Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ecuadorans to vote Sunday, end of Correa cycle (Feb. 16, 2017)

Ecuadoreans are headed to the ballot boxes on Sunday, to pick a successor to President Rafael Correa. Incumbent Alianza País coalition candidate, Lenin Moreno, is leading in polls, but not by enough to win outright, and a run-off is predicted with likely second-place candidate, banker Guillermo Lasso.

Moreno appears to be just short the minimum needed to win the presidency on Sunday, and a second-round in April could united disparate opposition factions against him, reports Reuters.

The results of the election will determine whether Ecuador joins the ranks of the countries in the region tilted towards the right, or remains a bastion of the receding Latin American Pink Tide, according to the Guardian.

There is a sensation of an end of cycle, according to El País.

The uncertainty marks a potential turning point in Correa's "citizen revolution," and puts his legacy on the line. He remains very popular. Though economic recession is currently affecting the country, the past decade has been one of relative economic and political stability, according to the Associated Press. Correa leveraged an oil boom to invest heavily in the country's social infrastructure, including hospitals and schools.

"Ecuador is a good example of how a left government achieved success over the past decade through positive and creative changes in economic policy, as well as financial, institutional, and regulatory reform," writes Mark Weisbrot in The Nation.

But Ecuadoreans must consider more than economics when they vote on Sunday, argues Human Rights Watch's Daniel Wilkinson in a New York Times Español op-ed. He points to numerous regulations passed by Correa permitting government crackdowns on civil society organizations and media outlets. How such tools could be used by the next president are of critical concern, he argues.

"Fortunately, Correa hasn't managed to silence political debate in Ecuador. But he has impacted independent media outlets and organizations of civil society, which must continuously ponder the risk of eventual retaliations from a government willing to punish its critics, and which, thanks to the measures approved during his presidency, has the means to do so."


U.S. - Venezuela relationship heating up again

U.S. President Donald Trump called on the Venezuelan government to immediately release jailed political opposition leader Leopoldo López.

Trump met unexpectedly last night with López's wife, Liliana Tintori, at a White House dinner with Republican Senator Marco Rubio, reports the Miami Herald.

A Twitter message in which Trump called López a political prisoner was retweeted 3,000 times within ten minutes, reports Efecto Cocuyo. López was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2015 for allegedly inciting violence in 2014 protests, reports the Washington Post. His trial and sentence have been criticized by human rights and international organizations.

In turn, Tintori tweeted that she told Trump and U.S. VP Mike Pence about the “humanitarian crisis” in Venezuela, including the scarcity of food and medicine and the plight of political prisoners, according to the Herald.

"I don't want problems with the Trump administration," said President Nicolás Maduro in a speech yesterday, according to Reuters. Nonetheless Venezuelan government rejected Trump's Twitter plea as meddling in internal affairs, reports Efecto Cocuyo separately.

David Smilde analyzes the impact of the U.S. designation of Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami as a drug kingpin earlier this week. (See Tuesday's post.) Though it initially appeared that the Treasury Department designation was independent from the Trump administration, official statements suggest it is an indicator of the U.S. government's approach, he writes.

But Smilde criticizes the usefulness of such a harsh approach. "As usual, supporters of this OFAC designation are working with breezy hydraulic metaphors of “putting pressure” on Venezuelan officials which will presumably lead them to democratize through unspecified mechanisms. Looked at a little more carefully, it is hard to imagine just how putting under existential threat, a person who currently holds significant power, could get him to cooperate with a democratic transition. From El Aissami’s perspective, a return of fair elections to Venezuela would surely put the opposition in power and likely see him extradited to the United States. One’s starting assumption must be that he will use all the levers of power to prevent that from happening."

In the meantime, China highlighted its ongoing cooperation with Venezuela this week, as countries signed 22 agreements worth $2.7 billion in Caracas, reports EFE.

News Briefs
  • Venezuela's government blocked CNN's Spanish-language channel, a week after a CNN investigation linked the vice president to international passport fraud in the Middle East, reports the New York Times. The story was the product of a year-long investigation into allegations that Venezuelan passports and visas were being sold to people in Iraq, including some with terrorism links, reports the BBC. (See Tuesday's post.) Social media "exploded" over the channel's censorship, reports Efecto Cocuyo. The channel is one of the most popular on cable, according to the Wall Street Journal, which says that for many Venezuelans, it "had become the last independent source of news about their country, as the government steadily bought out, shut down or starved local media of resources." CNN stands by the report, according to Efecto Cocuyo.
  • About a half dozen incidents of Chavista antagonism towards Venezuelan churches have the Roman Catholic hierarchy there up in arms, reports Reuters
  • Social leaders in Colombia have suffered at least 317 violations of human rights since the beginning of the definitive bilateral cease-fire between Colombia and the FARC, according to a new report from the Patriotic March political party, reports TeleSUR.
  • A Brazilian court overturned a ruling banning media outlets from publishing information about a blackmail attempt against first lady Marcela Temer, reports the BBC. (See Tuesday's briefs for The Intercept's reporting on the case.)
  • Brazil's Supreme Court handed President Michel Temer a victory by allowing him to elevate a close advisor to a cabinet position, giving him a measure of legal protection from allegations of corruption in relation to Operation Car Wash, reports El País.
  • Revelations of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht's bribing of public officials around the region have already caused backlash in Latin American countries. Now prosecutors from 15 countries will gather in Brasilia to coordinate strategies for information stemming from the Operation Car Wash investigation into corruption at Petrobras, reports El País. (See Feb. 8's post, as well as Tuesday'sMonday's, and last Friday's briefs.)
  • Up to 60 percent of marijuana related detentions in Rio de Janeiro would be considered legal possession in Portugal, reports El País based on a report by the Instituto de Segurança Pública.
  • A group of six former U.S. ambassadors to Mexico tout the benefits of a cooperative relationship between the two countries, as opposed to the increasingly combative stance of the current U.S. administration, in a Washington Post op-ed.
  • Though Latin American countries have remained relatively silent regarding the diplomatic confrontation between Mexico and the U.S., several countries have planned meetings aimed at supporting Mexico, confronting Trump's isolationist policies and perhaps improving regional ties with China, according to Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. (See Feb. 8's briefs on how different Latin American countries are seeking to salvage their free trade priorities in the Trump era.)
  • A Mexican mother of four took refuge in a Denver church to avoid deportation after U.S. Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) officials denied her request for a "stay of removal." She has lived in the United States for 20 years and her three younger children are American born, reports Reuters.
  • Three men were arrested in the Dominican Republic in connection to the killing of two radio journalists. Gunmen opened fire in the midst of a Facebook Live broadcast, from an FM radio station in a mall east of Santo Domingo, reports the New York Times. Killing of journalists is rare in the country, but many reported an increase in harassments over their coverage of the country’s immigration debate.

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