Thursday, May 24, 2018

Colombians head to the polls Sunday (May 24, 2018)

Colombians head to the polls Sunday to pick a new president from five contenders. Iván Duque, anointed successor to former President Álvaro Uribe and opponent to the FARC peace deal is in the lead, though likely no candidate will obtain enough votes to avoid heading to a run-off vote in June.

Duque is projected to win about 41.5 percent, and his primary opponent is leftist former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro, with a predicted 29.5, reports Reuters. They are trailed in opinion polls by center-right ex-Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras, the center-left former Medellín Mayor Sergio Fajardo, and lead FARC peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle. As of the most recent polls, Duque would likely win in a second round of voting as well.

Americas Society/Council of the Americas has a roundup of all the polling, with the big caveat that predictions are notoriously unreliable in Colombia. (Anybody else recall choking on a sip of coffee the morning after the peace deal referendum?) 

La Silla Vacía analyzes how voters will lean according to their votes in this year's legislative elections -- a method which puts Germán Vargas Lleras, who resigned as vice president to run, in the lead, followed by Duque.

Most experts are surprised Petro, a former guerrilla, is even in the running, much less polling second, reports the Washington Post. For some, it's a sign of changing attitudes in the wake of the FARC peace process, reports the Guardian. The demobilization means the left has an opportunity for political play. Petro's found popularity as an economically progressive alternative to Duque's market friendly approach -- launching what might be called the great avocado vs oil debate -- reports Bloomberg, a more politically palatable expression of of the discontent previously expressed by the FARC.

In response, Duque is angling for centrist votes, but -- at least in the first round -- carries the burden of a strong portion of voters who reject Uribismo, reports la Silla Vacía

Polarization is a theme of the election analysis, as is the issue of misinformation. Open Democracy has a section dedicated to the issue, produced with Nueva Sociedad and Friedrich Ebert Siftung. 

In a piece delving into the issue of polarization, Sandra Borda analyzes two potential factors: "... that the peace process produced a counterintuitive effect: instead of uniting Colombian society around a common objective, it served only to profoundly divide in an almost irreconcilable way. ... My second argument suggests that we may be confusing polarisation with a phenomenon that appears similar but is also very different. I suggest that the end of the war with the FARC, a revolutionary Marxist guerrilla, opened up the political space for the left that had been politically locked away in the past and has now increased the political ideological spectrum within which Colombian electoral politics functions."

InSight Crime compares the candidates' actual proposals, noting the importance of new criminal dynamics in the wake of the FARC's demobilization.

Ahead of Sunday's vote, authorities insisted that there is no possibility of electoral fraude, reports El Tiempo, in response to Petro's allegations that electoral software has not been adequately audited.

Whoever wins will face an uphill political battle, warns Reuters. While Petro's plans to raise social spending have scared investors, even Duque's business-friendly plan to cut taxes is bad for the budget.

Wrapping up, Carlos Cortés' irreverent La Mesa del Centro round up of the candidates heading into the vote is well worth a few minutes.

News Briefs

Guatemala
  • Four former high ranking military officials were convicted in the landmark Molina Thiessen case. They were found guilty of aggravated sexual abuse against Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen in 1981, and three were found guilty of the enforced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio, reports the Guardian. Two high-ranking officers previously thought to be untouchable, former Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas García and former chief of military intelligence Manuel Callejas y Callejas, were among those found guilty, note Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada in the International Justice Monitor. They were sentenced to 58 years’ jail by the court. It is the first time senior military officers have been prosecuted for serious human rights violations since the 2013 genocide verdict against the former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was sent back to trial.
Nicaragua
  • The Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference suspended the National Dialogue yesterday, after representatives of the government and the "Civic Alliance" failed agree on a work agenda, reports El Confidencial. The process has been suspended indefinitely due to lack of progress, reports the Associated Press. The foreign minister, in representation of the government, refused to discuss the a route to democratization, saying the agenda angles towards a coup against the Ortega administration.
  • The bishops who are serving as mediators had proposed an "agenda to guarantee democratization and justice" in the country, including electoral reform, new government authorities, an international truth commission, and guarantees and indemnization for victims of human rights violations, reports El Confidencial.
  • The U.S. Trump administration is preparing a range of responses, including sanctions, to pressure the Ortega government, reports the McClatchy DC. An administration source said U.S. officials are treading carefully to avoid accusations that the opposition responds to "imperialist" directives.
  • Several small road blocks around the country -- demanding President Daniel Ortega's resignation and in support of the dialogue process -- were attacked by paramilitary forces and members of the Juventud Sandinista yesterday, reports El Confidencial.
Cocaine
  • An InSight Crime investigation into organized crime in Venezuela outlines how the 2009 Honduran coup created an opening for criminal organizations, which created a major cocaine trafficking route from Colombia through Venezuela and Honduras.
  • Colombian authorities dismantled a sophisticated underground cocaine production laboratory in Nariño, suggesting the increasing capacity of dissident FARC criminal groups, reports InSight Crime
Honduras
  • A charter jet flying from Texas split in half while landing in Honduras this week -- everybody survived. Check out the pictures on the BBC.
Environmental activists
  • The New Republic profiles indigenous women land activists in Ecuador. "Ecuador is unique in terms of oil and conservation; it’s an oil producing and exporting (OPEC) country, and its shaky economy depends on oil. But it also enshrines the rights of nature in its constitution, and many Ecuadoreans see themselves as the guardians of those rights."
  • The New York Times has beautiful pictures of natural diversity in Bolivia's Madidi National Park.

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