Monday, May 26, 2014

Santos to Face Zuluaga in Colombia's Runoff Vote

With 99.9 percent of the ballots counted, the first round of Colombia’s presidential election has been decided. Despite the last-minute spying scandal that tied him to an apparent attempt to sabotage peace talks with rebels in Havana, it appears that supporters of conservative candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga were unfazed by the revelation. Zuluaga beat President Juan Manuel Santos by 29.2 to 25.6 percent of the vote. The two will now face each other in a runoff on June 15.

Interestingly, former Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa received only 8 percent of the vote, even though just two months ago polls suggested he could emerge as Santos’ main challenger. The two women candidates, Clara Lopez of the left-wing Polo Democratico-UP alliance and the Conservative Party’s Marta Ramirez, each received nearly twice as many votes as Peñalosa (15.2 and 15.5 percent, respectively). Semana magazine claims that their strong showing will give Lopez and Ramirez significant leverage, and predicts that Santos and Zuluaga will likely compete to court their respective support bases ahead of the second round.

Indeed, Santos wasted no time in appealing to supporters of the three losing candidates. In his post-election speech yesterday, he invited their supporters to back him in the runoff, praising Ramirez’s anti-corruption promises, Lopez’s education and post-conflict proposals and Peñalosa´s security and environmental promises.

In its 10-point analysis of the vote, news site La Silla Vacia also claims that electoral officials in the Registraduria are among yesterday’s victors, noting that they were able to count 95 percent of the results just two hours after polls had closed.  

The other meaningful aspect of yesterday’s vote was the high abstention rate. El Tiempo reports that just 40 percent of eligible voters participated in the election, compared to 51 percent in the previous first-round presidential vote in 2010. Spanish news agency EFE notes that there were no reports of violent incidents, which it chalks up to the unilateral ceasefire announced by FARC and ELN guerrillas.

News Briefs
  • El Universo and Reuters report that during a speech before Congress on Saturday, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said that he would support a reform to the Constitution that would ban term limits, allowing any elected official to serve indefinitely. The president had previously opposed such a measure, but told lawmakers that he had reversed his position out of concern for preserving the gains of his political project. According to Correa: “We must continue to adjust our institutions to reality and not give way to the return of elite domination.” As recently as January, the leader told state newspaper El Telegrafo that “It is a great injury for one person to be so essential that the Constitution may be altered to change the rules of the game.”
  • A UNASUR summit in the Galapagos Islands on Friday ended with the 12-member body issuing a joint statement rejecting the application of sanctions against Venezuelan officials, a move many U.S. lawmakers support. According to the statement, sanctions would represent an “obstacle” to dialogue and “violate the principle of non-intervention in other states’ internal affairs,” El Universal reports.
  • Following the ouster of their husbands in March, the wives of two imprisoned opposition mayors in the Venezuelan cities of San Cristobal and San Diego have won special elections to replace them. The Wall Street Journal and BBC Mundo note that their win is a symbolic victory for the opposition movement in the country.
  • In a column for Foreign Policy’s Passport blog, Venezuelan opposition blogger Juan Nagel offers a critical look at the country’s “enchufados,” a term used to describe the plugged-in political elites who profit from the price controls and regulation initiatives of the government. Nagel argues that this crowd, whom he identifies as military personnel, public employees and business elites, are frequently the primary beneficiaries of government policies. This relationship, according to him, represents “an important tool in keeping the Chavista coalition together.”
  • The government-mediated truce between the MS-13 and Barrio 18 street gangs in El Salvador --  which led to a record drop in homicides in 2012 -- has officially ended, and it shows.  Friday saw 31 homicides in a single 24-hour period, according to La Prensa Grafica, making it the most violent day of the year so far. According to El Faro’s Sala Negra, mediators between the gangs blame the collapse of the truce on an alleged effort by Security Minister Ricardo Perdomo to arrest gang spokesmen and shut down communication between imprisoned mara leaders and their lieutenants on the outside.
  • Last Thursday, Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong announced that the government had recalculated the total number of disappeared individuals in the country since the start of its drug-fueled violence in 2006. According to the government, the running total of missing people had been cut in half in the past year, and now stands at around 8,000. However, both CNN Mexico and La Jornada note that victims’ associations, human rights groups and security analysts have all questioned this number, accusing the Peña Nieto administration of manipulating statistics.
  • Subcomandante Marcos, the masked, pipe-smoking spokesman for the indigenous Zapatista movement in southern Mexico, is apparently withdrawing from the spotlight. In a long communiqué posted on the group’s website, Marcos announced that he would “no longer exist” because the figure he represents, which he called a “hologram,” is no longer necessary. “The persona was created and now its creators, Zapatista men and Zapatista women, destroy him,” the statement reads. Marcos said he would be replaced by “Comandante Insurgente Galeano,” a reference to a Zapatista activist who was recently slain. As the AP notes, it is unclear whether he will continue to speak or write under the new name.
  • While new Cuban news site 14ymedio was blocked from users on the island shortly after its launch last week, founder and opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez has announced that it is once again accessible within Cuba. EFE reports that the block was lifted hours after official daily Granma denounced the news site as a U.S. destabilization plot, comparing it to failed social media app ZunZuneo. The timing has 14ymedio editor -- and Sanchez’s husband -- Reinaldo Escobar wary that it the removal of the block could be a tactic of discrediting the site.
  • The AP reports on the latest push to relax marijuana laws in the Caribbean: a three-day conference held in Jamaica on the benefits of marijuana decriminalization. The conference brought together experts from the U.S. and Israel, and ended with the presentation of a 12-point roadmap for the government to follow, which includes measures like expunging criminal records of those convicted of possessing the drug. The news agency notes that while several cabinet officials in the country have supported decriminalization and legalizing medical marijuana, the government of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has not signaled a concrete position on the issue.
  • Today’s New York Times features an op-ed by Brazilian journalist Vanessa Barbara, in which she takes aim at the growing international criticism of her country’s World Cup and Olympics arrangements. Barbara characterizes the preparations as part of her country’s longstanding practice of struggling to meet demands by foreign entities, and takes the position that the slow pace of these is in synch with the state of Brazilian bureaucracy and government functions overall.