Francisco Toro (Continuación)

As prosecutors and police officers explained they had an arrest warrant, the former president excused himself to go call his lawyer. He stepped into his bedroom. A single gunshot rang out. Hours later, after an unsuccessful operation to try to save him, he was pronounced dead.

Alan García, the two-time president of Peru (1985-1990; 2006-2011), explained in a suicide note that he preferred to take his own life rather than face the humiliation of an arrest on corruption charges. (If you hadn’t heard of it, it’s because his suicide coincided with the publication of the Mueller report, burying the story in U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

There was always a surreal edge to Julian Assange’s long sojourn in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London — a Monty Python-esque oddity to having a figure so strange, so central to so many of the rich world’s most urgent debates, camping out in an embassy belonging to a distant developing country he had never actually set foot in. In the person of Assange, the domestic politics of a distant corner of South America collided with big-time geopolitics and various U.S. neuroses in a way neither side seemed quite prepared to handle.

After he skipped on his bail back in 2012, Assange seemed to be looking for a few different things.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Wednesday, perhaps the most senior socialist leader in Latin America stood up in front of the world and highlighted the shocking human rights situation in Venezuela. Speaking formally, in the measured language of big-time diplomacy, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, painted a detailed picture of the collapse in human rights guarantees in Venezuela over the past nine months.

Bachelet was unsparing. She denounced the collapse of Venezuela’s health and education systems, noting fast rises in maternal and infant mortality, and the shocking fact that some 1 million children have stopped going to school. She detailed the use of Venezuela’s Orwellian-named Law Against Hatred to bully and silence the government’s media critics.…  Seguir leyendo »

Venezuela watchers have been talking about the “collapse” of the country for a long time. They were mainly using the word metaphorically, applying it to statistical oddities such as fast declines in oil production, big spikes in infant mortality and skyrocketing prices. But since Thursday, Venezuela’s collapse has taken a turn to the literal, as an all-encompassing nationwide blackout has brought the country close to a standstill. Without power, the country has seen a hard stop to all the basics of 21st-century life.

In a country already trudging through a serious humanitarian crisis, the collapse of the electric grid is a final catastrophe.…  Seguir leyendo »

A shipment of food and medicine for Venezuela is unloaded from a U.S. military aircraft in Cucuta, Colombia, a city near the border with Venezuela, on Feb. 16. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images)

A bizarre standoff is taking place along Venezuela’s border with Colombia, as the beleaguered Nicolás Maduro steadfastly refuses to allow emergency shipments of food and medicine to enter his country.

Maduro’s refusal is confusing at first: Venezuelans are facing a chronic food crisis that has seen the average person lose over 20 pounds of body weight in the last year, and medicine shortages that have caused people to die of treatable ailments in unprecedented numbers.

To understand why a leader would refuse aid in those circumstances, you have to grasp the hostage-taking dynamics that now drive Venezuela’s political crisis.

In a hostage situation, the perpetrator’s negotiating position hinges entirely on his willingness to hurt his hostages.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Nicolás Maduro attends a ceremony to commemorate the 27th anniversary of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez's failed coup on Feb. 4. (Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters)

Desperate for control of Venezuela’s oil, the Trump administration is going all-out to install a far-right puppet regime in Caracas by backing a military coup.

If you’ve followed the Venezuelan crisis, you’ve read some variant of this line a dozen times this week. It’s important — crucial — that you understand it for what it is: Venezuelan regime propaganda, carefully designed to resonate with reasonable people around the globe, for the sole purpose of keeping a dictatorship in power.

It’s effective because it’s enticing.

To millions of Americans on the center and the left scarred by the memories of past U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Riot police clash with anti-government demonstrators in Caracas on Monday. (Federico Parra/AFP/Getty Images)

Thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets on Wednesday to confront Nicolás Maduro and the Western Hemisphere’s most wantonly destructive regime. A resurgent opposition — under the leadership of Juan Guaidó, the until-recently unknown 35-year-old leader of Congress and now the self-declared president of Venezuela — has mobilized its supporters to try to dislodge what’s now a no-doubts-about-it dictatorship.

On Wednesday afternoon Guaidó claimed to be the legitimate leader of Venezuela, directly challenging Maduro’s authority. President Trump promptly recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.

