Friday, October 23, 2015

Sunday vote updates and gun de-regulation in Brazil (Oct. 23, 2015)

Pollsters yesterday agreed that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's candidate, Daniel Scioli, is likely to win presidential elections outright this Sunday, according to left-wing newspaper Página 12. But the polls, which place him winning with 41 to 42 percent are within the margin of error that might mean a second round run-off election next month.

To win the presidency outright, a candidate needs to take 45 percent of the vote or at least 40 percent with a 10 percent lead over the runner-up. 

The characters and electoral minutia can be overwhelming to latecomers. The Guardian has a handy guide to the parties, polls and electoral system. 
Some 30 million Argentinians voted in the August primary which both selects presidential candidates and acts as a mock election for the party coalitions or "alliances." The Frente para la Victoria party, with Scioli as the only candidate, garnered 38.41 percent of the vote in August.

Want more detail? La Nación has a review of the party platforms, although, admittedly "few read them." The Economist has an interview with Scioli in which he explains his path of change and continuity with the current administration. 

To look at only one key campaign issue in depth: Proposals to combat drug activity and drug-related violence in Argentina have prominently figured in the campaigns of the top three presidential contenders, notes InSight Crime, which says all three put forward similar solutions for how to confront the growing drug trade in Argentina. Proposals have particularly focused on militarizing drug policy by increasing the role of state security forces in the fight against drug trafficking. All three candidates also agree on the need for creating a new federal agency to investigate drug crimes.

InSight is critical of the proposed approach. "Although they appear to be largely in line with the public's priorities, the candidates' proposals for militarizing the fight against drugs evokes alarm. Evidence suggests the militarization of domestic security -- a popular choice among governments across Latin America -- is detrimental to human rights and has little overall impact on crime and violence in the long term. The candidates' rhetoric also runs contrary to steps taken under the Kirchner administration to decriminalize drug use and phase out the military's participation in the fight against drug trafficking."

The elections mark the end of an era, even if Scioli wins as expected. Between Fernández de Kirchner and her deceased husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner, the Kirchners governed the country for twelve years, known by supporters as the "won decade" ("la década ganada") in reference to the enormously popular social policies they ushered in.

The BBC looks at some of the key legacies (both positive and negative).  And The Economist gloats at the end of the Kirchner administration, which the magazine says her populist polices have left Argentina on the brink of catastrophe. Either of the two leading candidates would be an improvement, according to the magazine.

And so it's fitting that on the other side of the spectrum Horacio Verbitsky in Página 12 recalled aMafalda comic from fifty years ago that speaks to the current situation (they always do): a young character tells how her father is disgusted by the candidate he is going to vote for, and depressed at what will happen under his administration -- but even more horrified by the alternative options.

In the U.S. observers wonder whether the new era will signal a change in foreign policy. Scioli has indicated he would welcome foreign investors and settle a dispute with U.S. bondholders that has kept Argentina from tapping global credit markets reports the Wall Street Journal.

Undecided voters might be attracted to an unexpected star of this year's endless election season: Omar Obaca, a fictional African-Argentine candidate, dreamed up by an advertising company to satirize Argentine politics, reports the New York Times. The wildly popular internet campaign has spurred debate over the ways black people are portrayed in a country that traditionally prioritizes its European (ie white) heritage.


Haitian officials are attempting to reassure anxious voters that elections this weekend will be fair, peaceful and organized, reports the Associated Press

The prime minister, various Cabinet members, the police chief and the elections director spoke on state television about preparations for the elections in which Haitians will pick a new president as well as parliamentary representatives and municipal posts. If none of the 56 candidates garners a majority on Sunday, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a runoff on Dec. 27.

The upcoming election is seen as a key test for the Haitian National Police, reports VICE. During the August vote, officers were criticized for either standing on the sidelines or directly contributing to the unrest in efforts to tip the outcome in favor of their preferred candidates. 

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has sent an 11-member team to observe the polls, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.

