisis. Referendum voters called on the military to protect the existing constitution, demanded new elections, and rejected a proposed constitutional assembly. But Maduro appears utterly unwilling to give into the opposition's demands, and has redoubled his efforts to maintain power. In May he proposed revising the constitution in a half-hearted attempt to appease the opposition that currently controls the National Assembly, as he continues to refuse early elections.

Also this past weekend, Turkey marked the one-year anniversary of a thwarted coup that left more than 300 dead. Speaking on Sunday, President Erdogan spoke of "so many enemies...waiting at the door that will not give us the right to live another day." According to Istanbul-based daily Cumhuriyet, the Turkish President vowed earlier to "sever the heads of these snakes' who supported last year's plot. Indeed, the President has been rather draconian in response to the coup. Since last July, authorities have detained more than 110,000 people who purportedly supported the attempted overthrow of the government.

Opposition leaders, while largely ineffectual, have lambasted Erdogan and his supporters for abusing their power. But the Turkish president maintains that the country's new presidential system hasn't sacrificed its democratic values. After all, the United States has functioned on a similar system for nearly 250 years.

Of course, comparing oneself to American democracy isn't what it used to be. Last week's revelation that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., met with a Kremlin-linked, Russian national claiming to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race has only fanned chaos in Washington. While President Trump continues to deny any wrongdoing in last year's tumultuous election, evidence to the contrary has mired his presidency. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll released this past weekend revealed that only 36% of American approve of President Trump's job performance.

To be sure, as shameless as they may seem in their respective power grabs, the leaders of Venezuela, Turkey, and the United States still claim to be working in the interest of the people. Elsewhere in the world, the powerful don't even bother with democracy. News this weekend out of Saudi Arabia, a petroleum-fueled monarchy, was the "imminent" beheading of 15 peaceful pro-democratic demonstrators. That, sadly, is a storyline that can compete with George R.R. Martin's twisted imagination.

Anti-government protesters last month in Valencia, Venezuela
Venezuela
Alidad Vassigh

Venezuela, Maduro's Greatest Threat May Be Old Friends

-Analysis-

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is still in charge — that much we know. What is less clear is whether he has a stronger or weaker grasp on power after the murky late-night helicopter shooting at the Supreme Court building, and a mob attack on parliament this past week.

The brazen assaults on power may help Maduro justify a clamp down on the opposition, but they might also hasten a coup or all-out civil war. Caracas-based daily El Nacional reports that several former loyalists are currently undermining the ruling government's authority far more than longtime opponents to Maduro, including several who are in prison.

One is the former interior minister, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, whom Maduro has insinuated was involved in Tuesday night's helicopter assault. Rodríguez scoffed at the accuracy of the president's intelligence reports, stating he had nothing to do with the fugitive pilot, Óscar Pérez, who is also an actor.

The most notable opposition figure to emerge in recent months is Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, a former Maduro loyalist. In March she denounced as illegal the bungled attempt by the president and the Supreme Court to simply "cancel" parliament, and has opposed the touted Constituent Assembly and vowed to defend with her life the Bolivarian constitution laid down by the late president Hugo Chávez. On Wednesday, she ridiculed Maduro's declarations about a "terrorist attack" on the Supreme Court, saying he was seeing terrorism everywhere.

The political maneuvering at the top changes little about the dire state of daily life for millions of Venezuelans.

Despite support building for Ortega, as evidenced in recent footage of bystanders applauding her in a Caracas bakery, authorities have frozen her accounts and prevented her from leaving Venezuela. She is to appear in court next week for questioning.

The political maneuvering at the top changes little about the dire state of daily life for millions of Venezuelans. Some have noted that people have now mastered the routine of combining anti-government protests with searching for food and consumer products that are hard to come by.

But Maduro's determination to hold on to power at any cost may well push the country into civil war. On Tuesday, government supporters briefly besieged parliament, preventing legislators from leaving, while the Speaker, Julio Borges, was separately shown being pushed out of the parliamentary building by a National Guard colonel.

Ortega is breaking ranks — Photo: Wikipedia

Fatalities after three months of protests have now reached 80, and the opposition is planning another major anti-government protest in Caracas. But El Universal daily also reports that army vehicles are now increasingly visible and mobile in the capital.

With longtime opposition figures jailed, attention is increasingly focused on Ortega, who must walk a fine line of vigorously countering Maduro with calls to remain within the law — she is, after all, the Attorney General. Denouncing "state terrorism" on Wednesday, she told the press in Caracas that "we are facing barbaric actions. They are promoting violence ... inciting an armed insurrection. It's like they are desperate for a military uprising. I call on all Venezuelans to abide by the Constitution and the law."

