Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Uribe Launches Bid for Senate Seat

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has officially announced that he will be stepping back into the ring, launching a bid to run for a senate seat in the upcoming March 2014 elections. In addition to its implications for the country’s political climate, it will also raise pressure on both parties to speed up the peace talks in Havana.

 Uribe made the announcement on Monday at his residence outside of Medellin, reading a long platform manifesto that Semana magazine notes “sounded more like a government plan.” The former president said he would run on a closed list with others of his Democratic Center Party (which he launched in January), meaning Colombians would vote not for individual candidates but for the party as a whole. While this is no doubt an attempt to allow the other relatively low-profile members of his party to benefit from his high approval ratings, it could be a disadvantage for the ex-president, as many Colombians will be unfamiliar with the Democratic Center Party’s logo on the ballot.

The news brought mixed reactions from the country’s political class. Congressman Ivan Cepeda, of the center-left Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) party, told El Espectador that he welcomed the announcement, calling it an opportunity “to debate [Uribe’s] political career and the series of charges against him.”  

This is a reference to the allegations that Uribe had dealings with the United Self Defense Forces (AUC) while in office, and the various judicial and congressional investigations into the charges. El Tiempo notes that Uribe’s announcement has sparked debate among legal experts over the specifics of prosecuting him. Most agree that under Colombian law, alleged crimes he committed while president would still have to be investigated by the lower house, and ratified by the Senate. This process would be complicated if he and his political party win a significant number of seats in the upper house.

Uribe’s return to politics could also have an impact on the ongoing peace talks with FARC rebels in Havana. So far the government and the guerrillas have reached an agreement on only one of the five points of debate in the talks, and a major breakthrough does not seem imminent. But because Uribe is a vocal critic of President Juan Manuel Santos’ handling of the peace talks, if he and his political sector make a strong showing in the March elections, it will raise pressure on the rebels to speed up the talks in order to reach an agreement before they take office. La Silla Vacia reports that much of this will depend on the current Congress’ ability to pass legislation allowing for the guerrillas’ future political participation before its term ends in July of next year.

News Briefs

  • The Wall Street Journal reports that a spokesperson for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff told the press that she spoke with U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday to discuss her planned state visit to Washington next month.  The details of the conversation were not revealed, but the Rousseff administration has confirmed that the president will announce her final decision today on whether to cancel the visit in light of the recent NSA surveillance revelations.
  • Meanwhile, in response to the leaks about the NSA’s activity, the government of Brazil has begun to prepare measures meant to protect its citizens’ privacy, including requiring internet companies in the country to store data locally instead of abroad. The AP reports that some analysts believe these measures restrict the open nature of the internet, placing it “on a course of Balkanization.”
  • In the midst of this tense relationship, the new U.S. ambassador to Brazil arrived in Brasilia on Monday, O Globo reports.  Ayalde is a career diplomat, with over thirty years of experience, and previously served as ambassador to Paraguay. In a press conference, the ambassador did not comment on the NSA scandal, though she did express hope that the two countries could “expand and deepen” their relationship.
  • Haiti is one step closer to reestablishing an army, which it abolished in 1995. In a ceremony yesterday, Haitian Defense Minister Jean-Rodolphe Joazile presented 41 recruits who recently returned from a training course in Ecuador, and who will be deployed alongside Ecuadorean military engineers in development and infrastructure projects around the country. While they are not armed at the moment, they may be able to purchase and carry handguns in the coming years, and are part of President Michel Martelly’s plan to reconstitute the country’s military.  
  • Paraguayan paper ABC Color reported yesterday that Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes travelled to Chile yesterday for a two-day visit to the country, which MercoPress notes is meant to help the country deepen trade with Chile as well as pursue full membership in the Pacific Alliance trade bloc.
  • On Friday, a Miami judge denied bail to Mario Ormachea Aliaga, who was a high ranking figure in Bolivia's police anti-corruption unit before his arrest on August 31 on charges of extorting a U.S. businessman. Although Ormachea was previously identified in the press as the head of Bolivia’s anti-corruption police, Reuters reports that the Bolivian government claims he was only a deputy director, and was dismissed three days before his arrest.
  • David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights provide a helpful overview of the recent electricity blackout in Venezuela and the political toll it took on the Maduro administration. They note that polls show less than 5 percent of the public believe the government’s claim that the blackout was caused by “sabotage,” and suggest that a history of power issues under the PSUV likely causes the public to put blame the entirely on the government.
  • Mexico’s first openly gay mayor, Benjamin Medrano, was sworn in yesterday in a ceremony in his city of Fresnillo. The BBC reports that Medrano is loath to support gay marriage, and very mindful of the conservative views of Fresnillo. In a previous interview with El Universal, Medrano rejected the notion that gays are a vulnerable group in society.
  • InSight Crime profiles a recent report released by Mexico’s National Citizen Observatory (ONC), which shows that the number of reported kidnappings has reached its highest level in 16 years. The news site claims that the uptick is likely due to changes in the country’s political landscape, although Animal Politico notes that the government maintains it is due to a campaign encouraging citizens to report the crimes to authorities.
  • In an in-depth report for Washington, DC public radio station WAMU, Martin Austermuhle looks at conservative Salvadoran presidential candidate Norman Quijano’s visit to the area in May. Quijano’s FMLN challenger, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, has also made similar trips to U.S. cities, as the 2014 election will be the first in which Salvadorans living in the U.S. will be able to vote from abroad.