Monday, February 18, 2013

Correa Wins Third Term, Dedicates Victory to Chavez

With more than 74 percent of ballots counted, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has declared victory in the country’s presidential elections. In his second re-election since taking office in 2007, Correa won some 56 percent of the vote, compared to 22 percent for his closest rival, Guillermo Lasso.

Because Correa’s victory in yesterday’s elections was never really in doubt, he dedicated much of his campaign to building support for candidates of his Alianza Pais party in the National Assembly. While the party currently controls 42 percent of the legislature, Correa is hoping to gain an absolute majority. El Comercio reports that Alianza Pais appears poised to pick up seats, though it is still too early to tell.

In his victory speech last night, Correa dedicated his win to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, his friend and ally. "Let us take the opportunity to dedicate this victory to that great Latin American leader who changed Venezuela, and wish him a speedy recovery and the best future for his country," Correa said in a news conference.

The comment seems almost designed to fuel comparisons between Correa and the ailing Venezuelan leader, which the international press has made with increasing regularity lately. A Reuters report last week suggested that Correa’s victory could see him replacing Chavez as “the region's agent provocateur,” and the AP notes that Correa could become the “next standard-bearer of Latin America’s left.” But while he has been a vocal critic of U.S. interests in Latin America, the Ecuadoran president has explicitly denied having any interest in being a regional leader.

Domestically, Correa has vowed to deepen his “citizens’ revolution,” aimed at improving access to social welfare programs in the country which have already lifted tens of thousands out of poverty. The president has also proposed reforming the distribution of land ownership.

While some accuse his economic policies of being unsustainable, the Center for Economic Policy’s Mark Weisbrot writes a convincing defense of Correa in The Guardian, arguing that the country’s economic indicators suggest Correa has been more pragmatic  than his critics claim.

News Briefs
  • Speaking of Chavez, the Venezuelan leader finally returned to Caracas early this morning after more than two months of medical treatment in Cuba. The president announced his arrival via his personal Twitter account, saying "we will continue our treatment here." Chavez’s return is surprising given that the Venezuelan government has seemingly adopted a less optimistic tone when speaking about his recovery. The government released the first photos of him after his operation on Friday, which showed the ailing leader confined to a hospital bed.
  • The Washington Post published an analysis of Cuba’s “outsized role” in Venezuela on Sunday, highlighting concern among some sectors in the South American country that the Cuban government is becoming too influential there. While the article may have lost some relevance in light of Chavez’s return, it provides a helpful overview of the military and political ties that have grown between Cuba and Venezuela in recent years.
  • After the Brazilian Senate voted earlier this month to appoint Renan Calheiros as president of the legislative body, public indignation broke out in the country because the appointment was seen as a sign of lingering corruption in the legislative branch. An online petition calling for his impeachment has gathered 1.5 million signatures (more than one percent of the electorate) in the last ten days. The groundswell of criticism has forced Calheiros, who stepped down as leader of the Senate in 2007 amid corruption allegations, to respond. In a statement to the press yesterday, the senator downplayed support for the petition, saying “the number of signatures is not as important as its message,” and promising to make Congress more responsive to the public.
  • The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) successfully released the last of their captured security force prisoners to the Colombian government over the weekend. Despite logistical hiccups last Thursday, two police were turned over on Friday, and a soldier was released on Saturday, El Tiempo reports. All three operations were overseen by the International Community of the Red Cross and former Senator Piedad Cordoba.
  • The captives’ release comes just in time for the beginning of the next round of peace talks between Colombian rebels and the government in Havana. In the last round, which came to a close on February 10, the government negotiating team showed growing impatience with the FARC, accusing the guerrillas of adding items to dialogue that were not previously agreed upon.
  • InSight Crime’s Steven Dudley looks at the December murder of a Guatemalan businessman and several government officials, arguing that the incident points to the substantial links between organized crime and the country’s economic and political elites.
  • El Salvador’s El Faro reports that the country’s Legislative Assembly passed a controversial bill on Friday which allows politicians to receive multi-million dollar campaign donations without disclosing their source. Fortunately, President Mauricio Funes has decided to veto the bill.
  • Mexico’s Deputy Interior Minister Roberto Campa told reporters last week that his country will ask the U.S. to set aside more of the $1.9 billion Merida Initiative specifically for social programs, the AP reports. According to Campa only about 2 percent of the funds go to programs aimed at outreach and violence prevention.  
  • While the five commissioners of Mexico’s public transparency agency, the Institute of Access to Information and Protection of Data (IFAI), were scheduled to testify before the Mexican Senate today over allegations of mismanagement, their hearing has been postponed until February 25, OEM reports. This comes as the country’s Chamber of Deputies is considering a bill which would dismiss and replace the commissioners, a process that some believe would damage the IFAI’s impartiality.
  • After residents of the the Cañaris district in Peru’s northern Lambayeque region voted to suspend protests against a proposed copper mining project in the area until after an upcoming meeting with government and company officials on March 2, La Republica reports that locals are organizing an indefinite  series of demonstrations to begin on March 25.
  • One month ahead of the March 17 referendum of Lima Mayor Susana Villaran, the latest survey by Ipsos Apoyo suggests that the mayor will not face a recall election, finding that 58 percent of Lima residents support Villaran compared to 42 who believe she should be ousted.
  • Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, who was granted a passport under Cuba’s new travel rules last month, has begun the first leg of an international three-month speaking tour. Sanchez left Cuba yesterday for Brazil, where she is expected to appear at the screening of a documentary on press freedom, the AP reports. Sanchez is also slated to visit New York and Washington DC next month, according to the Miami Herald. 
  • Pagina12 reports on the Uruguayan Supreme Court’s recent decision to move a judge off of several dictatorship-era human rights cases. While the Court maintains that the decision was simply legal protocol, many suspect it was made in response to political pressure from the military.

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