Friday, October 31, 2014

Remember Brazil’s World Cup Protests?

Remember “Não vai ter copa” and the concerns among international media that protests would overshadow the World Cup games this June/July? As it happened, turnout at the demonstrations was far lower than many expected, and the overall legacy of the event was largely unaffected.

But there may have been a reason for that. The initial round of protests in World Cup host cities in the first days of the Cup was met by a harsh crackdown by the state-level Military Police (PM), especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In the former, local human rights group Conectas criticized the police for restricting civil liberties and acting as if a “state of emergency” had been declared, and journalists in Rio de Janeiro clearly captured footage of Rio PM officers brandishing guns and firing live ammunition to break up protests.

Considering the disproportionately repressive police response to the demonstrations, it’s no wonder that they failed to gather critical mass. Indeed, this may have been an unspoken part of these states’ security strategy all along.

Fortunately it appears that pressure from civil society has achieved a significant victory in limiting police repression of protests, at least in São Paulo state. As Veja and Globo report, last week a São Paulo judge issued an injunction which forbids the PM from using firearms or rubber bullets against crowds. The judge also ordered the Military Police to present a set of rules of engagement for crowd control action within 30 days. Conectas notes that the ruling comes after repeated efforts to compel the government of São Paulo to bring the actions of its military police in line with international human rights and good policing standards.

Surprisingly, there is evidence that the São Paulo PM’s de facto use of rubber bullets goes against the force’s own internal regulations. News site Ponte has obtained a classified internal PM document laying out standard procedures for using rubber bullets, which specifically says that every round fired must come at the order of commanding officers, must be documented, and must be fired at the justified target’s legs from a distance of no less than 20 meters. Ponte then points to a number of protesters with photos of recent injuries sustained from being shot in the face at distances far closer than that, showing that these guidelines essentially go ignored.

The downside to the recent court ruling, however, is that it will likely be appealed. Last year São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin raised expectations by imposing a temporary ban on the use of rubber bullets against protesters, but this ban lasted only four months before their use was reinstated last October. Folha reports that yesterday the governor said his administration was assessing the ruling and weighing an appeal. Nevertheless, Alckmin made his position on police dispersal methods very clear, asserting they are needed to prevent vandalism and violence. “Nobody wants to use rubber bullets,” Alckmin told reporters, “but it is sometimes necessary to preserve public order.”

News Briefs
  • Following Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s promise to pursue political reform in her second term, the leadership of the influential PMDB party -- which wields tremendous influence as the second-largest congressional  bloc --  will meet next week to assess its position on Rousseff’s proposal to hold a referendum on reforms, Reuters reports.  
  • Days after promising to establish a commission to oversee a major purge of the country’s police force, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has appointed fomer police inspector and Libertador Mayor Freddy Bernal as the commission’s director, according to El Universal. Maduro announced yesterday that the commission would be in place for six months, and that changes would be made to all of the state police forces, as well as the National Police and its police academy.
  • El Tiempo and RCN Noticias report that Colombia’s FARC rebels have released a statement in Havana in which the guerrillas admit to having harmed civilians in their armed activities. The According to the statement, the FARC rebels “explicitly recognize that our actions have affected civilians in different moments and circumstances throughout the conflict, which has led to prolonged and multiple major impacts,” though they deny that civilians have ever been an intended target of attacks.
  • The New York Times reports on Chile’s approval of a carbon emissions tax last month, which made it the first country to do so in South America. The move comes as some countries, like Australia, South Korea and South Africa, appear to be backing away from previous carbon tax commitments.
  • Yesterday, the Mexican government was called to explain its National Human Rights Program to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which Spanish news agency EFE notes saw human rights organizations further criticize the government’s handling of the Iguala students’ disappearances. The AP picked up remarks by Emilio Alvarez Icaza, secretary of the Inter-American Commission, who asserted that both the Iguala disappearance and Tlatlaya military massacre point to a “grave crisis” of human rights in the country.  BBC Mundo reports that the Commission is also slated to review the agreement released on Wednesday by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with the parents of the 43 missing students, and is considering naming a team to oversee its implementation.
  • BBC Mundo also has a piece looking at the work of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) in Mexico, where it has been contracted to help authorities identify the remains found in the mass graves being uncovered in Guerrero. Since arriving the EAAF has faced a number of obstacles to its work from local officials, and last week some of its members claimed that procedural errors meant they could not adequately confirm the government’s claim that  none of the bodies located thus far belong to the students.
  • Writing for The New Yorker, Francisco Goldman offers a hopeful look at the civil society response to the Iguala disappearances, which he describes as having the potential to transform the country’s corrupt political system. Making a similar argument, John Ackerman has an op-ed in the L.A. Times in which he also asserts that Mexico’s democratic development has been stunted because unlike other nations in the Americas, the country’s political class has changed little over the past few decades.
  • Mexico’s Supreme Court has rejected a proposal by Mexico’s left to hold a popular referendum on a law backed by the Peña Nieto administration which opens up the country’s state oil monopoly  to private investment. Animal Politico reports that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s MORENA movement and the center-left PRD both presented challenges to the law, which were shot down in identical court rulings yesterday.
  • The New York Times reports on the ways in which many Mexicans are increasingly mixing elements of Halloween with their Day of the Dead celebrations, a trend which some in the country view as a potential threat to its cultural traditions.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Evo's MAS Gets a 2/3 Majority in Bolivia

