Top stories this week are likely to include: post-election protests in Mexico; OAS to issue its report on Fernando Lugo’s ouster; anti-mining protests continue in Peru; Raúl Castro arrives in Vietnam; and ASEAN-Latin America Business Forum gets underway.
PRD Alliance Questions Peña Nieto’s Victory: Although officially declared the winner on Friday by the autonomous Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute—IFE), Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto still faces criticism of fraud by second-place candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) . Ricardo Monreal, AMLO’s campaign manager, accused the PRI of vote-buying at a press conference this morning. In addition, tens of thousands of demonstrators claiming to belong to no political party protested over the weekend in Mexico City decrying the IFE result. Will the situation turn to a repeat of 2006? AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes there’s a clear difference between the 2012 election and what happened six years ago: “With only a few hundred thousand votes separating López Obrador and Calderón in 2006, AMLO saw an opening for a recount through protests and pressure on a still fragile electoral process. But this time, in losing by about 3.5 million votes, AMLO will only serve to discredit his nationwide appeal by crying foul and once again being a sore loser.”
Updates on Lugo’s Ouster: The Organization of American States (OAS) is expected to release its report today on its fact-finding mission last week to Paraguay to investigate former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo’s removal from office. The delegation was headed by OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza. The U.S. has said it would wait for the OAS verdict to issue a formal statement on the legality of the ouster—a move that has drawn criticism. With Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro reportedly endorsing a military coup to restore Fernando Lugo to power, the situation in Paraguay is still contentious and perhaps the OAS report will provide more clarity on the issue.
Peruvian Anti-Mining Protests Heat Up: After police clashed with protesters demonstrating against natural resource extraction in northwest Peru, the death toll has climbed to five. A state of emergency has been imposed in the Cajamarca region, and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has come under fire for his administration’s handling of the demonstrations. Nevertheless, tensions are still high and this week could very likely see a new wave of protests. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, who is in Huaraz, Peru this week, notes, “President Humala will have to do something to address the protests, including trying to verify claims of pollution and improving overall access to social services in mining communities—while not appeasing some of the more extreme groups.”
Raúl Castro in Vietnam: After wrapping up a trip to China last week, Cuban President Raúl Castro arrived in Vietnam yesterday for a four-day official visit aimed to strengthen bilateral relations. This is Castro’s first visit to Vietnam as Cuba’s president, and he is scheduled to meet with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Community Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. Sabatini observes, “The purpose of the trip is twofold: First, to help Raúl and the group better understand the process of economic and limited political reform that has taken place in Vietnam as a model for Cuba—though the comparison is thin. But second, Cuba—in this and other efforts it has made—is trying to diversify its economic relations and lifeline beyond Venezuela.”
ASEAN, Latin America Deepen Commercial Ties: The third annual business forum between Latin American nations and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members takes place today and tomorrow in Jakarta, Indonesia. The theme of the forum is: “Towards a Sustainable Future.” ASEAN is comprised of Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. For more information on the forum, including programs, speakers, organizers, and partners, access its website.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Enrique Peña Nieto appears set for victory in Mexico; OAS sends a delegation to Paraguay; Vietnam to build trade ties with Latin America; Julian Assange still under consideration for asylum; and Hugo Chávez and Henrique Capriles Radonski officially begin campaigning ahead of October’s election.
Enrique Peña Nieto Claims Victory: The Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute) quick count gave Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto a nearly 7 percentage point lead when results were announced yesterday at 11:15 pm in Mexico City (12:15 am Eastern). Official results will be announced on Wednesday. Peña Nieto received about 38.2 percent of the vote with second-place candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) candidate of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) winning roughly 31.8 percent. Josefina Vázquez Mota, candidate of the incumbent National Action Party (PAN), received about 25.6 percent of the vote.
