Thursday, March 27, 2014

With Election Settled, El Salvador Begins to Shift to Politics as Usual

El Salvador’s election dispute has finally ended and the FMLN’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren is officially the president-elect. The institutional response to the conflict has demonstrated the strength of El Salvador’s democracy, and the fever pitch of the polarized campaign is beginning to die down.

Yesterday, the Constitutional Chamber of the Salvadoran Supreme Court rejected a petition by the opposition ARENA party calling for a full, “ballot-by-ballot” recount of the March 9 election. The ruling, which supported previous decisions by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), was a close one. As La Prensa Grafica reports, the judges were split 3-2 against ARENA’s petition.

The decision came one day after the TSE officially declared Sanchez Ceren the country’s president-elect, denying a motion to annul the elections filed by ARENA on the basis of alleged irregularities.

Unlike the opposition party’s repeated attacks on the electoral authority (ARENA candidate Norman Quijano accused the TSE of covering up fraud), yesterday its leadership announced it would respect the Constitutional Court ruling. In a brief statement, ARENA promised to act as a “democratic, serious, intelligent and honest opposition,” a far cry from Quijano’s overtures to the military in the immediate aftermath of the close vote.

 The party’s comparisons of the FMLN to Venezuela’s Chavistas, which has whipped up its base, will likely make meaningful cooperation with the government difficult. Nevertheless, ARENA President Jorge Velado appeared to take a first step towards this yesterday, saying: “If we have to sit with the FMLN and its illegitimate government, we will do so."

For his part, Sanchez Ceren appears to be actively seeking to build bridges across political lines.  After receiving his formal accreditation from the TSE, the president-elect directly addressed the opposition and invited them to engage in policy debates, saying: “You are necessary to political pluralism in the country, you are necessary to build democracy. The various political forces are needed to work together towards the social and economic development of the country.”

Sanchez Ceren has also attempted to assuage fears of a sharp turn to the left in his presidency, and has approached the major private business associations in the country about creating a basis for dialogue and cooperation.

Yet even still, others in the FMLN likely harbor some resentment over the ARENA’s dirty campaign. As La Pagina reports, Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo told reporters this week that investigators had identified a self-professed prison employee who supported ARENA claims that inmates were released from behind bars and taken to polling stations to vote for the FMLN candidate. According to Perdomo, the man works for ARENA legislators, and may have fled the country. The minister called on the Attorney General to investigate the case, and accused ARENA of knowingly spreading false accusations.

News Briefs
  • The UNASUR delegation in Venezuela continued to meet with pro-government and opposition sectors yesterday.  In addition to speaking with student leaders, the delegates met with civil society actors like the director of the Venezuela Penal Forum, which presented evidence of 59 acts of torture committed by police against demonstrators, El Nacional reports. Meanwhile, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua has said that the delegation presented “a series of recommendations” to President Nicolas Maduro at the end of the visit yesterday, which were "fully welcomed" by the president. These will reportedly be presented to the public later today.
  • Opposition Venezuelan Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado, a prominent opposition figure who has been speaking out against the Maduro government from abroad over the past several days, returned to Caracas from Peru yesterday. As La Republica reports, Machado returned accompanied by three opposition Peruvian lawmakers. Machado is currently facing charges of inciting violence, and was recently stripped of her seat for briefly joining the Panamanian OAS delegation to speak out against Maduro.
  • The Miami Herald reports on a bill being prepared in Cuba which will pave the way for new foreign investment there. According to the paper, the law will allow Cubans living abroad to invest in joint ventures with the government, even as the embargo prohibits U.S. residents from investing in the island.
  • InSight Crime recently published an interesting post by drug control policy and Bolivia analyst Thomas Grisaffi, who takes on popular characterizations of Bolivia’s approach to coca cultivation as giving rise to a booming criminal underworld. Grisaffi moves beyond the politics of the issue, looking at the economics involved in coca production and the available profit margins to argue that cocalero unions actually have a strong incentive to stick to licit production of the crop.
  • While no one was killed in a blaze that swept through Guatemala City’s main market, La Terminal, on Tuesday, at least 12 were injured in the fire, La Prensa Libre reports. Guatemalan news site Plaza Publica has a closer look on the fire, which mentions rumors that it was started by city officials who had long been looking for reasons to displace local vendors.
  • Colombia is no longer the only country in the hemisphere to ignore a request to take precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. On Monday, the IACHR issued a request that Ecuador take steps to safeguard the rights of three individuals accused of slander. In response, President Rafael Correa has loudly rejected the request, rejecting the IACHR’s authority to issue it and calling the move “yet another step towards discrediting the [Inter-American human rights] system.”
  • Over at Honduras Culture and Politics, Russell Sheptak profiles an unusual bit of maneuvering by the Honduran Supreme Court, which was packed with National Party members while President Juan Orlando Hernandez was head of Congress. As proof that this has politicized the country’s already shaky judiciary, Sheptak points to a Supreme Court ruling this week over a mayoral election dispute, in which the court majority merely declared the National candidate the winner, ignoring electoral authorities.
  • In a Monday briefing to the UN Security Council, UN Haiti envoy Sandra Honore said that Haiti remains the country with “highest number of cholera cases in the world,” even as progress is being made against the epidemic. The news is unlikely to change the international organization’s position that it has legal immunity from prosecution over the likely introduction of the disease from Nepalese peacekeepers.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on the record drought in southeastern Brazil, which has sparked conflict between the governors of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states. With water reserves dwindling, the paper notes that the shortage and associated power rationing could pose a serious threat to President Dilma Rousseff’s election prospects ahead of the October vote.