With 100 percent of ballots counted, Frente Amplio (FA) candidate Tabare Vazquez has been elected to serve as Uruguay’s next president, beating his National Party challenger Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou by 53.6 to 41.1 percent.
Because of the Frente’s surprising retention of its congressional majority in the first-round vote, the ex-president’s win means the ruling coalition will enjoy control of the legislative and executive branches until 2020. But while Vazquez will return to the presidency with a sizeable mandate, he will also have to confront some important obstacles over the next five years. Among them:
Insecurity - Polls have consistently shown that crime is the top concern among Uruguayans. A November 2013 survey found that 46 percent listed insecurity as their greatest concern, followed by education at 16 percent. From a regional perspective, this puts Uruguay behind only Venezuela in terms of the percentage who name insecurity as their country’s main issue. While this may seem ironic for a nation with one of the lowest crime rates in the Americas, the 289 homicides seen in 2012 set a new record, and last year’s figure (285) was barely lower than that. What’s more, official statistics for the first half of 2014 show that armed robberies (“rapiñas”) increased by 10 percent, while the number of homicides fell only slightly (6 percent, to a total of 151) compared to the same period in 2013.
Aside from promising a vague “integral public security plan” on the campaign trail, Vazquez has offered no details on how he will address the issue. He has mostly promised to continue the current emphasis on training and professionalizing the police force, which has been aided by the Mujica administration’s increase of police salaries. And he has also told journalists that he will reduce prison overcrowding and create programs to provide compensation to crime victims. Ultimately, however, Vazquez seems to be preparing a security policy based on continuity, and has come under fire for announcing that he will keep current Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi in place.
Internal FA politics - The decision to stick with Bonomi, who is a member of President Jose Mujica’s Movement of Popular Participation (MPP), points to another challenge for the next administration: appeasing all the factions in the Frente Amplio’s diverse coalition. This will be particularly challenging for Vazquez, as he has made a name for himself as more moderate than the MPP and the Frente’s more left-wing elements. As president, Vazquez left the FA’s Socialist Party due to his personal opposition to a 2008 abortion legalization bill, which he vetoed.
In his next administration, it will be much more difficult for Vazquez to alienate the FA’s left. For one thing, in the next legislative session the MPP will be the largest Frente Amplio faction in both houses, which may prevent Vazquez from tacking towards the center as often as he has in the past. Additionally, Mujica himself will hold a senate seat, and his popularity (his approval rating is close to 60 percent) means that he will be well-poised to press for a more progressive agenda over the next several years.
As today’s El Observador notes, Vazquez may have a key ally on this front in his running mate, Vice President-elect Raul Sendic. The son of the Tupamaro leader of the same name, Sendic has close ties to Mujica even though he has developed his own FA sector over the years.
Tying up Mujica’s loose ends - Vazquez will also assume the presidency faced with managing a number of ongoing projects started by his predecessor. The most notable of these is the country’s historic cannabis regulation law, which remains only partially implemented nearly a year after it was signed. While the newly-created Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) has begun registering home cultivation and “cannabis clubs,” the details of the commercial sales that are the law’s signature element remain unclear. Currently, the IRCCA is working on narrowing a list of some 20 potential commercial growers down to between three and five finalists. Even assuming the winners of the bid are selected this year, officials in the current administration have admitted that sales won’t likely begin until March. Once they do, it will fall to Vazquez to monitor the law’s implementation to ensure its success, which he has promised to carry out with an objective eye.
As Ignacio de los Reyes has pointed out for BBC Mundo, another initiative that may fall on Vazquez’s shoulders unless resolved before his March inauguration is the transfer of six Guantanamo detainees to the South American country. The Mujica administration has reportedly sought to delay their arrival until after yesterday’s election in order to minimize political risk.
- Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s security plan has continued to be met with skepticism from human rights groups. On top of the local NGOs mentioned in Friday’s post, the AFP reports that international organizations have criticized it as well, with Amnesty’s Americas director likening it to “trying to fix a broken leg with a band-aid.” Another obstacle to the president’s plan is his flagging legitimacy. El Universal reports that a new survey released today shows Peña Nieto’s approval rating has fallen to 41 percent, its lowest point since he took office.
- According to Animal Politico, Mexican lawmakers will meet today to discuss the president’s security plan and begin debate on its proposed constitutional reforms.
- Colombia’s FARC rebels released captured General Ruben Dario Alzate and his two companions yesterday, clearing the way for peace talks between the government and the guerrillas to resume. Semana magazine notes that the move may indicate the strength of peace process and the rebels’ commitment to peace, though only time will tell if both sides will be able to agree to wind down the decades-long conflict. Meanwhile, it remains unclear what Alzate was doing dressed as a civilian in a FARC-controlled area without any protection, as La Silla Vacia notes. El Espectador reports that Santos has called on the general and the armed forces to explain his actions today.
- Dominican President Danilo Medina has made headlines for reforms to the country’s strict abortion ban. In a Friday letter to legislators explaining his veto of a law that would double prison sentences for abortions, Medina called on lawmakers to decriminalize the procedure in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger.
- The Wall Street Journal reports on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s recently announced plan to cut public spending in the face of falling oil prices. While he promised that no cuts would be made to social programs, he said he would begin to evaluate government workers’ salaries to minimize excess.
- As the UN climate talks kick off in Lima today, the recent pledges from the U.S., China and European Union have led to increased optimism about an eventual world treaty on emissions. But as the New York Times reports, climate scientists say that it may be impossible to prevent the planet’s atmosphere from rising more than degrees Celsius.
- A wave of police killings in Rio de Janeiro favelas has renewed attention on violent crime in the city’s most troubled favelas. In the last week alone, five military police and a pacification officer in the Mare favela complex have been killed, bringing the number of police killed this year in Rio to a total of 105. O Globo reports that Rio state security secretary José Mariano Beltrame marked the killings yesterday by calling for “institutional action” to be taken by legislative and judicial authorities.