Vázquez Mota conceded defeat last night while AMLO said that “the last word still has not been said” but that he would not act irresponsibly—a reference to his protest of the 2006 victory of President Felipe Calderón. “Yesterday's election yet again showed the significant strides that Mexican democracy has made in the last 12 years. The key question for Peña Nieto will be how he works with a Congress where the PRI will likely have the most seats but not a majority to move forward needed labor, financial, fiscal, and energy reforms,” says AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Insulza Heads to Paraguay: Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza arrived in Paraguay last night to try and resolve the crisis gripping the landlocked South American nation that saw its former president, Fernando Lugo, rapidly impeached by Congress and Lugo’s vice president, Federico Franco, sworn in as his successor. Insulza will meet with both Lugo and Franco today and report back to the OAS Permanent Council later this week. He is being accompanied by the permanent representatives to the OAS of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Haiti, and Honduras. Paraguay was suspended last week by Mercosur but not slapped with economic sanctions by the South American bloc. The U.S. will wait for Insulza’s report before rendering an opinion on the Paraguayan situation. Notes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, “After UNASUR and Mercosur have acted, will any OAS action have an impact beyond attempting to get to the bottom of the constitutionality of the impeachment process?”
LatAm-Vietnam Trade: In yet another sign of the growing commercial ties between Latin America and the Far East, a trade and investment forum is taking place on Thursday in Hanoi, Vietnam, titled, “Vietnam-Latin America: Trade and Investment Partners for Development.” Bilateral trade between Vietnam and Latin America has grown seventeen-fold in the past 10 years. Over 16 Latin American nations plan to send delegations.
Assange Update: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange still remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy to the United Kingdom while Ecuador’s government considers his request for asylum. There may be an update in the coming days—Assange has been confined there for nearly two weeks—although Assange has already refused a police order to leave the embassy.
Venezuela’s Presidential Campaigns Begin: President Hugo Chávez and his main challenger, former Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, officially kicked off their campaigns yesterday for the October 7 election. Chávez already released his first commercial with the hashtag #SoyChávezdeCorazón. Capriles Radonski, on the other hand, campaigned in Venezuela’s southern towns that border Brazil, citing Brazil as a state model he would like to follow. While Chávez leads most polls, Capriles Radonski is counting on Venezuela’s undecided voters—as much as 35 percent of the electorate—to tip the balance in his favor.
Top stories this week are likely to include: proposed OAS human rights commission reform; OAS meeting underway in Bolivia; Pacific Alliance meeting on Wednesday; Peru-Chile relations; and no end in sight to the anti-mining protests in Peru.
OAS Human Rights Reform Considered: Organization of American States (OAS) member states such as Ecuador and Venezuela are calling for reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the independent human rights organ of the regional body. Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño called for changes such as cutting funding for the OAS special rapporteur on press freedom, warning that the OAS “will disappear” otherwise, which earned the endorsement of Venezuela. Insulza has further called for renegotiation of the IACHR’s statute and procedures including allowing governments to decide how the IACHR monitors them. Last Friday, the Washington Post editorial board responded to these proposals, writing, “It’s not surprising that Venezuela and its allies would push for noxious initiatives, or that Mr. Insulza would serve as their frontman […] Canada and the United States… and their democratic allies should work to ensure that the Insulza proposals are rejected—and that the OAS is perserved as an institution committed to democracy and human rights.”
AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini concurs: “The reasoning behind the proposals that Insulza is bringing to the General Assembly is unclear. What is clear is that their effect would be to whittle away at much of the independent voice of the Commission—the most effective office in the OAS—and he’s doing it by making common cause with some suspect governments."
Developments at the OAS General Assembly: Representatives from the 35 OAS member states are in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from June 3 to 5 for the organization’s 42nd General Assembly. In addition to the IACHR reforms, other issues on the table include Bolivian President Evo Morales’ desire for forward movement in regard to his country’s lack of access to the Pacific Ocean, a longstanding dispute with Chile. Argentina’s leadership wishes to rally hemispheric consensus around its claim to the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands. OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza briefed the assembly that Latin America is still far from achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The UN has set 2015 as its target date for achievement of the MDGs. But expectations for concrete results are not high, notes Sabatini: "The OAS general assembly has become a theater for overreach and meaningless debate."
