TIME Crime

More Than Two Environmental Activists Were Killed Each Week in 2014

US-PERU-ENVIRONMENT-UNREST
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images Diana Rios Rengifo, the daughter of one of the four indigenous Ashéninka leaders murdered in the Peruvian Amazon in early September, speaks during a ceremony in New York on Nov. 17, 2014

A majority of deaths were tied to disputes over hydropower, mining and agri-business

The killing of environmental activists jumped by 20% in 2014, with at least 116 deaths around the world tied to disputes involving land and natural resources, the London-based advocacy organization Global Witness claimed this week.

“[That’s] almost double the number of journalists killed in the same period,” its report said. “Disputes over the ownership, control and use of land was an underlying factor in killings of environmental and land defenders in nearly all documented cases.”

According to How Many More?, the majority of deaths took place in Central and South America; Brazil topped the list with 29 cases followed by Colombia with 25.

Global Witness dubbed Honduras as “the most dangerous country per capita to be an environmental activist,” where during the past five years 101 individuals have been killed in relation to their advocacy work.

The organization urged governments across the globe to take bolder measures to tackle the issue ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Conference that will be held in Paris later this year.

“Environmental and land defenders are often on the frontlines of efforts to address the climate crisis and are critical to success,” said the report. “Unless governments do more to protect these activists, any words agreed in Paris will ultimately ring hollow.”

TIME brazil

Brazil Enacts Law Imposing Stricter Penalties for Violence Against Women

Dilma Rousseff
Eraldo Peres—AP Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a signing ceremony for a harsher law against femicide, at the Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, March 9, 2015.

The new legislation is seen as a victory for Brazilian women

Brazil has passed new legislation that imposes harsher penalties for those who harm or kill women and girls.

President Dilma Rousseff signed the femicide law on Monday, saying it was part of the government’s zero-tolerance policy towards violence against women in a country where 15 women are killed every day, reports the BBC.

Under Brazil’s criminal code, femicide is now described as any crime that involves domestic violence, contempt or discrimination against women.

Aggravated murder charges will carry sentences of between of 12 to 30 years imprisonment.

The bill also includes longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, those under 14 years of age, women over 60 and people with disabilities.

Rights groups hail the law as a triumph for Brazilian women, days after International Women’s Day celebrations.

“The law identifies femicide as a specific phenomena. This kind of law is preventive in nature,” said the Representative of U.N. Women in Brazil, Nadine Gasman.

Brazil joins several other Latin American countries in enacting such legislation, including El Salvador, which has one of the highest murder rates of women in the world.

[BBC]

TIME Venezuela

Venezuela Is Slowly Coming Apart—and President Nicolas Maduro May Pay the Price

A boy with blood on his chest kneels in front of police after 14-year-old student Kluiver Roa died during a protest in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 24, 2015.
Carlos Eduardo Ramirez—Reuters A boy with blood on his chest kneels in front of police after 14-year-old student Kluiver Roa died during a protest in San Cristobal, Venezuela, Feb. 24, 2015.

Hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods have Venezuelans angry—and looking for new leadership

CARACAS – Amid the death of a 14-year-old boy killed by a policeman during anti-government unrest, the arrest of a key opposition mayor by armed government intelligence agents and talk of a coup plot against the government spearheaded by Washington, this last week also saw another another turn in Venezuela’s growing crisis. At DolarToday, a website little known outside of Venezuela that has become a key indicator of the country’s black market exchange rate, the bolívar local currency passed the psychological barrier of 200 per greenback. Four years ago, the dollar cost eight bolívares per dollar; five months ago it was 100; now it is already at 221 and counting. This rapid deterioration in the value of the local currency, 61% drop against the dollar over the last year, is one of the best indicators of just how much trouble Venezuela—and President Nicolas Maduro—is in.

