The week at a glance...Americas
Caracas, VenezuelaVeep in charge: As President Hugo Chávez languished in a Cuban hospital this week, Vice President Nicolás Maduro assured the nation that the cancer-stricken leader was still in charge. In a 10-minute speech to Congress—a sharp contrast to Chávez’s nearly 10-hour monologue last year—Maduro asserted that it was legal to allow Chávez to remain president even though he missed his inauguration. While he offered no news on Chávez’s condition, he said the president continued to make political appointments and decisions from Havana. The opposition renewed its call for a new election date to be set. “Maduro is violating the constitution by trying to supplant the functions of the president,” said María Corina Machado, an opposition lawmaker.
Easter Island, Chile Time to secede? The indigenous Rapa Nui people of Easter Island are threatening to declare independence from Chile. The island, a five-hour flight from the Chilean mainland, was discovered by a Dutch ship on Easter Sunday, 1722, and annexed by Chile in 1888. The Rapa Nui, who make up about half of the island’s 5,800 people, say they are now overrun by Chileans who have taken their lands, encouraged mass tourism that endangers the fragile ecosystem, and failed to invest in health care and education. “We could ask to become part of Polynesia, which is closer,” says Leviante Araki, the speaker of the Rapa Nui assembly, “given that Chile has not fulfilled its obligations.” Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has said he seeks a peaceful resolution of the dispute, but insists that the territory remain part of Chile.
La Paz, Bolivia Go ahead and chew: Bolivians have won the blessing of the U.N. to keep coca leaf legal. Last year, Bolivia withdrew from the U.N. Convention on Narcotic Drugs to protest requirements that it outlaw the production and consumption of raw coca leaf, which indigenous people have used for millennia as a mild stimulant. This week the anti-drug group readmitted Bolivia and gave it a special dispensation to legalize unrefined coca within its borders only. The U.S. and several other countries opposed the exception but could not muster a majority. Bolivian President Evo Morales, a former coca leaf farmer, welcomed the decision, saying coca was “good for human health.”