It took two and a half weeks, but Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has finally released the final vote count for the country’s October 12 general election.  According to the TSE President Evo Morales not only won re-election, but his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party also secured a solid two-thirds legislative majority.

La Razon reports that the TSE found that the MAS obtained 61.36 percent of the vote, while opposition leader Doria Medina’s Democratic Unity (UD) party received just 24.23 percent, followed by 9.24 percent for the Christian Democrat Party. Both the Movement without Fear (MSM) and Bolivian Green Party received less than 3 percent of the popular vote, meaning that they will both lose their formal legal status.

Electoral officials’ breakdown of legislative seats for the 2015-2020 period show that the MAS will control 25 of the Senate’s 36 seats and 88 out of 130 (the Associated Press reports 89) in the Chamber of Deputies, giving Morales the two-thirds supermajority he hoped for going into the vote.

This is a major victory for Morales, as his party’s two-thirds majority was upset in 2011 when five lawmakers broke from the MAS coalition in opposition to the TIPNIS highway project.  

The MAS’ solidified control in Congress is also sure to raise questions about whether the party will use it to alter the constitution to allow Morales to run again once his current term expires in 2020. So far the Bolivian president has denied that he is considering it, telling BBC Mundo’s Ignacio de los Reyes that “neither re-election nor reforming the Constitution to stay in power until 2025 are on the agenda.”  

However, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa also made similar remarks before ultimately coming out in support of a measure allowing indefinite re-election earlier this year.  Only time will tell whether Morales follows this path, but his decision will have major implications for Bolivia’s democracy for years to come, as journalist Martín Sivak wrote recently in a New York Times op-ed.

News Briefs
  • Advocates of the U.S. improving its ties to Cuba, especially regarding humanitarian work in Ebola-stricken countries, should be pleased: yesterday Nelson Arboleda, the Central America director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), attended an ALBA summit on Ebola in Havana, Cuba. According to Reuters, Arboleda was invited by the Pan-American Health Organization.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto continues to fumble his government’s response to the disappearance of 43 students of Iguala, Guerrero. Yesterday, the president met with the parents of the missing for six hours inside the Los Pinos presidential residence, joined by Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam and Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong. Following the meeting, the administration released a 10-point agreement detailing its commitment to finding the victims and prosecuting those responsible, and announced the creation of a special commission to pursue the case. However, Animal Politico reports that immediately after the document was published the victims’ relatives held a press conference to announce that the president’s response was unsatisfactory.  The AP also offers some insight into the length of the meeting, noting that human rights officials said that families were “refusing to leave until Pena Nieto signed a document that would satisfy everyone.”
  • Following Semana magazine’s report alleging that Colombian military intelligence had gathered a list of emails of journalists, human rights activists and peace negotiators with an apparent intent to spy on them, the New York Times has picked up on the story as well, noting that a former NYT reporter was also on the list. For its take on the story, La Silla Vacia suggests that it could be a product of fears within the military of a post-conflict Colombia in which officers could be investigated or lose their positions due to downsizing, among other things.
  • Salvadoran news site El Faro looks at recently declassified Argentine intelligence documents, which show that the junta in Argentina had close security ties with the Salvadoran government in the 1970s and 1980s. Among other things, documents show that analysts in the Argentine embassy in San Salvador were closely watching the “subversive” activities of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
  • The Miami Herald reports that the Obama administration is sending State Department official Thomas Shannon to Haiti today to speak with pro-government and opposition lawmakers there to end the gridlock that has held up long-overdue legislative and local elections.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on Bolivia’s recent law that allows children as young as 12 to work under contract with parental consent, and as young as 10 to receive payment for work if they remain in school. The paper offers a good report on the controversy surrounding the measure, with supporters describing it as a recognition of an unfortunate reality and critics calling it formalized child abuse.
  • According to The Guardian, the grandson of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is rallying supporters of the late ruler around a new political party, the Orden Republicano Mi Patria. While the party is right-wing and opposes marriage equality, it is in favor of legalizing marijuana and making other reforms to the Pinochet-era constitution.
  • In a rare sign of progress in Guatemala’s battle against impunity, El Periodico reports that a judge in the country is pursuing charges against three former police officers accused of killing the main investigator into the 1990 murder of human rights advocate and  anthropologist Myrna Mack.
  • The AP reports on a Chilean pilot project sponsored by the Daya Foundation and the Santiago municipality of La Florida to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes, a bid to provide some 200 cancer patients with cannabis oil to alleviate pain and side effects of their treatment.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Where’s Peña Nieto’s Plan for the Iguala Disappearances?

