Friday, June 15, 2018

Colombia prepares to vote (June 15, 2018)

Colombia goes to the polls Sunday, in an election that La Silla Vacia describes as a choice between the political establishment, as represented by conservative candidate Ivan Duque (look no further than his recent endorsement by Colombia's largest newspaper, El Tiempo), or the "alternative forces" represented by progressive candidate Gustavo Petro. For an idea of how many votes either candidate needs to pick up from the first-round candidates (Fajardo, De la Calle, and Vargas Lleras) who are now out of the running, play around with a Silla Vacia tool that also lets you see how blank votes could impact the results. 

While Petro has argued that following in Fajardo's footsteps and casting a blank vote (like the one that Colombian journalist Camila Zuluaga says she is casting, in the Washington Post) is equivalent to handing the presidency over to Duque, fact-checking organization Colombia Check says this is a false assertion.  

Most polls put Duque as the favorite to win (see a helpful comparison of the projections at El Pais). As noted by an AP profile of Duque, a key question is whether Duque will "be his own man as president or a puppet of his both revered and vehemently detested political mentor"—former President Alvaro Uribe. The two have avoided campaigning together, with one political strategist telling the AP that Uribe—recently elected to the Senate—will not "get involved in anything Ivan doesn’t ask him to."

Whoever wins the presidency, the first item on the agenda will be an anti-corruption referendum, scheduled for August 26, some 19 days after the new president takes office at the Casa de Nariño. The referendum will ask voters to weigh in on seven measures, weighing from the salary of Members of Congress and government officials, to transparency in awarding government contracts (Colombia Reports).

According to political analyst Ariel Ávila of Colombian human rights NGO the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation, a major test for the new president will be whether he merely makes a show of discussing the need to fight corruption, or whether he will follow talk with action. "They're going to be very careful in whoever they name to [government posts], because citizens are demanding transparency, meritocracy," he told El Pais

Another challenge will be navigating drug policy: the Colombian government just acknowledged that illicit coca cultivations increased just under 19 percent between 2016 and 2017 (Caracol Radio). 

Meanwhile, the country's troubled implementation of its historic 2016 peace deal shows little sign of improvement, prompting the country's inspector general to formally request that the government speed up its efforts to reintegrate former guerrillas into mainstream life (El Espectador). One major setback was the government's recent surprise move to suspend two of the 26 territories that were set aside for the reintegration of ex-combatants (Verdad Abierta). 

  • The New York Times profiles Mexican presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya. His was the "fastest-growing political candidacy" seen in Mexico's recent history, one political analyst tells the Times. "It might be the fastest dying.” The other money quote is arguably Jorge G. Castañeda's assertion that Anaya "screwed everybody over in order to get there." 
  • The mayor of a town in Mexico's Michoacan state was gunned down, the 16th candidate killed so far during the lead-up to the July 1 elections (AP). Animal Politico reports on the ground from Guerrero state about how criminal groups are controlling political activity in the region
  • The Conversation asks whether Mexico can indeed become a "country of refugees," given the abuse, violence, and lack of state protection that traditionally experienced by migrants in the country.  
  • The U.S. State Department said it pressured Cuba to find the source of the alleged "sonic attacks" in a recent high-level meeting (AP). The Cuban government has collaborated with U.S. law enforcement in investigating the incidents, and says it has no knowledge of what's behind the mysterious incidents.  

Central America
  • Yesterday's nationwide strike in Nicaragua may have cost the country $30 million (APConfidencialNew York Times). President Ortega meets today with Catholic Church leaders, but there are little details on how close they are to negotiating a solution to the political crisis (or whether that solution will involve Ortega committing to early elections). Violence continues to be reported in cities across the country, with at least four people killed Thursday in clashes with para-police forces (AFP). 
  • Given this week's revelations that El Salvador's former President Mauricio Funes and his relatives and associates are under investigation for embezzling some $351 million, El Faro reports on where that money went, based on witness testimony. A few figures: between $15,000-$17,000 a month to a couple charged with "looking after" one of Funes' sons. 
  • Ecuador's Congress rejected a request by the Attorney General's Office to investigate former President Rafael Correa, declaring it "inadmissible." (El Universo)
  • In a country where polio may be re-emerging (The Economist), protestors used the recent visit of the Pan American Health Organization director to draw attention to Venezuela's ongoing health crisis. (EFE)
  • Venezuela's new vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, is the head of the controversial Constituent Assembly, President Maduro's former minister of communications, and President Hugo Chavez's ex-chief of staff. A 2017 Caracas Chronicles profile provides some helpful additional context on her political career. (AP)
  • An opposition lawmaker who spent a year and a half in Venezuela's prison system told Reuters that he suffered starvation, abuse, and "total isolation" while incarcerated. He is among the dozens of opposition members that President Maduro has recently released from prison. 
  • A job with Venezuela's state oil company used to be a ticket to the "Venezuelan dream," but now the company is hemorrhaging thanks in part to desperate people who steal any material—such as the copper wiring on equipment—that can help them make some extra income. (New York Times
Southern Cone
  • After a 22-hour session, the lower house of Argentina's Congress narrowly approved legislation that allows abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. It remains to be seen whether it can pass the Senate. President Mauricio Macri has said that despite his personal beliefs on abortion, he will not veto the bill if it passes Congress. (WSJ)
  • AFP visits Colombia's remote Guaviare department, home to striking ancient artwork sites that date back 12,000 years.
Elyssa Pachico 

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