Though Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa is not a candidate in this weekend's presidential election, few in the country believe he is exiting politics for good, reports the Wall Street Journal. He is expected to keep a hand in politics through his Alianza País movement, though voters are challenging the party's and are desirous of change. (See yesterday's post.)
"By any yardstick, Correa will be a hard act to follow.Despite his recent troubles, he remains one of Latin America’s most popular leaders," according to the Miami Herald.
Alianza País' candidate Lenin Moreno has political capital of his own, and a friendly style distinct from Correa's confrontational habits, reports the Herald.
Efforts to discredit the incumbent party ticket have focused on corruption allegations related to his running mate. Mark Weisbrot notes "that this has become the main tactic of right-wing parties in Latin America for several years now as they struggle to win back much of Latin America, and especially South America, which elected and reelected many left governments in the 21st century (e.g., Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay, Paraguay, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua)," in a piece in the Hill.
But while corruption ranks high amid Ecuadoreans' concerns, it's not clear how the issue will play out at the ballot box, according to the Herald. Polls show a significant number of Ecuador's 12.8 million voters are undecided, notes Reuters.
Correa leaves a difficult legacy for his successor, according to the Economist, which notes the difficulties of recession on the government's socialist spending.
Wikileaks rereleased the content of U.S. diplomatic cables about the three lead candidates in the race, noting the opposition's frequent contact with U.S. officials, reports TeleSUR.
Speaking of Wikileaks, founder Julian Assange's fate also rests on this election: at least two candidates have said they'd evict him from the country's London embassy where he took refuge nearly five years ago, reports the New York Times.
A Monkey Cage piece by John Polga-Hecimovich in the Washington Post reviews the basics of the eight candidates, the electoral system and the issue of female representation in government.
- A day after U.S. President Donald Trump called on Venezuela to release jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López, the country's highest court passed down a ruling upholding his 14 year prison sentence for inciting violence in a wave of 2014 protests against the government, reports the Associated Press. The trial and conviction have been criticized by international rights groups. The ruling leaves López without national recourse, though he could take the case to international forums. (See yesterday's post.)
- After the Venezuelan government blocked CNN Español from local cable, the channel will be available via Youtube for Venezuelans looking for a fix, reports the BBC.
- Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami's designation by the U.S. as a drug kingpin this week is just the latest in a long string of officials linked to traffickings, reports the Guardian. The sanctions further take the wind out of the Venezuelan opposition's recall referendum initiative, as an ouster of President Nicolás Maduro would replace him with El Aissami, notes the piece. The sanctions invite international scrutiny of El Aissami, the son of Middle Eastern immigrants who went from being an unknown student leader to the country’s powerful interior and justice minister, according to the New York Times.(See yesterday's, Wednesday's and Tuesday's posts.)
- Venezuelan experts criticize the government's "blind" backing of El Aissami in Efecto Cocuyo.
- Venezuela's government "is boiling Venezuelans like frogs in the proverbial pot while buying time to survive until the 2018 presidential election," argues Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez in a New York Times op-ed. But such an approach would be impossible in the midst of the country's crisis without the continued support of China. Lansberg-Rodríguez analyses the relationship of the two countries, which goes beyond the convenience of oil, and includes a shared commitment"to national sovereignty and the notion of a multipolar world order." Venezuela has provided a beachhead of sorts of Chinese soft power in the region, acting as an interlocutor for Central American and Caribbean recipients of its international subsidized oil programs, he writes. But in the midst of the country's political crisis, the opposition has failed to engage with China and allay concerns that its interests would survive regime change. "Today, only around 15 percent of Venezuelans approve of Mr. Maduro’s presidency, yet as long as he enjoys the mandate of China he can persist, prolonging Venezuelans’ agony. Changing this will require a cohesive and conciliatory message from the opposition, and sufficient foresight from China to let go of the corrupt, incompetent devil they know lest they become irredeemable to those who will follow him."
- Trump's bullying stance towards Mexico is elevating the odds for perpetual leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, reports the Washington Post. Though he hasn't announced his candidacy for next year's elections, he's already a frontrunner. While his populist style is a salve for wounded national sentiments, critics worry his rhetoric will set the country up on a collision course with the U.S.
- A Mexican Senate report found that a bill regulating military involvement in internal security would only increase the role of a force whose role over the past ten years of fighting against drug cartels has been heavily questioned. "The authors point out an important fact: that after a decade of a militarized drug war there is still no adequate public data or evaluation of the military's role in the campaign against organized crime. Neither, they claim, is there solid evidence available to explain why the Federal Police and the gendarmerie, a new militarized police force created by President Enrique Peña Nieto, are insufficient tools for fighting organized crime without support from the armed forces," reports InSight Crime.
- Climate change functions like sparks in tinder for cities around the world. "They expose cities’ biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. And they spread outward, defying borders," according to a new New York Times series on climate change and cities. The first installment focuses on Mexico City's chronic water problem, which is causing its very foundations to crumble.
- Trump's deportation plans could be a boon for Mexico's call centers, which needs English speakers, reports the Guardian. Already the industry is booming and employs thousands of Mexicans deported by the Obama administration. (A recent New Yorker piece traces how a wave of Obama deportations fueled El Salvador's call center industry, see Jan. 30's briefs.)
- A record 17,512 unaccompanied Salvadoran children were apprehended at the U.S. border in the fiscal year that ended in September -- an 87 percent increase over the previous year. More than 27,000 minors or adults traveling in family units also were apprehended; that was a 150 percent increase, reports the Los Angeles Times. Most seek to flee rampant violence in a country where nearly one in four people were victims of a crime last year. A poll conducted by Central American University, which also found that more than 40 percent of Salvadorans hoped to leave the country within a year. The piece focuses on a program created by President Obama that allows Central American children with at least one parent living legally in the U.S. to apply for refugee status while in their home country. "Immigrant advocates have hailed the effort as a small but important step toward recognizing the violence in El Salvador and neighboring countries."
- Salvadoran authorities announced a massive transfer of gang inmates to a single facility, in an effort to revert their consolidation of power within the penitentiary system, reports InSight Crime.
- A group of U.S. lawmakers introduced a resolution this week in the House of Representatives to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to fighting corruption in Central America. The statement backed by members of Congress from both parties won't have immediate impact on U.S. policy, but it notes the anti-corruption efforts of Central American countries, especially the CICIG and MACCIH, notes InSight Crime. The statement comes as CICIG head Iván Velásquez is facing a smear campaign he attributes to dismantled corruption networks. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
- Gang-related violence in Bahamas is significantly on the rise this year, prompting troops deployment on the streets and raising concerns over the government's ability to respond to security problems, reports InSight Crime.
- Brazilian President Michel Temer's ratings continue to drop amid his push for austerity measures, while former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is rebounding ahead of 2018 elections, reports Reuters.
- Interesting feature in The Conversation asks experts from different peace processes around the world -- from Ireland to Bosnia to Argentina -- to weigh in on the difficulties Colombia might face moving forward in implementing its peace deal.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos thanked Correa for his support of the peace negotiations with the ELN, reports EFE.
- Six months after the Rio Olympics, the infrastructure legacy is decaying fast, reports the New York Times.