August 13, 2015
Retired General Raúl Baduel, a former Venezuelan defense minister and vocal government critic, was granted an early release from prison this morning after serving six years of an eight year anti-corruption sentence. His release comes just 24 hours after Daniel Ceballos, an opposition leader and former mayor, was granted house arrest due to poor health stemming from a 20-day hunger strike he undertook in June. Ceballos had spent a year and a half behind bars for his role in anti-government protests in 2014. Yet another prominent opposition figure, former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, was transferred to house arrest in April.
But the release of three of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela's most prominent opponents offers little sign that President Nicolás Maduro is softening his tone ahead of parliamentary elections on December 6. Late last month, the government banned three popular opposition leaders—two of whom had declared their candidacy in the upcoming election—from holding office. And Leopoldo López, perhaps the most recognized face of the Venezuelan opposition, remains in a military jail, where he has been held since February 2014.
The opposition also sees a recently passed gender parity regulation as a mode of undermining its success in the upcoming elections. The regulation requires political parties to present an equal number of male and female candidates for elections, but went into effect a month after the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of 27 opposition groups, had selected its candidates.
Maduro has expressed confidence in a Socialist Party victory in December. But tamping down opposition may be the least of his worries—chronic shortages of basic goods, an estimated annual inflation rate of 808 percent, low oil prices, and a 25 percent approval rating should be bigger concerns.
June 24, 2015
“Very soon, we will have a free and democratic Venezuela!” That was the promise from opposition leader Leopoldo López as he stood in front of thousands of supporters in the Chacaíto neighborhood of Caracas on February 18, 2014. With chants of “¡Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can!) echoing from the crowd and a Venezuelan flag in hand, López then turned himself over to authorities, pledging to stay in the country and carry on the fight for democracy in Venezuela.
More than a year later, López is still in prison on charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests that February. But news this week suggests he may finally be closer to seeing his promise fulfilled. López ended a month-long hunger strike on Tuesday after the government met one of his demands by setting a date for congressional elections. According to the head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, official campaigning to choose all 167 members of the National Assembly will take place from November 13 to December 4, with elections set for December 6.
As the country continues to suffer from high rates of inflation, widespread violence and chronic shortages of basic goods under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of opposition parties, may be sensing an opportunity. Maduro's approval ratings fell to 25 percent in May, and some, like Venezuelan human rights activist Tamara Suju, think it's likely that the opposition will win a majority of the vote when elections are held.
"The upcoming parliamentary elections are the last chance Venezuelans have to preserve the democratic spaces from which to fight in order to restore the state of law in [their] country,” Suju told AQ.
Still, despite the prospect of change, the democratic Venezuela that López and many like him envision is not yet in hand. For one, Maduro remains confident about his chances in the elections. (On his Twitter account, he implored Venezuelans to "...unite all the forces of the people of Bolívar and Chávez to guarantee a battle and an admirable victory.”) Many fear the government may decide to postpone or cancel the elections to spare themselves an embarrassing defeat.
Even if the elections go ahead as planned, some believe that an opposition majority in the assembly may not be enough to bring about significant change. “The elections won’t necessarily do much in terms of changing the regime or the policies,” Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst from the Washington-based consultancy Eurasia Group, told Bloomberg Business. “If the opposition does well, I think the government will either tweak the results or shift power away from the National Assembly,” which would further destabilize the country, according to Grais-Targow.
Despite these concerns, the possibility of elections represents a critical opportunity for Venezuela's democracy. That's precisely why López insisted on them. In a Washington Post op-ed published last month, he called for the international community to focus its attention on Venezuela. As the December 6 election date approaches, that will surely be the case.
June 18, 2015
Canada’s Parliament is closing for the summer and the next election campaign has begun in earnest. While the official campaign start is on September 14 this year—gearing up for the country’s first fixed date election on October 19—the major political parties have actively been in election mode in the past year with ads, promises and blatant posturing.
In the past couple of weeks, national opinion polls from Ekos and Ipsos Reid have indicated a tight race across the three major parties—the Conservative Party of Canada (the Tories), the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberal Party of Canada (the Grits)—showing a strong possibility that Canada may end up with a minority government, come October.
The current governing Tories, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper have been in office since 2006. Their nine-year rule is facing the normal fatigue associated with a long tenure. Many of Harper’s key ministers have either left the scene, or about to depart political life. The government’s approval ratings have held steady between 20 and 30 percent—not a recipe for holding on to a majority government. The numbers may spell the end of the Harper era.
Recently, the buzz in Canada has centered on official opposition leader Tom Mulcair and the NDP’s surge in popularity among constituents. New polls show the NDP in first place, followed by the Conservatives in second and the Liberals in third. For the first time ever, there is real speculation of a potential NDP government.