(See yesterday's post on Guatemala's presidential run-off election.)

A special Brazilian congressional committee met earlier this week to analyze the national Disarmament Statute. According to press versions, most members are in favor of relaxing the law, which would mean easier access to weapons and relaxed norms for carrying them as well.

The vote itself was postponed until next week, according Portal Vermhelo which goes into detail over the parliamentary wrangling going on.

The actual reform would modify the 2003 Estatuto do Desarmamento in one key element: that citizens be required to demonstrate "actual need" to carry a weapon, due to professional duties or having received threats, for example. The law vastly reduced concessions to carry arms, reports the BBC.

Lawmakers noted the dangers of changing 2003 law, which is credited with saving over 160,000 lives since it was implemented. Deputy Glauber Braga said the proposals will raise the amount of homicides in Brazil and said the argument that the law permits citizens the tools for legitimate defense is false, reports Agência Câmara.

But activists in favor of the move say that in practise the requirements will limit access to weapons, while the establishment of technical criteria will make access to weapons more fair, according to the BBC.

But the executive director of the NGO Instituto Sou da Paz, Ivan Marques, disagrees strenuously. He told the BBC that it is the elimination of the carrying of weapons regulations that is most dangerous. "Prohibiting civilian possession of firearms was the way to prevent banal discussions, in transit or in bars, for example, from turning into violent deaths by firearms," he said. "Returning to civilians carrying arms is a recklessness."

The Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública spoke out against the proposed modifications, noting that the recently released 9ª Edição do Anuário Brasileiro de Segurança Pública shows extremely elevated levels of homicide by firearms in the country: 71 percent and reaching 90 percent in some states.

They also note that an increase of one percent of firearms in the population raises the homicide rate by two percent, and has an effect on the rate of crimes against property, meaning more weapons don't generally contribute to a better sense of security.

The repeal of the statute would be a mistake, argues an O Globo editorial. "Since it was established in 2003, the law has been the subject of attacks in all legislatures, but apart from a scratch or other, stood firm as the primary for successful deterrent instrument of proliferation of firearms in the country."

The piece says  there are 116 murders per day in Brazil, according to the Map of Violence, 94.5% of them committed with firearms. But, the rate of 21.9 deaths per hundred thousand inhabitants (more than double the rate considered epidemic violence by the UN) is only the second highest in Brazilian history. It's still a shade below the rate in 2003, when current limitations on firearms were put in place, precipitating a drop in homicidal violence.

The piece blames the fight between Congress (led by speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha) and the Rousseff administration for a spate of proposals designed more to oppose the governing Workers' Party than anything else.

The Brazil Post explains that the debate to repeal or modify the law is not new, but has received new force from conservative factions of the lower chamber of congress (the so-called "B" benches -- Boi, Bala e Bíblia (Beef, Bullets and Bible) -- which include evangelicals, hardliners and parts of the opposition. (See July 1st's post on the push to lower the age of criminal responsibility and July 3rd's briefs on the surprise last-minute approval of the bill.) However even the members of the "Bullet Bench" are not united behind the efforts, according to O Globo.

(Another O Globo piece goes into depth into some of the internal disagreements around clauses that would permit the importation of weapons and others.)

The piece notes that the PMDB party behind the proposed changes received the most of nearly $2 million reais in donations from the arms industry. The change would allow people over 21 and with no convictions for felony, to take exams and a 10 hour course that will permit them to buy up to 6 weapons. It's harder to get a drivers license, according to the Brazil Post.

