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However, if Congressman García Rodas left his seat in Congress, he would have been replaced by former Vice President Roxana Baldetti’s personal assistant, Daniela Beltranena, which would have exacerbated the widespread discontent with the current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.
Monday Memo: Guatemalan Protests—Costa Rican Discrimination—Chinese Investment—Guyana Election—Technology in Honduras
May 18, 2015
Demonstrators Call for Pérez Molina’s Resignation: Thousands of protestors marched across 13 cities in Guatemala on Saturday to call for President Otto Pérez Molina’s resignation. The protests came as a response to a customs tax fraud scandal uncovered by the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) in April that led to the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti earlier this month, though she denies involvement in the scheme. The protests were organized via social media, without any clear leadership. While Pérez Molina had originally announced his intent to let CICIG’s mandate expire, the scandal later prompted the president to announce that he will request a two-year extension.
Costa Rica orders Executive Action against LGBT Discrimination: In honor of International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17, Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón announced new legislation that will punish public workers found discriminating against others on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. While the decree does not outline what the sanctions for discrimination will be or how they will be issued, the decree does mandate training on equal access for employees of public organizations, as well as the redefining of a couple or partner to include same-sex partners for all institutions under the executive branch. Chacón, who has long been a supporter of LGBT rights, announced the decree on Friday at Costa Rica’s Casa Presidencial. Despite the new measure, same-sex marriages and civil unions are currently not recognized in Costa Rica.
May 14, 2015
On May 8, Guatemalan authorities arrested three lawyers representing defendants in a massive customs tax fraud case known as Caso SAT that has thrown the current administration into a state of disarray and forced Vice President Roxana Baldetti to resign.
The UN Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG), which launched the investigation into the La Linea corruption network, accused lawyers José Arturo Morales, known as “Chepito,” Jorge Luis Escobar and Ruth Emilsa Trigueros of running a “law firm of impunity” that bribed corrupt judges to make unjustified decisions favoring organized crime groups.
A total of 27 individuals—including the director and former director of Guatemala’s Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (Tax Administration Superintendency—SAT)—Álvaro Omar Franco Chacón and Carlos Enrique Muñoz Roldán, have been arrested as part of the wider investigation into La Linea.
Wiretap recordings show how six other leading defendants in the case—Francisco Javier Ortiz, known as “Teniente Jerez,” Salvador Estuardo González, known as “Eco,” Miguel Ángel Aldana, Mónica Patricia Jáuregui, José Rolando Gil, and Carlos Ixtuc—used the three lawyers to bribe the judge presiding over the case, Marta Josefina Sierra González de Stalling, in exchange for obtaining release on bail and unguarded house arrest instead of prison.
May 7, 2015
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called for the resignation of her cabinet Wednesday as the fallout from a corruption scandal among top-level officials continues to take its toll on her administration. The president announced her plans to reshuffle the cabinet the same day a new poll put her disapproval amongst Chileans at a record high.
"A few hours ago, I requested the resignation of every minister," Bachelet said during a TV interview on Wednesday, adding that she may decide to keep certain ministers in her cabinet. The president said the decision would have come sooner were it not for a recent series of natural disasters in the country, including severe flooding in the north and the eruption of the Calbuco volcano in the south.
The president’s move—which Reuters reports was received positively by most members of Bachelet’s center-left party—came as her approval ratings fell to the lowest level in her political career. A Gfk Adimark poll released Wednesday measured the president’s disapproval at 64 percent.
Fourteen months into Bachelet’s second administration, the Chilean political class is facing a crisis marked by scandal. In addition to allegations of illicit campaign finance schemes involving wealthy businessmen and right-wing politicians, members of Bachelet’s own family have also been accused of corruption. In Februrary, her son Sebastian Davalos resigned from his position as socio-cultural director of the presidency amid allegations that he and his wife used their political connections to obtain a $10 million bank loan to purchase land they later sold for $15 million.
The cabinet reshuffle is one of several moves the president have made to react to the corruption scandals. In March, Bachelet announced a series of anti-corruption measures requiring government officials to publically declare all assets.
