Friday, November 4, 2016

Ortega set to win again, critics see parallels with Somoza dynasty (Nov. 4, 2016)

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is expected to handily win his second consecutive reelection campaign this Sunday.

The former Marxist revolutionary's second act, when he was elected back to the presidency in 2006, has been pro-business and increasingly authoritarian, according to the Wall Street JournalReuters emphasizes the country's relatively low levels of crime, and a 67 percent rise in per capita GDP over the course of Ortega's two most recent presidencies -- though the country remains "painfully poor."

The relative economic success belies Ortega's dominance over the government and electoral institutions, Eric Olson, Associate Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American Program tells Bloomberg.

Though Ortega is popular and would likely win the election regardless, he has been criticized for using legal maneuvering to prevent the main opposition parties from participating in the race. (See Aug. 3's post.) The Financial Times references his "neutralization" of the opposition, his praise of one-party rule and the barring of electoral observers.

In fact, his running mate is his wife, Rosario Murillo, a fact that has many observers drawing negative parallels with the Somoza authoritarian dynasty he helped oust 37 years ago. The couple's children also hold prominent industry and media posts, reports the Guardian.

Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Chamorro has an op-ed in the New York Times, denouncing the country's descent back into authoritarianism, with "history repeating itself as farce." He notes that the Ortegas' ticket is effectively uncontested, and international observers have not been permitted, leaving citizen groups protesting that there is nobody to vote for. While minor opposition parties have a place on the ballot, "voters know they are collaborating with the government and call them 'bloodsuckers.' The result is an 'election' that resembles more closely a ritual of one-party rule." The only recourse left to voters, he says, is to vote blank or deliberately void their vote.

"Once again, Nicaragua finds itself in a nefarious cycle in which advocates of change must depend on external pressure to compensate for an inability of the country to find domestic solutions to its problems of governance," concludes Chamorro.

A landslide victory would mar democracy, says Murillo's eldest daughter, who has accused her stepfather of sexually abusing her as a child, reports the Guardian.

Earlier this week the briefing included a WOLA analysis by Geoff Thale and Geoff Ramsey and Maureen Meyer, which makes the interesting case that U.S. perspectives on Nicaragua continue to be tainted by Cold War biases. They point to real social advances -- especially poverty reduction -- that form the basis for Ortega's continuing popularity in Nicaragua. The country has also had more success than its neighbors in controlling crime and violence. 

Nonetheless, they note an "alarming pattern" of "gradual erosion of democratic institutions." The bulk of the report focuses on these negative aspects of the administration, and the potential for the U.S. and international pressure to exacerbate or help revert the worrisome trend.

The WSJ also notes the closeness of the Ortega administration with Nicaragua's business sector. Far from the nationalizations that marked his first government, most of the laws passed since 2009 have been viewed positively by the country's main business group.

News Briefs
  • Venezuela's opposition gave the government until Nov. 11 to set an election date and start releasing jailed activists, reports Reuters. Planned protests this week were suspended as part of a Vatican mediated dialogue process, but the opposition coalition is under pressure from one major party which is refusing to participate and fears that President Nicolás Maduro's government is playing for time. In a speech yesterday Maduro criticized the opposition's attempt to impose a timetable.
  • A few thousand protesters took to the streets in Venezuela yesterday, though the opposition formally called off a massive protest scheduled to march to the presidential palace, reports the Miami Herald. The dialogue issue has the opposition torn.
  • Haitians in the country's hurricane destroyed southwest say they are woefully unprepared for presidential elections scheduled to occur in two weeks, reports Reuters. Campaigning began yesterday, but hundreds of polling centers need to be rebuilt before people can vote. (See yesterday's briefs.) 
  • 800,000 Haitians are in dire need of food, a month after Hurricane Matthew, reports the Washington Post.
  • Most Colombians support peace with the FARC, but few are optimistic about reaching a new accord with the guerrilla group this year, according to a new Gallup poll. Government negotiators were due to travel to Havana today, reports Reuters
  • A proposal by a conservative Colombian senator would prevent anybody not in a heterosexual marriage from adopting a child, if approved by a national referendum. The bill might well make it through Congress, but would likely be rejected as discriminatory by the country's highest court, which last year established that same-sex couples have the right to adopt, reports Americas Quarterly. Nonetheless, "politicians’ support for restricting adoption rights may reflect the growing political clout of Colombia’s conservative evangelical community, which some observers believe helped turn the tide against the peace vote in October."
  • Hit Netflix show "Narcos" panders to cliched notions about Medellín and its bloody history with drug trafficking. The show's "canned truth" which "represents Medellín through Escobar and his demential violence reopens a wound which has not yet healed completely," writes former mayor Sergio Fajardo in a New York Times Español op-ed. The story of how Medellín has recovered from that era is far more relevant, he argues, outlining the city's famous social urbanism policies.
  • Mexican Central Bank governor Agustín Carstens said the country is reading a finance contingency plan should the U.S. elections have an "adverse" outcome. He has previously noted the potentially catastrophic impact a Trump victory could have on Mexico's economy, reports the Guardian.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's popularity has dropped by about six points since he took office in July, and his disapproval has risen significantly, reports the Wall Street Journal. His reputation has been hit by a graft scandal, and community mining protests. While his predecessors were also very unpopular, the slide affects PPK as he has little congressional support, according to the piece.
  • Brazilian voters are angry at politicians, a feeling expressed in a record number of abstentions in last weekends second round of municipal elections, and likely to impact the 2018 presidential race, reports the Financial Times. Politicians, who have taken note, are seeking to use the situation to impulse long-needed reforms to the political system -- including preventing the proliferation of small parties and incentives for "promiscuous coalition building."
  • The Brazilian government is hoping to reform the country's pension system in the first half of next year, clearing the way for further austerity minded reforms in the second half of 2017, reports the Wall Street Journal. First however, the Temer administration is focusing on passing a spending cap reform that critics say would negatively affect education and health funding.
  • The Samarco tailings dam rupture last year in Brazil's Minas Gerais state has left locals concerned over whether local water and fish caught in it are safe for consumption, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Cuban government denied a U.S. company permits to build a small-tractor factory on the island, reports the Miami Herald.

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