Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Heated Argentine run-off campaign (Nov. 10, 2015)

With two weeks to go until Argentina's run-off presidential election, the political debate is going door to door.

Some polls -- widely cited by the international press -- have conservative candidate Mauricio Macri ahead by as much as eight percentage points -- maintaining the momentum he gained with a surprisingly strong showing on October 25th's presidential elections. But about one in 10 voters remains undecided, reports Reuters, which means there's still room for surprises.

But after most pollsters failed spectacularly to predict the surprising first round results -- in which governing Frente para la Victoria candidate Daniel Scioli was widely expected to have a bigger lead on Macri (see Oct. 26th's post)  -- Página 12 columnist Mario Wainfeld suggests it might be too soon to put much faith in that kind of numbers. 

Página 12 says most pollsters say the race is still too close to call, but --considering the considerable tailwind of positive energy Macri's campaign has been infused with -- it might be wishful thinking on the progressive paper's part.

In an New York Times op-ed Uki Goñi notes that the national mood after the elections swung sharply in the runner-up's favor (as it did 12 years ago when Nestor Kirchner was to face off against former president Carlos Menem, who ultimately stepped down rather than lose in the run-off election).

What is true is that both candidates are angling for the voters of the third-place candidate: opposition peronist Sergio Massa. (See Oct. 29th's briefs.) And the question of how those five million citizens will vote in this run-off is the main question plaguing Argentine election analysts today.

Massa is a Peronist, but deeply opposed to the current government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (he was briefly her cabinet chief) and her proposed successor. However, he has savvily abstained from openly backing either candidate, preserving his possible influence in either presidential scenario.

"There are five million kingmakers, not one," Massa told the Financial Times, referring to the voters that backed his candidacy. "To attempt to influence the [run-off] vote would be to mock their trust in me. I'm not planning to support either of the two candidates."

He however hints that he'd prefer Macri, as do some of his close collaborators. Some analysts say Massa would be in a position to lead the Peronist party in opposition in this scenario, though he would have to fight with outgoing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for that honor, reports La Nación.

But such an interpretation -- some pollsters say over 60 percent of Massa voters could go for Macri and his message of change -- belies the essential nature of Peronism. For followers of the quintessential Argentine political movement, even a disliked Peronist is better than a non-Peronist.

Alberto Fernández, a former Kirchner official turned opposition Peronist, says he sees Massa supporters splitting in half. He compares the choice between the two candidates as that between an electric chair and a gas chamber, but notes that "clearly I believe Macri is worst than Scioli, I'm a Peronist and no Peronist can believe in what Macri is proposing."

The two are slated to debate publicly on Sunday -- which will be an opportunity for the two to contrast actual policy programs. But this weekend afforded a sort of preview, when both set out contrasting visions of how to respond to Argentina's currency disparity (between the official value of the peso and it's black market exchange rate).

Macri basically said he would liberate the peso to the market. In practise this means a massive devaluation of historic proportions -- up to 60 percent, explains progressive economist Alfredo Zaiat in Página 12. Scioli said he would aim for a slower devaluation, focusing more on currency infusions from deals with China and Brazil.

