Friday, July 18, 2014

Brazil’s Presidential Race Heats Up

Just days after the presidential campaign ahead of October's general election in Brazil formally kicked off, a new poll suggests President Dilma Rousseff could face a tighter race than expected.

According to a Datafolha survey released yesterday, support for the PT candidate is at 36 percent, a figure which has stayed roughly constant since April. The percentage of respondents backing her biggest rival, Aecio Neves of the PSDB, is unchanged compared to the last poll in early July, standing at 20 percent. The PSB’s Eduardo Campos is in a distant third, with 8 percent support.

While these numbers have not moved significantly, Datafolha’s past polling shows that the president’s advantage over Neves in a hypothetical second round matchup has shrunk drastically in recent months. In February she held a 27-point lead among respondents asked about their preferences in a second round vote, 54 to 27 percent. However, the most recent poll shows Dilma only four points ahead, with 44 compared to Neves’ 40 percent. This is within the survey’s margin of error, making the two statistically tied for the first time.

It’s important to note, however, that the Datafolha poll showed that the combined support for Neves, Campos and a half dozen lesser challengers totaled 36 percent, equal to the percentage in favor of Rousseff. For this reason, Folha is careful to point out that it remains unclear whether Rousseff will fail to obtain over 50 percent of votes and avoid a runoff.  Still, the president’s falling margin makes a runoff increasingly likely, as Reuters notes.

News Briefs
  • After the AP reported yesterday that Pentagon officials had relayed plans to transfer six Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay to Congress, the news has been confirmed by the New York Times, which reports that the transfer was approved by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. According to the Washington Post, the men include four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian. One of the Syrians is reportedly behind a high-profile legal challenge to the military’s force-feeding of detainees.
  • Yesterday, Bolivia signed into law a bill authorizing children as young as 10 to work as long as they attend school and remain under parental supervision. It also sets the minimum age for legal work contracts at 12, though these children would also have to attend school in order for such contracts to be valid. The law’s supporters, including President Evo Morales and an association of organized working children, say it will help regulate an existing reality and minimize the potential for abuse. But its critics, like HRW’s Jo Becker, argue the government would be better off expanding conditional cash transfer programs in exchange for school attendance.
  • The Global Post has a profile of Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez, one of the leading proponents of the theory that the powerful Sinaloa Cartel has brokered deals with top officials in the Mexican government, including President Enrique Peña Nieto. Among Hernandez’s most inflammatory allegations is the assertion that former President Felipe Calderon’s decision to crack down on drug trafficking began as an effort to defend Sinaloa Cartel interests, and that his administration had direct contact with Sinaloa figures.
  • The L.A. Times reports on the raid on a shelter in the Mexican state of Michoacan earlier this week, in which nearly 500 children and 100 adults were rescued from appalling conditions. Although the shelter’s director, a 79 year-old woman known as Mama Rosa, has been accused of subjecting children to unhygienic living standards and abuse, a number of prominent Mexicans -- including former President Vicente Fox -- have come to her defense.
  • Semana has an update on the status of the Colombian peace talks in Havana, where FARC and government negotiators have turned to the issue of conflict victims. Both sides have issued a joint statement confirming that 15 delegates from the Mesa Nacional de Victimas, a national victims’ group coordinating body, will be sent to Havana on August 16. However, there remains a lack of consensus over the makeup of this first group and future delegations, as Reuters notes.
  • In an interview with CNN Español last night, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was asked about reports which emerged in November 2013 that the country had spent $8 million on the peace process in Havana at that point. While the president accepted the figure, he downplayed its significance, saying: “The resources invested there are minimal compared with the dividend that peace can bring us.” El Espectador notes that he also rejected claims that peace would mean total impunity for crimes committed by FARC guerrillas.
  • According to El Pais, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to unveil new economic reforms earlier this week were unexpectedly delayed at the last minute, which the paper asserts is proof of an ideological dispute within the government.
  • El Nacional reports that on Sunday, members of Venezuela’s ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) will select delegates to the party’s national congress in Caracas on July 26-28. The paper points to the congress as a potential flash point for the emerging divisions within Chavismo, noting concerns about the PSUV’s internal procedures raised by prominent intellectuals of the Venezuelan left on Aporrea.org.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that his government is seeking to reestablish a Cold War-era electronic surveillance station in Lourdes, Cuba, reports of which raised concerns that it could jeopardize the potential for further U.S. rapprochement with the island. In a statement published online yesterday, Putin said the listening post had been closed “in agreement with our Cuban friends,” and that there were no plans to renew its activities.
  • The Economist looks at the status of negotiations between holdout creditors and the government of Argentina, which have yet to make significant progress even as the country is two weeks away from default. While a last minute deal is still likely, the magazine describes the behavior of Argentine officials in recent weeks as “erratic.”