Monday, July 8, 2013

Local Elections Give Renewed Hope to 'Pact for Mexico'

Mexico’s local elections yesterday, which were marked by the most violent campaign period the country has seen in years, ended with tentatively positive news for the fragile agreement between the three main Mexican political parties.

On Sunday, 14 of Mexico’s 32 held elections for a range of local positions, including mayors, city councilmen and state legislators. Only one governor’s seat was up for grabs, in the border state of Baja California. This race gained considerable media coverage, as it featured a close election between the National Action Party (PAN), which has held the state since 1989, and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). As the L.A. Times noted on Saturday, defeat in the state could deal a “potentially irreparable blow” to the conservative PAN, which has become plagued by disorganization and infighting in recent years. 

However, it seems it was able to hold on to the state with the help of an alliance with the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), the other main opposition party.  El Universal’s Red Politica reports that the joint PAN-PRD candidate beat the PRI rival by 47 percent to 44 percent, with 94 percent of ballots counted. Unfortunately Animal Politico notes that both sides have declared victory, which may ultimately force a recount.

The initial results are good news for the opposition, but also positive for the Pact for Mexico, the accord reached in December between PRI, PAN and PRD leaders to cooperate on 95 general points. The pact has been credited with easing the passage of recent education and labor laws, and makes President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ambitious reform agenda possible. 

In recent months the accord has come under fire from both the PAN and PRD, which have threatened to abandon it. After it emerged that PRI officials in Veracruz state had used public funds to support candidates there, the PAN added anti-corruption measures to its conditions of adherence to the pact.  The PRD is against Peña Nieto’s plan to end national oil company PEMEX’s monopoly on oil production in the country, which endangers its participation in the pact. Because of these factors, Reuters reports that a victory for the PAN/PRD in Baja California is ultimately more useful to the president than a win for his own PRI party.

Meanwhile, the run up to Sunday’s vote featured some of the worst election-related violence Mexico has seen in years. At least six local candidates have been killed since February, and a number of other campaign and party officials have also been attacked during this time as well, the New York Times reports. On Friday, a PRD mayoral campaign manager was killed in the northern state of Zacatecas, according to the AFP.

News Briefs
  • The governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua announced they were willing to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, a development which has been welcomed by officials in Moscow, where the former NSA contractor is holed up in the transit area of the Sheremetyevo international airport. Alexei Pushkov, head of the Russian parliament's international affairs committee, announced on Sunday that Venezuela’s offer was likely Snowden’s “last chance” at asylum, and advised him to take it. The AP reports that Cuban President Raul Castro has also expressed support for the offer, which is important as flight schedules mean Snowden’s only safe route to any of the above Latin American countries would pass through Havana. However, Castro made no mention of granting Snowden safe passage, and it remains unclear whether he wants to risk reversing a recent improvement in relations with the United States.
  • According to the Associated Press, Castro’s remarks on Snowden were only a footnote in a broader speech on corruption and immorality in Cuba. The news agency reports that he railed against a long list of activities that he regarded as threats to the country’s moral fabric, including public drunkenness, foul language, disruptively loud music, bribery and political corruption.
  • Over at Venezuela Politics and Human Rights, Melina Sánchez Montañés and David Smilde examine what the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has been doing to address food shortages in the country. Since May Maduro has been meeting with executives of food producing companies and set policies intended to boost domestic production, as well as racheting up imports.
  • El Nacional reports that Maduro announced a shake up of Venezuela’s military command on Friday, naming the country’s first female Defense Minister, Admiral Carmen Melendez.
  • O Globo released a report on Sunday which claimed that the NSA had been monitoring the telephone and e-mail activity of Brazilian companies as part of its espionage programs, citing documents obtained by Edward Snowden.  In response, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said that the government would demand an explanation from US authorities.
  • In Colombia, the president of the congressional committee charged with investigating wrongdoing in the executive and judicial branches survived an attempt on his life on Sunday. El Tiempo and Semana report that Representative Constantino Rodriguez claimed he was attending an event in his native Guaviare department when armed men approached, setting off a firefight with police. Rodriguez said there was “no doubt” that the assailants were members of the FARC, which could have repercussions for the peace talks in Havana.
  • While last week it seemed Uruguay was on the verge of becoming the first country in the world to legalize both the sale and cultivation of cannabis, now this is not so clear. El Pais reports that Congressman Dario Perez of the ruling Frente Amplio coalition has said he is not planning on voting for the measure if it is presented to the full lower house this week as planned, indicating in that the Frente does not have enough votes to pass it.
  • After the Wall Street Journal published a controversial editorial on last Thursday the situation in Egypt which said the country would be “lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile's Augusto Pinochet,” other financial journals have followed suit. The Investor’s Business Daily has an editorial claiming that the Pinochet’s Chile provides a model to Egypt, showing “just how to end the cycle of military and militants.”
  • After El Salvador saw 103 homicides last week alone, it appears that the truce between the rival MS-13 and Barrio 18 street gangs is slipping.  

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