News Briefs
  • Human Rights Watch report released earlier this week focuses on the prison crisis in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, where "the prisons hold more than three times as many inmates as their official capacity in conditions that are dangerous, unhealthy, and inhumane." Prisoners lack even floor space to sleep on and "the prevalence of HIV infection in Pernambuco’s prisons is 42 times that of the general population; the prevalence of tuberculosis is almost 100 times that of the general population. Prison clinics are understaffed, medication is scarce, and ill detainees are often not taken to hospitals for lack of police escort." Though the crisis is particularly acute in Pernambuco, the problems there are representative of Brazilian prisons in general. Some of Brazil's prisons are controlled by gangs, which have shown they are even able to orchestrate revenge killings outside of prison from their cells, reports VICE.
  • American investigators are increasingly focusing on Venezuelan officials suspected of corruption, including officials at the government-owned oil company, Pdvsa, reports the New York Times. (The Wall Street Journal ran a similar story covered in yesterday's briefs.) One Treasury Department investigation found that high-ranking Venezuelan government officials used shell companies, fake contracts and import scams to camouflage the illicit movement of more than $4 billion through a European bank accused of being a money-laundering haven. But Venezuela's U.N. envoy dismissed the WSJ piece about a U.S. probe into billions of dollars in bribes allegedly paid to executives at the country's state-run oil giant that he used to run. Rafael Ramirez posted messages on Twitter Thursday describing the report as attacks by "enemies of the people" in retaliation for the late President Hugo Chavez's recovery of the nation's oil wealth for the benefit of Venezuelans, reports the Associated Press.
  • Guyanese President David Granger says Venezuela is claiming the territory that holds his country's largest goldmine. He accused Venezuela of trying to scare away foreign investors from Guyana, reports CBS News. The Canadian operated mine is one of Guyana's biggest investment projects. Venezuela has long claimed 40 percent of Guyana's territory and extended its maritime claims this year after oil was discovered in disputed waters. (See Sept. 30th's briefs.)
  • Peruvian police arrested an army lieutenant yesterday, alleging he regularly collected bribes from drug traffickers for letting small planes ferry cocaine out of the world's primary coca-producing valley, according to the Associated Press. It's the first arrest of a military officer on drug trafficking charges in at least a decade and comes a week after an AP report that said the Armed Forces have turned a blind eye to cocaine trafficking out of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley, called the VRAEM. (See Oct. 14th's briefs.)
  • Former Peruvian President  Alan Garcia is officially running for a third term in next Aprils elections, reports the Associated Press. He governed from 1985-90 during a period of runaway inflation and a worsening Shining Path insurgency and again again from 2006-2011 during an economic boom that also saw Peru become the world's primary cocaine exporter. He is third in opinion polls, with 9 percent. The daughter of the disgraced and imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori, Keiko Fujimori, is leading polls with 35 percent.
  • Two brothers from Mexico's capital, conducting a poll on tortilla consumption in Ajalpan were taken for criminals and killed by a lynch mob of townspeople frightened by both the gang violence plaguing much of Mexico and recent tales of alleged child abductions, reports theAssociated Press. Local media in Puebla state say there have been as many as 10 incidents of vigilantism against suspected criminals in the last year resulting in three deaths, but there are no official accounts to corroborate that. "The phenomenon of lynching or people taking the law into their own hands, and the frequency with which it has presented itself in the state of Puebla, is evidence of the fragile rule of law," the National Human Rights Commission said.
  • Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's lawyer was in charge of executing the (ultimately successful) plan to break the drug kingpin out of prison earlier this year, reports the New York Times. He was arrested on Wednesday along with Guzmán's brother-in-law, who is believed to be the architect behind the elaborate tunnels across the United States border that became the trademark of a drug trafficking network. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexico is expected to be hit by a Category 5 storm, Hurricane Patricia later today. Some of Mexico’s most popular resorts, including Puerto Vallarta, are in the path of the storm, the strongest of its kind recorded in the Western Hemisphere reports the New York Times. Forecasters say it could make a "potentially catastrophic landfall" later today, according to theAssociated Press.
  • Earlier this week Cuban officials announced Cuba announced a long-term plan to preserve its sharks, developed in cooperation with the U.S -based Environmental Defense Fund. The move is part of part of a rapidly accelerating partnership between the two countries aimed at preserving their shared waters, reports the Associated Press.

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