April 25, 2011
There is widespread anxiety -- including from senior U.S. diplomats, according to recently released WikiLeaks cables -- that President
According to a U.S. Embassy cable signed by former U.S. Ambassador
The cable, published by the Spanish daily El Pais, also said that Martinelli had requested U.S. help to wiretap political rivals, something the U.S. Embassy refused to do.
Political opponents and some leading journalists accuse the president of having maneuvered to oust an independent attorney general, buying off opposition legislators in
"He's a right-wing (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chávez,"
Martinelli has said repeatedly that his proposed constitutional reform would not allow presidents to serve for two consecutive terms, but would allow them to run for office after staying out of power for five years.
Critics say that's just a ruse. They say the president's referendum proposal -- much like those of his leftist counterpart in
During a three-day visit here, I heard many leading journalists complain that Martinelli often calls them or their bosses to complain in a threatening tone about their writing or television comments.
"This is the government that most intimidates the press since the days of (former strongman
What do you say about all of these charges, I asked
"There has been a definite change in
But what about Martinelli's calls to journalists, I asked.
"That's him," Mendez said, "If he is bothered by something, he will complain to you about it. But in
Regarding the Martinelli-proposed constitutional referendum, Mendez said -- categorically -- that "Martinelli will not seek an immediate reelection."
My opinion: Martinelli is not a right-wing Chávez, at least not yet. Unlike his Venezuelan counterpart, he has not shut down independent media, nor sent goons to physically attack critical journalists. And we have yet to see the language of his proposed constitutional reform.
If anything, Martinelli is a tropical version of Italian Prime Minister
But with the expected doubling of fund transfers from the expanded
We have seen that movie before, and it always ends badly. Martinelli could end up being a good president, but he should learn that a system with strong institutions and checks and balances -- including critical journalists -- is the best for his country, and for his own good.
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(C) 2011 Andres Oppenheimer, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Media Services