Bachelet has attributed her falling approval ratings to a “crisis of confidence” among Chileans rocked by corruption allegations in a country traditionally perceived as the least corrupt in the region. On Wednesday, she said a new cabinet would represent a “new cycle.”
May 6, 2015
Any political party that loses an election after 44 consecutive years in office and ends up in third place is the object of some kind of "revolution." Such was the fate of the Progressive Conservative Party in Alberta’s general elections on Tuesday.
The left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP), under the charismatic leadership of Rachel Notley, earned a decisive majority government victory in Canada’s oil-rich province, Alberta, winning 53 out of 87 seats and 41 percent of the popular vote. It is a first for the NDP in Alberta. The party’s closest rivals were the Tea Party-like Wildrose Party, with 21 seats, followed by the Progressive Conservative Party, with 10 seats.
Some three years ago, I wrote in AQ Online that Alberta had rejected its version of the Tea Party when the ruling Conservatives confounded the polls by defeating the upstart Wildrose Party. I had characterized the victory as one of moderation over a more extremist, ideological political formation. I also defined Alberta as Canada’s closest version of Texas because of its fossil fuel resources, low tax rates and strong libertarian streak.
In three short years, has Alberta become so transformed that the left-leaning NDP could so easily unseat an entrenched political establishment party like the Conservatives? Alberta has changed, but not that much.
Monday Memo: Brazilian Corruption—Bolivian Opposition—Bolivia-Chile Dispute—Marijuana in Puerto Rico—Chemical Leak in Costa Rica
May 4, 2015
This week’s likely top stories: Former Brazilian president investigated; Opposition gains influence in Bolivia; ICJ hearing on Bolivia-Chile border dispute begins; Puerto Rico legalizes medical marijuana; Costa Rican coast suffers chemical spill.
Report of an Inquiry into Lula Shocks Brazil: On Friday, Brazilians were shaken by news of a probe regarding possible influence-peddling by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010). The anti-corruption division of the Public Ministry is examining da Silva’s relationship with Odebrecht, one of the largest companies in Brazil, and whether he used his position as president to get loans for Odebrecht from the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (Brazilian National Development Bank—BNDES). An Odebrecht spokesperson denied any misconduct, and da Silva did not address the investigation on Friday when speaking on International Worker’s Day. The inquiry will determine whether or not there is reason to open a wider investigation. The governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) has suffered recently, with current President Dilma Rousseff, da Silva’s successor, also tainted by a corruption scandal involving the PT and the state-owned oil firm, Petrobras. However, investigations have not uncovered any wrongdoing by Rousseff.
Opposition Wins Runoff in Bolivia: On Sunday, Bolivian citizens from Beni and Tarija voted in runoff municipal elections after the initial elections failed to produce clear winners. The ruling Movimiento al Socialismo party (Movement Towards Socialism—MAS) prevailed in five of nine states in March 2015. The opposition won in both Beni and Tarija yesterday, giving the opposition a stronghold in the four richest states in Bolivia, which includes La Paz. Carlos Dellien from Nacer beat Alex Ferrier of MAS in Beni. In Tarija, Adrián Oliva of the Unidad Demócrata coalition (Democratic Unity) beat Pablo Canedo by a wide margin (61 percent to 38 percent).
ICJ Hearing on Bolivia-Chile Maritime Dispute Begins: On Monday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will hear preliminary arguments on the maritime case that Bolivia brought against Chile in April of 2013. Felipe Bulnes, the former Chilean ambassador to the U.S., will speak today, arguing Chile’s position that their border dispute was already settled in 1904 by a previous agreement, and that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction over the matter. On Wednesday, the Bolivian delegation is expected to speak, reiterating the Bolivian right to sovereign access to the sea. The ICJ will have until the end of 2015 to determine whether or not the case is under its jurisdiction. The maritime dispute has been a source of tension between the two countries for decades.
May 1, 2015
Tens of thousands of Guatemalans protested last Saturday, calling for the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti for her alleged role in Caso SAT, a scandal involving the defrauding of hundreds of millions of quetzales from the Guatemalan government.
