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VENEZUELA: Hugo Chávez's legacy

The appeal of populist autocracy has been weakened by his death but not extinguished  Hugo Chávez prays for his health

Mar. 9.─ Back in the 1990s Latin America seemed to have turned the page on military rule and embraced democracy and free-market economics, with the sole, beleaguered exception of communist Cuba. And then along came Hugo Chávez, a bumptious Venezuelan former lieutenant-colonel who, having staged a failed military coup against a democratic government, got himself elected as president in 1998.

Mr Chávez proceeded to dominate his country for more than 14 years until his death this week from cancer. His secret was to invent a hybrid regime. He preserved the outward forms of democracy, but behind them he concentrated power in his own hands and manipulated the law to further his own ends. He bullied opponents, and encouraged the middle class to emigrate. He hollowed out the economy by mixing state socialism and populist redistribution with a residue of capitalism. And he glued it all together with the crude but potent rhetoric of Latin American nationalism. Mr Chávez claimed to be leading a "Bolivarian revolution" against the "empire" (ie, the United States). It did not seem to matter that Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan hero who liberated much of South America from Spanish colonial rule, was an Anglophile conservative.

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Venezuela Leader Chávez Dies at 58

Caracas, Mar. 6.─ Hugo Chávez, a former tank commander turned populist politician who used Venezuela's oil riches to challenge the U.S. with his fiery brand of socialism, died Tuesday from complications related to cancer. He was 58 years old.

"We have received the hardest and most tragic news," Vice President Nicolás Maduro said in a national television address, his voice breaking and fighting back tears [see video].

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The brothers Castro unveil their successor

Miguel Díaz-Canel is the new man in Cuba 

The Castros' successor Miguel Díaz-Canel Havana, Feb. 28.─ Ever since Raúl Castro replaced his ailing brother, Fidel, as Cuba's president in 2008, he has made clear that his overriding aim is to organise an orderly political and economic transition to ensure that the ruling Communist Party remains in power after both men die. Progress towards that goal has been painstakingly slow, and sometimes crablike. But another step was taken at the opening of a newly installed National Assembly on February 24th, when Raúl began a second presidential term. Not only did he repeat that it would be his last. He also hailed the appointment as first vice-president of Miguel Díaz- Canel, a former higher-education minister, saying this represented "a defining step in the configuration of the country's future leadership".

"Who's he?" was how one Havana resident greeted the news. Mr Díaz-Canel may not be exactly a household name in Cuba but he has been tipped for the top for several years. He has stood in for Raúl on a couple of recent foreign visits. Read more ...

Russian opposition is drafting a "new, improved" Constitution

Among the experts working in the project is Mikhail Krasnov, a former legal advisor to President Boris Yeltsin and one of the authors of the current Constitution

Russian opposition asks for more representation

Moscow, Feb. 20.─ Russian Opposition's Coordination Council is drafting a new constitution that would grant the head of state fewer powers and turn the country form a "super-presidential" into a parliamentary republic.

Only that way, they believe, can "real separation of powers" in Russia be provided.

Under the plan, the new supreme law should be adopted through a referendum if Vladimir Putin resigns – a move the opposition activists have been demanding since the protest movement sprung up in December 2011.


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Democracy in America: Obama asks for more

Obama's State of the Union 2013  Washington, Feb. 14.─ "There is much progress to report," Barack Obama stated with satisfaction at the beginning of his state-of-the-union address. He was referring to the improving health of the economy and the diminishing number of American soldiers in harm's way abroad. But he might just as well have been speaking of his strategy for facing down Republican opposition in a time of divided government.

During last year's election campaign, a line in the president's standard stump speech decried the idea of cutting spending on popular government programmes, "while asking nothing" from the richest Americans. This depiction of himself as the champion of ordinary Americans, and the Republicans as hand-maidens to the rich, was very effective. It not only helped him to win a second term, but also prompted the Republicans in Congress to acquiesce to his demand for higher taxes on the rich at the beginning of the year, for fear of living up to the president's jibes.

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