Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mexico's Left Picks Controversial Candidate to Run Again for President

Mexico’s coalition of left-leaning parties, including the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), picked former 2006 presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to be their 2012 contender. Reuters reports that Lopez Obrador won an internal opinion poll which pitted him against popular Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebard. "The left divided will just fall into the precipice. I accept the results of this poll. I am loyal,” Ebrad said in a press conference, according to the LA Times.

For now it appears various left-leaning parties -- including the Labor Party and Movimiento Ciuadano -- are prepared to accept Lopez Obrador, rather than experience more infighting among the left. A previous internal election in the PRD was so dysfunctional the vote could not be completed in five states, due to trouble from an internal party faction, as Gancho documented at the time. The AP reports that Lopez Obrador said his first priority is uniting the Mexican left, marked by strife for much of this year, with some elements arguing for an alliance with President Felipe Calderon’s party, the PAN, in order to have a better chance in the 2012 presidential elections. As summarized by NACLA, much of the internal squabbling involved Ebard loyalists against Lopez Obrador supporters, a quarrel may not be put to rest even after Ebard announced he will not fight the survey’s outcome, and Lopez Obrador’s contention that he would have accepted an Ebard candidacy. Considering the PRD finished third in the Michoacan state elections held last Sunday, a state where they have held sway for a decade, the outlook for the left next year looks increasingly dim.

Uniting the left is only the first obstacle that awaits Obrador as he seeks to close the gap in the polls between him and Enrique Peña Nieto, the presumed candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). According to one October poll, Peña Nieto would beat Obrador in a presidential election by 23 points. While Lopez Obrador remains the candidate of choice among Mexico’s fractured left, there are signs he will have trouble winning a broader majority, partly due to memories of the hotly contested 2006 presidential elections. Lopez Obrador accused Calderon of winning the vote by fraud, and his supporters carried out huge protests in Mexico City for weeks. These tactics -- which included blocking major city highway La Reforma -- did not prove popular, while President Calderon’s assault against the drug cartels, launched just 10 days after he assumed office, provided another distraction from Lopez Obrador’s complaints. Other strategies used by Lopez Obrador to raise his political profile -- such as convening a shadow government in Mexico City, which proposed its own set of laws and continued to meet even three years after the 2006 elections -- also may have damaged his reputation. According to one poll, 35% of Mexicans view the politician in a negative light.

According to the Wall Street Journal, an October survey shows the PRI has 40% support, compared with the PRD (16%) and the PAN (21%), with seven months to go until the presidential vote on July 1. More analysis on how the Lopez Obrador pick over Ebard makes little sense for the PRD from Bloggings by Boz.

News Briefs
  • Guatemala approved the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo to the U.S., where he is accused of money laundering, reports the AP. Blog Central American Politics notes that Portillo’s administration stands accused of embezzling more than $550 million between 2000 and 2004. The blog then argues that given the extent of Portillo’s misconduct, ElPeriodico’s criticism of the corruption seen under President Alvaro Colom, while welcome, should be taken in context. More on Portillo’s extradition from ElPeriodico and the BBC.
  • Colombia’s largest rebel group the FARC announced the selection of their new top leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverry, alias “Timochenko,” once the group’s third-in-command and head of counter-intelligence. InSight Crime profiles the rebel leader, noting that he has more of a military background than slain commander “Alfonso Cano.” Timochenko once commanded the Middle Magdalena Bloc, the FARC faction which once had to do some of the toughest fighting with right-wing paramilitary groups in northern Colombia. Analysis from InSight Crime notes that Timochenko’s history of battling with the AUC may have contributed to his radicalism, and means the Colombian government will have little chance of successfully pressuring him to enter peace dialogues. Security forces may have a tougher time killing or capturing Timochenko, compared with Cano: he operates mainly in Venezuela, while the computer files seized from slain FARC commander Raul Reyes suggested that Timochenko has ties to corrupt elements in the Venezuelan security forces. Meanwhile, Verdad Abierta has a complimentary article on the government’s three-year hunt for Cano, and the painstaking efforts to infiltrate the FARC leader’s inner circle with undercover intelligence agents.
  • The Washington Post reports on kidnapping in Venezuela with 1,050 cases recorded so far this year, according to government statistics. With 282 kidnappings recorded last year in Colombia, Venezuela now has the highest abduction rate in the region, the newspaper reports. Even Venezuela’s Chilean consul was reportedly shot during a recent attempted abduction, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • The Cato Institute released a new policy analysis on Mexico’s drug conflict, concluding that the best way to undermine the power of Mexico’s criminal organizations is the “full legalization (including the manufacture and sale) of currently illegal drugs.”
  • McClatchy profiles Nicaragua’s police chief, apparently enjoying the same levels of political and popular support as another comparative police commander in the hemisphere, Colombia’s Oscar Naranjo. Another profile from the LA Times focuses on a Roman Catholic nun who is also one of Mexico’s top human rights crusaders.
  • Reuters has two enlightening reports on Guatemala’s new president Otto Perez. One examines his formative years in the military, where he emerged as a leader among the “tight-knit” group of officers who graduated in 1969. According to Reuters, Perez formed part of a relatively “progressive” group of officers who pushed the military towards reform and democracy. During the 1982 military dictatorship, Perez was arrested then quickly released, due to government fears that the progressive officer could plot against dictator General Efrain Rios Montt. The other Reuters report examines Perez’s human rights record when he commanded a military unit in one of Guatemala’s most conflict-heavy areas during the 1980s civil war.
  • Time reports on a movement across Latin America which sees child labourers organizing and lobbying for their right to work under improved job conditions.
  • The New York Times examines what the presidency of Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff means for women’s rights in the country, where women are now serving in several top cabinet positions and hold leading roles in many of Brazil’s most powerful businesses.
  • Plaza Publica reports on the DEA elite squad operating in Guatemala, one of the military-trained commando units known as FAST units expanded from serving in Afghanistan to Latin America.
  • The Latin American Herald Tribune summarizes the findings of Brazilian police as they continue security operations in Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela, Rocinha.
  • Global Post on how Colombia’s free trade agreement with the U.S. could affect one of its primary export businesses: flowers.
  • Foreign Policy examines the four presidential candidates who represent Venezuela’s opposition, noting that none have ties to the “old-line” parties which were so crucial to President Hugo Chavez’s rise to power.