As the search for the 43 missing students drags on in Guerrero, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is finding his agenda completely dictated by the disappearances. Though more than a month has passed since the incident, his administration appears caught off guard by the public outrage to the case and seems unable to articulate a satisfactory response.

Newspaper Reforma reports that the president has postponed plans to seek congressional approval for his plans to travel to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing and a G-20 leaders’ summit in Australia next month. Instead, Peña Nieto appears to be devoting his energy almost entirely to responding to the public outrage resulting from the disappearances in Iguala.

According to El Universal, Peña Nieto is scheduled to receive the parents of the missing 43 later today for a closed door meeting in his official residence. Animal Politico reports that relatives of three students who were killed by police and unknown gunmen prior to the disappearances have been invited as well. Also expected to be present is Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong.

Meanwhile, the case still dominates headlines, and protests against the disappearances and police corruption in general have continued both in Iguala and across the country.  

The resignation of Guerrero governor Angel Aguirre has not stopped federal lawmakers from pointing fingers and exchanging allegations of facilitating the corrupt relationship between local authorities and police in Iguala that contributed to the disappearances. El Universal and El Pais report that left-wing politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been a recurring target, as he personally endorsed Jose Luis Abarca’s campaigns for mayor of Iguala, allegedly after having been informed of the local officials’ reported crime links.

As the New York Times and L.A. Times report, yesterday authorities announced that suspects in the case had led them to yet another mass grave in the nearby town of Cocula, and that investigators are working to identify the remains found there.  However, the fact that officials have discovered 38 bodies in ten other unrelated mass graves nearby has lowered hopes that the latest find is linked to the Iguala case.

The Financial Times has a particularly astute analysis of the significance of the case to the Peña Nieto administration, criticizing the fact that the president appears not to have a plan to address the scandal and has not yet visited Iguala. The FT also takes him to task for his decision to abandon his predecessor’s narrative of a war on crime in favor of “sticking rigidly to the narrative of progress and modernization.” The piece also features input by several analysts who suggest he use his political coalition-building skills to hammer out reforms meant to assert the rule of law.

News Briefs
  • A bill presented to Colombia’s Congress that would legalize marijuana for medicinal use got a boost yesterday by Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria, Radio Santa Fe and El Tiempo report.
  • In her first major interview since re-election, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff spoke with SBT Brasil last night about her plans for her next term. Among other things the president doubled down on her promises to promote political reforms via a popular referendum, and emphasized her support for a federal law that criminalizes homophobic speech.
  • Police in the Brazilian state of São Paulo have released alarming statistics on the number of killings by uniformed officials so far this year. From January to September, police there killed 478 people, the highest number for the same period over the past decade and twice as many as the same period last year.
  • Following a report by Semana magazine alleging that Colombian military intelligence officials had conducted a secret list of the personal emails of journalists, diplomats and peace negotiators, military intelligence chief Mauricio Forero has been temporarily relieved of his duties as the attorney general’s office investigates the matter.
  • Fort the 23rd time, the United  Nations General Assembly voted yesterday to overwhelmingly condemn the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. As Reuters reports, as in the past several years the U.S. was joined only by Israel in opposing the measure, while a handful of Pacific island nations abstained.
  • Salvadoran Defense Minister General David Munguia Payes has responded to allegations that the recent murder of Colonel Carlos Alfredo Rivas Najarro’s son had to do with Rivas’ support for investigating military human rights abuses and repealing El Salvador’s Amnesty Law, as profiled recently in InSight Crime. In remarks to news site Factum, Munguia Payes  denied that the armed forces were behind the murder, saying that today’s Salvadoran military has changed drastically since the days of the country’s civil war.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Five Points on Uruguay’s Legislative Vote

