From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Peru Runoff: Fujimori and Humala in a Tight Race to the Finish
Peru’s second-round vote is slated for Sunday, but who the winner will be is far from clear. The two candidates—conservative Keiko Fujimori and left-leaning Ollanta Humala—are running neck and neck, while polls show many voters remain undecided. Reuters Factbox summarizes a large portion of the last major polls from last week (Pollsters cannot publish surveys in Peru during the last week before the election). All list Fujimori leading, but, in some cases, her lead is less than 1 percent. An Imasen poll published May 29 shows Humala ahead by 1.3 percent. An Ipsos Apoyo survey measuring voter intention and published by El Comercio on May 29 shows Fujimori ahead by 2 percent. But the incidence of blank votes hit 12 percent while undecided votes hit 8 percent.
Access an AS/COA Online election guide to the Peruvian second-round vote, including links to coverage, candidate plans, and Sunday’s presidential debate.
IMF Candidates Seek Support from Brazil
Christine Lagarde arrived in Brazil Sunday to field support for her candidacy for the IMF director position left vacant after Dominique Strauss-Kahn resigned over a sexual assault scandal. Mexican Central Bank Director Agustín Carstens followed Lagarde to Brazil on Wednesday, where he pitched his candidacy to Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega. Brazil has yet to throw its support behind either candidate.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis about Latin America and the call for a non-European IMF director.
Where Do Brazilian Taxes Go?
Though the average Brazilian must spend six months working just to pay taxes, says A Folha de São Paulo, few know where their money goes due to poor transparency laws. Greg Michener blogs in The Christian Science Monitor about a long-delayed proposal to make Brazilian taxation more transparent.
Brazil’s Enviro Agency Grants Dam-construction Licenses
The Brazilian environmental agency (known as Ibama) kicked off June by giving the green light to and issuing licenses for construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. The project, which has drawn criticism and legal action from environmentalists, will be built on a tributary of the Amazon River.
Read an AS/COA Online analysis of the legislative debate on reform of Brazil’s Forest Code.
The stakes for the United States in the Honduran political crisis are higher than ever. At the end of October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton celebrated the unprecedented overturning of a coup through dialogue. That assessment has now proved naïve, and the State Department finds itself in the awkward position of distancing itself from the rest of Latin America after saying it would recognize the Honduran elections whether or not Manuel Zelaya is restored to power. This crisis is an extremely important moment for Honduras, but it also now has the potential to undermine the Obama administration’s efforts to mend the United States’ relationship with Latin America.
Since President Obama took office, his administration has worked hard to heal the wounds left by President George W. Bush in Latin America. Obama’s most symbolic moves came with respect to Cuba, as he condoned the island nation’s re-admission into the Organization of American States (OAS)—long a rallying cry of the OAS’s other members—and eased the terms of the embargo. Obama has also toned down the rhetoric vis-à-vis Venezuela, cutting away at Hugo Chávez’ platform for America-bashing. Whereas President Bush seemed to court confrontation in the region, the Obama administration has thus far sought compromise and consensus. These efforts have not radically altered U.S. policy, but they have represented significant first steps toward repairing relations with Latin America.
Before last week, the United States had also marched in step with the rest of the Americas in its response to Honduras’ June 28th coup. The United States supported the OAS’s denunciation of the coup, suspended aid to Honduras and visas to leaders of the de facto regime and continually demanded the restitution of President Manuel Zelaya. Until late October, the U.S. assiduously avoided taking the lead on the Honduras issue, instead abiding by regional consensus and making sure not to stoke the flames with Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) nations. State Department representative Thomas Shannon’s deal-making visit to Honduras also built directly on the work of the OAS and Costa Rican President Óscar Arias, assuring that the fleeting victory was shared by all partners.
Last week, Honduras’s World Cup qualification left the country glowing with optimism. Now, irrepressible hope and joy have again given way to a grimmer reality: political negotiations have hit a wall.
