Some weeks ago, it seemed inevitable that Lima Mayor Susana Villarán was going to lose her job in a recall referendum. The results from March 17 show that Villarán will stay on as mayor after winning a slim majority of the vote.
The effort to recall her was led by the director of the Instituto Peruano de Administración Municipal (Peruvian Institute of Municipal Management), Marco Tulio Gutiérrez and backed by the parties of political figures such as former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda Lossio, former President Alan García and prior presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori.
A week before the election, the “yes” vote to recall the mayor outnumbered the “no” vote by almost 10 percentage points. The gap between “yes” and “no” votes had been closing in the last weeks of the campaign, but this had not been enough to change the perception that Villarán would be recalled.
However, the results of the recall referendum were a surprise. On March 19, the Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (National Organization of Electoral Processes—ONPE) reported that voters had elected to keep Villarán in office. The election data revealed a narrow 3 percent difference between those voting “no” and “yes” to the referendum, but it was enough for Villarán to stay in power.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Lima Mayor Susana Villarán survives recall election; the OAS votes on IACHR reforms in an extraordinary session; the “gang of eight” considers providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt will stand trial for genocide; Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo challenge a new royalties law.
Lima Mayor Holds Onto Her Job: Lima Mayor Susana Villarán appears to have survived a popular referendum to recall her from her post on Sunday. According to Peru’s Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (National Office of Electoral Processes—ONPE), 51.7 percent of voters supported allowing Villarán to remain in office, while 48.3 percent supported her removal. Villarán became Lima’s first female mayor in 2010, and while polls as late as last month showed a majority of voters would opt to recall her, the trend was slowly reversing itself in the weeks ahead of the election.
OAS to Vote on IACHR Reforms: The General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) will vote on recommendations to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In an extraordinary session Friday in Washington DC, the assembly will consider measures proposed by ALBA and UNASUR countries which include limiting the sources of funding for the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and moving the seat of the IACHR from Washington DC to Buenos Aires. Member states met in Guayaquil, Ecuador last week to discuss the proposed reforms.
U.S. Immigration Overhaul May Provide Path to Citizenship Within 13 Years: The bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators working to devise an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system may be planning to increase the wait time for green cards from eight years to ten, but may also reduce the total amount of time that immigrants must wait to apply for citizenship from five years to three. The proposal represents a compromise between Democrats and Republicans on the question of providing undocumented immigrants with eventual citizenship. On Monday, the Republican National Committee released a post-election report recommending that the party change its position on immigration in order to win Latino voters in future elections.
Former Guatemalan Dictator to Stand Trial: Former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt is expected to stand trial on Tuesday for genocide committed during his 1982-1983 regime. The 86 year-old will be tried for the execution of 1,771 Indigenous Maya in Quiché department during an internal conflict in which 200,000 people are estimated to have been killed or disappeared. The trial, which was originally scheduled for August, is expected to present more than 900 pieces of evidence and 130 witnesses. The defense has appealed to delay the start of the trial, though court officials reportedly said Friday that the trial would begin on Tuesday morning.
Brazilian States Face Off Over Oil Royalties: The Brazilian oil producing states of Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo are challenging a new law passed last week that would distribute oil and natural gas royalties equally between all Brazilian states. Congress overrode President Dilma Rousseff's veto to pass the law last week, and the president signed it into law on Thursday. Rio's government says the law will cost the state $3.4 billion reais in revenue each year and jeopardize its ability to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Venezuela announces new presidential elections; Falkland Islands/Malvinas inhabitants vote on political status; Signatories of the American Convention on Human Rights meet to discuss IACHR reforms; the papal conclave begins Tuesday; Lima Mayor Susana Villarán faces a recall vote on Sunday.
Venezuelan Elections to be Held on April 14: Venezuela’s Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) announced on Saturday that elections will be held on April 14 to elect the successor of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, was sworn in on Friday and will run against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who announced his candidacy Sunday night. Capriles lost last October’s presidential elections to Chávez by 11 percentage points, and he was about 10 percentage points behind Maduro in polls conducted just prior to Chávez’ death.
Voters in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Vote on Political Status: The 1,672 registered voters of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) went to the polls on Sunday and Monday to vote on the disputed political status of their islands. In a yes-or-no referendum, they are responding to the question: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?" The islanders are expected to overwhelmingly support political affiliation with Britain, which has led Argentine lawmakers to call for an extraordinary session of the senate to reject the referendum. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has said that that Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) is a territorial issue that should not be subject to a popular referendum.
