Monday, January 11, 2016

Macri's presidential decrees in first month favor media conglomerates

In his first month as Argentine president, conservative Mauricio Macri has already made significant advances in furthering what might be called a  "new neoliberal" agenda. (La Nación has a play-by-play of his first month in office.)

A flurry of economic reforms in his first days in office, eliminating farm export taxes on several crops, devaluing the currency have been lauded by business leaders and the financial sector, reports La Nación.

Just before Christmas Macri intervened the Autoridad de Servicios de Comunicación Audiovisual (AFSCA), an autonomous regulatory agency. A few days later, by presidential decree, he eliminated the AFSCA and another regulatory agency dedicated to information and communication technologies, combining the two in a new body dominated by Executive-branch appointed directors, reports Página 12. The decree also removes the maximum of 35 percent of potential audience placed on company license holdings. (Chequeado has an interesting analysis of current media concentration in Argentina.)

CELS condemned the move, noting that "it's main consequence is that decisions regarding the regulation of the media system will be subject to the exclusive authority of the Executive Branch." The 2009 Broadcast Media Law, a signature achievement of his predecessor Cristina Kirchner, aimed to limit media monopolies. The Buenos Aires Herald notes that the law was passed after months of intense public discussion, and was hailed by the then-UN's special rapporteur for freedom of expression Frank la Rue as "exemplary." (See this opinion piece by Damián Loreti, Diego de Charrasa
and Luis Lozano in Página 12 , this one by Gustavo Bulla, and this one by Ana Bizberge and Bernadette Califano for more details.)

Also around Christmas, the new government used rubber bullets and water hoses to break up a a workers protest that was blocking a highway -- a strong message of change in a long-standing policy of non-intervention in protests, reports Página 12.

Over the last week nearly 10,000 public employees from diverse areas of the government -- everything from the Senate, to executive ministries to the national road safety agency -- were laid off. Vice President Gabriela Michetti, who defended over 2,000 layoffs in the Senate, said the government aims to cull political activists, especially those associated with the Kirchner political movement, La Campora. In the meantime, the opposition is accusing the government of carrying out an ideological witch hunt, reports Página 12.

In a great New Yorker piece from December, Graciela Mochkofsky noted that Macri largely avoided including career politicians in his administration. But that's not necessarily a good thing. Critics have seized on the fact that many of his appointments come from the business sector, and have questioned potential conflicts of interests. For example, the candidates Macri named for the anti-money laundering financial unit belong to a law firm dedicated to defending those accused of such crimes, according to a local NGO, Cipce.

A point that has the opposition particularly incensed, but also government allies, is the liberal use ofpresidential decrees over this month, a polemic tool for creating law by executive fiat and sidestepping Congress. The government itself says its resorting to the method as it lacks Congressional majority in both chambers, but the explanation rings hollow after years of criticism against the Kirchners for their (more sparing, for now) use of the decree, reports La Nación. (Chequeado has more information on the subject.)

Regional relevance: "The success or failure of the Macri government will be an important indicator for the future of the region's reformers," argue Caitlyn Davis and Harold Trinkunas at the Brookings Institution's Order from Chaos blog. "His policies offer a sharp break with the past because they are significantly more economically and politically liberal than the regional norm. If he does succeed, Macri will undoubtedly inspire others in Latin America to compete on similarly liberal reform platforms in years to come."