After finding agreement on the first seven of eight points on the agenda, the Guaymuras Dialogue negotiators have reached a predictable impasse on the most contentious point: Manuel Zelaya’s restitution. Since Friday, the two teams have been sending proposals and counter-proposals back and forth. Zelaya’s side has called for the Congress as adjudicator, while Roberto Micheletti’s side has insisted that the Supreme Court settle the issue. Now, the Micheletti negotiators have proposed getting reports from both branches of government before settling the issue, which Zelaya’s team has rejected.
Zelaya’s negotiators have now accused the other side of obstructionism, and they’re right. On first glance, it seems reasonable to ask the Supreme Court to settle a clearly constitutional issue. But, as Victor Meza expressed, the judiciary has already offered its judgment—since the coup, the Supreme Court has sided with the “constitutional succession” version of the story, supported Micheletti’s government, and roundly condemned Zelaya at every turn. Thus, appealing to the Supreme Court as the ultimate arbiter at this point would be akin to double jeopardy—with the same case and the same jury, could anyone really expect a different result?
Interestingly, it’s not clear that Zelaya’s proposal would get him the result he wants. Since the coup, the Congress has also consistently sided with Micheletti. In addition, leading members of Congress have suggested that they would have to defer to the Supreme Court on constitutional issues. So a favorable finding for Zelaya—who has already given up the possibility of amnesty—is no foregone conclusion. That said, Zelaya seems to be banking on congressional representatives’ greater stake in internationally recognized elections, even if it means accepting Zelaya’s brief return to power.
Howie Mandel wasn’t there, but he may as well have been as yesterday the small group of dedicated Latin Americanists waited to hear if the negotiations had been successful in resolving the crisis in Honduras. The morning opened up with news that the negotiators were optimistic and that they were 90 percent there. Then came the news from the Commander of the Army, General Romeo Vásquez, that a deal to resolve the impasse was close at hand. Then the news! A deal had been struck. Then the downer. No deal, said de facto President Roberto Micheletti.
In the statement he warned the national and international media “to be cautious in their reporting about the negotiations as they have a responsibility not to interfere with the dialogue.” Before that, Micheletti clearly left his options open: “Today, the negotiating teams began discussing the most difficult issue in the negotiations—the possible reinstatement or not of former President Zelaya within the rule of law and in line with our Constitution.” (Which by the way was broken when the military sent him packing out of the country on June 28, but I guess that doesn’t matter.)
We probably all should have taken the optimism with a grain of salt. In large part because by their own admission the negotiators were saying that they had resolved everything except the status of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Saying that you’re 90 percent there but having not resolved the critical and most polarizing issue of the crisis is akin to saying you’ve solved global warming except that messiness about countries controlling carbon emissions. You can’t get a resolution without it, and yet it’s the major sticking point.
It appears that Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president of Honduras, overplayed his hand on Sunday when he announced a decree that closed down two media outlets (Radio Globo and Canal 36), dissolved the right of assembly and permitted police to detain suspects without warrents. Just for good measure he also gave the Brazilian embassy a 10-day ultimatum to release elected-President Mel Zelaya, saying that the government would not respect the embassy as Brazilian territory (a violation of diplomatic protocol and what would amount to—according to the Brazilian government—as an invasion of Brazilian territory). And he threw out the OAS delegation that had arrived, saying they had come too early.
In a move familiar to President Zelaya before he was unconstitutionally removed, the Honduran Congress said that it would not support Micheletti’s decree.
A visibly shaken Michelletti issued a televised mea culpa and said the decree would be suspended. But its effects on clamping down on the media and heading off demonstrations were still felt.
The question is: has Micheletti lost it? I mean this both in the sense of his political strategy and his political/institutional support.
First, the wisdom of the move. The coup President has shown a remarkable level of stubborn disregard for the international community—a result in large part of his conviction of the legitimacy of the government’s actions and his belief that other governments haven’t taken Zelaya seriously as a threat to Honduran democracy. But the actions on Sunday have effectively closed off what was Micheletti’s last (narrow) path out of this: the November 29th elections and the hope that somehow, someway the international community would accept them as a path forward and recognize the winner.