While many in Venezuela have little direct engagement with the dollar—the country’s foreign exchange is strictly controlled—the currency crisis pervades everyday life. It means many doctors and engineers earn the equivalent of just a dollar a day and prefer instead to drive taxis or smuggle pasta or gas across the border to Colombia. It means that those who want to buy basic goods for their families must line up for hours every day due to shortages, and hoping all the time that shelves won’t be empty. It means that stealing is more valuable than working, fueling one of the world’s highest crime rates and the murder of one police officer nearly every day.

It means that people like Yormina Alguilera, a street cleaner earning the same as the minimum wage of doctor or engineer, are giving up. “We’re in crisis,” she said, taking a break from the sun at a fruit stall in the square at Caracas’ 23 de enero barrio, as murals of Che Guevara and Hugo Chávez loom over. Alguilera voted for Maduro and his predecessor Chávez, “but never again,” she said. “At least under Chávez I could get things. It’s a mess with Maduro and there’s no end in sight. Things are getting worse every day.”

Maduro, who was elected after the death of Chávez in 2013, is in serious trouble. His approval ratings are in the low twenties, according to Datanálisis, a respected local pollster. This time last year, the president faced down Venezuela’s biggest anti-government protests in more than a decade, and now they appear to be starting up again. In San Cristóbal, on the country’s border with Colombia and where unrest was sparked last February by similar though less severe economic problems, 14-year-old Kluiberth Roa was killed with a rubber bullet by police. That tragedy has only sparked further public anger.

Supermarket lines often run into the hundreds if not thousands due to shortages of the most basic goods, from shampoo to condoms. Inflation last year was near 70%. The economy, which has long been propped up by high crude prices, is crumbling as oil has tumbled over the last few months. (A barrel of Venezuela oil sells for half what it did a year ago; the country obtains 96% of foreign currency from oil.) Maduro has blamed this on an “economic war” being waged by the opposition with a hand from the United States, but many ordinary Venezuelans don’t believe that. “They talk about an economic war but we’re certainly not winning it,” said Aida Guedez Álvarez, a 61-year-old housewife buying a watermelon in 23 de enero. “I voted for Maduro but I’ve been deceived, like everybody else.”

Maduro’s government faces tough legislative elections later this year. “The government isn’t necessarily falling but it is weak and losing its leadership,” said Reinaldo Manrique, 24, an accounting student and student leader who was one of the very first detained for protesting in San Cristóbal, last year, sparking nationwide unrest. “But you know what? The leaders of the opposition are even more weak.”

Though former Chavistas are much angrier than they were a year ago, they do not see the opposition, led loosely by two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles, as a viable alternative. “Of course I’d never vote for Capriles,” said Alguilera, the street cleaner. “I give up. No one will change things.” Rather than protest, students are talking of finishing their studies and leaving the country. Many who took to the streets last year have left. “I’m studying to become a primary teacher,” said Leonardo Díaz, 25, in Caracas’ Plaza Altamira, a bastion of protest. “But as soon as I graduate, I’ll leave. All my friends at university are the same.”

Capriles, who stood against both Chávez and Maduro in presidential elections, is the more moderate face of the opposition. He continues to govern the state of Miranda and at least on paper lead the opposition. The government has cracked down on its more hardline critics. Leopoldo López, a major opposition heavyweight, has remained behind bars for more than a year for his role in inciting last year’s protests. “The government is working in a barbaric way to steal from public funds, destroy the country, rob the country’s oil while it says it’s constructing a homeland!” López’s father, also called Leopoldo, told TIME. Antonio Ledezma, Caracas’ mayor, was arrested and charged earlier this month in a conspiracy to overthrow Maduro.

María Corina Machado, another more radical leader, was charged in December with involvement in a plot to assassinate Maduro. “With Maduro there is more persecution than ever,” she told TIME. Next on the government’s list appears to be Julio Borges, an opposition party coordinator. The government requested a probe into his alleged conspiracies against Maduro this week. “Every year there are elections but this is the first time the government is up with a political crisis of this magnitude,” Borges told TIME. “In Venezuela everyone is scared—including the government.”