On April 16, Guatemalan authorities arrested 22 people in the culmination of an eight month investigation by the Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad (Special Anti-Impunity Prosecutor’s Bureau—FECI)—part of the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) and the Ministerio Publico (Public Ministry—MP). A number of officials from the Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (SAT), Guatemala’s tax collection agency, were detained, including the head of SAT, Omar Franco, his predecessor, Carlos Muñoz, and the private secretary of Baldetti, Juan Carlos Monzón.
CICIG was investigating an alleged corruption network called “La Linea” (The Line) that targeted Guatemala’s customs system. Businesses that had their goods in two ports, Puerto Quetzal or Puerto Santo Tomás, would call a certain cellphone number to negotiate the rate to have their property released after passing through Customs. A review of 500 containers revealed that 40 percent of customs taxes would be paid to the state, 30 percent to the fraudsters and the remaining 30 percent was a discount to the company.
April 29, 2015
Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle has been at the center of attention for the past two weeks, and not particularly for the right reasons. Stories of corruption, impunity, deteriorating security, and the revival of the ghost of presidential re-election covered newspaper headlines throughout the isthmus.
The news coming out of the region comes at a time when the diplomatic offensive from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala intensifies as the countries seek quick approval and funding for the Alliance for Prosperity from the United States.
El Salvador’s spike in homicides has illustrated the urgent need to address the structural causes of violence. After a failed gang truce brokered by the Catholic Church and the Salvadoran government with the country’s main gangs failed, murder rates increased dramatically. In the first four months of 2015, street gangs murdered over 20 police officers and the targeted murder of members of the Armed Forces also increased.
Facing growing pressure from citizens, the government initially flip-flopped in their policy response. President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Defense Minister General Munguía Payes first blamed the surge in violence on the media; arguing that “media coverage of violence does more harm than the attacks on police precincts.” The push-back from media and ordinary citizens living under the shadows of extortion and other crimes didn’t wait. Citizens were further infuriated by reports of plasma televisions and video game consoles, among other illegal items, being discovered within the country’s prisons.
Monday Memo: U.S.-Colombia Talks—Guatemala Protests—Buenos Aires Primaries—Puerto Rico Downgrade—Texas Delegation in Cuba
April 27, 2015
This week’s likely top stories: U.S.-Colombia Fifth Annual Bilateral Meeting; Protesters denounce corruption in Guatemala; Primaries for local elections held in Buenos Aires; S&P downgrades Puerto Rico; and Texas trade delegation visits Havana.
High-level Colombia-U.S. Talks on Mutual Cooperation: The U.S. and Colombia will hold high-level bilateral talks today in Bogotá, Colombia at the office of the Ministry of Foreign Relations. In the fifth annual bilateral meeting of its kind, discussions will be led by Colombian Minister of Foreign Affairs María Ángela Holguín and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Agenda items include security, the environment, energy, education, trade and human rights. Alongside the meeting, over 100 officials from both countries will convene for a session of the steering committee of the U.S-Colombia Action Plan for Racial and Ethnic Equality, in which they will discuss democracy, culture and economic opportunities including innovation, academic exchange and immigration.
Protesters Demand Resignation of Guatemalan President: On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters met in Guatemala City to denounce the government and demand the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti after a corruption scandal surfaced last week. An investigation into the “La Linea” case has implicated various officials from the Guatemalan Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (Superintendency of Tax Administration—SAT) for accepting bribes for reduced customs costs. The alleged leader of the corruption scheme is Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, a former aide to Baldetti. Demonstrators claim that President Molina and Vice President Baldetti were aware of the corruption. More demonstrations are planned for coming days.
Primary Elections Held in Buenos Aires: On Sunday, the primary for the upcoming local government elections was held in Buenos Aires. This election marks the first time that porteños can vote to select the primary candidates following a 2009 electoral reform. According to exit polls, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta was nominated for the Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal—PRO) party, Mariano Recalde for the Frente Para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) party, and Martin Lousteau was nominated to lead the Energía Ciudadana Organizada (Organized Citizen’s Energy Coalition—ECO). Citizens will vote for the mayor of Buenos Aires in July 2015.