“In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant,» Trump said in a statement.…  Seguir leyendo »

Long lines of motorists have been forming outside Mexican gas stations these past couple of weeks as reports of disruptions to fuel supplies spread, sending drivers scrambling for fuel. A vicious cycle took hold: Talk of shortages set off panic buying, and panic buying worsened the shortages. But there was no natural disaster behind the initial supply blip, just a blunder by the new populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, that doubles as a troubling sign of the direction that populists in the hemisphere are taking.

During the campaign, López Obrador (or AMLO, as Mexicans refer to their new president) had promised to crack down on fuel theft, a serious problem in Mexico, where criminal groups routinely tap into remote pipelines and sell the stolen fuel.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Evo Morales of Bolivia is preparing to run for an unprecedented fourth term. (David Mercado/Reuters)

Not much remains of the pink wave — the tide of left-wing governments that swept Latin America at the turn of the century. One way or another, country after country has turned back either to the center (Peru, Ecuador), the right (Argentina, Chile) or even the far right (Brazil).

As alternation in power between opposing ideologies becomes normal in Latin America for the first time, just a handful of stragglers hang on: Nicaragua and Venezuela, where leftist authoritarianism has done away with democracy altogether, and Bolivia, where democracy is genuinely on a knife-edge.

Bolivia has always been a special case. Uniquely for the Latin American hard-left, its government managed public finances with relative prudence.…  Seguir leyendo »

An identification card was checked at a "red point" in Caracas to verify people voted during the last presidential election in May. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

For fans of “Black Mirror,” Charlie Brooker’s dark dystopian fantasy on Netflix, the news out of China recently had been disconcerting. Through its Social Credit System, the Chinese Communist Party is apparently determined to build out a real-world version of the streaming nightmare: a pervasive, highly intrusive AI-enabled surveillance system that tracks you all day every day and that largely determines all of your life chances.

Social Credit is creepy enough in its own terms, but the real question is whether it will remain quarantined in China’s huge walled garden, or whether it will spread, becoming a model for repressive regimes worldwide.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hyperinflation is to economics what leprosy is to medicine: a hideous, cruel ailment that used to be widespread but is now well understood, easy to prevent and trivial to cure. Like leprosy, hyperinflation used to be common but is now rare and feels anachronistic. In both cases, there’s just no excuse for failing to cure it: It’s 2018, and researchers long ago figured out its mechanisms, its causes and the right way to treat it. And yet, in a handful of wretched places, both afflictions hang on, their presence a stinging indictment of those in charge.

On Wednesday night, President Nicolás Maduro announced his plan to tame Venezuela’s brutal hyperinflation, which the International Monetary Fund says is on track to top 1 million percent this year.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man walks past graffiti painted on a fence in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 11. The graffiti reads: “I’m not going to vote.” (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

On Sunday, Venezuela is slated to hold a presidential “election” that has richly earned its scare quotes. Hewing closely to the playbook pioneered in Russia and perfected in Nicaragua and Hungary in recent years, the vote is designed not to allow citizens to pick their leaders, but rather, to help leaders put a thin varnish of legitimacy on their authoritarian stranglehold on the state.

After the Maduro regime artlessly manipulated the outcome of not one but two elections last year, its reassurances that the vote will be fair fool no one. Its most popular opponents are either barred from standing, in jail or in exile.…  Seguir leyendo »

Students march during a protest against the government of President Daniel Ortega in Managua, Nicaragua, on Wednesday. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s a protest movement nobody saw coming. For more than a week now, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have been out on the streets protesting the Sandinista government of President Daniel Ortega. They’ve faced tear gas and bullets that have left more than 30 dead. Yet far from fading, the protests have grown. The citizens have begun tearing down the propaganda billboards and metal trees that Ortega’s government have so carefully erected in the country’s towns over the past 10 years. University students are calling for a new government.

Several protest groups have started talks with the government. Whether that dialogue succeeds or fails, Ortega’s government now looks much less stable than it did just two weeks ago.…  Seguir leyendo »

When Colombians went to vote in congressional elections on Sunday, international media had little doubt what the story was: the participation of former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — the guerrilla movement that had conducted a 52-year war against the country’s central government until concluding a peace treaty in November 2016. “Former FARC rebels face first ballot,” blared the BBC. “Critics of peace deal dominate Colombia election,” declared the Associated Press. The Voice of America went with “Former Colombian guerrillas run for office.”

