Monday, June 16, 2014

Colombia's Santos Re-Elected

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won re-election yesterday, in a vote that gives a boost to peace talks in Havana and provides him with a renewed mandate to push them forward.

According to the Registraduria’s vote count, Santos beat right -wing challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga 50.95 to 45 percent. The president has cast his victory as an endorsement of peace talks with guerrillas, as the Wall Street Journal reports, but the tight race highlights lingering doubts about the terms of peace negotiations, as the NYT notes.

Compared to the first round, in which the president came in second place with 3.2 million votes, Santos more than doubled his support on Sunday, with a total of 7.8 million votes. The abstention rate, which at 60 percent was unusually high in the first round, dropped to 53 percent on Sunday, a sign that concern over the future of peace talks led some who were previously indifferent to turn out in the second round. 

In addition to winning over independents, one of the deciding factors in Santos’ win was his decision to build an alliance with the Colombian left, including most leaders of the opposition Polo Democratico and other smaller leftist parties, and campesino movements. Semana magazine notes that Santos’ supporters on the left make strange bedfellows with his allies among more traditional sectors of the political elite. It remains to be seen whether this unwieldy coalition will prove to be a broad front for the consolidation of peace or whether its diversity will bring bitter political disputes in the future.

In addition to managing these alliances, Santos will have to reckon with an empowered right-wing opposition led by his former boss, ex-President Alvaro Uribe. Even though the Uribe-backed Zuluaga lost, Uribismo has consolidated its role as the primary conservative political force in the country. After winning a legislative election in March Uribe will assume a Senate seat this Friday, and La Silla Vacia notes that he will be well positioned to use his podium to benefit his Centro Democratico party in provincial and local elections next year.

Uribe has already gone on the attack following Zuluaga’s loss. While the presidential contender nobly conceded his loss while congratulating Santos on his win, El Espectador reports that Uribe wasted no time in accusing the incumbent of committing massive fraud, including vote-buying and using illegal campaign funds. As the AP points out, Uribe presented no evidence for these claims and independent observers witnessed no proof of his allegations.  

News Briefs
  • The Associated Press has become the latest media outlet to focus attention on the disproportionate use of force by Brazilian authorities in response to World Cup protests. Yesterday the agency reported that it had filmed footage showing a police officer sitting on a motorcycle and firing what appears to be a loaded pistol at demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro. Police also fired tear gas and stun grenades to stop the advance of the roughly 200 protesters towards the city’s main stadium. Another, non-uniformed individual who identified himself as a policeman can also be seen in the AP video brandishing a pistol and firing shots into the air. O Globo also reports that one of its own reporters was detained yesterday after taking photos of police arresting an Argentine soccer fan on Sunday.
  • U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is embarking on a visit to Latin America this week, heading to Brazil, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, where he is expected to address a host of bilateral issues including trade, energy security, migration and citizen security. In an exclusive interview with Folha, Biden told the paper one of his goals of his visit to Brazil is to “rebuild trust” with the administration’s Brazilian counterparts. 
  • Yesterday administration officials announced that the vice president would be adding a stop to his tour in Guatemala on Friday, where he will meet with President Otto Perez Molina, El Salvador's Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Honduran Coordinator General Jorge Ramon Hernandez to discuss security issues and migration. The announcement is related to the recent declaration of a “humanitarian crisis” due to the spike in unaccompanied child immigrants along the southern border. In Guatemala, Biden is expected to address what the administration sees as the main causes of the recent wave of unaccompanied child immigrants (violence and poverty), and attempt to dispel misconceptions that the US is more lenient towards unaccompanied minors, as Politico notes.  
  • The fact that Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez himself will not meet with Biden makes some sense in the wake of some of his recent remarks, in which he claimed the situation was due to a lack of immigration reform and weak drug laws in the U.S.  “Sadly, here some U.S. officials think [the drug] problem is a health one, not a life and death situation like it is for us,” the president said in remarks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday.
  • After Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren gave signals that his  government would not continue to facilitate a truce between the country’s largest street gangs last week, Security Minister Benito Lara has clarified these remarks in an interview with El Faro’s Sala Negra. Lara told the news site that the government will not in fact stop truce negotiators from meeting with imprisoned gang leaders, and even said that the administration would consider dialogue with them if it would be in the country’s security interests.
  • BBC Mundo reports on this month’s opening of the Place of Remembrance, Tolerance and Social Inclusion, a museum in Peru meant to honor the memory of victims of the country’s armed conflict from 1980 to 2000. The fact that everything from the museum’s name to its exhibits have been contested by critics who are opposed to placing government abuses on the same level as those committed by Shining Path guerrillas suggest full reconciliation is still a long way off.
  • The Washington Post looks at the work of Colombia’s Agency for Reintegration, noting that interviews with demobilized ex-combatants suggest the desertion rate among armed groups is increasing as peace talks continue. In the event that talks fail,  the paper points out that the agency’s work will take on an even greater strategic significance.
  • While a Chilean investigation into the death of Pablo Neruda following the coup that brought Pinochet to power in 1973 found no evidence that he was murdered, some remain unconvinced. A judge has ordered another round of testing of the poet’s exhumed remains, to be carried out in Spain and other unspecified countries.