Peru Declares State of Emergency amid Mining Protests
The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency yesterday in the southeastern province of Espinar after a week of protests left at least two dead and 70 injured. Espinar residents are protesting a $1.5 billion expansion of the Tintaya copper mine, claiming that the mine’s Swiss owner Xstrata—the largest single mining investor in Peru—does not contribute enough to the local economy. Similar demonstrations took place last year in the province of Cajamarca, where residents protested the expansion of a gold mine.
Brazil Plans Five New Hydroelectric Dams
On May 25, Valor Econômico reported that the Brazilian government is forging ahead with plans to construct five hydroelectric dams in the Tapajos River basin, a tributary of the Amazon. The publication said that environmental studies are underway and bidding for operators will begin next year. Belo Monte—one of the country’s largest hydroelectric construction projects also located in the Amazon basin—encountered numerous obstacles to construction, including lawsuits and worker strikes.
Dilma Announces Changes to Polemical Forest Code
On May 25, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued a number of alterations to the new version of the Forest Code, a legal framework for forest preservation in Brazil. She made 12 line-item vetoes and 32 modifications, most notably nixing amnesty for large-scale illegal deforesters who cleared land before 2008. The law now returns to Congress, where it won’t likely be discussed until after Brazil hosts the UN Rio+20 environmental conference in June.
Read more about the Forest Code in an AS/COA News Analysis on environmental issues in Brazil.
Brazil, Venezuela Rank High in Software Piracy
Four Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela—make the top 20 in the Business Software Alliance’s annual report on software piracy. Brazil comes out on top (and fifth overall) in terms of value of pirated software at $2.8 billion. But Venezuela leads the pack with the highest rate of pirated software—88 percent.
Venezuela Targets Civilian Aircraft in Drug Fight
The Venezuelan Congress passed legislation May 23 permitting the country’s air force to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs. Though the government believes the law will help Venezuela in its fight against international organized crime groups, InsightCrime believes “a policy advocating the use of force against civilian aircraft carries risk.”
Poll Shows Narrower Lead for Chávez
A recent survey by Venezuelan polling firm Varianzas puts opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski within five points of his competitor, President Hugo Chávez. The current president leads with 50.7 percent of likely votes while Capriles has 45.5 percent, the poll found. However, 53.3 percent of respondents said they believed Chávez would win in October, compared with 42.4 percent for Capriles.
Last weekend’s Sixth Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, ended on a discordant note with no final communiqué outlining a joint statement on the conference’s outcome. The refusal by the United States and Canada to accept Cuba at the next Summit created a schism with their Latin American and Caribbean partners who supported Cuba’s inclusion, although President Obama and Prime Minister Harper were acting in a manner consistent with previous positions regarding Cuba‘s participation. The lack of a communiqué, however, should not be seen as a failure but rather as a time to reflect.
The U.S. embargo of Cuba is essentially a relic of the Cold War period when Fidel Castro embraced the Soviet bloc, and later, when the world teetered on the brink of a nuclear confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Clearly, in this presidential cycle with Florida remaining a swing state and with its fiercely anti- Castro Cuban population, Obama had little room to maneuver. Admittedly, there is no appetite in both the Democratic and Republican parties to turn Cuba into a political issue in the short term.
Despite this predictable outcome, it is reasonable to hope that both the U.S. and Canada take a fresh look at Cuba and the post-Castro period. Both Castro brothers are aging and communism is no longer a major geopolitical factor on the global stage. Latin American countries have emerging economies with increasingly stable democracies wanting to reach out with trade overtures. In this era of the Internet and globalization, it is unlikely that the iron fist of the Castro legacy will be able to maintain its grip for years to come. In any case, the embargo has not achieved its goal. Why not explore the option of engagement?
The Haitian Electoral Council decided on Sunday to postpone the publication of the results of a recount of the November 28 presidential election. The recount, conducted by the Haitian government with the supervision of the Organization of American States (OAS), was a response to widespread allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing. In a statement, the council chose to "postpone publication of the results of the first round of voting until the contentious phase of the electoral process is over and an OAS mission requested by President René Préval finishes its work.”
