Monday, November 18, 2013

Chile Election Goes to 2nd Round

As expected, Michelle Bachelet came out far ahead of her opponents in yesterday’s presidential election in Chile. Yet because she received roughly 47 percent of the vote -- compared to 25 percent for conservative candidate Evelyn Matthei -- instead of the 51 percent needed to win outright, a second round will be held next month.  

The fact that Bachelet fell just short of the cutoff can be attributed to several factors, including low turnout (44 percent of eligible voters stayed at home) and the wide playing field (there were a total of nine candidates across the political spectrum, and socialist Marco Enriquez-Ominami likely siphoned support from Bachelet with his 10 percent backing).

With Bachelet’s second round victory virtually guaranteed, the biggest story today is the electoral showing of her New Majority coalition in legislative races. As this helpful graphic by La Tercera shows, the center-left electoral alliance picked up solid majorities in both houses of Chile’s Congress. When she begins her next term, Bachelet’s political force will control 21 of 38 seats in the Senate, and 67 of 120 seats in the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately for her, this falls short of the two-thirds majority required to approve constitutional changes. Several outlets (see the New York Times and Reuters) have pointed out that this will likely make it difficult for her to live up to her ambitious campaign promises.  

Another notable development in the elections is the fact that four former student union leaders  -- including Camila Vallejo and Giorgio Jackson -- have won lower house races, as El Mostrador reports. This means that the country’s well-organized and vocal student movement will have at least four allies in Congress, and is sure to put pressure on the government to implement the education reforms it has demanded in recent years.

News Briefs
  • Following the Brazilian Supreme Court’s decision to uphold their prison sentences for participating in the mensalão scandal, O Globo reports that 11 of the most high-profile culprits in the vote-buying scheme turned themselves into federal police late last week. These include former chief of staff Jose Dirceu and former Workers’ Party (PT) head Jose Genoino Guimarães Neto, among others. One notable exception is an ex-director of state-run bank Banco do Brasil, Henrique Pizzolato. The BBC notes that Pizzolato fled to Italy, where his lawyers say he hopes to get a fairer trial.  
  • On Thursday, lawmakers in Venezuela approved a preliminary measure which would grant President Nicolas Maduro the authority to rule by decree for the next 12 months. El Universal reports that, according to National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello, a second vote will be held tomorrow to finalize the move.
  • In the latest display of force by organizations associated with Mexico’s community self-defense movement in the state of Michoacan, on Saturday an armed vigilante group took over a small town in the municipality of Tancitaro. The group clashed with members of the Knights Templar drug gang, and El Universal reports that at least two were killed in the skirmish. Authorities say federal police are patrolling the area. The Wall Street Journal has an overview of the developing conflict between local vigilantes and the Knights Templar in Michoacan, noting that critics of the community groups claim they have links to the Templars’ rivals, the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has resumed her presidential duties as planned today, over a month after undergoing head surgery to remove a blood clot from her skull. However, La Nacion reports that her official agenda has not been released, raising questions about how much she has actually recovered from the procedure.
  • A new poll by Ipsos Peru, published yesterday by El Comercio, shows that Peruvian President Ollanta Humala remains largely unpopular, with polls giving him a 27 percent approval rating. Interestingly, La Republica notes that the survey also demonstrated that Keiko Fujimori has seen a 9-point drop in polls, with 71 percent of those surveyed supporting an investigation into the opposition figure.
  • In the wake of U.S. President Barack Obama’s calls for an updated Cuba policy, Reuters has an analysis of the various ways in which U.S./Cuba relations are already changing under the radar. The beginnings of a new, more practical relationship can be seen in several recent incidents, including both nations’ handling of the Snowden affair and the interception of North Korea-bound Cuban weapons in the Panama Canal.
  • The New York Times’ The Stone blog features a column by Harvard University Cuba expert Alejandro de la Fuente, who claims that Cuba’s attempt to address racial inequality can provide valuable lessons to the United States.  De la Fuente notes that official statistics show that, by the 1980s, Cuba’s economic policies succeeded in making life expectancy nearly identical for all racial groups, whereas significant gaps remained between whites and nonwhites in the United States and Brazil at the time (6.3 and 6.7 years, respectively). Despite this and other social gains, he writes, blackness continued to be associated with “with negative social and cultural features,” and young black men were still more likely to be seen as potential criminals. Ultimately, he concludes that while addressing economic inequality is a necessary first step to ending structural racism in the U.S., the Cuban experience shows that cultural and educational shifts are needed as well.
  • While the peace process in Colombia has seen unprecedented progress with the announcement of an initial accord on the rebels’ future political participation, a lasting end to its armed conflict is a long way off.  The Colombia Peace blog of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has an in-depth analysis of the current stage of the peace talks, noting the controversy caused by the participation accord’s guarantees of special representatives to conflict zones, which critics say will boost the FARC’s influence in certain regions. One of the loudest critics, unsurprisingly, has been former President Alvaro Uribe. Miami Herald columnist Andres Oppenheimer interviewed Uribe last week, and in his Sunday column he writes that it could “put new pressure on the Colombian government to cancel the talks.” Additionally, Oppenheimer notes that when confronted about his own past support for granting political representation to the FARC, Uribe was careful to distance himself from President Juan Manuel Santos’ plan. “I never offered impunity…this government has offered impunity, and has offered political legitimacy to people who committed atrocities. That’s a big difference,” Uribe said
  • The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti has released a statement saying it is “deeply concerned” by recent violence there. The AP notes that there have been several anti-government protests held in cities around the country in recent weeks, with reports of several people shot and injured. Another opposition protest is planned for today in Port-au-Prince.
  • Last week, the U.S. and European Union blocked a proposal on climate change which would place more responsibility to rein in greenhouse gas and carbon emissions on developed countries. The measure was sponsored by Brazil and backed by most of Latin America as well as China. Brazilian UN Ambassador Jose Antonio Marcondes de Carvalho told Bloomberg that the plan was “meant to make available for countries a metric of their historical responsibility in terms of temperature rise.” With the plan scrapped, the odds that a UN conference this week will give rise to a meaningful agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol are slim, as the NYT notes.
  • The Washington Post has a feature piece on Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro’s attempts to regulate the work of urban recyclers, attempting to coax them into trading their ubiquitous horse carts for city-leased trucks.
  • On Friday, the Pew Research Center released a 13-year survey of remittance trends to Latin America. Researchers found that remittances from U.S. immigrants fell drastically during the recent recession, but have recovered overall. The exception, as the L.A. Times reports, were remittances to Mexico, which have fallen 29 percent from a 2006 peak. This is attributed to declining Mexican migration to the U.S. in recent years. 

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