Tuesday, April 1, 2014

No Left Turn in Post-Election El Salvador

Salvadoran President-elect Salvador Sanchez Ceren has named the first members of his cabinet, providing a look at the kind of administration he will set up upon taking office in two months’ time. While a number of FMLN heavyweights made the list, it includes a fair share of moderates and business leaders as well.

On Monday, Sanchez Ceren announced his first cabinet picks ahead of his June 1 inauguration. Of the nine people he named, five are members of the FMLN. These include ex-Justice Minister Manuel Melgar, who will serve as the president’s secretary, and Hugo Martinez, who will step down as secretary general of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and resume a position as foreign minister.

But the list includes plenty of figures outside the FMLN’s traditional party leadership. Moderate banker Carlos Caceres will stay on as Finance Minister, and business magnate Tharsis Salomon Lopez will become the next Minister of the Economy. Their inclusion is the latest in a series of gestures by Sanchez Ceren to reach out to El Salvador’s business community and dispel rumors of a hard tack to the left in a second FMLN presidency.

These selections also challenge the warnings of conservative analysts in the U.S., like Roger Noriega and Elliot Abrams, who made allegations of FARC ties and predictions that the Central American country would become “the next Venezuela” in the event of a Sanchez Ceren electoral victory.

Indeed, it’s worth mentioning that plenty of Salvadoran pundits who are normally critical of the FMLN have voiced approval of Sanchez Ceren’s calls for bipartisanship after his narrow win earlier this month. In a column published in La Prensa Grafica yesterday, conservative commentator Rafael Castellanos praised the president elect’s openness to dialogue and urged Salvadorans on the right to take advantage of his offers. “[T]he thing to do is take the president at his word, advancing as far as possible in good faith, and leaving mistrust at the door,” Castellano writes. Castellanos’ praise has been echoed by Salvador Samayoa, a former FMLN commander who has drifted to the right and criticized the party in recent years in a manner similar to Joaquin Villalobos. Writing for El Diario de Hoy last week, Samayoa argued that Sanchez Ceren’s administration would likely adopt a far more favorable attitude towards media criticism and free speech than current President Mauricio Funes.

Fortunately for El Salvador, elements of the opposition ARENA party seem well-disposed to dialogue with the administration. The party has promised to serve as a “democratic, serious, intelligent and honest opposition” under the next administration, and El Faro even reports that ARENA members held secret talks with their FMLN rivals immediately following the election to establish direct channels of communication in anticipation of future conflict.

News Briefs
  • Brazil continues to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March 31-April 1, 1964 military coup that overthrew President João Goulart. In a press conference yesterday, President Dilma Rousseff issued an apology to victims of the country’s military regime and said the country had a responsibility to “remember and speak about what happened” in those years, O Globo reports.
  • Recent days have also seen the publication of number of analyses of democratic progress in Brazil. Lucia Nader, director of the São Paulo-based human rights group Conectas, argues that despite important gains made in political rights and development indicators, two things remain nearly unchanged from the days of the military regime: Brazil’s prison system and its repressive law enforcement apparatus. This argument is borne out by the Justice Ministry’s own data; officials say that allegations of torture have risen some 129 percent in the last three years alone. And in a piece for Brasil Post, Open Society Foundations Regional Director Pedro Abramovay notes that this year marks not only the 50th anniversary of the coup, but the 25th anniversary of Brazil’s return to democracy. According to Abramovay, the rise of Brazil’s first generation to grow up in democracy necessitates an embrace of new policy debates and “democratic innovation,” as well as a rejection of old, Cold War-era divisions.
  • Mexican authorities have privately confirmed the latest blow to the once-mighty Knights Templar cartel, the death of cartel leader Enrique Plancarte, although the announcement has not yet been made official. As El Universal notes, the group’s best-known leader, Servando Gomez, alias "La Tuta," remains at large. The Associated Press reports that the shooting occurred in the wake of a broader crackdown on self-defense militias in the Templars’ home state of Michoacan, where the second “autodefensa” leader in a month has been arrested on murder charges.
  • Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has unveiled her plan to reform her country’s tax policies, fulfilling a campaign promise meant to provide funding for an overhaul of the education system. La Tercera features commentary on the reform package by tax experts in the country, with some expressing concern about its swift presentation and dismay that the proposed education plan was not presented first. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the bill is expected to pass Congress with ease thanks to its simple majority in both houses.
  • The Miami Herald reports that Haitian Senators are set to vote today on an electoral bill which observers in the United States are watching carefully as a sign that long-overdue elections will be held this year as planned.
  • According to an analysis of recent polls by Colombia’s La Silla Vacia, President Juan Manuel Santos paid a price for his support for the removal of Bogota ex-mayor Gustavo Petro last month. A Cifras y Conceptos survey conducted in late March suggest that he continues to lose ground to other candidates, and that public opinion did not respond well to Petro’s sacking.
  • Following a December report by the so-called congressional “mega-commission” investigating former Peruvian President Alan Garcia which recommended investigating him for allegations that he pardoned hundreds of alleged criminals in exchange for cash, Garcia’s future looked bleak. However, yesterday Peru’s Supreme Court issued a ruling annulling the report, citing alleged inaccuracies, La Republica reports. In a column published in El Comercio yesterday, Alan Garcia alleged that the congressional report was a “foolish” attempt to disqualify him from running in future elections.
  • Following the deployment of armed forces to the western Venezuelan city of San Cristobal last month, authorities say that the protest hub has been cleared of opposition barricades along major highways, El Universal and the BBC report.
  • Late on Monday, Venezuela’s Supreme Court backed a lower court decision which strips opposition Congresswoman Maria Corina Machado of her seat and opens her up to prosecution. According to a statement released by the court, Machado’s attempts to address the OAS General Assembly last month as a temporary member of the Panamanian delegation violated her duties as an elected official.

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