Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Colombia's Uribe to Launch New Political Party

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has announced that he has officially broken with the country’s ruling National Unity Party, and will be starting a new political party, called the Democratic Center. While Uribe had previously formed a “Pure Democratic Center” movement in July as a coalition of the few National Unity Party members who continued to support him over current President Juan Manuel Santos, he originally stated that he had no desire to convert it into a political party. However it seems that the escalating conflict between Uribe and Santos, his former defense minister, may have changed his mind.

The announcement was made on Monday following a Bogota meeting between Uribe and several of his longtime conservative allies, which El Espectador describes as a conference of “pure-blood” Uribistas. According to a press statement, the Democratic Center will be based on a “participatory, inclusive and impartial" platform, and will field candidates in the upcoming 2014 congressional and presidential elections.

Uribe himself is widely expected to run for a senate seat in 2014, but has not yet officially declared his intent. The Democratic Center will be holding a party rally on January 31 in the northern city of Santa Marta, and his supporters are hoping that Uribe will announce his candidacy then.

Despite the new party’s ostensibly centrist ambitions, Caracol Radio reports that the leaders of the other major Colombian political parties distrust the Democratic Center, and have ruled out the possibility of joining it in a coalition. Colombian Green Party President Alfonso Prada told reporters that he believed the party’s name was misleading, and said he viewed it as an attempt by conservative Uribistas to fool voters.

Still, polls indicate that the former president remains popular among moderate Colombians, and a presidential candidate backed by Uribe could represent a serious threat to Santos’ re-election bid in 2014. Silla Vacia notes that while Santos currently has the advantage over a potential Uribista challenger in terms of funding, name recognition and support from the media, it will be difficult for him to beat Uribe’s populist charisma.

Should Santos lose to an Uribista in 2014, it may present an obstacle to the country’s peace process. Even though Santos has set a November 2013 deadline for FARC guerrillas to reach an accord with his government, some rebels would doubtlessly find it difficult to believe that an Uribe-backed government would fully honor a treaty signed by the previous administration (especially considering Uribe’s criticism of peace talks and his alleged paramilitary links).


News Briefs
  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s health seems to be improving steadily, at least according to the government. Newly-appointed Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, who visited Chavez in Havana on Monday, said that the president was in good spirits, and that two “shared laughter and jokes.” The Associated Press interviewed the president’s younger brother, Argenis Chavez, and quoted him as saying that Chavez would be returning to Venezuela “in the coming days,” although Argenis has publicly denied making the claim, as El Nacional reports.
  • Inter-American Dialogue Program Director Margaret Myers offers an interesting look at China’s response to Venezuela’s uncertain political future, arguing that it demonstrates how the Asian nation has developed a more cautious, measured approach to “risky” investments in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto unveiled plans to eradicate extreme poverty in Mexico yesterday, launching a “national crusade against hunger” in the country. La Jornada reports that the campaign will focus on 400 of the poorest municipalities in Mexico, and is based partially on the success of anti-poverty initiatives in Brazil in recent years. El Universal notes that Peña Nieto’s choice to make the announcement in Las Margaritas, Chiapas -- a strong support base of the Zapatista movement -- was not a coincidence.
  • More than 150 local police in the northern Mexico state of Durango were detained in a January 18 operation for ties to organized crime, the AFP reports. Among those arrested were the public security heads of Gomez Palacio and Lerdo, effectively leaving both cities without a law enforcement presence, according to Animal Politico.
  • The LA Times reports on the discovery of an underground aquifer beneath the eastern Mexico City neighborhood of Iztapalapa, which has the potential to ease a water shortage affecting much of the city.
  • El Salvador’s El Faro reports that a second phase of the government-facilitated truce between the MS-13 and Barrio 18 street gangs has received official endorsement. On Friday, the mayors of four cities belonging to both the FMLN and ARENA political parties announced that they will participate in a plan to create “peace zones” in the country, in which the gangs would agree to cease criminal activity and cooperate with official gang prevention, reinsertion and job training programs.
  • In a move likely intended to improve his record on supporting press freedom, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has announced that the government will help subsidize a pay hike for journalists working for small scale media outlets. According to El Comercio, the president (who is currently running for re-election) made the announcement after mandating a minimum wage increase  for journalists in December which forced some media outlets to cut the size of their staff.
  • Although the country is generally known for having some of the most permissive immigration policies due to a constitutional guarantee of “universal citizenship,” the country is now requiring Cuban citizens to present a “letter of invitation” to enter the country. EFE reports that 25 Cubans who sought to take advantage of the government’s recently-announced travel reforms were denied entry into the country on Monday because of the new regulation.
  • An analysis of internet speeds in Cuba suggests that a fiber-optic cable linking the island to Venezuela has finally been connected, after months of reports suggesting that corruption had delayed construction on the project. Still, according to the Miami Herald, Cuba’s internet speed pales in comparison with other countries in the region.  
  • Siglo21 reports that a Guatemalan tribunal meets today to make a final decision on whether or not former dictator Efrain Rios Montt can be successfully tried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.