Maduro has remained tough. “Every fascist has his day,” the president said on Ledezma’s arrest. And he still has some support. As he completed a crossword on a park bench in the wealthy La Castellana area of Caracas, Emilio Neumann backed the government’s stance. “Lopez and Ledezma are exactly where they deserve to be, behind bars,” said the 69-year-old public administrator. “After calling so many people to the streets and committing who knows how many murders.”

President Maduro must hope, if he is to see out the next couple of years, that he can persuade people like Neumann to stay on side. To do this he must turn the country’s economy around, though with three official exchange rates as well as a black market on the dollar — with a spread between the highest and lowest of them of some 3,400 per cent — it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Pragmatic moves such as consolidating those exchange rates or raising the price of gas, currently the world’s lowest at just a few cents per tank, are politically dangerous especially when Chavistas are turning away from Maduro.

TIME Markets

This is Why Trees Come Down When the Gold Price Goes Up

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Getty Images

A new study establishes a connection between demand for gold and deforestation

The steep rise in the price of gold is a factor in the heightened rate of deforestation in South America, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico, says small-scale miners now find it profitable to try and extract the metal from low-grade seams underneath the region’s rain forests.

With the price of gold rising five times between 2001 and 2013, satellite data shows an area of 1,680 sq km cleared across forests in Brazil, Peru and the Guianas. Much of this was in protected areas, the Guardian reports.

During the second half of the period, deforestation doubled in speed as financial crises around the world caused the price of gold to shoot up.

Agriculture and logging are responsible for clearing more forest, but, researchers say, miners are more harmful to the soil and to water sources because of their use of mercury, cyanide and arsenic.

TIME Cuba

How Venezuela’s Collapse Helped Thaw Cuban-American Relations

Cuba's President Raul Castro shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during the opening session of the 10th ALBA alliance summit in Havana
© Enrique de la Osa / Reuters—REUTERS From Left: Cuba's President Raul Castro shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during the opening session of the 10th ALBA alliance summit in Havana on Dec. 14, 2014.

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez helped keep the Cuban regime propped up, but that's not possible in an era of low oil prices

“We have two presidents: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez,” declared Cuba’s then Vice President Carlos Lage in a visit to Caracas just under a decade ago. A couple of years later, in Havana, then Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez added, “At heart, we are just one government.”

It is likely not a coincidence that talks between the United States and Cuba—which culminated yesterday in an announcement that the two countries would begin to resume full diplomatic relations—began just after the death the former Venezuelan president who had bankrolled Cuba’s Revolution.

Today a beleaguered Venezuela no longer has the spare cash to fund the island’s beleaguered economy. The Castros likely realized this as Chávez’s presidency was coming to an end and were not keen for a return to the scarcity of the euphemistically titled Special Period of the 1990s, after the collapse of Cuba’s first patron, the Soviet Union. “We had nothing, no food and no money,” one elderly man told me in Havana not long ago. The Cuban economy contracted 35 percent between 1989 and 1993, and oil imports decreased 90 percent. Cuba was in desperate need of money.

Chávez, then a nascent politician on the make in Venezuela, saw Castro as a political mentor, a simpatico ally against the elites and imperialists who he blamed for the world’s ills. Chávez also oversaw some of the world’s largest oil reserves. Venezuela currently sends almost 100,000 barrels per day of oil to the island—more than half of Cuba’s consumption—as well as aid thought to be worth in total between $5 billion and $15 billion a year, or some 15% of Cuba’s GDP. (More precise figures are hard to come by given the opacity of both governments.)

But Chávez is dead, and today Venezuela’s economy is in tatters, exacerbated by a fall in the price of oil, which provides 96% of Venezuela’s foreign revenue. The country’s local currency on the black market has fallen 35% in the last month; annual inflation is at more than 60% and there is serious talk of default on Wall Street. Many economists are talking of a “perfect storm” brewing for current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose approval ratings have fallen to the mid-twenties.

