Friday, March 13, 2015

Top Latin America Stories, March 13, 2015

"A cocktail of corruption scandals, slowing growth, falling currencies and accelerating inflation is eroding leaders’ popularity", according to Bloomberg which focuses on Brazil (Petrobras) but also cites Chile's Bachelet (alleged influence-trafficking by her son); Mexico's Pena Nieto (home-purchase scandals and the disappearance of 43 students) among others. 2015 is turning out to be the year of major corruption cases, according to InfoLatam (3/8) and adds Argentina's Kirchner (the Hotesur scandal) to the mix.

While Bloomberg and InfoLatam offer pessimistic outlooks, The Economist (3/14) argues that despite an epidemic of scandals and nepotism, the region should be hopeful since there is an "the unrelenting pursuit of executives and politicians" in several countries, Mexico is undergoing anti-corruption reforms, and there are "promising experiments in Central America." Part of the problem, says the magazine, has been democratization and the market reforms. "Democracy gave rise to parties hungry for donations and politicians eager to reap the rewards of elected office ... Economic reform also incited graft. Proceeds from the privatization of state companies enriched ruling cliques in Argentina and paid for social spending aimed at supporters of ruling parties in Peru and Mexico." 

Democracy in Latin America has been mixed, argues a recent assessment in the Journal of Democracy (Jan 2015), co-authored by Scott Mainwaring. Even though they suggest that democracy is not eroding in Latin America, "there is reason for concern that democratic advances have not been more widespread and that the quality of democracy is low in a large number of countries."

Brazil may be the best test for corruption's impact on democracy. The Petrobras scandal continues to widen as the former and current governors of Rio de Janeiro and the governor of Acre are now under investigation, according to O Globo and the AP.  "Prosecutors say they have uncovered the biggest corruption scheme yet discovered in Brazil, which involved at least $800 million in bribes."  Pres Rousseff has had a rough month of March "and it’s about to get worse," reports Bloomberg. But former Pres Cardoso firmly taps down any impeachment talks in an interview with O Estado do Sao Paulo (3/9) and says that democracy must takes its' natural course.

The Venezuelan crisis also has continued speculation on the political fallout.  For example, Luis Vicente León (Datanálisis) evaluates the political opposition in anticipation of congressional elections later this year and urges them to stick to democratic principles, according to an interview with the Wilson Center (3/12).  It is UNASUR that can and "must urgently devise measures that contribute to resolution of the grave political and economic crisis," says the Crisis Group.

Much more commentary, however, is on the White House's executive order. Although Obama has "essentially FedExed the wilting Maduro a great big bottle of political Viagra," after calling Venezuela a "national security threat," there are reasons why he resorted to such measures, suggests Tim Padgett in a column in the Washington Post (3/12).  "Obama needs his own diversion right now. Or he will very soon ... if he decides to remove Cuba from the State Department’s list of international terrorism sponsors."

The U.S. sanctions are not very substantive since they will not affect Venezuela's oil trade, Fox News Latino (3/11). Venezuela remains the fourth largest crude oil exporter to the U.S. and the U.S. is Venezuela's largest importer and exporter of goods. Says former Venezuelan journalist Sonia Schott, these two countries are "both trying to break their dependence on each other but it's not going to happen anytime soon." 

Daniel Drezner's (Brookings) knocks down several other analyst's conclusions (including Tim Padgett's above) and says "the best way to summarize the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy would be to substitute "spam" with "sanctions" in the classic Monty Python sketch, according to his column in the Washington Post.  

  • Cuba's "first known free, public internet" hotspot at a Havana cultural center run by the artist Kcho, reports the AP (3/12). The service has been offered for two months now, according to Buzzfeed. One of Fidel's most recent public visits was to this cultural center
  • Honduran police arrested the alleged leader of a drug organization that coordinated the shipment of tons of Colombian cocaine via Mexican cartels to the United States, according to Reuters. President Hernandez announced last night in a television interview that Jose Miguel 'Chepe' Handal, a prominent Honduran businessman, was arrested in San Pedro Sula.
  • InSight Crime's Elyssa Pachico writes about the "disturbing" UN's special rapporteur report on torture in Mexico, in a column in the Christian Science Monitor (3/12). The report (released 3/9, not found online) offers dozens of recommendations primarily related to the dysfunctional justice system. "The majority of cases involved victims detained for alleged links with organized crime," reports The Guardian (3/9). As a result, President Peña Nieto must accept and act on all the UN recommendations," declared Amnesty International (3/9). The Mexican government rejected the notion that torture was "widespread," and maintained that the country has a culture of respect for human rights, according to interviews with Amb Jorge Lomónaco in La Jornada and Excelsior.
  • It's Time for Mexico to Change How it Pursues Drug Lords, argues InSight Crime's Patrick Corcoran (3/10). Mexican organized crime has been led by fugitives - the recent drug lords who have been captured "were on the run long before their eventual demise." Mexico needs to move away from the "fugitive drug lord model" in order to give drug traffickers a genuine self-interest in avoiding violence.
  • As snowstorm closed major highways and caused general ruckus in Mexico City yesterday, according to the Associated Press (3/12). The highway link between Puebla and the Districto Federal was closed for several hours.  On the other hand, Mexican children were able to make snowmen, according to Milenio.

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