Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ortega names wife running mate, chips away at opposition ahead of Nov election (Aug. 3, 2016)

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his running mate for the upcoming November presidential elections, where he is widely expected to win a third term, reports Reuters.

Critics say it's another step towards running the country like a personal fiefdom, reports the BBCLa Prensa denounces the move as the consolidation of a "dynastic dictatorship," and opposition politicians say it's forbidden for direct family members of a current president to run for the presidency or vice presidency.

Murillo, who holds considerable sway already, is currently the presidential spokesperson and de facto cabinet chief, according to El Confidencial. Ortega celebrated his choice as an advancement for gender equality, reports El Confidencial separately.

Ortega is using judicial and electoral bodies to slowly chip away at major opposition parties, leaving only minor and allied parties in the running, according to El Confidencial.

Though the opposition parties are also running, a poll last week found that Ortega has 65 percent support, with his opponents far behind, notes Reuters. The strongest opposition force, the National Coalition for Democracy decided not to run several weeks ago, calling the race an "electoral farce," according to the Miami Herald.

Carlos Fernández Chamorro says the race has no serious opposition parties nor candidates, calling the remaining contenders "collaborationists."

Voters will also choose the 90-member National Assembly in the upcoming November elections, notes Reuters.

Ortega has also forbidden national and international election observation.

The U.S. State Department lamented the close of "democratic spaces" ahead of the elections, and urged the government to guarantee free and fair elections, reports El Confidencial.

Yesterday's announcement comes on the heels of a Supreme Electoral Council decision last week that effectively decimated opposition in the national legislature, reports the Miami Herald. Sixteen opposition legislators from the Liberal Independent Party and the allied Sandinista Renovation movement -- along with their alternates -- were removed from their posts on Friday, after refusing to recognize the authority of the Supreme Court appointed party leader, seen by some as an Ortega tool. (See June 9's post by Sarah Maslin.) The legislators had declared their independence on Thursday in a public letter.

The legislators said they were the victims of a "coup" reports EFE. Chamorro also denounces the closing of democratic spaces and says the move was a "de facto coup."

In an opinion piece in Fusion, Tim Rogers laments Ortega's turn towards authoritarianism, even as he admits having historically sympathized with the Sandinistas. "Since returning to office nearly a decade ago, Ortega has methodically and completely dismantled Nicaragua’s fragile institutional democracy from within and reshaped the laws in a way that support his personal aspirations to create a one-party system that he can govern unopposed till death do they part. By hook and crook, Ortega and his lackeys have taken control of all four branches of government, implemented a repressive zero-tolerance policy for street protests, and rewritten the constitution to eliminate checks and balances."

News Briefs
  • CEPR's Marc Weisbrot writes about an interesting interview in which Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa says that a Trump presidency would be better for Latin America -- though he says for the sake of the U.S. and the world he hopes that Hillary Clinton wins the U.S. election. "The basic idea is that the US is going to play a terrible role in Latin America no matter who is president, so it is better for Latin Americans to have a US president who is widely disliked, like George W. Bush was, than someone who is charming and mediagenic like President Obama." Weisbrot reviews the many ways in which the Obama administration was no better for Latin America than his predecessor's, including support for the 2009 coup in Honduras, support for the legislative coup in Paraguay, and pressure on Haiti to accept fraudulent elections. Not to mention the tango with Macri. "But I would argue that in the long run, even Latin America would be worse off with a Trump presidency. That is because the two parties here do not have the same political constituencies, and the base of the Democratic Party is sufficiently different that it will continue to push overall US foreign policy in a better direction."
  • At Latin America goes Global, Greg Weeks analyzes the Democratic platform's Lat Am stance and finds it sadly lacking in substance. "For the most part, references to Latin America are heavily sprinkled with what we might call platitude verbs, such as build, embrace, stand by, work with, and bolster." Importantly, he notes that immigration from the region is seen as domestic issue. There is one bone for the party's left wing: a promise to shut down the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. All of which leads him to believe that a Clinton administration would represent a continuation of current U.S. policies.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro named General Néstor Reverol to head the country's police forces -- one day after U.S. prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging him with conspiracy to help cocaine shipments going from Colombia to the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal. Maduro followed the example of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who also promoted officials blacklisted by the U.S. Maduro praised Reverol's track record capturing drug traffickers as head of the interior ministry. Reverol has denied the charges of drug trafficking against him, notes the Associated Press.
  • Hardship in Venezuela -- including lack of contraceptives like condoms or birth control pills -- is driving some women to seek sterilization rather than face the difficulties of unwanted pregnancy and child rearing, reports Reuters.
  • Drug trafficking arrests are up in Peru ahead of the Olympics in Brazil, reports Reuters. Foreigners are carrying packs of cocaine in their stomachs, risking death, to smuggle it in.
  • The New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson has a has a fascinating in-depth piece on one of Peru's "uncontacted" indigenous tribes. The Mashco Piro, a tribe believed to have fled rubber industry incursions into their territory about 80 years ago, and who have avoided contact with the outside world until they mysteriously began reaching out in recent years -- sometimes with lethal consequences. 
  • Colombia will begin to airlift undocumented migrants, including about 1,200 Cubans, who have been stranded in the country since Panama closed its border in June, reports the Miami Herald.

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