On November 25, Canadians went to the polls in four by-elections—two in Manitoba, one in Québec and one in Ontario. The results were not dramatic, as they maintained the same distribution of seats in Canada’s House of Commons. The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept its two Manitoba seats—albeit with highly reduced margins. The Liberals, led by new leader Justin Trudeau, won both the Ontario and the Québec seats.
What made news was the fact that the Liberals captured second place in the Manitoba contests, leaving the New Democratic Party (NDP) to ponder whether they are losing their hold as the alternative to the governing Tories.
Harper’s party is still mired in the Senate scandal from last spring, which involved alleged spending infractions by former Conservative Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin—then part of the Conservative caucus.
To the opposition parties, it’s the scandal that keeps on giving, as daily revelations dominate the newswires. The prime minister is finding out the hard way the Watergate scandal lesson—the “cover-up” is usually more damaging than the “crime.” Evasive answers, contradictions and improvisation have amplified what should have been an isolated case of misbehaving senators (since expelled from the Tory caucus) into a full-blown scandal.
Conservatives have suffered the blowback in recent national polls, and the by-elections results confirmed that the government is in troubled waters. What may be encouraging to the government strategists, however, is that the Tory fall in the polls cannot really be attributed to the government’s major agenda item: the economy. Rather, it is the scandal and how the government conducts its business in the light of the scandal that are the source of the current rejection. With two years to go until the next election, there is plenty of time to adjust and recover—or so the Tories think.
Likely top stories this week: Xiomara Castro leads her supporters in protest against last Sunday’s election results; Juan Manuel Santos visits the United States; petroleum exploitation moves ahead in Ecuador; Mexicans protest as President Peña Nieto completes his first year in office; a fire engulfs the Latin America Memorial in São Paulo.
Honduran Election Result Sparks Demonstrations: Thousands of Hondurans marched in Tegucigalpa on Sunday after the country’s electoral authority declared Juan Orlando Hernández the winner of last Sunday's presidential elections. Challenger Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, who is demanding a vote-by-vote recount at all Honduran polling places and an investigation of the elections by the attorney general, called on her supporters to march peacefully to protest the results. Salvador Nasralla, another candidate, is also challenging the results. On Sunday evening, Honduras’ election tribunal said it would be willing to let LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation party—Liberdad y Refundación) review the electoral record but declined to say whether it would consider a full recount.
Santos Visits the United States: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos arrived in the United States on Sunday for a three-day visit that will include a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Santos will also make an appearance at the University of Miami on Monday before traveling to Washington D.C. for visits with Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and a meeting at the OAS, among other activities. The purpose of Santos' trip is to encourage additional U.S. investment in Colombia and to discuss Colombia's peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
Correa Announces Petroleum Exploitation in Ecuadorian Amazon: Despite major protests by Indigenous and environmental groups, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced Saturday that Ecuador would permit the exploitation of 13 petroleum blocks in the Ecuadorian Amazon near the border with Peru and on the edge of Yasuni National Park. Correa said that Chilean Ambassador Juan Carlos Lira and a businessman were injured in the protests last Tuesday. Ecuadorian Minister for Non-Renewable Natural Resources Pedro Merizalde said that the first three blocks up for action could hold as much as 1.5 billion barrels. So far, Spain's Repsol YPF, Chile's ENAP, Belarus’ Belorusneft, and China's Andes Petroleum have presented offers for four of the petroleum blocks.
Protests as Peña Nieto Completes First Year of Presidency: Thousands of Mexicans protested in the streets of Mexico City on Sunday as Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto celebrated the completion of his first year as president. Protesting teachers, union workers, and self-declared anarchists marched in opposition to Peña Nieto's recent education, tax and energy reforms. According to a poll released Sunday by Reforma newspaper, 48 percent of respondents disapproved of the president's job performance—up from 30 percent in April.
Fire Latest Accident to Hit São Paulo: Less than a week after a construction crane collapsed at São Paulo's Itaquerão stadium and killed two workers, the city's iconic Latin America Memorial—a landmark building which hosts an art gallery, an auditorium and other facilities— was engulfed by a fire on Saturday. The memorial and cultural center was built in 1989 by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who died last year at age 104. It is still unclear how the fire started, but it appears no members of the public have been injured in the blaze. Meanwhile, construction workers returned to Itaquerão stadium on Monday to address the damages caused by last week’s accident.
