Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ollanta Humala: South America's 'Great Uniter?'

Ollanta Humala will officially take office as the next President of Peru following an inauguration ceremony in Lima today. According to El Comercio, Humala and his vice president Marisol Espinoza will be sworn in at 10:30 am local time in a Congressional session. As AFP notes, at least 12 Latin American leaders and 109 foreign delegations will be in attendance for the ceremony, which will be followed by meetings of the South American Union (UNASUR) and the Andean Community of Nations (CAN). 
Among the Latin American presidents who will be present at the ceremony are South Americans Rafael Correa (Ecuador), Sebastian Piñera (Chile), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Cristina Fernandez (Argentina), Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia) and José Mujica (Uruguay). Central American leaders Ricardo Martinelli (Panama), Porfirio Lobo (Honduras) and Alvaro Colom (Guatemala) will also attend.  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo will not, as both are currently undergoing cancer treatment. According to Reuters, the latter will instead be going to Brazil to seek chemotherapy. 
As noted in Tuesday’s post, outgoing President Alan Garcia has chosen not to attend the event due to fears that he will be heckled by opponents, as occurred when he left office in 1990 after his first term. La Republica (Spanish) and Andina (English) report that in his last presidential speech last night, Garcia addressed these critics in a backhanded apology, saying he is sorry for offending anyone with his words and actions but that he “forgives them” for opposing his drive to spur growth in the Andean country, “because more important is the fate of Peru and its people.”
After addressing the nation as President for the first time, Humala will then head to the Government Palace, where his new cabinet will be sworn in at noon, followed by an official diplomatic luncheon for the country’s international guests. From there, the new head of state will lead an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of UNASUR, which will also be held at the Palace. Mercopress has more on the UNASUR meeting and suggests that Humala has potential to serve as a “balancing element” in the organization, as his leftist credentials and recent shift to the center could allow him to more easily serve as an intermediary between left and right-oriented governments in the continent.
Next, a CAN summit is scheduled for this evening, where the leaders of Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador will discuss regional issues. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this gathering is the fact that it will be preceded by a brief meeting between Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and Bolivian leader Evo Morales, in which they will discuss their ongoing maritime border dispute. As Reuters notes, the two broke off diplomatic communication in June, after 14 Bolivian soldiers were arrested in Chile near the border for allegedly driving stolen Chilean cars. Morales added to this controversy by decorating the soldiers upon their return.
Although Humala has claimed to have based his center-left leadership model on former Brazilian leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Reuters questions whether his moderate cabinet is even more conservative than the one that Lula assembled in 2003. Meanwhile, the Financial Times blog suggests that Humala’s first test in office will be his negotiations with the mining industry over the restructuring of taxes and royalties on the sector. Despite this speculation, it seems that only the coming months will tell what “Humalismo” will bring to Peru.
News Briefs:
·         El Salvador’s Congress voted to repeal the controversial Decree 743 –which required the Constitutional Court to make rulings unanimously rather than by majority – yesterday, in a vote that included members of all the countries major political parties, La Pagina reports.  As El Faro points out, the bill will now go to President Mauricio Funes, who has previously expressed support for the decree.  Because 57 of the Legislative Assembly’s 84 congressmen voted for the repeal, however, it is likely that they could overcome a potential veto. Meanwhile, IPS reports that the gap between Funes and his FMLN seems to be widening.
 ·         Last week Guatemala’s Plaza Publica hosted an interesting discussion with presidential candidate General Otto Perez, who will likely win the upcoming September elections. The interview covers a wide range of issues, including human rights, security and development. Alarmingly (but not surprisingly), Perez cites ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe as a political influence and expressed opposition to the use of the term “genocide” to describe massacres that occurred during the country’s civil war.
 ·         More details have emerged about the prison riot which broke out in Juarez on Tuesday night. As the AP reports, the inmates involved may not have stolen their weapons from guards for an escape attempt after all.  Instead, it appears that security at the prison was almost laughable, as prisoners had access to weapons and drugs, and may have been partying before the incident.
 ·         The LA Times has released the third part of Richard Malosi’s highly informative four-part series on the activities of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel in the U.S. The latest piece profiles airborne smuggling of drug shipments across the country. 
·         CNN Mexico reports that the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved the nomination of Earl Anthony Wayne on Tuesday, along with 11 other nominations, as the new Ambassador to Mexico. During his hearing last week, Wayne cited the implementation of the Merida Initiative as a major concern, and expressed his hope that the 2012 elections would not hamper the process. Wayne still awaits final confirmation in the Senate.

·         Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who turns 57 today, celebrated his birthday in part by mocking succession rumors, Reuters reports. He has also proposed a new date for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit, which was scheduled for July 5 but postponed due to Chavez’s cancer treatment. EFE says that Chavez has sent letters of invitation to regional heads of state inviting them to attend a new summit on December 9 in Caracas. 
·         Two months after being arrested in Venezuela, FARC member and protest singer Julian Conrado has formally requested political asylum, Venezuelanalysis reports. According to the website, Conrado’s extradition to Colombia has been postponed by a habeas corpus request, and will be delayed while a Venezuelan court investigates murder charges against him.

·         In an exclusive interview with AFP, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has said that he is unaffected by widespread international criticism over his decision to appeal a ruling which mandated that the El Universo newspaper pay $40 million in damages for libel, after the president initially sought $80 million in his initial lawsuit. According to Correa, “Freedom of speech is not freedom from intimidation, extortion, and assault by misinformation.”

·         According to InSight Crime, Brazilian officials have arrested at least 14 members of a militia in Rio de Janeiro, which included a former high-ranking policeman. As O Globo reports, the individuals have been accused of charging a community in the Rio favela of Taquara with extortion fees for water, street maintenenace, and providing “security.”

·         In the wake of a reduction aid from the U.S., the Bolivian government has sought funding for its anti-drug trafficking programs from other countries in the region such as Venezuela and Brazil. Now, it seems that the UK has also pledged to increase support for Bolivia’s efforts.  According to the BBC, the British Minister for Latin America Jeremy Browne has said the Serious Organised Crime Agency in London will coordinate more closely with counter-narcotics police in La Paz.