Monday, July 18, 2011

Support for Humala Slips in Wake of Corruption Scandal

Just ten days before he will take office, Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala is facing mounting criticism over his brother Alexis Humala’s visit to Russia earlier this month.  According to El Comercio, a new Ipsos Apoyo poll puts Humala’s voter approval rating at 40 percent, down from 70 percent in June. The poll also found that 77 percent of those surveyed felt that Alexis wanted to use his ties to the president-elect to seek personal benefit from a series of meetings with Russian investors, and that 60 percent of Peruvians suspect that the incoming president knew of this trip.

During Alexis’ visit, Reuters reported that he met with representatives of Gazprom, the state-owned Russian oil company, and claimed to be in the country as a “special representative of the President-elect of the Republic of Peru.” He also met with other major Russian companies, in an apparent effort to secure investment in energy, fishing and tourism.

President-elect Humala, for his part, called his brother’s visit a “big mistake,” and said he alone will have to assume responsibility for his actions in Russia. As La Republica reports, he has denied having any knowledge of the trip, and claims that he explicitly warned his family not to expect preferential treatment. "I have told my family that the best way to help a president is by letting him work and not to take advantage, much less to believe that being related will give them privilege over other citizens,” he said.

Although it is hardly encouraging that his first major corruption scandal has occurred before even taking office, Humala has made some political choices recently that seem designed to rein in criticism. Most notably, he announced yesterday that current Central Bank President Julio Velarde will remain in his post for another five-year, a move which will further investor confidence in the new administration.  Additionally, Humala’s visit to Washington earlier this month resulted in the U.S. expressing a reaffirmed commitment to aiding Peru’s fight against drug trafficking, effectively invalidating speculation that the president-elect would be “soft on drugs” due to connections between his party and legal coca growers’ unions in the country.

After heading to Venezuela on Friday for a brief meeting “as a friend” with Hugo Chavez, Humala is in Mexico today and has declared his intentions to meet with Raul Castro in Cuba on Tuesday, El Comercio reports. He will return to Peru on July 20, and is expected to announce the rest of his cabinet appointments then.

News Briefs

·         AP has a long report on the ongoing war between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas in the industrial city of Monterrey, which the wire agency says is “is fast becoming a new Ciudad Juarez.” Monterrey is on track to experience twice as many drug-related homicides as last year, and three times as many as the year before that. 

·         El Universal reports that authorities have arrested 20 suspects in the March murder of poet and anti-violence activist Javier Sicilia’s son in Mexico. Sicilia has expressed gratitude for the investigation, but has also used the occasion to denounce the fact that only two percent of reported crimes are ever solved in the country.

·         El Salvador’s Diario de Hoy reports that some elements of the FMLN are considering pursuing constitutional reform in the country, including some of its provisions which are considered –like the ban on re-election—to be “untouchable.”

·         Francisco Mauricio Martinez of Prensa Libre asks why no URNG guerrillas have been prosecuted for human rights violations in Guatemala.  While there have been documented instances of the guerrillas committing abuses (including massacres and kidnappings) during the country’s civil war, trials against former guerrillas have been few and far between.  As Michael Allison points out at Central American Politics, however, this is most likely due to the fact that the guerrillas committed fewer (3% of the total) and far less egregious violations.

·         The Economist argues that Panama must tackle the entrenched level of corruption in the country if it hopes to sustain its rapid economic growth. From 2005 to 2010 the country enjoyed the fastest growth rate in the hemisphere, but the article claims that if the rule of law is not strengthened in Panama, it runs the risk of “becoming the next Mexico rather than the next Singapore.

·         Honduran President Porfirio Lobo met with his Dominican counterpart Leonel Fern├índez in the latter country to discuss security on Friday. EFE reports that Fern├índez expressed criticism of the level of security funding from the U.S., saying “it would be better if they gave us nothing instead of giving us too little.”

·         Time Magazine highlights the security situation in Colombia, where the conflict is becoming increasingly altered by the FARC’s use of sniping, bombing and sabotage attacks.  The article cites InSight Crime’s Jerry McDermott, who claims that the rebels are becoming increasingly reliant on the 30,000 or so members of urban militia support groups.

·         Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has returned to Cuba to receive chemotherapy, despite rumors that he would seek treatment in Brazil, AP reports. The Christian Science Monitor and MercoPress note that the leader has transferred some (but not all) of his duties to his vice-president and finance minister in his absence, leading to further speculation about Vice President Jaua’s capacity to lead the country.

·          BBC and AFP report that Ecuador has temporarily banned the sale of alcoholic beverages after 23 people died as a result of drinking bootleg liquor in Los Rios province.

·         In the wake of President Garcia’s construction of a giant, Rio-esque statue of Christ overlooking Lima, AP says that a number of Peruvians are viewing it as a sign of growing Brazilian clout. In addition to Brazil’s historic investment of $1 billion in Peru last year, the article cites a laundry list of Brazilian influences in Peruvian politics, all in all making a convincing case.

·         Meanwhile, the L.A. Times reports that while Chinese demand for Brazilian goods has helped fuel Brazil’s economy, its reliance on commodities is causing some experts to express pessimism about the sustainability of the South American nation’s growth.

·         The Associated Press highlights the budding demand for crack cocaine in Brazil, which is becoming a major problem in the country’s urban slums.  In Sao Paolo, police seizures of crack went from 595 kilos in 2006 to 1,636 kilos in 2009, a nearly 275 percent increase.

·         Argentine economists who express doubt over official inflation figures are facing lawsuits by the government, which says that their speculation is damaging the country, Al Jazeera reports.