Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Peña Nieto Hits Back at Critics, Warns of ‘Destabilization’ Efforts

It took a couple of days after returning from his Asia tour last week for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to find his bearings and counter the wave of criticism and corruption allegations he has received of late. Yesterday, the president came out swinging against recent opposition protests, condemning an alleged “destabilization” effort against him and dismissing reports that his wife’s acquisition of a home was linked to companies bidding on a lucrative rail contract.

Speaking at a women’s health event in Mexico State yesterday, El Universal reports the president directly addressed the recent demonstrations for the first time since his return. News site Animal Politico has the full text of the leader’s remarks. According to Peña Nieto, the wave of protests in the country appeared to be part of an “orchestrated effort to destabilize the country” and halt his administration’s policies.

“We have seen these violent movements that intend use the shield of sorrow as cover to carry out protests; protests which at times do not have a clear goal. It would seem that they respond to an interest in generating destabilization, creating social disorder, and above all, threatening the national project that we have been promoting,” Peña Nieto, said. He also claimed that outrage against him is misguided, as his administration has been among “the most sensitive to the issue, the most supportive” of the parents of the missing 43 students of Ayotzinapa.  Many of the parents might disagree, however, as several have expressed repeated doubts about the federal investigation into the incident to the press.

The president’s statement was followed later in the day by another from his wife Angelica Rivera. In a YouTube video posted on her website, the first lady said she would sell the controversial property that linked the Peña Nieto family to a company that has won lucrative government contracts.  Still Rivera denied allegations of wrongdoing, saying she had been in the process of paying the house off with money obtained during her 25-year acting career.

These statements offer the first glimpse of how the president is aiming to lessen the public outrage that has boiled over in recent weeks. Particularly telling is the fact that Peña Nieto made no mention of the overwhelmingly non-violent protests, lumping all dissent into the category of “violent opponents of reform.” This suggests that a concrete proposal to fight corruption or reform the rule of law in the country -- as many international and domestic civil society advocates have called for -- is likely off the table for now.

News Briefs
  • The Associated Press reports on the Peruvian government’s latest efforts to crack down on illegal mining, just as the country prepares to host UN-sponsored climate talks next month. Meanwhile, a recent Global Witness report on the country’s failure to protect environmental rights defenders has made a splash in local (see La Republica and Gestion) and international media (NYT’s Dot Earth blog, a separate AP note), in particular because of the report’s finding that the 57 killed between 2002 and 2014 makes Peru the fourth most dangerous country for environmental activism.
  • Cuban authorities have announced the first case of a medical worker from the island apparently contracting Ebola while working to combat the virus in West Africa.
  • NPR’s Diane Rehm show yesterday profiled the main arguments in the debate over whether to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba, featuring input from Mauricio Claver-Carone of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, American University Cuba expert William LeoGrande, the Center for a Free Cuba’s Frank Calzon and Brookings’ Ted Piccone.
  • The latest challenge to the Colombian peace talks, triggered by the FARC’s capture of an army general on Sunday, is showing no signs of resolving anytime soon. Despite the fact that the FARC peace negotiating team said in an initial press conference that it had “no information” on the general’s whereabouts, the rebel leadership later confirmed his capture after one of its units released a statement explaining that it had  taken him prisoner.  As El Tiempo reports, FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo has stressed that the rebels are willing to negotiate with the government over the general. "The mechanisms for resolving this problem must be created, [and]  proposing how to discuss this situation in Colombia lies in [President] Santos' hands," the guerrilla is quoted as saying. Caracol Radio reports that Catatumbo also expressed the FARC's commitment to getting peace talks on track, saying it is necessary to "find a prompt, peaceful and just solution to this problem." More in the U.S. press from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
  • The incident has highlighted the difficulties of carrying out peace negotiations while hostilities continue. The FARC appear to be pressuring for a bilateral ceasefire, and have been joined by figures on the country’s left, as noted in yesterday’s briefing. Semana magazine reports that the main obstacles to a ceasefire are President Santos’ repeated claims that an end to hostilities will not occur until a final deal is reached, and the fact that the Uribe-led conservative opposition would likely criticize him ruthlessly for reversing on this point. El Espectador notes that lawmakers are already warning that a ceasefire could allow the guerrillas breathing space to regroup militarily.
  • Fortunately, there have already been signs that the suspension of the peace talks will prove temporary. El Tiempo reports that President Santos has called on the guarantor nations of the Colombian peace process, Cuba and Norway, to step in and mediate the crisis at the negotiating table. And according to El Espectador, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is preparing to serve as a facilitator of the general’s release.
  • In a Miami Herald op-ed, United States Senator Marco Rubio discusses his recent visit to Colombia, and makes the case for an expanded U.S.-Colombia partnership. Among other things, the senator argues that the general’s kidnapping shows that the U.S. role “must be clearly defined as one of helping the Colombian government force the best possible outcome from any future dealings with the FARC.”
  • Today marks the expiration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s temporary authorization from Congress to legislate by decree. El Universal reports that the president issued 28 last-minute measures -- most related to economic policy -- yesterday, more than double the 13 other decrees he issued during his year-long period of expanded powers.
  • According to El Periodico, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has begun deliberating on the challenge to the recent judicial nominations in the country, which were suspended amid concerns voiced by civil society groups that the process involved backroom dealings.  A final ruling on the case is expected in the coming days.
  • Salvadoran news site El Faro reports on Honduran authorities’ apparent lack of a system to register disappearances, noting that not even the government’s Interior Ministry keeps a reliable tally of the number of individuals who have gone missing.
  • The head of Honduras’ National Police has said that authorities have located the bodies of this year’s Miss Honduras and her older sister, both of whom have been missing for six days in a case that has made headlines in the Central American country. According to La Tribuna, police believe the boyfriend of the older sibling was responsible for the killings.