News Briefs

  • An Argentine judge from the northern province of Salta is under investigation for allegedly heading an organization that charged bribes in exchange for freeing convicted drug traffickers, reports InSight Crime. The case echoes a similar "narco pardons" scandal plaguing former Peruvian President Alan García, notes InSight. (See last Thursday's briefs.) What makes the case more egregious, however, is that the judge, Raul Reynoso, advised the national Supreme Court on the recent creation of a commission meant to combat drug trafficking, writes Horacio Verbitsky in Página 12. It's an example of the central issue of drug trafficking in the country he says: the illicit police and judicial networks that permit criminal organizations to prosper. And it's an aspect that politicians aren't emphasizing. Both presidential candidates have focused on proposals to use the military to combat drug trafficking (see Oct. 23rd's post) -- despite evidence that such approaches are ineffective, reports InSight Crime in a separate piece.
  • Colombia's FARC rebel movement a proposed law under consideration in the national Congress that would plebiscite an eventual peace plan between the group and the government, reports the Associated Press. The two sides have been negotiating for three years to end a fifty-year civil war, which has killed 220,000 people and displaced millions. Both have agreed to reach an accord by March of next year, and to submit the plan to voters for approval, but the exact mechanism is under debate. The FARC advocates a national constituent assembly, insists that both sides should determine at the peace table any rules for how the vote should take place.
  • This weekend the FARC complained that the government is seeking military advantage in the midst of the negotiations, and called for an immediate bilateral ceasefire, according to Colombia Reports. President Juan Manuel Santos has called for a January bilateral ceasefire. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • On Saturday the FARC released a statement with a series of proposals to transform the guerrilla group into a political movement once the peace agreement is signed in the country, reports TeleSur.
  • And InSight Crime reports that the Colombian government conducted its first ever aerial bombardment against drug trafficking organization Los Urabeños, a potential game-changer in how it combats criminalized neo-paramilitary organizations, known by their Spanish acronym as BACRIM. Up until now the government has refrained from targeting BACRIM out of fear it would confer political status on criminal groups, explains the piece.
  • Colombia's public prosecutor will reportedly pursue full legalization of abortion -- which is currently only permitted in the country in extreme cases, according to Colombia Reports. A recent ProFamilia study shows that more than 400,000 girls and women carry out abortions illegally every year and more than 50,000 die annually.
  • A new Human Rights Watch report out today says Ecuadorian security forces used excessive force to disperse anti-government protests in August of this year. The report criticizes the government, which made little effort to investigate abuses and congratulated security forces for their role. 
  • Brazil's emerging middle class is battling rising inflation and a plummeting currency that threaten their ability to maintain their standard of living, as the government struggles to cut a budget deficit, raising taxes in the process, reports the Wall Street Journal. As many as 35 million members of Brazil's lower middle class could be vulnerable, according to an expert cited in the piece.
  • Residents living near the mines in Mariana, Brazil, where a burst dam caused massive mudslides that killed at least four people and left 25 more missing, complain that there was no warning system or emergency plan for evacuating villages near the dams -- a complaint prosecutors say they will pursue, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.) The impact of the accident is wide-ranging: Mud and waste water cut off drinking water and raised health and environmental concerns in cities more than 300 km according to another Reuters piece. Prosecutors and environmentalists say there were recommendations in place regarding the dam, but they were ignored in a rush to renew the mines' license in 2013. They say it points to gaping lapses in regulation fro the industry. Yet, Minas Gerais Governor Fernando Pimentel argues that there is too much red-tape for mining companies, and has been seeks to expedite major mining projects, reports Reuters in a separate piece.
  • Two of Haiti's 54 presidential candidates are challenging the provisional results presented last week, alleging they were cheated out of votes, reports the Miami Herald. Opposition candidates and local watchdogs are demanding an independent commission to verify vote counts, while party supporters have taken to the streets in protest.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said he is opposed to an eventual legalization of marijuana, but welcomed a debate on the question, and invited doctors, sociologists and other academics to contribute, reports the Associated Press.
  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency emphasized Mexican cartel dominance of the U.S. drug market, in particular noting the growing strength of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, reports InSight Crime. The growth of the upstart crime organization should be a cause for major concern for the Mexican government, according to the piece. In a worst case scenario, it might mean that other new criminal groups could follow in the Jalisco Cartel's footsteps. (See NarcoData and Oct. 30th's post for more on drug cartel evolution and fragmentation.)
  • A feature in The Guardian examines the extreme discrimination and unfair situations faced by Mexico City's domestic workers, an example of the stark social inequality in the city. One in five domestic employees work 11 hours or more each day and 30 percent do not get any break. A new union, run by domestic workers themselves, seeks to demand mandatory access to the social security system which would give domestic workers rights to a basic pension and better healthcare and to pressure the government into ratifying an international treaty that recognizes their basic rights as workers.
  • A column in Tribuna de la Havana entitled "The Travels of Gulliver Jr." has Cuban journalists and social media users speculating that the piece is criticizing Fidel Castro's youngest son for his travels to luxurious locations. Cuban media is strictly controlled and watchers of the case are wondering what might happen to the journalist Alexander Álvarez Ricardo, reports the Miami Herald. A sign of change in the island's media? Some experts in the piece say it might be ...  

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