We still don’t know the final tally of Sunday’s general election in Honduras, but if 68 percent of provisional results are valid, Juan Orlando Hernández will soon be the next president of Central America’s second-most populous country—with repercussions for the region and for the Obama administration’s Latin American policy hanging in the balance.
With a 5.16 point lead over his closest rival, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya— whose husband Manuel Zelaya served as president from 2006 until his ouster in a military coup in June 2009—Hernández seems likely to prevail in the final count. Spain, Colombia and other countries are already congratulating Hernández for his victory, however prematurely. Castro de Zelaya, on the basis of her own exit polling and analysis, declared victory Sunday night hours before Hernández did.
Despite claims that Hernández, wielding the power of a new military police force, is gearing up to lead the most authoritarian Honduran administration in memory, he faces a brutal four years in office—with no mandate, no majority and no money.
Critics worry that Hernández, currently president of the National Congress, is already more powerful than outgoing president Porfirio Lobo Sosa, and looking to consolidate even more power.
Likely top stories this week: Honduras’ election results are still pending; the Dominican Republic deports Haitian immigrants after violence in a border town; Henrique Capriles urges the Venezuelan opposition to vote on December 8; a new report says that most Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; Juan Manuel Santos and Rafael Correa meet in Colombia to discuss bilateral ties.
Honduran Elections: With a little over half of precincts reporting in Honduras’ presidential election on Sunday, the ruling National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández reportedly has a slight lead over Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE) candidate Xiomara Castro, who led the polls just a month ago and is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 coup. The Honduran electoral tribunal said last night that Hernández had secured approximately 34 percent of the votes, versus Castro’s 29 percent. However, both candidates have claimed victory in the election that saw a record turnout. The electoral authority is expected to release an update on the election tally this afternoon.
The Dominican Republic Deports Haitians After Killings: As of Sunday, at least 244 Haitians have been deported from the Dominican Republic, a spokesman for the Group for Repatriates and Refugees said on Monday. The deportations were sparked after mob violence in a town in the southwestern Dominican Republican led many Haitian immigrants to seek refuge. The violence began when a bungled burglary led to the killing of a Dominican couple near the Haitian border and an enraged mob retaliated by killing a Haitian man. Anti-Haitian sentiments in the Dominican Republic have grown after a September ruling that threatened to strip Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship. Advocates say some of the deported have sought refuge, fearing further violence.
Capriles Urges Venezuelan Opposition to Vote: As Venezuela’s December 8 municipal elections approach, opposition leader Henrique Capriles told his supporters on Saturday that they should go to the polls to express their discontent with the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Thousands of members of the Venezuelan opposition marched through the streets on Saturday, several days after the National Assembly gave Maduro powers to rule by decree for the next 12 months. The president says the new powers will allow him to fight corruption, and claims that his enemies are using “economic sabotage” to discredit his administration.
Majority of Americans Favor Pathway to Citizenship, Report Says: A Public Religion Research Institute report published Monday says 63 percent of Americans favor legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants living in the United States to become citizens. Though the U.S. Congress appears to have abandoned legislation that would offer a plan for comprehensive immigration reform, 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 73 percent of Democrats said that they supported some form of legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to become citizens, according to the report. A full 71 percent of respondents said that they would support citizenship for undocumented immigrants who met requirements like paying back taxes and learning English.
Santos and Correa Meet: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa are meeting in the Colombian border town of Ipiales on Monday to discuss bilateral relations and to inaugurate a new bridge between the two countries. Relations between Ecuador and Correa were reestablished in 2010 after the two countries broke off relations when Colombia bombed a FARC encampment in Ecuador without the authorization of the Ecuadorian government in 2008. Ministers from both countries are expected to meet today to discuss security and defense as well as shared commercial interests.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced his intentions to run for reelection this Thursday, just four days before the legal deadline required to submit a candidacy. Santos said his campaign will be founded upon ideals of “peace and prosperity,” directly referencing his continued—although increasingly unpopular—efforts to reach a peace accord with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC).
A poll conducted by Invamer-Gallup predicts a second-round run-off between Santos and opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the Uribe Centro Democrático (Uribe Democratic Center) party. Specifically, the poll estimates that 27 percent of voters would support Santos, followed by 15 percent for Zuluaga, a former finance minister. Despite his considerable lead, Santos faces a difficult task of acquiring the 51 percent or more of votes required to win the Colombian presidency.
