Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rumbling in Haiti ahead of questioned runoff election on Sunday (Jan. 22, 2016)

Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul said yesterday that the country's presidential runoff election could be postponed to a later date if the opposition commits to participating. The opposition is boycotting the proceedings, due to allegations of fraud and irregularities in earlier rounds. Sunday's elections will go ahead as scheduled if they do not reach an agreement, reports Reuters.

Opposition protesters have taken to the streets this week, burning vehicles and barricading roads. (See Tuesday's and yesterday's briefs.) Opposition leaders are insisting Sunday's polls be suspended before negotiating a new date for the runoff.

Late last night Haiti's senate voted to recommend that the vote be delayed. A coalition of local election observers have said they will also boycott the upcoming polls. And the private sector is signaling that Sunday's vote should be suspended, reports the Miami Herald

The Guardian reports that there is a sense of foreboding among the country's political elite as the standoff over the elections continues. The piece reviews the rather checkered history of most of the leading politicians and the general mistrust of Haitians towards their politicians.

A November study by Igarapé Institute found that the allegations of fraud by politicians and observers are mirrored by deep public suspicion of the first round of the presidential election in Haiti. (See the post for Nov. 19, 2015.)

Earlier this month opposition candidate Jude Célestin said would participate in the runoff if an independent review commission's recommendations, which include major changes to the electoral machinery, with investigations and possible resignations of those accused of corruption, and political dialogue to achieve consensus about the next round, were enacted. (See Jan. 8th's briefs.)

It is not clear what would happen if the vote is postponed, as the Haitian constitution mandates a presidential handover on Feb. 7. Options include postponing the handoff until March or a transitional government, reports the Miami Herald.

The international community has been supportive of Haiti's increasingly drawn out and conflictive election process. In fact, many countries and international organizations, including the U.S. and the U.N. have been pushing for Haiti to hold its presidential run-off election this weekend, despite the refusal of the opposition candidate to participate and questions regarding the integrity of the first two rounds of voting.  

But, in Foreign Affairs Lauren Carasik argues that "it is the international community and its foreign-imposed solutions that will foster political instability by undermining Haiti’s fragile democracy." Washington, the most important donor, contributed $30 million in assistance for the elections, and thus has a clear interest in defending their positive conclusion, she writes. "But Haiti should not be required to sacrifice its democracy or sovereignty for the short-term stability preferred by foreign diplomats.  A government ushered in by these tainted elections, under pressure from abroad, will be widely perceived as lacking legitimacy. That in turn will foment long-term instability and unrest. This time, the international community should step back and allow Haitians to determine their own fate."

News Briefs

  • A new World Bank study found that the number of ninis – a contraction of the Spanish “ni estudia ni trabaja” (neither working nor studying) – in Latin America has increased, despite a decade of economic growth and successful anti-poverty initiatives in the region, reports theGuardian. The study shows a correlation between "ninis" and crime, notes Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer. The study recommends more cash-transfer programs that keep youths in school, such as those in Brazil and technical training programs for drop-outs. Oppenheimer calls for more quality education.
  • Last Saturday the Bolivian National Assembly approved an investigation into former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada over alleged economic crimes, reports TeleSur. The former president is living in the United States.
  • Amid all of the many repercussions of the much-discussed "Operation Car Wash" investigation in Brazil, which has implicated executives at the state-run oil company Petrobras with the practise of issuing inflated construction contracts in exchange for bribes and kickbacks, some of which were laundered and funneled into political campaigns. The latest controversy is "over the use of plea bargains, which prosecutors claim have proven indispensable in taking down an expansive criminal network, while critics argue the deals allow offenders to skirt justice," reports InSight Crime
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defended his Workers' Party's record of lifting millions of citizens out of poverty, and said it needs to preserve its legacy. In a three hour conversation with local bloggers, he defended his handpicked successor, President Dilma Rousseff, though he said recent austerity efforts pushed by her administration have not pleased markets and have lost the government supporters, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil's Central Bank left interest rates unchanged, a move that some say raises questions about the institution's political independence, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The Colombian government released a group of 30 imprisoned rank-and-file FARC rebels, as a unilateral confidence-building gesture. President Juan Manuel Santos had promised the move last year, and the delay in the pardons was generating friction in the ongoing peace negotiations to end the 50 year conflict in Colombia, reports the Associated Press. (SeeTuesday's post.)
  • In the meantime the Post Conflict Council in Colombia is not focusing solely on the Havana negotiations, but also on creating a framework for a peaceful post-conflict, explains Silla Vacía's Juanita León. The goals include bringing "alternative justice" to municipalities, assuring public safety and bringing alternative income to illicit coca cultivation. The Council's work is vital in ensuring the 5 million votes the government will need when it submits the peace accords to citizen plebiscite. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Honduras will likely extradite former vice president and one of the country's wealthiest businessmen to the U.S. to face money laundering charges. But Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said yesterday that 80-year-old Jaime Rosenthal would first face tax evasion and other criminal charges in the Central American country, reports the Los Angeles Times. (See the post for Oct. 8, 2015.)
  • Argentina's President Mauricio Macri is coming under fire for this week's declaration of a security emergency, which allows Argentina's air force to track and shoot down illegal drug-smuggling flights into the country, reports the Wall Street Journal. Critics say such a move should have gone through Congress. (See Jan. 11th's post.)
  • Mexican and Central American authorities will expand a plan to airlift thousands of Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica, permitting them to continue their journey towards the U.S. (See Jan. 7th's briefs.) The Los Angeles Times features the stories of some of the migrants and reviews the general migration situation from Cuba to the U.S.
  • Lake Poopo, which used to be Bolivia's second-largest lake, was officially declared evaporated last month, reports the Associated Press. Though the shallow saline lake rebounded twice before from previous "dry outs," this time it might not recover according to scientists. They point to disappearing Andean glaciers, but also El Niño and use of water by mining and agriculture.
  • A 690-megawatt dam constructed in the early 2000s in Chile, which flooded indigenous Pehuenche land and forced families from their homes, has provoked a backlash against major dam projects. Instead "many entrepreneurs in Chile have started turning to small-scale energy projects that are intended to be less disruptive to local environments and communities, but have also become controversial among residents who have little means to defend against their construction," reports Max Radwin for the Pulitzer Center.

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