Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Mexican Senators Pass Political Reform Bill

Yesterday, Mexico’s Senate passed a political reform bill designed to loosen the hold of political parties on the country’s democratic institutions. While it still must be passed in the lower house, it has the potential to dramatically alter the country’s political landscape.

 The AP calls the bill “the most dramatic political reform attempt in decades,” noting that it would allow senators and congressmen to run for re-election and remain in office for up to 12 years (two consecutive terms for senators and four consecutive terms for congressmen). Supporters say this, along with a provision which would let independents run for political office, would reduce the influence of party bosses in Mexican politics. The measure would not go into effect until 2018, and presidents would still be limited to one six-year term.

The bill would also create a new National Electoral Institute to replace the Federal Electoral Institute, and grants it the authority to name the members of state electoral institutes, which are currently appointed by state legislatures.

El Informador provides more details about the reform, including that it would replace the Procuraduria General de la Republica (Attorney General's office) with a Fiscalia General, granting it greater autonomy from the executive branch. Milenio reports, however, that the president would still have the power to dismiss the attorney general under special circumstances.

While the bill has received praise from those who view it as a step towards more democratic politics in Mexico, it has also been criticized for some significant omissions. Last week a group of 14 leading pro-transparency organizations sent a public letter to senators calling on them to add a provision to the bill which would regulate the use of public advertising. The article did not make it into the version passed yesterday.

Reuters notes that with the bill’s passage, the Senate is now set to take up debate over a controversial initiative to reform the state monopoly over oil production in the country. The energy reform package is expected to pass later this month with the support of the PRI and PAN parties, as the center-left PRD withdrew from the Pact for Mexico over what its leaders claimed was a disproportionate emphasis on privatizing the oil sector.


News Briefs
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos met with U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday for two and a half hours in the White House. Reuters reports that the environment was cheerful; Obama expressed continued support for the ongoing peace talks in Havana, and the two presidents joked about a potential U.S.-Colombia match in the upcoming World Cup. Just the Facts has a useful roundup of news and analysis related to the meeting, and asserts that the fact that both leaders stressed economic ties is a sign of a changing relationship between the two countries. El Tiempo claims that the meeting benefited Obama as well as Santos, as the recent revelations about NSA espionage have strained relations with governments across the region.
  • A year after being convicted of corruption and conspiracy charges resulting from his participation in the mensalão scandal, and weeks after being jailed, O Globo reports that Brazilian Congressman Jose Genoino has officially submitted his resignation. The Wall Street Journal notes that he has claimed he is too ill to serve his sentence in jail, and has been moved to home detention. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the move in the coming days.
  • Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam has announced that his office received a letter from drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero, who was released in August after a court overturned his conviction for killing a U.S. anti-drug agent in 1998. Following his release Mexican and U.S. judicial authorities issued warrants for his arrest, but he has been missing ever since. According to Milenio, Karam said the letter was addressed to President Enrique Peña Nieto and asked him not to give into U.S. pressure to continue searching for him.
  • Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes has ordered state prosecutors to investigate a $10 million donation that Taiwan gave to the Central American country ten years ago during the administration of ex-President Francisco Flores. While the money was intended to go to a land registering agency for small farmers, Funes claimed that the U.S. Treasury detected irregularities in the transaction and the funds never made it to the agency. Interestingly, an El Faro investigation recently cast suspicion on Funes himself for accepting a $3 million donation from a businessman to his election campaign in 2009. Funes has dodged questions about the money ever since, claiming at various times that it was a personal gift, a loan or a donation to his political party.
  • Guatemalan authorities have arrested some 21 people linked to a money laundering scheme for the Sinaloa Cartel of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman. Prensa Libre has more on the operation, which took place in four provinces across the country and involved the laundering of millions of dollars in 2009 and 2010, according to Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz.
  • In Costa Rica, a new poll commissioned by La Nacion ahead of the presidential race in February shows that neither of the top three candidates has an overwhelming lead, although Jose Maria Villalta of the left-wing Frente Amplio is a few points ahead of his competitors.  The AFP points out that this is the first time in Costa Rican history where a left wing candidate as a real shot at the presidency.
  • Hugo Perez Hernaiz and David Smilde of Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights offer a sobering look at the efforts of President Nicolas Maduro to expand and cement its control over public media, highlighting several incidents in which individuals and outlets have been closed after expressing criticism of the government.  Interestingly, they point to the left-wing Aporrea.org as the only major source of criticism of the Maduro administration from the left. 
  • The Inter-Press Service profiles opposition to U.S. biotechnology corporation Monsanto in the Argentine farm belt, where locals in Cordoba have occupied property meant for the construction of a transgenic seed factory since September. The article provides some complementary statistics to the recent AP report on the health effects that rampant use of the chemical herbicide glyphosate has had on the area.
  • Last week, Reuters published an fascinating in-depth investigation of Chinese involvement in Ecuador’s oil industry. The news agency found that China has obtained a near-monopoly on Ecuador’s crude oil exports since mid-2009, a development which critics say could fuel corruption in an industry that already lacks transparency.