Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Central American Spring? (June 30, 2015)



Are we witnessing a Central American spring, asks Foreign Policy. The question is whether the outrage generated by corruption in Guatemala and Honduras, where thousands are gathering regularly to protest scandal rocked governments and demand presidential resignations, is the equivalent of the demands for democracy that characterized the so-called Arab Spring.

The piece makes the case that protests in Guatemala -- spurred by anger regarding arrests related to two massive fraud and bribery scandals involving dozens of high-level government officials -- have spilled over to Honduras, where citizens are protesting their own high level corruption case.

Foreign Policy is not the first to link the two cases (see for example this Los Angeles Times piece from earlier this month). Analysts quoted in the piece note that real change will require new actors on the political scene.

However, it's unclear whether this will actually happen. In Guatemala protesters are simultaneously demanding that President Otto Perez Molina step down, but also that elections (scheduled for September) be postponed so that Congress can pass electoral reform, including tighter campaign-finance regulations. 

Don't expect a conclusion right away, warns Nómada, which notes that the struggle in Guatemala is far from over, though some would count the Vice President's resignation (in relation to the customs fraud scandal) as a success. The problems are structural, and there won't be a rapid balance, argues Bernardo Arévalo.

In Honduras, protesters, which include the political opposition, are demanding the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernández, but also the creation of an Honduran version of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the U.N. sponsored body responsible for unravelling the recent corruption scandals.

Though Foreign Policy reports that JOH -- as protesters are calling the Honduran president -- initially rejected the suggestion of such a body, the weeks of protests led him to request assistance from international bodies.

Yesterday the  U.N. and OAS announced they will assist the government of Honduras in the implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, in order to reinforce the national dialogue.  The terms of the international assistance were agreed upon by the Secretary-General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, Honduran Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales and the U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, reports TeleSur

Though protesters are demanding much more, it's likely that this kind of change will be able to have more of a lasting impact than one-off presidential resignation. Keep in mind it's exactly this kind of international body that allowed for Guatemala's corruption to be effectively investigated and prosecuted. Protesters are grabbing attention on the streets, but its worth noting that dozens of officials have been arrested.

The question is what happens if the protesters get their wish and the presidents resign. The region's diplomats were concerned enough to approve an OAS resolution in support of elections scheduled for later this year in Guatemala (see June 16th's post). It's difficult to see how the democratic processes would be furthered by a power vacuum or by the delay of elections in Guatemala.

News Briefs

  • Governor Alejandro García Padilla called on Puerto Ricans to assume their share of sacrifices as he announced that the U.S. territory cannot pay back some $72 billion in public debt. Though it's not clear what that means for the island's 3.6 million residents, García said he'd be seeking a debt payment restructuring plan, reports the Miami Herald. It's unknown what options Puerto Rico will have if bondholders reject the moratorium proposal. The island's government cannot file for bankruptcy under current U.S. rules, nor can its public agencies, notes the AP. The Puerto Rican government has been pushing to be permitted to file under Chapter 9 bankruptcy, and the White House urged Congress to consider changing the law to permit that.
  • A hug between U.S. President Barak Obama and his Brazilian counterpart, Dilma Rousseff, shows the countries are ready to leave behind the diplomatic tension caused by allegations that the NSA spied on Rousseff and Petrobas, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.) The two presidents had a working dinner after visiting a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial yesterday, and will hold a joint press conference today. Rousseff, who is looking to attract U.S. investment and funding for infrastructure projects, will go to Silicone Valley next for meetings with Google, Facebook and Apple. The visit is an opportunity for the embattled Brazilian president to show businesses at home that she's working on securing export opportunities, according to the Wall Street Journal. On the U.S. side, the visit is an opportunity for Obama to continue warming up to Latin America. But analysts quoted in the piece expect few concrete results other than diplomatic warmth from the visit. U.S. News and World Report says that concerns over Venezuela will be a matter of discussion between Obama and Rousseff. While the U.S. has been very critical of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, regional governments, including Brazil, have been more supportive.
  • Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras announced yesterday that it will slash investment by 37 percent over the next five years, a drastic move to reduce debt and recover investor confidence amid the wide-ranging corruption scandal rocking the company. The reduction has huge implications for Brazil's economy, which is already expected to contract by more than one percent this year. Petrobras' announcement is also a blow to Brazil's goal of join the world’s top five oil-producing nations by the end of this decade, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Many observers have noted the similarities between the Dominican Republic's plan to deport thousands of undocumented Haitian migrants and the U.S.'s migration travails. But in fact the U.S. has deployed ts own Border Patrol members to the Dominican-Haitian border, and funded the Dominican Border Patrol, according to Truthout, based on a 2013 piece by The Nation. And the piece cites According to data from the Security Assistance Monitor data showing that the U.S. has given the Dominican military more than $96 million since 2000, through military training and education programs, counternarcotics operations and antiterrorism programs.
  • Venezuelan authorities have detained seven government officials in relation to repression of protests last year, and 29 more are under investigation, reports EFE. Nine have been accused of homicide and 27 of cruel repression in relation to violent anti-government protests last year that left 43 dead.
  • Pope Francis has asked to chew coca leaves on an upcoming visit to Bolivia, reports theBBCCoca, the raw ingredient for cocaine, has been used in the Andes for thousands of years to combat altitude sickness and as a mild stimulant. Though the leaves are considered an illegal substance internationally, their cultivation for medicinal and religious purposes is legal in Bolivia. President Evo Morales, who used to be a coca grower, has long campaigned to decriminalize the consumption of coca leaves. Bolivia temporarily left the U.N. drug convention and re-acceded with a reservation on the chewing of coca leaf.
  • A judicial decision in Colombia permits indigenous communities to consume and sell products containing coca leaves. The Council of State found that use of coca leaves is an ancestral right, reports El Tiempo.
  • U.N. representative urged the Colombian government to pay heed to last week's Human Rights Watch report of systematized extrajudicial army killings, and not to shoot the messenger. President Juan Manuel Santos initially rejected the report which details how approximately 3,700 civilians were executed by army troops and passed off as guerrilla combatant deaths. (See last Wednesday's and Thursday's posts.)
  • Colombian authorities detained retired army colonel Alejandro Robayo Rodríguez in relation to the extrajudicial killings, reports EFE.
  • Argentine presidential candidate Daniel Scioli, running as the ruling Frente para la Victoria's candidate, surged ahead in polls, reports Reuters. He is leading with 35 percent of voter intention for October's election compared to 27 percent for Mauricio Macri, Buenos Aires' mayor.
  • A tax on sugary soft drinks in Mexico successfully reduced sales by as much as 12 percent last year, but bottlers will be exploiting loopholes in the National Strategy for Weight Control that goes into effect this week, reports El Daily Post. The tax has been considered a successful tool in combating Mexico's weight problem: a study by the University of North Carolina, working with Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, found the bulk of the consumption drop took place among low-income Mexicans, those who are most vulnerable to diabetes and other overweight-related conditions. But the new plan is vulnerable in its regulations against marketing junk food to kids, among other issues, warns a coalition of consumer groups called the Alliance for Food Health (Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria).
  • Cuba’s tourism industry generated more than $1.7 billion in revenues in the first half of this year, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune based on state television reports.

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