June 8, 2015
This week’s likely news stories: Mexico’s ruling party wins the congressional elections; Canada and Japan block a G7 statement on carbon emissions; Latin American officials to discuss Mercosur at EU-CELAC Summit; Argentina’s debt inflates after U.S. court ruling; protestors demand Honduran president’s resignation.
Mexico’s Ruling Party to Maintain Majority in Lower House after Elections: Despite nationwide protests over its handling of a housing scandal and the unresolved disappearance of 43 students last October, Mexico’s ruling party appeared likely to keep its congressional majority after Sunday’s legislative, mayoral and gubernatorial elections. Mexico’s national electoral institute projected that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) and its allies would secure between 246 and 263 seats in the country’s 500-member lower house. One of the notable governor races was in the state of Nuevo León, which elected the country’s first independent governor since a 2014 reform allowed independent candidates to run. Jaime Rodríguez Calderon, nicknamed “El Bronco,” called his election “the beginning of a second Mexican revolution.”
Canada Blocks G7 Statement, Agrees to Cutting Carbon Emissions: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed to reducing carbon emissions by 2050 during the second day of the G7 climate change summit in Bavaria today. Both Canada and Japan had blocked an earlier statement on greenhouse gas reductions in order to avoid binding targets, and were referred to as “the most difficult [countries] on every issue on climate” by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, host of the G7 summit. Senior government officials from Canada stated that Canada will make efforts to reduce carbon emissions by means of a “target that is in line with other major industrialized economies.” The G7 countries—Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States—will continue climate change talks in France this December.
June 3, 2015
In May, South America's two smallest countries went to the polls with differing results. On May 11, Guyana's People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was ousted from government after 22 years. Two weeks later in neighboring Suriname, incumbent president and former military leader Dési Bouterse led his National Democratic Party (NDP) to a handy victory and looks set to extend his presidency by another five year term.
What links both elections is the increasing importance of young voters in deciding outcomes. Breaking with past generations, young voters in Guyana and Suriname today are mobilized by social media rather than rallies, care little for the partisan politics of the past and appear to be more likely to vote on issues rather than for the ethnic parties of their parents' generation.
Guyana and Suriname have populations of roughly 800,000 and 540,000, respectively, and both countries possess remarkable ethnic diversity. In Guyana, citizens of South Asian descent are the largest group, accounting for 43 percent of the population, and the Indo-Guyanese PPP/C has used its demographic advantage to win five consecutive elections since 1992.
However, in recent years, economic mismanagement and corruption scandals have eroded support for the PPP/C and have galvanized the opposition. This time around, an alliance between the Afro-Guyanese A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (APC)—the latter a multiethnic party founded in 2005—won 33 seats in Parliament to the PPP/C's 32.
June 3, 2015
Despite last month’s cabinet shuffle in response to a series of corruption scandals that have shaken Chile’s political establishment, President Michelle Bachelet’s approval rate has dropped to an all-time low of 29 percent, according to a poll conducted by Gfk Adimark.
“Both the anticipated Cabinet change and her annual State of the Union address had marginal positive effects […] however, the tense climate of mistrust and accusations surrounding how political activities are financed were ultimately more important,” said the pollster.
Since taking office for her second term in May 2014, Bachelet has been faced with many challenges, including a series of corruption scandals within her government and family. Last September, an independent national prosecutor’s office and the Internal Tax Service discovered that one of Chile’s largest financial holdings companies, Penta Group, used false invoices and tax fraud to circumvent electoral laws and conceal illegal corporate financing for political campaigns. Additionally, in February, Bachelet’s son, Sebastián Dávalos, was accused of using his influence to obtain a $10 million loan to buy land for his wife’s consulting firm, Caval.
Bachelet has responded to the corruption scandals with a series of anti-corruption measures aimed to restore public faith in Chile’s political system. In addition to her cabinet reshuffle, Bachelet appointed an advisory council to propose new regulations on the ties between politics and business. In her May 21 State of the Union address, Bachelet acknowledged the difficulties facing her government and stated that she was not going to sweep the nation’s recent troubles “under the carpet.” She also discussed her plans to reduce inequality in Chile by providing housing subsidies, greater access to healthcare, labor reform to strengthen unions, and a bill to make universities free for the majority of students.
While Bachlelet has passed important reforms in education, taxation and the electoral system and has announced measures to curb corruption, she faces a challenging job ahead. “There is a political crisis when over 70 percent of the population believes that the political system doesn’t work, that people lie and that the system should change,” said Marta Lagos, director of the regional public opinion firm Latinobarómetro. “As long as the government doesn’t address this crisis, its program of reforms will take a back seat.”
June 2, 2015
A group of civil society organizations and ordinary citizens denounced on Monday the suspension of a key provision of the sweeping education reform package signed by President Enrique Peña Nieto in September 2013. The provision—which provided for the evaluation of Mexican teachers and linked raises and promotions to candidates’ performance on these evaluations—was suddenly and indefinitely suspended last Friday by the Secretaría de Educación Pública (Public Education Secretariat—SEP).