The lack of guaranteed support from Caracas would have made Cuban President Raúl Castro “much more eager to negotiate and given the U.S. leverage,” said Ted Henken, President of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy and author of several books on Cuba.

As Havana makes peace with Washington, Venezuelan authorities are left increasingly isolated. While Cuba and Venezuela held onto leftist principles, other countries in the region have in recent years taken more pragmatic policy decisions. “Obama has pulled the rug out from under Maduro,” said Christopher Sabatini, Senior Director of Policy at the Council of the Americas. “It’s going to be a lot easier for other U.S. allies in the region to swing away from Venezuela.”

In the last couple of weeks, in response to sanctions by Washington on top Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights abuses, Maduro has rallied against the U.S. “It shows a lack of respect!” boomed the mustachioed president to a few thousand supporters in Caracas on Dec. 15. “They can shove their US visas.” On Wednesday, though, Maduro praised Obama’s “gesture” towards Cuba. “How sad it is to have a government who 72 hours ago launched an anti-imperialist diatribe against Obama and now describes him as ‘courageous,’” said Jesús Torrealba, head of Venezuela’s opposition coalition.

Cuba learned its lessons from the Special Period and in recent years began to diversify. On the ground, rules have been loosened on private restaurants, guesthouses and the buying and selling of property. Cubans are even allowed Internet access, though only about 5 percent of the country can reach the Web. On a more global scale, international investors have come in; the Scarabeo 9 oil rig sailed into the Florida Straits in January 2012. It was Chinese-built, Italian-owned, and was to be used by Spanish, Norwegian and Indian firms, among others.

Cuba was likely well aware those small reforms would not be enough in the long run. There are a mixture of elements that have come together to allow this historic moment: from Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro themselves to mediators in the Vatican and Canada. Yet, the unwitting spur for the restoration of relations between the U.S. and Cuba may be Hugo Chávez himself, and the inability of his successors to manage Venezuela’s economy.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 16

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Micropayments and digital currencies will ignite an explosion of disruptive innovation.

By Walter Isaacson in LinkedIn

2. Latin America is taking the lead with progressive food policies — and putting public health above the interests of the food industry.

By Andy Bellatti in Civil Eats

3. To preserve biodiversity and lift up communities facing hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, indigenous plants might provide a solution.

By Amy Maxmen in Newsweek

4. Teacher preparation programs seek change with a pinpoint innovation approach. It’s time for a broad scale transformation of teaching.

By Kaylan Connally in EdCentral

5. Making clean plastics from biofuel waste could free up valuable farmland for food crops.

By Matt Safford in Smithsonian

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME brazil

Meet the Brazilian Singer Drawing Crowds with his Stinging Social Critique

Criolo performing in London 2012.
Jeff Gilbert—LatinContent/Getty Images Criolo performing in London 2012.

The red-hot musician Criolo has captured public anger about social divisions in Brazil

When Brazilian rapper Criolo takes the stage with his live band at the cavernous Fundição Progressso concert hall in Rio de Janeiro, a mass ‘rap-along’ breaks out as 6,000 fans chant along with him, throwing up hip hop hand gestures.

But there is nothing celebratory about the lyrics they repeat word for word. Criolo delivers a stinging social critique in song and rhyme, taking in Brazil’s crippling inequality, its drug problem, its violence and the growing obsession with consumerism that came with the country’s economic development. But the message is delivered as entertainment, not lecture, because this is a show, not a political discourse.

“There is no way you can look at the Brazilian social panorama and do agreeable songs,” says Luiz Fernando Vianna, a music critic for the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper. “What Criolo manages to do is do this criticism with a little humor.”

In the late 1980s and 1990s, São Paulo’s Racionais MCs filled stadiums with an uncompromising hip hop sound. Heavily political, they operated outside Brazil’s cultural mainstream. Criolo, in contrast, has broken out and is accepted more widely in Brazil as an artist, not just a rapper catering to niche tastes.

“He constructs bridges,” says Rodrigo Savazoni, a contemporary culture researcher and writer. “It is rap with its hand outstretched.”