Political analysts believe the race will be characterized by strong ideological divisions between Santos and his more conservative leaning opponent. During his announcement, Santos said, “There are still great challenges ahead of us, but I am convinced that the way to confront them is not only through blood and gunfire.” In contrast, Zuluaga has vowed to immediately cease peace talks if elected. Following Santos’ announcement, he replied, “We will not accept that our soldiers and police keep being murdered or unjustly persecuted while terrorists, kidnappers and murderers walk freely on the beaches in Havana."
Elections in small Central American countries rarely garner the kind of international attention that Honduras is receiving ahead of its November 24 presidential vote. Then again, this is no ordinary election. One of the frontrunners, Xiomara Castro, is the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in Latin America’s last coup in 2009. Her main opponent is Juan Orlando Hernández, a member of the Partido Nacional de Honduras (National Party), which has ruled the country since Zelaya was forced from power. The political grudge match is playing out in a tinderbox of a country: Honduras is home to the world’s highest murder rate and an embattled economy that has passions running high.
Castro's very candidacy represents a remarkable reversal of fortunes for Zelaya, who is the dominant influence behind his wife's newly founded Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE). Only four years ago, Zelaya was unceremoniously removed from office by the military after he moved to rewrite the country's constitution. Exiled until 2011, Zelaya saw his public support rebound dramatically on the back of widespread sympathy in the wake of the coup, which many Hondurans felt was unlawful.
In the years since, the ruling Partido Nacional has struggled to govern. President Porfirio Lobo’s focus on reconciliation in the wake of the coup kept him from confronting major economic and security challenges. In the void, transnational drug-trafficking organizations and domestic gangs have expanded their influence in Honduras unabated. Separately, the economy is under siege. Honduras ended 2012 with a budget deficit amounting to approximately 5 percent of GDP, its second highest in 10 years, while the country’s $5 billion foreign debt is equivalent to last year's entire budget. Starved of funds, the state has been unable to pay public workers, prompting thousands to take to the streets.
The National Assembly of Nicaragua met last Wednesday to discuss a proposal from the ruling Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional party (Sandinista National Liberation Front—FSLN), which seeks to remove a constitutional article banning consecutive presidential terms.
The proposed amendment was submitted to the National Assembly on November 1 and will be voted on by the end of December. The reform would also eliminate the minimum simple majority needed to win a presidential election, according to The New York Times, though it remains unclear what percentage would be needed to secure a presidential victory in the future.
National Assembly Secretary Alba Palacios said that she and six other multi-partisan lawmakers would form a commission to examine the proposal and consult with union representatives, community leaders, law professors, members of the armed forces, businesses and several other groups from an array of social and economic backgrounds.
“It is the people of Nicaragua who should decide who the president will be and whether or not there should be re-election,” Palacios said in a statement last week. Once the commission collects data from the public regarding their thoughts on the proposal, the National Assembly will vote and decide. Palacios’ statement follows a perception that the measure is likely to pass the National Assembly—where FSLN representatives hold a large majority—regardless of public opinion.
Although the proposition’s impact, if approved by the National Assembly, would not come into play until Nicaragua’s presidential election in 2016, many foreign media outlets and conservative Nicaraguan newspapers have distorted coverage of the FSLN’s bid and have approached the story from a perspective of perceived political superiority.
Likely top stories this week: Venezuela’s National Assembly is increasing presidential powers for President Nicolás Maduro; Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America; Michelle Bachelet enters second round of presidential elections in Chile; Arrest warrants are issued for bankers and politicians involved in Brazil’s biggest corruption trial; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returns to office.
Presidential Powers in Venezuela: Venezuela’s National Assembly gave initial approval to a bill last week that would grant President Nicolás Maduro decree powers for 12 months. Maduro says he plans to use the new authorities to combat corruption and the country’s ongoing economic crisis, yet critics fear it will be used to suppress the opposition. The bill still requires final approval from a special commission, but is unlikely to undergo substantial changes.
Demand for U.S. oil grows in Latin America: Demand for U.S. fuels has doubled in Latin America during the past five years and continues to grow. The increased demand is due to economic growth and outdated Latin American refineries that have been unable to sustain production at levels comparable with market demands.
Bachelet Enters Second Round Presidential Elections in Chile: Michelle Bachelet won nearly twice as many votes as her second-place opponent, Evelyn Matthei, in the first round presidential elections in Chile. Bachelet won 47 percent of votes and Matthei won 25 percent, leading the two into a final and second round which will be Chile’s first in which both candidates were women. Bachelet’s center-left Nueva Mayoría (New Majority) coalition failed to win a super-majority in Congress, posing a challenge to the candidate’s proposed social and economic reforms.
