Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Monday Memo: Mexico Elections—Peru Protests—Same-Sex Unions—NSA Activities—UNASUR Meets

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Likely top stories this week: results in the race for governor of Baja California; protests over legislation in Peru; Costa Rica approves same-sex civil unions; Brazil responds to surveillance reports; and UNASUR divided over Evo Morales’ flight interruptions.

Baja California’s Next Governor

On Sunday, nearly half of Mexico’s 31 states held elections for mayors and local legislatures, but the most watched contest is the unfolding results in the governor’s race in the state of Baja California—the only gubernatorial election on Sunday—where the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) has held the governorship for the last 24 years.  Significantly, in 1989, the PAN’s electoral win in Baja California was the first state loss for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), and a victory that is often seen as eventually leading to the PAN winning the presidency in 2000.   

On Sunday, shortly after polls closed, both Francisco “Kiko” Vega de Lamadrid of the Unidos por Baja California alliance (which includes the PAN and Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD) and Fernando Castro Trenti of the Compromiso por Baja California alliance (which includes the PRI) claimed victory. With 92.5 percent of the votes counted as part of the Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP), Kiko Vega held a slight advantage (47.19 percent versus 44.09 percent) over Castro Trenti.

A dispute in the electoral results could result in new tension in the Pact for Mexico—an agreement of 95 loosely defined proposals signed by the three main political parties and unveiled on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first day in office last December

Peruvian Students and Civil Servants Protest Reforms

On Thursday and Friday, Peruvian police clashed violently with protesters, when hundreds of students and civil servants in Lima marched toward Congress to protest reforms that would impose tougher standards on universities and public employees. According to the protesters the reforms would force many students from their jobs and would compromise the autonomy of the country’s universities. President Ollanta Humala, who proposed the law, says it aims to improve the quality of government services and bolster a higher education system that lags behind many in the region. Humala signed the Civil Service Law, which imposes strict annual evaluations for government employees, on Thursday. A separate bill to reform universities and tighten standards for professors is pending in Congress.

Costa Rica’s Congress Inadvertently Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions

On Friday, Costa Rica’s Congress was shocked to learn that it had inadvertently legalized same-sex civil unions after President Laura Chinchilla signed a bill late Thursday governing social services and marriage regulations for young people. Earlier versions of the bill had defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman, but the bill that the mostly conservative Congress approved included revised language that “confers social rights and benefits of a civil union, free from discrimination.” Jose Villalta of the Broad Front Party had inserted the new language that was unanimously approved.

When lawmakers noticed the new language—after having approved the bill—they asked Chinchilla to veto the new law, but she refused. A group of conservative congressman from the Christian Costa Rican Renovation Party has pledged to launch a legal challenge to the new law.

Brazil Demands Explanations about Reports of U.S. Surveillance

On Sunday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed deep concern over  a report that the United States has collected data on billions of telephone and email conversations in Brazil.  Over the weekend, O Globo newspaper reported that information released by National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden shows that the NSA had logged nearly the same number of telephone and email messages in Brazil as it had in the United States.  The article was written by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian reporter who originally broke the Snowden leak story.  The Brazilian government demanded clarifications from the U.S. embassy in Brasilia and pledged to approach the UN to set ground rules for international espionage to protect citizens’ privacy and to preserve national sovereignty. 

UNASUR Holds Emergency Meeting

On Thursday, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) held an emergency meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to discuss the bloc’s response after several European countries closed their airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales on Wednesday over concerns that his plane, which left from Moscow, was carrying Edward Snowden. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador called for the meeting, which was attended by Morales, President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, and José Mujica of Uruguay. The Colombian, Chilean and Peruvian presidents—all of whom maintain strong relationships with the United States—did not attend. During the meeting, regional leaders called for apologies from Italy, Portugal, France, and Spain for violating Bolivia’s sovereignty and condemned the U.S. for violating human rights through their surveillance programs. The lack of participation among key UNASUR members highlights the bloc’s divide on the issue.

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