States Discuss IACHR Reforms in Guayaquil: Representatives from 23 states that have ratified the American Convention of Human Rights are meeting in Guayaquil, Ecuador today to discuss proposed reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Ecuador has led a group of Latin American countries, including Venezuela and Nicaragua, in calling for changes to the Inter-American human rights system, but critics say the reforms could dramatically reduce the power of the IACHR to address human rights violations as they arise. The meeting in Guayaquil, originally scheduled for March 8, was postponed after news of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ death last week. The OAS will convene an Extraordinary Session on March 22 to vote on the proposed reforms. Read more about the IACHR Reforms here.
Papal Conclave to Begin on Tuesday: One hundred and fifteen Catholic cardinals will vote to elect the next pope when the papal conclave begins this Tuesday in the Sistine Chapel. The new pope must be selected with a two-thirds majority vote, and if no one is chosen on the first day of the conclave, another four rounds of ballot-submission may take place on Wednesday and every day following that. The current favorite to succeed Pope Benedict XVI is Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, according to betting companies, though candidates from Ghana, Brazil and Argentina are reportedly in the mix.
Lima’s Susana Villarán Faces Recall: Lima polling company CPI found that 49.6 percent of voters polled plan to vote in favor of recalling Lima Mayor Susana Villarán, while 41 percent of voters indicated that they would vote against recalling the mayor. The recall vote is scheduled for next Sunday, March 17. Villarán was elected in October 2010 and is Lima’s first-ever female mayor, but she has faced serious popular criticism after enacting major reforms to Lima’s transportation system and its informal economy. Villarán urged supporters to vote “no” to the referendum, while Marco Tulio Gutiérrez, who is leading the recall campaign, was criticized for telling voters, “women love to say no, so they can later say ‘yes.’”
In October 2010, for the first time in history, voters in Lima elected a female mayor. Susana Villarán was a seasoned political figure who had long been involved in politics and human right issues—helping to establish Lima’s vaso de leche (glass of milk) program to combat child malnutrition and serving as a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Villarán also served as Peru’s Minister of Women’s Affairs and Human Development and as Police Ombudsman.
She is now in full campaign mode again ahead of a March 17 vote on whether to recall her as Mayor of Lima. The movement to recall her is not due to any type of negligence or misuse of funds; in fact, she has focused on cleaning up Lima. Instead, her efforts to move Lima forward have enraged certain constituencies—and they are now fighting back.
But with less than two weeks before the recall vote, it increasingly looks like Mayor Villarán may keep her job. A poll conducted by Ipsos Perú (February 20–22) reveals that 54.5 percent of limeños still intend to vote to recall her with a “yes” vote, while 45.5 percent will vote against the recall. But that 9 percentage point advantage for the “yes” campaign reveals a tendency where opinion polls increasingly show the “yes’ vote losing steam. Just one week earlier, the “yes” campaign had a 16 percentage point lead. Last November, 65 percent of voters in Lima said that they would vote to recall Villarán.
If she stays in office, the Lima Mayor will work to finish the job she started over two years ago.
Villarán came into office with three top agenda items: security, transportation, and the rights of children. She and her team worked to create new social programs and initiatives, such as the Warmi Wasi center for women fleeing domestic violence, the “Barrio Mio” (My Neighborhood) social services program, and CicloLima, which included a serious and long-term reorganization of Lima’s chaotic and overburdened public transportation system. Villarán also made a special effort to promote transparency in public management and to sanction any sort of corruption in the municipal government.
Under her tenure, the Metropolitan Municipality of Lima launched a highly-regarded web-based transparency portal in 2011 to provide public access to information. The city also launched an investigation of the Relima–Comunicore case, a corruption scandal that involved Villaran´s predecessor, Luis Castañeda Lossio.
From the beginning, Villarán did not have the full support of all sectors of Lima: she was elected mayor with a narrow 38 percent to 37 percent victory over her nearest rival, Lourdes Flores Nano. Villarán´s two-year government also has involved some mistakes, including the collapse of one of the walls of the Via Parque Rímac, a traffic-management development project, and delays in the construction of the Costa Verde coastal boardwalk project. Despite her background as a leftist political leader and her willingness to tackle the long-term problems of Lima, such as transportation and insecurity, Villarán’s crackdown on Lima’s informal economy—by relocating merchants to a new wholesale marketplace—has made her more unpopular among the middle, lower-middle and lower socioeconomic classes.
