Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chile Presidential Race Kicks Off With Cabinet Shuffle

While the elections in the United States have come to an end, Chile’s presidential race is just beginning, despite the fact that Chileans have more than a year to go before they head to the polls. La Tercera reports that President Sebastian Piñera announced changes to his cabinet on Monday in order to allow two ministers with presidential aspirations to step down. 

Public Works Minister Laurence Golborne and Defense Minister Andres Allamand both declared they would be resigning in order to prepare for the November 17, 2013 elections. Reuters notes that the two are seen as “the right's best chance to retain the presidency” in the face of widespread discontent with the Piñera administration and the ruling conservative coalition, the Alliance for Chile. Right-wing parties in the country were roundly defeated by liberal and leftist candidates in recent local elections, and opinion surveys show Piñera has a 27 percent approval rating, the lowest of any president since the country’s return to democracy in 1990.

Golborne, who gained national fame for his role in the rescue of 33 trapped miners in 2010, has a decisive edge over Allamand, with polls showing the former leading by 9 percent to 3 percent. Both are trailing the presumed Concertacion nomination, former president Michelle Bachelet, who currently has a 50 percent approval rating although she has not yet officially declared her candicacy. Even if Bachelet does decide to run, however, her victory is not necessarily guaranteed. Some 60 percent of Chileans abstained from voting in the recent elections, a sign that mnay in the country may be fed up with traditional politicians on both the left and right.

Considering Piñera’s overwhelming unpopularity, Golborne’s chances at victory likely ride on on him distancing himself from the president and his controversial economic policies. In an interview with La Tercera, Golborne said that Piñera’s emphasis on development in strict macroeconomic terms was “a tremendous error,” stressing the importance of a more holistic view of economic progress. “People don’t just aspire to a greater GDP, but to a more humane and supportive society. You don’t just do things based on a government programme written in an institute, inside four walls; you have to listen to the aspirations of real people and speak truthfully,” he said.

As the Financial Times notes, this is likely at least partially in reference to fallout from allegations that the Piñera administration fudged its poverty statistics in order to make it look as if the country’s poverty rate had fallen rather than stagnated. 

News Briefs

  • Caracol Radio compares the lackluster attitudes of many in Latin America towards the U.S. presidential election with the optimism in the wake of President Obama’s first election in 2008, noting that there is little difference between Obama and Romney in their foreign policy towards the region. In an interview, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza told the news agency he believed the elections would bring very few “fundamental changes” to U.S.-Latin America relations, although he noted that an Obama victory would come as a blow to the anti-Castro lobby.
  • Representatives of Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government held the first of a series of preliminary meetings in Havana, Cuba yesterday. In a potentially hopeful sign, both parties met face to face without any intermediaries present, according to the AFP. El Tiempo reports that the FARC also released a statement questioning the lack of citizen participation in the talks, and asking the government to clarify the ways in which civil society can take part in the negotiations. Official talks between the two groups will begin on November 15, the results of which Semana claims will ultimately determine the success or failure of the peace process.
  • The AFP has an exclusive, Spanish interview with the FARC’s high-profile Dutch member, Tanja Nijmeijer. Nijmeijer, who has been with the FARC for the past decade, expressed her hope for “peace with social justice” in Colombia, and offers insight into the daily life of those in the guerrilla army.
  • In response to the damage Hurricane Sandy inflicted on eastern Cuba, the United Nations World Food Program announced yesterday that it will work with the Cuban government to provide a month’s food rations to nearly half a million residents in and around the city of Santiago. The government estimates that nearly 200,000 homes were destroyed by the hurricane, and 36 percent of Santiago residents are still without power.
  • IPS features an in-depth look at the day-to-day struggles of workers in Mexico, noting that despite oft-repeated concerns about the political clout of unions in the country, just 9 percent of wage-earning workers in Mexico are unionized. Meanwhile, Milenio reports that the country’s Chamber of Deputies has moved to delay debate on the controversial labor reform bill by a day in order to hammer out its provisions on union democracy and collective bargaining.
  • Puerto Rico held a historic referendum on its political status yesterday, with 53 percent of Puerto Ricans voting in favor of altering the island’s status as a U.S. territory. Of those, the AP reports that 65 percent support a bid for statehood.
  • From Brazil, BBC Mundo’s Gerardo Lissardy highlights the factors behind a recent outbreak of violence in Sao Paulo, namely the police force’s more militarized approach to the city’s main street gang, the “Primeiro Comando da Capital.”
  • Over at Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog, David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz profile the different mobilization strategies used by the Chavez campaign and the opposition in the October 7th elections, and offer some predictions about the upcoming regional elections in December.
  • The government of Paraguay has announced that it will officially recognize a Guarani language academy, making it the first accredited indigenous language school in the Americas, according to Ultima Hora.

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