Monday, June 2, 2014

El Salvador's Sanchez Ceren Takes Office

El Salvador's Salvador Sanchez Ceren was sworn in yesterday, officially becoming the country's first ex-guerrilla president. 

In his inauguration speech, Sanchez Ceren promised to govern the country with "honor, austerity, efficiency and transparency," which El Faro interprets as a potential dig at outgoing President Mauricio Funes. A lack of oversight on spending has been one of the main criticisms of the Funes administration, and an investigation published last week by the news site revealed that he used his position to benefit close friends and political allies.

As the Associated Press reports, the new president has promised to bring in revenue by signing onto Venezuela's Petrocaribe program, which provides subsidized oil to member countries. Yesterday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro congratulated Sanchez Ceren's inauguration and said he would welcome El Salvador's membership in the program. Nevertheless, the AP notes that Sanchez Ceren has promised to govern "less like Venezuela's socialist leaders than Uruguay's folksy Jose Mujica."

La Prensa Grafica reports that the president announced he will prioritize insecurity and crime in his administration, an important issue following the breakdown in the MS-13-Bario 18 gang truce that has caused homicides to spike in recent weeks. In his speech, Sanchez Ceren said he would personally lead the country's Citizen Security System, though he did not specifically mention the gangs or lay out a concrete plan to address violent crime. The Christian Science Monitor also looks at the president's vague position on the gang truce, suggesting that it is unclear whether he will seek to salvage the talks or simply abandon them altogether.

Sanchez Ceren also swore to "facilitate the construction of structural changes" he insisted are necessary in the country. Ultimately, however, his FMLN party's lack of majority control in the Legislative Assembly will make this difficult. Likely because of this, he continued his post-election emphasis on the necessity of dialogue with the opposition in his speech, saying: "Our reality requires us to reach consensus, to seek agreement and solutions." 

Hopefully the new president will have better luck building bridges than his predecessor. As La Pagina notes, members of the opposition ARENA party's congressional leadership turned their back on Funes when he walked onstage at yesterday's inauguration, refusing to greet him in a show of contempt.

News Briefs
  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has confirmed reports that he will implement a shift in his anti-drug strategy away from forced eradication and towards subsidized crop substitution.  RPP reports that in a televised interview on Sunday, Humala said that he had placed control over illicit coca crop control efforts in the coca-growing VRAEM region in the hands of the Agricultural Ministry, rather than security forces. “We want to substantially reduce the area of coca planted in the VRAEM and we believe that [the Ministry of] Agriculture should assume this policy through crop conversion.” The AP notes that the president stressed he would not rule out forced eradication if substitution efforts failed, however.
  • The fine print of Uruguay’s new marijuana law appears to have triggered alarms among business associations in the country, which are particularly concerned by their inability to fire an employee simply for using drug under the law. Instead, the regulations establish that a review committee will assess the case and determine whether drug treatment is necessary, and prohibits their dismissal in cases where no other infractions have occurred. El Pais reports that the government intends to meet with representatives which have questioned this measure this week.
  • In a Huffington Post column, Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working Group looks at U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent foreign policy speech at West Point, in which he made the case for global engagement over projection of military power. According to Haugaard, Obama can back his rhetoric up in the hemisphere by further committing to peace talks in Colombia, opening up relations with Cuba, opposing the use of military forces in citizen security efforts in the region and altering the U.S. approach to the drug war in the region, among other measures.
  • Semana magazine notes that Colombia’s Constitutional Court has begun hearing arguments in a challenge to the Legal Framework for Peace, a landmark transitional justice law passed in 2012 that would allow demobilized rebels to participate in politics. While the court backed the law in a previous hearing in 2013, the current challenge filed by former Deputy Defense Minister Rafael Guarin asserts that those who commit war crimes, “acts of terrorism” and “international” crimes like drug trafficking cannot be granted amnesty, and should not be eligible to hold office.
  • The New York Times on Friday published an overview of an increase in crime in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the World Cup, pointing to a rise in reported muggings, homicides and shootings of police officers.
  • Imprisoned ex-Venezuelan police commissioner Ivan Simonovis, who the opposition views as one of the longest-held political prisoners in the country, ended a hunger strike on Sunday after his requests to be released on health grounds were denied. An assessment by public prosecutors found that Simonovis’s health is stable and he has access to medical care, El Universal reports.
  • On Friday, the Washington Post again published an editorial supporting targeted sanctions on government officials in Venezuela. While the paper notes opposition to sanctions among other Latin America governments and concerns that enacting them would provide ammunition to Chavismo’s anti-imperialist discourse, it ultimately concludes that doing so is the wisest course of action, because it would “give Mr. Maduro and his cronies a chance to change course — and the motive to do so.” However, in a column for El Universal, Venezuelan pollster and political analyst Luis Vicente Leon argues that U.S. sanctions would be “untimely and inconvenient,” because they would solidify support for the Maduro government among regional governments which would see them as an attack on UNASUR’s dialogue efforts as well as on their own sovereignty. For non-Spanish speakers, David Smilde offers an English translation of the column’s two key paragraphs at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • The L.A. Times reports on an apparent gap between economic analysts’ and officials’ estimates of economic grown in Mexico.  While the government continues to stick to a prediction of 2.7 percent GDP growth this year, analysts and business leaders suggest this is not possible under current conditions.
  • Offering a kind of foil to this narrative, the New York Times profiles growing interest in Mexico among American manufacturing companies, many of which cite rising labor costs in China as a primary factor for setting up operations closer to home.