You could be forgiven for thinking the campaign was all about FARC, but, as it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth.…  Seguir leyendo »

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, announced Thursday that she is launching a “preliminary examination” of human rights abuses in Venezuela. As Bensouda stressed, such an examination could potentially lead – “depending on the facts and circumstances of each situation” – to prosecution for crimes against humanity.

The ICC is specifically responding to accounts compiled by human rights organizations, which are in turn based on firsthand testimony from former detainees. The stories sound like something out of the darkest times in Latin America’s dark past. They tell of the arrests of hundreds of political dissidents who have endured severe beatings, stress positions, sleep deprivation and electric shocks — all for the “crime” of disagreeing with the government.…  Seguir leyendo »

Attendees stand during a rally with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, on Tuesday. (Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg News)

News that Venezuela will hold a presidential election by the end of April dismayed democracy activists in the country. You might have good reason to find that sentence paradoxical. But if you do, you don’t understand Venezuela.

Why? Because the announcement was unilateral: my way or the highway. As such, it put a brutal end to a careful diplomatic dance that many people had hoped would yield an election they could believe in.

For the past three months, government and opposition representatives have been negotiating in the Dominican Republic, under international auspices, to try to agree on a set of minimal elections guarantees.…  Seguir leyendo »

Empty meat counters in a supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela, on Jan. 9. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

A friend recently sent me a photograph that tells a powerful story about the situation Venezuelans find themselves in now. It’s not a very good picture, really, just a blurry cellphone shot of trash: some wrapping material, an old CD — the detritus left behind after a store was looted last week in San Felix, a city in the country’s southeast.

And yet I can’t stop thinking about it, because strewn about in the trash are at least a dozen 20-bolivar bills, small-denomination currency now so worthless even looters didn’t think it was worth their time to stop and pick them up.…  Seguir leyendo »

I remember the joke from my childhood.

“What’s the most profitable business in the world?”
“A well-run oil company.”
“And the second most profitable business in the world?”
“A badly run oil company.”

There was a certain cockiness to the way Venezuelans used to tell this joke. A guffawing sense of invincibility. Here was a country sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves, where all you have to do is dig a hole in the ground and dollars come gushing out. A country like that can’t go bankrupt, can it?

Turns out it can.

Last Thursday, in a somber speech to the nation, President Nicolás Maduro announced what financial markets had been anticipating for years: Venezuela can no longer pay its debts.…  Seguir leyendo »

Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami called his sanctioning by the United States on drug charges an «imperialist aggression» in the first flare-up between the two countries under new President Trump.

A lot of distinctly unsavory characters have made it into the upper echelons of Venezuelan politics over the past decade or so. To understand why, you need only consider the uniquely murky opportunities presented by the country’s current state of chaos: the wholesale looting of oil revenues; the deep, almost carnal relationship with the dictatorship in Havana; the long-standing ties with Colombian guerrillas, and the more recent links to drug cartels; and an unlikely alliance with Tehran.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Aymara woman walks past a mural that reads in Spanish “Tell Bolivia Yes,” in favor of President Evo Morales, in El Alto, Bolivia, in February, days before a referendum on whether to amend the constitution so that Morales could run in 2019 for a fourth consecutive term. (Juan Karita/Associated Press)

Venezuela’s economy is a catastrophe of Dickensian proportions. And for plenty of readers, that’s hardly a surprise. Every time I write about it, dozens pipe in with some variant on the same comment: “Socialism leading to total ruin — who would’ve thought?!” The temptation to read Venezuela’s collapse as ideological comeuppance seems to be irresistible. My country, people tell me again and again, is just the end of the line on the Road to Serfdom.

There’s just one problem with all this bashing of socialism: Bolivia.

Since 2006, Bolivia has been run by socialists every bit as militant as Venezuela’s. The country has experienced a spectacular run of economic growth and poverty reduction with no hint of the chaos that has plagued Venezuela.…  Seguir leyendo »