I was impressed by James Bosworth’s insightful analysis of Brazil’s election results, with “Five Points on Dilma.” Copying his style, here are five points on the first-round election in Brazil’s smaller neighbor to the south:

The FA keeps a majority: In a surprise twist that defies all of last week’s projections and opinion polls, Uruguay’s ruling Frente Amplio (FA) is poised to maintain effective control over both legislative houses for the next five years. Although a runoff between the FA’s Tabare Vazquez and National Party’s Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou will take place on November 30, Sunday’s vote determined the breakdown of 2015-2020 congressional seats by proportional representation. According to electoral officials, the results are: FA 47.9 percent, National Party 30.96 percent, Colorado Party 12.92 percent and Independent Party 3.07 percent. The Electoral Court still has to confirm the distribution of seats, but every major news outlet in the country (see El Pais, El ObservadorRadio Espectador and Radio 180) has reported that the FA has won 15 seats in the Senate and is sure to keep its 50 seats in the lower house. This gives them a guaranteed lower house majority, and if Vazquez wins the second round they will control the Senate (where they currently have 16 seats) as well, as the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote in the 30-member body. (Image credit: Montevideo Portal)

Vazquez gets a second wind: This is a huge boost not only for the Frente Amplio, but for Vazquez as well. His party’s list got four more points than those of the two largest opposition parties combined (the Colorado and National Party votes together have 43.88 percent compared to the Frente’s 47.9 percent). Because the bases of the Independent Party and smaller Popular Unity parties are center-left to leftist voters disenchanted with the FA, it is safe to assume the majority of their support will transfer to Vazquez as well. Factum’s recent runoff poll, which showed  the two candidates statistically tied at 48 percent for Vazquez and 47 percent for Lacalle Pou, no longer seems trustworthy, especially in light of all the major pollsters’ inability to predict Sunday’s outcome.

The Frente’s still got it (and its progressive laws are safe): As El Observador reports, this is the first time since the 1940s that a Uruguayan party stands to hold onto a legislative majority for three consecutive terms. Much of the international coverage of Uruguay’s election so far (see the New York Times, Reuters) has focused on the FA’s support of progressive yet controversial legislation as a reason for its potential defeat. Yet despite opposition to marijuana legalization, abortion decriminalization (and to a lesser degree) marriage equality from large segments of the country, these measures have so far not become hot-button issues. In addition to ensuring that these initiatives will remain in place, Sunday's vote confirms that the FA has a unique ability to push the envelope without taking a hit in the polls. This has been illustrated before, however, in the wake of the October 2012 law that decriminalized abortion. The measure was opposed by 46 percent of the country, and in April 2013 51 percent of Uruguayans said they would support holding a referendum on whether to repeal it. Yet just 8.9 percent of the electorate actually came out to support an eventual referendum in a June 2013 vote, essentially leaving the issue settled. 

NO a la Baja: The push to lower Uruguay’s age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16, which until recently looked guaranteed to pass, failed by six points (53 percent opposed and 46.99 in favor). Support for the initiative dropped significantly over the past year due largely to the efforts of the civil society coalition behind the creative “No a la Baja” campaign. The campaign also got a boost from Uruguay’s voting system, which required supporters of lowering the criminal responsibility age to present a slip indicating their preference alongside their party’s ballot list.  Not including it was counted as a “no” vote, so the fact that the Frente Amplio and second-largest segment of the National Party did not include the slips automatically with their own lists likely made an important impact.

“El Pepe” is popular:  Jose “Pepe” Mujica’s signature humble, plain-spoken image has served him well politically. Some 62 percent of Uruguay’s population views him favorably, and 58 percent approve of his government, according to an October Cifra poll. This support has also translated into backing for his Popular Participation Movement (MPP) sector of the Frente Amplio. As Radio Espectador reports, the MPP’s list was the most supported among FA voters, making it the largest single FA bloc in both houses. This bucks another historical trend, as most Uruguayan presidents see their party’s internal faction lose support after leaving office, according to El Observador


