Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Xiomara Castro, Honduras’ AMLO? Probably Not

Honduran election officials have agreed to a request by the leftist Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE) to recount the vote tally sheets of each polling station, which may encourage LIBRE presidential candidate Xiomara Castro to drop her victory claims.

Yesterday, LIBRE presented a list of alleged irregularities that took place in polling stations around the country, demanding a recount of the tallies of more than 16,000 voting centers. The request is a partial compromise for LIBRE, as Castro and her supporters had initially demanded a full vote-by-vote recount. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) accepted the request, with TSE President David Matamoros urging the party to recognize the outcome of the election based on the audit.

Castro’s allegations of electoral fraud following the November 24 election led to comparisons with Mexican leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (see FT and BBC Mundo), who famously refused to recognize the results of the 2006 and 2012 elections. Following the narrower 2006 vote AMLO occupied the main square in Mexico City for months, proclaiming himself the “legitimate president” of the country. The decision was controversial among Mexico’s left, as it cost his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) support among those who wanted to see the party move past the election dispute.  

It appears that the LIBRE candidate is not going down that route, however. By scaling back her demand for a vote-by-vote recount, Xiomara Castro is already demonstrating some flexibility in her claim to victory. Additionally, the AP reports that during the public presentation of the party’s complaint on Monday, ousted ex-president and Castro’s husband Manuel Zelaya announced that “if the recount of the vote tallies shows that the National Party wins, we will also recognize it.”

Still, the recount is incapable of completely ruling out electoral fraud.  Russell Sheptak of Honduras Culture and Politics notes that LIBRE alleges that many of the vote tallies themselves were tampered with. Sheptak also claims to have confirmed the existence of over 500 problematic tally sheets through participation in a public review being carried out here.   

Ultimately, even if Castro does not abandon claims that she was robbed of an electoral victory, it is unlikely that she will be sidelined in the way that Lopez Obrador was. Her LIBRE party is projected to have picked up 39 seats in Congress, giving it sufficient clout to serve as the primary opposition voice in the country.

News Briefs
  • As mentioned in Monday’s brief, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have staked out a pro-reform stance on drug policy, which rebels detailed in a press release in Havana yesterday. The communique, which the AFP notes was read by FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo, lays out “10 Minimal Proposals” to address Colombia’s illicit drug problem. These include a drug policy “oriented towards the rural poor and consumers,” the” treatment of psychoactive drug use as a public health problem” and the “decriminalization of users.” Perhaps the most controversial of their proposals is the suggestion that illicit crop substitution programs should be accompanied by a state effort to recognize and encourage the “food, medicinal, therapeutic, artisanal, industrial and cultural uses of cultivating coca leaves, marijuana and poppy.” RCN reports that Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre has rejected this as “unviable.”
  • In an interview with Spanish news agency EFE, the main challenger to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ reelection next year said that, if he wins, he would halt peace talks with the FARC and “submit them to conditions.” According to the Uribista candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, these would include promises to renounce drug trafficking and criminal activity, as well as guarantees that FARC leaders responsible for abuses be subject to prosecution.
  • Santos, for his part, is currently in Washington DC, where he is slated to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama. Semana magazine reports that the Colombian leader is expected to request U.S. help as his country transitions into a post-conflict phase. At the same time, the administration is pushing back from suggestions that the meeting signifies an endorsement of Santos’ reelection. An anonymous administration official has told the press that the meeting “is not an expression of support for any candidate in particular, but a show of support for the people of Colombia.”
  • On the fourth anniversary of his arrest by Cuban authorities, USAID contractor Alan Gross has sent a letter to President Barack Obama. The Washington Post has obtained a copy, in which he expresses veiled criticism of the president by praising his efforts to free “other U.S. citizens imprisoned abroad.” The Post notes that the letter is part of his family’s strategy to raise pressure on the Obama administration to negotiate his freedom.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has begun its five-day country visit to the Dominican Republic, and the delegation has called on officials not to speak publicly about its meetings until Friday, when it will release a statement with its initial findings. According to EFE, the IACHR will also be accepting petitions from locals who have been affected by the recent nationality ruling.
  • La Republica and the AP report on the ongoing exhumation of mass graves in Peru’s Chungui district, home to the biggest excavation of remains dating back to the country’s armed conflict. Forensic experts are expected to unearth some 200 bodies in total, though an estimated 1,384 people were killed in Chungui.  
  • A major power blackout affected most of Venezuela yesterday evening, including Caracas. President Nicolas Maduro has blamed the outage on an opposition attempt to discredit his government ahead of local elections. Reuters profiles reactions to the blackout among Caracas residents, many of whom fault the government. El Nacional reports that officials said the blackout started in the same location as the last major power outage in September.
  • Transparency International has released its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, which shows that the countries of the Americas continue to suffer from high levels of perceived corruption in public institutions. According to the report, Uruguay is seen as the most transparent country in the region, while Venezuela is the most corrupt. Alarmingly, perceived levels of public sector corruption are on the rise in Central America, where most countries of the region are slowly slipping down the CPI rankings. 
  • The L.A. Times is the latest media outlet to provide an overview of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s first year in office, noting that despite passing a number of important reforms, he has failed to deliver on economic and security policy. The paper cites an op-ed by Excelsior columnist Leo Zuckermann, who claims that Peña Nieto promised “great expectations” but has not fulfilled them. A recent Buendia-Lardo poll shows that the president has around a 50 percent approval rating, down from 56 percent in February.

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