Thursday, June 20, 2013

Protests Pose Unique Challenge to Brazil's PT

The recent protests in Brazil represent a new threat to the ruling Workers’ Party (PT), which until now has never found itself on the receiving end of mass popular uprisings. As the New York Times’ Simon Romero notes, the PT was “born of protests,” a product of the country’s strong history of organized labor.

But as University of Campinas Professor Marcos Nobre pointed out to the NYT, the party’s hold on the discourse of popular struggle is slipping. “The Workers Party thinks it represents all of the progressive elements in the country, but they’ve been power now for a decade. They’ve done a lot, but they’re now the establishment,” Nobre said.

Romero writes that this growing “disconnect between a growing segment of the population” and the PT was showcased by the decision of Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad -- a rising star in the ruling party -- to refuse to meet with protesters after the first wave of demonstrations on Monday. While Haddad announced yesterday that he would join other mayors in canceling a hike in bus fares, his initial reluctance is a sign that he and others in the PT are becoming out of touch with the populace.

In many ways this is a regional trend. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and others on the Latin American left have, upon taking power, had to confront demonstrations from traditionally friendly sectors like trade unions, students and indigenous groups.

Their relative success may provide a model to President Dilma Rousseff, as a recent dip in her popularity suggests this is certain to play a role in next year’s presidential elections. While she remains largely popular in the country with a 71 percent personal approval rating, this figure fell eight points from last March, and is significantly higher than approval for her administration (55 percent), according to a just-released Ibope poll.

News Briefs

  • In spite of the failure of a gay marriage bill to pass in Colombia’s congress last month, same-sex couples may be able to legally marry as soon as tomorrow, as today marks the deadline set by the Colombian Supreme Court for Congress to come up with necessary legislation on the issue of same sex marriage. It is unclear whether the failure to meet this deadline means that judges and notaries will be compelled to recognize same-sex marriages, however, and the Court is expected to issue a statement clarifying this today. El Tiempo has a copy of a document sent out by gay rights organization Colombia Diversa, which lays out the legal arguments same-sex couples can submit when seeking legal recognition for marriage in public notaries around the country tomorrow.
  • The L.A. Times reports that Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera has come under increasing criticism for his handling of the recent disappearance of 12 youths at a bar in the city’s center. Mancera, himself a former prosecutor, is facing allegations that he is not tough enough on crime and city residents are wondering if its status as an oasis from drug violence has changed.
  • Yesterday Argentine President Cristina Fernandez gave her first speech since the country’s Supreme Court struck down a key provision of a controversial justice reform package she supported. La Nacion reports that she struck a defiant tone, vowing to continue lobbying for the reform.
  • Reuters profiles Mayor Sergio Massa of Tigre, Argentina, who broke ranks with the government of Fernandez to create a new coalition to participate in October’s Congressional elections.  Massa is one of the most popular politicians in the country, and his move is seen by many analysts as positioning ahead of a presidential race in 2015.
  • On Tuesday, Bolivian press published a letter by OAS Secretary for Political Affairs Kevin Casas-Zamora to in which he criticized the Bolivian Supreme Court’s recent stamp of approval on President Evo Morales’ third presidential bid. According to the OAS official, the move goes against remarks made by Morales in 2008, when he promised the opposition he would not seek a third term in an effort to gain support for constitutional reform. In response, La Razon reports Morales has hit back at the international organization, saying it suffers from a "colonial mentality" and repeating calls for its reform. 
  • A number of masked individuals attacked a leading university in Caracas yesterday, setting two buses on fire and causing serious damage to a campus building. According to El Nacional, the president of Venezuela’s Central University believes this was retribution for recent protests by students and professors calling for pay raises and greater funds.
  • Once again, the government has rejected a proposal from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to hold a national assembly to revise the constitution as part of an eventual peace deal. El Espectador reports that Interior Minister Fernando Carrillo said this was off the table, and personally feared that doing so would result in a “counterrevolutionary constitution” in the sense that it could jeopardize progressive reforms of the 1991 Constitution.  
  • The State Department has confirmed to El Nuevo Herald that talks between the U.S. government and Cuba on migration will resume next month, although authorities are careful to say that this does not amount to a shift in policy towards the country.  
  • In spite of its opposition to the gang truce in El Salvador, the U.S. has reportedly approved $91.2 million in funding to support law enforcement efforts in the country as part of the Association for Growth agreement signed in 2011. According to Spanish news agency EFE, the money will go towards improving the integrity of the court system, widening educational opportunities and a crime/gang prevention program called SolucionES, aimed at keeping young people from joining street gangs.
  • Coletta Youngers of the Washington Office on Latin America has a comprehensive analysis of the outcome of the recent OAS General Assembly in Antigua, Guatemala. While the drug policy debate in the hemisphere saw less progress than many advocates would have liked, she notes that the final resolution had the positive effects of demonstrating a growing consensus that current policies are failing, and ensuring a continued debate on the issue in the region. However, the fact that the next two major hemispheric meetings will be held in countries considered to be steadfast U.S. allies in the war on drugs (Paraguay and Panama) suggests that the debate will be limited moving forward. Separately, Youngers also points out that the event cemented an alliance between international and local drug liberalization advocates and human rights groups in Latin America, as illustrated by a letter from more than 160 civil society organizations to the General Assembly in which they expressed support for alternatives to the dominant anti-drug strategy.

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