News Briefs
  • The AP has an analysis of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s slim victory margin in Sunday’s vote, which paired with the country’s fragmented Congress may make it difficult for her to act on her promise to push for political reforms and hold a national referendum to address demands for better public services and less corruption. The New York Times also offers a take on the results, pointing out that Rousseff’s narrow win highlights bitter divisions between the country’s rich and poor, as well as between northeast states and the more developed south.
  • Mexican investigators looking into the disappearance of the 43 missing students in Guerrero say that suspects in custody have led them to a mass grave site about 10 miles from where the disappeared were last seen. Mexico’s attorney general, meanwhile, has told the press that the protesting students were taken first to a police station and then to a nearby town, apparently while still alive.
  • As the peace talks in Havana progress, more FARC leaders are arriving at the negotiating table to give their two cents on the process, as Reuters noted last week. One of the latest and most controversial arrivals, according to the AFP, is alias “Edilson Romaña,” who is accused of orchestrating mass kidnappings for the rebels in recent years.
  • La Silla Vacia looks at the hurdles that Colombian civil society faces in creating a comprehensive “movement” by uniting the various victims’ associations in the country, a process that has been held up by the fact that the groups themselves are divided over the current peace talks.
  • Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights offers some insight into President Nicolas Maduro’s decision to remove Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez, which many believe is the result of pressure from Chavista “colectivos” upset at a police operation that killed one of their leaders earlier this month. David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz point out that the incident has troubling implications for governance in the country, as it is essentially a “conflict between security forces that think of themselves as the legitimate holders of the state’s monopoly on violence and groups of armed citizens who see themselves as legitimate defenders of the revolution.”
  • Maduro has added more details to the killing of PSUV Congressman Roberto Serra, claiming that corrupt police had a hand in the lawmaker’s murder, BBC Mundo reports. As a result of this development, El Nacional reports that Maduro has promised to reform the country’s police force, saying: “We haven’t reached the goal of having police that are 100 percent trustworthy to the people.”
  • The Washington Post reports on an interesting indication of the ways in which Bolivian President Evo Morales and his MAS party have altered the identity of the country’s Aymara indigenous. In recent years ,wealthy Aymara individuals have been increasingly embracing their heritage by promoting a colorful architectural style known as “New Andean,” which is transforming the landscape of the city of El Alto.
  • Syndicated columnist Andres Oppenheimer looks at the Buenos Aires government’s decision to move its city hall to one of the most neglected neighborhoods in the city in a bid to revitalize the area, a move he notes has worked in other cities around the hemisphere and might be applied successfully in Miami.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Some Surprises in Uruguay and Brazil Elections

Brazil and Uruguay both held elections yesterday, and both votes saw some surprises.

While Uruguay’s presidential race will go to a runoff between Tabare Vazquez of the Frente Amplio (FA) and the National Party’s (PN) Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, the first round vote will determine the breakdown of congressional seats for the next five years by proportional representation.

Last week’s projections predicted the ruling FA coalition would win just 43-44 percent of the vote, but in reality they performed far better than expected. Exit polls conducted by all three major pollsters (Cifra, Factum and Equipos Mori) suggest that the FA won between 46.5-47.4 percent of the vote, putting it very close to winning the estimated 47 percent it needs to hold onto control of both houses.

The final vote count is still being tallied, but with 96.9 percent counted so far by the Electoral Court, the results are as follows: Frente Amplio 46.98 percent, National Party 30.68 percent, Colorado Party (PC) 12.85 percent and Independent Party (PI) 3. 01percent. What’s more, the ballot measure to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 only received 46.47 percent of the vote, losing out by over 6 points to the “no” vote, with 53.53percent.  As El Pais reports, it seems the efforts of the “No a la Baja” civil society campaign have paid off, and the measure has been defeated.

Radio 180 reports that Colorado Party candidate Pedro Bordabery wasted no time last night in endorsing the PN’s Luis Lacalle Pou in the second round, as he was ultimately expected to do. However, El Observador reports that the Frente has been preparing its runoff campaign for this scenario for weeks, and it stepping up its messaging and campaign tactics to reach out to “colorados” who might balk at voting for a traditional rival among the “blancos” (as the National Party is known locally).

The big winners in Uruguay’s first round vote are the Independent Party, which increased its showing by half a percentage point compared to the last vote in 2009. This may not seem like much, but because of Uruguay’s proportionate vote, they stand to add a senator to the two congressional seats they currently control. If the FA fall just short of a majority, the Independents may become important powerbrokers in the next Congress.

In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff won re-election by the slimmest majority the country has seen since its return to democracy. According to official results, the incumbent beat her challenger Aecio Neves by 51.6 to 48.4 percent of valid votes. This despite the fact that Ibope and Datafolha polls last week showed Rousseff beating Neves by 53-4 to 46-47 percent.

Folha’s analysis of the vote points out that this campaign season was especially divisive and tumultuous, with both candidates exchanging allegations of corruption and abuse of power. As the paper notes, moving forward Rousseff will have to overcome widespread skepticism towards her policies, especially regarding her management of the economy.