Responding to calls for a recount, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "If you ignore the legitimate questions raised about the election, you create conditions for longer-term instability.” The U.S. embassy in Haiti also expressed their concerns about the electoral disenchantment: “The United States, together with Haiti's international community partners, stands ready to support efforts to thoroughly review irregularities in support of electoral results that are consistent with the will of the Haitian people,”
A run-off is scheduled for January 16, 2011. According to the preliminary electoral results, former first lady Mirlande Manigat and ruling party candidate Jude Celestin would face each other, leaving third-place candidate Michel Martelly out of the running.
In defiance of mounting international pressure, Nicaragua again refused to withdraw troops from the island of Calero as its border dispute with Costa Rica entered a fourth week. After the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council voted 22-2 on Saturday night to recommend removal of all forces from Calero, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused the Permanent Council of bias and threatened to withdraw from the OAS unilaterally.
The border argument ignited on October 21 when Costa Rica accused Nicaragua of dumping sediment from dredging operations onto the islet that it claims as sovereign territory. Nicaragua continued the operations, citing a need to combat drug trafficking, which resulted in Costa Rica issuing a formal appeal to the OAS two weeks ago to stop the incursion. Nicaragua countered by demanding that Costa Rica withdraw its forces from the same territory; Costa Rica does not maintain a military.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza has met with the presidents and foreign ministers of both nations. Shortly after, he issued a set of recommendations, the most notable of which called for the removal of armed forces from “an area where they could generate tension”—a carefully-worded salvo leveled at Nicaragua.
The Permanent Council vote on Saturday endorsed Insulza’s recommendations with only Nicaragua and Venezuela opposing the measure. In light of Ortega’s threat, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla warned that she would involve the UN Security Council if necessary.
More than a year after former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was forcibly removed from power in Tegucigalpa, Chile and Mexico on Saturday joined a growing number of Latin American countries to re-establish diplomatic ties with Honduras.
Although he did not offer a definitive timeline, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno announced that Chile would soon resume full diplomatic relations with the Tegucigalpa government. Mexico, on the other hand, announced its decision to send its ambassador back to Honduras as early as next week. The decisions came in the aftermath of a 12-page report released last Thursday by the Organization of American States highlighting improving conditions in Honduras.
Other countries, including Ecuador, Brazil, and Venezuela are reluctant to re-establish relations with Honduras. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been supportive of reintegration and said in June, “President Lobo has done everything he said he would do,” “He has been very committed to pursuing a policy of reintegration.”
One year ago this week, the Honduran military expelled President Manuel Zelaya from the country. The coup immediately prompted domestic tumult and international condemnation. With elections in November, however, the Honduran political establishment and the Obama administration banked on the country moving beyond the coup domestically and normalizing relations with the world. But theirs were rose-colored glasses; a coup’s effects are not so easily undone.
Honduras is now struggling with the long-term damage that coups inflict on the rule of law and the enduring costs of international isolation. Even after de facto President Roberto Micheletti ceded power to Porfirio Lobo following an election, insecurity and impunity reign domestically, and most of Latin America continues to isolate the country. The battle for international legitimacy remains President Lobo’s principal concern, and has also brought issues onto the domestic agenda that put Lobo at loggerheads with powerful supporters of last year’s coup.
Many on the Right claim that, by ousting Zelaya, the political establishment was responding legitimately to an over-reaching president. And, indeed, in the first half of 2009, Zelaya flouted court rulings that deemed unconstitutional a referendum that would pave the way for a constituent assembly. At one stage, Zelaya and his supporters seized referendum ballots held by the military under Supreme Electoral Tribunal orders.
At last week’s 40th General Assembly of the Organization of American States, member states agreed to form a commission to evaluate Honduras’s return to the OAS following the June 2009 coup and the election of President Porfirio Lobo. OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza, who had expressed support for allowing Honduras to rejoin the organization but recognized pending concerns, has now indicated that the high level commission will be formed next week, and it will include two members from South America, two from Central America and one each from the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean.
The names of those participating have not yet been released, pending confirmation of the full slate of committee delegates.
The commission will meet separately with representatives of the current Honduras government and with representatives of ex-president Manuel Zelaya. A report is due back to the OAS on July 30. Insulza has said that the main obstacle to readmission is Zelaya’s continued exile in the Dominican Republic and called for his being allowed to return “in a condition without humiliation.”