Monday, September 1, 2014

Brazil’s Marina Silva Reverses on LGBT Rights Overnight

Marina Silva’s odds of winning Brazil’s presidential election in October are looking better and better. As the AP notes, Friday brought some bad news for President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election campaign in the form of a one-two punch: not only is the economy now officially in a recession, but polls show support for Silva is continuing to rise.

According to the latest Datafolha survey, support for Silva increased by 13 points in two weeks, with the poll showing both her and Rousseff tied in the first round with 34 percent of the vote. In a second-round matchup, however, Datafolha found that Silva would beat the president by ten points, 50 to 40 percent.

Also on Friday, Silva released her official electoral platform, outlining her position on a range of issues in a 244-page document. The program contains a number of interesting proposals, like putting an end to re-election and gradually increasing healthcare spending to 10 percent of GDP. On economic issues, Silva promised to lower the country’s tax burden and give more autonomy to Brazil’s central bank, which has earned her support among the business community.

Silva's platform also included support for hydroelectric power as well as same-sex marriage, two issues she has opposed in the past due, respectively, to her environmentalism and devoted evangelical Christian beliefs.  As The Economist points out, her decision to back away from her unyielding Green image and the inclusion of these points clashes with her opponents’ -- Rousseff and the PSDB’s Aecio Neves -- efforts to paint her as an inflexible leader with radical beliefs.

A day after unveiling her platform, however, cracks began to develop in her re-branded image as a moderate on social issues, at least when it comes to LGBT rights.  

In her initial program, the chapter on LGBT rights began with an impressive recognition that Brazilian society is “sexist, heteronormative and exclusionary.” In it, Silva’s campaign expressed support for legislation to eliminate barriers to adoption for gay and lesbian couples, formalize the recognition of same-sex marriages (which Brazil’s Supreme Court legalized in a landmark decision last year), and championed “raising awareness of the diversity of sexual orientation and new family structures.” The platform also backed several bills in Congress which aim to make it easier for trans individuals to change their identification cards and to criminalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  

As O Globo reported, Silva even defended these positions when questioned by journalists on Friday, saying that she was committed to the “secular state” and that “our commitment is that the civil rights of all people must be respected.”

But her platform came under heavy fire from conservative groups, in particular from popular Pentecostal televangelist and culture warrior Silas Malafaia, who accused Silva of supporting “the gay activist agenda.” 

Just 24 hours after presenting the platform, the Silva campaign walked it back, issuing a revised edition. As Folha de S.Paulo reports, the new version eliminates the language on heteronormativity and sexism, replaces explicit endorsement of gay marriage with support for civil unions, backs off of advocating legislation recognizing individuals’ gender identities, and does not propose removing barriers to adoption by same-sex couples.

According to Globo, a spokesperson for Silva's campaign claimed that the initial platform contained a number of mistakes due to a “procedural error,” and that it did not “faithfully portray the results of discussion on the topic during the planning stages of formulating the [campaign’s] government plan.”

Nevertheless, the sudden revision seems very much like standard politicking in order to appeal to evangelical voters, a move which clashes harshly with Silva’s promise to usher in an era of “new politics” in the country.

News Briefs
  • The Miami Herald looks at a renewed criminal investigation into former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who is accused of stealing embezzling millions of dollars in public funds from 2001 to 2004, during his second term in office. According to the Herald, the former leader has been keeping a mostly low profile, even as hundreds of supporters have rallied in front of his home to prevent his arrest.
  • Inter-American Court Judge Diego Garcia Sayan’s bid for OAS Secretary General has been officially launched, and El Comercio reports that the Peruvian jurist is in Washington today to hold a ceremony to kick start his campaign.  However, Foreign Minister Gonzalo Gutierrez told reporters yesterday that the Humala administration’s support for Garcia Sayan remains under evaluation, and will depend on his regional support.
  • While the creation of a "technical" military commission to study a potential ceasefire in Colombia has fueled a wave of reports on the feasibility of an end to hostilities in the country’s long-running armed conflict, the FARC have sought to temper expectations somewhat. In a recent AFP interview, FARC negotiator Andres Paris cautioned that a ceasefire, as well as disarmament, would be a slow process. “No one has suggested to the FARC, nor have we ever said to the government, that there would be a single moment when we would hand over our arms. I repeat, there will be no photo op of the FARC handing over its arms,” he told the news agency.
  • The Washington Post has a report on how imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel kingpin “Chapo” Guzman has been faring since his arrest earlier this year. As the Post notes, despite some reports in recent weeks about Guzman organizing a mass hunger strike in his prison to call for better conditions, authorities say inmates there have little to no contact with each other. The paper also claims that Guzman receives some special treatment: he has not been required to shave his moustache, in spite of the prison’s mandatory shaving rule.  
  • The L.A. Times is the latest U.S. outlet to profile the relatively low number of immigrants from Nicaragua compared to other Central American countries, which most analysts chalk up to a greater emphasis on community policing. But the paper also identifies another, lesser-known reason for this: the fact that Nicaraguan immigrant communities were not established in the U.S. in areas with the same heavy gang presence as Salvadorans and Guatemalans, which greatly reduced the spread of so-called “maras” in the Central American country in the deportation wave of the 1990s.
  • Spanish news agency EFE reports that imprisoned leaders of El Salvador’s Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18 have released a communiqué in which they claimed to have agreed to a new truce similar to the one that led to a drop in the homicide rate in 2012. The gang leaders are also calling on the government of President Salvador Sanchez Ceren to endorse their ceasefire to assure its success. Also on El Salvador’s maras, El Faro’s Sala Negra looks at the government’s decision in 2004 to designate separate facilities for Barrio 18 and MS-13 gangs, a move which some believe only furthered their influence in the country.
  • In a recent interview with EFE during a visit to Panama, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina reaffirmed his support for alternative drug policies, saying some drugs should be legalized, while others should be regulated. He also told the news agency that he believes the United States has become more flexible on the issue, which he called “an important change.”
  • Today, Cuban authorities are implementing new rules that will drastically restrict the amount of goods that travelers to Cuba can bring in their luggage, officially intended to eliminate a black market for items that private businesses are meant to purchase from the state. But as the Associated Press notes, the law will also take a toll on Cubans’ access to commercial goods brought in by visiting relatives.