Venezuela

'Fiesta Democratica' In Venezuela, Maduro Accepts Results

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El Universal, Dec. 7, 2015

CARACAS — Venezuelans congratulated themselves for what several officials described as an "exemplary" election, without violence or widespread accusations of fraud. The ballot Sunday saw the liberal opposition to President Nicolas Maduro took 99 of 167 parliamentary seats in a provisional vote count, with the ruling, socialist PSUV party winning 46 seats.

Opposition daily El Universal called it a "democratic party."

The provisional tally exceeded a simple majority of 84 seats, and opposition politicians were hoping they could finally win more than 110 seats in the next legislature, allowing them to make sweeping political changes, El Universal reported Monday.

In spite of fears he might defy results of a defeat, President Nicolás Maduro recognized the "adverse results" and attributed it to a "perfect" electoral system; he said the elections were a "triumph" of the country's democracy.

The opposition coalition's Executive Secretary, Jesús Torrealba, said their victory was "thunderous" and a new "cycle" of "unity" was starting for Venezuela.

"We won't persecute those who think differently from us. The constitution will be our ... compass," another opposition daily El Nacional reported him as saying. At the rally in Caracas where Torrealba spoke, crowds were chanting "Yes we did," (Sí se pudo), reminiscent of President Barack Obama's Yes We Can slogan.

Police forces burning drugs in La Venta del Astillero, Mexico
blog

Michoacan Becomes Narcotics Hub of the Americas

MORELIA — The violence-plagued state of Michoacán on Mexico's central Pacific coast has risen to become the center of narcotics production in the country, according to an investigative report by leading Mexican newspaper El Universal.

Mexico is the world's leading supplier of methamphetamines, as identified in a 2014 UN report . And Michoacán, where some 460 clandestine drug laboratories were dismantled between 2006 and 2015, is the country's top center of production.

The El Universal investigation uncovers a complex market based on the state's strategic position on the Pacific coast and proximity to Asia — it is home to Lázaro Cárdenas, one of the country's largest ports — and the proliferation of rival drug cartels that have reoriented to the lucrative new meth trade, competing against one another to dominate the market.

The precursor chemicals necessary to produce the drug are shipped to Michoacán from Asia, and the meth is then produced in the state's numerous laboratories before traveling north to the United States or being shipped right back across the Pacific to Asia, where in some countries meth consumption is on the rise. The cartels in Michoacán are the central node of production and distribution in the meth trade.

La Familia, long the state's largest cartel, shifted its focus from cocaine and marijuana production to the meth industry in 2006. Five years later, the cartel split, with one faction forming a new, more violent cartel called the Knights Templar. The new competitors also increased production of meth, sparking a bloody conflict and firmly establishing the state as the country's major narcotics hub.

El Universal writes that the Pacific coast states of Sinaloa and Jalisco are also large centers of meth production. The Mexican government and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) signed an agreement in 2012 to destroy clandestine drug labs and tackle the region's growing narcotics trade.

But violence continues to rage in Michoacán between the warring cartels, the government, and local self-defense militias, and meth production has not abated. Morelia-based newspaper La Voz de Michoacán reports that the authorities demolished three meth labs in central Michoacán as recently as Oct. 26.

Meth remains Mexico's second most popular drug behind marijuana, with 17,565 kilos seized in 2014. Michoacán's cartels are tightening their grip on a thriving illegal trade, turning their country into the world's largest meth producer in the process.

Venezuela

Another Venezuelan Opposition Leader Jailed

CARACAS — Venezuelan security agents have detained Manuel Rosales, an opposition politician returning to the country after six years in exile, at the airport in Maracaibo, in the western state of Zulia. Opposition daily El Universal reports that the 63-year-old former presidential candidate and ex governor of Zulia, was arrested "literally as he got off the plane" late Thursday.

The onetime election opponent of late President Hugo Chavez faces charges of embezzling public funds levelled against him in 2008. El Universal cited state prosecutors as saying that the former politician was taken immediately to Caracas to hear the charges against him.

Rosales is just the latest opposition politician in Venezuela in custody, as popular leader Leopoldo Lopez faces a 14-year prison sentence.

Rosales' lawyer Jesús Ollarves denounced the manner of his detention, and insisted his client was not arrested but "handed himself over voluntarily, being put into a van in an unnecessary and exaggerated manner."

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Rosales before fleeing the country in 2009 — Photo: Guillermo Ramos Flamerich

Rosales is a leader and founding member of the opposition party Un Nuevo Tiempo, and the party's Twitter account seemed to indicate Rosales was returning to take part in campaigning for the Dec. 6 parliamentary polls. Opposition forces hope then to win majority control of the legislature and curb the power of the socialist President Nicolás Maduro, the hand-picked successor to Chavez.

The pro-government broadcaster TeleSur instead called Rosales a "fugitive from justice" who fled in 2009 to avoid prosecution for alleged financial malfeasance. It observed that his immediate goal on landing had been to attend an opposition meeting in one of the main streets in Maracaibo.