Thursday, September 11, 2014

On the “Good Left” in Latin America

Colombia's La Silla Vacia has an interesting overview of an apparent spat between the country's left-wing Polo Democratico Party and the Bogota-based human rights group Dejusticia. 

According to La Silla, in recent days the party's website has hosted accusations from an article by Ecuador state media outlet Agencia Andes alleging that Dejusticia is part of a “mercenary campaign” to discredit Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, “paid for by Chevron.” As the news site reports, the allegation is never supported by facts, though it appears to be primarily in response to a recent report detailing a lack of judicial independence in Ecuador, published by Dejusticia, the Washington-based Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) and the Legal Defense Institute (IDL) of Peru.

On top of the errors in the Ecuadorean state article, the Polo Democratico’s publication of these accusations is, as La Silla points out, ironic. The Dejusticia-DPLF-IDL report identifies a number of cases in which the Correa administration has pressured courts to persecute opposition activism, in some cases even labeling it “terrorism.” If this sounds familiar, it’s because these are the exact same tactics that the Polo Democratico and human rights advocates have long accused the Colombian government of adopting against left-wing activists.

There some who might interpret the clash as an incarnation of the tired old "good left vs bad left" trope in the region. Instead, the dispute is probably best understood as a reminder that the "Left" in Latin America is far from a homogenous concept, and that the positions of leftist political parties and governments -- “good” or “bad” -- clash with those of progressive civil society groups nearly as often as they overlap. 

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, for instance, is usually considered of "the Left," or at least a center-left figure.  Yet she has been heavily criticized for her government's inaction on LGBT rights while in office. As Brazilian lawmaker and gay rights activist Jean Wyllys writes in Carta Capital, Rousseff has failed to push a bill that would enshrine the judiciary's recognition of same-sex marriages into law, and dismissed education programs targeting homophobia and transphobia as "sexual propaganda." 

Another good example of these blurred lines: Uruguay's "Pepe" Mujica is the darling of many liberals and libertarians in the hemisphere (he's certainly one of The Economist's favorite presidents), yet he is a committed supporter of Hugo Chavez's legacy. And while Mujica has been hailed abroad for his support of marijuana regulation, at home many drug policy reform advocates are aghast at his government's backing for a controversial involuntary treatment bill

The Polo Democratico, for all its commitment to defending Correa, should understand how problematic rigid right-left distinctions are. After all, following the recent presidential election the party entered into a legislative coalition with a political grouping that it spent the last eight years criticizing.


News Briefs
  • Also on the subject of “the Left” in Latin America, Brazilian sociologist Emir Sader has a recent column in Argentina’s Pagina 12 (also see this English translation at Upside Down World), in which he argues that the region is facing a period of “conservative restoration.” According to Sader, “the Right” in Latin America, having discovered that it cannot win power by undemocratic means, is shifting and adopting new tactics to successfully unseat progressive governments. The best course of action for the left, he argues, is the readjustment of social policies and the “democratization of the communications media.” While the author concedes that errors in economic policy by progressive governments are a contribution to their unpopularity, he also characterizes the diverse group of non-“Left” candidates in countries with upcoming elections (Marina Silva in Brazil, Luis Lacalle Pou in Uruguay and Sergio Massa in Argentina) as an embodiment of the same “mercantile interests.”
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appears to be making gains against her challenger Marina Silva’s recent surge in the polls. A Datafolha survey released yesterday shows Silva and Rousseff now statistically tied in a second-round matchup, with 47 and 43 percent support, respectively.
  • In the Christian Science Monitor Sibylla Brodzinsky looks at the criticisms of Colombia’s 2006 Justice and Peace law, which led to the demobilization of 30,000 members of the paramilitary United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), and its applications to the current  peace process with FARC rebels.
  • After Colombia paid a $15 million settlement to Ecuador last year in response to the latter's complaint that Colombian fumigation operations were intruding in their territory, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño confirmed that the practice had stopped,  El Espectador reports.
  • InSight Crime has a look into the case of imprisoned Guatemalan army officer Byron Lima Oliva, who according to authorities ran a massive money laundering and bribery scheme from prison. As part of the evidence against him, the country’s public prosecutors have released recordings in which Lima allegedly engineers inmate transfers in exchange for cash.
  • Eight years after major clashes between police and protesters broke out in the Mexican community of Atenco over the planned construction of a new international airport there, the project has once again been proposed, and locals are protesting once more, Milenio and BBC Mundo report.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on a side-effect of Peru’s recent rapid economic growth: developers’ increasing expansion onto ancient archeological sites, many of which have not yet been fully mapped or explored by experts.
  • Following Monday’s bomb blast in Santiago, the Chilean government and opposition lawmakers have developed a legislative package aimed at reforming the country’s intelligence systems to better address the perceived threat of terrorism in the country. According to La Tercera, the proposals include adding more special agents to Chile’s National Intelligence Agency (ANI), increasing its operations around the country and providing it with more funding and authority. The AP reports that officials say they have sought intelligence assistance from "international agencies” in response to Monday’s attack.
  • While Chile debates intelligence reforms, demonstrations around the country are expected today to mark the 41st anniversary of the coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power. El Mostrador reports that violent clashes with police have already broken out in Santiago last night, wounding at least two.
  • Venezuela’s Barquisimeto-based El Impulso newspaper, the oldest in the country, has announced that it will be halting circulation after its Sunday issue due to a lack of affordable newsprint, falling advertisement revenue and the country’s worsened economic climate.