Monday, May 21, 2012

Ruling Party Keeps Power in Dominican Republic Vote

The governing Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) looks set to stay in power in the Dominican Republic, as its candidate Danilo Medina seems to have won the election in the first round.

The polls closed at 6 pm Sunday. In its eighth bulletin, issued in the early hours of this morning, the electoral council said that, with 94.35 percent of the vote counted, Medina had 51.30 percent, reports La Nacion Dominicana. His rival, former President Hipolito Mejia of the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), was on 49.91. If either candidate gains more than 50 percent of the vote, then they win the election in the first round. Medina is set to be named as the winner in the coming hours, according to the newspaper.

The other candidates lagged far behind, with none gaining more than 1.4 percent.

The vice presidential candidate of runner-up Mejia, Luis Abinader, said there had been irregularities in the vote, and that his party would give a report on them on Monday,reports the Miami Herald. The party has accused the electoral council itself of carrying out fraud on Medina’s behalf.

The Organization of American States said however that isolated incidents of vote-buying had not been enough to change the outcome, calling the vote a success. TheAssociated Press reports that elections appeared  to go smoothly, with voters forming orderly lines at the booths. One civil society observer said that both main parties had been buying votes on a large scale, according to the AP.

Current President Leonel Fernandez was blocked from standing again, after serving two consecutive four year terms. He also held office from 1996 to 2000, with Mejia taking power 2000-2004.

The Miami Herald characterizes Medina as the stability candidate, and Mejia, who lost office amid a 2004 economic crisis, as a “garrulous populist.” Reuters says there is little difference between the two candidates, both of whose parties have leftist roots, but both of which now favor open markets and a close relationship with the US.

The Wall Street Journal reports on voting difficulties for Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.

News Briefs

  • Semana magazine examines the case of Colombian politician Sigifredo Lopez,who was arrested last week accused of collaborating with FARC rebels in the 2002 kidnapping of himself and 11 colleagues. The provincial lawmakers were kidnapped from a government building in the center of Cali by a group of rebels, who posed as a military unit evacuating them over a bomb threat. All Lopez’s fellow captives were killed in 2009 when the rebels holding them mistook another FARC unit for the army, and executed their hostages. The FARC has a policy of killing prisoners if the government tries to launch a rescue attempt. Lopez says he survived because he was being held separately as a punishment for arguing with the rebels.
    Semana asks why, if Lopez planned the abduction, he would have then faked his own kidnap and stayed in the jungle with the rebels for nearly seven years. It also notes that since his release Lopez has been accused of taking money from a right-wing neo-paramilitary group to fund political campaigns, something that would seem to clash with an alliance with the left-wing rebels. A guerrilla boss who is accusing Lopez of collaborating in the kidnap, meanwhile, has changed his story several times.
    Semana says that Colombians tend to turn their backs on kidnap victims, noting the deep unpopularity of Ingrid Betancourt and the difficulties former captives often face in restarting their lives after they are freed.
    Lopez maintains that he is innocent. His arrest comes after pieces of video recording which allegedly show him giving the rebels information to help with the abduction were found on the computers of slain FARC leader “Alfonso Cano.” Semana says that, if Lopez is shown to have been involved in the kidnapping, “Colombians will be able to say that we still have not hit rock bottom.” The NYT, meanwhile, says the story is “emblematic of the senseless brutality of this country’s long conflict.”
  • The NYT has published a piece describing the horror of a drug raid in Honduras, backed by the DEA, which killed four people on May 11. It describes the death of a 14-year-old boy, dressed in new clothes for a trip into a village on the Mosquito Coast, who was shot dead in front of his mother, along with two pregnant woman and a man. According to US officials, these people, all seated in a boat, were “probably” involved in the drug trade. The Honduran government has said that it is hard to believe that the dead were innocent, because their boat was out on the river in the early hours of the morning, next to a boat that was carrying cocaine. A Honduran Army investigation has concluded, however, that the victims were innocent. Both the Honduran and US governments maintain that US agents did not fire. The NYT piece, which lets the victims of the attack give their side of the story, follows sharp criticismof the newspaper’s previous coverage of the incident, as noted in Friday’s post.
  • A fourth high-ranking Mexican army official was detained last week over accusations that they were involved with the Beltran Leyva Organization, a drug trafficking organization. The NYT says that some analysts have questioned the timing of the arrests, which concern events from last decade and come weeks before the presidential election.
  • The Mexican army has arrested a leader of the Zetas drug gang over the murder of 49 people whose mutilated bodies were left on a highway outside the northern city of Monterrey last weekend. Daniel Jesus Elizondo, alias “El Loco” was arrested Friday, but the capture was only announced Sunday. The local authorities initially accused the Zetas of being responsible for the killing, but public banners signed in the name of the group in the days after the massacre denied that they were involved, and suggested that they were being framed by rivals, as InSight Crime discusses. This theory seemed to be confirmed when the authorities arrested several alleged members of the rival Gulf Cartel, but the new arrest throws it into question once more. 
  • The NYT has a piece on the regeneration of the city of Medellin, Colombia, noting the work that architectural projects have done to raise the city’s image and help cut crime. One recent example is a 1,300 foot escalator going up the hillside in one of the more dangerous neighborhoods of the city, which is helping make the lives of residents easier and connect them to the center.“Architecture alone obviously doesn’t account for the drop in homicides, but the two aren’t unrelated, either,” says the NYT. The city’s utility provider, EPM, is legally has to provide water and electricity to all houses, including those illegally built in hillside slums. This means that “unlike in Bogota, where the worst barrios lack basic amenities, in Medellin there’s a safety net.”
    With slideshow.
  • The NYT reports that the Cuban government’s suggestions of reform to tight restrictions on who can leave the country have raised hopes among residents of the island, and says this could be a milestone in Raul Castro’s reform efforts. It notes, however, that “Cubans question whether the government will part with such a lucrative bureaucracy or risk letting go health workers whose overseas missions earn Cuba billions of dollars each year.”
  • The LA Times reports on the arrest of Victor Emilio Cazares, an alleged Sinaloa Cartel operative captured at a Mexican checkpoint in April, despite having changed his appearance with plastic surgery.
  • Haitian authorities have cracked down on irregular armed groups calling for the restitution of the country’s army. Two US citizens were among those jailed for marching in support of the new army, reports the WSJ.
  • The NYT profiles Brazilian soccer player-turned-politician Romario de Souza Faria who has held a seat in Congress since 2010, campaigning hard for the rights of disabled people.

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