Stardom for Criolo, real name Kleber Cavalcante Gomes, came late. The 39-year-old had struggled for 20 years on the grassroots hip-hop scene in his home city of São Paulo when his 2011 album Nó Na Orelha (Knot in the Ear) took off. It took a more accessible approach, combining his incisive and poetic rhymes with his singing, a live band, and elements of funk, reggae and samba.

MORE: The Top 10 Best Songs of 2014

It won three awards at Brazil’s 2011 MTV Awards, including best song for ‘Não Existe Amor Em SP’ (There Is No Love In SP), a haunting lament to a vacuous, lonely metropolis. Brazilian music great Caetano Veloso appeared on stage with him to sing it.

The song connected with a wider sentiment in the city then being daubed in graffiti slogans calling for “more love.” Brazil struggles with staggering levels of violence—56,000 people were murdered in 2012 alone. “It became an alternative anthem,” says Rodrigo Savazoni.

Criolo’s new album Convoque Seu Buda (Call Your Buddha) presents a similarly-eclectic mix of styles, and has already been downloaded 250,000 since it was released for free on the internet earlier this month.

It confirms his status as a star with a wide appeal along Brazil’s segregated social pyramid, from his original fans in the low-income, densely-packed outer suburbs, or periferia, of São Paulo to inner-city bohemians.

“He reaches different social levels,” says André Ribeiro, a Criolo fan and teacher at a state school in São Paulo’s southern periferia.

Rogério Silva, a sociology professor from the Federal Institute of São Paulo, says purist hip hop fans like Criolo—whose name can be used as a pejorative term for black, or Afro-Brazilian, citizens in this Latin American nation—but can’t always understand his complex language. “He is more popular in the middle class,” he says.

Criolo’s new album includes one song, ‘Casa de Papelão’ (‘Cardboard House’), that eloquently targets a crack epidemic that has turned an entire area of São Paulo’s center into an addict city, called ‘Cracolandia’ or Crackland. A video for two rap numbers on the album—‘Duas de Cinco’ and ‘Cóccix-ência’ —presents a chilling vision of a slum, or favela of the future, in which the poverty and crime remain the same but the technology has moved on. “There is still time to avoid this happening,” Criolo told TIME.

MORE: The Top 10 Worst Songs of 2014

The favela in the video is Grajaú, the sprawling slum on São Paulo’s southern edge where Criolo used to live with his parents, immigrants from Ceará state in Brazil’s northeast, in a house piled high with books. His mother Maria Vilani runs a weekly ‘philosophy café’ discussion group and his father Cleon is a metalworker. His great-grandfather, he says, was a slave.

Criolo and his four brothers and sisters grew up at the sharp end of Brazil’s notorious unequal society, living at one point in a leaking wooden shack. He lost many friends to the violence that blights the periferia. “I have seen things I wouldn’t wish anyone to see,” he says.

Criolo discovered hip hop age at eleven, listening avidly to rappers from New York and Los Angeles

In Criolo’s view, Brazilian problems stem from its modern history—a vicious colonization in which Portuguese invaders killed and enslaved indigenous tribes, followed by centuries of slavery. “You already start like this,” he says. Later came the military dictatorship that ran Brazil for two decades until 1985.

Yet he will not comment on Brazil’s recent presidential election, which saw the incumbent Dilma Rousseff secure a second term after one of the most gripping contests in recent Brazilian history. “It becomes innocent to talk about politics when we don’t have a structure to study politics,” he says. “Those who govern us are not interested in putting certain areas in school material.”

MORE: The Top 10 Best Albums of 2014

Brazil has its own version of hip hop—a raw, electronic sound from Rio favelas called ‘funk’. In recent years São Paulo has stolen the other city’s thunder with a style dedicated to conspicuous consumption called ‘ostentation funk’.