The president seemed aware of this in her victory speech last night. Appearing before a crowd of supporters, she promised that the first priority of her second term would be political reform, as Reuters and O Globo report. Rousseff is also reportedly planning on naming several new figures to her cabinet to repair her relationship with Congress, which soured in recent years.

More on Brazil’s election today from The Economist (which has a useful graph of fluctuation in the polls in recent months as well as a breakdown of how each state voted), New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

News Briefs
  • Lawmakers in Guerrero have voted to replace the governor of the Mexican state, who stepped down last week in response to outrage caused by the case of the 43 missing students there. El Universal has a profile with Rogelio Ortega Martínez, his replacement, who previously served as the rector of the Autonomous University of Guerrero.  The L.A. Times notes, however, that the replacement is unlikely to satisfy the thousands of Mexicans who have protested against the situation in Guerrero in recent weeks.
  • On Friday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro replaced Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez with Defense Minister Carmen Melendez, a move that the Miami Herald’s Jim Wyss notes comes after Chavista collectives accused him of ordering an operation that killed a collective leader earlier this month. As El Nacional reports, Rodriguez was not expelled from the government, however, with Maduro saying that he would give him “15 days” of rest before assigning him elsewhere.
  • The Miami Herald takes a look at Venezuelan opposition figure Leopoldo Lopez, heavily quoting Human Rights Foundation President Thor Halvorssen Mendoza, who happens to be Lopez’s cousin.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos seems again to be attempting to lower expectations of an immediate end to the country’s conflict. In remarks on Sunday, the president stressed that the “most difficult negotiating points remain,” and warned that “there is still no reason to declare victory.”
  • While the education reform supported by President Michelle Bachelet was passed by Chile’s lower house recently, it has some detractors in the country. BBC Mundo and the AFP report that the thousands who participated in a march in Santiago on Saturday oppose the measure over concerns that it would cause certain schools to close and force families to send their children to the public system.
  • This author has an analysis of the growth of militia groups in Rio de Janeiro for InSight Crime. According to official estimates, militias formed by off-duty and ex-security force members have gone from operating in just six communities in 2004 to 148 today, and there is reason to believe they had a significant impact on their neighborhoods' voting patterns in Sunday’s election.
  • The AP has an update on the charges faced by former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been accused of corruption, drug trafficking and money laundering.  A local judge has ordered his arrest for failing to appear in court, which police have been unable to follow as they are engaged in a tense standoff with supporters of the president outside his home for the past weeks.
  • Also on Haiti, the New York Times reports that the Haitian cholera victims’ lawsuit against the United Nations before a Manhattan judge is underway, and saw its first court proceeding on Thursday. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Last Polls Before Voting Day in Brazil, Uruguay

On Sunday, both Brazilians and Uruguayans will be going to the polls. In Brazil, recent surveys have suggested that President Dilma Rousseff has widened her lead over challenger Aecio Neves. But in neighboring Uruguay, recent polls suggest that that the ruling Frente Amplio coalition isn’t having the same luck.

Yesterday, Ibope and Datafolha both published the results of surveys taken earlier this week, both of which for the first time showed Rousseff leading Neves outside of the margin of error. Ibope has Rousseff beating Neves 49% to 41% of total votes (excluding null and blank votes, Rousseff has 54% to her rival’s 46), while Datafolha found 48 % for the incumbent and 42% for Neves (which would be 53 to 47% of valid votes, respectively).

The Wall Street Journal reports that analysts say Dilma’s rise is a product of her campaign’s ability to secure support among working-class voters. However, the Datafolha survey suggests this is isn’t quite the full picture. As Folha reports, Datafolha’s data shows that the president’s challenger lost support across all classes in recent weeks.  The pollster found that support for Neves after the first-round vote stood at 74% among upper class voters and 67% among the middle class, but that these figures have since fallen to 64% and 58%, respectively.

Meanwhile in Uruguay, the governing Frente Amplio coalition has not seen a rebound similar to Rousseff’s. Polls released this week suggest the FA will fall short of the roughly 47% that most analysts suggest it needs to hold on to its legislative majority.  Equipos Mori has the Frente Amplio at 43.6%, the National Party (PN) at 33.4%, the Colorado Party (PC) at 15.1% and the Independent Party (PI)  at 3.1%; Cifra has FA 43%, PN 32%, PC 18% and PI 3.3%; and Factum suggests FA 44%, PN 32%, PC 15% and PI 3%).

According to El Observador’s helpful projections based on these polls, in the best possible scenario for the FA, they will still lose two congressmen in the lower house. This means that no matter what, the next Congress will see far more debate and vote-wrangling than in the past five years under the FA’s controlling majority.

