Thursday, July 7, 2016

Latin America's political pendulum (July 7, 2016)

Los Angeles Times piece analyzes Latin America's political shifts over recent decades showing "a political pendulum that has swung back and forth in response to economic or social crises."

The beginning of the 1980s were marked by right-wing military regimes, followed by a leftward swing as citizens rebelled against authoritarian governments. The early 1990's brought a right-ward swing and the rise of Washington-favored free-market economic reforms. The failures of those policies ushered in the next series of lefty presidents in the region, observes Chris Kraul, peaking in 2008 when the left held 8 of 10 presidencies analyzed. 

Since then a full-on rightward swing appears to be occurring, he argues.

The graphics are interesting (check out the original story for better quality):

The Times looked at the 10 most populous countries in South and Central America and classified their leaders over the years as left, right or center. The tallies are plotted below, showing how the region as a whole has shifted politically.

News Briefs:
  • The deputy director of Cuba's Granma, the official paper of the Communist Party, harshly criticized Cuban leadership in a meeting of the Union of Cuban Journalists, reports the Miami Herald. Karina Marrón said that energy cuts being reported could lead to mass protests -- as happened in 1994 -- but that in this case there would be "no Fidel to go to the Malecon" and disband them. "Up until now there has been no leader in this country who stands in front of the people to explain why things are happening today with this situation," she said in comments that were not picked up by the official media but published in blogs.
  • Five opposition leaders were detained in Venezuela, a sign of a government crackdown on dissent according to rights groups. The Popular Will activists were arrested on Tuesday evening, a move likely to stoke tensions in an already polarized situation, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Child migrants accompanied by parents must be released from family detention facilities in the U.S. according to a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. However the decision does not clarify the fate of the parents, reports the Los Angeles Times. The judicial decision upheld a lower court opinion that the Obama administration is violating key components of a 1997 legal settlement that put restrictions on the detention of migrant children. Government lawyers argued that the so-called Flores settlement only applied to unaccompanied migrant minors and not children accompanied by parents or other adult family members.
  • Haiti's already weak healthcare system is being hit by "a perfect storm of striking medical residents, missing doctors and a lack of money that has virtually paralyzed" it, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A 200-fighter unit of the FARC is saying it will not lay down arms under an eventual peace deal with the Colombian government, the first sign of public dissent within the guerrilla ranks, reports Reuters. The Armando Rios First Front, which famously held ex-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American contractors hostage, says the deals negotiated in Havana do not solve the social and economic problems at the heart of the five decade conflict.
  • But the biggest threat to peace might come from former President Álvaro Uribe, who has called for a signature-collecting campaign of “civil resistance," argues the Washington Post. (See May 12's briefs.) The peace deal must be ratified by a popular plebiscite, which is expected to pass even if many Colombians dislike parts of the deal. But it "is already shaping up to be a contest, not unlike the Brexit vote, that will symbolize far more than what is on the ballot."
  • Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff vowed to keep fighting and assured senators that "nobody will ever find dishonesty in my trajectory of life," in a letter read by her lawyer to a Senate committee that will advise the full body on the issue of her impeachment, reports the Wall Street Journal. The case against her is a farce, she said, and the budgetary misdeeds she was accused of were no more than “routine acts of budgetary management,” Reuters reports her saying.
  • Several athletes have announced they will not participate in the upcoming Olympics, out of fear of contracting the Zika virus. Authorities say chances of infection for visitors and athletes are very slim, but experts say that they are downplaying the danger, according to the Washington Post.
  • Brazil's security forces will have all the resources they need to ensure people's safety during the upcoming Rio Olympics, said authorities yesterday seeking to reassure potential visitors in the wake of a string of stories of local crime and violence and potential terrorist threats, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The cases of six former Guantanamo Bay detainees taken in by Uruguay in December 2014 show the complexities of post liberation life, according to a piece in El País. Of the six only one has found work, and two have been denounced by partners for domestic abuse. One, the Syrian Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab has fallen off of official radar and is believed to be in Brazil where he may have traveled with a false passport. After twelve years in Guantanamo, he has health difficulties and has not been able to be reunited with his family yet.
  • Jacqueline Montero, an incoming legislator in the Dominican Republic's Chamber of Deputies, plans to draw on her history of hardship -- including working as a prostitute to feed her children -- to focus on improving opportunities for women in the socially conservative country, reports the Associated Press.
  • U.S. authorities are urging Puerto Rico to aerially spray insecticide to control Zika virus-bearing mosquitos. But the proposal to fumigate with insecticide has sparked protests over concerns about its impact on human health and wildlife, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexico's Congress approved a revised version of anti-corruptionlegislation, removing a clause that would have required private contractors to disclose statements of assets, taxes and interests. The legislation was vetoed last month by President Enrique Peña Nieto, and opposed by business interests who said the section was inserted in a mid-night session as retaliation for private sector demands that public officials publish their assets, according to the Wall Street Journal. The new legislation creates a new anticorruption prosecutor independent of the government, a stronger federal audit office and special courts to hear corruption cases.
  • A new poll found that Mexico's opposition conservatives would win the presidency if an election were held now. The next presidential election will be in 2018. Current president Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI party is constitutionally barred from reelection and has been tarnished by a series of corruption scandals, human rights abuse cases and drug violence, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico City authorities are distributing 15,000 "rape whistles" to women, part of an effort to eradicate sexual violence on public transportation. But the program has been harshly criticized by feminists, who say its an inefficient and insufficient measure, reports El País.
  • Mexico City's much reported-on smog problem this year is due to structural problems that force many residents into long commutes in a city with inadequate public transportation and public policies that have made owning a car easy and vital, reports the Guardian.
  • An 8 percent junk food tax in Mexico has successfully reduced purchases of high calorie snacks in Mexico -- though by a small amount and only in poor and middle class households, reports the Associated Press. A new study has found that it led to poorer households reducing junk food purchases by about 10 percent, though it's not clear whether they reduced calorie intake, bought healthier foods or simply switched to cheaper street food.
  • Colombia is facing a potentially deadly infestation of hippos, descended from 24 hippos owned by infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. Yes, really. Guardian journalist Peter Bradshaw recognizes that the story is more fitting for magical realist novelists than for newspapers. The animals escaped from Escobar's private zoo in the chaos after he was killed in 1993. Without predators, they have thrived and become the largest hippo herd outside of Africa. Fortunately, while they destroy flora and fauna, they have left humans alone.

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