Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ecuador Rejects Petition for Referendum on Amazon Drilling

Ecuadorean electoral authorities have invalidated roughly half of the signatures on a petition to hold a referendum on oil-drilling in the Yasuni Amazon Reserve, a move that activists say amounts to blatant fraud.

While the official conclusion of the National Electoral Council’s (CNE) analysis of the petition will be announced later today, El Universo reports that CNE President Domingo Paredes told journalists the news yesterday. According to Paredes, only 359,761 of the 756,000 signatures presented by the “Yasunidos” activist coalition were accepted, with the rest allegedly bearing irregularities. The CNE official also said some individuals associated with the petition had signed various times, demonstrating what he called “an apparent attempt to delude the CNE and the public to the detriment of the democratic system.”

In response, Yasunido spokesman Patricio Chavez has alleged that the review lacked transparency, and called on the CNE to publish evidence of the allegedly widespread irregularities. “This is without precedent. This is fraud, a clear fraud…We have a copy of everything we turned over and before turning it over we did a verification to prevent any problems,” Chavez told the AP. Diario Hoy reports that the group is organizing a demonstration in front of the CNE headquarters in Quito to protest the rejection of the petition.

Whether the electoral authorities’ claims are legitimate or not, the incident is bound to fuel allegations that the government is attempting to stifle independent civil society.  Last year the ruling Alianza Pais party passed a controversial media law that press freedom  advocates warned would pave the way for arbitrary sanctions and censorship of the media. In December, Ecuadorean officials forced a separate environmental NGO to close its doors after holding it responsible for acts of violence at a protest.

It’s worth noting, also, that the results of a recent poll published in state newspaper El Telegrafo (but only highlighted in private media) showed that 72 percent of Ecuadoreans are in favor of a referendum on oil drilling in Yasuni.

News Briefs
  • Following the resignation of President Juan Manuel’s chief campaign strategist amid bribery allegations, his main rival in this month’s elections is seeing a campaign scandal of his own. Yesterday police arrested a tech expert and suspected hacker accused of gathering information to sabotage the peace talks between FARC rebels and the government. The individual had also been contracted to provide information security and social networking services to the campaign of right-wing presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, which critics say is no coincidence. According to Semana magazine, the hacker boasted that he had information that could “end the peace process,” something which Zuluaga and his powerful ally Alvaro Uribe are accused of wanting as well.
  • A new report published by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and signed by five Nobel Prize-winning economists is making headlines for highlighting the failures of the dominant global paradigm. Especially interesting for Latin America watchers are the chapters by Alejandro Madrazo Lajous of Mexico’s CIDE and Colombian drug policy expert Daniel Mejia, both of which examine the negative impact the war on drugs has had on state institutions and democratic governance in the region.
  • Despite some hopeful signs last month, the UNASUR-facilitated talks between the Venezuelan government and the opposition appear to have made no major progress in recent weeks. The biggest development in the dialogue recently has been the MUD coalition’s success at persuading officials to review the cases of students imprisoned following recent protests, as Ultimas Noticias reports. In remarks on his radio show yesterday, President Maduro admitted that the talks are “going slow,” but said he believed they would bear fruit in the coming days and weeks.
  • The Miami Herald looks at price increases in Venezuela and their impact on the thriving smuggling trade that has sprung up on the Colombian border thanks to price controls in the country.
  • Reuters has a profile of Wang Jing, the Chinese billionaire behind Nicaragua’s attempt to build a rival to the Panama Canal. As the news agency points out, Wang has been criticized for his apparent lack of experience in funding major infrastructure projects, as well as by those who say the plans are not addressing social and environmental concerns.
  • After President Michel Martelly announced the creation of new electoral council in response to opposition demands, Haiti appears one stop closer to holding long-overdue local and legislative elections. But as the AP reports, some of his political opponents have voiced criticism of his appointments.
  • With the World Cup around the corner and many planned projects far from being finished, a number of Brazilian officials are conceding that they are out of time. As a result, some cities are rolling out their “plan B” procedures, which has many analysts concerned about the Olympics preparations for 2016, according to the Washington Post.
  • The Guardian looks at Brazilian politician Katia Abreu, the head of the country’s powerful agricultural lobby whom critics have dubbed the “chainsaw queen” for her support of weakened restrictions on Amazon logging.
  • Yesterday a judge in San Salvador officially issued an arrest warrant for former President Francisco Flores, who has been charged with embezzlement and illegal enrichment. The AP reports that the judge asked for Interpol’s help in finding Flores, who many believe has fled to Panama. However, as the AFP notes, the Panamanian foreign minister has denied reports that Flores has requested asylum there.