Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ecuador’s Correa Recalibrates After Election Loss

Following his party’s defeat in several major races in Sunday’s municipal elections, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has announced a shakeup of both his cabinet and the ruling Alianza PAIS coalition.

As noted in Monday’s post, Alianza PAIS candidates lost high profile races in the cities of Quito (which it currently holds) and Guayaquil (governed by the opposition). In fact, the party lost races in all but one of the ten most populous cities in Ecuador, according to El Universo. Because Correa personally backed contenders in the Quito and Guayaquil races, their loss is seen as a major political blow that deprived him of an opportunity to declare a renewed mandate.

Correa has not shied away from admitting that the election was a setback.  In remarks to the press on Monday, the president chalked up his party’s loss of Quito to three factors: errors in municipal governance, flaws in the election campaign and “sectarianism” within his political camp. However, he strived to put an overall positive spin on the development. The president claimed that Alianza PAIS is “stagnating” as a movement, and even suggested that Sunday’s “jolt” would be beneficial in the long run.

Yet despite his optimism, yesterday saw signs that Correa is taking the vote seriously. As El Comercio reports, last night the president announced that he would be naming new cabinet members, and asked all of his ministers to offer their resignation. He also said that Alianza PAIS would be “restructuring” its provincial offices.

So far the president has offered no details about the planned shakeups, but the timing of the announcement is no coincidence. Correa likely sees his party’s electoral future at stake, and is attempting to mitigate the risk of similar losses moving forward.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday, a Guatemalan appeals court recused itself from deciding whether the country’s 1986 amnesty law could prevent the prosecution of General Efrain Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. As Prensa Libre reports, this makes it the third court to declare itself unfit to take up an October Constitutional Court order to assess the admissibility of the amnesty law to the Rios Montt case. In other Guatemalan judicial news, the country’s Constitutional Court is set to hear final arguments today over whether Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz should be allowed to serve out a four-year term, or whether it expires in May. The court has previously said it favors the latter, and called for a committee to convene and nominate her replacement, so the likelihood of a reversal is slim.
  • Despite the media frenzy over a potential power vacuum in Mexico’s criminal underworld and increased violence following the arrest of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, analysts and DEA officials consulted by The New York Times say the arrest will have minimal effect on the day-to-day work of the mighty Sinaloa Cartel.
  • Yesterday, after refusing to meet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, opposition leader Henrique Capriles published a list of 10 “proposals to advance” the country. The list includes calls to de-politicize the armed forces, disarm “paramilitary groups” and free student protesters and others arrested during the recent unrest. Meanwhile, protests continue in Caracas and elsewhere in the country. The New York Times reports on some of the tactics being used by more radical elements of the opposition in the western city of San Cristobal, which include creating makeshift weapons and firebombs.
  • The U.S. State Department announced three Venezuelan diplomats have been given 48 hours to leave the country, in retribution for the expulsion of three U.S. embassy officials from Venezuela earlier this month. As the Wall Street Journal notes, the announcement came just as Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that a new U.S. ambassador would be nominated. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki told the paper that while Washington is open to improving bilateral relations, Venezuela would need to “show seriousness” for such efforts to move forward.
  • The repeated insistence by Venezuelan officials that the protests are being fueled by right-wing paramilitary groups and former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has put the current administration in Bogota in the awkward position of defending Uribe, who is its largest domestic critic. El Espectador reports that in a radio interview yesterday, Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin expressed concern over the repeated attacks on Uribe, and said that if her Venezuelan counterpart had proof to support the allegations it should present it in court.
  • Yesterday saw a setback for besieged Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro. The Colombian Council of State, the country’s supreme tribunal for all administrative disputes, ruled 14 to 11 to endorse the prosecutor general’s order to remove Petro from office. However, as Semana magazine and Silla Vacia note, Petro’s likely appeal and a separate court challenge ensure that he will not be forced out of office just yet.
  • Brazil’s Estadão gives an update on São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad’s experimental plan to address drug use in the central neighborhood  known Cracolândia by giving housing, food and work opportunities to crack users. According to local workers and businesses consulted by the paper, interest in the program has caused the number drug users in the area to increase. Haddad and other city officials dispute this claim, saying there is no evidence to back it up.
  • A gay Russian couple has made international headlines for marrying in Argentina and announcing their intent to apply for asylum there, aided by local activists seeking to make their country a haven for persecuted gay couples around the world.
  • Foreign Policy has an intriguing profile of the president of Suriname, one of South America’s most overlooked countries. President Desi Bouterse, who first ruled the country as dictator from 1980 to 1987, has been convicted in a Dutch court of participation in drug trafficking, and is still accused of shady links today. More recently, his son Dino Bouterse was arrested in Panama and extradited to the U.S. for falling for a DEA sting operation, in which he agreed to assist “Hezbollah militants” (in reality DEA informants) set up a training base in his country.
  • The Associated Press looks at signs of a generational shift in Cuba, noting that the once-popular trend of giving babies eccentric -- and often Russian-inspired -- names has faded with the end of the Cold War.  

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