Because the FA won’t obtain a majority of votes in the first round, there will almost certainly be a presidential runoff on November 30 between the FA’s Tabare Vazquez and the PN’s Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou. On this front the news isn’t good for the FA either. Factum, the only pollster to publish surveys on a hypothetical pairing between the two, found earlier this month that two are statistically tied at 48% for Vazquez and 47% for Lacalle Pou, with a 3 point margin of error. This gap has narrowed from September, when Factum had 50% for Vazquez and 48 for Lacalle Pou, and is a far cry from polls earlier this year. As recently as April, Vazquez enjoyed a 15-point lead over his rival, with 55% to Lacalle Pou’s 40%.

Regarding Uruguay’s plebiscite to lower the age of criminal responsibility, the latest survey from leading pollster Cifra shows that 47% support the reform and 43% oppose it.  However, the good news for Uruguay’s No a La Baja campaign is that this 47% will not automatically translate into votes for the measure. In order to support the initiative, voters have to present a special slip inside the sealed ballot lists of their party of choice. Not including the slip is the equivalent of not voting for the reform, which is why the Frente Amplio lists do not include them. And though the Colorado Party is automatically including the slip in its ballot lists, the National Party is divided on the issue, as El Pais has noted. While Lacalle Pou’s faction of the National Party will include it, Vice President candidate Jorge Larrañaga’s list -- the party’s second-most popular grouping -- will not. Though this seems like a minor detail, Larrañaga’s decision will likely mean the failure of the reform initiative.

News Briefs
  • Though it has largely avoided becoming a major campaign issue thus far, Uruguay’s marijuana law has come into play in recent days, with both Vazquez and Lacalle Pou mentioning it in remarks to the press. Last week, the FA candidate remarked to newsmagazine Busqueda that he saw the law’s provisions on commercial sales in pharmacies as “unheard of,” though he said he would continue to implement it while carefully evaluating its effects.  And as El Pais reports, in a Wednesday interview he again put some distance between himself and the law, remarking that commercial sales could potentially put pharmacies at risk of criminal attacks.  Lacalle Pou, for his part, confirmed to Reuters on Wednesday if elected president he would present a bill to end sales in pharmacies, restricting it to home-growing and cannabis clubs.
  • In the latest twist in the case of the 43 missing students from Mexico’s Guerrero state, Guerrero Governor Angel Aguirre Rivero has stepped aside to allow the state legislature to choose his successor, Animal Politico and the AP report.
  • News site Plaza Publica has an interview with the head of Honduras’ National Anti-corruption Council, Gabriela Castellanos Lanza. Since taking office she has made a name for herself as a committed champion against abuse of public funds and criminal influence in government.
  • InSight Crime’s David Gagne offers his take on Guatemala’s recent government-commissioned civil society report on potential drug policy reforms.  In his estimation, the report’s lack of “state regulation or at least decriminalization of marijuana” represents a step backward from Guatemala’s position as a main advocate for a new approach to drugs in the hemisphere.
  • The government of Venezuela yesterday announced the discovery of warehouses packed with food and medical goods that had been meant to illegally smuggle into neighboring Colombia, which President Nicolas Maduro held up as an example of what he has in the past called an “economic war” being waged against the country.  He also said he would use decree powers to raise the maximum jail sentence for smugglers to 14 years, Ultimas Noticias reports.
  • The Dominican government officially gave a response to the recently-published Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling on its citizenship and immigration practices yesterday. As El Listin Diario reports, government spokesperson Roberto Rodriguez Marchena told reporters that the administration of President Danilo Medina “rejects” the sentence even as it continues to adhere to the Inter-American human rights system. According to Rodriguez, the government views the decision as a violation of a state’s sovereign right to decide its own citizenship requirements, enshrined in international law.
  • But while the Medina government claims to respect the American Convention, the court’s ruling has fueled arguments among Dominican lawmakers arguing in favor of withdrawing recognition of its jurisdiction. This includes spokesmen of both major parties -- Medina’s PLD and the PRD -- in the lower house, according to El Dia.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Inter-American Court Rules Against Dominican 'Denationalization'

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Dominican Republic is guilty of systematically deporting individuals of Haitian descent on a discriminatory basis, and that it must take steps to invalidate last year’s controversial ruling that left thousands of people effectively stateless.

Yesterday, the court published its ruling on “Expelled Dominican and Haitian people v. Dominican Republic,” condemning the D.R. for human rights violations committed against Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the 1990s. During this time the court found that tens of thousands of people had been made victims of arbitrary detention and expulsion, violating their rights to a nationality, to recognition as a person before the law and to freedom of movement and residence as laid out in the American Convention.

