Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Brazil’s Marina Silva Surges in Polls Ahead of First Debate

According to a new Ibope poll published yesterday, newly-appointed PSB candidate Marina Silva would defeat President Dilma Rousseff of the PT in the event of a second-round runoff vote in October’s election.

The Ibope survey, based on some 2,500 responses collected August 23-25, shows Rousseff with 34 percent support, followed by Silva with 29 percent and the PSDB’s Aecio Neves with 19 percent. A hypothetical second-round matchup shows 45 percent for Silva and 36 percent for Rousseff.

But just as with last week’s Datafolha survey, the Ibope poll should probably be taken with a grain of salt. It was conducted only 10-12 days after the death of the PSB’s initial candidate, Silva’s running mate Eduardo Campos, and sympathy for Silva could be artificially boosting her support. As O Globo reports, this is the prevailing interpretation in the Rousseff and Neves camps, which are -- at least publicly -- dismissing Silva’s popularity as an falsely inflated.

Moving forward, however, it will not be as easy for either candidate to continue to write her off. Last night, the Band TV Network hosted the first debate of the presidential campaign, marking the first opportunity for candidates to directly respond to each other’s policy proposals.

Unfortunately, as the BBC’s Rio correspondent Wyres Davies points out, the debate largely featured more platitudes than policy. Part of this was due to its structure; a total of seven candidates participated in the debate, which stretched over three hours across five rounds.

Much of the debate focused on general criticism of the Rousseff administration, while she in turn focused most of her attention on Neves, as Estadão reports.  The PSDB candidate, for his part, did his best to frame Silva and Rousseff as two sides of the same coin, and took advantage of the debate to announce that hedge fund founder and former central bank chief Arminio Fraga would be his finance minister if victorious in October.

Silva, in turn, attempted to cast herself as the true alternative voice among the leading candidates. At one point, when asked about her party’s ties to economic elites, she criticized the PT’s alleged discourse of “class conflict,” saying: “the problem with Brazil is not the elites, but the lack of them.”

The inclusion of the four minor candidates in last night’s debate also contributed to a wider than normal range of positions on social issues. Particularly notable was the contrast between Pastor Everaldo Pereira of the Social Christian Party, who devoted much of his time to condemning same-sex marriage (which Brazil’s Supreme Court legalized last year) and privatizing Petrobras, and the Green Party’s Eduardo Jorge, who proposed legalizing abortion and regulating the black market for illicit drugs. As the Brasil Post notes, the latter’s radical positions and somewhat rambling answers made him an instant favorite of social media users in the country, though polls show him with only one percent support.

News Briefs
  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s attempts to get lawmakers to approve a newly-reshuffled cabinet narrowly succeeded yesterday after Congress denied him a vote of confidence for the second time this year on Friday. According to the Wall Street Journal, opposition lawmakers had demanded that changes to private pensions be suspended, as well as the withdrawal of the administration’s support for Inter-American Human Rights Court Judge Diego Garcia Saya’s controversial bid for OAS Secretary General. The WSJ reports that the administration has suggested it will cede to the pension demand and “consider” backing off support for Garcia Sayan.
  • As mentioned in Monday’s briefing, today Uruguay’s Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) is slated to begin accepting applications from individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants per household. According to El Pais, the first to do so this morning was Juan Vaz, spokesman of the Association of Cannabis Studies (AECU) and a leading figure in the country’s marijuana legalization movement. The IRCCA has said it will review all applications and issue the first legal home-cultivation licenses within 30 days.
  • A new study released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) yesterday is calling into question the antipoverty gains made in Latin America over the last decade. According to the report, more than a third of Latin America’s population (38 percent) remain “vulnerable” to sliding back into poverty in the event of a financial or environmental crisis. As the BBC reports, the report also praised poverty reduction initiatives over the last decade in Peru and Bolivia, while noting that the level of poverty  increased in Guatemala by 6.8 percent and remained relatively stable during that time in Uruguay, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
  • In a column for The Guardian, UNDP Chief Economist for Latin America and the Caribbean George Gray Molina asserts that new data published by the World Bank shows that the decline of inequality in the region is beginning to stagnate. Gray Molina offers three potential paths forward for regional governments interested in reversing this trend, though he acknowledges pessimistically that the most likely scenario will be a continuation of the current, faltering policies.  
  • While Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ambitious reforms to the energy and telecommunications sectors have made him popular among foreign investors, a new survey by the Pew Research Center suggests they have cost him support at home. The poll shows that the percentage of those who rate Peña Nieto’s influence negatively has risen nine points since 2013, to 47 percent, while those who rate it positively fell from 57 to 51 percent. As the L.A. Times reports, the most pronounced change in attitudes has to do with the economy; the number of those who disapprove of the president’s economic policies grew 14 points from last year, and now stands at 60 percent.
  • In Ecuador, six policemen accused of taking part in the September 2010 “coup attempt” against President Rafael Correa have been sentenced to 12 years in prison. As El Universo reports, they were convicted earlier this month of attempting to assassinate Correa.
  • Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has raised eyebrows for backing a proposal to move the country’s capital from Buenos Aires to Santiago del Estero, located some 700 miles northwest of the city. As La Nacion reports, the suggestion was first made by her party’s congressional leader in the lower house, Julian Dominguez.
  • A former top lieutenant for Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, who has admitted to killing hundreds for the Medellin Cartel, has been released from prison. John Jairo Velasquez, alias Popeye, was freed yesterday amid protests from several of his victims, as the AP reports.  Newspaper El Espectador has a collection of responses from 10 people who lost relatives to Popeye’s hit squad, many of whom question why he has not been re-charged after admitting to murders for which he has not yet been convicted.
  • The BBC has an in-depth report on the rise of private drug treatment centers in Guatemala, which largely operate outside official regulations. Because the Health Ministry has just one official tasked with monitoring them, the frequently Christian-oriented clinics often sweep individuals off the streets and detain them for indefinite lengths of time against their will. While held, they are frequently subjected to questionable or even abusive treatment, including beatings and forced labor. According to the report, there may be as many as 6,000 people held in these centers.
  • The Miami Herald offers an overview of the Panama Canal Authority’s efforts to trap and relocate animals in the area affected by the ongoing expansion of the canal, as well as to offset deforestation by planting new trees. Some 5,800 animals of different species -- mostly reptiles and mammals -- had been rescued as of June, and authorities say that for every hectare of vegetation cut, two hectares of trees will be planted in already protected areas.