Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Brazil’s Environmentalist Candidate Faces Uphill Presidential Race

The Economist has a long, in-depth interview with former senator and environmental minister Marina Silva, who left the ruling Workers’ Party and ran for president in 2010 as a Green Party candidate. This time around she hopes to challenge President Dilma Rousseff’s reelection bid under the banner of a new political movement, called the Sustainability Network.

The October 5 deadline for her new party to submit the necessary signatures to participate in next year’s election is fast approaching, however. And while she has sent 900,000 signatures to election authorities, only about half have been approved, leaving her short of the 492,000 required. Silva claims that an unusually high number of signatures were rejected by notaries in Workers' Party strongholds, saying "obviously there was something happening on the notaries' side that the electoral courts will have to judge."

Perhaps the most interesting element of the interview involves Silva’s campaign platform. While she has long been seen as a kind of moral authority on environmental policy in the country, Silva has also embraced transparency and improved political representation, issues which may resonate greatly among Brazilians in the wake of last June’s wave of demonstrations.  Some highlights of the interview:
[If] you govern according to a programme, and you have a strategic agenda, you can't ignore society in implementing that agenda. You can't think that this is something you can "do to" society without having created that agenda together with society. The big problem we are facing right now is that there is a complete separation between a society that wants a better Brazil, and politicians who imagine that it is their prerogative to do things for society in whatever way they want. That they can, in their position of representatives, replace the represented. Representative democracy doesn't mean excluding the voices of those who are represented. 
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But corruption will only be cut when tackling it stops being seen as the government's responsibility and starts being seen as society's. It was only when slavery was seen as a societal issue and not an issue for government, that it was ended. It was the same with Brazil's dictatorship, and then economic instability, and after that dire poverty: these were finally dealt with once they stopped being seen as issues for government to resolve and were adopted by society. It will be the same with corruption, and it has already started. Those who think that things will just return to normal are fooling themselves. It'll never be the same after the protests.
Despite Silva’s appeal to the messages which led over a million Brazilians to participate in demonstrations earlier this year, public opinion polls suggest she has a difficult campaign ahead even if  her party gets approved. Although a July poll placed her just eight points behind Rousseff (22 to 30 percent approval, respectively), a survey published last Thursday shows that the president has made a rebound in public opinion. She remains the second most popular candidate in the running, but the Ibope poll shows that the gap between her and Rousseff has more than doubled. Silva is now trailing the president by 22 points, with 16 percent support compared to 38 percent.

News Briefs
  • The United Nations will carry out an “exhaustive study” of the recent court ruling in the Domincan Republic that strips citizenship from thousands of individuals of Haitian descent, in order to determine whether it violates international treaties, according to UN Resident Coordinator Lorenzo Jimenez. Meanwhile, the Listin Diario reports that Haiti has temporarily recalled its ambassador to the Dominican Republic to evaluate the impact of the ruling.
  • On Monday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the expulsion of the top U.S. diplomat in the country, chargé d’affaires Kelly Keiderling, as well as two other high level American diplomats. As the New York Times reports, Maduro made the announcement during a speech at a military ceremony commemorating a battle in Venezuela’s war of independence. El Nacional reports that the president accused the diplomats of financing and encouraging the opposition “to take actions to sabotage the electrical system, to sabotage the Venezuelan economy.” Considering that polls show less than 5 percent of the Venezuelan public believes the government’s claim that recent electric blackouts were caused by “sabotage,” it is unclear whether the Maduro administration will reap any benefits from this move politically.
  • Venezuela’s telecommunications agency has announced that it will levy a fine against Venezuelan news network Globovision for allegedly contributing to public anxiety in reports on goods shortages in the country. As the AP notes, this would be the ninth fine against Globovision in recent years, and perhaps a sign that its anti-government editorial slant has not altered as much as some say, despite a recent change in ownership.
  • Yesterday the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) officially ceased all of its activities in Bolivia. La Opinion reports that the U.S. embassy in La Paz released a statement to the press announcing the development, noting that it was “in accordance with the decision of the government of President Evo Morales to expel it from the country.” Morales expelled the aid agency in May, accusing it of using democracy promotion programs for political purposes. Meanwhile, last week the city council of La Paz voted to expropriate a building owned by the U.S. development organization, which will now be used to provide municipal services.  
  • The L.A. Times takes a look at the impact of the recent UN finding that Peru has surpassed Colombia as the world’s top producer of coca. The paper notes that U.S. anti-drug aid to Peru is set to double this fiscal year, though it is still pales in comparison to the aid Colombia received during the height of Plan Colombia.
  • A federal jury in California is debating whether a former Guatemalan soldier accused of participation in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre lied about his military past to obtain U.S. citizenship. If convicted, he could face 15 years in jail and lose his citizenship.
  • As Uruguay’s Senate takes up debate  on the marijuana regulation bill passed by the lower house on July 31, opposition to the measure has largely turned to attacking Regulacion Responsable, the coalition of civil society groups campaigning in favor of the law. Most of the criticism has centered on the support that the campaign receives from Open Society Foundations (OSF), with local press focusing on false allegations that OSF founder and chairman George Soros has links to bioengineering company Monsanto. Fortunately for the campaign, this was cleared up by OSF Latin America Program Director Pedro Abramovay in an interview published in Sunday’s El Pais. In it, Abramovay clarified that OSF’s support was based on an interest in drug policy reform, and that the foundation would be helping with independent evaluation of the bill to facilitate its implementation. He also rejected the Monsanto rumors, saying: “there is no pressure from Soros' business interests and there is no link between him or Open Society with Monsanto.”
  • While Uruguayan President Jose Mujica’s speech at the UN General Assembly proved to be a disappointment to drug policy reform advocates hoping he would use it to defend the marijuana bill, the issue was taken up by other regional leaders at the international forum. Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, for instance, hailed the “visionaries” behind marijuana legalization campaigns in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, and also expressed support for the Uruguayan initiative. The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) has a helpful overview of the remarks of the four speakers (Perez, Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Mexican Foreign Minister José Antonio Meade Kuribreña) who touched on drug policy in their speeches last week. For the IDPC, this is clear evidence of a growing consensus in the region that the dominant drug policy paradigm must be altered.
  • La Nacion reports that polls show the leading rival of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, Sergio Massa, has an 11-point lead over Fernandez’s preferred candidate in the race for the congressional seat of Buenos Aires province ahead of the October 27 elections. The Wall Street Journal claims that this increases the chances that Fernandez’s party will lose firm control over the country’s lower house.
  • The Associated Press profiles the difficult task Cuba faces in its bid to do away with its dual currency system. While President Raul Castro denounced the system in his July address to the National Assembly, it will be extremely difficult to adopt a single currency without contributing to inflation and potentially fueling economic inequality on the island. According to Cuban economist Pavel Vidal, the government has quietly set up a pilot program in key industries with an exchange rate set between the two currencies.
  • While the Mexican government maintains that a recent spike in kidnappings is due to an aggressive campaign encouraging citizens to denounce crime to authorities, Animal Politico reports that a poll by Mexican statistics institute INEGI has found that 98 percent of kidnappings and 82 percent of forced disappearances went unreported last year.