The decision has been a long time coming. The case is based on a petition first submitted on behalf of 27 victims to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in late 1999, which the Commission passed the case on to the Court after issuing its own recommendations in 2012.

But while the case focuses on violations that took place from 1990 to 2000, yesterday’s sentence goes beyond the specific facts involved, as Acento, Listin Diario and Spanish news agency EFE note.

On top of ordering the D.R. to sort out the legal documentation of the 27 victims, the court took aim at the 2013 Dominican Supreme Court decision that left the legal residency and citizenship status of as many as 250,000 people in doubt. In its recommendations, the court asserts that Dominican authorities should “adopt internal legal measures” to annul the 2013 domestic court ruling, as well as sections of a controversial May 2014 law meant to implement it.

Specifically, the Inter-American Court ruled that the D.R. should “take appropriate steps to void any rules of any kind; whether constitutional, legal, regulatory or administrative; as well as any practice, decision or interpretation; which establishes or has as its effect that the illegal presence of foreign parents causes the denial of Dominican nationality to persons born in the territory of the Dominican Republic.”

This is a significant victory for Dominican civil society groups that have advocated for the rights of Haitians and people of Haitian descent in the country. Because the Dominican Republic has accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court since early 1999, the ruling is legally binding. In fact, Article 74 of the Dominican Constitution establishes that in the event of a contradiction between a national court ruling and an international one, the ruling that is most favorable to individual rights-holders takes wins out.

However, in practice the Inter-American Court ruling is unlikely to bring any change, at least in the short term. As human rights expert Julia Harrington Reddy has noted, a similar judgment in 2005 went virtually ignored and did nothing to prevent last year’s Supreme Court ruling.

In a press conference last night, a spokesman for President Danilo Medina told reporters that the government would need time to analyze the 160-page ruling, but would likely present an official response to the decision by Friday.

News Briefs
  • The AP looks at the support for Brazilian presidential challengers Aecio Neves and Dilma Rousseff among lower middle class voters. Many analysts believe Rousseff’s aggressive marketing has given her an edge among this demographic, taking advantage of Neves’ image as defender of elite interests.
  • In an excellent article for Foreign Policy, Rio-based journalist Miriam Wells explains why regardless of which presidential candidate wins on Sunday, they will have to work with the PMDB legislative bloc in order to govern effectively. As she notes, the PMDB’s long-standing influence and flexibility on ideological issues has effectively turned the party into a political kingmaker.
  • Brazil is not the only country in the hemisphere that will be holding elections on Sunday. Uruguay’s general election is also slated for October 26, though polls indicate that the presidential race will go to a runoff between the ruling Frente Amplio’s Tabare Vazquez and National Party candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou. As the campaigns come to a close, the three leading pollsters have released their final polls ahead of the vote. El Pais and Subrayado have good overviews of the three ( Equipos Mori: Frente Amplio 43.6%, National Party 33.4%, Colorado Party 15.1 and Independent Party 3.1%; Cifra: FA 43%, PN 32%, PC 18% y PI 3.3%; and Factum FA 44%, PN 32%, PC 15% y PI 3%), with most analysts agreeing that the ruling coalition will lose its legislative majority and that the second round presidential race is still too close to call.
  • On Tuesday, Chile’s lower house voted to approve an education reform bill presented by President Michelle Bachelet, as La Tercera reported.The Wall Street Journal  has more on the details of the bill, which will end student copayments, prevent for-profit schools from receiving state money, and eliminate restrictive admission policies.
  • Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam yesterday confirmed reports that Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca had ordered corrupt police to detain protesting students in the town last month, out of concerns that they would disrupt a speech by his wife. Karam also said that the mayor received payments of between $150,000-$220,000 from the local criminal gang, Guerreros Unidos.
  • The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), which has been contracted to help Mexican authorities identify the remains found in the mass graves being uncovered in Guerrero, has cast doubt on the methods used by official Mexican forensic researchers. Animal Politico reports that because of potential procedural errors, two members of the EAAF told the news site that the Mexican government cannot be entirely sure that none of the 30 bodies located thus far belong to the missing students.
  • The Venezuelan government has begun implementing a controversial plan to fight food and good shortages by requiring individuals buying staples like milk, rice, coffee, toothpaste, chicken and detergent to scan their fingerprints to ensure they are not stocking up.  The WSJ describes this as rationing, asserting that Venezuela has now “joined the ranks of North Korea and Cuba.”