Friday, November 8, 2013

Paraguay Supports Lugo’s Bid for UNASUR Chair

Paraguay’s deposed ex-President Fernando Lugo has been proposed as the next Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and has the support of one of his sharpest critics, current President Horacio Cartes. While this may seem surprising considering their rivalry, it could be a calculated move to isolate a political opponent.

Yesterday, Spanish news agency EFE reported that Lugo said he had received calls from “some foreign ministers of the region” asking him about his interest in the position.  UNASUR is overdue for a new secretary general, after the bloc was unable to come to a consensus in a September meeting in Suriname.

The former leader, who was elected to a senate seat in April, said he had received the endorsement of the governments Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina. He also claimed that President Cartes gave his blessing for the appointment.

This is remarkable considering that UNASUR was the first international organization to condemn Lugo’s removal in June 2012. As a result of the incident, Paraguay was suspended from the regional group, as well as from the Mercosur trading bloc. While Cartes has worked hard to normalize relations with other South American nations since taking office, he has spoken out against his country’s temporary isolation in international forums. He has been especially critical of Mercosur’s decision to take advantage of Paraguay’s absence to approve the admission of Venezuela. Backing Lugo’s bid to lead UNASUR seems like a surefire way to reopen these old wounds.

However, Cartes does not see it as such. In remarks to Paraguay’s ABC Digital, the president explained his support for Lugo’s bid for UNASUR chair. “He asked me if I have a problem (with his candidacy) and for me there is no issue if he is supported by consensus. For our part, I cannot deny it, because it is a position that was always intended to be occupied by ex-presidents,” said Cartes.

The president also assured the paper that his support for Lugo was not part of a political deal, and had more to do with the requirement of consensus than his personal wishes. Still, the arrangement has clear advantages for Cartes. As Lugo pointed out to EFE, “this is a position that gets you out of the country for two years.” It would require the ex-president to abandon his senate seat and adopt a much lower profile in domestic politics. When put that way, it’s easy to interpret Cartes’ support as an attempt to neutralize a political rival.

News Briefs
  • According to Peru’s  El Comercio and La Republica,  lawmakers’ recent controversial decision to elect Congresswoman Martha Chavez as head of a legislative committee on human rights, which was opposed by civil society organizations because of her denial of past state abuses, has been invalidated. It seems the vote for her nomination was carried out without the necessary number quorum, and a new vote will be held next Tuesday.
  • The Miami Herald reports on a so-called “Marcha Autoconvocada” (Self-Convened March) scheduled to take place across Venezuela tomorrow. Esteban Gerbas, who the Herald discloses has “been promoting the event through social networks,” describes the planned event as a non-partisan demonstration against both the opposition’s “lack of leadership” and President Nicolas Maduro’s economic policies. The paper also notes that the protests have been endorsed by opposition figures Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez, whose Voluntad Popular party issued a statement encouraging Venezuelans to turn out tomorrow.
  • President Maduro has provided further fodder for critics of militarization in Venezuela. In a public address yesterday in a poor neighborhood on the edge of Caracas, the president called for a system of anti-aircraft guns to be put up at key points in the mountains above the city. El Universal reports that Maduro said it would be necessary to prevent “a foreign, imperialist enemy military aviation force from entering the city.”  
  • The Venezuelan economy has reached what the Wall Street Journal calls a “dubious milestone:” the annual inflation rate there has risen above 50 percent for the first time since Hugo Chavez took office in 1999. In a column for The Guardian, economist Mark Weisbrot argues that inflation is a manageable issue, and that its cause is not ramped-up public spending as Chavista critics suggest, but a reduction in the supply of dollars to the foreign exchange market.
  • This week’s issue of The Economist features an overview of an Ecuadorean court’s attempt in September to block the release of “A Tragedy Hidden Away”, a book which details a massacre of a small Amazonian tribe by another, an incident that the authors claim is the result of government negligence and the state’s interest in exploiting oil fields in the area.
  • Writing for the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Olive Branch blog, Colombia conflict expert Virginia Bouvier has an assessment of the recently-announced agreement between FARC and government negotiators over the rebels’ future political participation. Bouvier argues that the announcement is a major breakthrough, and that future negotiations will be far easier by comparison because it will involve “the symptoms and consequences of the conflict and the particulars of how the peace deal will unfold rather than the causes of the fighting.”
  • The government of Chile has issued a public health warning for Valparaiso, the country’s third-largest city, where a three week strike by a local garbage collectors’ union has caused waste to pile up and overflow into the streets, El Mercurio reports.
  • The Associated Press reports that a protest in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince turned violent yesterday, with clashes breaking out between anti-government demonstrators, police and supporters of President Michel Martinelly. The AP notes that  the United Nations issued a statement urging the government to hold elections, which have been due since November 2011.
  • The government of the Dominican Republic is pushing back against human rights groups’ claims that the recent Supreme Court ruling denying citizenship to children of immigrants will affect some 200,000 individuals. According to Dominican officials, only 24,000 could lose their citizenship as a result of the decision, because they have been improperly registered. However, this figure does not include the thousands of people who have been denied access to the civil registry in the first place. Today’s Washington Post features an editorial blaming ruling on discrimination against Haitian migrants, which the paper’s editorial board compares to the difficulties faced by migrants in the U.S. “And much like the United States’ political class, Dominican authorities have balked at extending fair treatment and equal status to those migrants,” the Post notes, urging the U.S. to put pressure on the country to reverse the decision. 
  • Reuters profiles a public opinion survey commissioned in Brazil by the transportation sector lobby CNT and conducted by pollster MDA, which showed that President Dilma Rousseff’s personal approval rating in November stood at 58.8, and her government’s approval rating at 39 percent. The poll suggests that if next year’s election were held this month, she would likely win without a runoff.
  • International and domestic human rights groups have hailed a recent Mexican Supreme Court ruling which confirmed that evidence given under torture is inadmissible. The decision resulted in the court ordering the release of Israel Arzate Melendez, who had admitted to a role in the 2010 murder of several teenagers in Ciudad Juarez after allegedly being subjected to electric shocks and asphyxiated by police interrogators.  However, Animal Politico reports that the case against Arzate has not been dropped, and prosecutors in Chihuahua State say they will seek a Presunto Culpable, (Presumed Guilty), the widely acclaimed 2008 documentary about Mexico’s rickety justice system, is facing yet another legal challenge. Proceso reports that the film’s producers, Roberto Hernandez and Layda Negrete, face three different civil lawsuits for a total of over two billion dollars. The plaintiffs in each case are individuals who claim the movie unfairly portrays them as either false witnesses or corrupt officials. Later today, a judge in Morelia is expected to rule on whether it was lawful for a local theater to screen the film, which Hernandez says could pave the way to allow pre-publication censorship in the country.