Friday, December 18, 2015

Martelly names electoral evaluation commission, rejected by opposition (Dec. 18, 2015)

In the midst of thousands-strong street protests and allegations of fraud, the Haitian President Michel Martelly ordered the creation of a commission yesterday to evaluate the country's electoral process ahead of a presidential run-off vote on Dec. 27.

The five members will have three days to assess the Provisional Electoral Council and his government, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's briefs.)

It's a last ditch effort to rescue a polemic process that threatens to derail the incoming parliament (voted on Oct. 25) amid widespread allegations of fraud and a bribery scandal, reports the Miami Herald.

Martelly said his "commission of evaluation" would be tasked with recommending measures to "ensure transparency and credibility of the electoral process." The newly formed "Electoral Evaluation Commission" consists of five individuals plus an observer named by the two front-running presidential candidates.

But the opposition and the Senate have rejected the commission, reports the Miami Herald in a later piece. They say the proposal fails to address the demands of an inquiry into Oct. 25th's voting.

Led by second-place finisher Jude Célestin, eight opposition presidential candidates (dubbed the G8) say the election was marked by "massive" fraud and irregularities on behalf of first-place finisher, the government-backed cadidate Jovenel Moïse. They are supported by an ever growing list of human rights organizations, religious leaders, and local election observers.

Last week the Associated Press reported that experts watching Haiti worry that widespread allegations of electoral fraud are creating a phenomenon of voter apathy that threats the latest attempt to shore up country's democracy. (See Dec. 11th's briefs.)

News Briefs

  • As predicted, the Argentine peso's value dropped sharply yesterday after the government lifted long-standing currency controls. Over the course of the day the peso traded at approximately 14 to the dollar, a 30 percent decrease from Wednesday's official value, reports the Associated Press. It's biggest percentage decline since January 2002, following the abandonment of the peso-dollar parity, notes the Wall Street Journal. Though widely expected, the change could exacerbate what is already double digit inflation. The key in upcoming days will be whether Argentina's central bank can keep the peso under control and limit price increases, according to the WSJ. The Associated Press has a helpful feature (for those unversed in the constant economic gymnastics of Argentina) on the winners and losers of the move. Winners include exporters, real estate and international investors, while losers include consumers and tourists.
  • The dollar gained against Latin American currencies in general yesterday as the Federal Reserve lifted interest rates, reports the Wall Street Journal. The higher U.S. borrowing costs will pressure emerging market currencies, raise import prices and make their extensive dollar-denominated debts harder to service, explains the piece.
  • Brazil's eternally embattled President Dilma Rousseff got a court-mandated respite yesterday. The Supreme Court handed down two favorable rulings regarding impeachment proceedings against her. One gives the Senate the authority to review the grounds for Rousseff's impeachment even if the lower house votes to impeach her for allegedly breaching budget laws last year, explains Reuters. While the other ruled against the validity of a secret lower house ballot last week that stacked an impeachment committee with her opponents, forcing the selection of its members to be redone with an open vote. (See Dec. 3rd's post.) The decisions clear the way for the impeachment proceedings to move forward, but also increase Rousseff's chances of surviving efforts to oust her and to remain in office while the process continues, explains the Wall Street Journal. With a looming holiday recess for Congress, that will last till February, the ongoing political saga could take months to play out.
  • She also got a boost from anti-impeachment marchers, who yesterday protested what they are calling a "coup" against Rousseff. Organizers said that nearly 300,000 people marched on Wednesday, though police said the number was closer to 50,000, reports AFP.
  • Brazilian legislators approved a 2016 budget with lower surplus charges than those requested by Finance Minister Joaquim Levy. The move comes a day after the country lost its investment-grade credit rating, notes the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The messaging service Whatsapp was temporarily blocked yesterday in Brazil, after the American company refused to place wiretaps on certain WhatsApp accounts, but a judicial appeals court quickly restored access for the approximately 100 million Brazilians who regularly send messages on the service, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Presidential term limits were put in place around Latin America as an attempt to fight against the perennial caudillo (strongman) problem in the region: leaders who never leave. But in several countries, including Honduras, Venezuela and Nicaragua those limits have been lifted. But in Ecuador, which also recently lifted presidential term limits, might have a policy solution for the troubling trend, write law professors David LandauBrian Sheppard and Rosalind Dixon in an New York Times op-ed. President Rafael Correa has promised to sit out the next election, only becoming eligible to run again in 2021. The compromise could offer politicians and voters the chance for continuity while at the same time permitting democratic alternation, argue the authors. They point to Chile, where Michelle Bachelet stepped down after her term in office only to be reelected a few years after.
  • Speaking of Bachelet, her approval rating is rebounding, albeit after reaching an all-time low. The Associated Press reports that a November poll has her overall approval rating at 24 percent, up 2 points since August.
  • Venezuela's Central Bank and a prominent website publishing information on the country's currency black market are facing off in a U.S. court. Authorities are accusing Delaware-registered of engaging in cyberterrorism and manipulating Venezuela’s bolivar currency—whose value has fallen 80% in 2015, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Venezuela's lame-duck National Assembly named Judge Susana Virginia Barreiros Rodríguez as the new General Public Defender, among other measures designed to extend the PSUV's power ahead of upcoming opposition dominated legislature. (See Wednesday's briefs.) Barreiros, who this year sentenced opposition leader Leopoldo López to nearly 14 years in prison for his alleged role in inciting violence in protests last year, is only the latest in a trend of internationally controversial officials who receive government promotions, explain Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • Two nephews of Venezuela's "First Combatant" (ie: President Nicolás Maduro's wife) pleaded not guilty to U.S. charges that they conspired to import cocaine into the United States, reports Reuters. (See Nov. 12th's post.) A U.S. official said the evidence against the two nephews is strong and that prosecutors are hoping the defendants will provide information on drug trafficking in Venezuela in exchange for a lighter sentence, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Yesterday Cuba and the U.S. announced a deal allowing 110 round-trip flights a day between the former enemies, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's post.)
  • The deal Cuba reached with debtor nations of the so-called Paris Club forgave $8.5 billion of the island's $11.1 billion debt and restructured payments on the remainder with easy terms, but imposes severe penalties if Cuba falls behind payments again, reports Reuters. (See Monday's post.)
  • A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report says Mexican cartels now control virtually the entire U.S. drug market. They have enlisted the assistance of more than 20 street gangs as part of their operation and are using increasingly sophisticated smuggling methods. Animal Político has the scoop on the report. 

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