Supreme Court Issues Arrest Warrants in Brazil Corruption Trial: Brazil’s Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Tribunal—STF) issued arrest warrants on Friday for 12 of the 25 convicted politicians, businessmen and bankers involved in the country’s Mensalão (monthly allowance) corruption scandal. Several prominent politicians—including José Genoino, the former president of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT), and José Dirceu, former chief-of-staff to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—immediately turned themselves into federal authorities.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Returns to Office: Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner returned to office Monday after taking a six-week medical leave and undergoing surgery to stop internal bleeding caused by head trauma. Following her doctors’ recommendation, Kirchner remained on leave for a week longer than she had originally planned.
Es cierto que Colombia está viviendo lo impensable hace solo una década atrás: un grupo de guerrilleros negociadores sentados con sus pares del gobierno en La Habana, con un grupo de países amigos como garantes, alcanzando acuerdos para la resolución de un conflicto armado que ha durado casi 60 años.
El encuentro de negociaciones más reciente, que se trató de la participación política de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), logró al mismo tiempo que unos estallaran en júbilo, y otros, de la corriente política encabezada por el expresidente Álvaro Uribe, mostraran, como siempre, su férrea indignación. A pocos días del anuncio, el ejército colombiano reveló un supuesto atentado que las FARC planeaban contra el exmandatario en una alianza con narcotraficantes en Cali.
La espectacularidad del hallazgo tapó el debate de días anteriores, en los que la pregunta de millón era el rol electoral que las FARC podrían jugar como posible actor político en las elecciones del 2014. ¿Cómo evitar que corran con la desgraciada suerte de la Unión Patriótica (UP), el partido de guerrilleros desmovilizados que quiso llegar al Congreso por allá en 1985 y cuyos 3.000 militantes fueron asesinados? A pesar de lograr unos sorprendentes resultados electorales—5 senadores, 9 representantes entre los que estuvo el hoy negociador de las FARC, Iván Marquez, 23 alcaldes, 14 diputados y 351 concejales—no pudieron ejercer la política.
¿El Estatuto de Oposición, piedra angular del acuerdo alcanzado, garantizaría sus vidas? ¿Es suficiente la creación de circunscripciones fuera de conflicto para promover esta inclusión democrática? ¿Qué hacer para que la posible carrera de los miembros de las FARC hacia el Congreso se parezca más a la que caminaron los exguerrilleros del M-19 como Gustavo Petro (hoy alcalde de Bogotá) o Antonio Navarro Wolf (ex-alcalde de Pasto y precandidato presidencial), que a la de la UP?
Una gran tarea de comunicación tiene el gobierno para explicarle los alcances de este acuerdo a una sociedad herida por la violencia de las FARC, y a la que le han hecho creer por muchos años que es la única piedra que impide que no seamos un país en paz. A una sociedad conservadora que cada vez que una encuesta le pregunta si quiere la paz, dice que sí, pero no, y mesura con cuidado su tolerancia a los costos para llegar a ella. Una reciente encuesta de la Universidad de los Andes dice que los encuestados reconocen que una desmovilización beneficiaría la economía, la seguridad y la democracia, pero más de un 70 por ciento rechaza que las FARC participen en política, mientras que alrededor del 50 por ciento dice que no aceptaría el resultado de las elecciones locales si las gana un desmovilizado.
Not every election sparks debate on issues which define individual lives nor offers voters the chance to fundamentally shape the direction of a nation.
This Sunday Chileans will vote for 120 deputies, 20 senators and one president, bringing an end—to the first chapter at least—of a campaign race which has witnessed both the best and worst of the democratic process and vacillated from enthralling to infuriatingly dull to down-right bizarre.
A historic nine presidential candidates and campaign issues ranging from a new constitution to the right of rape victims to abort have made for an engaging spectacle and led to public discussions on topics which, for more than 20 years, have either been considered too divisive or too inconvenient to consider.
Symptomatic of a country at last free of the fear of dictatorship, whose emerging middle class has found its voice or whose historic struggle against exploitation has once again resurfaced—depending on which analysis one ascribes to, and which according to opinion polls, no longer trusts the political establishment——the 2013 school of presidential hopefuls are a motley crew. Among the nine is vegan, spiritual leader and former World Bank economist Alfredo Sfeir; seamstress-turned-activist Roxana Miranda; porsche-driving professor and celebrity economist Franco Parisi, and the combative intellectual who seeks to unite student, labor and environmental movements, Marcel Claude.