As a result of Villarán’s low approval rates, Marco Tulio Gutiérrez, the director of the Instituto Peruano de Administración Municipal (Peruvian Institute of Municipal Management), launched a signature-gathering campaign to recall Villarán at the beginning of 2012. Gutiérrez successfully gathered the 400,000 signatures needed to prompt a recall vote, and last October, the Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (National Elections Jury—JNE) scheduled a referendum for March 17, 2013, on whether to recall Villarán.
The campaign to recall Villarán is unsurprisingly backed by Solidaridad Nacional, the party of Villarán’s predecessor, Castañeda Lossio (2003–2010), who has denied any involvement in the Relima-Comunicore scandal. The two-term former mayor of Lima leads the list of mayoral candidates that voters would elect to take over if Villarán loses her job. Meanwhile, referendum leader Gutiérrez has openly expressed his interest in working with Castañeda if he runs for public office in the next election.
The confrontation between the two sides of the campaign has intensified as the referendum date approaches. The “yes” campaign has described Villarán as incapable of governing Lima, while the “no” campaign, led by Luis Favre, a famous Argentinian political advisor who directed the political campaigns of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, argues that Villarán represents the change that Lima needs. Not a day passes without a representative of either side reinforcing the “yes” or the “no” perspective in the news.
Less than a month away from the referendum, Villarán´s campaigners have a few more weeks to keep reversing the polls. Nevertheless, the high economic, political and social costs of the referendum reveal the city’s deep social divisions and conflicting political goals. As long as limeños lack a commonly-conceived idea of what is best for the city and its future, the possible recall of Villarán will do little to create agreement among Lima’s diverse sociopolitical actors.
On Thursday, the Peruvian government agency Registro Nacional de Identificación y Estado Civil (National Identification and Civil Status Registry –RENIEC) finished validating over 400,000 signatures supporting a referendum to recall the mayor of Lima, Susana Villarán.
Villarán, the first woman to take office as mayor of Lima in January 2011, has received extensive criticism for the launch of a new wholesale marketplace that opened on September 23.
The backlash against Villarán started when she announced plans to relocate merchants of La Parada and La Victoria markets to the new wholesale market of Santa Anita. Merchants were not content with the new market and began violent protests against the mayor’s initiative in La Parada marketplace. Lima’s public transportation was forced to bypass two central metro stops for the safety of the passengers.
With the signatures validated Thursday, Lima’s Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (National Elections Board—JNE) can now announce a citywide recall referendum. The elections board will have 90 days to set a date for the referendum.
If Mayor Villarán is removed from office, her successor would be city councilman Fidel Gregorio Ríos Alarcón. The new mayor would serve until December 2014.
With 100 percent of ballots cast in Sunday’s mayoral elections in Lima now counted—but not yet verified—Fuerza Social candidate Susana Villarán is in the lead with 38.498 percent of votes compared to 37.588 percent for her opponent, Lourdes Flores of the PPC-UN, according to reports this morning from the Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales (ONPE). However, these numbers were based on the verification of just 74 percent of votes cast, leaving 26 percent of votes to be evaluated by elections monitors. The delay has been stirring suspicions of fraud in an election where the next mayor of Lima may be determined by less than 1 percent of votes cast.
Regardless of the outcome, Lima is poised to elect its first female mayor in five centuries. Currently in the lead, Susana Villarán has served as Peru’s minister for women and social development, represented Peru on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as well as participating in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. She wrote an article on female representation in judicial systems in a previous issue of Americas Quarterly. Villarán also staged an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2006.
Final results are expected to be announced by tomorrow.
Susana Villarán appears to have squeaked into Lima’s mayorship with the narrowest of margins, amid fearmongering that the human rights activist could be a “trojan horse” for radical leftists.
Villarán, a moderate, will be Lima’s first leftist mayor since 1983, and the first elected female mayor in five centuries.
With 58.4 percent of the votes counted, Villarán had 38.95 percent, compared with Lourdes Flores, a lawyer and two-time presidential candidate, who secured 36.85 percent. Fernando Tuesta, a respected pollster at Lima’s Catholic University, told Peruvian daily La Republica the margin giving Villarán a victory, although small, was almost certain to stick.
With Peru’s economy bouncing back strongly from last year’s global recession, Lima is benefiting from a boom in construction, strong inflows of foreign direct investment and the rapid growth of a new middle class.