News Briefs

  • Sinaloa Cartel drug lord, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera was recaptured by Mexican authorities six months after his dramatic prison escape from a maximum security jail. The arrest ended one of the most extensive manhunts undertaken by the government, involving every law enforcement agency in the country and help from the United States, reports the New York Times. The recapture is a huge boost for the beleaguered Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, notes the Wall Street Journal.
  • Last night Mexican authorities began formal extradition proceedings to send him to the United States to face drug charges, reports the New York Times, which says it could be one of the biggest federal trials in the U.S. in recent years. Since Guzmán's July escape (see July 13th's post), the Mexican government extradited several top drug lords to the U.S., a policy change indicating greater cooperation, according to the NYTimes. But the fear of a third prison escape must be balanced against nationalist reluctance to outsource justice, reports the Wall Street Journal. The process can take weeks, if not months, and is subject to procedural delays and to injunctions filed by Guzmán’s lawyers even after a judge approves the extraditions, notes theWall Street Journal in a separate piece.
  • The whole episode, which was already fraught with theatrical details, only became more cinematic after Rolling Stone published an extensive (and rambling) interview with the fugitive by actor Sean Penn. In a short video (punctuated by rooster cries) Guzmán reflects on why he joined the drug trade, his family life and his conviction that terrorism activity in the Middle East will not affect the future of drug trafficking. The Mexican government said that Guzmán had been planning a movie about his life and that his people had been in contact with actors and producers, which had allowed the authorities to track him down, reports the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal links the Penn-Castillo interview efforts to his recapture. The Los Angeles Times, on the other hand, says the authorities were tipped off by a neighbor reporting suspicious activity at the house where the fugitive drug lord was hiding. It might seem insane that El Chapo would take the risk of communicating with famous actors. El Daily Post's Alejandro Hope argues that it's worth analyzing the reasons as "it might provide some insights into the strategic thinking of criminal masterminds and might allow for better policy going forward. Because this might very well be the end of El Chapo’s criminal career (if he is extradited to the United States, that is), but it is certainly not the end (or even the beginning of the end) of organized crime in Mexico."
  • In a separate piece the New York Times looks at Kate del Castillo, the Mexican television star who arranged Penn's meeting with Guzmán. She's known for playing tough female roles and speaking out on social issues, reports the Los Angeles Times. The piece notes the interesting role of narco culture that is ubiquitous in Mexican society.
  • In Guzmán's home-state of Sinaloa where he is revered the news of his recapture brought fear over the potential impact of disruptions within his cartel, which some credit with keeping order in the area, reports the New York Times. Though Guzmán has portrayed his organization as less violent than other cartels, law enforcement law-enforcement officials say his repeated turf wars against rivals are responsible for many thousands of deaths in Mexico's drug war, notes the Wall Street Journal.
  • Haiti is set to have a functioning parliament again: yesterday 92 newly elected deputies were sworn in, and 14 senators are expected to take office today, ending a year-long period of rule by presidential decree on the island. Some critics question the opening of the legislative year as the electoral process has not yet concluded after a run-off election to select the president was delayed until Jan. 24, reports the Miami Herald. 
  • Protests over bus fare increases in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte drew comparisons to the much larger demonstrations that shook cities across Brazil in 2013. Protestors clashed with anti-riot police in Rio and S. Paulo, reports the New York Times. Seventeen people were arrested in São Paulo, where a 3,000 person protest turned violent. Protestors threw rocks and pieces of wood at police, and set three buses on fire, reports theWall Street Journal
  • Could the cause of Rio de Janeiro state's woes, which include a public health crisis, struggles to pay pensions and depressingly regular crime, be a graphic painting in the governor's office? Just in case, the governor removed the offending work, reports the New York Times.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will convoke an extraordinary session of Congress in order to present a law that will concentrate FARC forces in special areas for their disarmament, reports Página 12. Colombian prosecutor seek to charge some 1,500 civilians with conflict-related crimes allegedly committed by guerrilla groups like the FARC, according to Colombia Reports.
  • The perfect Cuban migrant storm: A stampede toward the U.S. is being fueled by reforms in Cuba which permit citizens to sell their cars and real estate, along with freedom to obtain passports and leave the country. These have combined with the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act which gives Cubans a fast-track to legal residency and a fear that it could soon be repealed in the wake of the diplomatic thaw between the two countries, reports the New York Times.
  • "If 2015 was a watershed year in U.S.-Cuba relations with the resumption of diplomatic ties and the opening of embassies, then 2016 is expected to be a year of definition as the two former adversaries move past ceremony and tackle the hard issues that still separate them," argues the Miami Herald.
  • As Venezuelan politics heat up in a power struggle between the opposition-led National Assembly and the Socialist government that seems to be heading directly for an institutional crisis (see last Thursday's briefs, for example), the problems of every-day Venezuelans are being ignored, reports the Miami Herald
  • A former Salvadoran defense minister accused of tolerating human rights abuses by soldiers under his command thirty years ago was deported from the U.S. to El Salvador, reports theMiami Herald.
  • Salvadoran investigative reporter Oscar Martínez has a piece in El Faro on navigating the turf boundaries of El Salvador's gang war. "It doesn't matter of someone is a gang member or not. If you live on one side of a border, that's your side, whether you've chosen it or not. For most of these people ... the gang demarcation is more important than the official demarcation: one can forget their voting district and the consequences will not be anywhere near as severe as if they forget the colony their walking through belongs to an opposing gang. Governments come and go, but gangs have been present for the past two decades." InSight Crime has the English translation.

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