In a statement released yesterday, organizations including México Evalúa (Mexico Assesses), a public policy think tank, the Instituto Mexicano de la Competitividad (Mexican Institute for Competitiveness) and Mexicanos Primero (Mexicans First) asserted that the suspension of teacher evaluations “nullifies the education reform, betraying millions of students in our country.”
The move has also been denounced by the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación (National Institute for the Evaluation of Education—INEE), an autonomous organization created by the education reform package. “The measure that has been announced is an assault on the INEE’s competency and a violation of its constitutional autonomy,” the INEE declared in a statement on Saturday.
The introduction of standardized teacher evaluations has been a hot button issue since the beginning, generating strong opposition from the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers—CNTE) a dissident faction of the national teachers’ syndicate that largely represents teachers from Mexico’s poorer, southern states. Teachers in the states of Michoacán, Oaxaca and Guerrero remained on strike after the original reform package passed, claiming that the reforms were discriminatory towards teachers from these poorer, more Indigenous regions.
More recently, the CNTE had threatened to disrupt the upcoming June 7 elections. On Monday, CNTE members in Oaxaca reportedly broke into two electoral offices in the state—destroying ballots and other electoral materials—and blockaded several more.
Monday Memo: Marches in Venezuela—Guatemalan Protests—Chilean Education Law—Transgender Inmates in Rio—Colombian Murder Trial
June 1, 2015
Thousands Amass in Venezuela for Anti-Government Protest: Nearly 3,000 Venezuelan demonstrators clothed in white marched in Caracas on Saturday in the largest protest since last year’s surge of anti-government demonstrations. In a video filmed from his jail cell prior to the protests, former opposition Mayor Leopoldo López encouraged supporters to protest peacefully to demand the release of political prisoners, an end to censorship and a date for the nearing legislative elections. López and former Mayor Daniel Ceballos were both imprisoned in 2014 for mobilizing protests in 2014 that resulted in 43 deaths, and both men went on hunger strikes last week to protest their imprisonment. Protestors in Caracas spoke out against inflation, violent crimes and shortages, and smaller protests occurred in other cities across the country.
Guatemalans Call for President Resignation: Nearly 20,000 protestors from across Guatemala gathered in the capital on Saturday to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina over charges of corruption. Protestors converged in the Plaza de la Constitución for the sixth consecutive weekend after scandals in the government have prompted several government officials, including former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, to resign. While Pérez Molina has not been accused of any crimes, his administration has been troubled by allegations of pervasive corruption. Presidential elections are set for September, and the president has vowed not to step down before completing his term.
May 26, 2015
Following US presidential politics is a favorite Canadian pastime, and the2016 campaign will be no exception. While the Canadian opinion is ultimately inconsequential, as we will continue to be a key ally, friend and economic partner to the USA, no matter who wins the presidential election, I can already predict that an overwhelming majority of Canadians hope Hillary Clinton will be the next President.
Despite fluctuating relationships between United States Presidents and Canadian Prime Ministers, our countries have more in common—given our shared geography, economics and politics—than any other allies on the planet.
The 2016 race is on, and from the outset I believed a Clinton-Bush rerun likely to occur. This being said, both Hillary and Jeb Bush have stumbled of late, leading observers to question whether inevitability will carry the day. Hillary is still dogged by the email controversy, and her responses to and management of the issue seem slow and erratic. It looks like old politics—a throwback to the 1990s type of spin and verbal platitudes.
At the same time, Jeb Bush's responses on Iraq were quite simply pathetic in style and content, considering the predictability of the questions. The advantages of name recognition and establishment connections seemed, as with Clinton, also out of the 1990s. Bush is no longer the one to beat, there are newer faces emerging. For example, Florida's Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul appear fresher. Look for a new player who could upset the prohibitive favorites such as Ohio Governor John Kasich, whose strategic state will guarantee him a close look for the top spot or that of Vice President.
May 18, 2015
Maldonado Aguirre was not originally included in the shortlist of candidates that President Otto Pérez Molina sent to Congress. The original list included police reform commissioner Adela Camacho de Torrebiarte, Minister of Labor Carlos Contreras and Adrian Zapata, executive secretary of the Cabinet for Rural Development. But due to a constitutional impediment, Contreras was replaced by PP Congressman Oliverio García Rodas.
However, if Congressman García Rodas left his seat in Congress, he would have been replaced by former Vice President Roxana Baldetti’s personal assistant, Daniela Beltranena, which would have exacerbated the widespread discontent with the current administration. This forced Pérez Molina to remove García Rodas from the shortlist and replace him with Maldonado Aguirre.
In the final vote count, 115 members of Congress voted for Maldonado Aguirre, 14 voted against him and 29 were reported absent.
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