Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Colombia's Santos Fights to Retain Advantage in Polls

As Colombia's presidential election approaches, the field is leveling. So far President Juan Manuel Santos remains the leading candidate, but skepticism of peace talks and a fresh wave of rural protests could tip the scales against him.

According to a new Ipsos poll published in Semana on Saturday, the president would receive 23 percent support in the first round vote next month, a figure which has dropped five points since February. Meanwhile, his competitors are gaining on him. Support for Uribista candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga has gone from 8 to 15 percent during that time, and support for former Bogota Mayor Enrique PeƱalosa is at 11 percent, double what it was two months ago. While the survey suggests that Santos would win a second round against either candidate by roughly 10 points, there are a few factors that could hurt his chances.  

These include the fact that pessimism regarding his government's peace talks with FARC rebels is slowly growing. The Ipsos poll shows that roughly two-thirds of respondents (63 percent) are not hopeful that the talks will yield a lasting peace, and the number of those who are is steadily declining as well. Santos appears to be combating this by recently announcing a nationwide tour of the government's negotiating team, with the goal of educating the public about the progress made in the dialogues. His opponents, however, have criticized this as politicizing the peace process.

But a more immediate threat for Santos is yesterday's emergence of rural protests by campesino groups (see EFEEl Espectador), which accuse his government of not fulfilling the terms of an agreement reached after last year's large-scale "agrarian strike." Reuters notes that Santos' reluctance to negotiate with protesters in 2013 contributed to a sharp decine in his approval rating, and could do so again.

Fortunately for the president, according to El Tiempo the protests appear to be relatively small compared to last year, when major highways were blockaded and entire towns were cut off from transportation for over a week. La Silla Vacia points out that one advantage for Santos is that, this time around, many popular campesino and agricultural interest groups appear to be alligned with the president against the strike.


News Briefs
  • The publication of the regulatory specifics of Uruguay’s marijuana law continues to be delayed. According to presidential chief of staff Diego Canepa, President Jose Mujica “has it on his desk,” and is waiting to finalize certain details with members of his cabinet and the National Drug Council. The president himself told newspaper La Republica yesterday that the final draft was “almost ready,” and El Pais reports that it will be released in the coming days.
  • Prensa Libre has an update on the nominating process of Guatemala’s next attorney general. The paper reports that the nominating commission has released its assigned “grades” for 24 candidates, and that current top prosecutor Claudia Paz y Paz is near the top of the list. She received a total of 69 points, putting her in second place under Judge Thelma Aldana, who received 71.
  • In compliance with an agreement reached earlier this month with Michoacan’s militias, the Mexican government has begun “disarming” autodefensa groups in three municipalities in the state, Animal Politico and the BBC report.  The militias must register their firearms with the state by May 10, and have been given until then to either demobilize or incorporate into state-recognized rural defense forces.
  • The mayor of Lazaro Cardenas, one of Mexico’s largest ports, has been arrested over allegations that he took part in kidnapping and extortion, the L.A. Times and Reuters report. Newspaper Milenio reports that the Michoacan mayor is suspected of having links to the once-mighty Knights Templar gang. The seizure of the port city by the army late last year was seen as a major blow to the criminal organization’s funding base.
  • In the wake of last week’s alleged police shooting of a young man in Rio de Janeiro, tensions between low-income city residents and police are again on the rise following the death of an elderly woman hit by a bullet during a police shootout, Globo reports. In the wake of her death, several public buses were reportedly set fire, mirroring a similar arson attack on buses in the neighborhood of Pavuna, which was also a protest against police abuse.
  • Venezuela’s El Nacional has an interesting comparison of the current wave of demonstrations in the country with the famous 1989 “Caracazo” riots and protests, quoting analysts who draw parallels between the infamously heavy-handed response to unrest by then-President Carlos Andres Perez and the Maduro government today. According to Cofavic, an organization of Caracazo victims, some 650 people were arrested in the 1989 protests. By contrast, the Venezuelan Penal Forum claims that roughly 2,500 people have been arrested  since demonstrations began in February.
  • In the latest in a series of economic reforms on the island, the Cuban government yesterday announced that it would be giving state-run companies greater autonomy, authorizing them to sell excess goods and expand into additional commercial ventures.
  • An audit conducted by the U.S. Agency for International Development's inspector general has found that a number of health projects in Haiti are significantly behind schedule. Construction of a medical supply warehouse meant to be completed by June 2012, for example, is extremely delayed and authorities have allocated and spent just a fraction of the estimated cost. According the USAID report, such delays have been fueled by a lack of qualified personnel and no consistent policy for dealing with managing infrastructure projects.
  • As Peru deepens its crackdown on illegal mining, yesterday saw a major police and military in the southeast Madre de Dios region in which authorities destroyed dozens of pieces of mining equipment, El Comercio reports. This was the first such operation since a ban on illicit mining was instituted on April 19, and the AP reports that some $20 million worth of equipment was destroyed.
  • Reuters profiles the emergence of a new pressure group advocating change to the U.S. approach to Cuba. The Miami and DC-based #CubaNow, which was founded by mostly younger Cuban-Americans, is against the embargo but is focusing its attention on policies the president could more easily reverse without sparking a high-profile battle in Congress.