Criolo satirizes consumerism as a panacea for social exclusion in a disco-rap duet with singer Tulipa Ruiz called ‘Cartão de Visita’ (or Business Card). “I wouldn’t say extreme riches, I would say extreme futility,” he says. It draws the biggest cheer when Tulipa Ruiz joins him onstage to sing it.

But Criolo insists he is not pessimistic, just realistic. He says the urban occupations he also raps about are an example of positive change. He played an “emotional” show for activists in the northeastern city of Recife, after an occupation in an abandoned port area being developed was violently evicted by police.

“There is something bigger than all of this. Our generation. This new young generation that is being created, with new ideas, the desire to change the world,” he says. “There is not going to be a musician who manages to write this.”

TIME Guyana

President of Guyana Disbands Parliament

Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar, President of the Republic of Guyana, addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York
Mike Segar—Reuters Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar, President of the Republic of Guyana, addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 26, 2013.

The 64-year-old had been facing a vote of no confidence from the opposition in the legislature

The president of Guyana has used a little-known constitutional tool to suspend the South American nation’s parliament and avoid a vote of no confidence.

President Donald Ramotar, who has held the post since December 2011, said in a statement that he was compelled to suspend the legislature to protect the nation’s economic progress.

“My appeals to return to normalcy, to constructively address the many important issues confronting us in Guyana, appear to have fallen on deaf ears,” he said, adding that he would “put the nation’s business first rather than political gamesmanship.”

“The opposition in parliament intends to end the life of the 10th parliament with immediate effect, dashing all hopes for urgent attention to issues relating to economic growth, social services and yes, the holding of local government elections,” he said.

Yet members of the opposition, who have a one-seat majority in parliament, accused the government of rubbishing the democratic system. Moses Nagamootoo, a politician in the opposition Alliance For Change party, told the BBC that Ramotar’s administration had become “a recalcitrant and renegade government.”

The procedural tool, called “proroguing,” allows Ramotar to disband the legislature for up to six months, though he said in his statement that he hopes to reach an agreement with the opposition to reconvene parliament sooner.

TIME columbus day

See How Christopher Columbus Got His Own Holiday

The 15th century explorer is known for "discovering" the New World

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, or at least, that’s what they told you in Kindergarten class.

In fact, that’s probably all you really remember about the Genoa-born explorer, Christopher Columbus — and only when Columbus Day rolls around, if you’re fortunate enough to get a day off for it (Only 23 states give their workers a paid day off to celebrate it, according to a 2013 Pew poll).

So you may be wondering how Columbus Day actually became a federal holiday, and who celebrates it. Watch the video above to find out.

TIME Venezuela

Venezuela’s New Opposition Leader Jesús Torrealba Takes on the Chavistas

Venezuelan Opposition Alliance Executive Secretary Jesus Torrealba speaks during a interview at his office in Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 7, 2014.
Fernando Llano—AP Venezuelan Opposition Alliance Executive Secretary Jesus Torrealba speaks during a interview at his office in Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 7, 2014.

Venezuela's opposition has tried and failed to beat Hugo Chavez's political descendants. Will a new leader make a difference?

In October 1958, the heads of the major political parties in Venezuela met at Punto Fijo, the Caracas home of former president Rafael Caldera. At the summit the political brokers agreed to share power between themselves—no matter who actually won future elections. For the next 40 years, Venezuela was essentially governed by a pair of conservative parties in what became called the puntofijismo. The left was sidelined and the poor largely ignored. The country, though, was prosperous and stable—up to a point.

Hugo Chávez came on the scene soon after the economy fell apart, partly thanks to a prolonged slump in oil prices that took a serious toll on Venezuela, a major crude producer. He campaigned for the presidency in the late 1990s, promising to end the puntofijismo and give a voice to the poor. “I am a product of history,” Chávez liked to say. He tirelessly toured the country’s less wealthy areas and went on to win the 1998 election in a landslide, redefining Venezuelan politics.

A decade and a half later, however, Chávez is dead and his successor Nicolás Maduro’s popularity is waning. One recent poll put Maduro’s approval ratings in the thirties, thanks in part to Venezuela’s annual inflation of more than 60%, shortages of the most basic consumer products and one of the world’s highest murder rates.

