Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cabinet ‘Crisis’ in Peru Highlights Humala’s Political Weakness

After two failed attempts, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala managed to get a newly-reshuffled cabinet approved by Congress on Monday. But lawmakers’ initial opposition, as well as recent polls, points to Humala’s lack of both political and public support.

On February 24, Humala announced several changes to his cabinet, naming Housing Minister Rene Cornejo as his fifth prime minister and cabinet chief since taking office in July 2011. Cornejo replaced Cesar Villanueva, who resigned following a highly public spat with First Lady Nadine Heredia, who is also head of Humala’s Nationalist Party. Last month Villanueva said that the government was considering a raise in the minimum wage, which Heredia vigorously denied in remarks to the press.  

The dispute shed light on Heredia’s influence over the policymaking process, and rubbed many lawmakers the wrong way. A number of opposition figures attacked Heredia and the administration for presenting herself as a spokesperson for the executive branch.

As a result, on Friday Humala failed to receive congressional support for his new cabinet picks. The ratification of his nominations, which is normally considered a formality, was blocked when a majority of legislators abstained. As Peru21 notes, no progress was made even after 11 hours of debate and two votes were held. The move led Humala’s cabinet nominees to formally present letters of resignations, and sparked a flurry of media reports regarding a political “crisis” in the country (see La Republica, EFE, Reuters). Their resignations were denied, but the votes were a serious blow to the Humala administration.

Fortunately for the president, a third session on Monday resulted in a 66-52 vote in favor of his cabinet. Gestion reports that, prior to the vote Humala made a direct appeal to Peru’s “political class,” calling on the opposition to avoid conflict in order to move the country forward.

However, as the Wall Street Journal notes, this conflict will likely only increase in the coming months, as parties jockey for votes ahead of regional and municipal elections in October. And Humala makes for an easy target. According to a new Ipsos Peru poll published in El Comercio on Sunday, his popularity has fallen to 25 percent, where it had been in December before a brief jump following a Hague ruling on Peru’s maritime border dispute with Chile. The poll also found that support for Heredia has plummeted, dropping to 27 percent from 40 percent last month.

News Briefs
  • After being officially declared El Salvador’s president-elect, Salvador Sanchez Ceren of the FMLN has announced the creation of a transition team tasked with coming up with an agenda for his first months in office. The team includes several FMLN heavyweights, including nclude Legislative Assembly President Sigfrido Reyes, party chief Medardo Gonzalez and ex-Justice Minister Manuel Melgar. El Faro has a profile of Sanchez Ceren and his relationship with several of these figures on the campaign trail, which also includes a mention of the rather mysterious Cuban doctor who has been at his side in recent months.
  • The Atlantic staff writer Conor Friedersdorf has an analysis of recent remarks by US SOCOM General John F. Kelly, who complained that insufficient funding was taking a toll on U.S.-supported interdiction efforts. According to Kelly, only roughly 20 percent of the drugs leaving Colombia for the U.S. are intercepted, a figure that Friedersdorf argues is proof that current prohibitionist policies are badly in need of revision.
  • The Rio de Janeiro-based Igarape Institute has published a new report on regional cooperation on citizen security issues in Latin America. The report, “Changes in the Neighborhood,” documents a shift towards security strategies that “balanced” citizen security strategies that emphasize both transnational and local threats, and go beyond mere repression to incorporate crime prevention and alternative drug policies.
  • Transparency and free speech advocates in Mexico are indignant after the head of the country’s Article 19 office, Dario Ramirez, had his home broken into just two days before his organization was set to present a report on press freedom. As Animal Politico and Sin Embargo report, Ramirez claims that those responsible for the theft were suspiciously specific, stealing work materials, his computer and items of lesser value.
  • The Honduras Culture and Politics blog profiles a controversial order earlier this month by the Honduran Interior Ministry which effectively revoked the legal status of more than 5,000 NGOs in the country. Several high-profile human rights and free speech civil society groups were impacted by the measure, and the administration of President Juan Orlando Hernandez came under fire. As a result, the government walked back the announcement, instead saying that each case would be reviewed independently.
  • El Espectador reports that this morning the Colombian Council of State, the country's supreme tribunal for all administrative disputes, is set to issue a ruling on the prosecutor general's order to remove Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro from office. While many analysts have claimed that the failure of Petro’s legal fight is a foregone conclusion, Semana reports that there is a chance that two sympathetic judges could alter his fortunes.
  • Pop-statistician Nate Silver, who achieved fame following his accurate prediction of the outcomes of the 2008 and 2012 U.S. elections, launched his new website, FiveThirtyEight.com, yesterday to much acclaim. Latin America observers will be pleased to see that it includes an interesting analysis of the protests in Venezuela by Dorothy Kronick. In her piece, Kronick uses macroeconomic data to argue that the gains of Chavismo have not lived up to promises, and contrasts economic mismanagement in Venezuela with the more stable policies of a close ally, Evo Morales’ Bolivia.
  • Reuters has an update on the unrest in Venezuela, which saw its 29th death yesterday after a national guard officer was shot in the head during a protest, according to officals. Rafael Uzcategui, a researcher for human rights group PROVEA, has a column in which he puts Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s calls for peace in the context of his polarizing characterizations of the opposition and the government’s crackdown on demonstrators. On Maduro’s proposed peace conference, he writes: “The conference is little use if it serves to disqualify those who think differently, if it calls on students to dialogue while denying them the right to carry out peaceful demonstrations while intensely repressing them.”
  • The diplomatic fallout between Venezuela and Panama, which started after the latter called an OAS meeting to address the human rights situation in the South American country, has developed a new twist. Yesterday, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli accused the Venezuelan government of financing opposition candidates in his country ahead of May elections.