Monday, October 7, 2013

Marina Silva Shakes up Brazil’s Political Landscape

After an electoral court ruled that environmentalist presidential candidate Marina Silva’s new party did not present the requisite number of signatures to register ahead of elections next year, political analysts began anticipating her next move. Most predicted she would align her Sustainability Network with a smaller party, like the Popular Socialist Party (PPS) or the center-right National Ecological Party (PEN), which would allow her to stay in the race while maintaining control over her electoral platform. Hardly anyone expected Saturday’s announcement, in which she appeared with Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos and publicly endorsed his bid for president.

By joining with the PSB, Silva is ensuring that her political movement will benefit from a nationwide party structure with broad support across class barriers. The PSB has traditionally been an ally of President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT), and was part of the current ruling coalition until it withdrew its support last month in preparation for Campos’ presidential campaign. Because he is regarded as more business-friendly than Rousseff, Campos also enjoys considerable support from economic elites.

Silva’s move comes at the expense of her presidential ambitions, however. Campos will remain the PSB’s candidate, and while Silva is widely expected to be his running mate, O Globo and Estadão report this has not yet been confirmed.

Citing remarks by senior politicians, Reuters claims that Silva may be perfectly comfortable with this arrangement. She has had a number of health issues recently and seems content to hold a more symbolic leadership role, serving as a kind of moral authority on environmental issues.

But while she may be comfortable with a less active role in her new party, it is unclear whether her wide support base will transfer to the PSB, especially if she is expected to keep a lower profile than Campos. Public opinion polls suggest Silva is Rousseff’s main challenger in 2014, with a September Ibope survey  giving her 16 percent support compared to 38 percent for the current president. Campos is in a distant fourth place with 4 percent of the vote, behind Aecio Neves of the Social Democracy Party (PSDB), who is backed by 11 percent of respondents. For this reason, the BBC notes that analysts are divided on the potential impact of the Silva-Campos alliance. While some believe it will create a united opposition front with the ability to challenge Rousseff's re-election, others argue it will only disappoint Silva supporters.


News Briefs
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has been forced to take a month off from her presidential duties for medical reasons, administration officials announced on Saturday. According to a statement signed by the president’s doctors and read by Fernandez spokesman Alfredo Scoccimarro, the president suffered an undisclosed “skull trauma” on August 12. While subsequent scans found nothing wrong and Fernandez exhibited no symptoms, over the weekend she was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma (bleeding on the brain), and was ordered to rest for a month. Vice President Amado Boudou cut short a visit to France in order to return and temporarily assume presidential responsibilities, La Nacion reports.  The Economist and Reuters note that the absence comes as Fernandez’s Front for Victory looks set to see significant losses in legislative elections on October 27, and the corruption allegations that Boudou faces will likely do the party no favors.
  • Former Brazilian Secretary of Justice and human rights advocate Pedro Abramovay has written a column on drug policy reform in the hemisphere for Yahoo News, in which he takes on Pope Francis’ recent criticism of drug reform. Rather than refute the pope’s opposition to “drug liberalization,” Abramovay argues that recent drug policy reform initiatives in Uruguay and the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington amount to “responsible regulation,” which he characterizes as the opposite of liberalization.
  • UPI looks at the end of Paraguay’s regional isolation triggered by the ouster of President Fernando Lugo last year. But while other members of Mercosur are willing to readmit Paraguay to the trade bloc, newly elected President Horacio Cartes appears to be using a threat to challenge the admission of Venezuela to raise his country’s status in the regional organization.
  • The AFP reports that hundreds of Salvadorans took to the streets yesterday to protest the closure of the Tutela Legal human rights and legal office, which many suspect may be an attempt to complicate prosecution of civil war-era rights violations if the country’s 1993 amnesty law is overturned. On Friday, Archbishop of San Salvador Jose Luis Escobar told La Prensa Grafica that the decision to close Tutela Legal had been made due to administrative and judicial “irregularities” in the office.
  • Rodolfo Hernandez, the leading opposition candidate in Costa Rica’s presidential election unexpectedly dropped out of the race on Thursday, citing “backstabbing” in his Social Christian Unity Party’s (PUSC). However, on Saturday La Nacion reported that he swiftly canceled that decision, saying he had been swayed by supporters’ calls for his return to politics.
  • The L.A. Times reports on a bill currently being debated by Mexican lawmakers which would authorize foreigners to own coastal land in the country. While the reform is backed by the country’s real estate industry, opponents see it as a violation of Mexico’s proud national heritage.
  •  Sunday saw the latest major “pacification” operation in Rio de Janeiro, with 590 police officers and 180 military troops taking the northern Lins de Vasconcelos slums “without a shot,” according to the AP. The BBC reports that two new police pacification units (UPP) will be set up in Lins de Vasconcellos, and Rio state governor Sergio Cabral Filho characterized the operation as “another step towards peace.” However, the reputation of the UPPs as guarantors of peace was significantly undermined last week after 10 UPP officers were implicated in the torture and murder of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer whose disappearance has become a symbol of police abuse in the city.
  • The Washington Post profiles former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe’s repeated attacks against current President Juan Manuel Santos, and the repercussions this has had on Uribe’s political connections in Washington. The Post notes that Uribe’s vociferous opposition to Santos’ negotiations with FARC rebels has isolated him from U.S. policymakers, both in the administration and in Congress, who see it as a potential threat to Colombia’s prospects for peace.
  • Today’s New York Times provides a look at a labor strike in Venezuela’s Orinoco Steelworks factory in the eastern city of Guayana, which revolves around workers’ claims that they are owed millions of dollars in bonuses and other benefits. The strike has created a conflict in the plant’s union which mirrors divisions within Chavismo itself. While the majority of union members support the strike, a minority has aligned itself with President Nicolas Maduro, who is against it. Both sides claim to be ideological devotees of the late Hugo Chavez.
  • The Washington Post reports that the Venezuelan government is attempting to crack down on a popular currency speculation scheme involving the purchase of airline tickets in order to take advantage of a more favorable U.S. dollar exchange rate. The government plans to use fingerprint scans at airports to identify individuals suspected of purchasing tickets to abuse currency controls. Meanwhile, on Sunday the Post’s editorial board published a column criticizing Maduro’s recent expulsion of three U.S. diplomats as “one more symptom of the unravelling of the crackpot socialist regime inflicted on the country.”