Yet, despite the widespread discontent, the country’s opposition still struggles to gain ground, limited in part by its perceived links to a failed old guard. Enter Jesús Torrealba, affectionately known as Chuo, a new executive-secretary of the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD, Democratic Unity Roundtable), the umbrella group which represents political parties opposed to the government. Torrealba was chosen in part because he is able to engage with the country’s poor—something the elite members of the anti-Chávez opposition have repeatedly failed to do. “I’m from the barrio,” he told TIME, adding that he has seen the failures of the socialist government first hand. “Those of us who were poor have stayed poor; those in the middle classes have become poor.” His job is to direct the disparate opposition and help pick the eventual presidential candidate that will take on Maduro in the coming years.

Torrealba is a former Communist Party member, community leader and a presenter of the TV show “Radar of the Barrios,” a program where h gave the poor a chance to voice their anger. He is aiming to attract people like bread vendor Ernesto López, who wears a Chávez t-shirt in the Caracas slum of 23 de enero. López demonstrates the long odds Torrealba will face—there is little chance the 60-year-old will vote for the opposition, even though López, like many in his neighborhood, isn’t happy with Maduro’s performance. “At least we don’t have the dictatorship of puntofijismo,” López said. “They wanted to rob Venezuela’s riches for themselves and we don’t want to return to that.”

Torrealba insists he does not want to go back in time to the days of conservative rule. “A return to the past is neither desirable nor possible,” he said. Torrealba is hoping to make electoral headway for the Venezuelan opposition in National Assembly elections late next year. A good showing in that vote would pressure the government and bolster a potential recall referendum against Maduro in 2016. If not, the opposition would have to wait until 2019 for the next presidential election. “It’s embarrassing that in 21st century Venezuela, we’re debating communism versus capitalism, as if the Berlin Wall hadn’t fallen, as if the Soviet Union hadn’t gone through perestroika,” said Torrealba.

Torrealba, 56, was born in Catia, a poor sector in the west of Caracas. He worked as a journalist and teacher as well in activism and, in line with his working class credentials, is more gruff in dress and character than many of his colleagues in the MUD. He wants to take advantage of Venezuela’s natural resources, including the world’s largest oil reserves. Chávez hoped to channel oil wealth to the poor by launching welfare programs—however, critics say much of the money was largely squandered through inefficiency, incompetence and corruption. “We should be looking to construct a Venezuela that has a quality of life similar to the Nordic countries, though with a Caribbean twist,” he said, giving a nod to prosperous Norway, which avoided the “oil curse”—where countries with bountiful natural resources tend to underperform economically—that has befallen so many oil-rich nations.

Henrique Capriles, who twice lost presidential elections against Chávez and Maduro over the last two years, understood that he had to shed his wealthy image in order to attract those who were disaffected by Chávez and Maduro. Despite his family’s wealth, on the campaign trail Capriles would wear a tracksuit, ride into the country’s slums on his motorbike and play basketball with the locals. “I’m not the candidate of the old establishment,” he told TIME in February 2012, before winning opposition primaries. He lost to Maduro by less than a quarter of a million votes in April last year. He still considers himself the opposition’s leader and may well go on to be the MUD’s presidential candidate again.

But Torrealba will have his work cut out. Silvana Lezama, 20 years old and studying communications at the leafy Monteávila University in Caracas, took part in anti-government protests earlier this year, but isn’t impressed by the opposition’s new leader. “We need a leader that motivates us and I don’t feel motivated at all by Torrealba,” she said. Luis Vicente León, a local political analyst, added: “It’s a tough challenge but Torrealba is capable.” Few protesters were interested in the MUD-led opposition that was personified by characters like Capriles and López. They just wanted a change, with little notion of how it would come about. Torrealba must tap into both the energy of protesters and the disaffected poor—and convince them that the days of puntofijismo are long gone.

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